Friday, 2 December 2016

Here’s to 40,000 hits and four years

After quite a bit of dormancy, this blog celebrated two milestones relatively closely. Not long after we hit 40,000 hits the blog celebrated its fourth anniversary on September 11.

Once more, it is a time to reflect and see what we have learned.

Something I have realized is that so many things are interconnected. Pop culture is not so much a linear list of people, places, and events but more of a web or matrix. As the content for this blog has unfolded, there are and more connections between posts. Here are just some examples:

• Scott Collie, from “Austin Collie: catching the ball, just like dad” played for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats who were featured in a post about their coach, “Al Bruno: Authoring a Grey Cup upset”.

• Actor Phillip McKeon, who played Tommy, the son of “Alice” in the sitcom of the same name, is the brother of actor Nancy McKeon, who played Jo, who was part of the post, “Alex Rocco: Jo’s dad on “The Facts of Life”.

There are many more, but these are two of the most recent examples.

It seems intuitive, but the more I post, the more hits the blog gets, and by extension the more comments. That stands to reason.

The silent majority
There may be a way, although I am not sure how, to find out the people who have signed up and get my latest post automatically e-mailed to them. I find it interesting there are at least three people who get automatic notifications, but I only know that because they have told me so. This, too, will bump up the number of hits.

Percolation and simmering
Perhaps the biggest realization of late has been that posts get better when I write them, and they sit before I post them. Invariably, I polish them up more after they sit a day or more, and they just make better reads. It’s like they need to percolate or simmer.

I have also come to realize that, as I just cruised past published post number 237, there is still a lot to write about. I do not believe I have come anywhere near close to exhausting the topics to write about. It is just the opposite actually. For instance, during the recent Summer Olympics, I had all sorts of ideas for posts of Olympic memories, which brings me to the next observation.


A lot of ideas for posts come from current events, and linking them to some memory of the 1980s. Lately, that has largely been the deaths of celebrities. I have every intention of writing a post, but there tends to be a large gap from when I start until I actually publish. That becomes obvious when, in the introduction I will write “last week” or “yesterday”, and a month or more has passed. That just speaks to the need to post more regularly. Although, I have been clearing some of the backlog of old posts started months, and in the rare case, years ago.

Parting thoughts
I think it is important to take time every so often to reflect. The best time is after reaching some milestone in number of posts, number of hits, or the next anniversary of the start of the blog. I have learned so much about writing, research, layout, and much more. I hope to continue on learning. 

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Blue Jays memories: Wishing for a wild card

In the 1980s, the Toronto Blue Jays
would have benefitted from the Wild Card.
With the Toronto Blue Jays winning the American League wild card game a few weeks ago over the Baltimore Orioles, it reminded me how different the team’s history would have been if there was a wild card game in the 1980s.

What Blue Jay fans, such as me, got tired of was being the second best team in baseball.

Coulda been a contender
The 1984 season saw the Blue Jays continuing their improvement as a baseball team, building on their first ever winning season in 1983. Unfortunately, the Detroit Tigers had one of the best starts in the history of Major League Baseball. They went 35-5 out of the gate. It has often been said a pennant is not won or lost in the first months of the season, but this was the exception, as the Tigers led from wire to wire, from opening day to the final day of the season. They became the first team in history to do that. The Blue Jays became the first team in Major League history to be second from wire to wire, from opening day to closing day.

They would have been a wild card.

The next year, the 1985 season, the Blue Jays finally won the American League East title.

The 1987 season was one of the most exciting, closely fought of the decade, coming down to the final series of the season between Toronto and Detroit. Once more, the Blue Jays were unable to close the deal.

The Blue Jays then closed out the decade by winning the American League East.

Parting thoughts
Back in the 1980s, I watched baseball as closely from spring to fall, as I did hockey in the winter. There could not have been two more opposite playoff systems. In the National Hockey League, 16 out of 21 teams made the playoffs. Only five teams missed the playoffs. In Major League Baseball, just four teams made the playoffs, out of 26.

In that system, there was no room for second best. What was worse was my beloved Blue Jays played in the strongest division in baseball, often with a record that would have won one or more of the other divisions.

That’s why, after the baseball strike of 1994 led to realignment and the addition of the wild card, I rejoiced. At long last, the playoffs were opened up so a team, read here the Blue jays, who played in a tough division were no longer relegated to the off-season.

Thank God for the wild card.

Go Blue Jays!

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Beth Howland: Alice’s sidekick

Beth Howland in her signature role
as waitress Vera in the 1980s sitcom "Alice"
It was a Sunday night staple on peasant vision, that had a special place in my heart. For years, the weekend ended at 10 p.m. Sunday night with the sitcom “Alice” on Channel 7.

I found out recently that Beth Howland, who played Vera, one of the waitresses in Mel's Diner, had died. It brought back memories of those Sunday nights

Sunday night special
The show was set in a roadside, truck-stop style restaurant called “Mel’s Diner” in Phoenix, Arizona. It centred on the life of Alice Hyatt, played by Linda Lavin, a single mother who takes a job as a waitress.

She worked for owner and cook Mel Sharples, played by Vic Tayback, who was a grouch but had a soft heart deep under all that fastfood grease. He also had a love-hate relationship with his mother played by Martha Raye. As much as he growled at her, she would growl back, and they definitely loved each other.

The show was set almost exclusively at the diner, chronicling the exploits of Alice, her son Tommy, Mel, their co-workers, and frequent customers. The waitresses kept changing. There was Flo, who eventually got her own show, then Belle, played by Diane Ladd, and Jolene, played by Celia Weston. Through all those changes was the dim-witted but loveable Vera.

Vera was definitely the comic foil, who really was not that bright, but had the heart of gold. Mel even called her "Dingy". One of my outstanding memories of Vera was the way she danced up a storm in a sequence in the opening credits, and had a pack of straws explode all over her in another.

The original waitresses from "Alice". From left are Polly Holliday
as Flo; Beth Howlnd as Vera; and Linda Lavin as Alice
Durable sitcom
Beth Howland played Vera the entire nine years of the show, from 1976 to 1985. Vera would go on to marry her boyfriend Elliott, and in the finale, she was pregnant and quit to be a full-time mother.

For years, “Alice” was also part of a powerhouse Sunday night line-up on CBS on cable that included “The Jeffersons”; “Archie Bunker’s Place”; and “One Day at a Time”.

The years after
Beth Howland was best known as Vera, but she also would have guest spots on shows in the 1980s such as “Fantasy Island” and “The Love Boat”, where seemingly every sitcom actor had a guest spot.

The full original cast of "Alice". From left are Polly Holliday
as Flo; Vic Tayback as Mel; Linda Lavin as Alice;
and Beth Howland as Vera; with Phillip
McKeon in front as Tommy, Alice's son
She was married to Charles Kimbrough, another sitcom actor of the 1980s. He played venerable news anchor Jim Dial on “Murphy Brown”. They were married from 2002 until Howland’s death on the last day of 2015.

Parting thoughts
“Alice” always had a special place in my heart, because Alice is also my mom’s name. I recall when my mom and I would talk about what was on TV that particular night, I would say, “Your show.” She would act confused, and ask which one? She always laughed when I said, “Alice”.

I also loved the theme music, which was sung by Linda Lavin, who played the title character “Alice”. In fact, Alice was actually a singer who, at the end of the series, finally got her big break with a recording contract. That's why she quit at Mel's Diner.

When I was a kid, my brother had left behind an old tape deck when he went off to college. It was his first tape deck, made of wood, and just massive. He set it up for me, and I often would tape stuff straight off TV. One of the things I recall recording was the theme from “Alice”.

When “Alice” was on Sunday nights at 10 p.m. on Channel 7, it was the last show before getting ready for another week of school.

As the minutes ticked down, I realized that school was just a few hours away. “Alice" signaled the end of the weekend and the beginning of a new week, which ended with the next episode of “Alice”.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Jim Perry: Game show host for the ‘80s

Jim Perry hosting "Definition"
Anyone who grew up in the 1980s in Canada and watched CTV, would certainly remember the face, if not the name. It was an era when game shows were on in the morning, in the afternoon, and at night. Two mainstays on CTV, or Channel 13 on the peasant vision dial, were “Definition” and “Headline Hunters”.

I was not surprised to find recently, when I heard Jim Perry died, that no one recognized the name – until I followed that with “Do you remember ‘Definition’? ‘Headline Hunters’?” Then everyone remembered.

Every week day on Channel 13, “Definition” would air around noon. It pitted two contestants against each other, each one paired with a guest, sometimes celebrities and sometimes not. The winner of a match would then change sides and play with the other partner. A contestant could win a maximum of five games, I believe, before they retired.

The game was a precursor to "Wheel of Fortune" and like that old pen-and-paper classic, "Hangman". The teams would take turns guessing letters in a phrase for which a pun as a clue. One player on a team would give a letter away they did not think was in the puzzle. If that letter was in the puzzle, the other team got an automatic chance to solve the puzzle. If the letter was not in the puzzle, the other player on that same team got to take a letter. If there was one or more letters in the puzzle, they got a chance to guess. Then the other team got the chance to give a letter then take a letter. They alternated until someone solved the puzzle.

Watching these video clips reminded me of a few other things too. The prizes were very Canadian, with things like pen and pencil sets and luggage. People could also send in their own puzzles. Jim Perry would read the puzzles on air, who sent them in, and where they were from. And, Dave Devall was the announcer, reading the puzzles, and introducing Perry at the opening of the show. The two of them would carry on a game-show partnership for years.

Another thing I will always remember is the theme music for the show, which was made popular when it appeared in the “Austin Powers” movies. It turns out Mike Myers grew up watching "Definition" and he was paying tribute by using the song, which is actually called, "Soul Bossa Nova".

Perry would host “Definition” from 1975 to 1989.

Headline Hunters
“Headline Hunters” was a night-time game show that appeared once a week on Channel 13. I liked this show much more than “Definition”. There were three contestants who had to guess a subject. They would be given a headline and a chance to guess for a certain number of points. If no one knew the answer, another headline would be read, and the number of points would be reduced. This went on for five headlines, but by the last one the headline was so easy someone almost always got it.

Jim Perry hosting "Headline Hunters"
It reminded me a little bit of “Front Page Challenge” on CBC, in that on “Headline Hunters” they also interviewed one of the newsmakers who was the subject of the game. That newsmaker even read the headlines describing him or her.

What I always remember about “Headline Hunters” was it was sponsored by Tilden Rent-a-Car, and that Dave Devall was the announcer for this show as well.

It would occupy a time slot on CTV, Channel 13, from 1972 to 1983.

Play along at home
I always recall how fun it was to play along. When I watched the clips embedded here, I found myself playing along once more. Could I get the answer before the contestants? It was the magic of the game show – being interactive even before that word existed. It was even more fun when I was watching "Definition" with my cousins, because we all competed with each other to guess the answers too.

Jim Perry was actually American. Over time when I had the rare chance to watch cable TV in the 1980s at either my Cousin Carl’s in Lethbridge, or my Cousin Fred and Henry’s in Brooks, I discovered Jim Perry hosting two other game shows on NBC – “Card Sharks”, which he hosted from 1978 to 1981, and “Sale of the Century”, which he hosted from 1983 to 1989. I did not watch enough episodes for either one of them to really stick with me.

Jim Perry was also the first to host game shows concurrently in Canada and the U.S. with “Definition”; “Headline Hunters”; and “Card Sharks”.

It’s a beauty
The other job Jim Perry did, was host the Miss Canada Pageant from 1967 to 1990. It just seemed to be another uniquely Canadian thing.

Parting thoughts
Hearing Jim Perry died just reminded me how different TV is now. If I was home during the day, whether because I was sick, or it was summer, game shows were always on TV. It really was a golden age for them in the 1980s.

Now, the only one on is “The Price is Right” which seems to be the last game show standing in day time. At night, you have the durable duo of “Jeopardy!” and “Wheel of Fortune”, with a sprinkling of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire”. But for the most part, game shows are gone.

I find that particularly ironic, because in the 1,000-channel universe, there is at least one channel I know of devoted to game shows.

Hearing about the passing of Jim Perry reminded me of an era where there were uniquely Canadian game shows, not just American ones simulcast in Canada. They had their own unique qualities, whether it was the cheesey prizes or the actual Canadian content.

It is another part of our culture that just quietly faded away.

It took the death of Jim Perry to remind me.

Friday, 16 September 2016

Austin Collie: Catching the ball, just like dad

The first time I saw him haul in a pass from Peyton Manning for my beloved Colts, I wondered something about Austin Collie: was he related to Scott Collie?

Austin Collie in his Indianapolis Colts days.
He was born in Canada, to CFL
player Scott Collie, and
would eventually follow his father's
footsteps into the CFL with the B.C. Lions.
Austin Collie with the B.C. Lions in 2015, throwing a rare pass.
In a journey that began in a hospital in Hamilton, Austin Collie was not only Scott Collie’s son, but he would follow a circuitous path that led him to play in the same cities his dad played in 30 years ago.

Austin Collie, who retired as a wide receiver for the B.C. Lions of the Canadian Football League before the beginning of this season, is one of many players with a CFL pedigree. This time, he followed in his father’s shoes.

North to Hamilton
Scott Collie grew up in San Jose, California and played his college football at Brigham Young University in Utah, which has been a haven and a factory for football players, especially quarterbacks and possession receivers. The school has produced a lot of great players for both the CFL and NFL, including quarterbacks such as Jim McMahon, Mark Wilson, and Steve Young, as well as receivers such as Ben Cahoon and Dennis Pitta.

Scott Collie graduated from BYU after four seasons, that included catching a few passes from Steve Young, from 1979 to 1982. In his junior year he played in 12 games where he had 26 receptions for 404 yards and three touchdowns. It was by far his best season in college. He returned for his senior year, where he played in six games, catching 16 passes for 282 yards and one touchdown.

He tried his hand in the NFL, with a stint in San Francisco, but just could not catch on, playing in the pre-season in 1983 but that was all.

So he headed north to play with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. That’s where I picked up his trail. Collie was a good route runner with sure hands – the epitome of a possession receiver. He played two seasons in Hamilton, in 1983 and 1985. He was part of those teams that started to win the East and go to the Grey Cup.

In 1983, he played in five games, making 11 receptions for 152 yards and two touchdowns. He also played well in the Eastern Final, as illustrated by these two video clips.

There is no record I could find that Scott Collie played in 1984, and I checked out the official CFL yearbook. We pick up his trail again in 1985, when he played in nine games for the Tiger-Cats. He had 23 receptions for 333 yards, as Hamilton beat Montreal 50-26 in the East Final before losing the Grey Cup 37-24 to the B.C. Lions.

After that, he was done with pro football, just missing out on Hamilton winning the Grey Cup in 1986.

Along the way, on November 11, 1985, he had a son in Hamilton he named Austin.

Eclipsing dad
Scott Collie would return to the United States, and his son Austin Collie would grow up in California and play his college ball at BYU, just like his dad did. However, instead of being a part-time player like his father, Austin Collie became one of the best receivers in school history – and he left for the pros after his junior season. His freshman year was 2004, but he then left for two years to serve a church mission with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. He returned for the 2007 and 2008 seasons.

He left BYU holding several records, including: second in career receptions with 215; first in career receiving yards with 3,255; and first in career receiving touchdowns.

He first caught my eye when he started for my beloved Indianapolis Colts in 2009. The Colts had to re-tool their receiving corps, so Collie joined fellow rookie Pierre Garçon on the receiving end of Peyton Manning passes. By year’s end, Collie was among the statistical leaders for rookies, with 60 receptions for 676 yards and seven touchdowns.

The future looked bright for Austin Collie.

Things got better in his second season, 2010, when he became a favourite target for Manning after the Colts suffered some injuries. Then the injuries started. A shot to the head resulted in a concussion. Later in the season, he suffered a second concussion, ending his season. He wound up 2010 with 58 receptions for 649 yards and eight touchdowns.

He was back in 2011, playing in all 16 games and catching 56 passes for 514 yards and just one touchdown.

The 2012 season would be his last with the Colts. He suffered his third concussion in the pre-season, then hurt his knee in the third game of the season to end it. He had just one catch for six yards.

The Colts would not re-sign him. He signed with San Francisco, was released, and signed with the arch-rival New England Patriots for 2013. He played in seven games, making six catches for 63 yards. He was released after the 2013 season, and never played in the NFL again.

The maple leaf forever
It was another one of those weird moments where I wasn’t sure I heard what I heard. It was early in the 2015 season, and I had a B.C. Lions game on while I was doing something else. Then I thought I heard announcer Rod Black say, “The pass was intended for Austin Collie.” That drew my attention.

It turned out to be the same receiver who had played for my beloved Colts. That got me thinking about his status. I had discovered earlier he was Scott Collie’s son, but that was the first time I wondered if he might have actually been born in Canada when his Dad was playing in Hamilton.

It turned out that was exactly the case. Austin Collie was considered a non-import, or national player. That would provide any CFL team with more flexibility in balancing imports and non-imports on the field. More than that, at six feet, one inch, he was a big target.

He came north in part to show he could still play football, and to beat the rap he was prone to concussions.

He would go on to play in 15 games for the Lions, catching 43 passes for 439 yards and seven touchdowns.

Before the 2016 season, Austin Collie retired from professional football.

Parting thoughts
It is always cool to see the next generation of players. Will they look like their dads? Will they play the same position, or for the same team? Will they dwell in their father’s shadow, outshine him, or just plot their own future?

In the case of Austin Collie, he followed his father’s footsteps by attending the same college. Given their faith is important to them, that played in a role as that as well. He also played the same position as his father, but quickly eclipsed Scott Collie.

Austin Collie became one of the greatest receivers in Brigham Young University history. It paved the way for a serviceable NFL career, that may have been great had he not run into injury problems, especially concussions. In fact, he became a poster child for concussions. Given the attention being given to head injuries, it is no surprise teams were leery about his ability to play.

Then he got his last chance in the same league his father had played more than 30 years earlier. Add to that, the fact Austin Collie was born while his dad played in Canada. That Canadian passport made him that much more valuable as a non-import in a league where teams have to have a certain number of Canadians.

He turned in another good season, and looked as if he was adjusting nicely, only to retire again.

Given all that, he still had a longer, more productive career than his father. It is just unfortunate injuries hampered him, leaving us all to wonder, what could have been? Still, Austin no doubt made his father proud, and that is all a dad can really ask for.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Alex Rocco: Jo’s dad on “The Facts of Life”

Alex Rocco, at left, portraying Charlie Polniaczek, father to daughter Jo,
played by Nancy McKeon, at right, in the 1980s sitcom "The Facts of Life".
When he died last year, writers focused on his role in “The Godfather”. For a kid growing up in the 1980s, Alex Rocco was not so much a Jewish gangster, but a Polish single dad, playing Jo’s father on the durable comedy “The Facts of Life”.

Learning “The Facts of Life”
Initially, “The Facts of Life” was much different. It was a spin-off of another ‘80s sitcom, “Diff’rent Strokes”. Kimberley, played by Dana Plato, who is the daughter of Mr. Drummond and eventual step-sister to Willis and Arnold, attended Eastland, a private all-girls school. “The Facts of Life” is set in that school. And, as the series opens, the Drummonds’ housekeeper Edna Garrett, played by Charlotte Rae, goes to work at that same private school as a housemother.

The first season featured probably a half dozen girls, and each episode focused on a girl with a different background and a different problem. Some of them were Sue Ann, who was rich; Cindy, who was a tom boy; Nancy; and Molly, who was played by a very young and unknown Molly Ringwald. There was also the sophisticated Blair Warner, cute and dimply Tootie Ramsey, and chubby but lovable Natalie Green. In addition to Mrs. Garrett, the dean of the school, played by John Lawlor, was also a regular to help out the girls. In the first episode, Blair spreads a rumour that Cindy is a lesbian because she is a tom boy and hugs the other girls. The show also tackled other social issues, something it would continue to do throughout its time on the air.

Just like other shows, such as “Mork and Mindy” and “Remington Steele”, there were dramatic changes after season one. A new student named Jo Poliniaczek, on scholarship from the Bronx, arrives and immediately causes trouble. Rebellious by nature, with a chip on her shoulder and a strong case of reverse snobbery, she convinces Blair, Tootie, and Natalie to go on a joyride after hot wiring a school van. Of course they are eventually caught, and have to pay back the damage, which is substantial enough they have to work it off in the school cafeteria and live in a spare room next to Mrs. Garrett, who also is their supervisor for this extended community service.

Jo, who started out as pretty unlikable, becomes one of the most endearing and popular characters as she evolves into a civilized, sophisticated, leader. She would become like a big sister to Tootie and Natalie, and even a friend to Blair, who she always maintained a rivalry with even after they became friends. Jo also ended up running for and winning a seat on the school’s Board of Regents, being the class valedictorian, and achieve a lot more.

Her parents were divorced. Her mom was a waitress, and her dad Charlie was played by – Alex Rocco.

The show was on CBC on peasant vision and, unfortunately, bounced around a lot. At times, I discovered it by accident, because channel surfing was so much easier with three channels.

That thing you do
Alex Rocco was another actor who, if you watched TV in the 1980s, you would recognize instantly. He was just one of those guys who seemed to guest star in everything. He made appearances in “CHiPs”; “St. Elsewhere”; “The Golden Girls”; “The A-Team”; “Murder, She Wrote”; and “Murphy Brown”.

He would have a regular role in “The Famous Teddy Z”, which only lasted one season, but produced an Emmy for Rocco for outstanding supporting actor in a comedy series. It was also the first regular series for Jon Cryer who, to that point, had made his name in teen angst movies such as “Pretty in Pink” and “Hiding Out”. That was long before his signature role as Allan in “Two and a Half Men”.

After the 1980s, Rocco kept on appearing in TV series, ranging from “The Simpsons” and “Pinky and the Brain”, to “Mad About You”; “Home Improvement”; “Family Guy”; “ER”; and “Private Practice”.

Throughout the ‘80s he also was in a lot of movies including, “The Stunt Man”; “Cannonball Run II”; and “Gotcha!”. After that, he was in such movies as “Get Shorty”; “Dudley Do-Right”; “The Wedding Planner”; and of course, “That Thing You Do.”

Parting thoughts
There are actors who seemed to be in everything and Alex Rocco was one of them. If you saw him, you would instantly recognize him. More than just quantity though, Rocco brought quality to every performance. Illustrated by the accolades for “The Godfather” and his Emmy for “The Famous Teddy Z”.

“The Facts of Life” was a show, that I always enjoyed. My favourite character was Jo, and part of her charm was that blue collar, working class sensibility she brought to the show. Alex Rocco, playing her father, contributed to all that.

When I heard he passed away, it reminded me of a great show with great characters, and none was better than Charlie Polniaczek.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Man with a beard: Remembering "Grizzly Adams"

Dan Haggerty, in his trademark beard, with the bear he befriends. Their relationship is at the heart of "The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams."
It’s funny, very few people these days have seen the show, and fewer still could probably tell you who played him, but “Grizzly Adams” remains a residue of the late 1970s/early 1980s part of pop culture. Anytime someone sports a big, shaggy beard they can be called “Grizzly Adams”. It happened at a high school baseball game I was at earlier this year. A high school game. Those boys would have been born 30-plus years after the show went off the air.

Yet, everyone knew what it meant.

Such is the staying power of some cultural references.

“Grizzly Adams” was in the news again recently because the man who played the title character, Dan Haggerty, passed away.

On the run
The premise of “Grizzly Adams” was simple. He was a man, accused of murder, on the run from the law. He went into hiding and, along the way, saved and befriended a bear cub he named Ben, who became his companion and co-star of the show.

It was initially a 1974 movie entitled, “The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams” based on a book and starring Dan Haggerty. It would then be picked up by NBC as a series in 1977.

It only lasted two seasons, before going off the air after 38 episodes.

Other roles
I recall Dan Haggerty being part of “Battle of the Network Stars” and “Celebrity Battle of the Sexes”. In “Battle of the Network Stars” he was the captain of the NBC team and, as the show opened, he was in the bush and uncovered something he needed from a pile of brush, which turned out to be the list of his team I believe. In “Celebrity Battle of the Sexes” he competed against Tanya Tucker in rowing. He had to use an oar and canoe, while she got to use a kayak with a two-headed oar, and beat him handly. I always thought it an unfair handicap.

“Grizzly Adams” started and ended in the 1970s, but did achieve a sense of closure in the 1980s.

In 1982, a TV movie provided a series finale, and resolved the plot once and for all. “The Capture of Grizzly Adams” has a bounty hunter capture Adams, who returns to civilization and ultimately proves his innocence.

After that, I am not sure I ever saw Dan Haggerty in anything else ever again. Wikipedia reveals some of the other work he did, including an episode of “The Love Boat”, which I did remember when reminded.

His last television appearance was listed as “American Pickers” in 2013, when he played himself.

He passed away January 15, 2016 at the age of 73.

Parting thoughts
There are so many phrases that have entered the English language for various reasons. “The Life of Riley”, “In Like Flynn”, “Murphy’s Law”, and “Hobson’s Choice” all come to mind.

Another one, although less recognized is the reference to “Grizzly Adams” when a man has a thick bushy beard.

Even if it is not that prevalent, it obviously still resonates if a 19-year-old kid in Claresholm uses it in 2016. I know for me, hearing “Hey Grizzly Adams” conjures up an image of Dan Haggerty, an actor with a big bushy beard hugging a bear cub. He may be gone but that memory will live forever.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Everybody Loves Doris Roberts

The cast of the 1980s series "Remington Steele" from the second season on. From left are Stephanie Zimbalist as Laura Holt; Pierce Brosnan as Remington Steele; Doris Roberts, long before she was Ray Barrone's mother, as Mildred Krebs.
She may be best known as Ray Barrone’s overbearing mother, but the reason Doris Roberts got that role in “Everybody Loves Raymond” was the distinguished body of work she had produced leading up to the sitcom’s debut in 1996. She recently passed away, giving us a chance to look back at a career that really picked up speed in the 1980s.

I had seen Doris Roberts in a number of roles before her big breakthrough role in a regular series. She had played the crazy mother of Father Tim in “Soap”, and the mother of the title character in “Angie”, both Roberts in roles featuring that distinctive New York accent.

Then, in 1982, she played a homeless woman in the “Cora and Arnie” episode of “St. Elsewhere” where she earned an Emmy for her performance.

Not too much later, she would find the role that she would be most associated with in the 1980s.

Steele situation
“Remington Steele” had debuted in 1982 with an interesting premise. Laura Holt was a woman, trained as a private investigator, who knew she would not be taken seriously if she started her own agency. Consequently, she created an agency with a fictitious male head named Remington Steele. It worked, and her agency was becoming more and more successful. However, a wrench got thrown into her plan – a man showed up claiming to be Remington Steele, and the game was on.

"Remington Steele" was on CBC, and I watched it every week. That first season, the opening credits were narrated by Laura Holt, and featured still photos shown in rapid succession to look almost animated. It was the same style used in shows like "The Rockford Files". The first season featured Holt dealing with Steele who was a bumbler and a fake, but incredibly charming, and wanting to run the agency. In addition to herself at the agency, there was an investigator named Murphy Michaels, played by James Read, who was jealous of Steele. It was obvious he was attracted to Laura, and saw Steele as a threat that way. Not so much as an investigator, because he looked down at him and outright dismissed him. The other member of the staff was secretary Bernice Foxe.

The other thing I loved about the show was that, since Steele had no training as an investigator, he quoted liberally from movies every episode. It was cool because he would name the movie, the year, and the studio who produced it. One episode, Laura turned the tide, and quoted liberally from TV shows she watched. It illustrated the difference between Laura and Steele.

As with so many series that experience success in their first year, there was change before season two. Murphy Michaels and Bernice Foxe were gone. By the second season, viewers had a sense of who Laura Holt and Remington Steele were. In the second season opener, they run afoul of an IRS employee named Mildred Krebs. By the end of the episode she becomes a part of the agency, where she stayed until the end of the series four years later. This was the cast for the rest of the series.

Mildred Krebs, who had a distinctive NewYork accent, was played by Doris Roberts.

She would play that role with distinction, being nominated for an Emmy for best supporting actress in a dramatic series in 1985.

The years after
Doris Roberts would go on to guest star in a variety of TV series until 1996, when she signed on to play the mother in a new sitcom. It was based on the stand-up comedy routine of New York comedian Ray Romano, and would be called “Everybody Loves Raymond.” She would play an overbearing and meddling, yet somehow endearing mother to Romano’s character Ray Barrone.

Roberts would parlay that role as Marie Barrone into a nine-year stint that produced one of the most iconic roles of the 1990s and four Emmy awards.

Parting thoughts
Looking back, the two roles Doris Roberts is most known for are opposite in some ways. Mildred Krebs was more of a supporting player who frequently referred to Remington Steele as “boss”. Fast forward 10 years and Marie Barrone is the opposite of a supporting player. She was the one giving orders, the one taking charge and going too far in the other direction by meddling in her son’s life. This contrast, coupled with her Emmy-winning role as a homeless person in “St. Elsewhere” really shows her versatility as an actor.

Add to that the fact she has that distinctive New York accent, and she really is one of a kind. That’s why everyone, including the Emmys, loves Doris Roberts.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Wendy Crewson: Walking with legends

Actor Wendy Crewson after being inducted into Canada's Walk of Fame in 2015 for a storied career in film and television, in Canada and abroad.
Actor Wendy Crewson was recently inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame, for a career that spans several decades.

I recall her earliest start, with the CBC, on a Sunday night series called “Home Fires”. From there, she would catapult into a storied career playing strong Canadian women, but also venture south of the border where she played opposite heavyweights such as Tom Selleck and Harrison Ford.

All that effort led her to her recent induction, where she now walks with the legends.

A review of the CBC Sunday night drama "Home Fires" from a 1982 edition
of Cinema Canada. A young Wendy Crewson is in the back row on the right.
It was the start of a lot of great things to come for the Canadian actor.
Keeping the “Home Fires” burning
The decade opened with CBC debuting a new drama focusing on a Toronto family during the Second World War. The father was played by Gerard Parkes, a doctor who ran a medical clinic in a working class neighbourhood. He was married to wife Hannah, a Jewish immigrant from Poland, and had two children, son Sidney, played by Peter Spence, and daughter Terry, played by Wendy Crewson.

Terry had an eventful four seasons, marrying her boyfriend Graeme, played by Jeff Wincott, only to see him killed in action at Dieppe. She joined the women’s army corps, worked in a factory, and met another man, this one a journalist played by Booth Savage.

After four seasons, "Home Fires" had run ts course and was not renewed, not before Crewson won an ACTRA award in 1984 for best actress in a drama series for the final season of “Home Fires”.

Prolific TV career
The 1980s saw Wendy Crewson do a lot of other TV work, on series as well as TV movies. She opened with guest starring roles in Canadian classics such as “The Littlest Hobo” and “Hangin’ In”. She would reunite with Jeff Wincott in “Night Heat”, a guest spot in “Adderly”, and another guest role in “Hard Copy”. These three shows were produced in Canada by CBS and CTV, and aired on CBS late night and prime time on CTV.

Crewson in the movie with Canadian actor Chris Makepeace,
at left, and Tom Hanks, at right, in one of his first TV roles.
She also was in several TV movies of note. There was “Mazes and Monsters”, which features four young people acting out a Dungeon and Dragons-like role-playing game. CTV aired this movie a couple times, most notable for being one of Tom Hanks’ earliest roles. There was “Heartsounds”, starring James Garner telling the story of  a renowned surgeon who becomes a patient himself, facing his own mortality and an unfeeling medical system. There was “Perry Mason: The Case of the Shooting Star”, one of the 30 TV movies featuring the famous defence attorney made between 1985 and 1995.

And there was “Murder In Space”, a science fiction murder mystery set on a space ship. It was initially made for Canadian pay TV back in the days when that existed. I had heard and read about this movie, but it was awhile before it was aired on CTV. I recall being enthralled by this movie, because it kept me in suspense until the end.

One other movie, filmed in the late 1980s but airing in 1990, holds a special place in my heart. It was called “Getting Married in Buffalo Jump” and features Crewson as a young woman returning to her home town after her father dies to live with her mom and run the family ranch. As she tries to cope, her ranch hand offers to marry her out of convenience. Alex Bresnyachuk is played by a young, unknown Canadian actor of the time named – Paul Gross. What made it special was it aired the summer of 1991, my first summer living with my parents in Lethbridge when I did not have much of a life outside TV. It was a pretty endearing movie too. I saw it again the same time the next summer. I recall hearing it had been filmed at Cowley and Pincher Creek, and kept looking to see if I recognized anything. It was obvious Crewson and Gross had chemistry, and were both destined for bigger things.

The years after
Wendy Crewson would catapult into a series of major roles in theatrical movies. She played a doctor in “The Doctor”; the ex-wife in all three “The Santa Clause” movies, the first lady opposite Harrison Ford in “Air Fore One”; and much, much more.

On TV she was in everything from Canadian favourites such as “ Street Legal”, “Black Harbour”, and “Due South”, to U.S. network shows such as “24”, “Flashpoint”, “Rookie Blue”, and “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation”. Over the last few years she has been in “Revenge”, “Murdoch Mysteries”, “Working the Engels”, “Beauty and the Beast”, and has had a recurring role since 2012 in the Canadian medical drama “Saving Hope”.

She was also in “Ascension”, a TV miniseries created by the Syfy Channel and later aired on CBC, about a spaceship sent into space in the 1960s to preserve a part of humanity and colonize a far-off planet.

And she has played Regina detective Joanne Kilbourn in a series of movies based on the novels by Canadian writer Gail Bowen, all aired on CTV.

Perhaps her most remarkable roles were in movies based on real life people, primarily strong Canadian women. She played in “The Matthew Shepard Story” about a gay man tortured and beaten to death in Wyoming for his sexuality in 1998. Soon after, she played the lead in several biopics of Canadian women.

In 1998, she played the title role in “At the End of the Day: The Sue Rodriguez Story”, about a courageous Canadian woman suffering from Lou Gehrig’s Disease who put up a spirited battle in support of medical-assisted dying, eventually dying with the assistance of a doctor. In 2005, she played Canadian judge and war crimes crusader Louise Arbour. Later that same year, Crewson played Lorraine Evanshen, the loyal and resilient wife of Canadian football legend Terry Evanshen, who lost his memory in a motor vehicle collision and never got it back in “The Stranger I Married”, also called “The Man Who Lost Himself”. Then, in 2013, in the aftermath of the death of federal New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton, Crewson played Anne McGrath, Layton’s chief of staff and friend of Layton’s in the movie on Layton, fittingly called, “Jack.”

Amid all that, she also appeared in two movies with Tom Selleck, “Folks!”, a theatrical release in 1992, and “Twelve Mile Road”, 11 years later in 2003.

Hence, there were tributes by Harrison Ford and Tom Selleck at Crewson’s induction into Canada’s Walk of Fame. Both were glowing in their praise of Crewson's work.

Parting thoughts
To be honest, as the decade began I had a bit of a crush on Wendy Crewson, watching her every Sunday night on “Home Fires”. She seemed pretty, and smart, and strong.

Little did I know that more than 35 years later, I would still be watching her on TV. Wendy Crewson may be one of Canada’s most prolific actors, having appeared in virtually every major Canadian TV series, dozens of TV movies, and almost as many theatrical movies.

But what I really appreciate about her is that she has never strayed too far from Canada. Sure, she has pursued projects in the States, but continues to do Canadian television and movies. On top of that, and the most impressive part for me, is she has chosen to play some of the strongest women in Canadian history over the past few decades.

She may have walked with legends doing all that, but she did not look out of place at all.