Saturday, 30 September 2017

Robert Loggia: Gruff but sensitive through the years

Robert Loggia had a long career as an actor on stage and screen
He was a great character actor with a gruff exterior who played some great tough guys, both good and bad, most times with a soft side.

The first time I saw Robert Loggia, he was telling Richard Gere to take a good look in the mirror in “An Officer and a Gentleman”, then he was a tough private eye in “The Jagged Edge”. The last time I saw him in a role that really stands out was more than a decade later when he was the head of the American military doing battle with alien invaders in “Independence Day”.

I was sad to hear awhile back that Robert Loggia had died at the age of 78.

Robert Loggia, at right, as Byron Mayo, the father of Richard Gere's
character Zac Mayo, in 1982's "An Officer and a Gentleman".
Here he is about to tell Zac to take a look at himself in the mirror.
Father knows best
The first time I recall seeing Robert Loggia was when he was shirtless, hitting a mirror with the back of his hand telling Richard Gere to take a look at himself.

The movie was 1982’s “An Officer and a Gentleman” and Loggia was playing Byron Mayo, father of Zac Mayo, played by Gere. The movie focused on a drifter who dreams of flying jets, and he finally does. It was Gere’s breakout role, and another feather in Loggia’s cap.

I saw the commercial for “An Officer and a Gentleman” on the two pay TV channels of the 1980s in Canada – Super Channel and First Choice. Every time I visited my buddy Mike Hartman, who had cable, I saw that commercial of Loggia giving crap to Gere. It was burned in my mind. I eventually saw the movie when my brother taped it off pay TV and lent me the tape. But don't tell anyone he did that, okay.

The years before
It turns out Robert Loggia had a resumé dating back to the 1950s and the soap opera “Search for Tomorrow”. For the next three decades, he seemed to play guest roles in a wide variety of shows, until 1982 when “An Officer and a Gentleman” came along.

Series television
After “An Officer and a Gentleman”, he continued to play supporting characters in TV with “Little House on the Prairie” and “Falcon Crest”, where he was the first actor to play Tony Cumson on the night-time soap opera, a role also played by John Saxon. He was also in movies with “Trail of the Pink Panther”, “Psycho II”, “Curse of the Pink Panther” and “Scarface”.

Finally, he earned his first recurring role in network series TV, playing Yuri Bukharin, a Soviet spy in the night-time drama, “Emerald Point, N.A.S.” That was a good show with a lot of potential, and an all-star cast, but it just could not make it.

Robert Loggia, at left, in his Oscar-nominated role in the
1985 thriller "The Jagged Edge", with star Glenn Close.
The edge of a dream
“The Jagged Edge”, released in 1985, was another movie I had seen a lot of commercials for, and was immediately interested in. It starred Jeff Bridges as a man accused of murder, and Glenn Close, who is the lawyer hired to defend him. It was this great psychological thriller.

Loggia played private detective Sam Ransom who aids Close in her defence of Bridges. For his efforts, Loggia would be nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

I never did see it in the theatre, but at another interesting time in my life. It was the summer of 1986 and I was taking driver’s education in Lethbridge, staying at my sister’s place during the day. She was working, so I watched TV, walked down to the Lethbridge Public Library, and rented movies from the 7-11 on Third Avenue. One of those movies was, “The Jagged Edge”. Others were “Prizzi’s Honor” and “On the Edge”.

Coincidentally, Loggia also had a role in “Prizzi’s Honor”. That was another great movie, taking a satiric look at organized crime and starring Jack Nicholson and Kathleen Turner. Loggia played one of the sons of the head of the Prizzi crime family, who ran the crime empire.

Busy times
Robert Loggia closed out the decade with a lot of roles in film and TV. Movies he was in, that I saw, were “Armed and Dangerous” in 1986 and “Big” in 1988. The TV guest roles just kept on coming – “Murder, She Wrote”; “Alfred Hitchcock Presents”; “Magnum P.I.” – and he got a lead role in a series right at the end of the decade with “Mancuso, FBI” for 20 episodes in 1989-1990. He had pioneered the role in the 1988 TV mini-series “Favorite Son”.

The years after
Loggia would keep on working for another 30 years. Two more roles I really enjoyed were as a football coach in the football movie “Necessary Roughness” in 1991, and the head of the United States military in 1996’s “Independence Day”. As Coach Wally Rig in “Necessary Roughness”, he spoofs the intense, gruff football coach, playing him over the top to comedic effect. As General William Grey in “Independence Day”, he is tough but serious and sensitive.

The final role I remember, is a brief summer series he starred in called, “Sunday Dinner”, where he played an older man in a serious relationship with a younger woman who takes her to family dinner every Sunday night. It aired on Sunday nights and was written by Norman Lear, creator of “All in the Family”. The network even paired it with the first season episodes of “All in the Family” they re-ran to garner interest. What “Sunday Dinner” is most known for is that it gave newcomer Teri Hatcher her first starring role. Two years later she would have her breakout role as Lois Lane, in "The New Adventures of Superman". "Sunday Dinner" only lasted six episodes.

Parting thoughts
Robert Loggia was a great character actor, who was best known for gruff, serious roles. Yet he could bring a sensitivity as well. The best roles, by far, were his turns in "An Officer and a Gentleman" and his Oscar nominated role in "The Jagged Edge". Just when you thought he may be somewhat typecast, he turned that on its head taking a comedic turn.

You put it all together – his TV and movie work – and he had quite a career.

I am glad I got a chance to see a lot of good stuff.

Friday, 29 September 2017

A matter of opinion: The college football championship in the 1980s

Not a day goes by during the college football season that I don’t thank God the National Collegiate Athletic Association came to their senses and created a playoff system of some sort. It still isn’t perfect, but it sure is far superior to the way the college football national champions were crowned back in the 1980s.

Not an exact science
For whatever reason, the NCAA had no desire to have a playoff system in football, unlike virtually every other sport which did.

That left pollsters, mostly coaches and reporters, to vote for the national champion. There were two main polls that were used to determine the champion: The Coaches’ Poll and the Associated Press.

They used criteria that makes sense, but is still an inexact science. Usually, if a team went undefeated, they were automatically declared national champions. However, if teams suffered one loss, or even two or three, and there were no undefeated teams, these selectors would look at other variables. Did the top teams play each other or common opponents? Did one have a stronger schedule, that is play tougher teams? Even the most bizarre of factors – a loss early in the season matters less than a loss late on the season. Another factor was point differential, encouraging strong teams to run up the score on weak teams to “make a statement”. The surest way to win the national championship, if you were not ranked number one, was to defeat the number one team.

All told, the national champion was not chosen in an objective manner. It was all a matter of opinion.

This would lead to a lot of controversy.

We are the champions
The first two champions of the decade were straightforward. In 1980, the Georgia Bulldogs went 12-0, including a 17-10 win over Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl to win the championship. The next year, Clemson went 11-0 and defeated Nebraska 22-15 in the Orange Bowl to win the championship.

The next few years, it was the challenger who beat the number one ranked team for the championship. In 1982, Penn State was ranked second and defeated the top-ranked Georgia Bulldogs 27-23 in the Sugar Bowl to secure the national championship. The next year the number five Miami Hurricanes beat the number one Nebraska Cornhuskers 31-30 to be crowned national champions. In this case, Auburn was 11-1 and was ranked third going into bowl games. They defeated Michigan 9-7 in the Sugar Bowl while the two teams ahead of them, Nebraska and Texas, had both lost. Further, Auburn had defeated Florida who gave Miami their only loss of the season. Yet, the Coaches’ Poll and Associated Press gave Miami the championship – primarily because they had the opportunity to beat number one and seized it.

The next year was even more controversial because Brigham Young University was the only undefeated team in the nation and was voted the champion. Yet, critics said the Cougars played a much weaker schedule than any of the other contenders, and their final game was not a major bowl, but the Holiday Bowl where they defeated Michigan who had a 6-6 record. Yet they were unbeaten.

Oklahoma won the 1985 championship, with an 11-1 record, by defeating number-one ranked Penn State in The Orange Bowl. Michigan, with a loss and a tie, also made a strong case for the championship.

The next year, things would take a step in the right direction.

“Championship” game
The climate of college bowls was much different in 1986. Back then it meant something to qualify for a bowl game. Unlike today, where there are dozens and dozens of games named after the sponsoring companies, back then there was a handful of meaningful games, all played on New Year’s Day. It is funny though, that even back then we made fun of the fact there were all these other bowls, like the Holiday, Independence, Florida Citrus, Liberty, and Gator Bowls. Even the Fiesta Bowl, which wormed its way into the spotlight, was considered a bit of an outsider (but a bit more about that later).

The main bowl games of the time were the Cotton, Rose, Orange, and Sugar Bowls. By 1988, the Fiesta Bowl had joined the party as well.

Back then, some of the teams for these games were determined by their conference. The Big-8 Conference champion qualified for the Orange Bowl, while the Pac-10 and Big-10 champions met every year in the Rose Bowl. The Fiesta Bowl gained prominence because organizers had the ability to invite whatever teams they wanted to. There was no national championship game at the time, as the national champion was determined by those two polls.

After the 1986 season, Fiesta Bowl organizers saw their chance to create a de facto national championship game. That’s because the number one ranked Miami Hurricanes and number two ranked Penn State Nittany Lions were both independent teams. Consequently, they were both invited to meet on January 2, 1987, a day after the usual bowl day showcase, in the Fiesta Bowl. Since they were number one and two, the pollsters would literally have no choice but to vote the winner the national champion – although if memory serves it was not unanimous, as it obviously should have been.

Penn State would win that game, and be voted national champion.

There was finally a national championship game, but it was not to last.

The remaining years
Number one met number two again after the 1987 season as Miami defeated top-ranked Oklahoma for the title. The next year, Notre Dame went unbeaten at 12-0 and won the national championship by beating number three West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl. Miami would round out the decade by winning its third title. This was a little muddy too, because Miami and Notre Dame both had a loss, but Miami beat Notre Dame. However, Notre Dame had a much tougher schedule and Miami’s loss was to a lower ranked opponent.

It just showed, the national championship was a matter of opinion.

What is really unfortunate is that fans would have loved to see some of these top teams play each other for the championship. It would have settled any doubt, and probably been some really good football.

Parting thoughts
One of my biggest pet peeves was the lack of a college football playoff. Voting was such a poor way to determine a champion. It penalized teams that coaches and sports writers did not see, and completely discounted the possibility a smaller school could compete with a bigger school. The fact this is possible is evident in the college basketball tournament every year. Because the teams have to play the games, no one can presuppose the winner.

In college football they did, all the time.

Eventually, starting in the 1990s, college football organizers slowly began to come around. They started with the Bowl Coalition, followed  by the Bowl Alliance and the Bowl Championship Series. This last one, the BCS, showed how smaller schools such as Utah State and Boise State could shock the bigger schools. Yet, all of those systems still relied on opinion and voting in some way.

They still do, with the College Football Playoff, but at least they have created a tournament so the best do play off. However, the best is still determined by a committee, not by results on the field.

Hopefully, some day, as the teams continue to organize themselves into conferences, the NCAA just organizes a tournament where the champions of these conferences play each other until a champion is determined.

It works in every other sport, why not football.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Sheriff’s “When I’m With You”: Strange journey to the top

The one and only album by Sheriff, a self-titled entry released
in 1983. The album featured "When I'm With You", but
Sheriff never made a music video to promote it.
It was a song that was a staple of junior high dances in the early ‘80s. Not one went by that we all wanted to dance close with a girl to that slow, romantic ballad. It disappeared only to reappear near the end of the decade and, inexplicably after the band who recorded it had broken up, go all the way to number one on the Billboard Hot 100.

Such is the strange journey to the top for “When I’m With You” by the Canadian band Sheriff.

Slow dance
Sheriff released their self-titled debut album in 1983 when I was in Grade 8. “When I’m With You”, this touching, crooning ballad was the third single to be released. It would go all the way to number eight in Canada. It also charted in the United States, peaking at 61.

Back then we had regular junior high dances, and “When I’m With You” was part of the soundtrack of life, with other Canadian songs such as “Innocence” by Harlequin, “The Kid is Hot Tonight” by Loverboy, “Your Daddy Don’t Know” by Toronto, and “Straight From the Heart” by Bryan Adams.

It was one of the slow songs we all wanted to dance to, hopefully with the girl of our dreams.

That would be Sheriff’s biggest hit, and only album. They broke up in the mid 1980s.

Dream come true
By Grade 11, so the spring of 1986, “When I’m With You” was still on the radio, kept alive by Canadian content requirements.

I was writing this play that was based on my own time in Grade 11 in high school. I was really intent on using music in it as well, and I had pretty much set the songs I wanted to use by then.

I always had this dream that my play would make it big. One of the songs, in a pivotal school dance scene in the play, was “When I’m With You” by Sheriff. At the time it had had some brief success in Canada, but was largely unknown anywhere else. I thought it would be cool if my play hit it big and introduced the world to “When I’m With You” at the same time.

Well, my dream came half true. In the most bizarre of coincidences, a Minnesota program director somehow discovered “When I’m With You” and started playing it in 1988. It rocketed up the charts and went to number one on Feb. 4, 1989, two weeks exactly before my 19th birthday.

By then, Sheriff had broken up long ago and declined to reunite.

That may be one of the strangest one-hit wonders of the decade.

Parting thoughts
“When I’m With You” was a special song to me. Still when I hear it, I think of school dances and slow songs. After I decided to include it in my play, I would have a blank tape ready to record it, if I ever heard it on the radio. The album was not in any record store I looked, nor any garage sale I visited, so taping it off the radio was my only choice. Eventually, I did get a crisp, clear recording off LA-107 FM Lethbridge late one night.

It also still amazes me that my dream half came true. That song was discovered and appreciated for how good it really was.

Sheriff had broken up, with some members forming “Frozen Ghost” and others forming “Alias”. They both would have success with their own songs.

Oddly, Frozen Ghost released a song called, “Dream Come True”.

Mine sure did, thanks to them.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Breakfast on the run

Stu Jeffries, deejay on K-97 in Edmonton
in 1988, and host of CBC TV's "Good Rockin' Tonite"
The other day I was having a “Farmer’s Wrap” at Tim Horton’s and I thought, wow they stuff everything into one of these – sausage, egg, hash brown.

It was funny because it reminded me of another time that everything got all stuffed together –  a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

Going home
It was the end of April, 1988 and me and my best friend Chris Vining were moving home after rooming together our first year of university.

My mom and sister had come up the previous weekend to take the bulk of my stuff home. Chris and I stayed behind because he still had a bunch of stuff to move plus his car – the Little Orange Tornado – the Pinto he had stored at his dad’s place northwest of Edmonton by a place called Cherhill.

His dad had actually come to get us the night before and we crashed at his farm then drove the Tornado back to Edmonton.

The next day we loaded up everything and said goodbye to Edmonton and our first year of university.

Drive through
It was a six-hour drive or so, and mid morning.

Vining suggested drive through before we got too far. Back then, the options weren’t what they are now. I don’t think there ever was Tim Horton’s at all back then, or if there was not at all what it is now. We never went there if it did exist. There was not much else in drive through for that matter – except McDonald’s.

There was one on I think it was Stony Plain Road on the way. That was our destination.

To keep us company, we listened to music, starting with the radio. Stu Jeffries was the deejay on K-97, and it was the first time I heard him on the radio. I had come to know him from hosting “Good Rockin’ Tonite” on CBC TV on Friday nights. He was playing “This Time” by Bryan Adams as we pulled into the drive through.

It was our turn at the drive through and Chris ordered for both of us.

When the food came he pulled out, and got on the road. While he was driving, he stuffed his hash brown and everything else into an Egg McMuffin he ordered.

It was the “Farmer’s Wrap” before the “Farmer’s Wrap”.

With that, we left town

As we ate, and drove, we reminisced about the past year, which really had changed our lives.

Parting thoughts
When I look back, and think about that day, and Stu Jeffries, “This Time” and Chris Vining’s kamikaze breakfast, it has nothing to do with the food.

It brings back memories of new friends, a new life and all the friends I had met in my first year of university.

I think of that, even for just a minute, every time I have a “Farmer’s Wrap”.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Martin E. Brooks: Making the Bionic man

Martin E. Brooks as Dr. Rudy Wells in
"The Six Million Dollar Man" and "The Bionic Woman"
It is unlikely the average person will remember the name Martin E. Brooks. If they hear he played Dr. Rudy Wells, most people still may not remember. Then comes the description that anyone who grew up in the 1980s will remember: He made the bionic man bionic.

Awhile back, Martin E. Brooks was in the news because, at the age of 90, he passed away. Still, he leaves a unique mark in television history for a role he played on not one, but two shows on two different networks, a rarity in both cases indeed.

Seasoned actor
Martin E. Brooks started his acting career on stage and screen in 1951, proceeding to guest star in a variety of television shows over the next 25 or so years including a recurring role in “McMillan & Wife” in 1972-1973.

Soon, he would find the role that would etch his place in television history.

Dr. Rudy Wells
When Oscar Goldman said, “Gentlemen, we can rebuild him, we have the technology,” Dr. Rudy Wells was the man who could actually do that.

Goldman ran an organization called the OSI which stood for a number of things over time, including the Office of Scientific Information and the Office of Scientific Intelligence.

When astronaut Steve Austin, played by Lee Majors, crashes a plane leaving him barely alive, Goldman, played by Richard Anderson, suggests the OSI rebuild him using the theories on bionics of Dr. Wells.

Initially, Martin Balsam played Wells in the pilot, then Alan Oppenheimer occasionally through the first two seasons of "The Six Million Dollar Man".

Martin E. Brooks assumed the role in 1975 and would portray it for the next 20 years. He debuted in the third-season episode, “The Return of the Bionic Woman” which was a springboard to the popular spin-off of the same name starring Lindsay Wagner.

It actually took me a little getting used to. Brooks looked quite a bit younger than Oppenheimer, and I got used to Oppenheimer playing Rudy Wells. I had not seen Martin Balsam play that role, and would not until I got "The Six Million Dollar Man" on DVD and saw him there a couple years ago. Still, I did get used to Brooks in the role.

Over time he became a recurring character, and occasionally the centre of an episode. One in particular, entitled, “The Most Dangerous Enemy” turned the show on its head. Rudy is bitten by a crazed monkey, who has been the subject of scientific experiments, and develops super-human strength, leaving Steve Austin as the only person who can stop him.

Two shows are better than one
Once “The Bionic Woman” spun off in January of 1976, Martin E. Brooks played the same recurring role there.

“The Bionic Woman” aired on ABC initially, for two seasons, from the middle of the 1975-1976 season to the 1976-1977 season when it was cancelled. NBC then picked up “The Bionic Woman” for the 1977-1978 season where it aired for one more season. Meanwhile, ABC continued airing “The Six Million Dollar Man” for the 1977-1978 season. Both shows were cancelled in 1978.

However, it was the first time two actors, Brooks and Anderson, played the same character on two different shows airing on different networks.

More to come
There would be three reunion movies: “The Return of the Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman” in 1987;  “Bionic Showdown: The Return of the Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman” in 1989; and the one that wrapped up everything in 1994, called alternately “Bionic Ever After?” and “Bionic Breakdown”.

That would be the last we saw of Martin E. Brooks as Dr. Rudy Wells.

Parting thoughts
Martin E. Brooks would go on to have further guest roles in the 1980s in everything from “Quincy”; “Dallas”; and “Trapper John, M.D.” to “Airwolf”; “Cagney and Lacey”; “Benson” and “Hunter”. There would be a few roles in the 1990s, including a stint on “Knot’s Landing” but that would be pretty much it. Still, a 45-year career was incredible.

Re-runs of "The Six Million Dollar man" and "The Bionic Woman" aired after school throughout the first part of the 1980s on Channel 13 on my peasant vision dial. 

I will always remember Martin E. Brooks as the scientist who made Steve Austin and Jaime Sommers bionic.

In the end, in fact, he did rebuild them, and wrote his name in pop culture history.

Monday, 25 September 2017

Al Molinaro: From “The Odd Couple” to “Happy Days” and beyond

Al Molinaro as Al Delvecchio in "Happy Days"
“Yup, yup, yup, yup, yup, yup…Did I ever tell ya about Rosa Colletti?”

He may have been best known as the owner of Arnold’s in Milwaukee in the 1950s, the backdrop for the comedy “Happy Days” or as Murray, the New York city policeman with the big nose in “The Odd Couple”.

Al Molinaro made a name for himself as comic relief, and a great supporting actor, in the 1970s and 1980s. Recently, I heard he had died at the age of 96.

Al Molinaro was close to 50 when he started acting, after becoming financially secure in the real estate market. He got into acting, appearing in various sitcoms while continue to study. He took an improvisation class, according to Wikipedia, where he met Penny Marshall.

She introduced him to her brother Garry Marshall, a TV producer, beginning a long and fruitful relationship.

Al Molinaro as police officer
Murray Greshler in "The Odd Couple"
“The Odd Couple”
Marshall offered Molinaro the part of Murray Greshler, a New York City policeman, in a show called “The Odd Couple”. It starred Tony Randall and Jack Klugman as mismatched roommates, both recovering from divorces. Klugman’s Oscar Madison was a slob, while Randall’s Felix Unger was a neat freak.

Their apartment was visited by a colourful cast of friends and family, including Murray. He was the straight man for a lot of jokes, and there is one that sticks out in my mind.

Oscar and Felix had barricaded themselves in their apartment, hiding from something. Suddenly there was a knock on the door. They did not want to answer. They were too scared.

Then the little door on the front door flung open and through it appeared – a nose. There was only one nose like it. So they let Murray in.

Al Molinaro could be the straight man, and enjoy not taking himself too seriously.

“The Odd Couple” ran from 1970 to 1975, but in the early 1980s I used to watch reruns in the daytime, when I was home from school.

“Happy Days”
The following year, 1976, Marshall cast Molinaro as Al Delvecchio, the new owner of Arnold’s, the local hangout. He replaced Noriyuki “Pat” Morita, who had been playing Arnold, but left for his own short-lived show called, “Mr. T and Tina”.

At first, Al was mostly in the background, but over time became more familiar to the audience. He was often comic relief. One running joke was how often he would say, when one of the “Happy Days” gang asked for advice, “Yup, yup, yup, yup, yup, yup…Did I ever tell ya about Rosa Colletti?” It was later often shortened to, “Yup, yup, yup, yup, yup, yup” but we all knew what that meant.

Another memory I had was the two-part episode where Arnold’s burns down. Al decides to rebuild, with the financial assistance of The Fonz. When the place is ready to re-open, Al and Fonzie both reveal signs they would like to hang out. Al wants to rename the place, “Big Al’s” while the Fonz wants to call it “Fonzie’s”. In the end, they realize it is not worth fighting, or losing a friendship over, and keep the name Arnold’s.

Al Molinaro stayed on “Happy Days” for six years, until 1982, when finally he could forget all about Rosa Colletti.

“Joanie Loves Chachi”
By 1982, the characters of Joanie Cunningham and Chachi Arcola had become so popular, Garry Marshall decided to spin them off into their own show. They move to Chicago to pursue a music career. Chachi moves with his mother Louisa, played by Ellen Travolta, who has married – Al Delvecchio.

Al’s character continues to evolve as he becomes more of a father to Chachi, and a husband to Louisa. He also opens a restaurant that Joanie, Chachi and their band perform in.

The show lasted two seasons, and a total of 17 episodes, from 1982 to 1983.

Joanie and Chachi would go back to “Happy Days” to close out its run. Al Molinaro would not, as Noriyuki “Pat” Morita returned as Arnold to take over his drive-in.

The years after
Interestingly, Al Molinaro reprised the character of Al Delvecchio one more time, in the video for Weezer’s song, “Buddy Holly”, which is set in Arnold’s.

Beyond that, he appeared in the odd TV show and spent one season on the sitcom, “The Family Man” which lasted 22 episodes in 1990-1991, before retiring from acting in the 1990s.

Parting thoughts
Al Molinaro really is synonymous with the character Al Delvecchio, so much so he played him in three different productions. He was the perfect figure of authority, first as a police officer then as a restaurant owner and step-father. Over time, his character evolved and we saw Al as more than just a joke, but a sensitive man with many layers to his character.

It is fitting that his last memorable role was as Al in a music video, because it was the perfect conclusion to a great career that peaked in the 1980s.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Abe Vigoda: Fish at work and at home

Abe Vigoda in his most well-known role as Phil Fish in "Barney Miller"
He went by one simple name that seemed to say so much: “Fish”.

Starting out as a New York City police detective in “Barney Miller”, he grew popular enough he would eventually get his own show, if ever so briefly.

Fish was played by Abe Vigoda, and I was sad to hear that he passed away last year, yet it brought back memories of “Barney Miller”, “Fish”, and everything else he did as an actor.

The Godfather
Vigoda was best known in his early work for his role as Sal Tessio in “The Godfather”. He played a trusted friend of Vito Corleone who ultimately meets his demise after betraying the family.

That role caught the attention of Danny Arnold and Ted Flicker who were casting for a new comedy set primarily in New York Police Department squad room called “Barney Miller”.

His audition landed him the role of Phil Fish, which would bring him into living rooms across the world.

“Barney Miller”
He was the elder statesman in a squad room full of mostly male detectives. With his age, he brought an experience and compassion that underlied his police work. He seemed to bring that same experience and compassion to his acting.

Fish was older, nearing retirement, and acted as a mentor to other detectives. He also seemed to be battling nagging health issues, most notably hemorrhoids.

My outstanding memory of Abe Vigoda was how the squad room could be going crazy, yet he had this look that said much more than any words could. He just looked so tired, with dead sunken and eyes – the epitome of being beleaguered. It was the perfect look for deadpan comedy.

Fish also seemed to be on the phone regularly with his wife Bernice.

We would all get to meet Bernice as, after two seasons on “Barney Miller”, Phil Fish got his own show, fittingly and simply called, “Fish”. It took viewers into Phil and Bernice’s home life, where they took in five racially-mixed foster children including Loomis, played by a young Todd Bridges who would go on to fame as Willis Jackson in “Diff’rent Strokes”.

Again, Fish had that same look as all the chaos swirled around him.

After two years and 35 episodes, “Fish” was cancelled.

He would make a guest appearance on “Barney Miller”, in 1982, visiting the squad room as a now retired detective, and that would be the last we saw of Phil Fish.

The years after
Abe Vigoda would appear in several movies in the 1980s and beyond, most notably “Cannonball Run II”, “Look Who’s Talking”, “Prancer” and “Joe Versus the Volcano”.  His television work would include guest roles in “B.J. and the Bear”; “The Littlest Hobo”; “MacGyver”; “Law and Order”; “Wings”; and soap operas such as “As The World Turns” ad “Santa Barbara.”

His final film role would be in “Sweet Destiny” in 2014.

He died Jan. 26, 2016 at the age of 94.

Parting thoughts
“Barney Miller” was one of the best sitcoms of the 1980s, with several memorable characters. Yet it was Phil Fish who proved to be the only one popular enough to be spun off into his own series.

It showed how enduring and endearing the character and the actor who played him were.

Fish was unique. He was an old, tired looking police detective who was caring, sensitive and supportive at the same time. He even looked a little bit like a fish. It was quite a character to portray.

Abe Vigoda’s legacy is bringing him to all of us.

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Natalie Cole: A comeback starts in the '80s

Natalie Cole had a great comeback in the 1980s, essentially re-inventing herself
When I first heard the name Natalie Cole, my first thought was, “Is that Nat King Cole’s daughter?” Of course it was. It conjured up memories from my own childhood and listening to Nat King Cole. They were eventually enhanced by a miracle of technology: a duet by Natalie and her long-deceased father of the timeless classic, “Unforgettable”.

Sadly, a year and a half ago Natalie joined her dad in the hereafter, passing away at the age of 65, but not before leading a significant life of her own.

On the comeback trail
Natalie Cole first had success in the 1970s as a rhythm and blues artist, but would fall on hard times due to drug addiction,

She mounted a comeback in the 1980s, and that’s when I first heard of her. It was late summer or early fall in 1987, so I was listening to less music on the radio then because I had left home to go to university.

In 1987, she released the album “Everlasting”, and that’s when I started hearing songs by this Natalie Cole. She actually kind of sounded, to me, like Whitney Houston and Patti LaBelle.

The first two singles were “Jump Start (My Heart)” and “I Live for Your Love”, which was a great ballad. They both peaked at number 13 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Then came the big breakthrough, or I guess comeback. Natalie Cole did a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Pink Cadillac”. It was all over the radio when I came home after my first year of university, and went all the way to number five on the Billboard Hot 100 on May 7, 1988.

She followed that up with her next album, “Good to be Back”, which yielded another great ballad, “Miss You Like Crazy”, which went all the way to number seven in July of 1989.

Her work in the 1980s, set the stage for the biggest successes of her career.

The years after: An Unforgettable career
In 1991, Natalie Cole did something she had been reluctant to do – sing her father’s songs. That changed, as she released an album full of them entitled, “Unforgettable…with Love”. According to Wikipedia, it sold seven million copies in the United States alone and won several Grammys, including Album of the Year, Record of the Year, and Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals.

The best part for me, was that interactive duet of “Unforgettable” Natalie Cole sang alongside her late father Nat King Cole.

She would keep on performing and recording, including another duet with her dad entitled “When I Fall in Love”. Cole also started appearing on television and in movies, including everything from “Grey’s Anatomy” to “American Idol” and “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”

She died of Dec. 31, 2015 of congestive heart failure, at age 65.

Parting thoughts
When I was a kid, my dad and I would go to church while my mom would stay home and make dinner. Often, when we got home, Mom had Nat King Cole on in the background. I loved that deep voice, especially listening to “Unforgettable” and “When I Fall in Love”.

At first, Natalie Cole was just another voice on the radio in the same category as the likes of Whitney Houston and Patti LaBelle.

Although, it was in the 1990s, that all changed with the release of “Unforgettable…with Love” and the connection to her father’s music. It was deep and soulful. The songs were moving and stirring.

That was all possible because Natalie Cole had used the 1980s to get back on her feet and mount a comeback.

In the end, it was truly unforgettable.

Friday, 22 September 2017

No fun at all: Super Bowls of the 1980s

In the run-up to the most recent Super Bowl, I found myself again wondering why so few of the Super Bowls of the 1980s were mentioned. Every list of top ten plays or moments made barely any references to the 1980s.

Then, in a moment of insight, I realized why! There were only two, maybe three games in the entire decade that were close. There were few game-winning drives, or “TSN Turning Points”, because the games were virtually all blow-outs.

Looking deeper, the lack of close games illustrated an interesting trend in NFL history: there was a competitive imbalance. One conference was superior to the other the entire time, and that would continue on well into the 1990s, before correcting itself.

If it wasn’t for the Oakland cum Los Angeles Raiders, the NFC won every Super Bowl – and it was no fun at all.

One trend to another?
The start of the decade continued a trend that had gone on much of the 1970s. The AFC won every Super Bowl in the decade, with the exception of two wins by the Dallas Cowboys in the Super Bowls after the 1971 and 1977 seasons. In fact, three teams dominated the decade – the Miami Dolphins, Pittsburgh Steelers and  Oakland Raiders. So, at the dawn of the 1980s, it did not seem like much was changing when the Raiders defeated the Philadelphia Eagles 27-10 to win the first championship of the decade and their second in five years.

The next year, the San Francisco 49ers beat the Cincinnati Bengals 26-21 to win their first Super Bowl and begin what became their claim of being the best team of the decade. The year after that, the Washington Redskins, led by quarterback Joe Theismann, runningback John Riggins, a massive offensive line called “The Hogs” and a suffocating defence, beat the Dolphins at the Rose Bowl 27-17.

However, the next year, the Los Angeles Raiders, recently transplanted from Oakland, ended Washington’s dream of back-to-back championships by defeating the Redskins 38-9 in Tampa Bay to win the Super Bowl after the 1983 season.

So, four years into the decade, the AFC had won two and the NFC had won two.

It didn’t seem like there was much to separate the two conferences.

That would soon change.

Not a trend – domination
The NFC would reel off six straight wins to end the decade, and seven more to start the 1990s for a total of 13 straight wins – a dominating performance to say the least.

It started with San Francisco winning their second Super Bowl in four years, a 38-16 win over Miami at Stanford Stadium. The next year the Chicago Bears, one of the most dominating and intimidating teams of the decade, blew out the New England Patriots 46-10.

The decade closed out with four Super Bowls in which either Denver or San Francisco, or both, appeared.

The Super Bowl after the 1986 season saw Denver qualify by staging one of the most memorable comebacks against Cleveland in AFC Championship Game history. Quarterback John Elway led a comeback that became described simply as “The Drive” to take the Broncos to overtime where Rich Karlis kicked the winning field goal in overtime. Two weeks later they were thumped by the New York Giants by a score of 39-20, as Phil Simms, the New York quarterback, turned in one of the best performances in history, going 22 of 25 for 268 yards and an 88 per cent completion rate.

Denver was back the next year, defeating Cleveland once again, this time by recovering “The Fumble”, to face the Washington Redskins. This time, the Redskins were led by Doug Williams, who became the first African-American quarterback to start and win a Super Bowl, and unheralded Timmy Smith who rushed for a record 204 yards. The Redskins scored an unprecedented 35 points in the second quarter to thrash the Broncos 42-10.

The Super Bowl after the 1988 season was a rematch of the 1981 Super Bowl between San Francisco and Cincinnati. This time it went down to the wire. Quarterback Joe Montana led a drive to win the game on a pass to John Taylor with 34 seconds left for the 20-16 victory.

Coincidentally, the only two close Super Bowls of the decade were between these two teams.

The last Super Bowl of the 1980s was a fitting one, between the two most successful teams of their conferences. San Francisco had won three Super Bowls already and was on a quest for a second straight one and fourth of the decade. Denver was appearing in their third Super Bowl in four years (defeating Cleveland in the AFC Championship for a third time as well), making them the most prolific AFC team of the decade.

The 49ers punctuated the NFC’s domination of the decade by hammering Denver by the biggest margin in history, handing the Broncos a 55-10 drubbing in New Orleans.

So, by the close of the decade, the AFC and NFC Championship Games were the entertaining ones to watch, because they were usually close and exciting.

The Super Bowl was rarely very close, or entertaining at all.

Parting thoughts
Every time I see a Top 10 list of Super Bowl moments, or highlights, there is very little from the 1980s. When the AFC did win, it was the Raiders, and they blew out their opponents in both those Super Bowls. Oddly, the only time the games were settled by less than a touchdown, it was when San Francisco played Cincinnati twice.

The rest of the games were routes.

The NFC had become so dominant, observers were beginning to worry about competitive balance, and suggesting changes to the playoff format.

That was needless because, even though the NFC streak extended to 13 straight Super Bowl wins and 15 out of 16, the AFC finally did win, and has been winning more of its fair share ever since.

Ironically, it was John Elway and his Denver Broncos, victims of three of those blow-out Super Bowls in the 1980s, who ended the NFC’s streak. He single-handedly, almost by force of will, led the Broncos over the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers after the 1997 season.

It was a measure of redemption for Elway and the AFC.