Saturday, 21 December 2013

Our House: Always a satisfying ending

The cast of "Our House". In back from left are
Deidre Hall and Chad Allen, while in front
from left are Shannen Doherty, Wilford Brimley, and
Keri Houlihan. Unfortunately, Gerald S. O'Loughlin,
my favourite character, is not in this picture..
If there was ever a TV show that left me feeling satisfied at the end of every episode, it was "Our House".

It aired Sunday nights on Channel 7, and was the story of Gus Witherspoon, a crusty old man whose daughter-in-law and her three children move in with him after his son dies. There is the predictable clash between generations as Gus tries to set down some rules, but they slowly grow into a family. In virtually every episode someone would get in trouble, and Gus would get them out of it, usually by telling off the bad guy in the end.

The cast was a mix of people who would go on to be quite prolific in television, or had already made their mark.

Let me tell you something
Gus Witherspoon was played by Wilford Brimley, and he was awesome. He was this wise man who really would not put up with any garbage. His best friend was Joe Kaplan, played by Gerald S. O'Loughlin, who would always seem to come along with Gus, whether he wanted to or not.

I loved the way Gus saved the day so much, the first column I ever had, on my friend Anders Svensson's website "Screaming Midget", was called "Let me tell you something", a tribute to Wilford Brimley. (In fact, Anders believed I would look like Brimley when I got to be that age, and used a cartoon drawing of Brimley to accompany my byline). Brimley often started his tirades with, "Let me tell you something", if memory serves.

In fact, I just looked up Wilford Brimley on Wikipedia. There is a part that talks about Brimley and his good friend Robert Duvall working on the movie "Tender Mercies". There is a quote from Brimley confronting director Bruce Beresford, and right in the middle is embedded the phrase, you guessed it: "…let me tell you something…"

Days goes nights
Gus' daughter-in-law Jessie Witherspoon was played by Deidre Hall, who played Marlena Evans on "Days Of Our Lives". She actually tried to do both the daytime drama and "Our House" at the same time. Marlena disappeared, and at first her body was never found. Then we discovered she had been kidnapped and held hostage by the evil "Orpheus". Eventually, she did leave "Days" in 1987, in the midst of the run of "Our House". But, as with so many other soap opera stars, she kept rising from the dead like Lazarus, even to this day. It was odd seeing her in something other than "Days Of Our Lives", but not surprising that she returned there once "Our House"ended.

Before "90210" and "Charmed" there was…
Looking back, it is hard to believe that Shannen Doherty pretty much got her start on "Our House". She played the role of the oldest daughter Kris, who was 15 and full of teen angst. She was so young, but this would be a stepping stone for all that success.

Chad Allen – you'd know him to see him
Up to that point, Chad Allen may have been best known as Tommy Westphall, the autistic son of Dr. Donald Westphal, the conscience of the show, "St. Elsewhere". The show actually ended up being a figment of Tommy's imagination. On "Our House", he played the lone son, David Witherspoon. He would go on to recurring roles in "My Two Dads" and "Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman".

Gerald S. O'Loughlin – more than a sidekick
Every hero needs a good sidekick, and Joe Kaplan was perfect for Gus Witherspoon. But actor Gerald S. O'Loughlin was more than just a sidekick. He had quite a prolific career in the 1980s.

He appeared in three notable TV movies that were all excellent: "Brothers-in-Law"; "Child's Cry"; and "Under Siege". He also had a recurring role in the series "Automan".

However, the role that I remember most was a guest spot in an episode of "Quincy, M.E.". He played a coroner's investigator who was one of the best, and a friend of Quincy's. Then, one day he makes what appears to be a careless blunder and blows a case. It turns out he can't read. He loses his job, but Quincy helps convince him to learn how. The episode ends with him sounding out the word, "leg". I have been a bit critical of Quincy becoming much more heavy-handed and preachy in its final years, but this episode did bring light to an important issue – and Gerald S. O'Loughlin turned in a powerful performance.

Parting thoughts
"Our House" was only on the air for two season, from 1986 to 1988, and I only watched the first season. After that, I was off to university where I rarely watched any TV. Yet, for that one season, it was a show I never missed. I either watched it every Sunday night, or taped it.

The reason was simple: It always had a satisfying ending. No matter what had happened, whether a store had ripped someone off, one of the kids was bullied at school, or someone got hurt, Gus took matters into his own hands and made things right.

Looking back, it was probably pretty formula, but at a time in my life that was full of all kinds of emotions as with all teenagers, it was something that gave me comfort every Sunday night.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Celebrating Notre Dame's 25th anniversary national championship

It’s amazing how time flies, and how small the world can be. Recently the Notre Dame football team celebrated the 25th anniversary of their 1988 national championship. Dozens of former players and coaches returned to share memories and celebrate the successes they achieved.

It was a special day for one person in particular – current wide receiver T.J. Jones. His father Andre Jones played defensive end on that team 25 years ago, but passed away a few years ago. T.J. is the first son of a player from the 1988 team to play for Notre Dame, and Andre was so proud of his son.

That championship season
It was the last time Notre Dame reigned supreme in college football, and what a season it was. The Irish were coming off an 8-4 season that culminated in a 35-10 loss to Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl. The highlight was Tim Brown winning the Heisman Trophy. They entered the 1988 season ranked number 13 in the country, with expectations not that high.

The Irish opened at home against arch-rival Michigan, who were ranked ninth. Their dream season ended almost before it started as the Notre Dame offence could not generate any points. The sole touchdown came off an 81-yard Ricky Watters punt return. The remainder of the scoring came from field goals, including an 48-yarder by walk-on Reggie Ho to win the game 19-17.

The win moved the Irish up to number eight when they visited the Spartans at Michigan State. The Irish fell behind 3-0 early, but rallied for two field goals to lead 6-3 at halftime. The offence finally got rolling as quarterback Tony Rice scored the offence's first touchdown of the season, and the defence shut out the Spartans the rest of the way en route to a 20-3 victory.

They Irish stalled at number eight, but moved to number five after blowing Purdue out 52-7 to move to 3-0. Notre Dame moved to number five when they hosted Stanford, blowing them out 42-14, to up their record to 4-0, although they remained fifth in the nation. Next up were the Panthers in Pittsburgh. The Irish did not play well, and their hopes of a championship were in doubt again, but they found a way to win. Their record improved to 5-0, they moved up to number four in the rankings, and everything would likely come down to their next game.

Looming on the horizon were the number one, undefeated Miami Hurricanes, winners of 36 straight games. The game is actually on YouTube in its entirety, and I watched it a few months ago. In fact, it is embedded on this blog. Polls have voted it one of the greatest games of all time, and I have to agree. Beyond the drama leading up to the game, the fact it was dubbed "Catholics versus Convicts", and there was a pre-game fight, it was one of the most entertaining games I have ever seen. Given my absolute distaste for Miami, and that Notre Dame ended their 36-game winning streak, made it even sweeter.

Notre Dame took it to them early, but pretty much in the blink of an eye, that high-powered Hurricane offence led by quarterback Steve Walsh brought the team back with 21 points in the second quarter to go into halftime tied 21-21. Notre Dame would go up 31-21 before the Hurricanes again roared back. Leading 31-24, the Irish recovered a Cleveland Gary fumble on their one-yard line keeping Miami out of the endzone. Miami fans believe Gary was down before the fumble, and should have had the ball first and goal. It really did not factor into the final result, as Notre Dame fumbled three plays later giving the ball back to Miami, who would score the possible tying touchdown. However, trailing 31-30 Miami coach Jimmy Johnson went for the win with a two-point conversion attempt. Notre Dame defensive back Pat Terrell knocked away the Walsh pass, preserving Notre Dame's 31-30 victory. It was an incredible game.

Yet the result was not good enough to vault Notre Dame into the number one spot in the country. Instead, they were number two as they beat Air Force 41-13, then Navy 22-7. That win finally put them into the number one spot, where they would remain the rest of the season. They blew out Rice 54-11, then knocked off old rival Penn State by a score of 21-3, to move their record to 10-0.

Looming on the horizon now was another old rival: the undefeated and second-ranked USC Trojans. It was the first time in their history they entered their meeting both undefeated. The Irish were all over the Trojans, winning 27-10 in Los Angeles.

The only thing now standing between them and a national title was number three West Virginia, led by quarterback Major Harris, who were also undefeated. It was a de facto national championship game, and Notre Dame played like champions. Again they took control early and cruised to the 34-21 victory, giving them the school's 11th national championship.

I remember exactly where I was. The Fiesta Bowl was played on January 2 that year, and I returned to res that morning because I had a ton of stuff to do. My buddy Dave was there too, coming back early to watch the bowl games. So we watched that game in the lounge on Fifth Kelsey, and my love for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish was cemented.

The aftermath
The Irish had a lot of great players that I just loved: Tony Rice, Derek Brown, Mike Stonebreaker, Chris Zorich, Jeff Alm, even Rocket Ismail. A few, like Rice and Ismail, ended up in the CFl, and a lot made the NFL. My old friend and mentor Michel Ouellette read a book by Irish coach Lou Holtz, and said he thought every starter on that Notre Dame team played pro ball of some sort.

The drought
The Irish came close in both 1989 and 1993, but came up short for the championship. It was 24 years until they went on that magical run in 2012. Again they went undefeated and finished the season ranked number one. However, they faced a juggernaut in Alabama who was really more like a pro team, and humiliated the Irish so bad, they fell to fourth in the final rankings. Ouch.

Parting thoughts
What made that 2012 championship run so special was that T.J. Jones, the first son of a player from that 1988 team, was playing for the Irish. From the moment he started playing in his freshman year, he has worn the same number as his father.

The young man is so mature, his dad's teammates have said he got them through Andre Jones' death more than they helped T.J. through it.

They celebrated that 1988 championship a few weeks ago, and it was a special night for T.J. A few weeks later he played his final game at Notre Dame Stadium, the end of a storied career of his own.

He may not have won a championship like his dad did, but he brought honour in all he did to his father's memory, his family, and his school.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Alvis Satele: Remembering "Save Our Stamps"

Samson Satele, current centre
for the Indianapolis Colts.
Alvis Satele, linebacker for the
Calgary Stampeders in 1986.
When I recently discovered that Indianapolis Colt offensive lineman Samson Satele was the nephew of Alvis Satele, it reminded me of a time
long ago when the Calgary Stampeders were not only terrible,
but their very existence was in jeopardy.

A bad season…
The 1985 season for the Calgary Stampeders would prove to be a pivotal one in their history. The Stampeders had finished 6-10 in 1984, dead last in the West Division. Things really could not get much worse going in to 1985. There was optimism before the season began as Calgary had signed quarterback Joe Barnes, who just two seasons earlier had helped the Toronto Argonauts to the Grey Cup championship, and was an all-star the next season in 1984. The Stampeders acquired him in a trade to bolster their chances.

The optimism would not last. They started the season 0-5 and things really were not going that well, but there would be a moment of hope.

One bright light
It was in their sixth game of the season, It was a Saturday night, August 17, and they were playing the Lions at B.C. Place in Vancouver. It was a late start, 8:30 p.m. to be exact. The Lions had never lost to Calgary at B.C. Place, and they were one of the best teams in the league. The Stampeders had fired coach Steve Buratto and replaced him with Bud Riley (whose son Mike Riley would go on to coach Winnipeg to Grey Cup wins in 1988 and 1990).

What unfolded was one of the best football games I had ever seen. My mom had come out of the bath and settled on the couch to watch with him. I found myself explaining the rules to her, and she caught on quickly. She got deeper into the game as it went on, and the Stampeders were hanging around. Joe Barnes was finally beginning to play like the quarterback they had acquired.

Calgary led 6-3 after the first quarter and 16-11 at halftime. I was surprised at how well the Stamps were playing. They hung tough in the third quarter, leading 30-18 with just 15 minutes to go. I was hoping so hard they could hold on. The lions mounted a furious comeback with two touchdowns, but Calgary hung on for the 35-32 win.

I thought it may be a turning point, but it was the one big bright spot of the season.

…Becomes the worst season
The Lions would go on to finish 13-3, good enough for first place in the West, defeat Winnipeg in the West Final, and win the Grey Cup with a 37-24 win over Hamilton at Olympic Stadium in Montreal. Calgary would go on to win two more games, finishing 3-13 in the West, dead last and actually worse than the year before. No playoffs, no all-stars, not a lot to celebrate.

More foreboding was the fact their eight home games at McMahon Stadium averaged 14,988 spectators, with a high of 18,303 and a low of 11,185. The team had lost money and talk began to surface about the team folding altogether.

Save Our Stampeders
Things were desperate, so a group of community members, players and fans organized the "Save Our Stamps" campaign. The result was the sale of 22,400 season tickets and an injection of much-needed money.

What I will always remember was in the winter of 1986 listen to, I think it was 1140 AM radio, and they played a song called, "When the going gets tough, Calgary gets going". It was set to the same music as another popular song of the time: "When the Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going" by Billy Ocean. His song was actually part of the soundtrack for the movie "The Jewel of the Nile", which was the sequel to "Romancing the Stone".

After all the pleas to the community for support, the question now was: could they put a decent product on the field.

The 1986 would be very important – maybe the most crucial in the team's history.

Who is Alvis Satele?
The Stampeders hired Bob Vespaziani as their coach and general manager Earl Lunsford set about rebuilding the team. Once again, after a three-win season the previous year, there was no place to go but up.

They opened their regular season at home against their arch-rival, the Edmonton Eskimos. The team that took the field had been completely re-tooled. There were players who had been with other teams, like defensive back Ken Miller and offensive lineman Kari Yli-Renko, and some new faces, like Marshall Toner. He was a Canadian receiver who had written a letter to every team in the CFL looking for a break.

This is where linebacker Alvis Satele comes in. He was one of those players Lunsford brought on board to improve the Stampeders.

Alvis Satele was a graduate from the University of Hawaii who had spent some time with the Washington Redskins and San Diego Chargers before being released.

The first time I saw him play was in that 1986 season opener against Edmonton. I was amazed at all the new names, and surprised at some of the players from other teams they had brought in.

From the beginning, the Stampeders were a different team. Their defence dominated the Eskimos, and Satele even recovered a Milson Jones fumble in the third quarter. Calgary led throughout the game, but their old nemesis Matt Dunigan got them again, hitting Stephen Jones with a last-minute bomb to set up the game-winning score and pull out the 21-20 victory. To make matters worse, out of frustration over getting beaten deep by Jones, Miller punched him and got an unnecessary roughness penalty. Still, it signalled the Stampeders were for real.

The turnaround
They would go on to have a huge turnaround, finishing 11-7 (that year the league went from 16 to 18 regular season games) tied for third in the West with Winnipeg, but finishing fourth based on a tie-breaker.

That year the CFL changed the playoff format. If the fourth place team in one division had a better record than the third place team in the other division the team with better record made the playoffs. That year the West was much stronger so, the fourth-place Stampeders qualified. It mean first played fourth and second played third in the West, while the top two teams in the East played a two-game, total-point series.

That meant a date with the Edmonton Eskimos at Commonwealth Stadium, where Edmonton won 27-18. The Eskimos would go on to win the West final 41-5 over BC, before being blown out in the Grey Cup by Hamilton by a score of 31-15.

The Satele legacy
Alvis Satele with his son Brashton, in
high school at the time, and wife Lee Ann.
Alvis played two seasons in Calgary and one in BC before his career ended. His statistics are not readily available. The only thing I could easily find was that in 1986 he had seven quarterback sacks and two fumble recoveries. He also shares the club record for most sacks in a game with four against Toronto on Oct. 13, 1986.

His son Brashton Satele followed his footsteps and played with the University of Hawaii, and has played in the pros with the New York Jets and Dallas Cowboys. He has three nephews who played pro too: Samson Satele plays with the Indianapolis Colts; Hercules Satele who played with the Arizona Cardinals; and Melila Purcell who played with the Cleveland Browns.

Parting thoughts
It's funny how some names just stick with me. I recall that 1986 season opener like it was yesterday, which made finding this piece of video that much more gratifying. I recall seeing Satele play, and
playing well.

More than anything, every time I hear the name Alvis Satele, I am reminded how close we all came to losing our Stampeders. Would that have made us Rider fans by default?

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Tarzan Boy: Memories of the Quad High dance

It was a great idea that just didn't work out as well as it could have: four high schools holding a dance in a central spot. Every time I hear "Tarzan Boy" by Baltimora, my mind takes me back to that night we piled in a van to Picture Butte and I danced for the first time with a girl I really liked.

The ultimate dance
My good friend Dave was our Student Union president. One day he came back from a meeting with this great idea: a quad high dance. It would be at Picture Butte High School, which was kind of in the middle. Coalhurst High School and Noble Central High School from Nobleford would be the others, along with us, Kate Andrews High School of Coaldale.

Dave and a couple of his friends, and me, piled into our friend Mike’s dad’s van in Coaldale and drove out to Picture Butte. It was kind of odd for me because I actually lived part way between Coaldale and Picture Butte. Mike was the same friend who a few months earlier had that birthday party featuring “Wildcats” and Chris DeBurgh.

I was excited about the dance because this girl I liked told me she was going to be there. She was in Grade 11 and sat in front of me in biology. Her cousin was in my grade and she, her cousin, and her cousin’s best friend were all going to be there. Plus, I figured we might meet some people from other towns.

When we arrived it was the opposite, and I could have guessed. You had the Coaldale kids in one corner, the Picture Butte kids in another corner, Coalhurst in another, and Nobleford in another. Never the four shall meet.

We ended up sitting with the girls, and to my surprise she asked me to dance. I’m pretty sure "Sounds Unlimited" was doing the music and they had a big video monitor – our first video dance. The song was “Tarzan Boy” by Baltimora, and it was one of about half a dozen songs we danced to.

But that would be it. I tried to kind of make conversation, but she was preoccupied at first. Some drama with a boy she actually liked. Later, she was just plain bored. She smoked, much to my chagrin, and had made the empty cigarette package into a piece of rudimentary origami. She just played with it, putting it to her face and looking at me through it, like some sort of telescope.

She would ultimately be the girl I asked out, who said no. You remember, the sounds of Bruce Hornsby provided the soundtrack.

Parting thoughts
Whether anything came of that thing with that girl or not, that quad high, video dance remains etched in my memory. It was the first time I ever danced live to music videos, and it was a great time.

Baltimora and “Tarzan Boy” may be a one-hit wonder, relegated to a shampoo commercial these days, but every time I hear it, I think of Picture Butte High School in 1987.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

The real Derrick Shepard

The cover of the game program commemorating
the bond between father and son
on the Oklahoma Sooners.
Long before “Grey’s Anatomy” and Derrick “McDreamy” Shephard, there was a real live person named Derrick Shepard who terrorized defences with the Oklahoma Sooners in college football.

A few weeks go, when Sterling Shepard, a wide receiver with the Oklahoma Sooners, broke the hearts of thousands of Notre Dome fans with a long touchdown reception, all I could think was, “Man he looks like his dad out there.”

It was back when I was still an Oklahoma Sooners fan, and they were a national championship contender. Barry Switzer was their coach and they employed that wishbone, option offence run by quarterback Jamelle Holieway. And Derrick Shepard was their best wide receiver.

Blazing speed
The first time I saw Derrick Shepard play, was in the 1985 Orange Bowl after the 1984 season. The Sooners were upset 28-17 by the Washington Huskies. I recall Shepard being from Odessa, Texas which, if memory serves, is the community on which the movie "Friday Night Lights" is based. The Huskies had jumped out to a 14-0 lead, but Oklahoma rallied and Shepard scored the tying touchdown just before the half when he caught a Danny Bradley pass at the 47-yard line and ran it in. The Huskies would go on to win though, and finish second in the nation. Incidentally, they were the first Pac-10 team invited to the Orange Bowl. Anyway, what I remember most was the blazing speed Shepard showed on that pass-and-run play. It was just a sign of things to come.

Derrick Shepard of the Oklahoma Sooners in full stride in he early 1980s.
National champion
The Sooners realized they had blown any shot at a national championship in 1984 with that loss to Washington. Brigham Young University was undefeated, and won the national championship with a weaker schedule, but the Sooners would have made it an interesting discussion had they beat the Huskies. Consequently, they came into the 1985 season on a mission to win the national championship.

They were ranked number two and reeled off three straight wins to start the season, against Minnesota, Kansas State, and Texas. That set up a showdown with the Miami Hurricanes, a perennial college powerhouse and national championship contender. But, Miami's national championship aspirations had dimmed with a loss to the Florida Gators in their season opener. However, in the world of college football, a loss early in the season is not as bad as a loss later in the season.

The Hurricanes always had Oklahoma's number. From 1985 to 1987 Oklahoma was 33-3, with their only losses coming to Miami. This game started that string of three consecutive losses to the Hurricanes, as they went down 27-14 at home in Norman. Bradley had graduated, and the keys to the offence had been turned over to quarterback Troy Aikman. However, the Hurricanes would knock him out of the game as Jerome Brown sacked him, breaking his ankle in the process, and ending his season. In stepped freshman quarterback Jamelle Holieway who would have to guide the team the rest of the way.

The Sooners would rebound, winning seven straight, including a 27-7 victory over number two Nebraska at home on Nov. 23. They finished the regular season 7-0 in conference play, wrapping up the Big 8 Conference title, ranked number two in the country and set to face undefeated Penn State in the Orange Bowl for the national championship.

It was an interesting scenario. If the Sooners beat number one Penn State and Miami beat Tennessee in the Sugar Bowl, the Sooners were giving the national championship to their arch-rival. Obviously, they were cheering for the Volunteers in New Orleans.

They still had to take care of business against the top-ranked Nittany Lions. Boy did they ever. After Penn State scored a touchdown on their first possession, the Sooners exploded for 16 second-quarter points including a 71-yard touchdown pass from Holieway to All-American tight end Keith Jackson. The tough Oklahoma defence led by All-Americans Tony Casillas, Brian Bosworth, and Kevin Murphy shut out the Nittany Lions in the second half, and cruised to the 25-10 win.

Meanwhile, the Tennessee secondary riddled Miami quarterback Vinny Testaverde, routing the Hurricanes in the Sugar Bowl by a score of 35-7. That gave the Sooners the national championship.

Derrick Shepard finished the 1985 season with 14 receptions for 273 yards and three touchdowns, and another reception for eight yards in the Orange Bowl. It was his third season with the Sooners. In his freshman season of 1983, he had 19 receptions for 314 yards and two touchdowns, then in 1984 he had his best season with 24 receptions for 305 yards and two touchdowns, plus three receptions for 87 yards and a touchdown in that orange Bowl loss to Washington.

His numbers had declined in his third season for two reasons. The run-oriented Oklahoma offence afforded few chances to catch the ball. All-American tight end Keith Jackson had also arrived, presenting a big target with surprising speed.

Shepard closed out his college career in 1986 with 13 receptions for 198 yards, and another reception for 36 yards in the Orange Bowl.

His career totals in four years at Oklahoma are in dispute according to the Internet. Some sources state Shepard finished with 76 receptions for 1,237 yards, and other sources say 75 receptions for 1,221 yards. In any event, regardless of the numbers he was considered by many to be Oklahoma's best receiver.

It turned into a serviceable pro career too, primarily as a punt and kick returner. He played 1987 and 1988 with Washington where he won the Super Bowl, split 1989 between Dallas and New Orleans, then returned to Dallas for 1990 and 1991.

Walk on to folk hero
There is much more to the Derrick Shepard story than the numbers and big plays.

In 1999, current Sooner coach Bob Stoops created the Derrick Shepard Most Inspirational Walk-on Player of the Year Award. I did not know that he had been a walk-on, earned a scholarship, then went on to achieve all these other things in his career.

Sadly, the reason the award was named after him was that Derrick Shepard died of a heart attack at the age of 35 while he was an assistant coach at Wyoming. His son Sterling was just six years old.

As a boy he presented the award named in his father's memory. Eventually, he joined the Sooners himself and was there to watch his own teammates receive.

From the minute Sterling Shepard joined the Oklahoma Sooners he dedicated his play to his father. He even wears his father's number three to honour him.

I'm sure Derrick Shepard would be proud.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Celebrating the century mark: It's been hard

Just now I posted my 100th entry on RobVogt80s, and I thought it a good time to pause for just a bit of reflection.

Hard to believe
It is hard to believe I have made 100 posts. However, if you know me you'd know how full my head is of wild, woolly and weird trivia and experiences from the '80s.

We covered a lot of ground from sports, TV and movies, to music and even a few current events. I am excited to see what the next hundred posts will be like.

Hard to do
Never did I think it would be this hard to come up with topics every day, as I set out to do. It takes time for ideas, and memories to percolate. Oddly, ideas seem to come in bunches. As an example, today I put four more in the incubator.

Hard to take
The other thing, I thought I would see after 100 entries is more comments posted on the blog. Then I realized people may neither think of it nor feel comfortable posting comments. That's something I totally understand.

Hard not to smile
Having said that, it is amazing the number of e-mails and comments off the street I have heard about my blog. For something that started as a way to get all my thoughts out, it has turned out pretty well.

I'll see you 100 posts from now – or tomorrow.

Jeff Goldblum: More than Rachel's dad on "Glee"

Jeff Goldblum with Ben Vereen
in "Tenspeed and Brownshoe"
His most recent role may have been as one of Rachel Berry's dads in "Glee", but Jeff Goldblum really began to establish himself in the 1980s. It was his birthday three days ago, and it reminded me of how long I have watched Goldblum perform.

Private detective
The decade opened with Goldblum starring opposite Ben Vereen in "Tenspeed and Brownshoe" in 1980, one of the first private detective series created by Stephen J. Cannell, and his first independent production. Cannell is another writing role model of mine.

The show was on Channel 7 and I caught a couple episodes before it just disappeared, as shows often did on peasant vision. Wikipedia reveals the show had a great start, due in part to heavy promotion, but tailed off in the ratings and only 14 episodes were made. I don't have many memories of the show, but last summer I bought it on DVD so I look forward to watching it.

I do remember it paying homage to film noir, hard-boiled detective novels, and one episode about the Black Dahlia murders though.

Jeff Goldblum as Slick in "Silverado"
The old west
Goldblum had parts in "The Right Stuff", "The Big Chill", "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension", and "Transylvania 6-5000", but the next role I recall was a duplicitous character in the 1985 western "Silverado".

That movie is my favourite western, and Goldblum, like co-star Brian Dennehy, go against type and play villains. Goldblum is excellent as Slick, a gambler who has taken up with Rae, the sister of Mal (played by Danny Glover). He appears to be a decent guy, but double crosses Mal, only to suffer the ultimate comeuppance: Mal kills Slick with his own knife.

Jeff Goldblum with Michelle Pfeiffer in "Into the Night"
"Into the Night" in the summer time
Goldblum returned to the present day for his next role in "Into the Night". He is a depressed man who just discovered his wife cheating on him. He drives to the airport where a jewel smuggler (played by Michelle Pfeiffer) lands on his car, and she persuades him to drive her somewhere. Of course adventure ensues. It is another top notch performance as Goldblum plays a beleaguered man who can't quite resolve what is happening to him.

Oddly, I did not see this movie until the summer of 1996. Growing up, I had made a list of movies I wanted to see. When I left my job at the University of Alberta on June 1, 1996, I took a year off and decided to go through that list. "Into the Night" was right near the top.

Jeff Goldblum in the 1986 horror film "The Fly"
"Fly" by night
The final movie I recall was in 1986 when "The Fly" came out. I don't recall a lot, because horror movies are not quite my taste. I do recall watching it at someone's house.

The other thing about "The Fly" is that it established a pattern of "mad" scientist roles Goldblum would play. After we saw him in "Independence Day" in 1996, my good friend Jeremy said Goldblum's role as David Levinson was the logical extension of Ian Malcolm ("Jurassic Park") and Seth Brundle ("The Fly").

More movies and TV
Jeff Goldblum would have more roles in the 1980s, including "Earth Girls Are Easy", "The Fly II", and "Beyond Therapy", as well as "Vibes", and "The Tall Guy", three movies I have never heard of.

His greatest success would come in the 1990s and beyond with movies such as "Jurassic Park" and "Independence Day", and the television series "Law and Order: Criminal Intent".

Parting thoughts
What always struck me about Jeff Goldblum, beyond his height (he was a tall actor, even on the screen), was his versatility in the 1980s. He was a private eye on television, then a wild west weasel, a man with bad luck that turned good, and a scientist with really bad luck.

He was always endearing and engaging, and continued to be so for the next twenty-plus years. "Independence Day" is one of my favourite science fiction movies, and he plays a big part in that. Turning up as one of Rachel Berry's two dads on "Glee" was the next step in a career of varied roles.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Christopher Lloyd: Eccentric genius

Christopher Lloyd as Jim Ignatowski in "Taxi".
"You changed your name TO Ignatowski?"
~Alex Rieger to Jim Ignatowski in "Taxi"

Yesterday was Christopher Lloyd's birthday, and if there was ever an actor who could portray an eccentric character, it was him.

Reverend Jim
Christopher Lloyd rose to prominence in the TV series "Taxi", playing the burnt-out driver Reverend Jim Ignatowski from 1979 to 1983, after appearing as a guest star in 1978. It was revealed he had been a student at Harvard who was doomed once he took a bite from a hash brownie.

The episode I remember best was when he had to go home for a family commitment. We discover he comes from a wealthy family. However, he cannot face things alone so he asks Alex Rieger (Judd Hirsch), the moral centre of the show, to come with him.

At first, Alex does not seem to believe Jim when they arrive at this mansion. Yet, Jim persists and they go up to the front door. The butler obviously recognizes Jim. He invites them in and asks to take their bags. Alex hands the butler his suit case. Jim hands him a pair of old sneakers.

It is also revealed that Jim's real name is Jim Caldwell.

"You changed your name to Ignatowski?" Alex asks incredulously.

"It was the 60s – everyone was doing it," Jim replies.

There are very few characters as eccentric and offbeat as Jim Ignatowski. For his memorable work in that role, Christopher Lloyd won two Emmys for the role of Reverend Jim, in 1982 and 1983.

Christopher Lloyd as Captain James T. Kirk's nemesis
in "Star Trek III: The Search for Spock".
From New York to the Klingon Home World
Once "Taxi" ended, Lloyd found his way into the movies where more eclectic roles followed.

I recall him in heavy make-up as Commander Kruge, the Klingon antagonist to Captain James T. Kirk and company in "Star Trek III: The Search for Spock". He was awesome in that role.

It was a tough act to follow, because Ricardo Montalban had been legendary as the villain in "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan". Yet, Lloyd had some good lines.

When he captures the crew of the Enterprise, Kirk asks for a minute.

"I give two," he said. The way he said it made me laugh.

At another moment, when he realized what he discovered, regarding the Genesis device, he said, "This is the turn of luck I have been waiting for."

I have used that quote many times since myself.

And of course, no one quite took a kick in the face (or half a dozen) like Kruge did when he was hanging onto Kirk's leg for dear life with the Genesis Planet coming apart around them.

"I – have – had – enough - of – you," Kirk said, kicking Kruge in the face with each word he said.

It was an awesome performance, but just the prelude to something even better.

Christopher Lloyd in his iconic role Doc Brown
in the "Back to the Future" trilogy.
Back to the Future
It was the summer of 1985 and, being the the huge Michael J. Fox fan from "Family Ties" that I already was, I was excited to see "Back to the Future". My longtime friend and neighbour Mat had earned his driver's licence, so he drove us to the College Cinema to see the movie.

I had heard a lot about the movie. Initially, Eric Stoltz was supposed to play Marty McFly, but he was committed to "Mask" so he bowed out. Gary David Goldberg, the creator of "Family Ties" recommended Fox, so he assumed the role of McFly. Also, Huey Lewis and the News was set to do the theme song, and I had fallen in love with their album "Sports" the previous summer while visiting my cousin Fred in Brooks.

However, the one thing I did not know was that Reverend Jim himself would be playing Dr. Emmet Brown, creator of the Flux Capacitor, the modified Delorean, and time traveller extraordinaire.

The performance he turned in as the bewildered yet brilliant Doc Brown was brilliant. He had chemistry with Fox, and was the perfect blend of goofy, clumsy, and clever.

He would go on to repeat that role in two more sequels before the end of the decade.

Like so many sequels, "Back to the Future II and III" were not as good as the original, but they were still all right.

Christopher Lloyd in "The Dream Team".
The Dream Team
Christopher Lloyd closed out the 1980s with another eccentric role, this time as a group of escaped delusional patients in 1989's "The Dream Team". He played alongside Michael Keaton, Peter Boyle, and Stephen Furst, and turned in another good performance. His character deluded himself into believing he is one of the doctors at the sanitarium, and was constantly clutching a clipboard and making notes. In a very poignant scene, a child (a relative I believe) asks him to use the clipboard and, after resisting so many others throughout the movie who wanted to take it, he gave it to the child. It was a pretty layered performance.

Parting thoughts
There were other movies, such as "Clue", "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?", and "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension", but I never saw those.

What I did see was another versatile actor who had the ability to make what could be one-dimensional roles into multi-layered characters. Whether he was a burnt-out cab driver, a ruthless Klingon commander, a time-travelling scientist, or a patient suffering delusions, he was always memorable. He really was brilliant at playing the eccentric.

Mona with the Children: One-hit wonder with meaning

The 1980s are littered with one-hit wonders. A lot of them are pretty goofy, and illustrate just why the artists who recorded them never had more success.

Then there's Doug Cameron.

He's a Canadian musician and composer, who highlighted the plight of, "a 16-year-old girl, living in a land so cruel", who was part of a group of women hung for their faith in Iran.

The song was "Mona with the Children", and climbed all the way to number 14 on the Canadian charts on Oct. 19, 1985, a pretty good accomplishment for a protest song.

Personal memories
It was that venerable old CBC after-school show "Video Hits" that introduced me to "Mona with the Children." I still remember veejay/host Samantha Taylor explaining the song and what it was about.

A few days later I was riding the school bus (after all I was in Grade 11) with my longtime friend and neighbour Mat who told me he just loved this song. We actually talked about music a fair bit. Then, probably fifteen minutes later, it came on the bus radio. Mat knew every word, and serenaded me only as one high school kid could another.

The song
"Mona with the Children" is, according to Wikipedia, about a Persian Bahá'í girl aged 16, Mona Mahmudnizhad who, in 1983, together with nine other Bahá'í women, was sentenced to death and hanged in Shiraz, Iran, because of her membership in the Bahá'í Faith. The official charges ranged from “misleading children and youth” because she was teaching children, who had been expelled from school for their beliefs, and serving in an orphanage, to being a ‘Zionist’ because the Bahá'í World Centre is located in Israel. The video was distributed throughout the music scene and was effective in bringing the human rights situation of the Bahá'ís in Iran to the attention of the public.

Parting thoughts
"Mona with he Children" will never make any sort of top ten list of one-hit wonders of the 1980s. It likely wouldn't make a top twenty list, a top fifty, or even a top one hundred. Part of that is due to being a Canadian song.

However, where people may remember "Mickey" by Toni Basil, "Walking on Sunshine" by Katrina and the Waves, or "99 Red Balloons" by Nena, none of those songs will have changed the world. "Mona with the Children" and Doug Cameron actually shone a light on an issue that needed attention. For that, it is not only a one-hit wonder with meaning, but a song that made a difference

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

John Hughes: hero, role model, inspiration, influence

The name John Hughes is synonymous with the ‘80s and specifically teen angst movies. I cannot even really pinpoint the time I first heard about him, but John Hughes became a hero, role model, inspiration, and influence on me and my writing.

The tetralogy
There had not been a lot of movies about teenagers for teenagers. I’m not really sure if there were any. There are a lot of unique themes they explore: coming of age (as cliché a phrase as that has become); fitting in; peer pressure; self esteem; puberty and the changes it brings; and love. A lot of this ground was covered by various TV shows, but none stick out for me that spoke to me as a teenager.

Then came John Hughes.

He had been writing for a while, and would continue on into the 1990s, then he just disappeared. There may have been a lot of movies on John Hughes’ resumé but there are four I like to call his tetralogy:

• Sixteen Candles
• The Breakfast Club
• Pretty in Pink
• Some Kind of Wonderful

Spanning a five-year period, they explored what it meant to be a teenager, and how brutal it could be one minute then amazing the next. How truly mean teenagers can be on one hand, and how caring and compassionate on the other. More than anything else, for teens who felt isolated, or like they were the only ones feeling the emotions they were, these movies made them realize they were not alone. They offered hope in a sometimes completely hopeless time of life.

Sixteen Candles
This may have been the last movie I saw in a drive-in theatre. Mathew, my good friend and neighbour, invited me to see this with him. It was part of a double feature at the Green Acres Drive-in in Lethbridge with The Goonies. The Goonies was the first movie, I remember, because it was virtually impossible to watch at dusk because of all those underground scenes.

Sixteen Candles followed, and it had a profound effect on my 14-year-old personality. The story focuses on the character played by Molly Ringwald. Her sister is getting married and, in all the hustle and bustle, everyone forgets her birthday – her 16th birthday. She has a crush on a boy, who she thinks does not even know she exists, and the plot goes on from there.

What struck me was not so much the main plot, but something that happened late in the movie. Anthony Michael Hall plays this spassy nerd throughout the movies. At the end, he finds himself in a car with the drop-dead gorgeous captain of the cheerleaders, who is passed out. Like the goof he is, he gets photos taken with her by his friends (in the days before cell-phone cameras). Then a funny thing happens. She awakens, and they share kind of a tender moment, and even kiss. Even if tenderness may not have been John Hughes' intent, it was the effect it had on me. I always thought maybe the nerdy guy (a.k.a. me) could get the girl in the end.

The Breakfast Club
The Breakfast Club is set in detention, or Saturday school, one day. A jock, skid, prep, nerd, and outcast spend the day together, first resenting each other then eventually bonding.

I never did see this in the theatre, although I absolutely loved the anthem from the movie "Don’t You (Forget About Me)" by Simple Minds. Instead, I saw this in a much stranger and more amazing environment. I had a crush on this one girl for almost two years, right through Grade 11 and 12. Finally, part way through Grade 12, we became close, and I used to visit her regularly. One Friday night, my best friend Chris Vining, and buddies Randy and Dave, all went over to her place. Randy had made a copy of The Breakfast Club and we watched it in her basement. It was an absolute dream come true, because at that point she was the girl of my dreams.

Pretty in Pink
Molly Ringwald is back in her third John Hughes’ movie. This time she plays a high school senior who is not too popular. As she readies for her grad prom, enduring bullying and derision, she catches the eye of a popular boy, while oblivious to the affection of her best friend right in front of her.

This was the last John Hughes movie I saw in the theatre. I was working at Gergeley’s Greenhouse and it was around my 17th birthday in February. I went to get something from my car (well my mom’s car), and there was a note on the windshield. It was from my friend David who invited me out for food and a movie, Pretty in Pink in particular, for my birthday.

Some Kind of Wonderful
This time around Eric Stoltz plays a boy who is not too popular in school. He has a crush on his dream girl, who then breaks up with her boyfriend. He asks her out, only to be set up for a fall by the ex-boyfriend. Meanwhile, he too can't see the affection for his best friend right in front of him. Some Kind of Wonderful is a role reversal of Pretty in Pink in many ways.

Considering how deeply John Hughes moved me on the first three occasions, Some Kind of Wonderful came out at the wrong time. It was just as I was leaving home to go to university, and I had no way of getting to a theatre to see it. I recall hearing commercials on the radio for it, but never got to it.

It was the summer of 1995, my last at the University of Alberta, where I decided to have my own John Hughes film festival. The video store did not have Pretty in Pink, but it had Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Some Kind of Wonderful. I watched them in order, thus delaying again seeing the fourth in John Hughes teen angst tetralogy. It was well worth the wait.

Not like the others
People have said Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is among these, but I never connected with it. Really, it never resonated with me, and I never really identified with Ferris. Quite the contrary actually. He was the cool kid, the guy with the good-looking girlfriend who could seemingly get away with anything. Instead, I identified with his best friend Cameron, despite the Detroit Red Wings jersey. (To be honest, back in the ‘80s, I thought it cool that any character in any Hollywood movie would be wearing a hockey jersey of any kind).

The play is the thing
My discovery of John Hughes coincided with my desire to write my own stuff about teenagers. Seeing his movies made me realize that I was not alone, but also there was a market for that kind of story. The difference was that I wanted to make music a major part of that. The result was a play I wrote that, on first cut, was not very good. It was a semi-autobiographical look at my Grade 11 year in high school. Yet there are enough bones in there, I believe, to make something good out of that.

And that, in essence, is the power of John Hughes. He was not just a filmmaker and storyteller. Beyond entertaining, he inspired me to tell my own story. He was a role model in how to do that, and his influence is all over that play.

For all that, I am eternally grateful to John Hughes. Rest in peace.

Friday, 27 September 2013

Luba: Everytime I Hear That Voice I Cry

One of the forgotten treasures of the '80s was one of the best female voices I have ever heard – and she was Canadian. She was: Luba.

Only in Canada, you say?
Only three female performers have won three or more best female Junos: Anne Murray, Celine Dion, and Luba.

Yet, Luba has been lost in the mists of time. As popular as she was in Canada, she was like so many Canadian performers who could never crack the American market. Read here Blue Rodeo and The Tragically Hip as two other examples.

"She was awesome"
The first time I ever heard about Luba was in first semester of Grade 10, the fall of 1984. I was sitting in German class one day a few minutes before it started, when Bill, one of my classmates, strolled in a few minutes early.

"How was the concert?" Andy, another classmate, asked.

Bill had gone to see Platinum Blonde in Lethbridge earlier in the week.

He nodded and smiled.

"It was good. Luba was awesome."

She had opened for Platinum Blonde, and clearly made an impression on Bill. I had no idea who she was.

A year later that had all changed.

Every time I hear your voice I cry 
Luba's break came with the single "Every time I See Your Picture" in 1983. A year later she released her first full-length album, entitled "Secrets and Sins", which produced two great singles: "Storm Before the Calm" and "Let It Go".

I first heard "Let It Go" when Luba performed it at the Junos that year. It was 1985 and she would go on to win her first of three female vocalist of the year Junos. "Let It Go" would also appear in the 1986 American movie "9 1/2 Weeks" starring Mickey Rourke and Kim Basinger.

In 1986, Luba released, "Between the Earth and Sky", which produced the singles "How Many (Rivers to Cross)", "Innocent (With an Explanation)", and "Strength In Numbers". She won her second straight Juno as female vocalist of the year in 1986 for her efforts.

I remember so well how Luba was always on the radio, as much a function of her popularity as the Canadian content rules. That did help though. But I do remember her best in that 1986-1987 period.

Then, in 1987, she released "Over 60 Minutes With Luba", which contained her rendition of "When A Man Loves a Woman" by Percy Sledge, the most popular charting single she released in Canada. It propelled her to her third straight Juno for female vocalist of the year in 1987.

She closed out the 1980s with the album, "All or Nothing" in 1989. By then I had gone on to university and did not listen to the radio regularly. Yet, the album did have three recognizable singles: "No More Words"; "Giving Away a Miracle"; and "Little Salvation". According to Wikipedia, that was her last shot to break into the U.S. market. She didn't so her label dropped her.

Parting thoughts
I will never understand what makes some artists, such as Bryan Adams, Corey Hart, and even Glass Tiger, hit it big in the States while others, like Blue Rodeo, The Tragically Hip, and Luba just don't catch on.

What I love about Luba is the passion and strength in her voice. She always seemed to give it everything she had, and that was just infectious. She remains one of the most popular Canadian female singers of all time, and she has three consecutive Juno awards to prove it.

For all those people in the United States, and around the world, who never heard Canada's forgotten treasure they just missed out. They truly did.

(P.S.: Her last name, as I recently discovered is Kowalchyk)

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Things come in threes, even assassination attempts

John Lennon in 1980, before
his death on Dec. 9.
It always came out of the blue, totally unexpected. It was Grade 6 and we'd be working in class. Suddenly the silence was broken by what sounded like a news feed from TV or radio.

And it always bore bad news.

During that fateful year, I will always remember where I was during three fateful events – three assassination attempts, one successful – because I was in the same place: my desk in Mr. Sorge's room in St. Joseph's School in Coaldale, Alberta.

On December 9, 1980, class was interrupted by a broadcast announcing John Lennon had been shot at 10:50 p.m. the previous evening by Mark David Chapman, and had died. I wondered, "Who is John Lennon?" Only in the following hours when we talked about it in class, did I discover he was a member of the Beatles. After all, I was only 10 and the Beatles had broken up before I was born, although I knew Paul McCartney, his work with Wings, and some of his songs with the Fab Four.

Ronald Reagan, president of the United
States, in 1981, before an attempt was
made on his life on March 30.
On March 30, 1981, the silence of our class was broken by a radio broadcast. Ronald Reagan, president of the United States, had been shot by John Hinckley Junior. Reagan would live, becoming the first serving U.S. president to survive being shot in an assassination attempt.

Pope John Paul II in 1981, before an
attempt was made on his life on May 13.
On May 13, 1981 Pope John Paul II was shot four times in St. Peter's Square at Vatican City by Mehmet Ali Ağca. Being a Catholic school, this one struck us all the hardest. I recall one classmate, David, gasping, covering his mouth and exclaiming, "Oh my god!" We all prayed for the pope, who would overcome a severe loss of blood and go on to live another 25 years.

It was a strange time. Never again, in the four years that followed that I attended that school, was class ever interrupted again by any kind of announcement, of good news or bad. Thankfully, the president and the pope survived, but the death of John Lennon was a loss I did not come to understand until I was an adult who could appreciate his music.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Gary David Goldberg: Michael J. Fox's other TV father

Gary David Goldberg, creator of "Family Ties"
at left, with the show's star Michael J. Fox.

His memory was honoured at the recent Emmys. He gave Michael J. Fox his big break, and for that I am eternally grateful. At the recent Emmys, Fox returned the favour by paying tribute to the late Gary David Goldberg.

Gary David Goldberg was the creator of "Family Ties", which ran from 1982 to 1989. According to Wikipedia, the show was based on the experiences he shared with his wife and family of hippie parents raising children in the 1970s. When it debuted, it launched the career of a then unknown Canadian actor named Michael J. Fox.
The show ran seven seasons, garnering Goldberg an Emmy in 1987 for outstanding writing in a comedy series, for the Family Ties episode: "A, My Name is Alex". It is a two-part episode, centering around Fox's character Alex P. Keaton dealing with the sudden death of a friend in a car accident.

"Family Ties" started on peasant vision on Channel 7 CFAC-TV, before migrating to CFCN and that powerhouse Thursday night lineup that also included "Cheers", "The Cosby Show", and "Night Court".

"Family Ties" was not just a vehicle for Michael J. Fox. It had a strong cast that included Steven Gross as patriarch Steven Keaton and Meredith Baxter as matriarch Elyse Keaton. The show was funny and tackled some serious subjects.

Goldberg was the creative driving force. "Family Ties" and all his shows were punctuated by that same clip in the end credits. It was a picture of a dog with the voice over, "Sit Ubu sit. Good dog." That was the signature for Goldberg's production company Ubu Productions, named after his dog.

Goldberg would go on to create the semi-biographical series "Brooklyn Bridge" from 1991 to 1993, and starring Marion Ross, most famous for her role as Marion Cunningham in "Happy Days". Goldberg would also reunite with Michael J. Fox in 1996 to create "Spin City", which ran until 2002.

Sadly, Gary David Goldberg, and that fertile mind for comedy, died of brain cancer on June 23, 2013, at the age of 68. Rest in piece. Hopefully, Ubu was there by your side.

Alan Thicke: Versatile entertainer

If there was ever a person who typified every aspect of television in the 1980s, it was Alan Thicke. Daytime talk show, night-time host, sitcom actor, TV theme writer, Canadian, and American network television. Alan Thicke did it all, and he just got elected to Canada's Walk of Fame for all his contributions.

As the decade opened, Alan Thicke debuted on CTV with a daytime talk show entitled, fittingly "The Alan Thicke Show" weekdays at 1 p.m. It had replaced another daytime show entitled "The Alan Hamel Show", which actually led me to believe it was a typo at first. It would run from 1980 to 1983.

I only got to see it when I was home from school, namely during holidays and during summer holidays. It was good though, with tons of interesting guests. Oddly, the first time I ever saw "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson", I thought it looked an awful lot like a night-time version of the "Alan Thicke Show".

That's very strange because of what transpired.

…Becomes nighttime
Networks were always in search of programming that could challenge "The Tonight Show" which seemed to be impossible to beat in the ratings.

So, based on his success on Canadian daytime television, Alan Thicke got an offer he couldn't refuse. He was heading south to take his shot at unseating Johnny Carson as the champion of nighttime talk shows.

"Thicke of the Night" debuted in 1983, but turned out to be just another sacrificial lamb. The show was excessively hyped, but never lived up to the billing. Johnny Carson was just too big and too strong. His Goliath was just too much for Thicke's David. "Thicke of the Night" was cancelled in June of 1984.

A year later, Alan Thicke was back on TV to stay, portraying father figure Jason Seaver on the popular sitcom "Growing Pains". It was a role he would become best known for, as the show ran from 1985 to 1992.

It debuted when I was in Grade 11, paired on CFCN Channel 13 with another sitcom, "Who's The Boss", which was in its second season, and would also run until 1992. I religiously watched it every Tuesday night, if memory serves.

Thicke played a psychiatrist who decided to work from home. He and his wife Maggie (played by Joanna Kerns who had played "Greedy Gretchen" on "Three's Company"), had three children: Mike (played by Kirk Cameron, who would go on to be a teen heart throb); Carol (played by Tracey Gold, who at the time was best known as the sister of Missy Gold, a child actor on "Benson"); and Ben (played by Jeremy Miller).

When I first heard about the show, some critics had written it off as another cheap imitation of "The Cosby Show", which was the reigning sitcom champion. It really was not the case, and its seven-year run proved it.

Recognize that voice?
Meanwhile, he also fashioned a career writing and performing TV theme songs, often with his wife Gloria Loring, who starred as Liz Chandler on the daytime drama "Days Of Our Lives". If you listen really closely, you can recognize his voice in the opening credits of "Diffrent Strokes" and "The Facts Of Life".

How is this for irony? Thicke and Loring were voted celebrity parents of the year by a family-oriented magazine, months before they separated and eventually divorced.

Parting thoughts
Alan Thicke was another one of those actors who always seemed to be around in the '80s. The difference was that he was Canadian, and got his start on Canadian television. That gave me that extra pride that one of ours had made it big in Hollywood. He was also just so versatile. Not just an actor or host, he was both, and a composer and performer. Canada has not produced anyone else quite like Alan Thicke.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Ben Johnson: 100-metre humiliation

In the span of a few days Canada went from ecstasy to agony, from a dizzying high to a crushing low, from pride to humiliation. Just over 25 years ago, we rode the Ben Johnson roller coaster for a week in September in Seoul, South Korea.

On the verge of greatness
Canadian 100-metre sprinter Ben Johnson had been on the world stage for more than five years when the 1988 Summer Olympics approached. I had first seen him in a group of Canadian sprinters at the 1982 Commonwealth Games in Brisbane, Australia, that also included Desai Williams and Tony Sharpe. Two years later, Johnson would take bronze in the 100 metres at the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics, behind Americans Carl Lewis and Sam Graddy, in a time of 10.22. Johnson also teamed with Williams, Sharpe, and Sterling Hinds to win bronze in the 4x100-metre relay.

He continued to improve, taking gold at the 1986 Goodwill Games in Moscow, with a time of 9.95, just off Calvin Smith's world record of 9.93.

That was just a prelude for the World Track and Field Championships in 1987 in Rome. I recall sitting in the living room on the farm awaiting that final. The late Geoff Gowan and Don Wittman were calling the race for the CBC. They announced the runners. They took their marks, got set – and the picture went dark. I could hear the sound, and Wittman calling the race. Johnson had won – at least that’s what I thought I heard. The picture came back and I could see the race in slow motion replay. Ben Johnson, had blown away Carl Lewis, running a time of 9.83 seconds, shattering Smith's world record by a full tenth of a second. He was the new 100-metre men’s world champion.

Bring on the Olympics and the defending champion, the ultimate arrogant American – Carl Lewis.

The joy of victory
To say Carl Lewis was a sore loser was a gross understatement. Johnson first beat him in 1985, then reeled off a series of victories including the Good
will Games and World Championships. From the outset, Lewis could not accept defeat, and began to accuse his competitors of cheating. At the time, I thought it was the height of arrogance. Graddy, Smith, and none of the other Americans acted the way Lewis did. Johnson, who was always humble, never said much beyond defending himself from those accusations. Canadians, and probably most of the world, wanted to see Johnson put Lewis in his place on the world's biggest stage.

The 1988 Summer Olympics were in the fall, which was the summer season in South Korea. I was in my second year of university, and a floor coordinator in Kelsey Hall on the University of Alberta campus in Edmonton. The job had pretty much consumed me, but I still kept an eye on the Olympics and the 100-metre final.

The third weekend of every September, our student leadership group went on a retreat to the Pocahontas Cabins near Jasper, west of Edmonton. Before we boarded the bus on Friday, Sept. 24, 1988, I bought a copy of the Edmonton Sun. The front page had a big picture of Johnson with the headline: "Go Ben!"

One of the traditions of Retreat back then was a video. I was sitting at the back of the bus. When the camera reached me, I could not match the mugging in front of the camera of many of my colleagues. All I could manage, and I was about five beers into the trip, was me holding up that issue of the Edmonton Sun, saying “Go Ben” over and over.

Normally, we would have pushed on to Pocahontas. This time, everyone wanted to see the 100-metre final, so we stopped at a bar in Hinton to watch the race. We primed some more, until it was finally time.

You could hear a pin drop in that bar as race time approached. They started announcing the racers, and I could hear the muttering of people wanting Johnson to kick Lewis' ass after they were both announced. Incidentally, there was a huge cheer when Johnson was introduced.

They called the racers to the line. The volume was cranked on the bar TV. "On your mark, get set, go!"

Johnson was off like a shot and surged to the lead. It was incredible. He left Lewis in the dust. Then, as if to finally put the arrogant American in his place, he raised his arm in victory as he crossed the finish line. Everyone in the bar was on their feet from the sound of the gun. When Johnson won, the place erupted. We were hugging each other, yelling, and high fiving strangers. Johnson had broken his own world record with a time of 9.79 seconds. Canada had its first Olympic 100-metre champion since Percy Williams in 1928.

And he shut Carl Lewis' mouth for him. It was strangely exhilarating to see Lewis lunging to the finish line, hopelessly and pathetically trying to catch Johnson. That was just a fringe benefit. The next day I bought the Edmonton Sun again, this time with Ben Johnson's victory covering the front page. We were all so happy.

The humiliation of disqualification
It was Monday afternoon, so what was that, Sept. 27, and I was sitting in English class. We had been broken into groups, and I happened to be in one with my best friend Chris Vining who had arrived to class late.

He joined our group and broke the news: Ben Johnson had tested positive for steroid use, was disqualified, and stripped of his gold medal.

Seriously, I did not believe him. I really didn't. Then I got home, and the full weight of what happened hit me, and the entire country. What hurt just as much was that arrogant Carl Lewis chirping on about how he knew Johnson cheated because that’s the only way Johnson could beat Lewis. Because he finished second, he had been awarded the gold medal.

My first thoughts, as an emotional 18 year old, remain the same today. Maybe someone had framed Ben? Or, he was just not as good at cheating as the other sprinters. To this day, I am convinced Carl Lewis cheated too.

Dave Steen restored Canada's honour
at the 1988 Summer Olympics by coming
from behind to win a bronze in
the last event of the decathlon.
The Dave Steen story

What I will remember, as much as the disappointment I felt, was another Canadian athlete who rose to the occasion and did our country proud.

Dave Steen was a decathlete who was a fringe medal contender. Then something incredible happened. Decathlon is a two-day marathon. After the first day, he was in 11th place and a medal seemed out of reach. After the first four events on day two, he had crawled to eighth place with just the 1,500-metre race remaining. He trailed in that race too, but dug down and earned enough points to move up to third place overall. Through it all, he insisted on being tested for steroids.

Just when Canada's Olympic team needed it most, Dave Steen came through. He won Canada's first ever medal in decathlon.

Parting thoughts
In typical Canadian fashion, the country launched a massive investigation, the Dubin Inquiry which was televised live and lasted 91 days, examining every aspect of the situation. Meanwhile, other countries kept on cheating. History has shown that virtually all the finalists in the 1988 Olympic 100 metres were implicated in steroid use. And Johnson had been given a drink by someone who was not authorized to be in the testing area, an associate of Carl Lewis.

Canada adopted one of the strictest testing regimes in the world. It made it all the sweeter when Donovan Bailey restored Canada's honour in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. Not only did he win gold in the American heartland, establish a world record (the same 9.83 seconds Johnson ran at the 1986 Goodwill Games), but he was one of the most tested athletes in history.

Canadians learn from our mistakes – in a big way.