Sunday, 13 September 2020

Bruins-Canadiens, part one: Years of futility

The Montreal Canadiens celebrate after scoring on the
Boston Bruins in the 1979 playoffs.
(May be subject to copyright)

It was a day I never thought I’d see. A streak I never thought would end. It had gone on my entire life and stretched back several decades before that all the way to the war years. Every time I thought it might end, it continued.

Then, on a spring day in 1988 it happened: my beloved Boston Bruins finally beat their arch-rival the Montreal Canadiens in the Stanley Cup playoffs. It was a week in my life I never thought would come – but it did.

In the beginning
My interest in the Bruins was first peaked in the 1978 Stanley Cup final where they faced the Montreal Canadiens, defending Stanley Cup champions. In fact, I soon discovered the Bruins had been swept by Montreal in the previous Stanley Cup final in 1977.

To be honest, the main reason I cheered for Boston was that everyone else cheered for Montreal. We were all at a family gathering, crowded in my Uncle Ed’s basement. It was the first hockey game I remember watching. Everyone was cheering for Montreal, and I wondered what the big deal was. They did seem better, stronger, faster. So, I resolved to take up the cause of the under dog – I was rooting for the Bruins.

They lost the first two games of the series in Montreal, but managed to win Game 3 at home in the Boston Gardens. Game 4 was crucial, but I was unable to see it. I was in Grade 2 and we had a field trip to Drumheller. It kind of slipped my mind until I heard some of the adults talking about it. Our bus driver was a fellow named Abe Ens, so when we were filing onto the bus I asked him if I knew who won the hockey game. I was pretty sure I had heard one of the teachers say Boston had won the game 2-0, and Mr. Ens confirmed that. I was thrilled. Not only had Boston won, but goaltender Gerry Cheevers, one of my more favourite Bruins, got a shutout. He blanked the mighty Montreal Canadiens!

What I really liked was Cheevers’ mask. It was white with a bunch of stitches painted all over it. The team trainer painted a stitch in the spot a puck hit, demonstrating how many times it saved Cheevers’ face. I even recall trying to make my own Gerry Cheevers’ goalie mask out of a magazine. I used white water colour to paint the front all white then tried to paint on some stitches. Then, I cut some holes in the side and laced some baler twine through. When I tried to put it on it was really stiff. Only later did I discover that masks were custom made and form-fitted to the shape of the goalie’s face.

Sadly, we returned from the Badlands, and things went bad for Boston too. Montreal won Game 5 at the Forum, and wrapped up their third straight Stanley Cup shortly after.

Another heartbreak
The next year, more heartbreak followed. The Bruins and the Canadiens were on a collision course to meet in the Stanley Cup semi-finals, which they did. This time around the teams went back and fourth, and were headed to a sudden death Game 7.

The Bruins started Gilles Gilbert in net on May 10, 1979 and, until Cam Neely came along, he was my all-time favourite Boston Bruin. He was an absolutely amazing, and underrated, goalie. I always remember one of his hockey cards where he was in his crouch and white mask. He was being charged with stopping the vaunted Montreal offence and ending the curse that had lasted decades.

Coach Don Cherry’s faith was well placed. Gilbert played perhaps the game of his life. He stopped everything the Canadiens threw at him, and the Bruins found themselves leading late in the third period by a score of 4-3 on a goal by Rick Middleton.

Then tragedy struck – again.

With 2:34 remaining, the Bruins were caught in a line change, and were called for too many men on the ice, giving Montreal a two-minute power play, and a golden chance to tie the game.

They would not let it slip away. Guy Lafleur beat Gilbert with just 1:14 to play, tying the game 4-4 with overtime looming.

I remember the butterflies I had in my stomach.

The teams went back and forth, both having their chances to end the game in the first overtime.

Finally, 9:33 into that first overtime, Yvan Lambert beat Gilbert to give Montreal the 5-4 win in the game and a 4-3 victory in the series.

Gilbert had been heroic in the game, stopping 47 of 52 shots, and named the First Star of the game.

Montreal would go on to win their fourth Stanley Cup championship in a row, defeating the New York Rangers in the final by a margin of four games to one.

Parting thoughts
I was beginning to see a pattern, one that Bruins fans had already been living for decades. No matter how good the Bruins were, they could not defeat the Montreal Canadiens. Both Stanley Cups they won in 1970 and 1972 did not include trips to Montreal. The 1971 season? The heavily-favoured Bruins were shocked by the Canadiens who rode a hot rookie goaltender named Ken Dryden.

It did not look good and, for the first seven years of the 1980s it would only get worse for the Bruins, who were just dominated by the Canadiens.

Saturday, 12 September 2020

Tug McGraw: Heart-stopping closer

Tug McGraw delivers a pitch for the Philadelphia Phillies.
Source: www.pinterest.834010424721050494
(may be subject to copyright)
It was immortalized on a music video by Tim McGraw.

Tug McGraw struck out Willie Wilson in 1980 to win the first ever World Series for the Philadelphia Phillies.

It was the dawn of a new decade, but the twilight of a storied career.

Long before he was known as Tim’s Dad, and long before his illness was entrenched in the chart topping song, “Live Like You Were Dying” Tug McGraw made a name for himself as a relief pitcher.

Ya Gotta Believe
When I was maybe 10, I read this article in the sports magazine “Inside Sports” that chronicled the demise of the New York Mets. It detailed how two men, M. Donald Grant and later Joe McDonald, slowly dismantled the Mets by trading away all their great players – Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, and Tug McGraw among others.

It was then that I learned how that group of players had come from behind in 1969 to win the National League East Division, then the first ever National League Championship Series over the Atlanta Braves, topping it off by defeating the Baltimore Orioles to win the World Series. They became known forever as the Miracle Mets or the Amazing Mets.

The dismantling began, but the Mets caught fire again in 1973, coming from well back at the all-star break. They were in last place on Aug. 30, but went 20-8 to end the season, to again win their division and then the National League Championship Series over the Cincinnati Reds before losing to the juggernaut Oakland A’s who were in the midst of winning three straight World Series. They became known forever as the Mediocre Mets.

McGraw gained notoriety in 1973 for repeating a mantra that helped propel the Mets comeback – “Ya Gotta Believe”.

Then, in 1974 he was gone too, shipped off to the Philadelphia Phillies.

By 1980, I did not even expect Tug McGraw to still be playing.

As it turned out he was. He had joined the Phillies for the 1975 season, where he made the all-star game, and Philadelphia finished second to Pittsburgh, then helped the Phillies win three straight National League East divisions in 1976, 1977, and 1978. The year 1979 brought disappointment, as the Phillies plummeted to fourth place, 14 games behind the eventual World Series champion Pirates.

The next year, McGraw would help lead the Phillies into history.

Division championship
The Montreal Expos had come within two games of the National League East crown in 1979 and were in the thick of it again, battling the Phillies down to the wire for the divisional title.

Wikipedia reports the teams went back and forth, tied when the Phillies visited Montreal in the final series of the season.

The Phillies won the opener by a score of 2-1 as McGraw earned the save, striking out five of the six batters he faced. The next day, McGraw entered the game in the ninth inning with the score tied 4-4. He pitched three innings, striking out three and giving up one hit. After Mike Schmidt hit a two-run home run in the top of the 11th inning to make the score 6-4, McGraw closed the door in the bottom of the 11th with a 1-2-3 inning, striking out Larry Parrish to end the game, and give the Phillies the National League East Division title.

Overall, McGraw finished the regular season with a 5-4 record, a 1.46 earned run average, 75 strike outs and 20 saves.

Championship series
The Houston Astros awaited the Phillies in the best-of five National League Championship Series. 

McGraw earned the save in a Game 1, a 3-1 victory by Philadelphia.

After Houston evened the series 1-1, McGraw entered Game 3 in the eighth inning with a runner on second and one out, but got out of that inning. He held the Astros scoreless through to the 11th inning, intentionally walking two runners to load the bases, after Joe Morgan had hit a lead-off triple. The Astros scored to win the game, handing McGraw the loss.

McGraw earned the save in Game 4 as the Phillies tied the series, but blew the save in Game 5, allowing the game to go into extra innings. The Phillies scored to win in the 10th inning, taking the series 3-2 and advancing to the World Series.

McGraw had ended up pitching in all five games of the series.

World champions
McGraw appeared in four of the six games for the Phillies in the World Series, striking out 10 batters in 7 and 2/3 innings. He earned the save in Game 1, as Philadelphia won the first two games of the series. The Royals rebounded to win the next two games to tie the series 2-2, as McGraw took the loss in Game 3.

McGraw entered Game 5 in the seventh inning with the Phillies trailing 3-2. He pitched three scoreless innings while his teammates rallied with two runs in the ninth inning to take a 4-3 lead. McGraw again shut the door. After walking Frank White, he struck out George Brett, walked Willie Mays Aikens, induced Hal McRae to ground out, walked Amos Otis to load the bases, then struck out Jose Cardenal to end the game. McGraw earned the win, and now the Phillies were just one win away from the championship.

McGraw entered Game 6 in the eighth inning with Philadelphia up 4-0. There were no outs and runners on first and second. He allowed one run to score but finished the inning with the Phillies leading 4-1. It was Kansas City’s last chance in the top of the ninth. McGraw struck out Otis then walked Aikens and allowed singles by John Wathan and Cardenal to load the bases. White fouled out on a play I remember clearly. Catcher Bob Boone, bobbled the ball and, just as it was tumbling to the ground Pete Rose reached down and caught it to record the out. McGraw then got ahead 0-2 on Willie Wilson. After a pitch high, he struck out Wilson to end the game and give the Phillies their first World Series in franchise history.

The rest of the story
That was the last high point of Tug McGraw’s career.

The next season, 1981, the Phillies won the first half title in a strike-plagued season, but fell to the Montreal Expos in the National League East Divisional Series. Overall for the season, McGraw went 2-4 with a 2.66 earned run average, 26 strike outs and 10 saves. His role diminished over the next three years, becoming more of a set-up man before retiring at the end of the 1984 season. In 1982, he was 3-3 with a 4.31 earned run average, 25 strike outs and five saves. Those would be his last saves. In 1983, he was 2-1 with a 3.56 earned run average and 30 strike outs. In 1984, his last season, he was 2-0 with a 3.79 earned run average and 26 strike outs.

The years after
McGraw had a brief relationship in 1966 with Betty D’Agostino that produced a son, Tim McGraw. However, Tug would not acknowledge Tim until the boy was 18 years old. Their relationship would grow though, as Tim McGraw blossomed into a country music superstar.

Tug McGraw was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2003 and, after a promising surgery, he passed away in 2004. That same year, Tim McGraw recorded “Live Like You Were Dying” in part in his father’s honour. The video features McGraw striking out Wilson to win the World Series. Four years later, Tim scattered a handful of his father’s ashes on the pitcher’s mound of the Phillies' current stadium before Game 3 of the 2008 World Series. The Phillies would win that game and went on to win their second World Series in franchise history.

Parting thoughts
What I will always remember about Tug McGraw was that nasty screwball that is most effective for left-handed pitchers. He was deadliest in that 1980 season when he was lights out coming out of the bullpen. He was also so emotional, his energy could not help but inspire his team. He would pump his glove up and down, and against his right leg after every strike and every out.

I never really cheered for him or the Phillies, because they battled Montreal and Houston who were my two favourite teams, and Kansas City who was another team I really liked.

Yet, when I heard about his cancer, how he handled it with such grace, and his relationship with Tim McGraw, I became a fan.

I have to admit, when I saw the clip of Tug McGraw strike out Willie Wilson in the video for “Live Like You Were Dying”, it brought a tear to my eye.

Friday, 11 September 2020

Eight is not enough

It was eight years ago today that RobVogt80s was launched and it has reached many milestones and I have learned many lessons along the way.

By the numbers
As of today, the blog has surpassed 95,000 views and last month hit 300 posts. It is now at 318 posts and going strong. This will be number 319.

Spreading the word
Since my last reflection, I have tried a few things to spread the word about the blog. About five to seven days a week, I make a post on Facebook with a one or two sentence introduction with a link to a previous post. This has produced some interesting results.

People will respond to the Facebook post with comments. However, this reveals that some people read the actual post and comment on it. Others just react to the title. To each his own, but interesting.

It still remains a challenge to post regularly. A total of 319 posts in eight years averages about 40 a year, so about three a month. It is not the topics – I have dozens of those. It is finding the time to post. As of late, I have made a commitment to write every day. Doing that for more than a month before launching posts has led to a streak I am on of 23 straight days I have posted. This erratic posting over the past eight years has led to another issue.

Light traffic
People have been turned off the blog because they could not count on a new content. There have even been references in comments to the blog even still being active. The only way to change that is to keep on plugging away and posting.

Quality not quantity
The comments I have received, and there have been 53 comments, have been high quality. It still amazes me that literally anyone with an Internet connection can read the blog. The proof is that I have received comments from Canada, the United States, Australia and I am sure other places.

More than that, some comments are from people with a personal connection to the content. I wrote about actor and director J.T. Terlesky, and his sister commented. I wrote about football player Carl Crennell, and someone who went to college with him commented. The biggest example is my post on Canadian icon Terry Fox. Not only did I get a comment from a classmate of his, but also a close friend who is actually mentioned in my post. The last comment came from a post I wrote on actor Jean Stapleton and her role in a movie called “Aunt Mary”. It’s about a woman who coached underprivileged kids playing baseball. The comment came from the wife of a boy who actually played on the real Aunt Mary’s team. It has been incredibly humbling.

The future
The blog is on the ascendance again. I have been clearing a backlog of partially-started entries and that will take another month. After that, we will dig into a folder I have, which is actually two folders of ideas.

The future looks good, but we’ll see how things unfold over time. It took 14 months to finish my first 100 entries, 21 months to reach my second hundred, and five years and one month to hit 300.

Hopefully it doesn’t take 61 months to reach 400.

Thursday, 10 September 2020

Dallas Green: Restoring glory twice

Dallas Green, who managed the Philadelphia Phillies to the
1980 World Series championship, celebrates with the championship trophy.
(may be subject to copyright)
He did something no one could do in almost 100 years of trying – bring a World Series championship to the Philadelphia Phillies.

For that, Dallas Green will be immortalized in Phillie lore.

If that wasn’t enough, he would re-surface in Chicago and return the Cubs to the post-season after almost 40 years.

It all came back to me when, during this pandemic, I recently watched his Philadelphia Phillies play my Montreal Expos in Game 1 of the 1981 National League East Divisional Series on Sportsnet.

Through the 1970s, the Philadelphia Phillies had become a championship contender in the competitive National League East. They won three straight division titles in 1976, 1977, and 1978, losing the National League Championship Series to Cincinnati then twice to Los Angeles.

The popular and successful Danny Ozark had been their manager but, after falling to fifth place in the 1979 season, the Phillies made a change at the end of August, hiring Dallas Green to close out the 1979 season. The interim title was taken off after the season, and Green became the manager of the Phillies.

He would go on to make history in his first full season managing the Phillies.

World championship
The 1980 Philadelphia Phillies were loaded with talent. In 1979 they had signed Pete Rose as a free agent, making him the highest paid player at the time, and it was well worth it because he would put them over the top. He played first base. Catching was Bob Boone, Manny Trillo played second base, Larry Bowa was at shortstop, league most valuable player Mike Schmidt played third and they had Bake McBride, Gary Maddox, and Greg Luzinski in the outfield. Steve Carlton was the ace of their pitching staff and Tug McGraw was their closer. I still remember that lineup so well.

The Phillies would go 91-71, finishing first one game ahead of the Montreal Expos in the National League East. They defeated the Houston Astros, coming from down 2-1, in a memorable National League Championship Series that went the full five games in the best-of-five series. Four of the five games went into extra innings, and the Phillies won Game 5 in the 10th inning.

Awaiting them in the World Series were the Kansas City Royals who had also won their division several times before finally making it past the American League Championship Series. The Phillies won the first two games, lost Game 3 in 10 innings then Game 4 to tie the series, won Game 5 then captured the championship with a 4-1 win in Game 6.

It was the first World Series championship in franchise history, 97 years after the team was established. In fact, it was Philadelphia’s first World Series appearance since 1950, and only their second all time. Their first was in 1915.

Dallas Green had in fact helped the Phillies make history.

One more time
The Phillies seemingly picked up in 1981 where they left off, jumping into the lead in the National League East Division, when a players’ strike halted play. When the season resumed, the first half division leaders were declared champions. They would face the second half champions in the first ever divisional series.

The Montreal Expos, who fell just a game short in 1980, won the second half and faced the Phillies in the National League East Divisional Series. The Expos would not be denied this year, winning the first two games, losing the next two, then prevailing in the deciding Game 5 to win the division. It was one of those games that I watched the replay of a few weeks ago.

Chicago bound
After just two full seasons at the helm, Dallas Green was on the move, hired by the Chicago Cubs to restore that franchise to respectability. He finished just over two seasons with the Phillies with a record of 169-130 and a 9-7 record in the post-season.

He would do just that.

Green set about rebuilding the Cubs by making some key acquisitions, including prospect Ryne Sandberg from the Phillies. He traded for Gary Matthews before the 1984 season. They would become a contender in the tough National League East, and Green made more moves during the season. He acquired pitcher Dennis Eckersley from Boston for first baseman Bill Buckner, and pitching ace Rick Sutcliffe from Cleveland for prospects Joe Carter and Mel Hall.

Sutcliffe went 16-1 in 1984, winning the Cy Young award. Ryne Sandberg won the National League Most Valuable Player Award, Manager Jim Frey was named National League Manager of the Year, and Green was named The Sporting News Executive of the Year. They led the Cubs to the National League East Division title, with a record of 96-65, 6.5 games ahead of the New York Mets. It was their first post-season appearance of any kind since 1945.

The Cubs faced the San Diego Padres in the National League Championship Series. The Cubs would win the first two games at Wrigley Field in Chicago, but then dropped three straight to the Padres at Jack Murphy Stadium to give San Diego the National League championship.

That was the high point of Green’s time in Chicago. They finished fourth in 1985, fifth in 1986 and were last in 1987. He left the club soon after.

Parting thoughts
Dallas Green would have two more managerial stints, in 1989 with the New York Yankees, and 1993 to 1996 with the New York Mets, but never had the same success. Interestingly, in the end he lost more games than he won as a manager, finishing with an overall record of 454-478.

Still, how can you top restoring two franchises, both with long post-season droughts, to glory. He was 39 games over .500 in Philadelphia and led them to the post-season every full year he managed the Phillies.

Green passed away in 2017, so it was good to see him in that old game from the National League East Divisional series.

It reminded me how great he was 30 years ago, not once but twice.

Wednesday, 9 September 2020

First yard party: ACDC in the ‘80s

The album "Who Made Who" by AC/DC that served as the soundtrack for the movie
"Maximum Overdrive". It contained original material and some of the band's hits.
(may be subject to copyright)
“Ya you, shook me all night long!”

Those were the sounds when me and my friend Dave went to our first yard party in Grade 12, so fall of 1986 or maybe it was spring of 1987.

That song would follow me to university, and continue a connection with ACDC that spanned much of the 1980s.

Ball-room dance
It was another song that I did not quite believe what I heard.

“I’ve got big balls, I’ve got big balls, And they’re such big balls, Dirty big balls, And he’s got big balls, And she’s got big balls, But we’ve got the biggest balls of them all.”

It was junior high, and I heard one of my classmates, singing this song. Junior high boys can become a bit preoccupied by this part of their bodies, so I just brushed it off as him.

Then, at the next junior high dance, I actually heard that song.

Looking back, that was pretty bold because we went to Catholic school. If memory serves, at that point students still played the music on the school’s stereo.

Soon after, and I am not sure if there was a connection, the school started having a professional deejay come in, so there were no controversial songs.

Still, that was my first exposure – all pun intended – to AC/DC.

Head banging
As junior high progressed, the popularity of heavy metal music began to grow, and with it the advent of “head bangers”, the name given to its fans.

With heavy metal and the likes of bands Motley Crue, Twisted Sister, Autograph, Helix and so many more bands, there was AC/DC.

Another song, hummed by an old friend who became a head banger was “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” I also heard this at a dance, and had to ask my friend what they were actually saying.

So, sporting his black AC/DC shirt with the three-quarter white sleeves, he enunciated what the words were.

I still have no idea what it actually means though.

You’ve got it backwards
There was another weird phenomenon in junior high that really defies description, and really could only find traction in a small town with a vocal religious population.

There were people who began to talk about how if you played records backwards you could hear words of devil worship. Some even said if you went to sleep with your music on, and you woke up with a song in your head, you were subconsciously worshipping the devil.

I remember having this conversation with my cousin Carl, who was an actual musician. I asked him how he could play records backwards, because I certainly didn’t have a reverse button on my record player.

He said he put the needle in the first groove and used his finger to spin the record backwards. That seemed like a lot of work, and the devil was usually pretty lazy.

Anyway, there were several bands that were singled out. One was Led Zeppelin, but guitar player Jimmy page actually did flirt with the occult. Same went for Black Sabbath, and their name gave credence to the accusation, as did he black hooded robes they wore on stage. There was also RUSH, with their “Starman” icon drawing attention from the religious zealots. And KISS, who they said was an acronym that stood for either Knights In Satan’s Service or Kings In Satan’s Service.

And, of course AC/DC was also drawn into this. After all, it was an acronym too, that stood for Anti Christ Devil’s Children. Having songs called, “Highway to Hell” and “Hell’s Bells” also did not help their cause.

It was all so contrived, and so alarmist. But, going to Catholic school, it did give me a scare for a few weeks, and I did shy away from AC/DC for a while.

Until high school.

Went to a yard party
It was the fall of 1986, I am pretty sure, that I went with my friend Dave to a yard party outside Coaldale after a high school football game. I recall the whole yard was lit up bright, and it was after 11 p.m. We walked around, said hi to some people, and then left again. Throughout our visit to our first bush or yard party, AC/DC was playing. “You Shook Me All Night Long” was my outstanding memory of that night.

But not the last time I would be up late at a party with that song playing.

Going to the fair
Every summer, one of the highlights was going to Whoop-Up Days in Lethbridge. The big attraction was the Midway, made up of rides, games, food, and all kinds of odd things you could buy such as posters, mirrors with the names of bands on them and shirts.

There was one booth that had all kinds of shirts, mostly of the black with white three quarter sleeve variety. One that caught my eye was Bon Scott on t-shirt of dead singers with Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Keith Moon and John Bonham.

It was only recently before that I had learned Bon Scott had been the lead singer of AC/DC before he died in 1980.

Movie music
It seemed everyone was recording a movie soundtrack in the '80s. AC/DC was no exception, contributing to the cause by recording “Who Made Who” for the movie “Maximum Overdrive”. The movie was essentially about inanimate objects that come to life. Based on a Stephen King novel, it was one of the least successful of the movies based on his books.

“Who Made Who” was the soundtrack for the movie and contained largely songs that had been previously released. One exception was the title track “Who Made Who” , which had some chart success, peaking at number 23 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Back at the dance
In the fall of 1987, I headed off to university in Edmonton. It was a life-altering experience, and one of the early highlights was the number of dances put on so we could mix, mingle and meet new people.

An MBA student named Doug was our floor coordinator and was a leader early on. Often when there was dead space, or a lull in conversation, he would recite a lyric of some song in his head.

One day, it was, “She was a fast machine, she kept her motor clean…”

I wasn’t at all sure what that was from – until our next dance. It was in the Lister Hall cafeteria and sure enough that was AC/DC and their song, “You Shook Me All Night Long”, which had been part of that yard party a few months earlier. I hadn't recognized it because Doug was not a gifted singer.

I recall dancing to that song, working up quite a sweat, and screaming those lyrics at the top of my lungs. No one heard though. My voice was drowned out by the loud music from the deejay.

Parting thoughts
For me, AC/DC lived up to their reputation as a party band. It was at parties – whether yard parties or school dances – that I came to know their music.

It really was another part of the soundtrack of my life, and every time I hear AC/DC, I am transported back to the gym at St. Joseph’s Elementary Junior High, a yard north of Coaldale, or the Lister Hall cafeteria.

And I can still hear, ringing in my ear, “She was a fast machine, she kept her motor clean, she was the best damn woman I had ever seen.”

Tuesday, 8 September 2020

Remembering Ann Wedgeworth: The Three's Company flirt

Ann Wedgeworth had a brief but memorable role on
"Three's Company". She is seen here with series star John Ritter.
(ABC Photo Archives/Getty Images)
(may be subject to copyright)
What does a woman see in a gay man living with two women and why does she keeping hitting on him?

Although it may look on the face of it like the ultimate irony, it was really just fodder for a slapstick 1980s comedy.

Ann Wedgeworth played the flirt, Lana Shields, in the sitcom “Three’s Company”, and she was gone almost as fast as she arrived in the fourth season.

She came to mind when I had heard she passed away.

Three’s Company
The premise of “Three’s Company” was that Jack Tripper, played by John Ritter, was a young, good-looking aspiring chef. He wanted to live with his friends Janet, played by Joyce DeWitt, and Chrissy, played by Suzanne Summers. However, the building landlord Stanley Roper would never allow co-ed living arrangements.

So Janet tells Roper that Jack is gay. Roper tolerates the arrangement but rarely passed up an opportunity to make fun of Jack. Stanley and his wife Helen moved away, because ABC spun them off in their own series simply called “The Ropers”. Ralph Furley, played by Don Knotts, then took over as landlord.

And the charade continued.

Isn’t it ironic
In the fourth season, Jack takes a job with an escort service where he meets Lana. He soon discovers instead of just dinner she wants him for dessert.

What follows is a series of episodes where she tries, unsuccessfully, to seduce him.

At the same time, Furley takes a liking to Lana, and tries to put the moves on her.

As you can imagine, in a show that made its living on sexual misunderstandings and innuendo, the confusion and misdirection never stopped.

Jack had to either completely avoid Lana or fend off her advances when he did encounter her, all the while keeping up the charade in front of Furley that he was gay.

So Jack was trying to avoid exactly what Furley wanted.

This was the circular comedy that made “Three’s Company” such a hit.

Then, in a flash, Lana was just gone.

Gone and forgotten
Wedgeworth would only appear in nine episodes of “Three’s Company” before she was just written out of the show and never referred to again.

Wikipedia reveals that star John Ritter clashed with the writers over the character of Lana Shields. He believed that Jack Tripper, as sex-starved as he was, would not avoid Lana, who was an attractive, sexy older woman. The writers reasoned her age would turn him off. In the end, she said she asked to be let out of her contract because her role was getting smaller and smaller.

Parting thoughts
A pattern seems to emerge when you look back at “Three’s Company”. They did not really treat cast well who they had an issue with. It started with the way they wrote out Suzanne Summers over her contract dispute. It ended with the way they didn’t even notify cast members there would be a spin-off after “Three’s Company” for John Ritter but no one else.

In between, was the saga of Ann Wedgeworth and Lana Shields, the “Three’s Company” flirt.

It was an idea with a lot of potential that could have worked.

Instead, they just dropped her like a hot potato, confining her to the dust bin of sitcom history.

It was ghosting, ‘80s-sitcom style, and she deserved better.

Monday, 7 September 2020

Glen Campbell: Soundtrack for Sunday mornings

This was just one of the Glen Campbell records my Mom would play on
Sunday mornings when she was making Sunday dinner, which we ate at noon.
(may be subject to copyright)
I have very vivid memories of Sunday mornings growing up on the farm, from the time I was about eight years old until I was 16.

And those memories are punctuated by a soundtrack of songs. Hearing any one of those songs, or artists, brings them back.

Headlining the pack is Glen Campbell and his signature song, “Rhinestone Cowboy.”

It always started the same way. I would be sleeping soundly in my bedroom when suddenly the world changed. Simultaneously, the lights would go on, my covers would be pulled off and my Dad would be barking, “Aufstehen!” That’s German for “Get up!” It was always this frontal assault of all my senses.

It meant in about 15 minutes we were heading to Coaldale and St. Ambrose, the Roman Catholic Church that was our spiritual home not just through the 80s, but the 60s, 70s and right into the 90s.

Mom always had my Sunday clothes set out for me, and my Dad was always already dressed when he woke me. He was a sharp dressed man who always sported a suit and tie for Sunday Mass.

Some of my fondest memories are on the drive to Coaldale. Sometimes Dad would tell me stories about growing up in Germany. Sometimes he’d answer questions because even then I was a curious kid. Sometimes I would just read.

At church, we always sat in the same pew about halfway between front and back, on the right side of the church. Even now, wherever I go to Mass, I sit on the right side. It just seems more comfortable. It was always the same too. At the other end of the pew were two widowers in their 70s, maybe 80s. They were two German men Dad knew – Mr. Macht and Mr. Rach.

After Mass, we pretty much left right away, just staying long enough to say hello to our friends and neighbours like the Uytdewilligens, Keujers and Eringfelds.

Home front
Meanwhile, Mom was busy at home. She was Lutheran, and had no way to go to church, so she stayed home and made Sunday dinner. For us Germans, Sunday dinner was at noon, not at 6 p.m.

Often, she would dress up too, in a dress usually. Looking back, it was probably because company often came Sunday afternoons, and she always wanted to look her best.

For that reason, she would wear an apron so she would not stain or ruin her clothes.

The TV was never on either. Partly because, with peasant vision, there really was nothing to watch in the three-channel universe. Sometimes, she had the radio set to George Brown and his “Musical Memories” on 1220 CJOC.

More often, Mom had her record player going.

That’s when we came home.

Musical memories
Mom had her favourites. At the top of the list was “Rhinestone Cowboy” by Glen Campbell, but there was a lot more. She loved Jim Reeves, Roger Whittaker, Marty Robbins, Nat King Cole, John Denver and the German child singer Heintje.

By the time we got home, dinner was just going on the table, so the music stopped.

After we ate, we often lazed on the couch, watching whatever was on TV. My grandparents on my Mom’s side; or Uncle Ed, Aunt Johanna and cousins Nina and Carl: or Uncle Witold and Aunt Lotta would invariably come by, and the afternoon was spent visiting.

Parting thoughts
When Glen Campbell died, I jotted his name down to do a blog post, but nothing came to mind. Awhile later, I bought his autobiography “Rhinestone Cowboy” at a second-hand store in High River, and read that about a year ago. Still, nothing came to mind. Then, about a week and a half ago, we had a yard sale because we are cleaning out my Mom’s house in Lethbridge. My brother put her records on a table and I flipped through them. There, staring me in the face was Glen Campbell, and Nat King Cole, and John Denver.

I picked up the Glen Campbell album, turned it over in my hands, and that’s when it all came back – the music, and the memories of Sunday mornings.

It was a great way to grow up.