Random Musings: Old Time Radio double feature: Let George Do It and Yours Truly Johnny Dollar

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Let George Do It

As I’ve said before, I’m a huge fan of classic radio shows, also known as Old Time Radio. These were the dramas, comedies, mysteries, Westerns, adventures and science fiction shows (among other genres) broadcast on radio primarily between the 1930s and the early 1960s.

In the “mystery” category, two of my favorite shows are Let George Do It and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. Both starred Bob Bailey, one of radio’s best actors.

Let George Do It ran from Oct. 18, 1946- Sept. 27, 1954 on the west coast Mutual-Don Lee network and was sponsored by Standard Oil. George Valentine advertised in the papers: “Personal Notice: Danger’s my stock in trade. If the job’s too tough for you to handle, you’ve got a job for me, George Valentine. Write full details.”

In the first show, George is newly released from the Army after World War II and publishes the ad trying to drum up business. He doesn’t quite know what he’s going to do, but he finds a case almost immediately when a boy named Sonny Brooks (Eddie Firestone, Jr.) shows up with his older sister Claire (Frances Robinson) in tow, declaring they’re George’s office boy and secretary, respectively. When the phone rings, Sonny answers it, invites the caller to come up to George’s office, starting George on his first job when George still isn’t quite clear what that’s supposed to be.

Sonny eventually disappeared from the show, but Claire (“Brooksie” to George) remained. At some point, Virginia Gregg replaced Robinson in the role.

I’ve categorized Let George Do It as a mystery series, but that’s what it became. At the start, although some episodes had elements of mystery, there weren’t necessarily crimes to be solved. In one early episode, a radio cowboy star asks George to appear in his place in public because the cowboy star has developed a fear of horses.

As radio historian Elizabeth McLeod wrote in an essay about the series for Radio Spirits, the early George Valentine stories, “were as much about the people who hired him as they were about George himself, and he fit into the tales as a sort of bemused outsider called in to somehow restore order to messes he didn’t create — resulting in stories that bordered as much on light comedy as they did crime drama.”

Bailey left Let George Do It and went on to portray “the man with the action-packed expense account, that fabulous freelance insurance investigator” known as Johnny Dollar.

Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar

Bob Bailey was one of six actors to portray Johnny Dollar on CBS between 1949 and 1962 and is generally considered the best of the bunch. When he took over the role in 1955 (he’d play it until 1960), Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar went from a 30 minute episodic show to a serial. Each case during the 1955-1956 season was broadcast in 15 minute chapters over the course of five nights. In some rare instances, cases ran for more than five chapters (The series would return to the 30 minute format in the 1956 season).

Johnny was hired by various insurance companies to look into any number of actual or suspected crimes. His reports came in the form of his (sometimes padded) expense accounts. He worked alone, though would cooperate with local law enforcement.

Some of the five-part stories are expanded versions of earlier 30-minute shows, which resulted in some degree of padding. On the other hand, the multiple chapters allowed for more depth and the introduction of subplots. I tend to prefer the serialized Johnny Dollar stories.

I have a particular fondness for Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. In 1997, I introduced it to my then 11-year-old cousin, who loved the show and balked at the idea of waiting to hear the next episode. In 2003, I wrote a Johnny Dollar script with Johnny’s client named for her. It was performed live at the Cincinnati Old Time Radio and Nostalgia Convention, with one of my closest friends playing the part named after her.

If you enjoy mystery stories (or even sometimes comical mystery stories in the case of early Let George Do It episodes), both Let George Do It and Yours Truly Johnny Dollar are worth seeking out.

Copyright 2018 Patrick Keating.

 

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Random Musings: Radioactive Man is an enjoyable superhero parody

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Radioactive Man

In 1952, the superhero Radioactive Man appeared on newsstands across America in Boffo Mystery Stories #15.

Well, not really. In actual fact, Radioactive Man is a character in the Simpsons universe and a favorite of Bart Simpson.

But his adventures have also been published in the “real world” by Bongo Comics, and in 2012, HarperCollins collected several adventures in a 272 page hardcover as Radioactive Man Radioactive Repository Volume One.

I first encountered Radioactive Man when I came across a six-issue miniseries published in the 1990s. I almost passed on it, in part because the character looks a bit like Homer Simpson in a superhero costume; but as I recall all six were packaged together and on sale.

I’m glad I bought those issues (and subsequent ones as well), because Radioactive Man is an often hilarious parody not only of superhero comics, but also of real-world events.

The first six issues weren’t numbered 1-6. Instead, they were, respectively, #s 1, 88, 216, 412, 679 and 1000, with fake publication months and years for each issue.

Radioactive Man is really wealthy, layabout playboy Claude Kane III, son of physicist Claude Kane II. When he gets lost and ends up at a nuclear test sight (and fails to see the big sign warning him away), he’s exposed to the energies of the “Mega Bomb.”

Good news: He gains super powers.

Bad news: A lightning bolt-shaped piece of shrapnel gets embedded in the top of his head, meaning Claude must always wear a hat of some sort to protect his secret identity.

References to other comics characters abound in these stories. Claude’s wealth and the fact that he lives at “Stately Kane Manor” recalls Batman; his exposure to a bomb at a test site recalls The Incredible Hulk; and his hidden hideaway, “The Containment Dome”, based on an architectural model of a geodesic dome stolen from architect “J. Westminster Fulbright”, recalls Superman’s Arctic Fortress of Solitude.

Containment Dome

Radioactive Man builds his Containment Dome.

Okay, in fairness, Claude didn’t steal the model so much as he assumed it was being thrown out because someone had set it at the foot of the steps outside a building.

Radioactive Man later gains a sidekick, Fallout Boy, whose back-story recall Spider-Man in more ways than one. Peter Parker has his infirm Aunt May. Rod Runtledge has his infirm Aunt June. Also, in “Radioactive Man #88” (“dated” May 1962), there are two specific references to Spider-Man. First, Fallout Boy is trapped under heavy machinery, just like Spider-Man was in Amazing Spider-Man #s 32 and 33 from 1966.

The second takes place in a flashback recounting Fallout Boy’s origin (which he remembers “as if it were just last issue”) at an experiment in radioactivity (“completely safe! Bring the kids!” the sign says) where a spider makes a cameo appearance:

Peter Parker cameo

Rod Runtledge sends a radioactive spider to its destiny.

Other comics references include parodies of both The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen in “Radioactive Man #679”, “dated” January 1986.

And “Radioactive Man #1000”, “dated” January 1995, not only shows our hero reverting back to his “long-forgotten Golden Age self”, Radio Man (with an outfit reminiscent of Fawcett Comics’ Captain Marvel), but he also finds himself battling “Radioactive Worm”, an analogue to Captain Marvel villain Mr. Mind, whose “Monster Society of Evil” bedeviled Captain Marvel in a storyline running in Captain Marvel Adventures #s 22-46 from 1942-1944.

Some real world references include a scene in “Radioactive Man #216”, “dated” August 1972, in which Claude Kane is given a note by reporter Gloria Grand’s editor while waiting for her and makes a decision regarding its importance.

Watergate note

Claude Kane deals with a note for Gloria Grand.

Nixon (whom Radioactive Man supports) makes several appearances in these comics. In Radioactive Man #1, he’s part of a congressional panel investigating whether certain comics are “anti-American” (a reference to real-world 1954 senate subcommittee on juvenile delinquency, which sought to blame comics, especially those published by William Gaines) for social ills. In Radioactive Man, “William Maimes” is accused of being part of a communist conspiracy. The “overwhelming evidence” being that Radioactive Man found a stack of “Maimes”’ comics in the lab of communist villain Dr. Crab. Radioactive Man subsequently warns Nixon that “subversives are everywhere” and that he might want to install a taping system.

And the so-called “expert”, “Dr. Hedrick Hertzmann” (an analogue of Dr. Fredric Wertham), tells Gloria Grand that, “Starting immediately, the Cartoon Conduct Code Program will examine every new comic book to make sure it is free of subversive ideas— or any other ideas for that matter.”

For his part, Radioactive Man assures Rod Runtledge that “the Constitution doesn’t protect things that are printed on such crummy paper” and Rod promises to only read “CCCP-approved” comics from then on.

The Cartoon Conduct Code Program is a reference to the Comics Magazine Association of America, an “authority” created by comics publishers to self-sensor themselves (and which has since been abandoned).

Of course “CCCP” is also the Cyrillic abbreviation for the Soviet Union. Another bit of irony.

The various Radioactive Man adventures offer fun-filled superhero stories made even more fun for those in the know about the history of comics or history in general. Well worth seeking out.

Copyright 2017 Patrick Keating

 

Random Musings: A review of The Mystery of the Whispering Mummy

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Whispering Mummy

The junior detective firm of The Three Investigators— Jupiter Jones (first investigator), Pete Crenshaw (second investigator) and Bob Andrews (records and research) receives two letters seeking their services. One is from a Mrs. Mildred Banfry, a friend of a previous client, seeking help in finding her lost Abyssinian cat.

The other is from Alfred Hitchcock, with whom the boys have formed an association, asking them to help his friend, Professor Robert Yarborough, determine how a 3,000-year-old mummy could possibly be whispering to him.

Pete is in favor of searching for the lost cat, but Jupe, who has the tendency to outvote his partners 1-2, decides that the Three Investigators’ time is better spent determining the reasons why Professor Yarborough— and only Professor Yarborough— should hear a mummy whisper.

Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators in The Whispering of the Whispering Mummy is the third book in the Three Investigators mystery series. Written in 1965 by series creator Robert Arthur, it was inspired by his wife, Joan Vaczek, who’d lived in Egypt from 1935-1940, according to a Three Investigators website run by Arthur’s daughter, Elizabeth.

Professor Yarborough has in his private museum the mummy of Ra-Orkon, which he’d discovered 25 years earlier. He wasn’t able to study it then because of other commitments, but now has the time and has arranged to have it delivered to his home so he can examine it in detail and perhaps learn who Ra-Orkon was. The last thing he expected was for the mummy to talk to him.

And it isn’t his imagination, because Jupe also heard the whispering when he disguised himself as the professor.

But there’s more to Ra-Orkon than his alleged postmortem murmuring, including a supposed curse. Professor Yarborough dismisses it out off hand, but something causes a statue of the jackal god Anubis to topple, almost striking him, a boulder rolls down a hill toward him and the boys and his butler is confronted by what appears to be Anubis in the flesh.

Anubis

Anubis confronts Professor Yarborough’s butler.

Shortly afterward, the mummy turns up missing. Was Ro-Orkon stolen or did he pull a Boris Karloff? The Three Investigators are determined to discover what’s become of him.

And Pete’s going to find out what happened to that cat.

One of the great things about the Three Investigators books is that Jupe, Pete and Bob were depicted as independent detectives, seeking out cases on their own or being actively recruited, rather than being associated with (and sometimes getting cases from) a famous adult detective.

They were also clever and inventive, especially Jupe. He lives with his aunt and uncle, who operate the Jones Salvage Yard, and he repairs and/or repurposes various items that come into the yard but can’t be sold. One of Jupe’s inventions debuts in this book and comes in handy over the course of the series. More on that in a bit.

Jupe, Pete and Bob are capable investigators, but they’re also ordinary boys who enjoy messing with each other.

Case in point: Jupe isn’t present when the two letters arrive at Headquarters, a mobile home trailer in the Jones Salvage Yard that’s cleverly hidden under piles of salvage and only accessible through a variety of secret passages. Bob and Pete conspire to show him the letter from Mrs. Banfry, get him interested in the search for the lost cat and then show him the letter from Hitchcock. They’ll then insist they can’t work on the second case until they’ve solved the first.

Which would suit Pete just fine.

They also use the See-All, a make-shift periscope Jupe devised to see outside of Headquarters, to check if Jupe has returned from his errand. Pete spots him walking his bike and he and Bob decide to impress Jupe with their “deduction” that he had a flat tire.

See-All

Pete uses the See-All.

When Jupe arrives at Headquarters, he seems suitably impressed at their “deductions.”

“Very good,” he says. “Such ability should not be wasted in looking for a lost cat.”

Which leaves Pete and Bob utterly discombobulated.

All the more so when Jupe suggests his partners’ “advanced ability in the art of deductive reasoning and ratiocination” be used to go after bigger game, “such as the mystery of a 3,000-year-old mummy that whispers cryptic languages in an unknown language to its owner.”

How does he do it?

Mind reading, he claims.

In good time, Jupe explains his “trick”, which he suspects might also answer the question of the mummy’s ability to speak.

Except it doesn’t.

When Pete spied on Jupe with the See-All, he assumed Jupe was listening to a transistor radio as he walked back to the salvage yard. He wasn’t. Jupe had built some walkie-talkies (relative rarities in 1965), one of which he’d built into the loudspeaker attached to the phone in Headquarters. He’d heard everything Pete and Bob were saying.

Those walkie-talkies would come in very handy on multiple occasions.

Jupe’s logical conclusion was that someone had hidden a small radio receiving set in the mummy’s case in order to make Ra-Orkon appear to whisper. However, there’s nothing of the sort in the mummy’s case.

Yet something is creating the illusion that the mummy is whispering.

Unless of course a 3,000 year old Egyptian citizen actually discovered a way to speak from beyond the grave and chose to talk to just one man rather than, you know, holding a press conference.

But then maybe he’s shy.

It’s been years since I last read The Mystery of the Whispering Mummy, so I didn’t remember all the details. Turns out I was right about the character I pegged as the guilty party, but was wrong in thinking there was someone behind him (I was thinking of another book in the series in that regard).

And I’d completely forgotten the clever solution to the mystery of the mummy’s mumblings.

The Mystery of the Whispering Mummy is one of the best books in the Three Investigators series and an enjoyable read.

Copyright 2017 Patrick Keating.

 

Random Musings: Thoughts on “Who is Donna Troy?”

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Who is Donna Troy

In the 1980s, The New Teen Titans was one of the most popular books being published by DC Comics. It’s popularity (for me, at least) was due to the fact that there was more to the book than just super powered derring-do.

As I’ve said before, Marv Wolfman and George Perez (co-creators and writer and artist, respectively) made the Titans (and their supporting cast) come across as relatable, three dimensional people. Many of them just happened to have special abilities.

Because we got stories about people (who happened to have super powers), we also got character pieces like “Who is Donna Troy?”, cover dated January 1984. Plotted by Wolfman and Perez, inked by Romeo Tanghal and edited by the late, great Len Wein, the story finds Robin (Dick Grayson), leader of the Titans, investigating the past of one of his closest friends, Donna Troy (Wonder Girl) at the behest of her fiancé, Terry Long.

Long tells Robin that Troy, who was rescued from a burning building as a toddler by Wonder Woman, has been trying to find out the identity of her real parents.

Where did the surname Troy come from? My understanding is that back in the 1960s incarnation of Teen Titans, Wonder Girl, who grew up on Paradise Island, just came up with the name “Donna Troy” as a civilian identity.

“She feels it would make a difference in our marriage, but it wouldn’t change anything for me,” Long says. “I’d love her no matter what.”

Still, knowing how important it is to her, he asks Robin to investigate. He agrees, so long as Troy is okay with it (Long knows that Troy is Wonder Girl, but not the identity of her coworkers, which is why he approaches Robin and not Dick Grayson). Troy tells Robin it’s not worth his time, since she’s turned up nothing in her own investigations, but agrees. She relates what little she remembers from her rescue and says Wonder Woman tried to find out who she was, but reached a dead end. Apparently the apartment Troy had been in wasn’t rented and no one lived there, according to the landlord at the time.

Robin and Wonder Girl start by investigating what remains of the apartment building. Using blueprints he got from City Hall, Robin finds a box in a coal bin. Inside, he finds a scorched doll.

Donna's doll

Wonder girl discovers an important part of her past.

Troy can’t remember where or when she’s seen the doll, but hugs it and cries.

A visit to the landlord’s widow turns up a dead end. Troy is ready to give up, but Grayson (who’s doing this as an engagement gift) isn’t. He works on identifying scraps of fabric found in the box. After several hours, a computer program comes up with the phrase “Hello, my name is Donna.”

Work on the doll turned up the name of an “Uncle Max” in Newport News, VA. Grayson goes there and finds Max. He repaired the doll, along with several others, free of charge, for a Mrs. Cassidy, who ran an orphanage (he signed the dolls “Uncle Max” so the kids felt there was someone who cared). He also reveals that the orphanage was closed about 15 years earlier due to a child slavery scandal.

Cassidy was found innocent, while her lawyer was sent to prison. Grayson’s search for her leads to a nursing home in Florida. He arranges to go down there with Troy. She’s nervous about meeting someone who knew her from before the fire.

Meeting Mrs Cassidy

Donna Troy and Dick Grayson meet with Mrs. Cassidy.

The head of the nursing home reveals that Cassidy hasn’t spoken a full sentence since she arrived a decade earlier. However, seeing the doll snaps her out of it. She reveals that Troy’s birth mother (who gave her the doll) was dying of cancer and gave her daughter up for adoption. A couple named Stacey adopted the baby. Troy says the name rings a bell.

Troy is ecstatic at having learned about her past, but Grayson wonders why Mr. and Mrs. Stacey died in a room that wasn’t rented. Still, the case would seem to be solved.

Back in Newport News, Troy insists on driving through town and down a certain street. She stops in front of a particular house, which she recognizes as her childhood home.

She also makes another realization.

Meeting the family

Donna Troy is reunited with her adoptive mother.

Fay Stacey, now Fay Evans, reveals that after her first husband died, she had no money and few skills. She also says the attorney associated with the orphanage told her the state wouldn’t let her keep Donna if she was bankrupt. She agreed to give Donna up to another couple who could support her.

With these revelations, Troy remembers this other couple, who she says weren’t nice to her. She also realizes they’re the ones who died in the fire.

Grayson leaves Troy to reconnect with her lost family and to get answers to a few lingering questions. As Robin, he visits the attorney in prison and encourages his cooperation by suggesting word could leak out that the man is a stoolie, if he doesn’t. The man reveals that the other couple hadn’t adopted the baby, just posed as her real parents until she could be sold.

At the climax of the story, Troy leaves a wreath at the grave of her birth mother, Dorothy Hinckley, and Grayson presents her with her doll, restored to new condition by “Uncle Max.”

“Who is Donna Troy?” is a moving story that both Wolman and Perez have cited as being among their favorites.

Interviewed in The Titans Companion (page 107), Wolfman said “Who is Donna Troy” is one of his favorite stories because it’s such a small and personal one.

On page 121, Perez said he and Wolfman put their personal stamp on the story.

“It was just a labor of love,” he said. “We absolutely knew we had a strong story there, and since fans had been wondering about Donna Troy, it was something that we knew fans wanted to see.”

In subsequent years, Donna Troy’s origin would be changed (to varying degrees) as a result of various DC Comics reboots, but “Who is Donna Troy?” remains a high point of The New Teen Titans and one of the reasons that book was such a success.

Copyright 2017 Patrick Keating.

 

Random Musings: 50 years ago today, the Fugitive stopped running

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The Judgment

“Tuesday, Aug. 29. The day the running stopped.”

Those words, intoned by narrator William Conrad, marked the end of The Fugitive (1963-1967). The series centered on Dr. Richard Kimble (David Janssen), who was falsely convicted for the murder of his wife. He sought the real killer, a one-armed man named Fred Johnson (Bill Raisch), while himself being pursued by the implacable Lt. Philip Gerard (Barry Morse).

The Fugitive was the first American TV series to have a definite conclusion, in which Dr. Kimble was finally exonerated. In the two-part story, “The Judgment”, Kimble learns that Johnson was arrested in Los Angeles and hurries there. However, Lt. Gerard, anticipating this move, is already at the Los Angeles Police Department.

As it happens, stenographer Jean Carlisle (Diane Baker), a former resident of Kimble’s hometown of Stafford, Indiana, works at the police station, recognized Gerard and called Kimble’s sister, Donna Taft (Jacqueline Scott) to find out if she had any way to warn Kimble to stay away. She didn’t, but told Carlisle the name of the trucking company where Kimble was working. With that information, Carlisle learns where Kimble was dropped off in Los Angeles and intercepts him at a produce market. It happens to be crawling with police, so she helps him get away safely.

Richard Kimble and Jean Carlisle

Richard Kimble and Jean Carlisle.

She’s able to confirm that Johnson is in custody; the picture Kimble saw in the newspaper isn’t a trick. He tells her to contact Gerard and tell him he’s coming in voluntarily. Before she gets the chance, she overhears a bail bondsman (Michael Constantine) put up $3,000 for Johnson’s bail.

Johnson and the bail bondsman are being followed by the police, with Kimble and Carlisle keeping a further distance. The bail bondsman tells Johnson the man who put up the money will pay an extra $1,000 if Johnson skips town.

That night, Carlisle pretends to be going to a freelance assignment in the same building as the bail bondsman’s office and lets Kimble in a side door, so he can talk to the man. They discover, however, that he’s been beaten to death.

Carlisle finds a scrap of paper with information in shorthand: the figure $3,000 and the name of Kimble’s brother-in-law, Leonard Taft (Richard Anderson).

Gerard and the lead L.A. detective (Joseph Campanella) learn from the cops watching the bail bondsman’s office that Jean Carlisle had been in the area and one mentions that she comes from a small town in Indiana. So, he decides to interview her, especially since Kimble and a young woman were spotted at the produce market.

She claims no one showed up for the job she went to and left a few moments later. She also said she knew of Dr. Kimble, but wouldn’t recognize him. Gerard thanks her and leaves.

Kimble realizes he has to return to Stafford and makes arrangements with Carlisle to use her car for at least part of the trip, after she decoys the police away.

But Gerard never left. He’s waiting when Kimble steps up to the cab he’d called.

Geard captures Kimble

Gerard captures Kimble.

Part one ends with Bill Johnson heading east in a boxcar, while, on another train, Kimble and Gerard sit handcuffed together, as they had been in the first episode.

In part two, Kimble urges Gerard to give him 24 hours, even promising to come in to the police station at the end of a leash, if that’s what Gerard wants. Gerard agrees, but makes it clear there will be no extension of that deadline.

Rather than take the train all the way to Stafford, they get off in South Bend and drive in. Their first stop is the Taft residence, where Len Taft denies having put up any money for Johnson’s bail. Gerard believes him, because Taft A) would not want Johnson to skip town and B) wouldn’t use his real name, even if he did do “anything so misguided” as to post the bail.

Taft then reveals that Donna Taft had received a call from someone who’d said he’d seen Len Taft in the Kimble house the night of the murder and wanted to meet him somewhere. He also said that his wife decided to teach the “crank caller” a lesson by saying that Taft would be there.

He doesn’t recall where the meeting was supposed to be, since they assumed it was a crank call. When she gets home, Donna Taft says the man wanted to meet in some old stables.

Kimble and Gerard go there, but no one’s around. Gerard’s ready to write it off as a crank until Kimble finds a bullet on the ground— the kind used for target shooting. It’s not much of a lead, but it indicates someone had been there.

Later, Jean Carlisle shows up at the Taft household, to tell Donna Taft that her brother might be coming back to Stafford. She says they were supposed to meet so he could get her car, but he never showed. A moment later, Kimble comes out of the kitchen and he and Carlisle embrace. Gerard then introduces her to Kimble, since she “wouldn’t know Dr. Kimble if she saw him.”

The deadline has arrived and Kimble and Gerard prepare to leave for the police station. Fortunately for Kimble, his sister found a bullet hidden in her son’s room— the same kind Kimble and Gerard found. She said neighborhood boys are being taught target practice at the police gun range by a neighbor, Lloyd Chandler (J.D. Cannon).

She also realizes that she’d told Chandler about the prank caller.

Turns out Chandler had been in the Kimble house the night of Helen Kimble’s murder; she’d called him after Kimble had stormed out following a fight about adoption. When they heard a noise and Helen Kimble confronted Johnson, Chandler froze. He just watched as Johnson killed her. Now, years later, He’d put up the bail, using Leonard Taft’s name, to draw Johnson back to Stafford and kill him.

He’d failed to do this at the stables, and Johnson demanded $50,000. Chandler agreed to meet him at an abandoned amusement park the next day.

Johnson confronts Chandler

Johnson confronts Chandler.

Using information from Mrs. Chandler, Kimble and Gerard rush to the amusement park, where Chandler and Johnson are already exchanging shots. Gerard orders Chandler to put down his rifle, but is shot in the leg by Johnson. He gives Kimble his gun and tells him to go after Johnson.

Kimble confronts Johnson high atop a water tower and beats a confession out of him. But then Johnson gets hold of the gun and prepares to shoot him. Gerard shoots him with Chandler’s rifle.

Kimble and Johnson face off

Kimble and Johnson face off.

As Kimble rejoins them, Chandler finds the courage to confess that he’d witnessed Helen Kimble’s murder and that he’ll testify to that effect.

In the epilogue, Kimble, now exonerated, prepares to resume his life. He shakes Gerard’s offered hand and walks off arm-in-arm with Jean Carlisle.

The Fugitive was one of the best shows on TV. Dr. Kimble deserved a proper resolution and to see his good named cleared. “The Judgment” is a mostly good story. The biggest weakness is the revelation that someone was in the house the night of the murder, but stayed silent for years. Still, an overall good ending to a great show.

Copyright 2017 Patrick Keating.

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Random Musings: Enjoying the comedy of Bob Newhart

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Button Down Mind of Bob Newhart

Depending on your age, your pop culture reference points and other factors, the name Bob Newhart may bring to mind the psychologist he played in The Bob Newhart Show (1972-1978); the innkeeper trying to keep his sanity amid a plethora of eccentric neighbors in Newhart (1982-1990); his many stints as guest host of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson; his various film appearances or his recent recurring role as Sheldon and Leonard’s idol, Dr. Arthur Jeffries (AKA Professor Proton), on The Big Bang Theory.

But Newhart isn’t just an actor in films and TV sitcoms. He also released a number of comedy albums beginning in 1960. Many of his routines centered around one side of an anachronistic phone call.

In “Abe Lincoln Vs. Madison Ave.” (The Button Down Mind of Bob Newhart, 1960), an advertising executive is on the phone with Lincoln, trying to keep him “on message.”

“You changed four score and seven to eighty-seven?” the ad man asks. “Abe, that’s meant to be the grabber… Abe, do the piece the way Charlie wrote it, will you?”

Later, the ad man asks Lincoln to work Abe Lincoln T shirts into the address somehow.

Then, when the ad man says he can’t make a bridge party at the White House and learns no one else in Lincoln’s circle will be available either, he gives Lincoln a suggestion.

Why don’t you take in a play?”

A phone conversation between a game manufacturer and Abner Doubleday, the purported inventor of baseball, takes place in “Nobody will ever play baseball.”

The first question the man has is how many couples?

“Eighteen people?” the man asks. “That’s a hell of a lot of people. You can’t play it in the house, either?”

He tells Doubleday that already the game’s got problems, but agrees to listen. As he repeats how there are nine guys on each side, including a pitcher and a catcher who throw the ball back and forth, he asks about the guy with the stick who stands between them.

“He may or may not swing at it [the ball]. Depending on what? If it looked like it were a ‘ball’? What’s a ‘ball’, Mr. Doubleday?”

He then listens some more to the rules, including the number of strikes and balls (“Why four balls, Mr. Doubleday? Nobody’s ever asked you before?”) and whether a ball stays fair.

“Is this a rib?…Mr. Doubleday, that’s the most complicated game I’ve heard in my life.”

In “Introducing tobacco to civilization” (The Button Down Mind on TV, 1962), we hear a phone call between Sir Walter Raleigh and the head of West India Company.

“Did we get the what? The boatload of turkeys? They arrived fine, Walt… See that’s an American holiday, Walt.”

He then listens as Raleigh tells him about “another winner” called tobacco.

“What’s tobacco, Walt? Let me get this straight? You got 80 tons of leaves? This may come as a surprise to you, Walt, but come fall in England, we’re kind of up to our— it isn’t that kind of leaf?”

The man is then barely able to control his laughter as he repeats Raleigh’s description of what people do with this leaf.

Not all Newhart’s routines involve one-sided phone calls (though they do all involve one-sided conversations). In The Button Down Mind Strikes Back (1960), he gives us “a griper in Washington’s army” who couldn’t get to sleep.

“There was some nut flashing a light on and off in a church tower all night. And then when he quits, some drunk goes riding through the town, screaming.”

Some of Newhart’s routines deal with topical events (those about Khrushchev come to mind) and some reflect stereotypes of the time. One is “The Driving Instructor”, from his debut album. In this routine, which he presents as the pilot for a new TV series, he describes a driving instructor and a woman driver.

The routine would still have worked, verbatim, if he’d said “nervous driver.” In fact, the instructor even acknowledges that his student is nervous. Despite the chauvinism, it’s a funny bit.

“Defusing a bomb” (The Button Down Mind on TV), concerns an unexploded shell found on a beach. The police chief asks the patrolman who called to report it if he considers a shell on the beach unusual.

“Oh, that kind of shell?” the chief says. “I’ll send someone out in the morning…I was kind of hoping that was your watch making that noise, Willard.”

A moment later, the chief says he can’t leave the office and shouts into the phone that Willard not bring the shell back to the station.

“I’m taking just a big a chance as you are,” the chief says. “This is my responsibility. If that thing goes off, it’s me they’re going to want to talk to, not you.”

As for the phone calls, they weren’t all anachronistic. In “King Kong”, in The Windmills are weakening (1965), a new guard has started work at the Empire State Building the day King Kong climbs it. He contacts his boss, apologizing for calling him at home, and says he’s got a situation that isn’t in the employee manual.

“I looked in the index. Yes, sir. Apes and apes toes. Yes, sir.”

The guard reports that there’s an ape’s toe sticking through a window and that this isn’t the standard ape.

“He’s between 18 and 19 stories high,” the guard says. “Depending on whether there’s a 13th floor or not.”

The guard says he was going to take the elevator up to the ape’s head, but his jurisdiction only extends to the ape’s naval.

He also reports that the ape is carrying a woman, whom the guard is pretty certain doesn’t work in the building. Her negligee would suggest she’s not part of the cleaning crew.

Humor is subjective, but if you like “dry” humor, you’ll probably enjoy the comedy of Bob Newhart.

Copyright 2017 Patrick Keating.

 

 

 

Random Musings: Traveling back in time for The Final Countdown

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Final Countdown

In 1980, the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz departs from Pearl Harbor under the command of Captain Matthew Yelland (Kirk Douglas). The ship is carrying efficiency expert Warren Lasky (Martin Sheen), an employee of Tideman Industries, sent to the Nimitz by the mysterious Richard Tideman, a man he’s never met. In fact, no one on Yelland’s crew has ever met Tideman, who helped design and build the Nimitz.

Lasky is introduced to Executive Officer Dan Thurman (Ron O’Neal) and assigned to quarters adjacent to Wing Commander Dick Owens (James Farentino). He gets off on the wrong foot with Owens by entering his cabin and reading his manuscript about the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

He’d knocked on the door to say hello, found the cabin empty, noticed the manuscript and gotten curious.

The Nimitz encounters a strange electrical storm. When the skies clear again, the crew is unable to reach any familiar contacts by radio, but picks up an old Jack Benny broadcast.

The storm

The storm.

Yelland accepts Lasky’s word that this isn’t part of some test, but he also rejects the suggestion that a nuclear exchange has taken place.

The truth is even more surprising. Somehow, the storm has sent the Nimitz back in time.

To Dec. 6, 1941.

The Final Countdown is one of my favorite films. It’s one of those films I’ll sit down and watch if I come across it on TV.

But the plot makes absolutely no sense.

Spoilers follow:

Yelland decides to engage the Japanese fleet. The crew’s job is to defend the country, and that’s what they’ll do— even if it is decades in the past.

Discussing strategy

Discussing strategy.

But it’s not that simple. During a scouting mission, two jets from the Nimitz rescue survivors of a yacht attacked by a pair of Japanese Zeros and Owens brings them back to the ship. These are Senator Samuel Chapman (Charles Durning); his secretary, Laurel Scott (Katharine Ross) and her dog, Charlie.

Chapman and Scott

Chapman and Scott.

History records that Chapman disappeared and was presumed dead on Dec. 7, 1941. According to Owens’ manuscript, had Chapman lived, he would likely have been Roosevelt’s running mate in 1944 and subsequently become president in 1945.

Owens tells Lasky he recognized Chapman at once, but couldn’t very well toss him back into the sea.

Owens and Chapman

Owens and Chapman.

For his part, Chapman, co-chair of the Senate Defense Committee, is perplexed that such a ship should even exist. Yelland allows him to contact Pearl Harbor, but the Pearl Harbor radio operator dismisses him as a crank because there’s no record of either a USS Nimitz or a Captain Yelland.

Yelland tells Chapman he’ll have him and Scott flown to Pearl Harbor, but actually instructs Owens to drop them off, with suitable supplies, on a small island, well away from the Japanese attack.

When Chapman realizes he’s been tricked, he surreptitiously grabs a flare gun while Owens and Scott are on the beach. He commandeers the helicopter, which explodes a moment later during a struggle over the gun.

Meanwhile, just as the Nimitz is preparing to engage the Japanese fleet, the mysterious storm reappears and transports the ship back to 1980.

As Lasky disembarks, accompanied by Charlie, he’s told that Mr. and Mrs. Tideman would like him to join them. He steps into a limo and is greeted by an elderly Commander Richard T. Owens and Laurel Scott.

Mr. and Mrs. Tideman

Mr. and Mrs. Tideman.

Roll credits.

Wait, so for all intents and purposes, the USS Nimitz went back in time to strand one guy in 1941, so he’d one day become the mysterious millionaire (or billionaire) who helped design the Nimitz? Wouldn’t it have been more efficient if the time storm had simply swept up Commander Owens when he was walking down the street?

Question: Did the Nimitz change history by being in 1941?

No. I believe that it was always part of events. It’s the only logical explanation why Laurel Scott is still alive in 1980, much less on Dec. 7, 1941.

There was never an “original history” in which Chapman was killed on the yacht. He’d always died in a struggle on board a helicopter he’d tried to commandeer. If he’d died on the yacht, Scott would have, too; it was far from land and there was no indication that she was an exceptionally strong swimmer. Only outside intervention could have saved either of them.

There was also no indication history was changed by her survival.

The strongest evidence that the Nimitz was part of events in 1941 is the fact that we “sort of” meet Tideman in the opening scene (he’s in silhouette inside a limo, watching Lasky’s departure).

It still leaves unanswered why the Nimitz went back to 1941, yet played no role in the events of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Other than raising some interesting philosophical questions in a movie, there doesn’t seem to be any “in universe” rationale for the Nimitz to be part of those specific events.

There isn’t even the suggestion that fate decreed that the Nimitz should be on hand to ensure that Laurel Scott lived to old age because she had an important destiny to fulfill. That would have been more interesting than having the ship— essentially— serving as a time-traveling ferry service.

At least in the novelization by Martin Caidman, Tideman tells Lasky that Scott was the master of the power politics h’d played over the decades.

That’s the frustrating thing about the film. Nothing happens in the grand scheme of things. We don’t even know what led Owens to assume the name Richard Tideman. The name meant nothing special to him in 1980. Even if you assume Owens’ middle name was Tideman, what made him realize that he and the Richard Tideman were the same person?

Unfortunately the novelization doesn’t provide any answers.

There’s also a single word of dialogue I wish had been cut from the script. When Lasky and Charlie descend the gangplank, the dog runs to the limo. We hear a woman’s voice say, “Charlie.” That spoils the surprise regarding the occupants of the limo.

For all its flaws, The Final Countdown is an enjoyable film; but it might have been more interesting (and satisfying) to have followed the adventures of a time lost Commander Owens than those of an aircraft carrier that goes back to Dec. 7, 1941, only to return to its own time before it can engage the Japanese fleet.

Copyright 2017 Patrick Keating.