Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Paul Soles: The voice of Spiderman

Paul Soles in Saving Hope
It was the face that first reminded me, then the voice. Older, a little heavier, guest starring on a re-run of Saving Hope, it was Paul Soles. He played a senior in hospital suffering Alzheimer Disease and posing a danger to himself and his wife. But when I was growing up, every Saturday morning I knew him only as the voice of Spiderman. At the time, I did not know it though. Instead, Paul Soles played a very different role.

The face with no voice: That darn Lawbreaker
If you grew up in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Paul Soles was one of those Canadian actors you saw on CBC whether it was "This is the Law" or "Take 30".

I remember him best as the lawbreaker on "This is the Law". It was a panel show hosted by Austin Willis (who I remember best playing CIA agent Felix Leiter in the James Bond movie Goldfinger). The premise was simple if memory serves. There were cases or laws that were acted out, then the panel would have to guess what the law was that was broken. Soles played the man who always broke the law. Interestingly, he never spoke. There was no dialogue during the crime enactments.

The show first aired in the 1970s, but I remember watching reruns of "This is the Law" one summer when I spent a couple weeks visiting my cousins in Brooks. What was really weird was they knew one of the actual cases the show talked about. It came from the town they lived in before they moved to Brooks.

The voice with no face: Spiderman
What is really ironic about Paul Soles never speaking in "This is the Law" is that his voice was his bread and butter. He did tons of voiceover work, but I remember him best as the voice of Spiderman on Saturday morning cartoons, and a bit from Rocket Robin Hood.

Brought to you by your friendly
 neighbourhood Spiderman
Every Saturday I would watch Spiderman. There were so many cool villains: the Vulture, Electro, the Green Goblin, Dr. Connors, Dr. Noah Body, Parafino, Dr. Octopus, the Rhino. The show changed over time. Episodes became more dark visually as well as in plot. All those great villains were early on. The later episodes were more about other dimensions and a lot more science fictiony.

I never saw them first run, only in repeats. You could tell what season they were from by the opening credits. If the title was set in a big spider web with a light background of the city skyline, it was early in the run.


If the title was on a black background that looked like a dock, it was one of the dark, foreboding episodes.

I never saw a full episode of Take 30, just commercials advertising Soles hosted the show with Adrienne Clarkson. The show was on during the day when I was in school.

The only other vivid memory I have of Paul Soles was when he guest starred in a Wayne and Schuster special. It was a spoof of Murder on the Orient Express and included the panelists from Front Page Challenge as well. Another interesting connection. Paul Kligman was a regular member of the Wayne and Schuster ensemble. He also did the voice of J. Jonah Jameson on Spiderman.

It really is funny how Paul Soles' best known characters only utilize a part of him. He's either all voice, or pantomime. In his case it seems the sum of his parts is greater than the whole.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

The Karate Kid: a life-altering moment…for a teenager

Every so often I have seen movies that profoundly affect me. They touch me on some deeper level I am not really sure I can explain. The first ever movie to do that was The Karate Kid.

Going to the movies
It was the summer of 1984. Every year I would spend two weeks in Brooks at my Aunt Monica’s with my cousins Henry, Fred, and Bobbi. That summer Henry spent some time with a friend of his who had moved to Red Deer. He came back, just before I went home, raving about a movie he had seen. It was called The Karate Kid.

It would have a really big impact on me.

It was advertised a lot. I remember the tag line that ended every commercial: “The Karate Kid – it’ll go straight to your heart”. And it did. The movie was playing at College Cinema, which was a two-screen theatre located in a mall on the south edge of Lethbridge anchored by Woolco. Up to that point, I did not have a licence, so the only time I ever got off the farm to see a movie was with my sister Barb. She had seen the commercials too, and was game.

Even getting into the movie was funny. When we got there, the tag line on the billboard above the entrance was: “The Karate Kid – it is his moment of truth”. We always got there a few minutes early in case there was a line. Back then, I looked a lot older than I was. At the time I was 14. When we bought tickets, my sister said, “One adult and one child.” Children were 14 and under.

“Excuse me ma’am,” the girl working the front said. “But where is your child?”

She really was not much older than me, still in high school for sure.

“I’m the child,” I said.

The look she gave me was utter disbelief.

“Um,” she hesitated. “Do you have ID?”

Of course I didn’t. What 14-year-old has ID? The closest thing was my learner’s permit, but that was at home. I didn’t even carry a wallet until the next year. She gave me the benefit of the doubt and let me in.

I still cannot believe I was ID’ed for being too old. Virtually everyone else I knew was ID’ed for being too young, not too old.

We grabbed a seat, and immediately were irritated by two guys sitting behind us. They just did not stop talking. About 20 minutes into the movie me and Barb moved seats. It was the only time I can recall ever having to move seats. Before we left I gave those guys a dirty look and mumbled something under my breath. It’s too bad it was pitch black.

The Karate Kid
Everything Daniel Larusso has
learned culminates in this moment

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The movie was just absolutely amazing. I have always loved underdogs and this was the ultimate underdog story. To say Daniel Larusso got bullied was an understatement. He got the tar beat out of him at every turn in the first half of the movie. You couldn't help but feel for the guy. It wasn't the violence – it was the loneliness, and the helplessness. He had nowhere to turn. Then he met Mr. Miyagi who had his own demons to wrestle with. A boy without a father, a man whose son had died long ago. Together, they learned, and grew and helped each other deal with their pain. Then, to watch Daniel come back, get revenge on all the bullies, and learn all the right lessons doing it, was inspiring.

Daniel Larusso discovers he has
been learning karate all along

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Wax on, wax off
And it had one of the best surprises I’d ever seen in a movie. Mr. Miyagi promises to teach Larusso karate. Yet, all Larusso seems to do is chores. First he waxes Mr. Miyagi’s collection of vintage cars. Then he sands his seemingly endless deck. Then he paints all his fences. Finally, he paints his house. Larusso has had enough and confronts his teacher. Suddenly Mr. Miyagi reveals he has been teaching him karate, using muscle memory, all along. It was astonishing to see for the first time. I could hear everyone in the theatre gasp and exclaim, “Ohhhh.” The phrase “wax on, wax off” became slang in our language.

We can all relate
Daniel and Ali, he got the girl in the end
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I think The Karate Kid resonated with me because I was about to start Grade 10 at a new school, I was about the same age as Daniel Larusso, and I had a lot of anxieties about high school. I was lonely, insecure, and beginning to like girls, who really didn't seem to return the favour. Larusso found his own way, and he got the girl in the end. It was a lift at the right time.

A comedian gets serious and Oscar comes calling
What made the movie in so many ways was Noriyuki “Pat” Morita. At the time he was a comedian, best known for playing “Arnold”, the owner of the local hangout on “Happy Days”. As Mr. Miyagi, he reveals his wife and child were killed when they were interned during the Second World War. It was a touching moment of social commentary without beating anyone over the head with a message. Before that he was just Pat Morita. I recall reading somewhere at the time that he went back to his Japanese name because the role of Mr. Miyagi had affected him so much.

What surprised me was he ended up getting nominated for an Oscar for best supporting actor for that role. I always point that out when people talk about the movie being schlock or fluff.

Teenage Rocky
At the end of that summer, I remember watching Leonard Maltin, the in-house movie critic on Entertainment Tonight talking about the crop of summer movies that was. The Olympics had just finished in Los Angeles a few weeks earlier. He said The Karate Kid was a bronze medal hit, and called Daniel Larusso a teenage Rocky. I always liked that because Daniel Larusso looked like Rocky Balboa, and talked like a teenage version of the Italian Stallion. I have never found out if that was intentional or not.

One more time
School started and I told all my friends about it. I wanted to see it again, and I knew my sister wouldn’t take me a second time. At the time I hung out a bit with Joe Darveau, and he talked about going to see it. He wanted to see “Red Dawn” too. His Mom and Dad had already seen “Red Dawn” but they would take us to Lethbridge to see The Karate Kid. I cannot describe how difficult an endeavour it was to get off the farm and try and see a movie.

I didn’t see Red Dawn for a few more years. That’s funny because it has just been remade and is to be released shortly.

The pre-Netflix era
The other interesting thing is that back then it was not easy to see a movie after it left the theatre. You usually had to wait a year or more to see it on TV. Later, movies came out on video but not as quickly as they do now. Plus, not everyone owned VCRs. I wouldn’t get my first one for another year. So I had to settle eventually for buying a novelization (I have a whole collection of those, a legacy of the days before movies were on tape), and the soundtrack.

The Karate Kid on vinyl
Funny thing, the main song was “Moment of Truth” by Survivor. Another coincidence. Survivor had recorded “Eye of the Tiger” the theme song for Rocky III just over a year earlier. Now they had recorded the theme song for the teenage Rocky.

“The Moment of Truth” was only played during the closing credits, which was too bad, because it was really good. It didn’t even play in the opening credits when people would have all heard it, and it may have garnered more interest. The song I remember is “You’re the Best” by Joe Esposito. It was the song that played during the climactic karate tournament as Larusso won match after match.

Conspicious by its absence was “Cruel Summer” by Bananarama. That song went nowhere, then the movie breathed new life into it. When I got the record, I noticed it was missing, and questioned my memory. I thought every song made it to the soundtrack. Must have been some sort of copyright thing.

Always look him in the eye
The movie poster
I bought at Con-version
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The next summer, I went to a science fiction convention in Calgary called “Con-version”. They had a Hucksters room in there, and I ended up buying a Karate Kid poster. It was one of the promotional ones that hung in a theatre lobby. It was an extreme close-up of Daniel and Mr. Miyagi staring at each other. Always look him in the eye, Mr. Miyagi said.

Finally a version I could own
Once it was out on tape, then DVD, I bought it. Every time I see it playing on TV, I watch it. It was on Encore Avenue recently which is the motivation for this post.

The other Karate Kid, and a familiar sound
A couple odd things I discovered in my myriad viewings. One, the makers of the movie had to pay DC Comics for permission to use the name “The Karate Kid”. He was a hero, part of the Legion of Super Heroes, which I actually read as a boy. Two, I wondered about the flute music that played around Mr. Miyagi and his home. It actually was done by that master of the pan flute – Zamfir. He had become famous on infomercials in the 1980s.

A lasting impression
The legacy of The Karate Kid is clear. It is an exceptionally well-made feel-good movie. We can all relate to a boy who is bullied when he’s just trying to fit in. He meets a man broken in his own way, and together they heal. Mr. Miyagi teaches Larusso karate not to get revenge or to fight, but so he doesn’t have to fight. He teaches him to be himself and treat people with respect. And the guy gets the girl in the end.

It was so good, they made it again. But that’s for another time.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Seeing Things for the 21st century reporter

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"Dreams are for the night time
Days are wide awake
Visions are for a crazy man – not me for goodness sake…
'Cause I'm seeing things"
-from the opening credits to "Seeing Things"

Seeing Things in the 21st century
What would it be like to read a person's mind, or foresee the future? Given that I am the editor of a small-town newspaper, I sometimes wonder if it would make my job easier, or just more complicated. Beyond knowing if someone was lying, or knowing in advance of some event, I think it would be a case of "too much information" in the truest sense.
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The other day I was thinking about "Seeing Things". Do you remember it? Sunday nights on CBC for six years. It starred Louis Del Grande as Louis Ciccone, a reporter for a Toronto newspaper who one day has a fragment of a psychic vision about something he is investigating. As the investigation proceeds, the vision gets clearer and more detailed until he solves the case. Through it all, he grapples with his wife who keeps kicking him out and taking him back, the fact he can't drive, and he keeps getting in the way of the police and Crown attorney Heather Redfern. Oh, and no one can seem to pronounce his name.

It was a great show, one that was uniquely Canadian. The plots were set in Toronto, and there were constant references to Canadian culture, be it sports, politics, or the occasional dig at the CBC. Del Grande had been a writer for American network TV who came north. His real life wife Martha Gibson, played his beleaguered wife Marge, and Janet Laine Green played Redfern. They fashioned some sort of bizarre triangle, that was amusing but not that tense.

The show ran its course, and it was one of the first shows I recall that had an actual final episode. Unfortunately, Del Grande could never replicate this success. Still, it was one of the better Canadian dramas about Canada.

And you know, after recalling what kind of a shambles Louis Ciccone's personal life was, and how he ended up using his own wits, intelligence, investigative instincts, and powers of deduction to solve cases anyway, I'm pretty sure I never want to be psychic.

Quantum Leap before there was Quantum Leap

Dan Pastorini, Houston Oiler
quarterback and actor

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Gladiator to Spartacus
Recently we were talking about the movie "Gladiator" where Russell Crowe played General Maximus, the soldier who became a – well – gladiator.

A buddy of mine compared Maximus to the real-life Spartacus.

"Russell Crowe is no Dan Pastorini," I joked.

My buddy had the most perplexed look on his face.

"Who is Dan Pastorini?" he asked.

"Why, he played Spartacus in 'Voyagers!'" I said. "But that was not his only claim to fame."

"What's 'Voyagers!'?" my buddy asked. "And who again is Dan Pastorini?"

Athlete becomes actor
Dan Pastorini played quarterback for the NFL's Houston Oilers. That team was led by Earl Campbell, this punishing running back who preferred to run over opponents than around them. Often Pastorini's role was to transfer the ball from the centre to Earl Campbell. However, he was a decent passer too, when called upon. Together, they led the Oilers to back-to-back AFC Championship games where they lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers, who went on to win back-to-back Super Bowls.

The Oilers traded Pastorini to the Oakland Raiders for legendary quarterback Kenny "The Snake" Stabler. Both teams, I think, were hopeful their new quarterbacks would put them over the top to win the Super Bowl. Pastorini broke his leg with four games gone in the season, paving the way for Jim Plunkett to lead the Raiders to an AFC Wild Card playoff berth and all the way to the Super Bowl championship. I don't think Pastorini played another game for the Raiders.

Pastorini in battle as
Spartacus on "Voyagers".

(may be subject to copyright)

However, he had been doing some acting too. I recall seeing him do a guest spot on "Fantasy Island", playing a – you guessed it – quarterback who just couldn't get out of a funk, until he meets a woman who helps him straighten out his game. Along the way, they find love. The girl was played by Patricia McCormack who also starred in "The Ropers", as their next door neighbour.

Then, I saw him play Spartacus on "Voyagers!"…

Meeno Peluce (at left) and
Jon-Erik Hexum, the stars of "Voyagers"

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Bogg, Jeff Jones, and the Omni
"Surely you remember 'Quantum Leap'," I said.

My buddy nodded.

"'Voyagers' was 'Quantum Leap' before there was a 'Quantum Leap'," I said.

Phineas Bogg (Jon-Erik Hexum) was a "Time Cop". He travelled through time fixing what went wrong. He was aided by an omni, which looked like a pocket watch. Whenever it blinked red, there was something wrong that he had to fix. He knew he succeeded when the omni turned green.

The show opens with Bogg inadvertently crashing through the window of young Jeff Jones (Meeno Peluce). The omni was never supposed to take him that far in the timeline, but malfunctioned. Worse for Bogg, he loses the omni's instruction book. Bogg saves Jeff's life and Jeff helps Bogg in his job to fix what went wrong. Since Jeff has no real ties to the present, and he happens to be a history whiz, a partnership is born. Albeit a short-lived one because "Voyagers!" only made it through one season.

This was the disadvantage of peasant vision. The show debuted Sunday nights on NBC in the fall. I caught an episode when I was visiting my cousins Nina and Carl in Lethbridge. They had cable TV, and I always looked forward to visiting them. By the time it hit Channel 7 on the farm, the show had already been going for months, and would be cancelled by NBC. It was a bit disheartening knowing the shows I saw were the only ones they ever made. There would be no more.

There were some really interesting stories though.

Where are they now?
Sadly, a couple years later Jon-Erik Hexum was killed in an accidental shooting during the production of the adventure show "Cover Up". Hauntingly, the show was part of a Saturday night line-up plagued by tragedy. "Airwolf" had a crash on set, while the star of "Mike Hammer", Stacy Keach, was sent to jail on drug charges.

Meeno Peluce is a face from the 80s you'd recognize, even if you don't recognize the name. He played Tanner Boyle on the short-lived TV version of the "Bad News Bears" and as the son in the equally-short-lived series "Best of the West" (starring Joel Higgins, who went on to star in "Silver Spoons"), and I recall seeing him do guest spots for "Scarecrow and Mrs. King", "Benson", "Love Boat" (didn't everyone guest star in that?) and…"Silver Spoons".

…And back again
By now, my buddy had this glazed-over look on his face.

How did we get from pro football to gladiators to time travel TV shows?

Well, I'm not sure. That's just what having a conversation with me is like.

The only consolation I could offer him?

"You should read my blog."