History-making music group for UMM - morris mn

History-making music group for UMM - morris mn
The UMM men's chorus opened the Minnesota Day program at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair (Century 21 Exposition).

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Rod Carew: unparalleled with bat, chilly personality

Did you follow the career of Rod Carew? He's in that pantheon of top-tier Minnesota Twins. We remember him as flirting with that .400 batting average but never making it. He played in pre-Bill James times when batting average was the first thing we consulted when evaluating many players. By that indice, Carew was among the best ever.
His major league career began in the 1960s but it was after our 1965 American League pennant. He wasn't around for all the exhilaration of the Tom Kelly era. He was a Twin when the team teased us: it was very good much of the time but couldn't climb to another pennant. We don't have the full sense of gratification remembering Rodney. He was the man with the potentially .400 bat (we were continually told) but never did it.
People my age remember gnashing our teeth whenever Rod had to fulfill his National Guard requirement. Being in the Guard in those days meant you wouldn't get sent to Viet Nam.
The worst year of the war, 1967, was Rod's rookie year with the Twins. Legend has it Twins owner Calvin Griffith ordered Sam Mele to install Rodney as the starting second baseman, no questions asked. So on opening day, April 14, 1967, Rod stepped up to bat against the Detroit Tigers at our Metropolitan Stadium.
April 14 is an awfully early date to count on decent weather for baseball here. The temperature was 51 degrees and rain fell. The attendance was 21,347 - actually pretty decent. Twins baseball was still pretty fashionable here. Carew got one single in the Twins' 5-3 win over the Tigers.
The 1967 season would go down as intensely heartbreaking for the Twins. The pennant race went up to the very end. We could taste it - the pennant. Those were days when fans had a more emotional bond with their favorite team. There was no ESPN to spread exposure of all the big league teams. If you were a baseball fan in Minnesota, your bond was clearly with the Twins as if they were family.
Carew had a successful rookie season. But his Twins were edged out at the very end by the "impossible dream" Boston Red Sox with triple crown winner Carl Yastrzemski. The triple crown is based on batting average, home runs and RBIs. Like I said, those were pre-Bill James times. Frank Robinson of Baltimore won the triple crown in 1966.
Rod Carew was a delicate-looking man who seemed more to wave the bat as much as swing it. He had an open batting stance. He was masterful at simply getting hits. Occasionally he showed power to the extent we wondered why he couldn't do it more often. I wonder if he felt that batting average was simply his ticket.
I remember the scene from the movie "61*" in which the Yankees owner calls in Roger Maris and asks Roger if he might be too preoccupied with batting average. "We're paying you to swing for the fences."
Harmon Killebrew was to home runs what Carew was to batting average. Killebrew often had trouble keeping his average up. We wonder how Harmon would have done over the very long term if sports medicine had been more advanced, and if PEDs could have been slipped to him.
Of course we all frown on PEDs. Major League Baseball was belated in trying to clamp down on that. Baseball struggled to win fans back after the strike of 1994. A couple of guys hitting moon shots were a good cure for that. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa obliged. Billy Crystal made his "61*" movie that suggested McGwire was going to own the home run record for a long time. Barry Bonds came along and thrilled us a lot less. Home runs were becoming like touchdowns in Arena League football.
 
Carew, Killebrew and Oliva: an era
Carew played beside Killebew and Tony Oliva. The latter two were quite endearing to us while Carew had a personality not so endearing. He seemed cold and distant. He spoke in a programmed way in interviews. "Aloof" was a description I eventually heard from a leading media person.
I read about Carew repeatedly sending his eggs back in a restaurant. Take a hike, man. Fry your own. There was a plane flight incident when he was retired, when we at first wanted to sympathize with him, but as facts trickled out we realized he wasn't sympathetic.
We could have overlooked the negative traits had Rodney helped deliver a pennant for us. Other-worldly as he seemed with his talents, he never got into the glow of the World Series. The All-Star Game was no substitute.
The divisional system in big league ball began in 1969. Rod was in his prime. Our Twins won the division under the very popular, and then stable, manager Billy Martin. Maybe I should put an asterisk there. Billy did get into a storied fistfight with pitcher Dave Boswell. But fans loved how the Twins won the American League West in '69. We then bombed in the playoffs vs. the Baltimore Orioles. Martin was fired. Enthusiasm for the Twins dropped off.
Bill Rigney, a capable hand but blasé with his personality, took over in 1970 and led the Twins to another West title. The playoffs were ditto from 1969: the Orioles with Frank Robinson dominated us. I remember that in both '69 and '70, enthusiasm for the Twins around the state was far beneath what we'd see today with similar accomplishments. My, what glee a division title would bring!
As we progressed through the 1970s, all that early sheen of the Minnesota Twins franchise waned, unfortunately. Was it a case of simply being spoiled? The team had given us so much success through the 1960s.
We realized in the '70s that Calvin Griffith couldn't keep up with his owner peers. Bowie Kuhn wrote that the Griffith family were "church mice." I really liked Bowie's autobiography. He was a lawyer and a good writer. He also came across as having much more heart than fandom generally ascribed to him. We must remember he worked for the owners. Those were turbulent times with the Curt Flood case transforming everything. We realize now all of that was necessary.
One thing the players didn't realize was how they could someday parlay their fame into great riches through card/memorabilia shows.
The '67 Twins were known to be a little demoralized, perhaps in the face of Calvin's austerity. It shouldn't have mattered. The players should have sought as much fame through success as possible. Fame would equate to great monetary reward down the road. Denny McLain didn't need to try to be a criminal! Being a criminal was strangely in his DNA, and I say strange because, as Kuhn pointed out in his book, the type of man with the skills and drive to become a major league baseball player isn't the type to show criminal tendencies. I remember seeing McLain pitch at the old "Met."
 
Baseball in the disco '70s
The Twins teased us with a bid for the pennant in 1977. Fans were still enthused enough to respond to that. We had to be the best. And we came close.
This was one of those seasons when Rodney teased us by coming close to that .400 average. He was never better than in June of 1977. He "waved" that bat and "sprayed" hits all over the place, remember? The Twins looked mighty promising so on Sunday, June 26, with the promotion of Jersey Day on, a total of 46,463 fans showed up at the Met! Remember, there were no casinos yet!
"The sky was azure, clear and high," Joe Soucheray wrote. "The temperature at game time was 87 degrees, rising to 92 later in the afternoon."
Many fans stripped down to only modest coverings. The Twins engaged in a game that was just as amazing as the turnout. It was as if God blessed the whole occasion. The game turned into an offensive explosion. The Twins won 19-12 and went a game up on Chicago, and three and a half over California and Kansas City.
Glenn Adams drove in eight runs. Rod produced four hits and upped his average to .403! He scored five runs. Four standing ovations showered down on Sir Rodney. He showed that power capability in the eighth, slamming a two-run home run.
Of course the Twins tapered off. By September it seemed they were off the radar screen altogether. As evidence I offer the fan turnout of the last home game that season: a mere 3,291. Dave Goltz was the Twins pitcher on that calm and quiet afternoon. He was seeking his 20th win. He would be the first A.L. 20-game winner that season.
The hopes were dashed all-around: Goltz was defeated, and later that day Jim Palmer of Baltimore got his 20th. Goltz was as uncharismatic as Palmer was charismatic. Goltz's pitching mechanics were minimalist.
Gene Mauch was our manager then. Mauch gained infamy before even taking the Twins' reins, by being manager for the 1964 Philadelphia Phillies in the biggest choke episode of all time. Mauch survived that, in terms of being albe to still get big league gigs. He's remembered as the Twins manager in that time when Minnesotans seemed to tire of their team and their seemingly stale Metropolitan Stadium.
A new stadium was going to have to be built to jump-start things. That in fact happened. Rod Carew's other-worldly batting averages faded into the history book with no pennant to show for this.
We can remember the glorious days at the Met when summer seemed so joy-filled. Remember the disco music too. The U.S. economy was turbulent. We were hung over from Viet Nam and the fall of Richard Nixon. Inflation roared, remember?
Burt Reynolds showed it was neat to defy the law (as "The Bandit"). Jackie Gleason represented the law in an eccentric and shameful way. I remember an op-ed scolding him for even taking that role.
Those were different times, to be sure. Rod Carew was at the apex of his hitting powers. We can remember fondly even if his personality never captivated us. His talent was up in the stratosphere. He needed a personality mentor. And, maybe a personal chef for breakfast.
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Friday, May 23, 2014

Too early to start thinking about Sesquicentennial?

Music for the 1971 Morris Centennial, by the super "alfalfa arch"
John Woell grew facial hair which was the practice for Morris men to commemorate the Morris Centennial. The year was 1971. John was the Morris High School band director who really did his part helping enhance the festivities. I wonder if he got paid extra. Any payment might have been part of the summer marching band package for him.
Mr. Woell certainly was the committed music person in the summer of '71. He led his high school musicians including your blog host, Brian Williams, who were organized in more than one ensemble. The group in photo is assembled under the fantastic "alfalfa arch" on main street.
Is that the Merchants Hotel at right in the background? I believe it is. Riverwood Bank is there now. Prior to Riverwood, a restaurant that had three incarnations or owners was there. I miss that restaurant. Merchants Hotel included a barber shop where I had my hair cut a few times, like by Merlin Beyer. We miss Merlin. Merlin was the old-fashioned community politician who knew what was best. In the late 1980s we saw the venerable Merlin get "edgy" and take on the public school because of a festering issue. He and others came away with scars, but they wouldn't second-guess any of it. 
John Woell presided over the last grand chapter of the MHS marching band program. After that, kids got consumed with other commitments like sports camps.
At the time the photo was taken, marching band was considered a prestigious activity by the kids. So prestigious, ol' John could be quite the disciplinarian, even kicking kids out of practice for various forms of misbehavior or insubordination. I even saw him kick out the esteemed Reese girl once. That incident may have reflected a growing generational schism in which kids wouldn't just take directives automatically. Our elders weren't accustomed to confronting that kind of critical thinking. Gone were the days when teens were meant to be seen and not heard. We didn't take the Viet Nam War sitting down. The world would never be the same again.
John might discipline kids harshly but they would come back. Heck, today we'd see kids give a shrug and say "take a flying leap." But marching band was a coveted activity through the early 1970s. I would say it began petering out (by coincidence) after I graduated. Girls sports was getting established when I graduated in 1973. Girls would have a great deal more to do than play the flute or clarinet. It was a step forward.
In the photo that accompanies this post, I'm third from right. I'm seated next to a couple other brass stalwarts from that time: Del Sarlette and Terry Rice. Terry was a spectacular player while Del and I were more pedestrian.
 
A high quality photo
The photo was taken by a good camera by the standards of the time. Florence Sarlette, Del's mom, took it. We miss Florence. Parents of The Greatest Generation have been gradually going to that great alfalfa arch in the sky.
We take for granted the ease and quality of the digital cameras of today. The photo you see here was taken by something other than a Kodak Instamatic. Those Instamatics were the norm following the tradition of the Model 'T' cars.
You can see everyone poised with their "Kodak Instamatics" in the movie "Apollo 13." Ron Howard must have had a good memory of those. You'd take your film to "the drugstore" and then wait maybe a week. Those old Kodak pictures don't scan well for online purposes. It was "the people's camera" with results just adequate.
The photo you see with this post must have been taken by an SLR camera of the Canon or Nikon brand, cameras that were considered highly expensive - a lifetime purchase. Eventually the time came when any camera you purchased had obsolescence. I got fed up with that.
Today if I take photos, which is rarely, I use my old Canon AE-1 SLR, a type that I remember being pushed in TV ads by the Joe Theismann family. I think Joe divorced that wife (or vice versa). I hope ol' Joe doesn't have cognitive issues from football. He sure got his leg fractured once.
Terry Rice, Del Sarlette and I made up the "trumpet trio" that performed at various times in 1970 and 1971. Terry and Del were 1971 MHS graduates. I began on the French horn and then switched to trumpet. The switch was made when I grabbed the trumpet for my audition for all-state band in 1970, and I made it. Until then it was a secondary instrument I used for marching band, because French horn was impractical for marching.
Del went on to lead our Morris Community Band for many years with wife Carlene. I don't know where Terry Rice ended up. Terry was good at "skiing" down the hill on the west side of the old school, wearing his regular shoes. Today we could appreciate that on YouTube.
Even though the photo here is relatively sharp, we're a little too far away for me to ID everyone. I could probably do a TV commercial for reading glasses. The girl on the other side of me is Jane Larson, one of the "Donnelly kids." She was our Homecoming queen in the fall of 1972. The two boys between Jane and Mr. Woell are Scott Groth and Craig Jones. I believe that's Tony Hansen, drummer, behind those two. Kathy Graff is right next to Mr. Woell. At far left is trombonist John Woell Jr. Sorry, I just can't come up with names of the others, partly because some aren't looking directly at the camera. You might say time has drawn a misty curtain. (Del tells me he has intellectual property rights with "time has drawn a misty curtain.")
Update: Del emailed me the following on the day after I posted this: "Regarding your 'sesq suskw sasquatchtennial' post: why didn't you ask me to ID the alfalfa arch band photo? I coulda told you who everybody is. L to R: John Woell Jr., Dave Carlson, Craig Johnson, Gary Brown; over Gary's left shoulder playing piano is Debbie Lyseng-Mahoney, then there's Angie Rasmusson on bari sax, Kathy Graff, and you know the rest. Yes, that is Tony Hansen on drums, and hidden under the sousaphone bell is Ken Johnson."   
I think one of the spectators in the background is Sudhir Agarwal. I got to know Sudhi's mother Sarla when she ran Country Day Nursery and I periodically visited with my newspaper camera. It was charming to see Sarla still spinning vinyl records at CDN long after they were obsolete. She did her teaching/supervising at Federated Church.
What a tremendous icon that alfalfa arch was. You can see a large photo on the wall at Willie's Super Valu.
 
Looking forward to the 150th
It dawns on me that our "Sesquicentennial" isn't that far off in the scheme of things. That would be the 150th anniversary. Am I computing right if I report that year would be 2021? I wonder if the festivities will match those in 1971 or even 1947.
The Diamond Jubilee celebration actually should have been in 1946, not '47, but the delay was deemed necessary, maybe because of the adjustment needed with "the boys coming back" from war in '46. Programs were held at the county fairgrounds in both 1947 and 1971. I was proud to be in the band in '71.
Our old reliable Morris Theater is in the background in photo. The movies in the 1970s weren't very good. The '70s overall proved to be a pretty stagnant decade. An air of cynicism or resignation prevailed a good share of the time. A year after this photo was taken, we got the first revelations about Watergate. The economy between 1973 and 1983 was terrible. We had that phenomenon called "stagflation."
Remember inflation? Michael Kinsley says inflation happens once every generation. People slowly forget about it in its aftermath, we lose our vigilance and then it comes along again, Kinsley pointed out. Paul Volcker took over at "the Fed" and jacked up interest rates, as if he were applying a fire extinguisher to a fire. Thus inflation was slayed. In the meantime I could go to old First Federal Bank (forerunner to Riverwood) and get a certificate of deposit for something like 13 per cent interest. I'm not kidding you: 13 per cent! Our economy would have crashed and burned had this continued.
Today banks pay essentially no interest. Maybe that could tank the economy too.
At the time the photo was taken, middle class people did not put their money in the stock market. Actually they spent whatever money they made. People watched pennies then.
I am happy to share this Morris Centennial photo. That event has seemed to fade in our collective community memory, just like the big community celebration and parade for Jerry Koosman in 1969. That name doesn't mean anything to you? That underscores my point. The Met Lounge has its name because of Jerry, who pitched for the New York Mets. I hope Jerry has gotten into the habit of paying his taxes. He was a little like Wesley Snipes for a while. Incarceration gave him some incentive.
 
Rich history of music here
The ensembles that John Woell directed continued a long tradition in Morris. I would like to acknowledge here the famed Watzke Orchestra of an earlier time. I went to high school with Tom and Matt Watzke. Tom was in my 1973 class and Matt a year older. Paul Watzke is synonymous with hockey promotion and helped push the construction of our Lee Community Center. He was undeterred by an eye injury from hockey. Such zeal. I should be so fortunate to be committed to something like that.
The Watzke name is ingrained in Motown history. Tom played the trumpet like me.
The Diamond Jubliee publication of 1947 refers to "the famed Watzke Orchestra." Anton Watzke was founder, and the personnel included several Watzke family members. The orchestra was in demand for concerts, socials, church and school programs, public and private dancing parties, and other occasions. A photo shows eleven members. I like these relatively small groups because they're flexible and mobile. A roster of members from 1907 includes: Taylor Pennock, Anton Watzke (director), William Sobey, Frank Zahl, Harry Brom, Lillian Watzke, Ruth Reeves, Alfred Watzke, "Happy" Treischel, Mabel Watzke and Anton Watzke Jr.
We read that "throughout all its years, Morris has had no musical organization more closely identified with the community than the famed Watzke Orchestra." The group included a string bass player.
We must not overlook the Morris Silver Cornet Band too! The Silver Cornet Band was fairly large and must have produced a most robust sound. It lent its musical strains around Morris way back around the turn of the century. Music maestro please!
We expect to see and hear this kind of musical flair when Morris' Sesquicentennial comes. I remember communicating with a friend in Cedar Rapids IA when that community marked its 150th, and he congratulated me on being able to spell "Sesquicentennial." Better practice now.
What will life be like in 2021? What will bank interest rates be? Will we have avoided an economic depression by then? Will I just be a spectator?
I once told Ken Hamrum that I probably was at my best playing trumpet at around age 17. After that I studied too much, pondered too much and may have developed a Chuck Knoblauch type of problem, I told attorney Ken. His response: "You mean you had trouble throwing the ball to first base?" Wise guy.
If I concentrate, maybe I could step into the "Wayback" and play like I did years ago. (Forget about the "diaphragm.")
Personally I haven't heard any talk yet of our Morris Sesquicentennial. Am I the first to broach it? Maybe we could book the "Flying Elvises" for a visit!
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Monday, May 19, 2014

Reimers homers again, MACA takes No. 1 in conference

MACA took charge early in its Friday (5/16) home game against the Falcons of ACGC. The MACA girls owned a 5-0 lead after two innings. The teams were pretty even in scoring after that. So, the Tigers tucked away their eleventh conference win with this 12-8 triumph over the Falcons.
The Tigers' 11-2 record in the West Central North gives them the No. 1 distinction. They're a game up on Minnewaska. The Tigers recently had some trouble vs. Minnewaska in head-to-head. However, we came away with bragging rights in conference. The thoughts now are turning to post-season play. As they say, everyone begins 0-0 in the post-season. MACA will host Minneota at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, May 20.
Lauren Reimers has been a standout with the bat. Thursday and Friday saw Reimers wield her bat in home run fashion. She connected for home run No. 9 on Thursday, in the 7-5 win over Paynesville, and homered again in the Friday success vs. ACGC. On Friday she also tripled. Her boxscore line was two-for-two and she drove in four runs.
Becca Holland showed an authoritative bat Friday. She came at the Falcons with a double and triple and had a line of two-for-four. Chelsey Ehleringer was practically unstoppable. Chelsey went three-for-four and drove in two runs. Brooke Johnson added to the potent mix with a hit. MACA had a line score of 12 runs, eight hits and four errors.
Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City got untracked with its offense in the fourth through sixth innings: seven runs total in that span. But MACA overall had the more productive offense. That offense supported pitchers Kayla Pring and Brooke Gillespie. Kayla got the win with her four innings pitched, in which she fanned four batters and walked one. Four of the six runs she allowed were unearned. She allowed six hits.
Gillespie pitched three innings, striking out two batters and walking none. She gave up two hits and two runs (earned). The losing pitcher was Katie Peterson. Jacey Nelson also pitched for the Falcons.
Hannah Wilner had two hits for ACGC, one a double. Nelson also had a double. Other Falcons hitting safely were Rylie Wilner, Peterson, Kaitlyn Moore, Kim Swenson and Mickena Inselmann.
 
Tigers 7, Paynesville 5
The Thursday (5/15) success was another step toward capturing the conference title. It was a 7-5 score that vaulted coach Mary Holmberg's team further. All seven of the Morris Area Chokio Alberta runs came in the first two innings. Our line score was seven runs, seven hits and three errors. The Paynesville line score was 5-10-2.
Kayla Pring pitched the whole way, scattering ten hits and allowing the five runs, one of which was unearned. Pring struck out three batters and walked four. Two Bulldogs pitched in their losing cause: Kayla Schaefer (the loser) and Abbie Wuertz.
Will opponents start "pitching around" Lauren Reimers of the Tigers? She went two-for-four including a home run and drove in two runs. Chelsey Ehleringer doubled as part of going two-for-four. Pring, Brooke Gillespie and Brianna Abril each had one hit.
Four Bulldogs each had two hits: Brianna Stang, Allie Stanger, Emma Stevens and Brooke Hemmesch. Sam Dahl and Halle Johnson each had one hit for the green-themed crew.
 
Baseball: Montevideo 8, Tigers 5
The Thunder Hawks of Montevideo scored in steady fashion to hand our Tigers defeat on Friday. The T-Hawks scored two runs each in the first, third, fourth and fifth innings. This attack overwhelmed the Tigers as revealed in the 8-3 final score.
The MACA pitching work was shared by three: Sean Amundson (tagged with the loss), Riley Biesterfeld and Brady Jergenson. Amundson fanned five batters and walked none, but Monte bats made noise with eight hits vs. him. Two of the six runs that Amundson allowed were unearned.
Montevideo cruised behind the route-going pitching arm of Jordan Thompson. Jordan was smooth, striking out five batters and issuing no walks. He overcame the Tigers' quite impressive 12-hit attack. The three runs he allowed were earned.
The MACA line score was three runs, 12 hits and two errors. Monte played errorless ball. The Monte hit total was ten.
Noah Grove of the Tigers had three singles in four at-bats. Brady Jergenson had a two-for-four line. Gage Backman had a double as part of going two-for-four, and he drove in a run. Jase Wilts had a two-for-three line. Riley Biesterfeld had a hit and two ribbies. Bryce Jergenson and Sean Amundson each had a hit.
Spencer Hildahl went three-for-three for Monte including a triple, plus he drove in a run. Jeff Rohloff also went three-for-three, and this T-Hawk had a double and two runs scored. Austin Hiepler and Zac Enevoldsen each doubled. Marcus Kranz and Tristan Weber also hit safely.
Today (Monday) looks rainy. Hopefully the schedule can continue unimpeded through this week.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Let's step into the Wayback Machine for Morris MN

The photo shows the "German band" for the Morris Centennial celebration in 1971. Your blog host, Brian Williams, is the trumpet player at left. What a fine time we had, going out and about in Morris amidst the celebratory feeling! We had a thrill stepping into the Met Lounge at a time before the drinking age was lowered. At very left with saxophone is Kathy Graff whose married name today is Werk. It's easy to reference the women with the maiden name, which is why I identify the female percussionist at top as Tracy Dunnum! She's the dentist's daughter. Today her married name is Huebner. My, are there only two girls in photo? I guess so. The other percussionist at top is Tony Hansen, who today teaches meteorology at St. Cloud State University. He wouldn't want his colleagues to know that he was once asked to discard a sign at a tournament basketball game saying "we got screwed!" - a reference to some officiating controversy the night before! Standing on the other side of me is Scott Groth, saxophonist. I once drew a caricature of Scott titled "Watching Scotty Grow." We are saddened to learn of the recent death of Scott's dad Don who ran the filling station where Cenex South is located. Scott was the drum major for marching band. Proceeding to the right we have a man who needs no introduction: Del Sarlette of Sarlettes Music. Next there's Lynn Christiansen, son of Lyle and Donna Christiansen. I once bought Lynn's old baseball card collection for a price he thought was inflated, but years later I'd find out otherwise. Next over is the absolute virtuoso trumpet player, Terry Rice. I did a drawing of Terry called "Portrait of a Trumpet" (name of an actual tune he played) and in the drawing his pants had just fallen down. Terry, Del and I once played a trumpet trio for a fashion show at the old elementary auditorium (now razed). As we stepped onstage, Del whispered to me "your zipper is open." (It wasn't, of course). The tuba player is Ken Johnson, a gregarious Donnelly boy who worked some hours at the old Wayne's Men's Wear. At right is trombone player John Woell Jr., son of our band director. I drew a caricature of John called "Outdoor John" and I seem to recall he took umbrage. Today I might be targeted in the "anti-bullying" efforts. Nah, I don't think so. In the back of the photo is the headquarters trailer for the Centennial, located next to the present-day Thrifty White Drug. Donna Christiansen and Dick Bluth were very active making the Centennial a success, as I recall. Hats off. The German band continued an established tradition in Motown. The 1930s saw a group like this share considerable fun around the community. We learn they were comedians as well as musicians. Those sprightly souls were: Herb Probst, Sheridan Flaherty, Earl Grove, Eugene Sorflaten and Bill Knupple. Yours truly is proud to have helped continue the tradition. Thanks to Del for scanning this photo from my collection. Richard Nixon was president in 1971. My caricature of him would not be too flattering.
 
"I've been working on the railroad"
Leonard O'Koren designed the logo for the 1971 Morris Centennial. He put an emphasis on railroad tracks. Flowers sprouted to represent the city of Morris.
"Morris" is a nice name that rolls off the tongue. Imagine if the name was "LeSeuer" and you constantly had to explain how to spell it.
Our city was named for Charles A.F. Morris, chief engineer of the St. Paul and Pacific, forerunner of the Great Northern Railway. Mr. Morris is reported to have nailed the sign "Morris" to the new railroad station when the railroad came through in the summer of 1871. The railroad was totally transformative. Previous to that, the setting here was what you'd find in a Louis L'Amour novel. We had the Wadsworth Trail that brought folks through these parts en route to Fort Wadsworth (later to become Fort Sisseton). The railroad opened a whole new chapter.
Come to think of it, even with the laying of tracks, L'Amour probably could still spin some tales!
Our family experienced the railroad ourselves in the early 1960s. The University of Minnesota-Morris men's chorus of our still-new institution went west in 1962 and east in 1964. They glided along the rails. My late father Ralph E. Williams was director. The chorus sang at the Seattle World's Fair in 1962 and New York World's Fair in 1964. I was along in 1964. My first contact with an African-American was with a "porter" in a train out east. Nice gentleman. My dad was a UMM founding faculty member.
The man who inspired our town name, that Mr. Morris, never lived here, but a son, A.P.H. (Jack) Morris had a drugstore here for several years. We appreciate those early settlers who must have dealt with adversity. We were a "tent town" at the start. The U.S. Civil War had ended just six years earlier. Some war veterans settled here and formed the Overton Post of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), the equivalent to our modern-day VFW, Legion and AmVets.
 
Significant early Morris event
The Eul's Hardware building is conspicuous in a photo taken of the Corn and Alfalfa Show in December of 1913. The show was a touchstone event in our early history. Its truly grand symbol was the "alfalfa arch." Many people posed around that arch in the photo that includes the Eul's building at right. The building looks just as it does today.
The Corn and Alfalfa Show was on December 10-13 of 1913 under sponsorship of the West Central Minnesota Development Association. It was December but the weather was quite un-December-like. Remarkably mild weather prevailed. So mild, "overcoats were conspicuous by their absence," an account read. "Many men walked the streets in their shirtsleeves."
Today we'd look at those conditions and see this as evidence of global climate change - extreme weather.
The Corn and Alfalfa Show in 1913 was staged to accent how Minnesota is in the corn belt, how diversified farming "is the better farming," and to generally improve living conditions here. "It definitely played a part in the changing agricultural picture," read an account in the Diamond Jubilee publication for Morris.
The iconic alfalfa arch was huge. An authentic-size replica was built for the 1971 Morris Centennial, and a large photo of that can be seen on the wall at Willie's Super Valu. For a few years in modern times, the Morris FFA would construct a small replica along East 7th Street for Prairie Pioneer Days. That practice has been discontinued. It's important we remember the grand original alfalfa arch.
Thousands of people from all over Western Minnesota attended the 1913 show. A special train on the morning of the last day brought 1200 people from Pope County! More than 200 Minneapolis businessmen came out on a special train for one day.
 
The automobile arrives
Can you imagine life without cars? The transition from horses to cars must have been fascinating to watch. Many people thought at first that cars would only complement horses and not totally replace them. It is hard to conceive of any mode that is ingrained into our lives, completely disappearing. We saw the ice business disappear.
A good movie to watch to try to envision the early cars is "The Shootist," John Wayne's last movie. At the end he pauses to observe an early "horseless carriage." It's symbolic. The Wayne character represents the old rough-hewn model for living - he's in fact a gunfighter. Wayne's character is dying of cancer. He's heading for a gunfight that he knows could spell the end of his life, and could thus spare him the spasms of pain lying ahead for him.
Early Morris residents Mr. and Mrs. W.P. Fowler probably owned the first automobile here, an Olds of reported 1901 vintage. At that same general time, a Haynes model of 1902 was sported around, coughing and wheezing no doubt, by Dr. and Mrs. J.W. Harris. We learn that the Haynes vehicle was the "Old Betsy" to everyone in Morris, "the pride of her owners but considered a public nuisance by many," we read in the Diamond Jubilee publication.
"Old Betsy" spelled nuisance to the townspeople "especially if they happened to be driving a team of horses when it came along."
Dr. Harris reported that he stopped as many as ten times on a seven-mile trip to lead horses by his gas buggy. Surely there were no seat belt citations issued then!
 
That old Eul's building on Atlantic
Eul's Hardware is the oldest building on Atlantic Avenue. The newspaper at the time of its construction, 1883, called it "a monument of architectural beauty and mechanical skill."
Today the Eul family sees hardware customers there, their experience in the profession rich. We all miss "Rit" (Richard) Eul who once plied his considerable skills there. He was also fire department chief. (He wasn't particularly enamored with the local police!)
The building was erected for First National Bank, a new institution then. The bank included the former Bank of Morris. The corner entrance had five large Kusota stone steps leading up to it. The 50 foot long carved cherry counter was from a Stillwater firm.
Linoleum was new then! The floor inside the counter and railing was covered with this product. The linoleum was manufactured from ground cork and linseed oil. The ceiling and sides of the walls were "frescoed."
Alas, the First National Bank failed in 1896. May of that year saw Citizens Bank pick up the torch with the building, led by Alexandria interests. Citizens Bank stayed there until 1936. Citizens then moved to the location familiar to the boomer generation, where Morris and Associates (accounting) now holds forth.
We all remember Ed LaFave Jr. of Citizens. Ed was among the activists ensuring that the WCSA campus would find new life. New life indeed! It's the University of Minnesota-Morris. The LaFave House is named in honor of his family.
 
Euls move into building in 1940
The grand old building of main street went through various phases of business activity until in 1940 it came under ownership of John Eul. He put on an addition in 1947. I gather the townspeople called him "Johnny."
Richard "Rit" Eul took over the hardware business from father John in the 1960s. The children of Rit and Ione had many friends among the boomer generation of Morris kids. I graduated from high school with Mike Eul in 1973. Mike did not join the family business, opting for a career elsewhere. I gave him the heads-up for the Bill Chase band reunion concert in St. Paul several years ago. We met and had fun conversing at the Minnesota Music Cafe in St. Paul. It was on that night that the bridge fell into the Mississippi River. We were not gawkers. We took in the whole concert and only occasionally glanced up at a TV screen to get some snippets of updates on the bridge disaster. It was interesting how undistracted the audience really was.
Mike and I were trumpet players under director John Woell at Morris High School. John was a bit of a taskmaster which reflected his generation. He actually was able to fine us "a quarter" for misbehavior. He'd point and say "you. . .a quarter." I think school policy would shoot that down today.
Woell was director for the last few years when MHS had its marching band heyday. Eventually these summer marching band programs faded everywhere or became very challenged. Kids were finding other things to do in summer like sports camps. Sports always wins out, doesn't it? Shall we back off a little on that? The starting time of the recent Morris Area jazz band concert was moved a half-hour later, unbeknownst to me, because of sports. A pox on sports!
What do I think of marching band? Musically I don't think it's enriching, as musicians play the same tune over and over. It's just the benefit of a structured activity, building the kids' sense of self-discipline. A few schools can still cut it with marching band, like Litchfield.
The Irondale marching band from the Twin Cities visits here annually in summer to practice. Irondale isn't your father's marching band. It performs routines and material quite unusual and exotic. I'm impressed although I wouldn't pay to hear music like this. This coming summer, let's see better promotion for the Irondale marching band's evening exhibition/demonstration at Big Cat Stadium. It's free. Don't give them the idea to start charging.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Monday, May 12, 2014

MACA girls nearly gain sweep, settle for split

The MACA softball Tigers probably should have swept their doubleheader Friday in Montevideo. Things went fine for the softball Tigers in game 1. They took care of business in a 4-2 win. Then came game 2. It was almost a bizarre game because Monte committed eight errors while the Tigers committed just one. How can you lose a game like that? Alas, MACA let this prime victory opportunity slip away. Each team had 16 hits in the wild game 2. Montevideo pulled out the 16-15 win.
 
Game 1: Tigers 4, Montevideo 2
The Tigers outhit the Thunder Hawks 8-4 in the opening game win. Monte had three errors and the Tigers two. Pitcher Kayla Pring blanked the host T-Hawks all the way until the seventh inning. Monte broke through to score its two runs in the seventh, but by then the Tigers had plated four. MACA scored two runs in the second inning and one each in the third and sixth.
Pring was dead-on with her control, walking no one. She fanned two T-Hawks. She allowed five hits and the two Monte runs which were earned. She outdueled Kiersti Grey of the T-Hawks. Grey fanned four batters, walked none and gave up eight hits and four runs (three earned).
Offensively the Tigers got fuel from Lauren Reimers whose bat resounded with a solo home run. Reimers had a two-for-three boxscore line. Nicole Strobel and Chelsey Ehleringer each had two hits in three at-bats. Brooke Johnson doubled and drove in a run. Megan Gillespie's bat produced a hit and two RBIs.
Two Monte players each had two hits: Ashley Hoehne and Lindsey Olson. Alissa Runia had one hit for the host.
 
Game 2: Montevideo 16, Tigers 15
Prospects for a sweep looked good for Morris Area Chokio Alberta in the top of the seventh. The Tigers took a 15-11 lead thanks to a Brooke Johnson two-run single.
The Tigers just couldn't keep the Thunder Hawks contained in the bottom of the seventh. Alex Tongen came to bat as pinch-hitter and responded with a two-run single to cap the decisive five-run Monte rally, bringing victory for the host team. Prior to Tongen's appearance at the plate, Hannah Kuno connected for a two-run single.
Grey pitched for Monte as she had in game 1, but she was relieved by Ashley Hoehne who got the win. Grey pitched five and a third innings, while Hoehne had a stint of one and two-thirds innings. Grey fanned three batters and Hoehne had one strikeout. Grey got roughed up to the tune of 14 hits allowed. Three of the runs she allowed were unearned.
Brianna Abril was the hard-luck loser. This Tiger pitched three innings and ended up as one of four Tigers seeing pitching action - quite unusual. Lacee Maanum, Brooke Gillespie and Kayla Pring also pitched for Motown.
The Tigers surged in the middle innings with their bats.
Monte had the early edge, leading 3-1 after one inning and 8-4 after three innings. Coach Mary Holmberg's orange and black squad came on strong to score two runs in the fourth, one in the fifth and five in the sixth. MACA added its last three runs in the seventh and was in prime position to win, but Monte simply wasn't to be denied in this game, despite its considerable fielding problems (eight errors). Monte had that clinching five-run rally in the bottom of the seventh. Game over. MACA settled for the split.
Many Tigers contributed in the 16-hit attack. Lauren Reimers again had an explosive bat, this time with two doubles as part of a three-for-four showing. She drove in a run. Brooke Johnson's bat resounded with three-for-four numbers too. Brooke drove in three runs.
Nicole Strobel was off to the races with two triples. Nicole finished at two-for-five and two ribbies. Abby Daly was two-for-four with a double. Becca Holland came through with a double and three RBIs. Pring had a hit and two RBIs. Chelsey Ehleringer had a hit and an RBI. Other Tigers with a hit were Lacee Maanum, Brooke Gillespie and Sam Henrichs.
Monte's hot bat was wielded by Lindsey Olson who was a perfect four-for-four with two RBIs.
Hopefully Tiger softball can be blessed with better weather in this new week. It doesn't look hopeful now (on Monday afternoon, dreary).
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Girls sweep Sauk Centre, boys prevail vs. NL-Spicer

Softball: a pair of wins
Tuesday, May 6, brought a doubleheader of softball action involving the Tigers of MACA and Streeters of Sauk Centre. The defense ruled on this day. Runs were infrequent. None of this stood in the way of the Tigers winning.
Coach Mary Holmberg's orange and black squad took game 1 in a 1-0 final. They completed the sweep with a 2-1 triumph in game 2. The action was in Sauk Centre.
Kayla Pring pitched in both games and got the win in both games. In game 1 this was with a complete game performance of seven innings. She was quite in command, striking out six batters and walking none. This was a one-hitter pitching gem by Kayla.
Game 2 saw Kayla share the pitching work with Brooke Gillespie. Gillespie pitched two and a third innings and Pring finished up with four and two-thirds. Gillespie struck out four batters but had some control problems, walking three. She allowed no hits or runs. Pring set down two batters on strikes, walked none and allowed two hits. Sauk Centre got to her for one run but it was unearned.
Katelyn Durbin did all of Sauk Centre's pitching on this day.
MACA achieved its 1-0 game 1 win with one run scored in the fifth. Emma Zosel was the Tiger scoring that run. She was on base as pinch-runner. She scored when Becca Holland connected for a double. Becca had two hits in three at-bats. Lauren Reimers was one-for-one. Morgan Gamradt had Sauk Centre's only hit.
The game 2 story was the Tigers capitalizing on breaks. Two runs spelled victory. The first came home on a dropped fly ball. The second was scored on a passed ball. Both runs scored in the sixth. Sauk Centre scored its only run in the fifth. Each team had two hits. Becca Holland again attacked well with the bat, going two-for-two with a double. Morgan Gamradt went two-for-two for Sauk Centre including a double.
The Tigers won a good grade with fielding, committing just one error in each of the two games.
The day's success elevated the Tigers' win total to 12. It's fun to see the Tigers when they score runs in bunches, but it's just as fun to prevail in a low-scoring, defense-dominated game. The Tigers are familiar with both situations.
 
Baseball: Tigers 8, New London-Spicer 4
The Morris Area Chokio Alberta boys played a solid brand of ball at the Spicer diamond on Monday, May 5. They were sharp in the field, committing just one error compared to New London-Spicer's three. They gave pitcher Noah Grove a 3-0 advantage in the first inning. The Tigers had two more good rallies in the game: two runs in the third and three in the fifth.
The MACA line score was eight runs, seven hits and one error. The NL-Spicer numbers were 4-7-3.
Grove pitched the whole way and accumulated 12 strikeouts. He walked five and scattered seven hits. Two of the four runs scored off him were unearned. He deftly mixed his curve and fastball. Lucas Nordmeyer and Tyson Gislason shared the NL-Spicer pitching with Nordmeyer getting tagged with the loss.
The Tigers led 5-0 through three innings. The Wildcats broke through for two runs each in the fourth and fifth, before Grove settled down to blank them in the sixth and seventh.
Nate Anderson had two hits in two at-bats for the Tigers. Corey Storck went two-for-three with one of his hits a double. The Willmar newspaper has two "Brady Jergensons" listed. I believe there are two Jergenson brothers on the team. Anyway, both made some noise with the bat, one getting two hits, the other one.
Trey Austvold went two-for-four for the Wildcats. Wildcat Eben Pederson had a double in his only at-bat and two walks received.
This was a non-conference game for MACA.
 
Softball: Marshall 4, Tigers 1
Kayla Pring socked a solo home run for the MACA softball Tigers in the third inning Monday. Unfortunately this was not going to set the tone for the game. Playing down south in Marshall, the Tigers came up shy on the scoreboard, 4-1.
The Tigers outhit Marshall 7-6. Neither team committed an error. Marshall scored one run in the first inning and three in the third. After that, Marshall pitcher Miranda Fischer bore down and sealed the win for Marshall (the "Tigers," like us).
Brooke Gillespie took the loss on the pitching rubber. She worked five innings and got roughed up some, walking three and allowing six hits and the four Marshall runs. Kayla Pring pitched one inning and fanned two batters.
Two players accounted for Marshall's four hits: Madison Radel and Miranda Fischer. Radel had a double and two RBIs.
Pring and her home run were a boxscore highlight for MACA. Becca Holland went two-for-four. Megan Gillespie had a hit in three at-bats. Nicole Strobel had a nice three-for-three line.
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

"Private Buckaroo" w/ Shemp Howard: a WWII pep talk

I saw "Private Buckaroo" on TV many years ago and sensed something surreal about it. I wasn't able to immediately grasp it. I felt at first this was a boilerplate WWII movie with the typical wooden personalities. It was made contemporaneously with the war.
There it was in its black and white glory: "Private Buckaroo."
Certainly the movie was harmless, but what was to explain that surreal quality? It haunted a little. Then the realization: This flick was propaganda. In the next breath I'll say it was benevolent propaganda. It was an effort to sell the war cause. You would think Pearl Harbor had done that by itself.
We have this popular notion that everyone in America joined hands on the day after the "Jap" attack. We still needed conscription (the draft). Undoubtedly there were young men who looked for ways out from military commitment. There were war profiteers. Those dubious elements certainly were not for public consumption, hence we needed the entertainment industry - the "dream factory" - to do some glossing over with their immense skills. Say what you want about Hollywood, it gives us illusions.
"Private Buckaroo" was filmed to get young men fired up about getting on board with the military. We associate propaganda with Moscow. But our Hollywood is fully capable of fueling whatever meme. Surely we had to beat the Axis powers.
  
Alternate history
What if we had simply decided not to fight? What if we hadn't concentrated so much of our Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor? By the same token, what if U.S. corporate interests hadn't been so concentrated in, and symbolized by, those "twin towers" in New York City, making for a prime target for 9/11?
The Nazis in fact had a hard time holding their regime together. This is why the top leaders had to dispatch the notorious "SS" (secret service). Regular military men who saw reality would have been happy to capitulate at a certain point. The "SS" men were opportunistic and delusional souls who went on a fool's (or devil's) mission. History suggests that such corrupt forces do not last.
The Japanese? We have forgotten how controversial and tragic our "island-hopping" campaign was. Oh yes, there was intense controversy within the U.S. cause about the need for such an excruciating effort. In researching about Jim Peterson of Morris (still alive, hooray), who was at Iwo Jima, I learned there was a strong argument at the time that the obscure island wasn't necessary to secure. Other smaller islands could have worked for emergency landings by U.S. aircraft.
Military causes can drift from logic or what's pragmatic. Look at the disturbing propaganda campaign that the George W. Bush administration orchestrated leading up to Iraq. I view Dick Cheney as nothing short of Darth Vader. Think of the lives lost or scarred.
Once the U.S. entered WWII, any dissenting voices faded readily into the background. The "America Firsters" (with Charles Lindbergh) shut up. I see merit in isolationism. America's best strategy is self-sufficiency. The "sustainable" ideas promoted by our University of Minnesota-Morris are right in line. I don't care what the loony libertarians say.
  
"Shemp" promotes war effort
"Private Buckaroo" was a 1942 musical film. It's quite the window into the early 1940s, featuring the Andrews Sisters, Harry James and Shemp Howard.
Shemp Howard? Wasn't he one of the Three Stooges? Most certainly. He picked up the torch when "Curly" could no longer carry it, due to health issues. Shemp in the movie comes off like the Shemp we came to know in the Stooges. But he's alone, without his stumbling Stooge compatriots. Is this why I thought the movie had that surreal quality? Oliver Hardy too appeared in a movie without his usual partner Stan Laurel. That movie was "The Kentuckian" where we see Oliver in his typical persona. He didn't depart. Neither did Shemp.
Shemp is endeared to us as "the trooper" who was really very talented, but just couldn't fill the unique "Curly's" shoes. Curly had that energetic man-child persona. The very physical nature of the Stooges' comedy has been cited as hindering their health and shortening their lifespans. Shemp died in the year I was born: 1955. He was in a cab after a boxing match, lighting a cigar when he suddenly slumped over. He had just told a joke. Friend Al Winston was beside him and felt at first Shemp was pulling some sort of gag. Many of us would say that "when your time comes" it would be nice to go the way Shemp did: a sudden heart attack. As a Stooge he was a laid-back dimwit in comparison to Curly's screen-grabbing presence.
Shemp was known for his high-pitched "bee-bee-bee" sound, a soft screech done by inhaling. He was born Samuel Horwitz. He came to be called "Shemp" because that's how his name came out in his mother's thick "Litvak" accent. He was enlisted for the Stooges two years after WWII ended.
In 1942's "Private Buckaroo," Shemp plays "Sergeant Snavely." One critic said he steals the movie, at least when Harry James and the Andrews Sisters aren't performing.
  
Wild, unconventional musical finale
Shemp clowns onstage with the Andrews Sisters during the musical finale: "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree."
Curiously, the song as presented in the movie departs from its intended message and sentimentality. I'd suggest the message and sentimentality were a given. This was a signature tune for the Andrews Sisters, a household tune, and the sisters might have become bigger stars if they could act!
"Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree" was about a soldier at war wanting the faithfulness of his girlfriend back home. As a song and dance number in "Private Buckaroo," the climax of the film, it has been described as "the most bizarre piece of melodic madness ever captured on film."
The song takes place in a USO show for the troops who are about to be shipped off. Indeed, watching the movie makes you think being a soldier mostly consisted of hanging out at a canteen with live entertainment. The service had to be made attractive, so to build up the wartime effort. We had to beat back those "Japs" and "Krauts." What a time.
The Andrews Sisters appear onstage in military outfits, pulling at a rope which is attached to something in the wings. Their lively harmony accompanies the pulling. We discover a big cardboard apple tree at rope's end. The sisters fall back, Patty literally landing on her rear end. Maxene and LaVerne help her up and Patty rubs her backside. The sisters lock arms and dance around the stage. Another surprise emerges with Shemp! They do not welcome this surprise in the form of this clumsy Stooge-to-be.
Shemp gets slapped in the face and tossed off the stage. The singing never stops! What a routine! Undeterred, the sisters lock arms and dance. Shemp is also undeterred. He joins them. This time Shemp gets punched in the jaw! The singing continues. They go into a wild "jitterbug" dance and collide with each other, ending up on the floor, buried by a shower of apples! The band members scoop up the apples.
Surely this musical number ought to be embraced as a patriotic jewel. Lively and festive as this all was, it certainly didn't reflect the grim and gruesome nature of the conflict awaiting the recruits hanging around the canteen. Ah, propaganda. If Harry James and his band can join the military service, it must be the thing to do.
Virtuoso trumpeter James finds he cannot handle a simple bugle routine. I had to laugh at that. Professional entertainers are stylists and have trouble handling routine things that junior high musicians might be able to play.
Ever wonder why James had such a pronounced "tremolo" with his horn? It was parodied in the 1950s by the tune "Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White" (Prez Prado). Brass players developed the pronounced tremolo in the years when recording quality was crude, so as to stand out. In later years it seemed a little misplaced. BTW the song "Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White" was reprised in the 1970s by Enoch Light (and the Light Brigade). That's how I got familiar with it.
BTW No. 2: "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree" was sung repeatedly by Robert Mitchum in the war movie "Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison" (about the serviceman and nun stranded on the island until help came).
  
Dehumanizing the enemy
"Private Buckaroo" was nothing if not loud and boisterous. I guess this movie even presented the goal of "fighting the monkey men in Tokyo." Ah, for the sake of propaganda: dehumanizing the enemy. Well, who bombed Pearl Harbor? Well, I would say the Japaneses government did it. The young men just follow what their government asks of them.
Do you feel the German people are inherently evil? There apparently is a "Prussian" strain that has always liked fighting, unless this is an unaccepted stereotype. The Germans sure caused trouble in the first half of the 20th Century.
Crooner Dick Foran in "Private Buckaroo" is at first a conceited pain, but he learns to be a team player. He shows humility by singing a Negro spiritual. (There are no Negroes in the Army.) Harry James seeks to learn his bugle calls under instruction from . . .Huntz Hall! (yes, of "The Bowery Boys")
The Andrews Sisters were top-billed for the movie but they came across more as guest stars.
  
"The Joker is Wild"
I am making a belated reference to Joe E. Lewis in this post. He was a nightclub comic with a fascinating background. People my age might not be familiar with him were it not for the movie "The Joker is Wild." The movie starring Frank Sinatra was on TV as we were growing up. It included a scene that I think is one of the greatest in movie history.
Let's explain first that Lewis started out as a crooner but was hurt in a mafia assault, so bad he couldn't sing any more. Career over? Lewis discovered sort of by accident that he could be funny. A new career was born as comic. Sophie Tucker gives him his big break. She plays herself in "The Joker is Wild." Yes, he makes a new career, but he has a self-destructive streak that leads him to question his way of living and what his life has become.
The classic scene I cite has Sinatra as Lewis walking backstage one evening when a young crooner is out performing for an adoring audience. Sinatra pauses. He looks at that silhouetted figure of the crooner through a screen. It appears like a shadow. Sinatra looks longingly, pondering the obvious "what might have been." Was he really happier as a comic? We were left to wonder.
"Private Buckaroo" was one of only two movies in which Lewis appeared. The other was "Lady in Cement," the 1967 flick with Sinatra. "The Joker is Wild" was based on a book of the same name by Art Cohn. Sinatra read the book, was taken by the story and bought rights to the book.
I really like that Sinatra, who has a huge fan in Morris MN in Wally McCollar, insisted that all musical scenes and songs be recorded live on set! Thus we might get a hint of background sounds like coughing and chairs scraping. It was said that Sinatra "captured the bitter inner restlessness almost too well, alternately sympathetic and pathetic."
Lewis was reported to have said to Sinatra: "You had more fun playing my life than I had living it."
Certainly the actors/singers in "Private Buckaroo" had substantially more fun (with "apples") than the troops would have confronting the enemy (those "monkey men").
"Private Buckaroo" seemed very dated after the war. It picked up nostalgic value. "You come away wondering how we won the war," one critic said.
Shemp Howard had a productive post-WWII entertainment career. He was a great talent despite being overshadowed by his Stooge predecessor. Remember the Stooges' piece in which Shemp had to get married by a certain time to gain a big inheritance? When he was a musical instructor to a wailing female pupil who he ends up marrying? When other women desperately clawed at seeking his charms only because they knew he was coming into money? My late friend Glen Helberg would understand. "Money talks and bulls--t walks," Glen always said.
"Private Buckaroo" can leave you feeling a little taken aback the first time you see it. "This movie is trying to tell us something," you'll conclude. And it is: "Let's go after those 'monkey men' (and 'Krauts')." It's nice that such days are behind us. Let us learn from history.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Time passes and "Gilligan's Island" seems more a classic

Sometimes time has to pass before something can be viewed as a classic. A creative product might not stand out from the crowd at all when it's current. The passage of time brings out its merits.
"Gilligan's Island" has never been lacking for sheer attention. From its inception it was well-known. However, in its day it was sniffed at by cultural observers. The TV show might have been exhibit 'A' in what Newton Minow was talking about. Minow you might remember gave us his signature quote about the television medium: "vast wasteland." Do we remember anything else about him?
I have taken the bait myself and referred to "Gilligan's Island" as an example of what might be called vapid entertainment.
"Gilligan's Island" has actually grown in popularity since its original run. In my young adult years it would seem to show up in the after-school time slot. It is hard to equate that time slot with fine art or culture. It seems the antithesis. But let's not pigeon-hole "Gilligan's Island" so readily. If you put aside the knee-jerk putdowns from highbrow types, you can see the very fine craftsmanship behind that show! 
It is truly popular art in the sense that it reached out to the masses. This should hardly be considered a black mark. Comedy is a medium that seeks to reach everyone, to show us the pathos in our day-to-day lives. Comedy plays on the frustrations of our mundane existence. Who hasn't been frustrated trying to perform a routine task, ending up feeling like one of the Three Stooges? Laurel and Hardy gave us a more understated version of that humor. It is interesting that Laurel and Hardy's best, that short about pulling that piano up the steps, was not understated and could easily have been a Stooges' script.
  
"Castaways" as a template
We have all felt frustrated or confined as if we were stuck on a desert island. The premise for Gilligan's Island was absolutely perfect for a television comedy series. The castaways! They were destined never to be rescued. Of course it was all in fun.
The premise was absurd if you tried to look at it seriously. Even Tom Hanks would have to spend a good half-year studying his Boy Scout manual if he wanted to survive for even a short time on a remote island. In real life we're talking "Lord of the Flies" or Amelia Earhart, the latter having probably ended up in such a place and died in short order for lack of resources (with her "navigator").
So, let's just view Gilligan's Island for what it is: a vehicle for comedy. The show seemed little more than background in the years when it was re-run. We yawned about it. It was good for passing some idle time, to have on when we were washing the dishes or shuffling around the household. Subconsciously we might come to associate the show with some of the ennui that accompanies our home life.
Gilligan's Island seemed as old as the day it was born. The snooty academic fools would consider it like Elvis on black velvet. Those pretentious cultural analysts are right about one thing: you do not watch Gilligan's Island to learn anything. This could be said of much of TV entertainment in its early history. The 1960s sitcoms were crafted to appeal to a wide audience - everyone really. The days of "niche" TV (like Discovery Channel) were many years off in the future.
Because TV tried to satisfy everyone, well then not surprisingly, it didn't seem fully satisfactory to anyone. One type of show could break through that obstacle and achieve artistic significance: the basic comedy.
  
"TV Land" showcases "Gilligan"
Lately I have been able to watch some Gilligan's Island episodes on "TV Land." It's a niche channel for people who like watching "non-niche" TV shows! There is something for everyone today.
In the '60s we had the "big 3" TV networks ruling. ABC was slightly minor league in comparison to the other two. Public TV was out there but was quite obscure and unsatisfying most of the time. Everyone was familiar with the prime time shows of the major networks. "Westerns" were quite the vehicle, then they seemed to vanish over a short time.
Westerns were always the vehicle for moral lessons. Truly we distinguished right from wrong, to be suspicious of the "black hats." The big irony is that at the same time the likes of "Bonanza" were sermonizing, our nation was steadily getting more involved in one of the great moral debacles of all time: the Viet Nam War.
"Gilligan's Island" had its prime time heyday at the same time the U.S. was taking the most egregious steps toward full-scale involvement in the Indochina conflict. Those charming Don Knotts movies came out at that time. Knotts of course had his springboard to the big screen on the small screen, on that "Mayberry" TV show. There were several rural comedies then, sending us the message that "simplest is best." Andy Griffith would say that the Mayberry show emphasized one simple thing: "love." Knotts was an incredible comedic performer.
Today, as I watch and re-examine "Gilligan's Island," I am coming to the conclusion that we grossly undervalued that show for its comedic genius. Many would pooh-pooh me on this. Again, the passage of time can help us re-evaluate and give credit where it's due. The seven performers in Gilligan's Island may in fact present one of the greatest all-time comedy teams.
The creators of this show carefully assembled a cast of interesting and contrasting personalities. Each character represented something we understood from the world around us - vanity, authority, intelligence etc.
BTW the show's pilot was so off the mark from what was eventually created, it was never shown. It would be interesting to view as a historical curiosity.
  
The logical headliner
The show was named for "Gilligan" because he represented the "everyman," often bumbling but never truly disheartened. He reflects the optimism of America. He was also young, and we in America put faith and invest hope in the young.
Was "Gilligan" the first name or the last name? Interesting question. Bob Denver played the first mate "Gilligan" from the ill-fated boat "Minnow." Denver had previously played the beatnik "Maynard Krebs" on the show "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis."
We assume that Denver was the prefect "Gilligan" right from the outset in the creators' minds. Oh, but another actor was considered first! There is a whole category of "what might have beens" in Hollywood, such as: What if Shirley Temple had starred in "The Wizard of Oz?" Or, what if Rod Steiger had been "Patton," not George C. Scott? Steiger turned down the role because he felt the movie would glorify war. Many people thought in such terms back then (around 1970). Today's young people would think nothing of a good war movie. It's just a movie. In the late '60s and early '70s, anger about Viet Nam brimmed in such a way that people like William Ayers did their thing.
Can you imagine Gilligan's Island with anyone but Bob Denver in the lead role? Close your eyes and try to imagine. The creators originally considered Jerry Van Dyke!
We can speculate that the show would not have been as successful with Van Dyke. He was the first choice but he turned it down! He doubted the show would be a success, legend has it. He instead chose to play the lead in "My Mother the Car," which premiered in the year after Gilligan's Island. The hook came for "My Mother" after one season. 
Van Dyke seemed too obvious a funnyman to truly appeal to us as "Gilligan." Bob Denver played the role as if he were truly an accident-prone young man, still loveable.
Comedy is a delicate science. An essential ingredient is those aspects that are played "straight." We're familiar with the term "straight man." People who seem earnest and serious are typically around the comedic performers. They make the pathos seem more absurd and funny.
It is very sad to see a comedy program break down with its discipline. We saw this with "The Monkees." "The Monkees" was a show that had potential to go longer and be bigger. It was ahead of its time. It drew nothing but puzzlement from the older end of the generation gap, those people who watched Lawrence Welk.
"Gilligan's Island" was in the prime of well-crafted, highly disciplined comedy shows that never veered off from their model. They never got careless. Within a few years we got "Laugh In" which was the epitome of carelessness and impulsiveness. "All in the Family" came along to explore social and cultural issues that would have been taboo several years earlier.
In the '70s we got "The Gong Show" which was culturally significant because it was the epitome of cynicism. The sicker the better. Maybe it was the hangover from Viet Nam or a reflection of the economic "stagflation" in the U.S. The Gong Show had nothing in common with "American Idol." "Idol" is meant to be taken seriously. The Gong Show was a vehicle for the young boomer generation to just laugh at the pretense in the world around them. We laughed at the Gong Show in the same way we'd laugh at a fake turd.
Gilligan's Island was on that classy and disciplined plane of when Americans believed in themselves more. It only seemed one-dimensional in the sense it was meant to entertain everyone. And that wouldn't have mattered if other options were available for fulfillment on the tube.
So, the harsh criticism of Gilligan's Island from the ivory tower world wasn't so much criticism of the show, it was criticism of the TV medium and its limitations!
Gilligan's Island is a show that belongs up in the ranks with Laurel and Hardy as fascinating classic comedy. Each of the actors had to "nail" his-her role for every episode. Like all talented people, they made it look easy. We took Gilligan's Island for granted.
It took tremendous work and commitment to craft those 98 episodes. It spanned from September 26, 1964, to April 17, 1967. We remember the year 1967 as the absolute worst of the Viet Nam War. The show itself wouldn't have dared make a statement about that war. Apparently "Star Trek" did, on a subliminal level. I don't think there was anything subliminal about "Gilligan's Island."
  
B&W to "living color"
The first season of Gilligan's Island had 36 episodes and was in black and white. Several of the unforgettable TV comedies of that time went from black and white to color.
The second and third seasons gave us 62 episodes. The show got solid ratings when it was current. But the popularity would grow in the years of re-runs following. Syndication in the '70s and '80s would make the show seem timeless, as firm a part of our culture as the Pledge of Allegiance.
We saw "Little Buddy" Gilligan as symbolic of the waves of young people entering adulthood with typical missteps and frustration. Alan Hale as "The Skipper" was the father figure who might have been anyone's father. However, he was only 14 years older than Denver. (Keep in mind too that the actress playing Dustin Hoffman's temptress in "The Graduate" wasn't nearly as old as she should be.)
In exasperation, "The Skipper" might swat Gilligan on the head with his cap. Alan Hale was actually Alan Hale Jr. who looked almost identical to his father. Alan Hale Sr. was a well-known movie character actor, and his son was a reliable actor in 'B' westerns. Then along came the "Skipper" role.
Anyone who starred in a popular '60s show would be typecast, never able to step away from that role. The actress who played "Ginger" didn't like this. In the updates we read of Gilligan's Island today, Tina Louise comes across as sullen. She was blessed really. Hollywood is full of waitresses and busboys, I'm sure, who'd love getting a foothold the way Tina Louise did. She was attractive but not drop-dead attractive.
Television in those days had to be careful how it presented its "sex symbols." They couldn't be too sexy. The most famous exhibit here is how Barbara Eden had to have her navel covered in "I Dream of Jeannie." Larry Hagman was in that show, remember? He escaped being typecast and was able to open a new chapter on "Dallas."
Even actors who overcame being typecast seemed to have the ghost of their previous role follow them, like Carroll O'Connor.
  
Russell Johnson a.k.a. "The Professor," RIP
"Gilligan's Island" was created and produced by Sherwood Schwartz. We remembered the show recently when we got news of the death of "The Professor," Russell Johnson.
How interesting that the show had someone simply called "The Professor." A point was being made here. America prioritized the advancement of knowledge. Those were Cold War times. (Is that why I had to learn algebra?)
Johnson would later say he had trouble with some of the lines with technical or scientific language. He really was a true "straight man." He projected a sort of earnestness in his role that made him endearing.
No one's clothes ever got dirty! (Don't think about that.)
Dawn Wells as "Mary Ann" had a mostly straight role to fill as the pretty but non-descript "farm girl." Following the show's run, Dawn made a bid for movie success in "Winterhawk," a frontier story. I paid to see it at the twin theater in St. Cloud (next to the shopping mall). I found the movie depressing. Dawn Wells will always be "Mary Ann."
The castaways included the rich couple. A "millionaire" meant big bucks in those days, not so much today.
Much of the charm of this show comes from how dissimilar the seven characters were. They were like a cross-section. Through their forced togetherness, they realized their commonality, their humanity. Thus is revealed a major point of the show: our common values and aims as a society. How appropriate for the truly mass media of 1960s television. Maybe we aren't so different from each other after all.
We were never supposed to think that the men might be sexually aroused or interested by the obviously attractive females. That's actually a troubling aspect of the show. Boys might watch and wonder why they got a "hard-on." This was a failure of society, a failure to help its young people who were achieving puberty at a younger age. Adolescents needed guidance lest they feel afraid or guilty by primal feelings.
It has been said of the generation that came of age around 1970 that "there are things they weren't getting from their parents." I heard this in a commentary about the Manson family, specifically "Tex" Watson who grew up so wholesome.
The entertainment industry gave us tons of stuff that would induce "boners" in junior high age boys. But I'd suggest the boys weren't comfortable dealing with those feelings. The Annette Funicello "beach" movies were notorious.
Ah, an imperfect show reflecting an imperfect society. Nevertheless there was genius.
"Gilligan's Island" will always be endearing. It's part time capsule and totally a committed comedy, one that will appreciate in value like a fine wine.
  
Addendum: The dissimilar nature of the seven characters should not be confused with "melting pot." There were no non-whites. We sometimes saw island natives in a primitive mode. Those natives looked like white guys. They were made to seem scary but we knew they wouldn't hurt anyone. They were bumbling. Their faux scariness was remindful of similar characters in Three Stooges shorts, sometimes accompanied by a guy in a gorilla suit. Ah, comedy!
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com