Sunday, January 31, 2010

Liberation Road Detour

It's often been said that some of television's greatest offerings never actually made it to the small screen. Never has this been more true than it was with the loss of 1971's Liberation Road.

By the early 1970s, Nancy Kulp had greatly tired of her role as "Miss Jane" on The Beverly Hillbillies and longed to leave this lucrative gig. Kulp and Irene Ryan both signed on for the show because, as strict Dadaists, they felt the scripts offered the type of in-your-face nihilistic abrasiveness that was an offense to the class system. Ryan dated Tristan Tzara in the 1920s when they met a young Hungarian named Grevtin Hausheuerblach whom they renamed Zza Zza Gabor and launched her on her 80+ year as a deconstructionist performance artist. Ryan was able to inject a dose of Dadaism in most episodes of The Beverly Hillbillies, as exhibited in this clip where she demonstrates both her strict adherence to the surreal and her previously unrealized potential as a seductive chanteuse.

As that series was winding down, Kulp and Odetta were approached to shoot a pilot and the first five episodes of Liberation Road. Building on the cultural shifts afoot in films like Easy Rider and Diary of a Mad Housewife, the series was billed as a mix of Kerouac's On the Road and The Waltons with a feminist twist.

Kulp and Odetta's "friendship" was an open secret in Hollywood for years, and Kulp had helped Odetta get her occasional acting gigs on series such as Have Gun Will Travel but longed for the opportunity to work together.

The basic premise of the series was that Kulp was a traditional Chicago housewife during the Great Depression who flees an abusive marriage with her two children and teams up with Odetta, a roving troubadour. They set out on Route 66 and meet a series of challenges and social ills ranging from racism, labor abuse and sexism. Each episode was liberally laced with original Odetta tunes, and she usually closed with The Internationale or other anthems.
Though Kulp's high visibility lured ABC to green light the pilot, they soon objected to most of the scripts, which included many collaborators including Sam Shepherd and Susan Sontag. First they complained that it was inappropriate to have children raised by two women, but Kulp pointed out that the Clampetts on The Beverly Hillbillies were an even less traditional family.

Tensions were high on the set as last minute changes to the script were ignored by Kulp and Odetta. By the time they had wrapped episode three and the pilot was about to air, ABC got cold feet after getting a call from the Nixon White House, and the whole series was scrapped. Whereabouts of tapes of those three episodes and the two hour pilot is still unknown. However, rumors have been buzzing over on TMZ that an extant copy recently surfaced in the Czech Republic and will be released by the Criterion Collection in 2013.
Kulp exited show biz for a while after this sour experience, entering politics with an unsuccessful bid for the U.S. House in Pennsylvania in 1984. Buddy Ebson famously campaigned against her, stemming from a long-standing tension between the two dating back to a party Kulp hosted in 1968 where he mistook Odetta for the maid and kept asking her for more crab dip.

In the late 1980s, Kulp had moderate success with her yoga and meditation tapes called Now and Zen aimed at post-50 women seeking fitness and serenity. Poorly marketed initially, the tapes were later hawked on the Home Shopping Network as Sweatin' to the Oldies with Miss Jane much to Kulp's horror. After Kulp's death in 1990, Odetta never fully recovered from the loss.

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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Junk Thief Is Reckless

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Grounds for Marriage

Happening this weekend is this event. As they put it:

SFMTS is a monthly event dedicated to the delicate art of the mixtape. Everyone and every medium is welcomed.
CD - Cool
Cassette - Marry Me

And to think it's all here. Here in San Francisco

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Sepia Saturday: Dowdy or Not

I've posted it here, but quite a while back. This is my mother, Helen Polley at the time, around 1943 when she was 18. My sister and I never saw this picture until a couple of years after she died and her sister sent it to us. She'd mentioned that as a teen she had done a few modeling shots but said that all shots from the shoot were lost. "No great loss," she would say. "They were pretty silly since I looked so dowdy in those shots."

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Friday, January 29, 2010

Seeking the Truth About Mary See

Sometime after the fall of the Third Reich and before the Bay of Pigs invasion, a handsome bearded gentleman and two owlish looking women were having lunch at the Marie Callender's in Pismo Beach, California. Their waiter immediately recognized one woman as famed Hollywood costume designer Edith Head, a woman so clever that she managed to nab an Oscar for the Givenchy dress Audrey Hepburn bought herself in Paris and wore in Sabrina. He wasn't quite sure about the more senior woman but after conferring with his coworkers, he confirmed his hunch and braved his way back to their table.

"Miss Head, I adore all of the lovely costumes you designed," he said.

"I appreciate your limited good taste, although it clearly hasn't helped you when shopping at Montgomery Ward," she disdained, eying him from head to toe.

Oblivious to her comment, he turned to the other woman and blurted out, "And Mrs. See, I think your candies are just the tops. Better even than the Whitman sampler."

Louis Sullivan cleared his throat and blushed as the two women's eyes bulged like giant cracked eggs. Finally, Miss Head peered over her trademark spectacles and said sternly, "G arçon, that is not Mrs. See. In fact, you are in the company of the most important architect of our time. Have you no idea who this is?"

Shaking, he bit his lip, finally offering feebly, "Frank Lloyd a dress."
"No, you imbecile. Julia Morgan! The woman who has designed the most important buildings in California. The woman who designed the largest and most elegant private residence on the face of earth from which we are almost sitting in the shadow of."

His hands were shaking now, barely able to get the words out as he realized the stature of the woman seated at his table. Ms. Morgan smiled gently, trying to calm him, "Oh, Edith, it's really not worth making a fuss. Young man, might I bother you to exchange this Cesar dressing with Green Goddess?"


As he departed, Julia sighed with certain trepidation, "Oh, dear, I hope they know how to make Green Goddess properly here and that it's not from a bottle. So often they go overboard with the chervil or leave it out completely."

The conversation then turned to the true origins of Green Goddess Dressing. Though considered to have its roots in Sauce Au Vert which was prepared by the chef to the court of Louis XVI. In 1923, it was credited to being adapted in the U.S. by the chef at San Francisco's Palace Hotel in honor of George Arliss who was starring in a play of the same name which Julia Morgan loved. Things went downhill in the 1970s after the widening popularity of Ranch Dressing and the eventual purchase of Green Goddess by evil Kraft Foods. Trader Joe's has its Goddess Dressing which is actually brown, and Annie's Naturals has its own, but obviously without the anchovy.

"Since it came out the year before I died, I never had much opportunity to eat it," Louis Sullivan said.

"Well, when it's done correctly, it's superb," Miss Morgan said as the waiter arrived with a heaping serving of the dressing in a porcelain bowl on an emerald saucer. "Ah, merci, mon petit."

"Anything else, Miss...Morgan?"

"Yes, another Manhattan!"

Early in its operation, Marie Callender's distinguished itself by being the only family restaurant chain to serve alcohol in what they never called a "bar" but always a "saloon", perhaps acknowledging its wild west origins.

"Speaking of food legions," Edith said, "I've always been suspicious of whether or note there really was a real Mary See. Wasn't she one of those inventions like Betty Crocker."

"Wasn't she the wife of Mr. Crocker as in the Crocker Galleria?" Mr. Sullivan asked.

"Poppycock!" Julia exclaimed, dipping a radish in her Green Goddess. "She was a complete fiction."

Julia Morgan (right) is NOT the same as Mary See!

"Well, I think the whole Mary See story was the same," Edith said, lifting her whiskey sour. "Julia that isn't you in those photos as a gag at some Hearst Castle costume party?"

Miss Morgan shivered and said, "Oh, surely you don't think I look like that old battle axe?"

"And what about Marie Callender herself?" asked Mr. Sullivan. "Isn't she an invention too?"

Suddenly a hunched over, petite elderly woman emerged from the kitchen. "I am for real!"

"Why, Mrs. Callender, are you the one that cooked up this flawless Green Goddess dressing?"

"Naw," Marie shrugged. "I haven't done that shit in years. I'm on my way up to San Simeon for a mah-johng tournament that Marion Davies is holding. "Why don't you three join us?"

Just then, Nancy Kulp and Odetta entered, wearing headscarves and dark glasses. They asked for a table in the back where they ordered Irish coffee and grilled cheese sandwiches.

Years later, this unlikely meeting resulted in Edith Head inviting Marie Callender to attend the 1967 Academy Awards in her . Edith's costume design was the single nomination for the much maligned film The Oscar which featured lines such as "If you lie down with dogs, you'll smell like fleas." Edith also had a cameo playing herself.

When Bob Hope read the nominees and then announced the winner, he said. "And the Oscar for best costume design goes to The Oscar and Edith Head. Miss Head is unable to accept tonight because she has...a Head cold!" As the audience roared with laughter, someone slipped Bob a surprise last minute change of plans for the betowing the best costume design award. Not missing a beat, he glanced up from the note and said, "Accepting the Oscar on Miss Head's behalf are ...Dino, Desi and Billy!"

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You Know the Woman on the Left. Who Is on the Right? What Does Louis Sullivan Think?

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Junk Thief Saw This Tonight at SF Noir Festival

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Some Notch Along the Curled Road

Which remnants of the journey
do we choose to revere and which
will we try to push aside with the
hope that they will decay and dissolve?
Despite our best efforts, the ugliness
of expired passion will never disappear.
It will return, perhaps in the guise of the drunk relative
always arriving early and being told to leave the party.
At best they are recycled, warped
and distorted and carried forward for
our next dash on the treadmill of dysfunction.
Looking into the next pair of eyes,
the broken windshield of regretful journeys
reveals the road ahead that we could drive blindly.
We can do our level best to strangle
this latest epiphany until the next oncoming collision.
Mired and wired by cold realizations
and blanketed regrets, what we've escaped always
welcomes us back to its musty, familiar den.
Many new routes are awaiting that will collect this debris,
deny its provenance, embrace it
and then resent it. Each can ignite new passions
and obscure loss. But the tug is always there of
the hope of your father standing at the edge of
the garage door, a baseball mitt in hand
and a never realized dream he dares you to catch
(Words - Junk Thief 2010; Images - Gregg Biggs May 1977)

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Monday, January 25, 2010

The Dwindling Lines of Late January

Only a month ago, she was the belle of the ball,
strewn with dangling jewels and twinkling lights.
Even at Epiphany, she continued to dazzle and delight.
Now, after a run of not even six weeks, here she has come
to rest -- wrapped in a pathetic shimmering, black girdle
and nestled in a bed filled with regrets and bad memories.
January is fading to February, the naked limbs
reaching towards dark, smudged windows.
A lonely satellite dish reaches towards the heavens,
dutifully searching for the informational and
entertainment beams its family so fiercely desires.
Our city is showing its age, its face marred by the
dark lines of the past in this, the wireless age.
The lines darken even the hill where they found
Patty Hearst 35 years ago in a bungalow kitchen where
she was sipping green tea and eating lemon wafers.
Many a drama ends with similar whimpering
banality. The lonely duo of chimneys grimace at the
heavens, ready to spit out smoke were there any
remaining embers to fuel their eager, empty lungs.

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

What Animal Do You See?

After his return from Sacramento, Mr. Sullivan agreed to another session with Dr. Baumgartner.

"First, I vahnt you to imagine an animal. Any animal. Don't give it too much thought."

Baumgartner had become involved in animal visualization therapy that swept Vienna in the late 19th century and the U.S. in the late 20th century.
"So, vhat animal are you imagining, Mr. Sullivan?"

"An elephant."
"But don't you see a little pussycat?"
"Yeah, don't you see me?" said Billy the Blunder Cat.

"Yes," Mr. Sullivan said, "I see a cat, but you told me to imagine an animal, and I am imagining an elephant."
Suddenly the elephant lifted Mr. Sullivan as he let out a girlish giggle.

"Ah, I see it too," Dr. Baumgartner said. "And vhat an enormous trunk it has!"
"Hey, what about me?" Billy whined.
"Yes, Billy," Dr. Baumgarnter said. "Vhat about you. Vhat was your childhood like?"

"Hey, Doc, mind your own beeswax."
Baumgartner returned to Sullivan and approached the elephant. "May I please touch that big, pink trunk?"

"Get your own visualization animal, Baumgartner!"

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Saturday, January 23, 2010

R.I.P. Jean Simmons

From one of my 20 "desert island" DVDs, Black Narcissus (1947), not exactly her film debut but very close.

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The Tower and Capitol Tour Ends on a Sour Note

Just as Junk Thief and Mr. Sullivan were wrapping up their tour of Sacramento and what seemed to be a perfect day, Mr. Sullivan looked into the face of one of the ornamental figures and screamed as he saw it morph into the face of his arch nemisis....
...Dr. Baumgartner. Just when Junk Thief was ready to tell Mr. Sullivan that he was imagining things, they both heard a Germanic voice say, "And vhat doo yoo tink dis means?"

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Ornamental Near Overload!

But just when Mr. Sullivan thought he'd seen it all, he suddenly became all gaspy as he saw ornamental details in the capitol complex honoring the virile working men...

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A Jewel Is Discovered

Suddenly Mr. Sullivan became very excited as ahead he saw a building of the perfect proportions and provenance.
Ah, the Sutter Club, California's second oldest private club.
Here stood a gentlemen's club worthy of true gentlemen.
The proportions, the ornamentation.
All was perfect.
Fey and formidable all at once.
The corbels delighted Mr. Sullivan.
The covered walkway echoed some of his Chicago buildings.
At first Junk Thief and Mr. Sullivan thought this must be a Julia Morgan design, but then they learned it was the work of Charles Dean.

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