Morton Downey, Jr. saves African lives, sings ‘Kumbaya’ in his terrible 1970s nightclub act
06:36 am



Before he took on the TV persona of Mort the Mouth, Morton Downey, Jr. was a singer like his father, the “Irish Nightingale.” Believe it or not, Stax released Junior’s debut album I Believe America in 1974, an example of the bold A&R work that led the soul label into bankruptcy in 1975.

Around the time his series was cancelled in ‘89, Downey tried to restart his singing career with a new album and an appearance at Trump Castle in Atlantic City, where he was joined by “a singing midget named Michael Anderson.” (Could this be the Michael Anderson who played Twin Peaks’ Little Man from Another Place?) The New York Daily News was not kind:

The Mouth That Roared, and recently roared itself right off television, looked horrible. Wearing pounds of ghastly tan makeup, he most closely resembled a corpse.

During some songs, his voice would quiver. During others it would be raspy, and during others it would fade away. The song selections were disjointed, with the music of the Shirelles getting mixed up with the music of Elvis Presley, the Beatles and Bette Midler.

He has no stage presence - although, on the positive side, at least he doesn’t try to dance. Near the end of the 45-minute act he was visibly out of breath - which was all right, because by that time Anderson sounded as good as the headliner.


A lifelong Angeleno, I only feel truly at home when I am wallowing chest-deep in the muck of showbiz’s most miserable toilets, so I was delighted to stumble upon this footage of Downey doing his act in Phoenix, Arizona sometime in the ‘70s. Imagine how my joy was multiplied when Downey, introducing “Kumbaya,” started talking about preparing to face a firing squad during the first year of the Biafran War. His crime? Helping a Catholic priest smuggle ten Biafrans to safety in the backseat of a Peugeot.

I was extremely skeptical when I first heard this story—remember that time Mort claimed he was stomped by skinheads in the airport bathroom?—but Downey’s New York Times obituary says that he did indeed travel to Nigeria after the Biafran War to aid its victims, and the priest Downey mentions appears to have done actual missionary work in Nigeria, so I have downgraded my response to very, very skeptical. As New York Magazine observed in its 1988 profile of the talk show host, “He is prone to make large claims about his past, then alter or even deny them.” But who knows: maybe this was the one time Downey told the unvarnished truth, with this improbable, self-aggrandizing tale about God’s inscrutable justice.

You know, 1967, my wife Joannie and I took a cruise in the Caribbean. And in that ship, they had a discotheque lounge, so we went downstairs to the discotheque lounge. And there was one person dancing: a little ruddy-faced, white-haired, balding Irishman. And Joan said, “Ah, there’s only one drunk down here.” And I said, “No,” I said, “he doesn’t look drunk.” But we got to meet that little ruddy-faced Irishman, and his name was Tom Rooney. The thing is is that Tom was a priest, a missionary from Nigeria. Of course, the Biafran War was on in Nigeria, and he had been dismissed from the country. And in passing, I said to Tom, I said, “Well, you know, if you’re ever in Washington, come on over and visit me.”

How many of you folks have ever invited a priest casually to come over and visit you? Two days later, Tom was in the living room, and sleeping on the couch. Well, Father Rooney, about two weeks later, had convinced me that something that was very important to him was to save the people who were dying in Biafra, because these were his children, these were the people that he had baptized, that he had lived with for fourteen years. So he asked me if I’d go on an adventure with him back to Nigeria with a Red Cross plane that would take us from a small island off the coast back into the interior, into an area called Makurdi, and there we would pick up some Nigerian starving immigrants and fly them out to the small island.

The first night we were there—incidentally, how many of you folks know what a Peugeot 404 is? [Counts hands] One, two, three… okay, a Peugeot 404 comfortably seats four, and if the buns are small, it’ll seat five. The backseat of that 404, under a tarpaulin, Father Tom Rooney had hidden ten Nigerians, ten Biafrans. So we went from checkpoint through checkpoint, and each one of them stopping and saying, “Oh, Fadda, what you have in backseat?” and Fadda saying, “It’s alright,” he says, “in the backseat I’ve got myself ten Biafrans stuffed under the tarpaulin.” And they’d smile, and they’d laugh, and they’d say “You go ahead, Fadda!”

We came to one checkpoint where they didn’t enjoy an Irish sense of humor. And they checked. The Biafrans were let off into one area, Father Rooney and I to another, to a small little grass hut, where the sergeant of the guard informed us that we would be shot at dawn. Well, Father Rooney, still trying to be jovial, asked me if I had any final words for my last confession. [Chuckles] I asked him if wanting to kill a priest was a sin. Well, at four o’clock that morning, we were taken out of the grass hut, but not to be shot. Because seventeen years earlier, Tom Rooney had baptized the colonel of the regiment who was in charge of the firing squad. His name, Joseph Aturkba (?). We were set free that night, and so were the Biafrans, as a gesture from a man who had been brought to God by Father Tom Rooney.

From Nigeria, I brought back this song, which is the people’s song of Nigeria. From the bush country, “Kumbaya.”

The story begins at 8:48, and Mort tears up “Kumbaya” at 12:30. Sure, you’ve heard it before, but have you heard it sung by Morton Downey, Jr., with Vegas key changes?

Posted by Oliver Hall | Leave a comment
‘I pity the fool who messes with my Boy, George’—An unlikely A-Team cameo
05:38 am



When I was a kid I liked The A-Team and I liked Culture Club, yet somehow I never knew about Boy George’s inexplicable guest-star gig on the NBC program. I’ll chalk this up to a combination of not expecting these two worlds to collide and the fact that by the fourth season, The A-Team had already “jumped the shark” and was moved to the Friday at 8:00 pm slot up against Webster. Webster was hot shit.

Face (Dirk Benedict) has a scheme to make big money as a club promoter managing a “Cowboy George” concert at a local redneck bar. The ol’ bait-and-switch brings Boy George to play the contractually-obligated gig, not at the promised “Arizona Forum,” but at the “Floor ‘Em.”

The rednecks at the Floor ‘em aren’t the biggest Boy George fans in the world, indicating that they “don’t want no English glitter prince.” Boy George is likewise not excited about playing the roadhouse which he describes as “a certified toilet.”

B.A. (Mr. T) shows up and is star-struck by Boy George, whom he is a huge fan of.

Believe it or not, things get really convoluted from there. Boy George has to entertain the roughneck good ol’ boy crowd at the Floor ‘Em while the A-Team guys investigate the shady dealings of the club owners. Of course Culture Club inexplicably wins over the rowdy roadhouse crowd.  While Culture Club plays, the A-Team foils a bank robbery in typical A-Team style with lots of bullets and explosions but with no actual people being shot or blown up. When the A-Team gets falsely imprisoned for the robbery they foiled, it’s up to Murdock (Dwight Schultz) and Boy George to bust them out and catch the bad guys. All’s well that ends well with an encore Culture Club performance at the Floor ‘Em with a rousing performance of “Karma Chameleon.”

This episode has made such illustrious lists as “The 25 worst cameos in TV history” and “Most embarrassing TV moments.”

Here’s an abbreviated and condensed version of the bizarre episode:


Posted by Christopher Bickel | Leave a comment
The psychedelic hairscapes of Cathy Ward
02:21 pm



This is a guest post by artist/director Nick Abrahams.

Los Angeles gets the pleasure of being the first city in America to stage a solo show by the London-based artist Cathy Ward. Her forthcoming exhibition at the Good Luck Gallery is opening on September 5th, with the artist talking about her work at the gallery on September 6th.

Cathy Ward is something of an alternative British institution, having exhibited in many medias and forms over the years with everything from large scale sculptures and installations, to tapisteries and work made from corn dollies. But the work she is best known for are the dark psychic landscapes, reminiscent of woven hair, which are both immediately familiar and unlike anything else you will have ever seen. With a technique she has been honing for seventeen years, she scrapes intricate patterns into a layer of ink to reveal fine lines of the white clay that lie underneath, these scratch works suggest many things… cosmic struggles, full of pulsations and explosions…  the dark matter or the ‘dust’ of Philip Pullman’s novels… swirling waterways or weirs, made up of feminine eddies or sprays of water… but most of all they resemble plaited and flowing swathes of hair….  ‘I can’t plan them, I can’t replicate them either,’ Ward says.

Albina Incubii Albion

Hair of the recently deceased was carefully bound and arranged in Victorian hair works, an art form and custom which gradually fell out of fashion. These memento mori often took the form of a piece of jewellery (such as a locket), but sometimes in fabulously complicated and contorted “hair wreaths.” The hair that flows through these memorials also flows through the works of the Brothers Grimm, with Rapunzel’s climbable tresses, and later continued to flow through the counterculture of the 60s as a signifier of a rejection of cultural norms, whether by long-haired bikers or drug-addled hippies.

Lost Commune

The pulsating lines of Wards works have something of the drawings of Hans Bellmer about them, suggesting female curves and crevices, with the female body as a site of erotic mystery and power.

Cathy Ward

At a retrospective of the works of outsider artist Madge Gill in London, Ward was a natural choice for the position as artist in residence, with both artists driven to obsessive drawing styles, Gill with repetitive depiction of angels or ‘spirit guides’ , and Ward with her incredibly detailed abstractions reminiscent of woven hair, both describing very active ‘inner landscapes’ of womens minds, and there is a feeling that the act of line making may, for both women, act as a form of spell casting or be a sacred act.

There is a musicality to the waves in Ward’s work, and she has found a natural connections with certain musicians, such as Sunn O))) who used a triptych of her works on their Monoliths and Dimensions sleeve, and Stephen O’Malley of the band later providing a soundtrack for Ward’s animated work “Sonafeld.”

‘The Order’ is a new set of works which make specific reference to Ward’s early tuition under the Sisters of Mercy in Ashford—not the Goth band, but one of the schools run by notoriously strict nuns whose ghostly outlines people Ward’s new pictures.  Ward says that the nuns all had their hair cut close to their skulls: “As a child I was shocked, appalled, fascinated that nuns sacrificed their hair in this way. Hair in the 1960s was a symbol of liberation and this livery was being wilfully, symbolically removed.”

The Order

These works often inhabit ornate frames sourced from flea markets and junk shops, giving them the feel of found objects, rediscovered antiquities from another time and place.

These works form part of the world of Cathy Ward’s artistic vision. Her many projects in collaboration with her husband Eric Wright can be followed here’, while more information about her solo works can be found here.

This is a guest post by artist/director Nick Abrahams.

Below, Ward’s “Sonafeld” with Stephen O’Malley soundtrack:

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
The indiscreet art of ass puppetry
01:04 pm



The title of this video doesn’t give the slightest inkling of what the viewer is in store for—and it’s also fairly hilarious. The title is: “This girl is going places. Not college, but places.”

The video is a collection of perhaps 20 Vine-ish gags involving a face made when a pair of googly eyes are placed on a woman’s body ... south of the border. The soundtrack includes the Star-Spangled Banner, Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love,” Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” and Tom Jones’ “What’s New, Pussycat?” 

A pair of googly eyes and suddenly you’re the Señor Wences of ass puppetry…

If anyone in your workplace would object to even mildly risqué material, you’d be completely crazy to play this there. You have been warned!

via Death and Taxes

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment