Friday, September 9, 2016

"Sully," and Flight 1549

The film Sully, directed by Clint Eastwood, and starring Tom Hanks, comes out today.  I'd very much like to see it.

The story of Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, his crew, and US Airways Flight 1549--the flight Capt. Sullenger landed on the Hudson River in 2009, shortly after taking off from LaGuardia Airport in New York--remains an extraordinary one.

Here is a very fine and very moving piece about Flight 1549, from CBS's 60 Minutes, reported by Katie Couric in 2009.  She interviewed the heroes of the flight--Capt. Sullenberger, and his crew.  The program also brought together Capt. Sullenberger, the crew, and some of the plane's passengers, in Charlotte, North Carolina. The plane was headed for Charlotte, when it was forced to land on the Hudson.

The 60 Minutes story is taken from YouTube, and is in three parts.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Morgan White, Jr., and children's television hosts (including Boston's Major Mudd)

A few Saturday nights ago (actually, starting at 2 o'clock in the morning--so, technically, Sunday), I was a guest of my friend Morgan White, Jr., on Boston radio station WBZ; Morgan was hosting the station's weekend overnight shows (Friday night/Saturday morning; Saturday night/Sunday morning). These are the shows which were, until the first week of July, hosted by Jordan Rich (see July 1st post); the station has not yet named a new permanent host.

The subject of the segment with Morgan was children's TV hosts/programs, from decades ago--primarily the 1950s and 1960s--including such national programs as Bob Keeshan's Captain Kangaroo, Fred Rogers' program, and Kukla, Fran and Ollie.  The latter show, telecast from Chicago, began airing in the late 1940s, and lasted until 1957 (at least in its first incarnation--it later reappeared, in other forms and venues).  Although it was a children's program, Kukla, Fran and Ollie had, interestingly, a substantial adult audience. 

We also talked at length about local children's hosts, and because WBZ is a Boston station, a number of Boston hosts came up during the conversation--such as "Big Brother" Bob Emery, Rex Trailer, and Miss Jean (host of the Boston version of Romper Room). 

Major Mudd (Ed McDonnell), at Boston's WNAC-TV, circa 1973
Another host we discussed was Ed T. McDonnell, better known as Major Mudd. The character of Major Mudd was an astronaut; the shows ended, memorably, with Mudd declaring "I'll be blasting you!" The show--a very popular program--was seen weekday mornings, on Boston's Channel 7 (WNAC-TV).  It made its debut in 1961, and continued into the early 1970s.

While in high school, I had begun writing a great deal, and arranged an interview with Ed McDonnell, to be conducted at Channel 7, which was located in Boston's Government Center. 

There was some sort of miscommunication, however (very possibly my fault); the day I went to WNAC, Mr. McDonnell, after the taping of his show, told me the interview was not on his schedule for that day, and he was unable to do it.  I nonetheless took some pictures, including the one shown above.  McDonnell is at the center of the photo (without his signature astronaut's helmet).  The picture is likely from 1973 (I was seventeen, at the time).

Speaking of Morgan White: he hosted WBZ's overnight show last night (filling in for weeknight host Bradley Jay), and will be doing so again tonight (starting at midnight.).  He'll also be the host of this weekend's overnight shows--in addition to hosting his regular Saturday night program, The Morgan Show, from 10:00 until midnight.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Actor Steven Hill

I always loved Steven Hill, on television's Law & Order.  He played District Attorney Adam Schiff, on the program, from 1990 until 2000.  He died on Tuesday, at age 94.

Friday, August 19, 2016

A detail, re: Howard Beale, and "Network"

Watched the 1976 movie Network again, recently (on TCM).  What an exceptional film.  It  was of course written by Paddy Chayefsky, and was directed by Sidney Lumet (both known for their work, by the way, in early television).  Its stars included Peter Finch, William Holden, Faye Dunaway, and Robert Duvall. 

I had not noticed, previously, a certain detail in the film. The detail, linguistic, is a small one, but I think it is not insignificant.  It concerns the famous "Mad as hell" scene, which featured television newscaster-turned-commentator Howard Beale (played by Peter Finch). 

I had always thought Beale had asked his viewers to go their windows, open them, and yell out: "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not gonna take this anymore!"

What Beale actually said is slightly different. There was an additional use of the word "as," following the first word of the sentence. 

His viewers, he said, should shout:  "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not gonna take this anymore!"

I like the additional "as" very much. It provides, I think, a subtle oratorical elegance--a feeling, perhaps (near-archaic), of formality.  It offers emphasis, force, a sense of exactitude: "I'm as mad as hell..."

In the clamor that follows Beale's exhortation, incidentally, most of--but not all of--the TV viewers who take to their windows do not follow his precise usage;  most, in fact, yell what I had previously thought Beale himself had said: "I'm mad as hell..." 

Here is the scene, and Peter Finch's sensational performance in it, from YouTube: 

Finch died in 1977, at age 60, two months before he was given an Academy Award for his performance in the film.  

Network was nominated for ten Academy Awards, and received four--for Finch (Best Actor), Faye Dunaway (Best Actress), Beatrice Straight (Best Supporting Actress), and Paddy Chayefsky (Best Original Screenplay).

Friday, August 12, 2016

Patti Smith, and television crime shows

Noted, with pleasure, when reading writer/singer/songwriter/artist Patti Smith's 2015 memoir, M Train (Knopf):  her periodic references to (and affection for) television crime shows.  Such as:

Yesterday's poets are today's detectives. They spend a life sniffing out the hundredth line, wrapping up a case, and limping exhausted into the sunset.  They entertain and sustain me.  Linden and Holder.  Goren and Eames.  Horatio Caine.  I walk with them, adopt their ways, suffer their failures, and consider their movements long after an episode ends, whether in real time or rerun.   (p. 32)

Clouds move past the sun.  A milky light pervades the skylight and spreads into my room.  I have a vague sense of being summoned.  Something is calling to me, so I stay very still, like Detective Sarah Linden, in the opening credits of The Killing, on the edge of a marsh at twilight. (p. 37)

The warm drone of a Law & Order marathon was exactly what I needed. Detective Lennie Briscoe had obviously fallen off the wagon and was gazing at the bottom of a glass of cheap scotch.  I got up and poured some mescal in a small water glass and sat at the edge of the bed drinking along with him, watching in stupefied silence, a rerun of a rerun... (pp. 163-164)

The book will be released in paperback this month: 

Thursday, August 4, 2016

More about Newton Centre, Mass., and the Samuel Francis Smith House

In a July 4th post, I wrote of the Samuel Francis Smith House, in Newton Centre, Mass., my hometown.  Smith, in 1831, wrote the words to "My Country, 'Tis of Thee."  He lived in Newton, a suburb of Boston, for several decades, until his death in 1895.

In the past few years I've bought a number of old postcards of Newton (one of which was a postcard of the Smith house, shown in the July 4th post). 

My family moved to the Newton Centre section of the city the month before I was born, in 1956; we lived two miles from the Newton Centre business district.  Twenty years later, while I was in college, my parents sold our house, and left the city for an apartment in a nearby town.

One of the postcards I've purchased, in recent years (below), shows the end of the main street of the Newton Centre business district--which included, to the right of the picture, an F.W. Woolworth store, a favorite destination in childhood. 

Postcard of Newton Centre, Mass.; date unknown.  F.W. Woolworth store, at right. 

I don't know what year the postcard is from, though the green car, near the center-right of the picture, looks like it might be from the early 1960s.  (If anyone knows the year the car was made--the image can be enlarged by clicking on it--please let me know, at

Though it is not seen in the postcard, there was, to the right of the Woolworth store (for at least a part of my childhood) a small (and, as I recall, very lovely) bookstore, The Langley Book Shop, named after a nearby street.  To the right of the bookstore--and separated from the store by a pathway, or driveway--was the Samuel Francis Smith House.

Here is a picture of the house, circa 1930, that I found online.

Samuel Francis Smith House, circa 1930.  Copyright (c) Leslie Jones (1886-1967), from the Leslie Jones Collection, at The Boston Public Library.

I mentioned in my post last month that when I was a young boy, the Smith house seemed to me to be somewhat scary. 

Below is a photo of the house from 1958, two years after I was born.  In the picture, the house, in its disrepair, does indeed look scary--though I don't remember it looking this run-down.  

Samuel Francis Smith House, 1958. Photo is from the Collection of the Watertown Free Public Library, Watertown, Mass., and is used by permission

In fact, according to the biography Samuel Francis Smith: My Country 'Tis of Thee, by Marguerite E. Fitch (Mott Media, 1987), restorative work was done on the house in the decade after the 1958 picture was taken.  Perhaps, by the early 1960s--by which time I would no doubt have been aware of the house--its exterior was in better shape than it had been in 1958. Yet I just don't know; I only know that a childhood memory of the house has been retained, that of being a little frightened by it.

Wrote Marguerite E. Fitch, in her book: "Smith descendants continued to live in the house on Center Street until 1954, when the property was left vacant. Soon it became shabby and needed repairs.  In 1958, a sign posted in the front yard announced that the Smith homestead would be sold at auction. Fifty concerned Newton residents immediately formed the Samuel Francis Smith Homestead Society, Incorporated.  They aimed to restore the property as a national landmark.  No federal funds could be used, however, since Samuel Smith had not been born in the house. It was up to the people of Newton to supply the money and manpower to restore the old house."  Fitch wrote that in 1958, on the 150th anniversary of Smith's birth, thousands of Newton school children took part in a fundraising effort.  (Fitch lived for many years in Newton Centre, and worked there as a school secretary. Her book about Smith is geared to children in grades 4 to 7.)

She wrote: "It took eleven years to restore the Smith home to some likeness of its original condition.  Then it served as a museum for Smith memorabilia, including copies of most of Samuel Smith's books and diaries, irreplaceable material."  Unfortunately, as noted in my prior post, a fire destroyed the home in 1969.

Here is a link to Fitch's book about Smith, on

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Post by Marcel Chotkowski LaFollette

Here's a nice blog post by Marcel Chotkowski LaFollette, independent historian, and Research Associate at the Smithsonian Institution Archives.  The post, from July 19th, is about advances in technology, in the 1960s, which affected the coverage of political conventions. 

When I last hosted a radio talk show (it aired on a nostalgia-oriented Internet station), I spoke on two occasions with Dr. LaFollette.  On one of the programs, we discussed her excellent 2009 book Science on the Air: Popularizers and Personalities on Radio and Early Television (University of Chicago Press).  

On a later broadcast, we talked about her fine follow-up book, 2013's Science on American Television: A History (also published by University of Chicago Press).

Another of LaFollete's books--which I have on my shelf, but have not yet read--is Reframing Scopes: Journalists, Scientists, and Lost Photographs from the Trial of the Century (University Press of Kansas, 2008).