Thursday, February 27, 2014


   A couple friends argue with me about this all the time and they will no doubt take strong objection to the following declarations, but here's the truth of the matter: None of us are as in charge of ourselves as we might prefer to believe. 
   The friends in question are two beautiful athletes, both of whom have overcome some considerable amount of personal loss and in fact have used their own suffering as a means of propelling them on to newer successes. Because things have worked out fairly well for them, they have concluded that their successes are due to their own force of will. And who am I to disagree? After all, these two women are strong, smart, sassy and beautiful. They have worked hard to get where they are. I admire them.
   But have you ever noticed that the bum on the corner never argues in favor of free will? He might argue that he needs some spare change to catch the bus or for a meal or for a place to stay, but he never stands up and says, "What you see before you, people, is the result of my conscious decisions. Indeed, I have freely and without duress elected to stand here outside this convenience store or public library (I can never remember which), cadging cigarettes and swilling Boone's Farm, when as anyone can clearly see, I am entirely capable of completing my education and getting on with a career as a dermatologist, or was it tax law?"
   One reason we never see that is because bums may lie about the purposes to which they will be putting your generous donations, but they do not fabricate what it is that got them there. They know, just as the rest of us are beginning to know, that their so-called decisions have been impacted by a combination of societal and biological factors. Even the President of the United States this very day admitted--in what may be the defining address of his second term--that his economic status as a young man protected him from getting in the kind of trouble that young African American teenage boys routinely endure. 
   When I was a college student, I hated all the talk about what at the time was a "new science" called socio-biology. I hated it because it was being proffered by a bunch of eugenics-freaks and sons of the scientific branches of the Third Reich. But with time and a life that has been as low as it has high, I have come to recognize that those crypto-fascists of the late 1970s simply misinterpreted their data. They thought it meant that some people are better than others when in reality we are all better than socio-biologists and that's about it. 
   According to a recent report issued by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, studies of identical twins suggest that about fifty percent of a person's predisposition to become addicted to alcohol or drugs is genetically influenced. 
   "Wait!" shout my two athletic friends. "The ultimate decision to offend or not still lies with the individual, or else the results wouldn't be fifty percent. It would be one hundred."
   Oh, do settle down. Life is not quite that simple.
   Look, I used to read all those books by Wayne Dyer that asserted that our destinies are up to us. In fact, Wayne has managed to say that same thing in more different ways than anyone else who ever lived. Do you know when I read most of those books myself? It was back when I was a self-entitled college student, living the life of an upper-middle class schmuck. Not having the additional economic burdens that many did, I had the luxury of being open to this new hedonism. Dyer called bad feelings Your Erroneous Zones, emotions that he claimed did not properly exist. Anger, guilt, remorse, envy, greed, sloth, whatever they were, they were, he declared, simply ways we select to avoid having to deal with our problems. Psychoanalysis, according to that view, was a dead end designed to turn us all into navel-gazing narcissists. The past is not only dead, it may never have actually happened anyway, so live for the moment and don't do things you do not enjoy. 
   In the years since that pack of distortions first hit these shores (it was all just recycled Adlerian babble from the start), psychology has come quite a ways and it turns out that things that happen to us out in the big old world actually have consequences which in turn interact with our genetic tubing. So, yes, the DNA wires and circuitry only give us a predisposition toward certain kinds of behavior. But play that idea out to its logical extreme. A woman has a fifty/fifty chance of having inherited her mother's alcoholism. But that's the odds at birth. Life begins at birth and so do all the little and big things that mess some people up. So our hypothetical woman, when she is seventeen, suffers a severe trauma. She is raped. This brutalization itself shifts the odds in favor of self-destruction, but she's only getting started. As a result of the rape, she begins to misinterpret the way she is perceived by others. Further, she compensates for her feelings of inadequacy by connecting with a series of men who treat her badly. Managing to move up in her place of business, she internalizes the values of the modern businessperson, yet when economic conditions swing downward, she finds her financial situation to be precarious. And at this point, the alcohol that she occasionally consumed to numb herself has now become a lifestyle and within a few years she is in some serious pain. To look at that woman and say that she chose that course of events is not only despicably heartless, it is also incorrect. 
   Defeating the faith in free will does not mean that we should give up on personal accountability; otherwise we could empty the prisons because everyone in there had a hard life. On the other hand, maybe we should at least consider letting the nonviolent prisoners out because a lot of them had harder lives than you or I can imagine and when we discover that the disparity in convictions and sentencing between whites and people of color is overwhelming, then just maybe the fact that an ex-con hangs outside the public library (or convenience store), cadging smokes and panhandling becomes entirely predictable. 
   To accept the Wayne Dyer view of free will is to say that all alcoholics and substance abusers are doing exactly what they want (even though Dr. Dyer's Holy Book is contradicted by a little thing we like to call scientific evidence), just as all those prisoners are precisely where they want to be, "kind of the way black folks don't really want to live around white folks, and the poor are always with us 'cause that's the way they like living and even if that ain't right it's still probably God's will or something."
   You cannot have it both ways. Either you accept the sad fact that addiction and poverty and crime and suffering are all to one degree or another our problems or else you believe that your own successes are due to your own efforts and that guy with a bullet hole in his chest probably had it coming. Perhaps I make this sound extreme. Maybe I myself am rationalizing because I have seen the ravages of addiction and consider it a disease rather than a character flaw. Maybe I'm simply a melodramatic punk. But when they cut open my DNA and check things out (many years hence), I suspect they will find that the same strands of code that gave me brown eyes and a limber gait also gave me an inclination for the things I do well, things for which I once accepted credit and now am not so certain.

Sunday, February 23, 2014


Martha and Charles Part One
Martha and Charles Part Two

    My mom's big breakdown snapped in 1965, when I was in third grade. While some of her relatives shrugged that the problem was all in her head, I have no doubt that her suffering was real. Dad and I listened in confusion on the other side of the bedroom door as Martha cried and wailed for hours, days, weeks. The bedroom became her temporary respite from the tortures of the real world. Honey, would you like something to eat? No! Darling, can I bring you some fresh coffee? No!! Can I come in and sit with you? No!!!
   It wasn't easy being my dad, just as it wasn't easy being my mom.
   Charles entered the marriage understanding very little about women and he died knowing not much more than when he started. When someone near to a man is crying and screaming and smashing her fists against the unfairness of it all, the man's impulse is to desire to console, to comfort, to share his own personal strength. He is met with rejection and it confuses him because what he fails to understand is that what the woman desires is not consolation, not being comforted, not leaning on someone else. What she wants is for the problem to go away. And unless something addresses itself to that specific issue, the woman will reject it, often without concern over diplomacy. 
   Not every woman goes batty during menopause, but those who have endured it in the days before hormone treatment certainly earned their stripes. For helpless onlookers the process defines confusion. Someone previously confident and strong and witty as a stand-up comic transmogrifying into someone helpless, frustrated and angry can horrify both little kids and grown men. 
    My recollection is that this was especially confusing for Charles because even though he was in his forties and I was only eight, it is fair to say that we were on an equal footing regarding our comprehension of the female of the species. As a young child himself, Dad had shied from girls because of what at the time had been a massive disfigurement to his face. He'd been a passenger in a car during a horrible crash that sent him flying through the windshield. As a result, the left side of his face had been cut open from beneath the eye down to the corner of the mouth. After watching my dad suffer for several weeks, his oldest brother Melvin finally took pity and paid for a surgeon to sew up Dad's face. The final result was a bad scar that never completely went away. By the time Charles hit the teen years, he remained unable to look girls in the eye. It wasn't until his sixteenth birthday--the day he bought that Model-A--that he had the internal strength to overcome what he had grown up believing to be a disability. But the emotional damage had been done--years of merciless teasing by one's peers will do that--and I am convinced that those internal scars continued to scream at him for the rest of his life. His understanding of other people--especially women--remained fairly superficial. He grew up to be a man solid within himself, comfortable in his own company, and while he was delighted with the experience of being around friends and family, he never truly trusted other people as much as he knew he should. All this left him singularly unprepared for the love of his life to suffer through menopause. 
   Making matters even worse, the three of us lived in the country. By "in the country" I mean that southern Ohio at that time was a largely undeveloped portion of the United States. Portsmouth, as its name implies, is a river town, one teeming with men working on docks, women working in bakeries, and occasionally the other way around. One need not go far from the heart of Portsmouth to reach the boonies. And just beyond the boonies lay Pond Creek, which was where we lived. On one side of the gravel road sat the newer houses, like the one my dad had built. On the other side reclined weather-beaten churches, houses with yards rather than lawns, buildings which verified the existence of miracles in the sense that those buildings did not collapse every time a slight breeze blew through. Almost everyone we knew was related to either my mom or my dad, their parents respective homes being less than two miles from one another, yet seemingly galaxies apart. Dad thought of my mother's parents as being the upper crust of the community, essentially nothing more or less than a bunch of effete snobs who had everything handed to them, a perception that did not come close to the reality of the situation. Likewise, Mom viewed Dad's parents as rough and tumble types, the kind who always have a German Shepherd tied up in the yard, one that loves to growl and snap at young school kids forced to walk by on their way to classes. In reality, the economic differences between the two families was nonexistent. Both families had grown up poor, the kids attending the proverbial one room school house, and every family had at least one recalcitrant male progeny who turned to liquor and women as a diversion. Mom moved out when she was thirteen. Dad was just as committed to living on Pond Creek the rest of his life as Mom was determined to get us all the hell out of there.
    She emerged from the bedroom one afternoon, wearing what in those days passed for a pants suit. She virtually floated through our house, looking askance at Dad and me as if she couldn't comprehend our puzzled countenances. 
   Halloween was just around the corner and Mom loved a good party.
Pond creek

Thursday, February 20, 2014


Vladihook: Thank you for calling the Sylvania Extra Test Lab Inhibitor Rolodex Zazzo Cream Help Desk. My name is Vladihook. How may I be of assistance today?

Irene: Oh, hello. Gee, I'm so happy I finally got an actual, live person on the telephone.

Vladihook: Thank you very much for referring to me as an actual, live person. How may I help you today?

Irene: Yes, my name is Irene Goodman. My husband and I just purchased your Platinum Membership package.

Vladihook: Oh! Thank you very much for purchasing our Platinum Membership package. Is there anything else I can do for you today?

Irene: There is. You see, your television commercial says that the price for this membership is $30 a month, yet you charged $720 to my husband's Wells Fargo Visa Card. That's a bit of a discrepancy. 

Vladihook: Thank you for acknowledging the discrepancy today.

Irene: You're very welcome, I'm sure.

Vladihook: Is there anything else I can help you with today, Miss Irene?

Irene: Yes, you could begin by explaining to me why you charged $720 to my husband's credit card.

Vladihook: I see. You have a question about the charge on your husband's credit card.

Irene: I do have a question.

Vladihook: Your husband ordered the Platinum Membership which is thirty dollars a month.

Irene: Right. . . ?

Vladihook: Thirty times twenty-four is $720.

Irene: Why do you multiply it times twenty-four?

Vladihook: Thank you for asking that question. The reason is that this way the total comes out to $720.

Irene: But why must it be $720? Wait! Are you telling me that he had to pay for two years in advance?!?

Vladihook: Thank you for asking--

Irene: Listen! Do me a favor? Please stop thanking me for asking questions.

Vladihook: Thank you for that declarative statement. You are correct. The terms of the Platinum Membership require that two years be paid in advance. Is there anything else--

Irene: There is quite a bit else, Vladihook! Where does it say on your TV commercial that you get to do that?

Vladihook: The message is subliminally implied by the makers of Sylvania Extra Test Lab Inhibitor Rolodex Zazzo Cream Corporation. 

Irene: Subliminally implied? What does that mean?

Vladihook: This means that every second on your watch, one blip of impossible to see yet recognized messaging gets transmitted into your subconscious mind. Even now you are no doubt feeling far more cooperative.

Irene: Not. . . really. . . 

Vladihook: Yes, yes, you are. Miss Irene, I believe that you too wish to possess your very own Platinum Membership, is that not correct?

Irene: Maybe. I don't know.

Vladihook: But you do know, Miss Irene. Reach into your purse and pull out the pretty credit card with the shiny hue. I will wait.

Irene: You will wait. My card number is (      ).

Vladihook: Thank you for placing your order today, Miss Irene. Is there something you want to say to me now?

Irene: Thank you for asking that question.

Vladihook: Excellent. Do have a nice day.

Call center



   My father spent thirteen years building the first home in which he and my mother would live. Charles was not particularly slow in his work; instead he was thorough. Every nail went in straight or it did not go in at all. Every board lay flat or my dad would know the reason why not. Every brick sat in place next to its neighbor with a firm layer of mortar in between or else that brick would find itself smashed to smithereens. The roofing shingles did not dare to so much as contemplate lying askew. These and the other components of my parents first home learned right away that it was better to cooperate than suffer the occasionally hilarious wrath of Charlie Mershon. 
   Hilarious, do I say? Yes, indeed I do. In the early phases of the home construction, Dad would lay this or place that or hammer the other thing, only to find the bits and pieces to be on occasion recalcitrant. Charles Mershon did not suffer fools lightly and he certainly was going to take no guff from a piece of plywood. When a nail or screw or bolt betrayed him, he explained in the only way he could that their behavior was unacceptable. He would take the offending tool--a hammer, say--and hurl it with all his might, often as not landing the device a quarter mile away in a field of happily growing weeds. He would then, with considerable patience and determination, climb down the ladder (a correlation was later proved to exist between the height to which my father had ascended and the likelihood of bad behavior by a disobedient tool) and trudge through the field where he would eventually bend down and pick up the item in question, whereupon he would stroll back to the work site and begin anew. Like the errant children dad imagined these tools to be, they tried to walk the straight and narrow, yet from time to time they found their lesser impulses got the better of them. Still, dad cared for these tools second only to his love of my mother and he only wanted them to grow up to be as good as they could be.
   During those thirteen years Martha and Charles kept meticulous records of every penny coming in and going out. Mom kept the books and years later--in an effort to teach me the value of such precise economic measurements--she shared the ledger with me. Dad brought home his paycheck every two weeks. That was $549 the bulk plant at Ashland Oil paid him. Mom brought home weekly checks from Marting's department store, her earnings being $154 each week, plus a sales commission of some sort. As far as expenses went, I remember with some clarity that she recorded everything, including the expense of each stick of chewing gum. 
    My father's parents had seen fit to give the newlyweds a track of land. The finished house itself sat on two acres, a field to the east was another two, to the west lay another pair, and behind them was yet another two acres. The lawn surrounding the house my dad kept manicured with the latest in modern lawn trimming. As for the rest, it grew in weeds that required dad to slice through them with an ancient farm tractor and a huge and rickety saw blade. By the time I was three years old, dad sat me on his knee as he combed and cut the weeds and I remember being more than a little anxious as I stared at that trembling six foot blade. Hard as the work had to have been, pictures from that time reveal both parents in smiles and laughter. You can even recognize a marked hint of pride in their eyes. After all, the 1950s had arrived, Ike golfed in the White House, the Korean War was rumored to be over, and Martha and Charles looked forward to utilizing the vast interstate highway the balding and lovable president had prepared for them. 
   Being an "only child" feels strange. Just ask Jesus. 
   Mom gave me birth on May 30, 1958, making me a Gemini, at least half the time. Mom was thirty-five that day. Dad was on his way to thirty-eight. They were both just a wee bit old to consider another child. I would likely have been a lousy brother, in any event. Indeed, I'm one of the few "only children" to suffer from sibling rivalry with my own imaginary friends. 
   In good times or bad (and they were mostly pretty fine), my Dad ensured that our family would take a great vacation. He had worked for Ashland Oil long enough to accrue four weeks vacation time each summer and we used it to the fullest. The first trip I remember was what my folks called Out West, meaning that we went as far as the coast of California. Disneyland had opened for business in July 1955 and we made our first trip there in 1961. I retain two specific memories from that summer visit. First, I was terrified of the Big Bad Wolf and to cure me of this my father ran over and pulled his tail. I cried for half an hour. The other memorable event happened as we were nearing the exit. Poised on a large rock sat Peter Pan himself. My parents thought it would be great fun to have a commemorative photograph taken with Peter and me. The problem, as I was soon to discover, was that this particular incarnation of Peter Pan had breasts. Yep! Peter Pan at this place was a girl and that meant that everything preceding that moment had possibly been a sham and if all that was a fake, then how could I know for certain that anything I'd ever been told was real and if everything was just one big lie then who the hell was I anyway?
   They took the picture anyway. Both Peter and I looked miserable.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014


   The day my father turned sixteen, he bought a 1928 Model-A Ford Roadster Coupe. Though the successor to the more famous Model-T had come out in December of that year, Dad didn't buy one until September 19, 1936. The car cost him eight dollars. The owner's manual to Henry Ford's second child claimed the car would reach a top speed of sixty-five, but Dad never got it up past thirty and that was in reverse because "Charlie Mershon's new car" would only operate in that gear. None of the other kids out in the sticks minded that small inconvenience because at least the Model-A ran, which was more than their cars would do, at least among the small number of those who owned such things. None of the kids who climbed into the blue and tan automobile had their own cars. Martha Spradlin, the woman my father would marry right after the war, had never ridden in one before. She and her sisters and brothers climbed on the outside of the car and held on for dear life as Dad drove his car around curves and up and down Carry's Run Hill, the headlights flashing off and on with every bump in the gravel road, not that headlights made much difference when the driver is careening backwards. 
   Inauspicious beginnings sometimes bring forth auspicious results. Married on May 4, 1945, just days before Germany's surrender, my parents were married fifty-six years, right up until Dad passed away on July 20, 2002. Mom died a little more than a year later, on September 11.
   Both my parents and their families struggled through the Great Depression. Living far out in the backwoods of southern Ohio did not allow for much in the way of high finances even before the stock market crash of 1929. Still, both families felt the disaster. Martha's father, Albert, delivered newspapers in his own big truck while her mother, Edna, handled what had to have been the monumental job of raising the seven children. My grandfather on my Dad's side, Clay Mershon, worked only sporadically, usually as seldom as possible, while his wife, Macie, toiled the considerable expanse of land they somehow managed to possess. Dad was the youngest of three brothers, the oldest of whom being my Uncle Melvin, one of the hardest working and most good-natured people I have ever had the pleasure to know. Melvin's job with the Southwest Gas Company kept the family going right through World War II. As to my father's aspiration, he had initially signed onto President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corps. He stayed there a grand total of three days before he and two friends decided that being several hundred miles from home did not suit their needs at all. Two of the young men hopped a freight train from Cincinnati that was headed back to their home town of Portsmouth. Dad refused to climb aboard despite their urging and ended up walking the one hundred miles with only two copper pennies and a couple packs of matches in his shallow pants pockets. Along the way he picked up stray cigarette butts which he smoked to stave off the hunger pangs. Hitching a couple rides, he made it back to what the locals called Pond Creek, where the old house still creaks and whinnies to this day. 
   Martha lived a little more than a mile down Pond Creek Road. She worked at Guy and Vivian's Ice Cream Stand for room, board and a few extra dollars and during slow periods Charlie would stop by and regale her of tales from his own job running the restaurant half of Frank McGrath's beer hall. Even before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the aches of the Depression had eased off enough so that people once again wandered into town to take in the occasional double feature at the Portsmouth Bijou. Admission cost five cents for two movies and the program often included a News Reel and a pair of Warner Bros cartoons. Martha and Charles would sit together in the theatre's third row, watching Clark Gable, Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn and my Dad's favorite, John Wayne. Looking up at that enormous screen, they held hands and wondered about the rumblings in Europe and the Pacific.
    A few days after the Japanese destruction of Pearl Harbor, my father enlisted in what at that time was called the Army Air Corp. His decision to enlist was more strategic than voluntary. All able-bodied young men were being drafted and he feared he would end up crawling through ditches on his belly in the Infantry, so he joined the branch he assumed would be the least inconvenient. 
   The letters he sent Martha came from both Theaters of War. She received heavily redacted brown note papers from New Zealand and Australia as well as France, Italy and Germany. Dad reached the rank of Master Sergeant. I wish I could tell you more about his duties and responsibilities during the three-and-half years he served, but he never spoke of that time in all the years I knew him. He also swore never to fly in an airplane again. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014


    Love looking at books you remember from an especially formative time in your life? Sure you do! Maybe you should go do that right now, unless of course your formative years coincide with mine (although, like yours, mine continue on into the present/future). All the same, here are some popular books that affected me one way or another. There were a couple years there when, even as a young teenager, reading saved my life. Please note: These books were popular, an adjective not necessarily synonymous or antonymous with good. The list itself is by no means inclusive and indeed may even have the occasional error, which you are eagerly invited to correct. Even the worst of these (and some are major stinkers) had an impact.

The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles (1969).
John Fowles

The Godfather by Mario Puzo (1969). A much better movie than book.

The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier (1969).

The Inheritors by Harold Robbins (1969). Even then, I knew it was dreck. 

Puppet on a Chain by Alistair MacLean (1969).

Fire From Heaven by Mary Renault (1969).

The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight by Jimmy Breslin (1969). 
Jimmy Breslin

The Seven Minutes by Irving Wallace (1969).

Travels with My Aunt by Graham Greene (1969).

In This House of Brede by Rumor Godden (1969).

Love Story by Erich Segal (1970). The worst book on his list by such a wide margin, it couldn't even be worsened by the writer's preciousness. 

Islands in the Stream by Ernest Hemingway (1970).

The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart (1970).

QB VII by Leon Uris (1970).

The Secret Woman by Victoria Holt (1970).

Rich Man, Poor Man by Irwin Shaw (1969).

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown (1970).

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (1970).

Fantastic Mr Fox by Roald Dahl (1970).

Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach (1970).

Ringworld by Larry Niven (1970).

Battles Lost by Eudora Welty (1970).

Mandala: A Novel of India by Pearl S Buck (1970).

On Violence by Hannah Arendt (1970).

Aesthetic Theory by Theodor Adorno (1970).

Spock Must Die! by James Blish (1970).

The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty (1971).

The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth (1971). Fine book. The movie, however, was one of the best of its type--ever.

Rabbit Redux by John Updyke (1971).

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter Thompson (1971).

Post Office by Charles Bukowsi (1971).

The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula LeGuin (1971).

Another Roadside Attraction by Tom Robbins (1971). His first book.

Demon Seed by Dean Koontz (1973). 

A Happy Death by Albert Camus (1971).

In the Shadow of Man by Jane Goodall (1971).

The Book of Daniel by E. L. Doctorow (1971).

The Stainless Steel Rat Saves the World by Harry Harrison (1971). One of the all-time great titles.

Steal This Book by Abbie Hoffman (1971). Not everything in this book has remained relevant, but lots of it has--and besides, the spirit is what counts.

Beneath the Underdog by Charles Mingus (1971). Best music autobiography I've ever read.

The Family by Ed Sanders (1971). Lot of factual errors and the original got Sanders sued by The Process. Still, if you can get an edition from 1971, keep it.

The Anarchist Cookbook by William Powell (1971).

Harpo Speaks by Harpo Marx (1961).

The Underground Man by Ross MacDonald (1971). 

Wheels by Arthur Hailey (1971).

The Passions of the Mind by Irving Stone (1971).

The Winds of War by Herman Wouk (1971).

The Other by Tom Tryon (1972).

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Best Actress Awards (Conclusion)

 1970: Glenda Jackson for Women in Love.
1971: Jane Fonda for Klute.
1972: Liza Minnelli for Cabaret.
1973: Glenda Jackson for A Touch of Class
1974: Ellen Burstyn for Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (possibly the best year ever for female actors, as everyone nominated could conceivably been "the best," including Faye Dunaway, Diahann Carroll, Valerie Perrine, and Gena Rowlands). 
1975: Louise Fletcher for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. (Probably the only great misogynist film ever made). 
1976: Faye Dunaway for Network.
1977: Diane Keaton for Annie Hall.
1978: Jane Fonda for Coming Home.
1979: Sally Field for Norma Rae (Yes, we really liked her.)
1980: Sissy Spacek for Coal Miner's Daughter
1981: Katharine Hepburn for On Golden Pond
1982: Meryl Streep for Sophie's Choice.
1983: Shirley MacLaine for Terms of Endearment.
1984: Sally Field for Places in the Heart (Yes, we really do like her, but Jessica Lange was better in Country.)
1985: Geraldine Page in The Trip to Bountiful.
1986: Marlee Martin for Children of a Lesser God.
1987: Cher for Moonstruck.
1988: Jodie Foster for The Accused.
1989: Jessica Tandy for Driving Miss Daisy.
1990: Kathy Bates for Misery.
1991: Jodie Foster for Silence of the Lambs.
1992: Emma Thompson for Howard's End.
1993: Holly Hunter for The Piano.
1994: Jessica Lange for Blue Sky (YES!)
1995: Susan Sarandon for Dead Men Walking.
1996: Frances McDormand for Fargo.
1997: Helen Hunt for As Good as it Gets.
1998: Gwyneth Paltrow for Shakespeare in Love (as the standards changed). 
1999: Hilary Swank for Boys Don't Cry.
2000: Julia Roberts for Erin Brockovich.
2001: Halle Berry for Monster's Ball (Super!)
2002: Nicole Kidman for The Hours.
2003: CharlizeTheron for Monster.
2004: Hilary Swank for Million Dollar Baby.
2005: Reese Witherspoon for Walk the Line.
2006: Helen Mirren for The Queen.
2007: Marion Cotillard for La Vie en Rose
2008: Kate Winslet for The Reader.
2009: Sandra Bullock for The Blind Side. (Further decline)
2010: Natalie Portman for Black Swan (rebirth). 
2011: Meryl Streep for The Iron Lady.
2012: Jennifer lawrence for Silver Lining Playbook.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Best Female Actor Academy Awards (Part One)

1939: Vivien Leigh for Gone with the Wind. (She was up against Bette Davis, Greer Garson, Irene Dunne and Greta Garbo). 
1940: Ginger Rogers for Kitty Foyle (???)
1941: Joan Fontaine for Suspicion (one of the great Hitchcock movies of the 1940s). 
1942: Greer Garson for Mrs Miniver (beating Bette Davis for the third year in a row). 
1943: Jennifer Jones for The Song of Bernadette (Yeah, I've never heard of it either). 
1944: Ingrid Bergman for Gaslight.
1945: Joan Crawford for Mildred Pierce (the same group of women continued to be nominated, so I guess Crawford had her turn, or punched somebody out).
1946: Olivia de Havilland for To Each His Own
1947: Loretta Young for The Farmer's Daughter
1948: Jane Wyman for Johnny Belinda (maybe the most provocative film title of the period). 
1949: Olivia de Havilland for The Heiress
1950: Judy Holliday: Born yesterday
1951: Vivien Leigh for A Streetcar Named Desire.
1952: Shirley Booth for Come Back, Little Sheba (Oh Lord.)
1953: Audrey Hepburn for Roman Holiday (Everyone raves about how beautiful she was, which is correct. However, she was a dynamite actress in her own right. Check out Wait Until Dark--with a young Alan Arkin as the criminal--if you've any doubt.)
1954: Grace Kelly for The Country Girl
1955: Anna Magnani for The Rose Tattoo
1956: Ingrid Bergman for Anastasia
1957: Joanne Woodward for The Three Faces of Eve (not that there was any question.)
1958: Susan Hayward for I Want to Live!
1959: Simone Signoret for Room at the Top
1960: Elizabeth Taylor for Butterfield 8.
1961: Sophia Loren for Two Women.
1962: Anne Bancroft for The Miracle Worker.
1963: Patricia Neal for Hud (This is significant because Neal had been playing second banana for decades and finally got a role her talent deserved. Plus it was one of the very first role that was recognized and was as challenging and edgy as those the men were getting.)
1964: Julie Andrews for Mary Poppins (A slip backwards, but not permanently, as the next entry shows.)
1965: Julie Christie for Darling
1966: Elizabeth Taylor for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? 
1967: Katharine Hepburn for Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (While attempting to be "progressive," the Academy could have shown more courage--and sense--selecting Bancroft, Dunaway, or the other Hepburn.)
1968: This year we had a tie between Barbra Streisand for Funny Girl and Katharine Hepburn for The Lion in Winter
1969: Maggie Smith for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.
Tune in tomorrow for the rest of the list, 1970 to the present.

Saturday, February 8, 2014


   Here comes the second half of our look back at the winners of the male actors (by year and according to the Academy).

1970: George C. Scott, for Patton, which was not a satire, no matter what they told you.
1971. Gene Hackman in The French Connection.  
1972. Marlon Brando for The Godfather. The only other contender who came close was Peter O'Toole for his role in The Ruling Class
1973. Jack Lemmon, in Save the Tiger, one of the best movies you have probably never seen. 
1974. Art Carney, for Harry and Tonto. Jack Nicholson lost out for the third time.
1975. Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
1976. Peter Finch, for Network, one of the most prescient films ever. 
1977. Richard Dreyfuss in The Goodbye Girl
1978. Jon Voight in Coming Home
1979. Dustin Hoffman in Kramer vs. Kramer.
1980. Robert DeNiro for Raging Bull.
1981. Henry Fonda in On Golden Pond.
1982. Ben Kingsley in Gandhi.
1983. Robert Duvall, for Tender Mercies.
1984. F. Murray Abraham for Amadeus, as things with the Academy and movies in general took a strange turn.
1985. William Hurt in Kiss of the Spider Woman.
1986. Paul Newman in The Color of Money.
1987. Michael Douglas for Wall Street
1988. Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man.
1989. Daniel Day-Lewis in My Left Foot.
1990. Jeremy Irons in Reversal of Fortune.
1991. Anthony Hopkins for The Silence of the Lambs.
1992. Al Pacino for Scent of a Woman.
1993. Tom Hanks for Philadelphia. Liam Neeson was robbed.
1994. Tom Hanks for Forrest Gump. Travolta was robbed.
1995. Nicolas Cage for Leaving Las Vegas
1996. Geoffrey Rush for Shine.
1997. Jack Nicholson in As Good as it Gets.
1998. Roberto Benigni in Life is Beautiful.
1999. Kevin Spacey for American Beauty. Yes. 
2000. Russell Crowe for Gladiator (cuz the Academy couldn't get copies of Pollock.)
2001. Denzel Washington for Training Day.
2002. Adrien Brody for The Pianist.
2003. Sean Penn for Mystic River. Yes. 
2004. Jamie Foxx for Ray
2005. Philip Seymour Hoffman for Capote. Yes. 
2006. Forrest Whitaker for The Last King of Scotland. Yes. 
2007. Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood.
2008. Sean Penn for Milk. Again--yes. 
2009. Jeff Bridges for Crazy Heart.
2010. Colin Firth in The King's Speech.
2011. Jean Dujardin for The Artist.
2012. Daniel Day-Lewis for Lincoln

Friday, February 7, 2014


     Here are the male actors who have won the Academy Award for Best Actor from 1939 through 1969. Part two will appear tomorrow. Yay.

1939: Robert Donat in Goodbye, Mr Chips. He beat out Clark Cable, Laurence Olivier, Mickey Rooney and James Stewart, yet you've probably never heard of him.
1940: James Stewart in The Philadelphia Story. He won over Charlie Chaplin, Henry Fonda, and Olivier (again).
1941: Gary Cooper in Sergeant York. He won over Orson Welles in Citizen Kane.
1942: James Cagney in Yankee Doodle Dandy.
1943: Paul Lucas in Watch on the Rhine, beating out Bogart in Casablanca
1944: Bing Crosby in Going My Way.
1945: Ray Milland in Lost Weekend.
1946: Fredric March: The Best Years of Our Lives
1947: Ronald Colman: A Double Life.
1948: Laurence Olivier: Hamlet.
1949: Broderick Crawford: All the King's Men.
1950: Jose Ferrer: Cyrano de Bergerac.
1951: Humphrey Bogart: The African Queen. After all his great roles, this is his award? Up against Brando in Streetcar and Clift in Place in the Sun!
1952: Gary Cooper: High Noon.
1953: William Holden: Stalag 17.
1954: Marlon Brando: On the Waterfront
1955: Ernest Borgnine: Marty.
1956: Yul Brynner: The King and I, slaying James Dean, Kirk Douglas and Olivier.
1957: Alec Guinness: Bridge on the River Kwai.
1958: David Niven: Separate Tables.
1959: Charlton Heston: Ben-Hur.
1960: Burt Lancaster: Elmer Gantry. Is this possibly the best performance on this list?
1961: Maximilian Schell: Judgment at Nuremberg. Or is this?
1962: Gregory Peck: To Kill a Mockingbird.
1963: Sidney Poitier: Lilies of the Field.
1964: Rex Harrison: My Fair Lady, beating Peter Sellers in Dr. Strangelove!
1965: Lee Marvin: Cat Ballou.
1966: Paul Scoffield: Man for All Seasons, winning over Burton, Caine and McQueen.
1967: Rod Steiger: In the Heat of the Night.
1968: Cliff Robertson: Charly.
1969: John Wayne: True Grit, winning instead of Voight, Burton, Hoffman and O'Toole.


Tuesday, February 4, 2014


   The annual self-congratulatory nonsense of the Academy Awards will be rolling out another nauseating tribute to turds and their fans any day now, so this feels deep down like the perfect time to reflect upon the pitiful abomination that will henceforth be painfully recalled as 2013: The year in films.
   I know most of you are very bottom line oriented, so we'll begin with the top ten domestic grossing film list for the year in question. The subject itself may lead to inter-urinary ruptures, so please seek medical attention as needed.

1. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
    $421 million
2. Iron Man 3
    $409 million
3. Despicable Me 2
    $368 million
4. Frozen
    $360 million
5. Man of Steel
    $291 million
6. Monsters University
    $268 million
7. Gravity
    $264 million
8. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
    $254 million
9. Fast & Furious 6
    $238 million
10. Oz the Great and Powerful
    $234 million

   Of these seriously big deal money-makers, seven are either sequels (which some genius has decided that we now refer to as franchises) or remakes, which is essentially the same thing anyway. For better or worse, only one of those ten movies were nominated by the Academy for best picture. This year, the nominees for that dubious title are American Hustle, 12 Years a Slave, Dallas Buyers Club, Captain Phillips, Gravity, Her, Nebraska, Philomena, and The Wolf of Wall Street
   Are any of these movies any good? Beats me. I've only seen two of them and one of those I couldn't stand. But it really doesn't matter because I suspect that a film's actual value to our culture cannot be determined within the duration of something like the annual Oscar presentation. I noted, for instance, that Turner Classic Movies played Gone with the Wind the other night, a movie that was a huge deal in its release year of 1939. Whatever others may think of that adaptation of the Mitchell novel, I will hazard a bet that no one has ever sat through it twice, or at least not paid for that privilege. Beautiful as the cinematography is, the damn thing is far too long and distorts history to such an extreme that even the DRA gets offended, although I imagine the guys from "Duck Dynasty" cry every time it airs.
   My point--which others have made before--is that commercial viability is no guarantee that a movie has any kind of long term value, unless you actually expect to tell your grandkids about how much better Fast & Furious 6 was than 2 and 4. The same thing is unfortunately and predictably true of the Oscar awards. While occasionally the Academy picks a truly great film, just as often it misses by miles in selecting a movie that will withstand time.

   1944: Going My Way
   1952: The Greatest Show on Earth
   1956: Around the World in 80 Days
   1958: Gigi
   1963: Tom Jones
   1964: My Fair Lady
   1966: A Man for All Seasons
   1968: Oliver!
   1981: Chariots of Fire
   1985: Out of Africa
   1995: Braveheart
   2000: Gladiator
   2003: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
   Each one of these movies was a bigger load of rubbish than its predecessor and each one resulted in the stars coming forth to thank mother, God and country for such an undeserving tribute. Yet I will bet that no one reading this has viewed more than three of these movies and that of those three, you didn't like at least two of them and were properly offended when at least one of them won Best Picture. I'm almost always offended and last year, when the pageant was hosted by that guy from the cartoon shows, I damn near walked out of my own house. This year we will not watch and plan to never watch again. The dearth of will to make great movies which may take a while to appreciate has been abandoned for the fast buck, leaving uss with a trail of empty promises and a plethora of empty snake oil canisters
   Think I'll watch reruns of "Match Game '74."
   Unless I find out that American Hustle wins. That'll change everything.