Thursday, 21 August 2014

Before “Blue Bloods” there was “Our Family Honor”

The cast of "Our Family Honor". Standing from left are Tom Mason;
Kenneth McMillan; Eli Wallach; and Michael Madsen; while kneeling
in front from left are Daphne Ashbrook and Michael Woods.
Long before we met the Reagan family, three generations of New York City police, there was the McKay family. They too had a police commissioner, hot-headed detective, and rookie beat cop, and they too dealt with the mysterious murder of one of their own. The big difference was the McKays were locked in a perpetual struggle with the Danzigs, one of the city’s top crime families, and there was a little bit of “Romeo and Juliet” thrown in. Before “Blue Bloods” there was “Our Family Honor”.

Family Feud
The show revolves around the feud between the McKays and the Danzigs.

The McKays are led by patriarch Patrick McKay (played by Kenneth McMillan), who is made police commissioner in the pilot. His son Frank McKay (played by Tom Mason) is a hot-headed, single-minded detective, and his granddaughter Liz McKay (played by Daphne Ashbrook) is a rookie beat cop.

The Danzigs are an organized crime family, led by Vincent Danzig (played by Eli Wallach) who is like the godfather. His son Augie (played by Michael Madsen) is Frank’s exact opposite, his father’s right-hand and as crooked as the day is long. His other son goes by the name Jerry Cole (played by Michael Woods) because he wants to distance himself as much as possible from his family.

What fuels the feud is the belief, by the McKays, that the Danzigs murdered Patrick McKay Jr, Patricks’s son, Frank’s brother, and Liz’s dad. That’s why Jerry changes his name – he’s dating Liz, and she has no idea who he really is. Romeo, meet Juliet.

The McKays, and especially Frank, are obsessed with proving the Danzigs are Patrick Jr.’s killer.

Spaghetti gets in the way
My outstanding memory of “Our Family Honor” has nothing much to do with the show really. Early every fall, I anxiously awaited the fall preview issue of “TV Guide”. My mom bought it when they went to Lethbridge for groceries every Thursday. It devoted a page to each new fall show from the three U.S. networks of the time (before FOX came along), as well as CBC and CTV.

In the fall of 1985 I was starting Grade 11. I read the article on “Our Family Honor” and it seemed pretty interesting. It was set to air on CTV, on peasant vision, at 10 p.m. on I think it was Wednesday nights. Finally, it was set to air, and I was excited. Then something else came along.

There was this girl in my accounting class I had developed a crush on. She had actually phoned me the previous weekend because her cheerleading squad was having a fundraising spaghetti supper and wanted to know if I was interested in buying a ticket to go. Although I knew what it was, deep down I had this glimmer of hope she actually liked me, so I was in.

Unfortunately, the supper, which ended up being an amazing time, was the same night as the premiere of “Our Family Honor”. By the time I got home, it was well after 10 p.m., my parents were in bed, and I had to watch it on the little TV in my bedroom.

I do recall turning it on just as Frank was telling Liz he was convinced the Danzigs killed her dad. He was pretty agitated too.

After that, life got busy, and I never really watched more than one or two full episodes again – partly because the show did not last that long, and I could never find when it was on.

Parting thoughts
The death of Eli Wallach back in June reminded me of “Our Family Honor”. Like “The Yellow Rose”, which I eulogized elsewhere, “Our Family Honor” had a great premise and a great cast, but it just never found an audience. It debuted on Sept. 17, 1985 and its last episode aired a few short months later on Jan. 3, 1986, lasting a total of 13 episodes.

But, as happens, sometimes the idea is not bad. Instead it may fall victim to timing or execution.

The McKays have been reincarnated as the Reagans on “Blue Bloods”. Patrick McKay looked more like a police commissioner than Frank Reagan (Tom Selleck) – older, greyer, less sexy and more managerial. His son Frank McKay is just as hot-headed and single-minded as Danny Reagan (Donnie Walberg), and he’s on the same quest: to avenge the murder of his brother. Instead of a granddaughter like Liz McKay, “Blue Bloods” has much younger brother Jamie Reagan (played by Will Estes) as the rookie beat cop.

It just shows, every idea has its day.

The other thing this symbolizes is another change in my life. Up to that point, TV had been pretty much at the centre of life outside school. That night, going to that spaghetti supper, illustrated how my world was getting bigger – beyond watching TV and living alone out in the country. I was discovering girls, and beginning the chaotic drift into adolescence.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Die Hard: One last summer at home

The movie poster for the classic 1988 action movie "Die Hard".
The recent death of James Shigeta, who played Joseph Takagi, a doomed businessman in the first “Die Hard” movie way back in the summer of 1988, reminded me of a pivotal summer in my life. There was something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue.

Something old
I had gone off to university in the fall of 1987 full of trepidation. I needn’t have worried, because I had one of the greatest years of my life. It still ranks near the top. Then, in the flash of a trip in a Pinto from Edmonton, it was over. I was back on the same old farm, working the same old job at the greenhouse. Awaiting me in the fall at university was a new job I was really excited about, so the days went by so slowly. Worse yet, my best friend Chris Vining had gone up north for the summer to work and stay with his dad, so I didn’t have my homey to hang out with.

Something new
There were several new things that ultimately made the time pass, and eventually just a little bit sad to leave, when I finally did.

In the eight months I was away, Lethbridge had undergone some significant changes, especially downtown. Mall space had almost doubled, with the opening of the Park Place Mall and the addition of a second floor to the Lethbridge Centre, or Woodward’s Mall, as we called it. Beyond all the new stores, which did not excite me that much, was the addition of more movie theatres.

Up to that point, Lethbridge was served by a total of six screens: the Paramount Theatre downtown had two; the Lethbridge Centre Theatre, also downtown had two; and College Mall, had two called “College Cinema 2”. And, I believe, they were all owned by the same person. In any event, they were all Famous Players theatres. And there was the Green Acres Drive-In, but that was not an option a) in the winter; and b) without a car.

The new mall had six screens, and was a Cineplex-Odeon, meaning way more movie selection. It opened not too long before I got home from university, and would become a frequent destination over the next four months. I would see “Cocktail”, “Sunset”, and others.

I also renewed a friendship I had made the previous summer with a buddy named BJ, or Bill. He was the younger brother of my neighbour and lifelong friend. We hung out a fair bit, taking in a bunch of movies. We also listened to a lot of music together.

Something borrowed
Near the end of that summer, I bought a tape I had wanted for a long time: Richard Marx’s debut, self-titled album. Me and Bill used to joke about one of the Richard Marx songs, “Don’t Mean Nothing” so he chuckled when I told him I bought it.

At the same time, we were getting into Honeymoon Suite’s latest single, “Love Changes Everything”. We both loved their last album, “The Big Prize”, and BJ’s brother actually had also bought their self-titled debut album through Columbia House. Needless to say, BJ bought “Racing After Midnight”, the aforementioned latest album from those rockers from Niagara Falls.

So, we decided to swap tapes. In essence we were borrowing from each other. Sadly, I left for university before we could trade back, and I still have “Racing After Midnight” sitting in my closet. I’m sure Richard Marx is living in a landfill, somewhere or, at best, at the bottom of a closet or a box in someone’s basement.

Something blue
The funny thing was, that I got into a pretty good routine as the summer went on. I really had a good time with Bill. He was still in high school, going into Grade 12, so I still had contact with that scene. Plus he was a bit of a chick magnet, so girls were around more than I had ever experienced (which had been never, to be honest). So, when I finally did get to leave, I was a bit blue. I was saying goodbye to a buddy.

The funny thing is, I have never seen him since, in the almost 26 years that have passed.

"Die Hard"
Amid all this, the movie “Die Hard” came to town. I was curious to see it because it starred Bruce Willis who, up until then had been starring in “Moonlighting” opposite Cybill Shepard. I really had not seen much advertising on the movie but, because Willis’ role in “Moonlighting” was so goofy, I was really curious to see him in something else. Plus, Bill wanted to go, we had either seen everything else or didn’t want to, and movies were dirt cheap to go to. Whatever the reason, we were not disappointed.

“Die Hard” is set during the Christmas season, making the summer release a bit odd. John McClane (Willis) is a policeman estranged from his wife, looking to meet up with his children. Through some misfortune, he ends up trapped inside a skyscraper, the Nakatomi Plaza, just as some crooks are trying to rob it, under the guise of a terrorist attack. What ensues is a man-against-the-odds battle. McClane uses his skills and instincts as a police officer to slowly whittle down his enemy, find out what their ultimate goal is, and stop them – while trying to survive.

The pacing of the movie is perfect, and Willis shows that he was more than David Addison, his wisecracking, laid back character on “Moonlighting”. Oh, he’s still cracking wise, but he is much more wound up, high strung, and intense.

And he provides some of the best one-liners of the year. The best of course was, “Yippy kiyay mother fu--er”, along with, “I have a gun too”, and “That’s Helsinki, Sweden.” “Die Hard” ended up providing me and Bill the slang and inside jokes we used for the rest of the summer (“Batman” did the same thing for me and my friend Sean the following summer).

“Die Hard” would go on to spawn a bunch of sequels over the next 25 years. I only saw one, and it was pretty good too, two summers later, but nothing beats the original, which is still one of my favourite action movies of all time.

Parting thoughts
It’s funny that I have been using this wedding metaphor, because it was often described in the succeeding three years I was married to my job and life in res.

The summer of 1988 really did have something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue. It was the end of my old life on the farm. When I left, I never lived there again. I spent the next three school years and two intervening summers in res. Amid that, my parents sold their farm. It was also the time to find a new friend, visit a new theatre, and see new movies. There was something borrowed, that Honeymoon Suite tape. I still see it every so often, and it reminds me of Bill and the summer of ’88. And there was something blue, my farewell to a friend and ultimately, although I did not know it at the time, a way of life.

I will always associate “Die Hard” with that period, and it always brings back memories. It’s unfortunate that it took the death of James Shigeta to remind me again.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Watching the Stamps and Lions with mom

Calgary quarterback Joe Barnes turned in an
amazing performance, passing for 495 yards and
three touchdowns as the underdog Stampeders
shocked the B.C. Lions on August 17, 1985
for Calgary's first win of the season. They
would only win two more games, while
B.C. would win the Grey Cup
Last week, I was home visiting my parents, and was reminded of something that happened almost 30 years ago. It was Friday night, August 1, and the Calgary Stampeders were hosting the B.C. Lions.

This year, the Stampeders are a Grey Cup contender at the top of the standings with a young, talented quarterback. The Lions are near the bottom of the standings, struggling to find their offence and pinning their hopes on an aging quarterback who has been one of the best of his generation.

Thirty years ago, on a warm summer night in 1985, it was the Lions who were a Grey Cup contender at the top of the standings with a young talented quarterback, hosting the Stampeders who were at the bottom of the standings, struggling to find the right combination and pinning their hopes on an aging quarterback who was one of the best of his generation.

Sadly, the home team, my beloved Stampeders and their young quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, gave up an early lead and lost to the visiting Lions in 2014.

It was a different result from 1985, but what made it so familiar was that, both times, I was watching with my mother.

Saturday night football
It was their sixth game of the season. It was a Saturday night, August 17, and they were playing at B.C. Place in Vancouver. It was a late start, 8 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 entire league. The Stampeders were winless on the season, had fired coach Steve Buratto, and replaced him with Bud Riley.

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 relax for a few minutes before bed, so she watched with me. 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.

Calgary led 6-3 after the first quarter and 16-11 at halftime.  I was surprised at how well the Stamps were playing. Joe Barnes was finally beginning to play like the quarterback they had acquired. Their defence was holding the Lions offence, and their quarterback Roy Dewalt in check. In particular, I remember pass rusher Vince Goldsmith who always seemed to be in the backfield after Dewalt. They hung tough in the third quarter, leading 30-18 with just 15 minutes to go.

It was only a matter of time before the Lions would get untracked – and they did. I was hoping so hard Calgary could hold on. The Lions mounted a furious comeback with two touchdowns, but Calgary hung on for the 35-32 win.

Joe Barnes passed for 495 yards, including three touchdowns, and kicker J.T. Hay's fourth field goal gave the Stampeders their first win with new coach Bud Riley. Lion quarterback Roy Dewalt, after getting untracked, passed for 491 yards, and Lion receiver Mervyn Fernandez had a league-wide, season-high of 259 yards receiving. The Lion offensive numbers are deceiving because they had to play from behind the entire time and throw virtually every down to get back into the game.

It was the Stamps' first win of the season, and one of very few bright spots that season for the team.

Parting thoughts
It was total role reversal the other night. I have written elsewhere about the troubles the Stampeders of that era were experiencing.

Yet, that game symbolized so many things. It showed that on any given night any team can beat any other team in the CFL, no matter what their records say or what the experts predict. It showed that if a team can just stay close, their confidence will grow and they will begin to believe they can win. Once they have that belief, anything can happen. And, it showed the magic of the CFL. Back in 1985, my mother sat down simply to say goodnight before bed – then got into the game as much as any seasoned fan. Canadian football can be compelling entertainment. That showed again the other night. She came down to chat, then got into the game as much as I did. Sadly, our combined positive energy could not help the Stamps.

It did back in 1985 though, giving me yet another cool memory with my mother.

Ya gotta love the CFL.