Sunday, November 15, 2009

Where Did the Months Go?

I have been meaning to post, and even have some items set aside. But somehow other obligations have gotten in the way and time has passed far more than I thought. Quite a chill when I stopped in and saw the date on the previous post. I promise to post some new things before Thanksgiving. Sorry, and thank you to everyone who has been stopping by. Read more!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Professor: Scientist, Educator, Clevelander

Roy Hinkley, the Professor on "Gilligan's Island," was born in Cleveland, according to many Web sites, including that of Russell Johnson, who played the Professor. Still haven't pinned down the episode where that is mentioned, but thought it was an interesting nugget.
By the way, Jim Backus, who played Thurston Howell III on "Gilligan's Island," was born in Cleveland.
. Read more!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

"My Fellow Americans"

Jack Lemmon and James Garner play former presidents, and rivals, who join forces when the current president tries to have them killed. A key piece of information is in Lemmon's presidential library in Cuyahoga Falls. ...

Lemmon's character was born in Cleveland but says Cleveland wouldn't give him a good deal on property taxes. He got a better deal from Cuyahoga Falls for locating his library there.
After their helicopter is blown up, Lemmon and Garner catch a ride on an "NCAA Finals Express" train to Cleveland, posing as impersonators of themselves. They learn that the train will stop in Akron but have to get off in the town of Jefferson, apparently in Virginia, when they see their pursuers waiting at the station. They steal a car, planning to drive to Akron (Lemmon says they can get on I-77 near Galax, Va.), but there's a baby in the back seat so they return the car; fortunately, the family owning it is headed to Cleveland, and gives the two presidents a ride. As they enter West Virginia, the driver says they are eight to 10 hours from Cleveland.
They finally get to the library, which is a tacky little joint. (And, by the way, none of this was shot in Ohio.) But the evidence they have sought is not there, and they hit the road again.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

"Funny People"

George Simmons, the actor-comedian character played by Adam Sandler, sports a lot of different teams' wear, including T-shirts for the old New York Titans and the University of Kentucky. But of special note here is a Cleveland Cavaliers jacket he sports during one scene. And, in another moment, his character becomes frustrated while trying to get a Cavs game on TV. Read more!

Friday, July 24, 2009

"The Great Buck Howard": Very Big in Akron

The movie, now on DVD and Blu-ray, stars Colin Hanks as a would-be writer who takes a job as road manager for Buck Howard, a Kreskin-like mentalist who was big at one time.(He made many appearances on "The Tonight Show" during the Johnny Carson era.) But not now. Now, he's playing places like, well, Akron.

"For some reason, the people of Akron, Ohio, went nuts for him," Hanks says as we see Buck exiting an auditorium and greeted by a screaming crowd of fans. One fan holds up a sign saying "Akron (Heart) Buck." (Another major segment in the movie is set in Cincinnati.)

By the way, Tom Hanks, Colin's father in real life and in this movie, did some of his earliest stage acting in Cleveland. And in a small role is Ravenna native Nate Hartley (later seen more prominently in "Drillbit Taylor" and "Role Models"). Read more!

Tim Conway, "Hollywood Palace," Parma

The Tim Conway DVD pictured left has been available for several years, and will be part of a "Comic Legends" DVD box being released on Tuesday. The Conway disc, at least, consists of his appearances on "The Hollywood Palace," a star-laden variety show which aired on ABC from 1964 to 1970.

The sketches on the disc are so-so for the most part, although they do feature Conway's Cleveland-originated bumbler Dag Herford, you do get another look at Conway's taking comic wing and cracking up people on the air; "Fugitive" star David Janssen almost collapses, he is laughing so hard at Conway. (One classic, later example of Conway's gift is of this:)

But while Tim is a local guy, this blog is more about mentions of NE Ohio onscreen. So we'll get to Parma -- after the jump.

A couple of the sketches on the DVD have Tim working with his old friend Ernie "Ghoulardi" Anderson, who was also in Hollywood by this time, and doing some announcing work on "HP." Tim and Ernie had also worked as a comedy duo, releasing a couple of records of their work. And being in Hollywood didn't make them forget their old homestead. One "Palace" sketch from around 1968 has Tim as Dag, in this case the coach of the Olympic team from the "small European country" of Parma. Conway wears a blue sweatshirt with "Parma" on the front in white letters.

Among other things, the sketch has Parma's national colors as "off cream." It has been placing last in every event it has entered, but the team had been plagued by accidents. The high jumper blew up after carrying the Olympic torch -- and cutting through a gas station. The team has only one uniform, which it passes from one teammate to the other; the system worked pretty well -- except in the relay.

Not that all the jokes are at Parma's expense. With the Olympics set for Mexico City, the team simulated competitive conditions; the team "played guitars and drank bad water."

Read more!

"3rd Rock From the Sun": Kind of Kent

After the jump, 1995 interviews with "3rd Rock" creator Bonnie Turner and star John Lithgow, with much about the series' NE Ohio connections.

NBC Entertainment President Warren Littlefield thinks the comedy 3rd Rock from the Sun is sensational and says, "We love all the elements, we love what it is."
It appears to be the most likely series to get on the NBC schedule once one of the network's fall offerings falters. It may make Northeast Ohio residents stand proud. But it also could make you stare suspiciously at your neighbors, wondering where they're really from.
3rd Rock from the Sun involves a band of extraterrestrials who take on human form and set up as family in a university town 52 miles from Cleveland.
Toledo native Bonnie Turner, who with husband Terry has written Wayne's World, The Brady Bunch Movie and other comedies, is a 1973 graduate of Kent State. And she said, "I picked Ohio (for the series) because that's where I went to school."
As for whether any of the professors were as odd as the alien played by John Lithgow in the series, she said, "When I was at Kent, I remember a political science professor who confused the living daylights out of me. He was nuts. ...
"When I was 18 years old and not aware of the world, he would talk about the bigger picture -- a world view. Which was what a universe-ity is about. He would stride around the room and make big gestures and speak in a big voice. He was almost a performance artist. So in writing about this character, I did think about that. ...
"A university is a place (extra-terrestrials) would pick out to go. Where else would you have access to diverse opinions, good minds, you know? ... And my natural mind was to set it in Ohio because I love the state, I love where I was born. And I love it because it was a regular place.
"If you're going to meet human beings, you're not going to meet them in Los Angeles," she said with a smile. "New York, Los Angeles, the South, their environment overtakes who they are, and they become what the city dictates they be. In the Midwest, they are family people, they're consumers, they're church people, they're moral -- they are human in the strictest sense."
Turner wanted to buttress the Ohio connection by calling the college Warren G. Harding University, only to find there was a real school by that name.
"We settled on Pendleton," she said, "because my mother always wore Pendleton wool and she went to the Pendleton store in Toledo. My earliest recollection of the fall, and being cold, and school time, was of Pendleton wool. So I said, let's call it Pendleton State University, and that sounded very Ohio to me."
As if that weren't enough Ohio-ness for one series, Lithgow spent part of a peripatetic youth -- "I went to 10 different schools," he said -- in Akron.
"I was there between '59 and '61 and I lived on the grounds of Stan Hywet Hall because my dad was the (theater) director there," he said. "And I went to ninth grade at Simon Perkins Junior High, 10th grade at Buchtel High and lived right up there on Portage Path in the carriage house. I loved Akron."
Although he was an acting veteran by then -- having made his debut at age 6 in a production of Henry VI, Part III -- Lithgow did give an Akron audience a taste of what was to come. "I played Lt. Rooney in Arsenic and Old Lace at Buchtel," he said.
But the Turners "had no idea that he had even lived there when we wrote the script," Bonnie Turner said.
"We had been writers for Saturday Night Live and he had hosted a couple of times, and we hit it off well and became friends. Then when he read the script and we talked to him three days later, he said, 'Oh, my God, how did you know? Did you know I lived in Ohio?' It was all a happy coincidence."
And far happier than Lithgow's initial reaction to the idea of playing one of four aliens: "Oh, no, not me."
"But about five seconds later I immediately got the comic premise of it," he said. He calls the aliens "marvelous fools, brilliant in their own way, but equally foolish."
They have no special powers but are afflicted both with curiosity and an unvarnished honesty that creates problems in their dealings with humans -- especially in the pilot, where the aliens are adjusting to human form and its accompanying emotions, urges and, um, parts.
The pilot stirred strong emotions among critics here, some finding it funny, others offended by what one writer called "the fixation on breasts, phallic symbols and the uncontrollable hormonal surges."
Turner said, "We are not a politically correct show. We are farcical. I'm always surprised that someone would think I, as a woman, would write anything to offend other women."
And the characters' preoccupation underscores their honesty, Terry Turner said. "I think our aliens have no power except for the truth," he said. "They always tell the truth. Which can be about the scariest power anyone can have."
And, in a way, Bonnie Turner sees that as an Ohio thing -- "an honest existence," she said. The aliens "are honest people, too, and they're going to walk among honest human beings."
Read more!

Monday, July 13, 2009

More on "Route 66"

After the jump is a column I wrote about "Route 66" and NE Ohio, which appeared in Sunday's Beacon Journal. In an early episode of the classic TV series Route 66, one of the main characters turns to the other and declares, ''You know, Youngstown is not exactly on our course.''

In fact, Northeast Ohio in total was not in the path of the beloved American highway. But, as several recent DVD releases show, the series came back to the region again and again — for eight episodes in all.

Route 66 originally aired on CBS from 1960 to 1964. (There was also a short-lived attempt to revive the show on NBC in 1993.) It involved two young men, originally played by Martin Milner and George Maharis, who traveled the country in a Corvette, made money with odd jobs and tried to help a lot of troubled people along the way.

The show tapped into the public sentiment for the highway Route 66, which ran from Chicago to Los Angeles. It had been immortalized in a popular song written by actor-musician Bobby Troup, especially its advice to ''get your kicks on Route 66.''

But the TV series ventured far beyond the route of the actual Route 66. One of the show's selling points was that it was not bound by a Hollywood studio; it made its episodes on location around the U.S., a perpetual road show bringing its cast and crew to two dozen states over the series run.

It not only dropped the names of real locations, it showed them. If a road sign said Cleveland was 17 miles down the road, you could figure the episode would end up in Cleveland.

The show has long had a following both because it was often a well-made and serious show and because it made so many memories around the country when the show came to a given town. There are Web sites devoted to the program (as there are to the highway Route 66), including, which discusses the production and locations of different episodes. Some of the information in this story was taken from the site.

Infinity Entertainment has been gradually issuing DVDs of episodes of the series. On July 21, its set of Route 66: Season Three, Volume One (16 episodes, four discs, $29.98) will complete the release of eight episodes in Northeast Ohio.

Overall, they included, from the first season, The Opponent (shot in Youngstown), Welcome to Amity (Kinsman) and Incident on a Bridge (Youngstown); Two on the House and First Class Mouliak, both done in Cleveland and in the second season; and Every Father's Daughter, Welcome to the Wedding and Only by Cunning Glimpses, all in Cleveland and all in the third season.

In 1961 alone, the show set up camp for a month in the region, shooting the five episodes from the first two seasons. And that wasn't the end of the Ohio experience for Maharis and Milner. After the May-June 1961 production, they came to Akron in August of that year as celebrity guests of the All-American Soap Box Derby.

Sometimes there was a rough chronological sense to the Ohio shows when they aired. The three first-season episodes aired over three consecutive weeks in June 1961, and one seemed to lead into the other.

In The Opponent, Buzz says at one point, ''We have a job in Kinsman,'' which is where the next episode was shot. Unfortunately, Kinsman is renamed Amity in the episode itself.

Not that continuity was always evident. First Class Mouliak (with a young Robert Redford) was the fifth episode of the second season, airing in October 1961, and Two on the House did not follow until much later, in April 1962.

Familiar faces would often show up in different roles. Edward Asner, for example, is a fight trainer in The Opponent, then reappears as another character in Welcome to the Wedding, which also featured Rod Steiger.

And there was the odd travel geography, in which these rambling guys seemed to keep circling back to Ohio.

Part of that undoubtedly stemmed from the region providing a variety of interesting locations. Terminal Tower is visible in every episode, and heavily featured in Welcome to the Wedding. In that episode, you can get a good look at the mural, transplanted from the 1939 World's Fair, which long graced the terminal, as well as a panoramic Cleveland skyline.

The famous Octagon House in Kinsman, boyhood home of lawyer Clarence Darrow, serves as a boarding house in Welcome to Amity. When you freeze the DVD at the right moment, you can even see a sign promoting its historic connection (although, again, this is Amity for the show's purposes). Only by Cunning Glimpses includes the Sahara Hotel, Every Father's Daughter the Vixseboxse art gallery.

Start looking with a group of local folks, and you find yourself pausing so they can study long-remembered scenes, old buildings, bridges and back roads.

Besides the locations, Northeast Ohio attracted the show because producer Sam Manners hailed from Cleveland.

''I have a tremendous pride in my home town,'' Manners told the Cleveland Press as the series began shooting episodes in 1962 for the third season. During the shoot, Manners told the Press, ''We shot scenes of Terminal Tower, Public Square, Edgewater Park, a shopping center, the Cultural Gardens, my former neighborhood on West 99th and the James H. Rand home [on Lake Shore Boulevard].''

The shoots could be challenging. Production would begin before actors had completed scripts.

''We worked six days a week, sometimes seven, because we were always behind schedule,'' Maharis said in an interview with the Route 66 News Web site in 2007. ''You got up at 5 in the morning and you get back to your motel at 7 or 9 at night, sometimes even later.''

For Only by Cunning Glimpses, a barn was built in Warrensville Heights and then burned down, with the latter part of a shoot that went all night. (The Plain Dealer reported that Maharis delayed things at one point by complaining that a fight scene was not realistic enough.)

In The Opponent, as Tod and Buzz walk through a crowded downtown Youngstown, you can spot numerous extras unable to stay in character, staring at the actors passing by them.

But it was a big deal to have a TV show in town then. It still is, for that matter. And Route 66 works not only as a TV show, but as a document of the region's past.

Read more!

Friday, July 10, 2009

"All the Marbles": The Triumph of Jaco's

"All the Marbles" is a strange film about two women wrestlers (played by Vicki Frederick and Laurene Landon) and their manager (Peter Falk). In addition to Los Angeles and Las Vegas, scenes were shot in Youngstown and Akron in 1980. This was not exactly a compliment to Northeast Ohio; a rep of the Ohio Film Bureau told the Beacon Journal that Akron was a draw in part fot its "rundown streets in areas with heavy industry." ...
Falk was a major star at the time, known far and wide as TV's "Columbo." Veteran director Robert Aldrich -- the original "Dirty Dozen" and "The Longest Yard" -- was in charge of what proved to be his last film. (He died in 1983.)
According to a Beacon Journal report at the time, Falk was not even meant to be in the scenes shot in Akron. But then the show's crew discovered Jaco's Drive Thru Beverage on Cuyahoga Falls Avenue.
"We don't have drive-thrus in California, so when we found this place, we decided to write a scene into the script using it,'' a producer told a Beacon Journal reporter. The scene has Falk using the pay phone and buying food at the shop.
Jack Gemmell, then the owner of Jaco's, made jokes inside the shop while Falk was working outside in November 1980. He claimed that the film was there "because Falk wanted to meet me."
One Beacon Journal story described this scene during a snowy day of production:
Dozens of men and women bundled in a colorful assortment of insulated parkas and pants, gloves and galoshes were milling about, talking, moving large amounts of equipment and generally being omnipresent.
Some of them were towing an old yellow Caddy convertible through the building.
Some were warming their hands and bodies with styrofoam cups full of coffee.
Others were ravenously shoving heaps of steaming food from paper plates into their mouths.
And still others were huddled in little groups discussing what seemed to be -- at least from the solemn expressions on their faces -- serious topics.

The story noted that several members of the Gemmell family got non-speaking roles. And Madeline Gemmell, Jack's mother, got to meet Falk. "He was just so nice I couldn't believe it," said one family member of Falk's meeting with Madeline.
You can still see Jaco's, in the shadow of Route 8. Jack Gemmell died in 2008, having moved from Akron to Florida 23 years earlier.

Read more!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

"Route 66"

I want to give you a link to fascinating site. It has been looking at the locations where the classic TV series "Route 66" was shot, especially eight episodes shot in Northeast Ohio (Cleveland, Youngstown and Kinsman). ... Three aired in the first season, two in the second and three more in the third.
The production was in NE Ohio for more than a month in May-June 1961 making five of those shows; stars George Maharis and Martin Milner then came to Akron in August of that year to take part in All-American Soap Box Derby events. They competed in the Oil Can Trophy race against Peter Brown, co-star of TV western "Lawman." (It appears that Maharis won. Milner never got out of the gate because a track volunteeer was still holding back Milner's car with a guiding hook.)
I now have the episodes in hand and may post more on this later.
Read more!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

"Mr. Rock N Roll," "Sports Night"

"Mr. Rock N Roll," a 1999 TV-movie about Akron/Cleveland/music legend Alan Freed, arrives on DVD on Tuesday. A column I wrote about the movie -- and about a snide reference to Akron on "Sports Night" -- is after the jump. I've also posted an interview with Judd Nelson, who played Freed.Here is the column:
Akron is becoming the new Cleveland. And not in a good way.
Much the way Cleveland was once the butt of national jokes, Akron has taken two shots in prime time this week.
First was on Sports Night, which had a character saying carriage rides were in only "if you're from Akron."
On Sunday night, the NBC movie Mr. Rock 'N' Roll: The Alan Freed Story has legendary disk jockey Freed declaring, "Cleveland wasn't the big time but it was better than Akron."
There's a faint historical justification for the line, since Freed (played by Judd Nelson) worked in Akron before moving up to Cleveland and later New York City. But it's still a slap at Akron made worse by the disparaging of Cleveland.
In radio in the '50s, Cleveland was the big time, where a radio station's playing a new record would inspire other stations around the country to follow suit. But that's just one of the many ways Mr. Rock 'N' Roll rewrites or invents Freed's story, from the anachronistic use of songs to fictionalizing the names of radio stations. Besides, Cleveland is played by Toronto.
Most of the effort in the movie seems to have gone into staging a few musical numbers where modern actors mime to vintage rock and roll tracks (by Jackie Wilson, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis and others). The rest of it looks hasty, sloppy and under-budgeted.
If you want to see Alan Freed as a mythic figure, your time's better spent hunting for American Hot Wax, a 1978 big-screen effort with Tim McIntire as Freed, the real Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis, and a young actor named Jay Leno.
Mr. Rock 'N' Roll is just one of several looks at Northeast Ohio in recent days.
This week also included the 20/20 portrait of Audrey Iacona, the Granger Township woman convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the 1997 death of her newborn son. Iacona, also the subject of a Dateline NBC profile in March, was treated very well by 20/20 -- appearing as a combination of Britney Spears and Joan of Arc.
Next week, PBS's Nova will offer yet another TV look at the notorious Sam Sheppard case. WVIZ (Channel 25) will air Nova at 9 p.m. Tuesday followed by a one-hour special Feagler & Friends on the Sheppard case; WNEO/WEAO (Channels 45/49) will carry Nova at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday.
A science series, Nova shows how forensic science has been used in an effort to solve the 1954 murder in Bay Village of Sheppard's wife Marilyn, or at least to determine Sheppard's guilt or innocence in the case. That's an ongoing effort that included the recent exhumation and re-examination of Mrs. Sheppard's body.
Nova spends a lot of time rehashing old information but does consider the scientific issues in more detail than some other Sheppard programs.
DNA evidence extracted from blood at the crime at first seemed to point to another suspect, Richard Eberling. "But it turns out that the evidence against Eberling is far weaker than it initially appears," the program's narrative says, nor did all the blood evidence rule out Sheppard's involvement.
Terry Gilbert, attorney for Sheppard's son, Sam Reese Sheppard, nonetheless went to the news media to spin the findings to his favor, a move the documentary says backfired. In the most dramatic scene in the program, Stephanie Tubbs Jones, then the Cuyahoga County prosecutor, tears into Gilbert and his supposed evidence.
The program ends with the plan to exhume Mrs. Sheppard's body, but with no definitive conclusion on who killed her. Which is pretty much the way things have been for decades.
All things considered, Northeast Ohio probably doesn't need all this attention, especially if it's distorting history and showcasing brutal crimes. We could keep TV producers from crossing into Ohio -- but they'd just use Canada as a substitute.

And here is the Nelson interview:
When Alan Freed died in 1965 at the age of 43, he was, in journalist John Morthland's words, "a poor man, unemployed and unemployable."
The former Akron and Cleveland disc jockey had been driven out of the radio business during the payola scandals of the late '50s and early '60s, when he was the most visible entrepreneur caught taking money from record companies in exchange for playing their tunes on the air.
But Freed has maintained a claim to fame, not just in Northeast Ohio but around the world, as one of the key figures in bringing black music known as rhythm and blues to a white, teen-age audience under a new name: rock and roll.
However dishonored he was in his time, Freed has an honored place in rock history, including posthumous induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in its first year, a major biography in 1991 (Big Beat Heat: The Alan Freed Story, by John M. Jackson) and, at 9 p.m. Sunday, an NBC TV movie, Mr. Rock 'N' Roll: The Alan Freed Story.
Based on press materials about the movie, it's going to look especially closely at Freed as a force for social change, from his playing of black music on the radio in Cleveland and later New York City to his battles with ABC after singer Frankie Lyman danced with a white girl on a Freed-hosted TV show.
That fits in with other recent NBC successes, including The Temptations and The '60s, which blended social issues with nostalgic soundtracks. Mr. Rock 'N' Roll uses about 20 vintage recordings, from Buddy Holly, the Clovers, Moonglows and other artists.
(It also, probably not coincidentally, sticks the knife into CBS by getting on the air before that network's four-hour, birth-of-rock movie Shake, Rattle & Roll arrives in November.)
Judd Nelson, who plays Freed, was only 5 years old when the DJ died but was aware of him even before making the movie.
"I'm a big blues fan," Nelson said during a recent telephone interview. "And I knew that he was one of the few people that helped kick-start (radio) integration."
Indeed, Nelson believes that Freed's later troubles were a result of his stand against racism.
"A lot of disc jockeys were guilty of payola, but only one was drummed out of the business," Nelson said with a touch of hyperbole. "The reason must be in his social positions. He created a lot of enemies by not seeing color in music. Other people didn't want the races mixing."
Indeed, Morthland -- writing in The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll -- has said, "Playing black music by itself did not make Freed such a revolutionary figure; any number of black DJs . . . were already doing that. Freed was, however, among the first to program black music for a white audience, and for this he . . . suffered legal harassment well before his fall in the payola hearings."
Nelson was intrigued by playing Freed, so much so that he went to work on the movie within days of finishing another project. He scrambled to research Freed via the Internet and studied surviving film of Freed. To be ready, he said, "sleep was getting sacrificed."
Besides, Nelson said, "I like working." Since getting out of the series' grind by leaving Suddenly Susan earlier this year, he's worked on about seven projects, from the Freed movie to independent films to a Spin and Marty revival movie for ABC.
And in researching Freed, he found someone with plenty of flaws, from hard drinking to a hard-driving business sense.
"Any ambitious guy is going to overlook things," Nelson said. "In his case, he sacrificed his family for his career. But he had had that car crash (in 1950) and the doctors told him if he didn't smoke and drink, he might have another 10 years. So he thought he had a lot shorter time to accomplish things than most people."
Nelson said his performance is not a mimicking of Freed, who called himself "King of the Moondoggers" on the air and whose '50s radio style might sound grating to '90s ears. But it was still a kick to step back in time when the movie was being shot in Toronto.
Now, he said, he'd like to get back to Cleveland to see the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. His one trip to the city included a visit to another local landmark: Jacobs Field -- which he loved.
Of course, he had some mixed feelings about the team that plays there. Born and raised in Maine, Nelson is a longtime Red Sox fan

Read more!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

"The West Wing": "Mr. Willis of Ohio"

This blog took a break while I was on vacation, but I expect to get some new posts up soon, starting with this one, about the sixth episode of "The West Wing," called "Mr. Willis of Ohio."

The episode is important in the history of "West Wing" because of several plot threads, notably a bar confrontation involving Zoey Bartlet which leads to the president making comments which foreshadow the Zoey kidnapping later in the series. But the title of the episode, written by Aaron Sorkin, points us to the great civics lesson in the telecast, with an ordinary citizen proving wiser about the good of the nation than the professional politicians around him.

Toby is trying to get votes for a census issue. One of them is Joe Willis, an eighth-grade Social Studies teacher appointed to complete the term of his late wife.
He apparently has no plans to run for her seat -- he pointedly declines to be called "Congressman" early in the episode, and at the end indicates that he will only be casting one vote in the House before he leaves.

The issue -- involving whether to use a population sample or a head count -- is full of political implications. But Toby carries the day when Willis, who is African-American, agrees to support the White House proposal. He has been persuaded by Toby's argument that the Constitution can be read flexibly on how to count the population because it counts a slave as just three-fifths of a person. (Willis knows this because of his teaching Social Studies.) At the end of the show, Toby, full of admiration for Willis, pauses before a staff poker game to see the telecast of Willis casting his vote.

Willis, by the way, is identified solely as a congressman from Ohio, rather than being from a specific district, although "West Wing" did at times toss around references to individual congressional districts. But it is reasonable to think of him as being from Northeast Ohio, since that was the home base of Louis Stokes, the first African-American to represent Ohio in the House of Representatives. A year before "The West Wing" aired, Stephanie Tubbs Jones, the first African-American woman to represent Ohio in the House, had been elected to Stokes's seat after his retirement. Of course, both Tubbs Jones and Stokes were veteran politicians, while Willis is not.

There is also a band from Switzerland called Mr. Willis of Ohio.

Read more!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

"Telling Lies in America"

Shot in Cleveland, set in Cleveland, based on the Cleveland childhood of writer Joe Eszterhas. It premiered at the Cleveland International Film Festival in 1997. Not a great movie, although it has some good things, including Kevin Bacon's lead performance as a popular local DJ. (The cast also includes the late Brad Renfro, and Calista Flockhart before "Ally McBeal.") Some tales about the making of the period film, after the jump.

As "Telling Lies" was premiering in Cleveland, Eszterhas announced that his next film, "Male Pattern Baldness," would also be shot in the area in early 1998; he later said that he wanted Drew Carey to star. But the film didn't get made. In a 2004 interview with Nathan Rabin of A.V. Club, Eszterhas said this:

Male Pattern Baldness was about a guy who lives in the Midwest and works in a steel plant, who finds himself in a battle with all the precepts of political correctness. He's just an ordinary guy who goes up against all the sort of politically inspired and enforced social rules that we've looked at in the past 20 years. Everything goes to hell for him. He loses his wife as a result. He loses his son, and he has to take anger-management classes. Ultimately, he can't take it. The tone of the piece until now is comedic, it's dark, and it has a really striking comedic tone, to the point where Betty Thomas, who directs comedies, after reading it decided that she was going to make it. Suddenly, near the end of this piece, the comedic tone startlingly ends and he goes on a rampage and kills four or five of his workers and kills himself. The movie ends with an epilogue of irony. Betty's take and the studio's take when I sold the script was that it was very hard-hitting, and was certainly going to be very controversial. It proved to be so controversial, finally, in the studio's view, and also Betty's–she felt that it was an assault on political correctness–that they opted not to do the picture, and it's still up on the shelf. I do think that it would have startled some people, and I think it would have made us take a hard look at the effects of political correctness.

Here's an Aug. 31, 1996, Akron Beacon Journal story by Mary Ethridge about the production:

Cleveland may be the renaissance city of the '90s, with its Rock and Roll Hall of Fame masterpiece and a razzle-dazzle baseball team.
But you can't rearrange its soul.
Cleveland is still a place where joy is a Friday paycheck, a cold can of Bud and a jacked-up Chevy.
It was that utterable but intangible quality that creators of the movie Telling Lies in America were seeking when they ventured from Hollywood to the heartland to film.
Now, as they wrap up shooting in the city today, they're sure they found it.
Mary Kay Stone, a set decorator, said she didn't have to do much to re-create 1961 Cleveland, which is when and where the movie is set.
"We just stripped away some modern stuff and there it was," said Stone, who is also prop mistress at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. "We were able to go back 35 years without much trouble at all."
Stone scoured Cleveland-area thrift shops for period items and found them in abundance. A chenille bedspread. Old Ladies Home Journals. A vintage tea kettle. A bottle of Johnson's Baby Oil, unopened, from 1959.
"We did a lot of shopping at the Goodwills around here," she said. "We found just about everything we needed."
Stone said this as she was hanging a T-shirt and towel from circa 1960 on a line in the back yard of a duplex on West 14th Street in the Tremont neighborhood of Cleveland.
It was the site of a scene shot this week in the yard at the home of the main character's girlfriend.
The semiautobiographical film by controversial screenwriter Joe Eszterhas (Basic Instinct, Showgirls) stars 14-year-old Brad Renfro (The Client) as an immigrant boy who befriends a Cleveland disc jockey (played by Kevin Bacon) during radio's payola scandals.
A significant part of the film centers on the boy's relationship with his father, played by Maximilian Schell (Judgment at Nuremberg).
Eszterhas grew up in Cleveland and insisted on using local talent on screen and off.
Several Northeast Ohio actors were cast, including Akron's Matt Miller as the assistant district attorney prosecuting the payola case. Dozens of other locals were extras.
Across the street from the set on West 14th, neighbors sat on their front porches and watched. Onlookers wandered by freely. Actors' trailers and catering trucks lined the road. Traffic roared by, directed by a Cuyahoga County sheriff's deputy.
"It's been exciting. It hasn't been an inconvenience at all," said West 14th resident Christine Nagle. "The producers, the cast -- everyone has been so polite and caring. Mr. Schell even posed for pictures with us."
The street was shut down only for a few minutes at a time when outside scenes were being shot, Nagle said.
A group of vintage car owners from Brooklyn sat in lawn chairs on the set. Their cars -- a 1959 Cadillac, a 1954 Chevy and a 1958 Pontiac -- were being used in filming that day.
An assistant director -- wearing black lipstick and a spiky hairdo -- chatted with one of the car owners about their mutual love of needlepoint.
"It's all very relaxed," said Matt Jennings of Springfield Township, who is working as a grip -- basically, a stagehand -- on the movie. Jennings, a member of the local Studio Mechanics Union, was hired in July to construct and maintain the sets.
"We've been working 14-hour days. Last night, I found myself on I-77 at 2 a.m.," Jennings said. "But I wouldn't trade the experience."
John Haight is a retired debate teacher from Berea High School. He was hired because the law requires that actors under 18 be supervised by a certified teacher.
"I listen to Brad (Renfro) work and make sure he doesn't slip out of dialogue," Haight said. "I'm just here if he needs me."
Haight said an actor and teacher friend in Westlake told him about the job.
Bill Miller, a North Olmsted bus driver, got the job of driving a restored 1959 passenger bus up from Orrville, where it is kept by the Ohio Museum of Transportation.
"They called us out of the blue and we had just the bus for them. It's a piece of history," Miller said. "I can't wait to see the movie. We're a real part of it

And here's an Aug. 27, 1996, interview with Joe Eszterhas for the Beacon Journal, by Mark Dawidziak:

The glowing cigarette seems impossibly small in his beefy hand. The glittering gold ring he wears seems impossibly large.
Glancing at the world through squinting eyes, this bigger-than-life Hollywood writer draws deeply on the cigarette and exhales slowly. The smoke swirls around Joe Eszterhas' waves of golden hair in the same way that controversy swirls around his career.
Eszterhas has come home to make a simple movie about growing up in Cleveland. Telling Lies in America, which completes filming in Northeast Ohio on Sunday, is a semi-autobiographical story that the writer has carried around in his heart for more than 12 years.
There are no brazenly explicit love scenes, no ice-pick murders, no psycho-sexual mysteries. This is a considerably kinder, gentler project than the films that have made Eszterhas Hollywood's leading pusher of the envelope: Basic Instinct, Sliver, Showgirls, Jade.
Yet there's no avoiding the C-word. The producers of Telling Lies in America introduced the film's author as "the controversial Joe Eszterhas."
Press releases about the movie contain the standard reference to "the controversial Eszterhas," even though calling the writer controversial is like describing Dennis Rodman as eccentric, Rush Limbaugh as opinionated or Donald Trump as wealthy. It's taken for granted.
"No, I don't mind being called controversial," Eszterhas said during a break from filming in Cleveland, where the modestly budgeted Telling Lies in America has been shooting since Aug. 3. "I am that person, clearly.
"I like writing movies that push the envelope. I like the notion of doing movies that push past certain boundaries. I do take some pride in that because, for better or worse, I don't think I do that kind of usual Hollywood pap."
He proudly embraces the label. He doesn't disown his more notorious films.
But he does want people to know there's more to this writer than Basic Instinct and Showgirls. He doesn't want critics to be surprised that he's trying a Telling Lies in America.
"Look, I've done 14 movies," Eszterhas said, "and I didn't have any nudity in my movies until the ninth one. And I did things as diverse as F.I.S.T (a 1975 union story with Sylvester Stallone, partly shot in Cleveland) and The Music Box (a 1989 courtroom drama with Jessica Lange as a lawyer whose father is accused of war crimes) and Checking Out (a 1989 black comedy with Jeff Daniels).
"I think one of the things that's unfair is that I've become pigeonholed as doing only erotic thrillers. I have done those, and I will probably do them again. But I think my range is broader.
"I think what's fair is to judge a screenwriter like a novelist, on his body of work. I'd like to be judged on that instead of just the erotic thrillers."
If you judged on appearances, you wouldn't cast the burly, bearded Eszterhas as a writer. A Hollywood casting director might select him to play the leader of a biker gang, a Viking warrior or a WWF wrestler.
Beneath the gruff appearance and behind the controversy, though, is a soft-spoken realist who knows that tough questions go with the Tinseltown territory. Having arrived in his early 50s with gray touches accenting those flowing golden locks, Eszterhas has learned to keep such impostors as success, failure and Hollywood in perspective.
Showgirls, for instance, wasn't just the most roundly mocked movie of 1995. It was a film flop that moved swiftly from cultural outrage to self-satire.
Indeed, it has become a midnight-movie cult favorite. Audiences gather to hoot and holler at the wooden acting, insipid dialogue and calcified direction. Is Eszterhas aware of this?
"Of course," he said. "I've actually gone to some cult screenings in Los Angeles just to have fun. And it is fun. I don't take this business too seriously.
"Showgirls was one of those things where the public really teed off, and the plain truth is that it did become one of the great public failures of all time. If you write, you'll have wins and losses, and that was certainly one that lost. I mean, I still have serious lash marks on my back."
The Showgirls debacle was followed by another flop, Jade, an erotic thriller that audiences found neither erotic nor thrilling. Eszterhas found renewal by returning to Cleveland in spirit and in person.
His wife, Naomi, suggested that he rewrite Telling Lies in America, a script Eszterhas had in a file drawer since 1983. The story is based on his memories of Cleveland in the early '60s.
"I've always found tremendous strength, support and warmth here," said Eszterhas, who was 6 when he immigrated with his parents from Hungary. "When Showgirls was going down in flames and Jade was about to burn, the people of Cleveland were nothing but supportive."
Eszterhas lived in Cleveland for about 20 years, working as a reporter at the Plain Dealer from 1967 until 1971. After a 1971-75 stint with Rolling Stone magazine, he turned his attention to screenplays.
Flashdance, with Jennifer Beals as a welder who dances in clubs, became one of the biggest hits of 1983. He followed that box-office smash with Jagged Edge (1985), Hearts of Fire (1987) and Betrayed (1988).
His reputation went from hot to scorching, however, when he received a record $3 million for the Basic Instinct screenplay in 1992.
Compare that figure with the entire budget for Telling Lies in America, which Eszterhas estimates at $4 million.
"So you know this is very much a labor of love," Eszterhas said. "This is one from the heart because this is a place that's deep in my heart and soul. Cleveland has an individuality that's very much part of this script, and that individuality hasn't changed since I was a kid growing up here.
"I'll tell you how Cleveland hasn't changed. It's still a shot-and-beer, rock 'n' roll kind of town."
Playing a character loosely based on Eszterhas, Brad Renfro (The Client) is Karchy, an immigrant boy befriended by a fast-talking Cleveland disc jockey (Kevin Bacon) caught up in the payola scandal of 1961. Directed by Guy Ferland (The Babysitter), Telling Lies in America features Oscar winner Maximilian Schell as Karchy's father.
Eszterhas has three other films in various stages of production, including One Night Stand with Wesley Snipes and Nastassia Kinski. While no release date has been set for Telling Lies in America, the writer has decided on where the premiere will be.
"It will be here, in Cleveland, probably at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame," Eszterhas said. "Anywhere else? Over my dead body."

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Amazing Canton Hoover Shirt

("Warehouse 13": Saul Rubinek,left, Joanne Kelly, Eddie McClintock)

North Canton's Eddie McClintock and I chatted recently, and I mentioned his ability to get his North Canton Hoover wrestling shirts on TV ...

Eddie, who will star in "Warehouse 13" for Sci Fi (renaming Syfy) beginning in July, was also in "Crumbs," a series with Jane Curtin and Fred Savage, a few years ago. The show was set in New England but Eddie wore his North Canton shirt in the pilot.

"If I see any sign of weakness from (the costume department), I'll start muscling in my own wardrobe," he told me at the time. "Actually, I wore it on the set one day during rehearsal, and the producer said, "We like that.' . . . I'll be wearing another Hoover wrestling shirt in another episode. I'm kind of a hometown guy at heart. . . . My dad calls me every weekend to tell me what's going on."

Eddie doesn't bear North Canton's name in the premiere of "Warehouse 13," but he promised local color down the road. In fact, his character is from North Canton, he said, and there will be an episode mentioning a North Canton Fire Department, complete with jackets and vehicles.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

"Hello Cleveland!"

Here's some of the legendary "This Is Spinal Tap" clip. (Warning: Strong language.) Hat tip to Alex McMahan.

And how legendary is it? Check out this bit with famous debater Dominick Thurbon:

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"Driving Miss Daisy"

In both Alfred Uhry's original play and in the movie starring Jessica Tandy and Morgan Freeman, there's a poke at people from Canton. Hoke (Freeman in the movie) approaches Daisy's son Boolie (Dan Aykroyd), claiming he has gotten a job offer from the wife of one of Boolie's cousins.
"The one that talk funny," Hoke says.
"She's from Canton, Ohio," Boolie explains.
Hoke later says that the Canton woman talks "like her nose all stuffed up."
(Boolie, by the way, gives Hoke a raise to keep him working for Daisy.)
Hat tip to Mark Price. Read more!

Monday, June 15, 2009

"Leave It to Beaver": Is That Mayfield, Ohio?

When I was younger -- meaning when "Leave It to Beaver" was still on network TV -- I thought its town of Mayfield was in Ohio. (I was in Virginia.) Maybe I had heard of Mayfield, Ohio, somewhere. And when there was talk about State University, it has made me think of Ohio State. In fact, Mayfield wasn't supposed to be in a specific state. But there is considerable thought nonetheless that it's the one in Ohio. More after the jump.... . In his 1998 memoir "And Jerry Mathers as 'The Beaver,' " Mather says, "Mayfield is anywhere, USA. ...
Actually, there are twenty-seven Mayfields across the country," the book continues. "Some people think it's Akron, Ohio, because there's a Mayfield near Akron. But at different times Mayfield is described as being only twenty miles from the ocean. Others think it is somewhere in California, but the characters travel to California. We even altered the mileage signs at the bus station when Beaver goes on a trip, so viewers wouldn't be able to go their atlas and pinpoint a town.
But viewers are more dogged than that.

On the fan site, the following is part of the discussion of Mayfield's location:

The show makes numerous mentions to neighboring cities and communities, and even street names, that would correspond with the Mayfield located in Ohio. Ohio is always the most popular speculation.
In one of the episodes Wally takes the Beaver to the new amusement park with his friends, to ride on The Giant Dipper. The Giant Dipper is located in Santa Cruz but it is also in San Diego and in Chippewa Lake, Ohio. It is obvious that the contradictions are done on purpose. If they live in Mayfield, Ohio it would have taken Wally 1 hour and 13 minutes to drive to Chippewa Lake, That isn't far but for a teen taking his little brother to a park it would probably be out of the question.
One fan writes to me: It was not California because the people who owned the Haunted house in "Mistaken Identity" moved to California. They are not from Indiana because the new student (young blond girl) that Wally had a crush on, that Mrs. Cleaver invited on the picnic to Friends Lake was from Indianapolis Indiana or "one of those states." This seemed to eliminate Ohio, though the checkbook evidence seems quite positive proof. Illinois Ohio, Indiana seem to be one of those states.
Another fan ... states: 'I live in Cleveland and the references made in the episodes can't be any where else. Grant Avenue, Mayfield, and all the other bits of information indicate Mayfield Ohio. We do have a Mayfield Ohio. '
Finally, closely inspecting the prop checks used in the 1997 Leave It To Beaver movie shows an Ohio address of "211 Pine Street, Mayfield, Ohio."
The reality may be less glamour and more practical. Looking at the occasional exterior shots on Leave It To Beaver, Mayfield’s neighborhood looks pretty like the Pacific area, right around the region where Leave It To Beaver was filmed in Hollywood, California.

I boldfaced the one section, since it is the strongest evidence for Mayfield, OH. The fan site also offers other info, both for and against Mayfield being in Ohio. I still lean toward the Beav being a Buckeye, although Mathers offers this description of the TV Mayfield:

"It's always spring or fall, and it never snows. It's usually sunny, unless the plot calls for rain. It's expensive to make rain, you have to set up rain machines and hire a special effects man."

And a Mayfield where it rarely rains cannot be in NE Ohio.
Read more!

"Tommy Boy": Flying from Sandusky to the Falls

Hat tip to Mark Eckenrode for noting that "Tommy Boy" mentions Cuyahoga Falls -- and Sandusky. Details after the jump. As "Tommy Boy" fans know, the movie is set in Sandusky, where the Callahan auto parts company is based. Mark recalled the scene where Michelle (played by Julie Warner) goes to the Sandusky airport to catch a flight to Cuyahoga Falls.
It's weird that anyone would fly from Sandusky to Cuyahoga Falls, since it's only about an hour's drive. What's even more bizarre is that the flight she's offered takes her to CFalls via Columbus, which is a long way out of her way.

I know, these days a lot of flights take you out of your way. Let's go back to the whole issue of flying somewhere when you could drive faster. The sales trip Tommy takes doesn't seem to make a lot of sense geographically either. This is what happens when movies are made in Canada.

By the way, Michelle is going to Cuyahoga Falls because, we have learned earlier in the film, her parents have moved there from Sandusky.

When researching this via the "Tommy Boy" DVD, I found myself laughing very hard at parts of the movie. Again. The Farley biography "The Chris Farley Show"
says the movie was "the single high point of his life. He was confident and self-assured, and it showed in his performance." It is, the book says, "a brief glimpse of what might have been."

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

"Major League": Bring That S--- To Milwaukee

In addition to being one of the best baseball movies ever, and a lovely dream of Cleveland baseball in the years before its resurgence, "Major League" is the best movie about Cleveland to have been made in Milwaukee....

\The story, of course, is about a ragtag group of baseball misfits who manage to get the Indians to the playoffs. While it has its faults, it's one of those movies that makes me stop and watch every time I happen across it -- never mind that I have seen it a few zillion times and that I have it on DVD. It also inspired two sequels, but they're not in the same, uh, league. ("Major League II" made about $30 million at the box office in 1994, according to Box Office Mojo, less than the $49 million the original film had made five years earlier; "Major League: Back to the Minors" was a 1998 disaster, and remains painful to watch.)

Alas, while the movie feels like Cleveland, and writer-director David S. Ward is both a former Buckeye and a longtime Indians fan, in the commentary on the "Wild Thing Edition" DVD, he says that the only footage actually shot in Cleveland is the opening sequence; producer Chris Chesser later points out that a a helicopter shot late in the film, and all of that was shot by the second unit two weeks after work had been finished on the movie.

In the commentary, Ward justifies the relocation on two grounds: It was cheaper to shoot in Milwaukee, and when they wanted to shoot, the stadium was being used for Browns exhibition games, with football lines on the field which would have been a problem for the production.

But the second-unit stuff at least captures the feel of the city, and there's a famous Cleveland figure in it: baseball fan Sister Mary Assumpta. (Nor should I forget to mention that Lou Brown, the Indians manager, has been found working for the Toledo Mudhens.)

Ward also notes in the commentary that he used Randy Newman's "Burn On" as the opening music because it is the only song he knew that is about Cleveland. But Ian Hunter's "Cleveland Rocks" had been around for a decade; still, it had been used on the soundtrack for "Light of Day" two years before "Major League." The Band had a song called "Look Out Cleveland" on their second album, in the early '70s, but I'm quibbling. "Burn On" is not only a great song, it and Randy Newman's vocal set a nice tone for what follows.

By the way, I looked up the standings for 1989, when "Major League" was released, and 1988, when it was being made, to see how real life stacked up against the Yankees-Indians tie and one-game playoff of the movie.

In '89, Toronto won the AL East; the Yankees finished fifth and 14 1/2 games out, but 1 1/2 games ahead of the Indians. In '88, the Red Sox won a very tight race in the division; the Yankees were fifth but jut 3 1/2 out, the Indians were sixth but 11games out of first. An example of a movie being better than real life.

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Friday, June 12, 2009

"Dance, Girl, Dance": Stuck Inside of Akron ...

This 1940 movie starring Lucille Ball and Maureen O'Hara was not well received by at least one critic when it premiered. Bosley Crowther of the New York Times shrugged it off as "a cliché-ridden, garbled repetition of the story of the aches and pains in a dancer's rise to fame and fortune. It's a long involved tale told by a man who stutters." But it has a much better reputation today. It stands out as one of Ball's better acting performances, as a hard-boiled dancer, and as an example of the work of director Dorothy Arzner. notes: "In the mid-1970s feminist critics argued that while Dance, Girl, Dance may appear to be just one example of the popular musical comedies and women's pictures produced by RKO in the 1930s and 1940s, Arzner's ironic point of view questions the very conventions she uses."

But we're talking about it because the first 14 minutes are set in Akron ..

Before moving the action to New York, the movie opens on a flashing sign saying, "AKRON: HOME OF HARRIS TIRES: The Royalty of the Road." It then pans past a factory to the Palais Royale, a nightclub where a line of dancers performs. The dancers include Bubbles (Lucille Ball) and Judy (Maureen O'Hara). In the crowd is a morose man we will later learn is Jimmy Harris (Louis Hayward), heir to Harris tires.

While the women dance, police enter the club and raid a gambling den in the back room. The dancers have not been paid and need money. Harris takes up a collection from the people remaining, declaiming, "Citizens of Akron, I appeal to your well-known generosity!" Even a cop chips in.

Both Bubbles and Judy are drawn to Jimmy. He at first seems drawn to Judy, but he leaves the club with the more hard-bitten Bubbles, escapist fun being the one thing on his mind. They go to the Ritz Bar, but it turns out to be an early evening, Bubbles later reports, after Jimmy spots a monkey doll, gives it to Bubbles and leaves. The monkey is a memento between Jimmy and his wife, and he realizes she has left it behind while out clubbing; though fond of each other, they are getting a divorce, ending the union of the "Harris tire heir (and a) valve-and-bearing heiress."

(Hat tip to Mark Price)

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The Russkies sure seemed interested in Northeast Ohio in this movie about deep-cover Soviet saboteurs who were programmed via drug-induced hypnosis. In the movie, they receive a coded telephone message that sends them on their deadly missions in the U.S. (Donald Pleasence played the rogue Russian unleashing the agents; Charles Bronson, Lee Remick and Tyne Daly worked to stop him.)
One of the sleeper agents, Mark Peters, "blew himself up and an ammunition dump outside Akron, Ohio." Peters' phone number, by the way, was 216-788-8837. Another deep cover agent has been given the identity of a man who "died of a burst appendix 22 years ago in Canton, Ohio." Read more!

"Best in Show"

In the 2000 comedy about competitors in a dog show, a couple makes a side trip to Akron ... Gerry and Cookie Fleck (Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara) are headed to the Mayflower Kennel Club competition from their Florida home -- but go 140 miles out of their way to stop in Akron and see Max and Fay Berman (Larry Miller, Linda Kash). Max -- an old boyfriend of Cookie's -- is "chief hostage negotiator for Akron and the tri-county area" but he apparently doesn't make a lot of money. "What a dump," Gerry says of the Berman home, and Cookie says it's better than where the Bermans used to live.

Max spends a lot of time dealing with people threatening to jump off of things, but contends "they always jump." He also describes a jumper hitting a gargoyle on the way down, his head getting caught in the gargoyle while the body continues to the ground, spilling like a pinata.

(Hat tip to Mark Price.)
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Thursday, June 11, 2009

"The Dead Next Door"

This low-budget horror film was set in Akron (and Washington, D.C.), with lots of Akron color in the footage, including zombies marching through Derby Downs. Above is the trailer to the film (WARNING: Contains strong language, blood and lots of zombie badness). More after the jump.

The movie was made starting in 1985 by Akron native J.R. Bookwalter when he was 19, with some initial support from a big-time director believed to be Sam Raimi. Getting the movie made and distributed took years, but it now has an admiring cult. Anchor Bay released a special-edition DVD of it in 2005 with extras, including commentary by Bookwalter. There's also a soundtrack CD. I will expand this post after I have looked more closely at the movie.

But here's a Beacon Journal story, written by Bob Dyer, written in 1986 while the movie was in production:

A pudgy young man named Lloyds is leaning against a car parked in a lane
near an old, ramshackle farmhouse in Springfield Township.
Trouble is in the air. He and the four people with him are armed, and
looking around with rapt attention.
Suddenly, a shot pierces the night, ripping apart Lloyds' chest. Blood
splatters across his shirt and onto the car behind him as he falls to the
ground in agony.
A few seconds later, about 35 bystanders smile and applaud.
No, it's not just another ugly domestic dispute. This is the work of
zombies, who have overrun several parts of Summit County during the filming of The Dead Next Door.
In truth, no shot rang out. That will be added to the sound track later.
And the blood was merely a `squib,' a special moviemaking device that
consists of a small amount of gunpowder suspended in a condom filled with food coloring and Karo syrup. It's attached to a protective foam pad and the
actor's body with duct tape. On cue, the tiny charge is exploded by a special- effects man.
With a bigger budget, the charges would have been triggered by remote
control. Here, the actor is literally wired to an extension cord. An on-off
switch is flipped to initiate the bloodshed.
Filming began July 21 and is to continue six days a week through August.
The schedule calls for the mayhem to move to downtown Akron between 1 and 4 p.m. today. Before all is said and dead, the zombies will have infiltrated
several other parts of Summit County, such as the Springfield High School gym, the Rubber Bowl, Akron Municipal Airport and, maybe, Barberton Citizens
The filmmakers say a video deal is already in the bag, and they have high
expectations of negotiating a theatrical release as well. [Rich note: Five years later, the filmmakers said in a letter to the Beacon Journal that "We made it very clear at that time that a deal was under
negotiation, not 'in the bag.' " Dyer and the Beacon Journal stood by the original report, and noted that objections were not raised until Dyer made fun of the film
If someone were to make a film of this filmmaking effort, though, they
might call it The Hardy Boys Make a Movie.
The oldest of the principals -- director of photography Michael Tolochko
-- is all of 24. The head honcho -- writer/director/co-producer J.R.
Bookwalter -- is 19. The other producer, Jolie Jackunas of Detroit, is 21.
The wardrobe department consists of a collection of old clothes hanging
from a tree.
The car against which Lloyds is shot is the personal vehicle of one of the assistants, who expresses interest in wiping the `blood' from the doors
without undue delay.
The shooting rarely runs past midnight because most of the people involved have to get up for real jobs the next day.
But someone in Detroit -- nobody will say who -- has given these young
people `well under a million dollars' -- nobody will say how much -- to make a real movie.
An educated guess on the mystery backer would be Sam Raimi, creator of cult classics The Evil Dead and XYZ Murders. An educated guess at the budget is
$30,000, the figure reported in a Beacon Journal story last October when the
project was first revealed.
That kind of money isn't enough to make a trailer at most studios. But
Amsco Productions, headquartered in a ghoulish little structure at 1153 Canton Road, is just getting off the ground, and nobody is complaining.
It's the first feature-length effort for Bookwalter, a member of the
Springfield High class of `84. But he's been dabbling with short, homemade
films since way back in 1978 -- when he was 11.
He showed some of his work to the Detroit mystery man, who liked it and
agreed to put his money where his opinion was.
If the local moviemakers are inexperienced, they know exactly what they're after, and they're enthusiastic. Boy, are they enthusiastic -- so much so that all except Bookwalter and Ms. Jackunas are working only for the promise of an eventual piece of the action. (Bookwalter and Ms. Jackunas, in addition to
owning a percentage of the gross, are drawing small salaries.)
Many of the people involved are college students, mostly from Kent State
and Akron U.
`It's a once-in-a-lifetime chance,' gushes production manager Mike Shea,
21. He claims that if The Dead Next Door pans out, producer Dino DeLaurentiis is prepared to kick in some of his abundant capital for a future Amsco
If it all sounds like a grand way to spend a summer, you'd better read the fine print.
Most of the time, hanging around the set is about as exciting as watching
your neighbor work on his house on a Saturday afternoon. There are wires and lights to mess with, things that keep breaking, people who keep getting in the way.
Tuesday evening, a series of delays kept most of the crew on duty until
nearly 2 a.m.
First there was a rain shower. Then it was a temperamental generator. Then a camera that ran out of film at a bad time. Then a group of extras who
absent-mindedly wandered into the background of a scene. Then -- because this is a real country lane rather than a back lot at Universal -- there was the
return home of the residents of a house located farther down the lane.
And then there were killer mosquitoes. People who marvel at the logistical nightmares overcome in the shooting of Apocalypse Now never had to deal with
the bloodthirsty monsters that fly around this old, mildew-ridden Springfield Township house, constructed about 1915.
The place originally was scheduled for demolition. Now the owners hint that they may wait to see if the film becomes a hit before calling in the wreckers. But none of the hassles seems to faze this good-natured bunch of
moviemakers. They appear to take a kind of demented glee in trying to figure
out how to jury-rig minor-league equipment to produce big-time effects.
There's also the undeniable thrill of having items about your film appear
in such publications as Variety, the Hollywood Reporter and the Los Angeles
Times. In an alphabetical Variety listing of new movies, for example, the
entry for The Dead Next Door ran just above a description of a William Hurt
film called Destiny.
That's heady territory. But the locals makes no bones, so to speak, about
what they're trying to do. Gone With the Wind it ain't. The script for the 90- minute film calls for a death or dismemberment at an average of every three
`You might as well not root for anybody because they all end up the same
way,' says production manager Shea.
The gratuitous blood will not be matched by gratuitous sex. If the effort
draws an R from the ratings board -- which seems inevitable -- it will be
strictly for violence.
Here's a sketch of the plot that appeared in the L.A. Times: `Billions and billions of zombies walk the Earth after a deadly virus, developed by a
certain Dr. Bow, escapes into the air. Those few who were spared exposure must hastily rummage through Bow's records and learn how to eliminate the danger.' Bookwalter says his movie was inspired by many of the zombie films, among
them the all-time classic of the genre, Night of the Living Dead (also set
partially in Northeast Ohio).
`I think this,' he says matter-of-factly of his film, `could be the best of them.'
The Dead Next Door is being shot in Super-8 and will be transferred to
videotape. It may eventually be converted again to a larger film format.
`Everything is going real good,' said Bookwalter, who, like most of the
company's executives, also has an on-camera role.
Shooting was about half a day, behind schedule by the middle of last week, but the producers expected to be back on track by Monday.
Bookwalter had hoped to begin filming in January, but his mystery
financier's own feature film was delayed repeatedly. That delayed the mystery man's salary, which delayed the money that was to have gone to Bookwalter. But now it's full-speed ahead.
Well, not exactly. The making of any movie consists, in large measure, of
waiting around. Tuesday, night between 6 and 11 p.m., exactly two scenes were shot. Together, they lasted perhaps 10 seconds.
But now, in the cool night air, another, slightly more complicated scene is about to take place.
`Quiet on the set,' someone yells into a megaphone.
`Roll sound.'
`Sound rolling.'
`Roll camera.'
`Camera rolling.'
`Mark it .... `
Five people run screaming through the yard, and a man and woman in the
foreground are ripped to shreds by gunfire.
Director Bookwalter turns to cameraman Bob Hudson (who once worked for
WEWS-Ch. 5 and WJKW-Ch. 3) and says: `Bob, does it look like mass hysteria?' `Yeah,' Bob replies.
`OK, it's a take.'
Read more!

"Bet Your Life"

Five years ago, NBC tried to ride the reality wave with a series meant to pick the next action star. The winners got to be in a movie, which proved to be "Bet Your Life," shot in Cleveland, which played both Cleveland and Las Vegas. My 2004 Beacon Journal column about the making of the movie is after the jump.
Cleveland comes off better as Las Vegas than as Cleveland.
The city plays both locations in Bet Your Life, a forgettable action movie starring Sean Carrigan and Corinne van Ryck de Groot, the winners of NBC's Next Action Star reality-TV competition. The movie premieres at 8 p.m. Wednesday on NBC.
The production pumped close to $3 million into the local economy, said Chris Carmody, president of the Greater Cleveland Film Commission. While other movies have been shot in the area, Carmody said this was the first full-blown action movie to be done entirely there.
"Los Angeles decision makers have seen some great period architecture used in films," he said. "But few have seen modern Cleveland on film, and what we can accommodate for an action film."
In other words, it's a good place for explosions, car chases and fancy stunts. And when asked if the city wants more of that kind of film fare, Carmody said yes.
"Our job is not art, it's commerce," he said.
The city also benefited from producer Alan Schechter's working on Next Action Star and Bet Your Life. Schechter has done other films in Cleveland, such as the Rob Lowe vehicle Proximity. And Carmody said Schechter preferred Cleveland to Toronto for the movie shoot.
Getting to serve as Las Vegas as well as Cleveland was "something of a sales job," Carmody said. But one of the attractions of Cleveland is "a real diversity of architectural locations. Playhouse Square . . . easily doubled for a Las Vegas casino."
The city is first seen as Las Vegas (including in a scene where Cleveland Hopkins airport has suddenly sprouted slot machines and an Elvis impersonator). Carrigan is playing Sonny Briggs, a down-on-his-luck gambler whose debts to a loan shark have put a bounty hunter (van Ryck de Groot) on his trail.
Sonny has other problems. He witnesses a murder and then gets drawn into a bet with a mysterious gambler named Joseph (Billy Zane). If Sonny can stay alive for 24 hours while Joseph tries to hunt him down and kill him, Sonny will collect $2.4 million.
Evading the hunt, Sonny catches the next plane out of town -- to Cleveland, where you can see many local flourishes, such as a boat named for former Mayor Anthony Celebrezze. You also get to hear some lame snipes at Cleveland.
Echoing a famous line from Apocalypse Now, Joseph declares, "I love the smell of Cleveland in the morning. It smells like -- Cleveland."
When Sonny asks a cabdriver to take him somewhere low profile, the driver replies, "This is Cleveland. Everything is low profile."
Carrigan's own experience in Cleveland was much happier, if considerably secretive.
"Cleveland was very good to me," he said in a telephone interview. "I fell in love with Cleveland." He especially liked the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, shopping in Cleveland Heights and the clubs in the Flats.
"I want to come back," he said. And this time he will be able to operate under his real name.
Bet Your Life was made last fall, after Next Action Star was done but before it aired. So extra steps were taken to keep the Star winners under wraps.
"I had an assumed name," said Carrigan, who was "Sonny Hopkins" during the shoot. If news media were around, he said, "Corinne and I had to stay in our trailers. And neither one of us could take pictures with anybody." He even signed an autograph as Sonny Hopkins.
Of course, at that point he was already used to evasion, hiding that he had won the show from his friends and family. "I had to lie a lot, man," he said.
But he was happy to be in the film, the next step in a career that has taken him from work as a boxer and bouncer to pursuing acting full time. Just as Cleveland had to prove it could host an action movie, so Carrigan is trying to prove he's more than a TV contest winner.
He talked more about being an actor than being an action star, pointing to leading men like Ed Harris and Denzel Washington as inspirations.
Reminded of a recent walk down a red carpet with other NBC stars, photographers clicking away as the Next Action Star cast went by, he said, "Those are the perks. I just want to become a better actor."
Read more!

"The Instructor"

If nothing else, "The Instructor" is a great time capsule, full of images of Akron and Cuyahoga Falls in the early '80s, especially during an extended car-and-motorcycle chase around the area. Indeed, if you don't want to find an old VHS copy of the movie -- I borrowed one from the local-history collection at the Akron library -- the chase is posted in two parts on YouTube. Amazing shots of the old downtown, the Gorge and Rick Case Honda. But, when I say "if nothing else," I really mean ...

... there's not much to talk about here in terms of a movie. The acting is poor, the fight scenes so-so at best, and the plot (involving a karate instructor) nothing to speak of.

The movie was made by Tallmadge High School graduate Don Bendell, a Special Forces veteran and karate instructor who -- according to old Beacon Journal clips -- wanted to make a movie without "the carnival tricks that you see in so many karate films." He finished a script in 1975 and wanted to film in Cleveland, Akron, Canton and Cuyahoga Falls. Cleveland and Canton, he said, were not welcoming. (Dennis Kucinich, then Cleveland mayor, "broke four appointments with me," Bendell said in a 1979 interview.) Cuyahoga Falls and Akron were, and there are not only a lot of locations but quite a few local police in the movie.

The cast was heavily local: Bob Chaney, a real-life karate expert born in Akron (some other sources say Wadsworth), starred. Other performers, per the Beacon Journal, included Lynda Scharnott, a Spanish teacher at Nordonia High; Bob Saal, who worked at Uniwear in Akron; Bendell's brother Bruce; Tony Blanchard of Cuyahoga Falls, and Bendell himself. Akron police officer John McAleese drove a police car in the big chase scene. Bill Jones, a mechanic at Rick Case Honda, was a stunt man. Akron native Marti Lunn wrote and performed the music.

Bendell reportedly raised $500,000 from area business people, got the cast to work on deferred payment and still went into debt. But the movie got made, with shooting in the summer of 1980; it premiered at the Akron Civic in 1983.

According to the Bendell Web site: "Distributed by Shapiro Entertainment Corporation in Hollywood, the film was sold and shown in 164 countries around the world and was distributed on video by Vestron Video. The feature film received a good review in weekly 'VARIETY' newspaper and a number of other publications. It made plenty of money for its distributor, but not for the Bendell's."

Bendell had hoped to make more movies, but this is his only production on his Web site. It notes that he refers to the making of the movie as hit "PhD in the feature film business." Now living in Colorado, he has had more success as a writer and speaker.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Where Is Fernwood?

Vintage TV fans remember that both "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman" and "Fernwood 2-Night" were set in fictional Fernwood, OH. According to the companion book "Fernwood, U.S.A." ("text and direction by Ben Stein"), Fernwood was first discovered by the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
"The intrepid explorters had left the confluence of the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers, later to become Pittsburgh, and were advancing through the dense marshes and forests of what became Ohio," the book says. "Indian guides had spoken of a clearing in the forest where the sun's light was miraculously clear and bright. By sheer luck, Lewis and Clark found that place.
"They made camp there, and sent out men to find appropriate places for the necessary acts of men trekking through the woods. ... Those men came upon an area lushly full of ferns of all kinds, not to mention dense woods to ensure privacy.
"The spot where the sun so beautifully shone has been lost in the mists of history, but the spot where the ferns and woods grew so thick became our town." Read more!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

"Hogan's Heroes"

Hat tip to Marc Bona for remembering that Robert Hogan, the wily GI played by Bob Crane, was from Cleveland. At least, he was some of the time; you know how slippery Hogan was with the truth. According to a "Hogan's" FAQ on WebStalag13, "Hogan's home town was continually changing ... [I]n various episodes he refers to having been from Cleveland (mentioned most often), Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, and Bridgeport and in another episode claims he was born in Ohio."

And here is the rest of it. Read more!


Out on DVD today, "Strike" is a bowling movie made by a couple of Ohio State guys. It involves an actor who, as his career prospects fade, decides to become a star on the pro bowling circuit. His first big match is at the "Akron Open" (although, according to the credits, the lanes are actually in California). The cast includes Akron's Ray Wise. But the movie relies on an outdated Akron stereotype. ...
When the bowler (Ross Patterson, who also wrote this), his girlfriend (Tara Reid) and his roommate/manager (Clayne Crawford) arrive in town, the dialogue goes like this:
Crawford: "Oh, beautiful Akron. Smells like ..."
Reid: "Tires."
Patterson: "I thought the tour would be more glamorous somehow. More limos or something. Less F-150s."

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"The Fortune Cookie"

The 1966 movie "The Fortune Cookie" is rich in film history, regardless of its ties to Northeast Ohio. It was the fourth of seven collaborations between Jack Lemmon and director Billy Wilder (following "The Apartment," "Some Like It Hot" and "Irma La Douce"). It was the first screen pairing of Lemmon and Walter Matthau, and Matthau won the Oscar for best supporting actor for his performance. You can have fun just looking at the cast, with large "MASH's" William Christopher as a doctor and Keith Jackson as the football announcer, among others.
It's a sharp, often bitter comedy. And it's set in Cleveland ...
The movie has Lemmon as Harry Hinkle, a cameraman for CBS, who is shooting a Browns-Vikings game at Municipal Stadium. When Browns player Boom Boom Jackson (Ron Rich) runs into Harry on the sidelines, the cameraman is injured enough to be taken to the hospital. Enter his brother-in-law, Willie Gingrich (Matthau), an unscrupulous lawyer, who sees gold in Harry's potential injuries. Willie immediately announces plans to sue CBS, the Browns and the stadium for $1,000,000. And things spiral out from there.
You get footage of the old Browns stadium, of Browns football (including Jim Brown scoring) and of the old urban landscape of Cleveland; in one shot, my eyes were drawn away from the action to the smoke pouring out of the chimneys of a factory in the background.
The people of Cleveland are shown as devoted football fans -- even the nuns in Harry's hospital bet on games -- and the fans as good sports (cheering Harry when he stands up after the Jackson hit) but tough as well (Jackson gets vigorously booed as his playing skills fall apart after the accident with Harry). Harry, we learn at one point, grew up in Toledo. And, according to a couple of Web sites, the St. Mark's Hospital in the film is Cleveland's St. Vincent Charity Hospital.
You could build an entire Web site around this movie.
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Thursday, June 4, 2009

"My Three Sons": "Soap-Box Derby"

On March 30, 1961, near the end of its first season, "My Three Sons" did an episode called "Soap-Box Derby." (Hat tip to Jeff Iula). The episode finds a friend of Robbie (Don Grady) impressing a girl with his plans to compete in the local derby, prompting Robbie to get involved as well.

Key line, from the other kid as he shows off a brochure: "Boy, you should see the prizes. Look at that! That's just for winning here. Then you go on to the All-American in Akron!"

As someone who remembers "My Three Sons" for a lot of bland comedy, especially in its later years, I have to add that this episode is quite good for the time. It has parallel stories, about Robbie's attempt to build a derby racer on his own, and Steve (Fred MacMurray) working on a rocket project for his company. Both struggle at their respective tasks, with the episode switching back and forth between their two stories, even overlapping lines of dialogue. In addition to that good structure, it offers realistic conclusions to both narratives -- although it still manages to end the show with a laugh. Solid work.

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"The Soloist"

The movie about Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez (played by Robert Downey Jr.) and homeless musician Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx) included a few flashbacks to Ayers's youth, parts of which were shot in Cleveland. After the jump, my story about attending the Cleveland production.

On a sunny, 70-some-degree Friday morning, there was snow on the ground near the intersection of Belvidere and 66th streets in Cleveland.

But the snow had a cottony feel and poured from a hose attached to a truck. A gas station nearby was nothing more than a battered facade, with tables and paint cans stashed out of sight behind it.

Movie magic was being made in Cleveland.

The Soloist, a film starring Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr., began about two days of shooting in the Cleveland neighborhood on Friday.

The result will be about 10 minutes in the finished movie. (A few interior scenes set in Cleveland were shot in a Los Angeles studio.) But those minutes have brought to Northeast Ohio an Academy Award-nominated director (Joe Wright of Atonement). Foxx, an Oscar winner for Ray, is to shoot a few scenes in Cleveland tonight.

And, while Cleveland is getting a fraction of the roughly $50 million budget for The Soloist, its presence led to the booking of some 850 hotel rooms, the hiring of 20 to 25 local extras and a few actors, work for close to 65 local craftsmen, and money spent on food and transportation.

Ivan Schwarz, executive director of the Greater Cleveland Film Commission, sees it also as an opportunity to show what can be done in the area. Other movies might then spend even more time and money locally especially if the state of Ohio sees the benefit of tax incentives for filmmakers.

But, beyond the financial potential, the movie is important for spotlighting former Clevelander Nathaniel Anthony Ayers and his struggles.

Ayers came to national attention in 2005, when Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez began writing about how he had heard Ayers 54 years old then, schizophrenic and homeless making beautiful violin music on the streets of L.A.

Even with just two working strings on his violin, Ayers dazzled. In a series of columns, Lopez described him, their friendship and the life changes that still have Ayers in Los Angeles but under far better circumstances.

Lopez now has a book, The Soloist: A Lost Dream, an Unlikely Friendship, and the Redemptive Power of Music, just arrived in stores. The movie, with Foxx as Ayers and Downey as Lopez, will premiere nationally in November.

''This is fantastic,'' Ayers' sister, Jennifer Ayers-Moore, said as she watched preparations for the movie's shooting Friday morning.

''Cleveland is our home town,'' added Ayers-Moore, a Kent State alum who now lives in Atlanta. ''It's great to see that Joe Wright, the director, saw the need to come back to Cleveland.''

''The rest of the movie is shot in Los Angeles,'' Wright said during a news conference Friday. ''And Los Angeles looks nothing like Cleveland. We've tried to make the film as authentic as possible in dealing with certain areas of Los Angeles, and it was important to be authentic in the flashbacks to Nathaniel's childhood.''

''We visually wanted to contrast the palm trees and blue sky of Los Angeles with a different environment in Cleveland,'' added Gary Foster, a producer of The Soloist, whose previous credits include Sleepless in Seattle, Tin Cup and Daredevil. And Cleveland, he said, is part of Ayers' roots.

''Not every studio would have allowed us to do this,'' he said. ''But (DreamWorks) understood the creative value of it. So there will be a visual backdrop to this film that will make it even fuller. . . . We had a certain budget to adhere to, but they never stopped us from coming here.''

The moviemakers began working with the film commission in August; physical preparations, such as creating new fronts for existing buildings, have been going on for weeks.

The area where the movie was filming is not exactly where the Ayers family grew up; the family lived on East 95th Street and other locations. And more than 40 years have passed since the flashbacks to Ayers' Cleveland childhood. (Foxx's scenes, said producer Foster, are places where the film goes into Ayers' ''emotional memory.'')

Wright said the original screenplay had included even more Cleveland material, including scenes during the Hough riots in 1966, but some of that had to be cut for financial reasons.

But Wright wanted the local feel.

Still, Ayers-Moore is excited about the film.

''The story that we're going to see is going to be a great human-interest story,'' she said. ''It's going to bring some light to mental illness, and that's what I want it to do. . . . I think it's going to open eyes.''

Ayers-Moore has set up the 2StringsConnection/Nathaniel Anthony Ayers Foundation to help gifted people with mental illness; she is hoping that premiere showings of The Soloist will be used as fundraisers for the foundation.

Read more!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

"Needful Things": The Devil Came Up From Akron

In the 1993 movie "Needful Things," Leland Gaunt (Max Von Sydow) proves to be something far more dangerous than the shop owner he claims to be when he arrives in the Maine town of Castle Rock. Which you would expect in a movie based on a Stephen King tale. Brian Rusk (Shane Meier), a kid who meets Gaunt early in the movie, wonders about his background.

BRIAN: Are you from overseas somewhere?
GAUNT: I'm from Akron.
BRIAN: Where's that? England?
GAUNT: That's in Ohio.

(Hat tip to Paula Schleis for the suggestion.) Read more!

"Guys Like Us": Squirming Out of Cleveland

In 1998, the old UPN network picked up a series called "Guys Like Us," about a couple of young guys suddenly responsible for a 6-year-old boy. The pilot set the show in Cleveland, so when a press conference for the show was held, the question came up about whether it would stay there. ...
. This is from the transcript of the press conference with stars Maestro Harrell, Bumper Robinson and Chris Hardwick, and executive producers Dan Schneider and Barry O'Brien:
QUESTION: ... Is the series still going to be set in Cleveland? Or is it going to be generic big city at this point? ...
O'BRIEN: We're moving it to Chicago. ...
QUESTION: ... Why have you decided to change the location from the pilot then?
O'BRIEN: It just seems -- I think [Chicago] is a venue that opens the series up. We have, I think, a really edgy buddy comedy and putting it into a really alive city like Chicago with music and sports [trailing off]
QUESTION: So, you think Cleveland is utterly lacking in those things?
O'BRIEN: No, no, not at all. We felt that --
SCHNEIDER: We love Cleveland.
ROBINSON: I was born in Cleveland, so be careful.

There never was an explanation, other than a reference to Harrell being from Chicago. But it was sort of fun to watch these guys talk up one city while trying not to offend another one.

Read more!

This is the pilot for "Glee," which begins its series run on Fox in the fall. It's also full of NE Ohio connections. ... From a HeldenFiles column in May:

...Although some Fox materials have been vague about the location, the show's fictional McKinley High School is in Lima, series creator Ryan Murphy has said.

One character refers to ''my long-distance girlfriend in Cleveland.''

McKinley's glee club — which is more of a show choir — goes to a presentation by Carmel High School ''down in Akron.'' [It's that school's group performing "Rehab."]

OK, so Akron isn't exactly ''down'' from Lima. At least there's a mention. And that group at Carmel, however fictional it may be, is really good. As is the pilot generally, blending feel-good aspects of the High School Musical movies with a little tartness, more vivid characters and lots of humor.

But Why Lima? ... The man behind nip/tuck and Popular said he wanted to set the show in the Midwest, since he's an Indiana kid himself. Let the debate resume over whether Ohio is actually Midwest. He also remembers a lot of visits to Ohio to go to the Kings Island theme park.

''I don't know why Lima,'' he said. It stayed in his memory because ''when I was a very little kid, there was a series of tornadoes that swept through Lima on Mother's Day'' and his grandparents would often talk about the incident. (He may actually be thinking of the famous Palm Sunday storm of 1965.)

He has been through Lima, he said, but has not spent a lot of time there.

Read more!

This is a "Bewitched" episode from 1966 called "Soapbox Derby." Lots of derby logos, discussion of going to Akron and at the end (around 23:23), Samantha and Darrin watching the Akron event on TV. (The episode playback, via, includes some commercials. The episode is also on DVD, in the "Bewitched: The Complete Third Season" set. Read more!

Remember Jesse White?

The able character actor, known for years as the Maytag repairman, was from Akron. An early commercial is above. His 1997 obituary is after the jump.

Character actor Jesse White, who grew up in Akron and went on to fame as the nation's loneliest repairman, has died. He was 79.
A spokeswoman for Cedars Sinai Medical Center in West Hollywood, Calif., said Mr. White died of cardiac arrest Wednesday night, after surgery for an undisclosed ailment.
For 21 years, Mr. White endeared himself to millions as the lonely Maytag repairman in television ads. He portrayed a frustratingly bored man who never had anything to do because Maytags just don't break down, according to the commercials.
It was one of the longest-running advertising campaigns on television. Mr. White made the Maytag repairman a symbol of dependability. He gave up his "Old Lonely" role in 1988.
Mr. White had acted in several Broadway plays, four television series and more than 60 films.
His big break came when he landed the role as a frantic sanitarium orderly in the Broadway production of Harvey.
He later starred in the movie version of Harvey with James Stewart, who played Elwood P. Dowd, a man who saw and talked to a 6-foot, 3 1/2-inch invisible white rabbit.
Mr. White graduated in 1936 from West High School in Akron. He also had attended South High School. His name then was Jess Weidenfeld.
Mr. White's family in Akron was in the jewelry and beauty supply businesses. He left Akron in 1942.
He began his stage career in Akron, appearing in productions at Weathervane and Coach House theaters and on local radio stations. He then moved on to movies, Broadway, Kenley Players productions and the Maytag repairman role on television.
Mr. White planned to return to Akron in 1985 to help Weathervane commemorate 50 seasons of community theater, but was unable to.
He was inducted into the Akron Radio Hall of Fame in 1987, but was not present for the ceremonies.
Mr. White had returned to Akron to perform in Kenley shows at the Akron Civic Theatre and E.J. Thomas Performing Arts Hall.
Francia Albrecht of Akron, who had acted with White in a play, Stage Door, at the old Akron YWCA, said Mr. White "was a very talented individual. He was a true professional. He was always very nice and kind."
Mr. White visited the Albrecht home in 1978 to take part in a "Helping Hands" tea for the United Way-Red Cross campaign.
He was born in Buffalo, N.Y., and moved to Akron with his family as a child.
A veteran of vaudeville and burlesque, Mr. White reached Broadway in 1944 with his supporting role in Harvey, a Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Mary Chase.
Often cast as a cigar-chomping, whiny-voiced thug, and sometimes as a pushy agent, Mr. White also appeared in such films as Bedtime for Bonzo, Marjorie Morningstar and Death of a Salesman.
His television series credits included agent Cagey Calhoun in the 1950s show Private Secretary; Oscar Pudney in The Ann Sothern Show; and Jesse Leeds, the agent of Danny Thomas, in Make Room for Daddy.
His last film role was in 1993's Matinee, starring John Goodman.
Ill health in the last years of his life kept him from working steadily.
For his entry in Who's Who in America, White supplied this quote:
"At age 7, I knew what I wanted in life -- to bring a little laughter and joy to the world. I've been blessed twice -- to be able to do the thing I know and do best and to make a decent and respectable living at it. I have had a good life in show business and feel sorry for people who are not in it."
Mr. White was married in 1942 to Cecelia Kahn and had two daughters, Carole and Janet.
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