Archive for March, 2009

31st March
2009
written by Jeff

Every Tuesday I write about the television shows I watched growing up and I watched a LOT of tv. Ask my retinas.

The Facts of LifeYou take the good. You take the bad. You take them both and then, what do you have? The facts of life, silly! It seems only fitting that since I wrote about “Diff’rent Strokes” last week that I should give coverage to its main spinoff, “The Facts of Life,” this week.

When Charlotte Rae left “Diff’rent Strokes” after only a season-and-a-half, it was to take over as the house mother for a prestigious all-girls school and the result was a hit show on NBC that ran for nine seasons from 1979 through 1988.

The show centered around Rae’s Edna Garrett character and the girls she was charged with caring for. Think a high school sorority house with fewer keggers and a lot less nudity.

“The Facts of Life” was an ensemble cast that had a lot of members and spawned the careers of Molly Ringwald and George Clooney. There was an early guest appearance from a very young Helen Hunt as well. But, by season two, the show had found its life around the four characters that would take it the distance.

The show concept was based on the idea that Kimberly, the daughter from “Diff’rent Strokes,” was a student at a fancy schmancy girls school and needed Ms. Garrett to help them with a play. After doing a good job and helping a student with some personal problems, she was invited to stay on. After a first season with what seemed like a bazillion characters, the show was re-tooled and became the show most people remember.

The four main characters – rich, bratty Blair Warner (Lisa Whelchel), tough biker chick Jo Polniaczek (Nancy McKeon), chubby, funny writer Natalie Green (Mindy Cohn) and silly roller skater Dorothy “Tootie” Ramsey (Kim Fields).

As disappointing as it was to many an adolescent boy, this show was not about hot, mostly naked girls having pillow fights and learning about love though the very first episode did confront the topic of lesbianism, just not in a fun way. Like its parent show, “The Facts of Life” was a “lessons” show covering controversial issues including sex, drugs, alcohol and eating disorders among other things.

The show included a few controversies off camera as some of the girls gained weight and were placed on restricted diets while Mindy Cohn revealed that she was encouraged to remain chubby for her character. I guess we see where the eating disorder episode came from.

The show sustained its success over a number of years but began to slowly fade as the girls got older and finally cratered after the departure of Ms. Garrett when she married a man who was in Africa helping with the Peace Corps (of course!). She was replaced by Garrett’s sister, Beverly Ann Stickle played by the wonderful Cloris Leachman, but that was no help and the show folded soon after.

Where are they now?

Charlotte Rae was a well-known stage actor before her move to the small screen. She has had re-occurring roles in “Sesame Street,” “Diff’rent Strokes,” and “ER.” Most recently, she had a fling with Adam Sandler’s character in You Don’t Mess with the Zohan. Rae will turn 83 in April.

Lisa Whelchel got her start as a Mouseketeer, but took a decidedly different path from fellow mouser Britney Spears. Whelchel, a devout and very conservative Christian, nixed an episode where her character Blair had sex, recorded a Christian pop album in 1984 that won a Grammy (yeah, she has a GRAMMY!) and left acting soon after “The Facts of Life” to focus on having a family. She has written several books on Christian motherhood and is a staunch advocate for home schooling.

Nancy McKeon, sister to Philip, who co-starred in another popular 80’s sitcom, “Alice,” is best known for her role as Jo on “The Facts of Life,” but she has continued to act since the show ended appearing in numerous made-for-tv movies and short-run shows. She declined to appear on the FOL reunion show and currently lives in Austin with her husband and two children having retired from acting and public life.

Mindy Cohn left Eastlake for some minor tv appearances before landing a job doing voiceover work for the show “What’s New Scooby Do?” The work garnered her a daytime Emmy award. She got a degree in sociology from Loyola Marymount in the mid-90’s and is a member of the board of directors for weSPARK, a cancer survivors organization. She has complained that none of the actors from FOL receive royalties from DVD sales or re-runs of the show.

Kim Fields put down her roller skates, but managed a fairly successful post-FOL career. She starred alongside Queen Latifa in the sitcom “Living Single” and has even had a career as a rapper. She currently performs under the name Blondielocks. In 2007, she had her first child with her finace.

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30th March
2009
written by Jeff

I was a child in the 70’s and early 80’s, a time marked by some of the sweetest, sensitivist and soulfullest pop songs ever. Each Monday, I give you a chance to learn about some of the music I heard as a kid right here on Light Rock Monday.

Player - Baby Come BackThere were a lot of bands in the late 70’s that weren’t just one-hit wonders. Some of them sunk so far into a popular genre, they were mistaken for other, more popular acts.

Enter Player whose #1 hit single in 1977, “Baby Come Back,” was often incorrectly attributed to the more successful white soul duo Hall and Oates. “Baby Come Back” was just the kind of soulful, white guy funk that Hall and Oates became popular for producing and Player emulated it perfectly if for only that one song.

Formed in LA, Player rose to popularity with their one hit and with a stint as the opening act for Eric Clapton. They never did much after their one hit recording only four albums total in their brief lifespan as recording artists. The various members split up and found other outlets including Ron Moss, who has been a regular cast member of the soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful since 1981.

Peter Beckett performed live with another 70’s soft rock group, Little River Band, in the 80’s and would do “Baby Come Back” at live shows. J.C. Crowley managed to carve out a nice country career for himself in Nahsville landing a few top 20 hits as a solo artist.

The band is reportedly working on a reunion, perhaps on the strength of their hit song’s inclusion in the flim Transformers or in the commercials for Swiffer. Who knows?

One thing is for sure, as good as “Baby Come Back” might be, Player is no Hall and Oates.

Stream “Baby Come Back” on BlipFM.
Lyrics
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26th March
2009
written by Jeff

Every Thursday, I post about the things that I love, and God only knows what those things might be.

Word ShirtAnyone who knows me has probably wanted to slap me in the face at least once for my prolific quoting of movies, lyrics, famous sayings, books, bathroom wall graffiti, dog barks, car alarms and other important noises.

I started to wonder what the deal is with my love of quotes and I realize it’s really just an extension of three other things I love:

1. Words
2. Humor
3. Wisdom

I’ve always been a word nerd. My dad was a journalism major with a masters in English. One of his brothers and his sister were journalism majors. I was a journalism major in college and have friends still working as writers. More than words (don’t start singing it!), I love a good turn of a phrase, which is why I tend to admire even goofy lyricists.

David Lee Roth wrote the lyric once, “And the meek shall inherit shit,” which to this day makes me laugh for no apparent reason.

I stumped an entire college English department when I asked them to tell me what you call two words that are spelled the same but sound different and have different meanings: i.e. wound (an injury) and wound (past tense of wind). I got that from a lyric too.

Language is fascinating to me because it is a living entity. In the movie Stargate, James Spader said, “It hasn’t been a living spoken language in over 1000 years” in describing an ancient language found on another planet. That always struck me as amazing that a language could die unless it is used. See, I can even come up with a quote for THAT! It’s a sickness, I tells ya’.

Humor is also an important part of who I am. My dad knew seemingly every good joke ever told and he loved telling them. He also loved hearing new one’s and retelling them over and over. My whole family has a good sense of humor and there are days when I’m kinda funny too. Shut up.

Lastly, wisdom is something that interests me. I really don’t care too much about rote knowledge. I like trivial knowledge because it is mostly worthless and a huge drain on my time, but the basic bricks and mortar of how things work is pretty boring for me. But, if there is wisdom in it, particularly something that strikes me as clever or poignant, it has my rapt attention.

Put the three together in any combination and you can get some pretty amazing quotes. Things like:

“Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.”

“It’s good to have a loving, caring, close knit family…in another city.”

“If everything you’ve ever done is wrong, the opposite must be right.”

“You can go to hell. As for me, I’m going to Texas.”

“You motor boating son of a bitch. You old sailor!”

“Rock stars. Is there anything they don’t know?”

All great quotes that I love. There are hundreds more. What makes them great is context. If you can figure out how to fit them into a conversation where they actually make sense, BONUS! Sure, it will annoy the hell out of some people, but those it doesn’t will find you infinitely fascinating. They won’t, but you can tell yourself they do and it will be easier because you have a snappy comeback for them if they gripe.

Of course, quoting every line of a movie or tv show as it is rolling might make someone want to punch you in the throat, so you may want to tone that down a bit, but, otherwise quote your ass off. Not literally, cause that would hurt.

Gimme some of your favorite quotes. Maybe I’ll use them and not give you any credit! And there’s nothing you could do to stop me because they don’t have verbal plagiarism laws, do they, smart guy? Sorry, what?

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25th March
2009
written by Jeff

Every Wednesday, you get a peek inside the mail bag. In this case, that bag is full of letters I write to ask questions we all want answered…or maybe just me.

American Apparel MainDear American Apparel,

I know you like to be provocative in your advertising. You like flashing nipple on occasion, ads with post adolescent crotch bearing lollipop suckers and showing sorta-dirty young hipsters in various stages of undress as a means of driving sales of your over-priced, poorly made clothing. Like Calvin Klein’s child pornography series of ads, you like pushing the envelope and, God knows, I have no problem with seeing semi-naked chicks. I encourage it!

But, I’m really just tired of this overwrought campaign of Polaroid-esque photos making not-so-vague allusion to orgasms and sex and orgies. It’s just…boring.

It’s amazing that you could make sex seem bland and uninteresting, but, really, you have, mainly because I don’t believe you anymore. It’s one thing to so some cute young girl with a emo haircut posing in boys underwear and a tank top. It’s another to show this:

American Apparel Dudes

Really? REALLY? A bunch of half naked Magnum PI’s was the best you could do for an ad selling glorified tighty whities??? Or how about this one?

American Apparel Socks

Are you suggesting that this Canadian porn star who specializes in anal (I looked it up on Wikipedia – what?) gets off to tube socks?

What I find most disturbing about these ads is how tiring they make sex seem like chore you perform to make yourself feel marginally good for a few fleeting moments before going back to your weepy, slacker pose. Even an orgasm is so NOT special, socks are a fantasy and being naked is just something to do when you’re bored. How in God’s name were you able to make kids simultaneously feel good about being naked (assuming they are skinny and hot) and be completely disinterested at the same time? It’s disturbingly brilliant.

To make matters worse, you sell clothes most of us could find at a thrift store and wouldn’t even wear in the first place because we aren’t going roller skating in 1978 or to homecoming in 1985. If that weren’t enough, they are expensive and poorly made. Way to take that reduce the “American” part of your name to a clever stereotype.

I know clueless little hipsters buy your stuff on the basis of its popularity and being all risque and pseudo-dirty makes you the cool clothing kid on the block, but your oh-so provocative ads not even that provocative anymore.

They’re just boring, which is ridiculous considering their content. How about, just make better clothes next time?

Thanks for listening.

Jeff

P.S. Porn stars and tube socks? Really? Sigh.

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24th March
2009
written by Jeff

Every Tuesday I write about the television shows I watched growing up and I watched a LOT of tv. Ask my retinas.

Diff'rent StrokesIf there was one thing people loved in the late 70’s and early 80’s, it was little black kids. I mean, REALLY little and if they had chubby cheeks and a sassy disposition, they were destined to become stars.

The leader of the pack in the sassy, black, tiny kid genre was Gary Coleman who saw his star rise in the hit sitcom “Diff’rent Strokes.”

Here’s the premise. Some rich single white guy has a daughter but really wants some little black kids to match the decor in his home. He’s got a maid, but that isn’t enough, so he goes out and buys a couple of kids from Harlem and reads them bedtime stories about JJ Walker that are dy-no-MITE!

Ok, that’s not true. Well, part of it is. “Diff’rent Strokes” (yeah, they went with the Mark Twain slave language spelling) was a sitcom on NBC that ran from 1978 to 1985 and was wildly popular. It revolves around a rich family (a widow and his daughter) who adopt the two children of their long time maid who passed away. In fact, this family has a lot of maids – four during the course of the show if you count the dead one – even though it is not actually about the maid, which is kinda weird when you think about it. As you can imagine, hijinks and more lessons learned than all the ABC after school specials rolled into one.

Conrad Bain plays Philip Drummond, the wealthy widower who takes in kids almost as fast as he takes in maids. His daughter, Kimberly, is played by young soon-to-be-troubled actress Dana Plato. Todd Bridges plays Willis Jackson (yeah, they named the kids Jackson), the tough older brother. But, the star of the show is Gary Coleman’s Arnold character, a wise cracking, pudgy faced little kid even white people can love with, naturally, an adorable catch phrase, “What you talkin’ ’bout, Willis?”

As I mentioned, there are also many maids. First up (and best) Charlotte Rae who played Edna Garrett. Rae was only on the show a season and a half before taking over as the head mistress on the very popular spinoff “Facts of Life.” The remaining years of maid service were split between Nedra Volz as Adelaide Brubaker and Mary Jo Catlett as Pearl Gallagher. Like I said, lots of maids for the Park Avenue Drummonds.

Most shows seemed to center around Willis getting into trouble and dragging Arnold into it and then them both learning a good lesson from dear old Mr. Drummond at the end. There were gangs and drugs and spankings and that was just Dana Plato’s porn career (ah thankyou!). There was even an appearance by Janet Jackson in season four playing Willis’ girlfriend.

Like most kids my age, I just thought the show was funny. Looking back, it was pretty silly and, frankly, more than a little uncomfortable to watch. Not surprisingly, the younger members of the “Diff’rent Strokes” family didn’t fare too well later in life, but the show lives on as a tribute to little black kids and their white families. Just ask Webster.

Where are they now?

Gary Coleman was never able to grow beyond his role as Arnold Jackson or, for that matter, his cute kid status. He appeared in a number of bad movies during “Diff’rent Strokes” run and a couple thereafter, but nothing that could live up to the show. Like all the Drummond kids, Coleman had his share of run-ins with the law as well as legal and financial troubles. He even made an appearance on “Divorce Court.” He currently works for Simmons Media Group in Salt Lake City with a scheduled appearance on the what will undoubtedly be awesome reality show “Midgets vs. Mascots.”

Conrad Bain‘s most popular work, by far, was his role as Philip Drummond. The Canadian actor had a re-occurring role on the hilarious “All in the Family” spinoff “Maude,” but he is clearly most famous for “Diff’rent Strokes.” After the show went off the air, he only made a couple more TV appearances including one as Philip Drummond on “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. He will turn 90 next February.

Todd Bridges, like his fellow cast members, never truly found his footing after “Diff’rent Strokes.” He acted in a string of low budget films and, most recently, tried his hand at both producing and directing. Bridges suffered from a severe drug addiction and found himself facing many legal battles including an acquittal for attempted murder, one for assault and saw the charges dropped due to self defense on a stabbing wrap. Bridges has appeared on a number of celebrity reality shows.

The life of Dana Plato is a sad one. A once promising young actress who appeared as a guest star in many 70’s tv shows eventually landing a starring role on “Diff’rent Strokes,” she never seemed to recover from the celebrity lifestyle. Plato’s struggles with alcohol began at an early age. After “Diff’rent Strokes,” she was unable to land any promising roles and began working in B movies and posed for Playboy. She appeared in a couple of softcore pornographic films and even briefly came out as a lesbian before recanting saying she was drunk when the interview took place. She died at the age of 35 of an overdose of prescription medication, later ruled a suicide.

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