Dealing with deadlines today. I tell people I feel like I'm on vacation any time what I'm writing doesn't have to be in tomorrow. Today, I'm writing stuff that has to be in today. So you won't see a lot of me on this blog 'til some things are done and in and gone.
It's interesting how my profession has changed due to the Internet. I now deliver just about everything I do via e-mail. Not all that long ago, I had to print scripts out on paper and physically transport them, either by taking them in or mailing them. Mailing cost me a few days. If they needed it in New York on Monday, I had to get it done by Friday or, before Federal Express, Wednesday or so. Now, if they need it in New York on Monday, I can sometimes finish it on Monday.
I had an argument once with a New York-based editor over that. I said I'd have the script in on Monday…and I did. I sent it via e-mail at 4:00 PM my time, which was 7 PM where he was. He'd left the office and gone home by then — and since he didn't check his mail from home, he didn't see it until the following morning. To him, I was a day late but I said, "Hey, I said I'd send it in on Monday. I sent it in on Monday." He gave me a little condescending lecture on the importance of promptness in our industry and then, as is way too usual, his firm took about three months to pay me.
General rule of thumb for writers: The more insistent they are about you getting your work in on time, the less they care about paying you promptly. Nowadays, instant delivery of scripts is expected via e-mail. I haven't heard of any publisher setting up a process via which the payment can be deposited in your checking account just as instantly.
I have worked for one animation studio that does that and it seems to work quite well. I'd deliver something and the payment was in my bank account within the hour. They told me it was easy to set up and very simple of their end from a bookkeeping standpoint.
The only downside is that they have to turn loose of the money sooner…but with interest rates as low as they are these days, they're not losing much to do that, and they say it causes writers to deliver more efficiently. If you work in publishing and you're having a problem with tardy delivery of work, you might want to look into this.
Back to the deadlines…
Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner say a few things about their friend and employer, Sid Caesar…
Congrats to our pal Jim Brochu. You remember Jim…the guy whose one-man-show as Zero Mostel I raved and raved about. Well, he's back now with a new show that channels a whole bunch of other great men of the theater and the New York Times thinks it's pretty darn good. Character Man plays in Manhattan through the end of this month and then I'll bet Jim will be doing it elsewhere. I'll let you know where those elsewheres are…and if one of them is anywhere near me, if this show is as good as I think it is.
I'm hearing from a lot of Stooge fans, a few of whom I think want to poke me in the eyes and run a saw across my head.
One fellow was irate at my suggestion that when Joe Besser left the act, Joe DeRita was the only choice. This guy thought Mousie Garner would have made a great Third Stooge. Well, maybe. It has been alleged that Moe didn't think so. But I think that at that point in their dwindling career, Moe and other advisors saw the wisdom — in terms of marketablity — of bringing in someone who could remind people of Curly. Whatever popularity the Stooges as an act had then flowed from the reruns of the old Curly shorts on TV and there was no question he was the most beloved member of the team. They didn't go to Joe DeRita and said, "How'd you like to join the act?" It was more like, "How'd you like to shave your head and change your name so we look kind of like Moe, Larry and Curly again?" Mousie, whatever his skills, couldn't help them on that count.
Another reader was upset that I spoke ill of Snow White and the Three Stooges and suggests I'm wrong to view it as a Stooges movie. Since Snow White gets top billing, it should be seen as a Snow White movie…and a darned good one, he thinks. Well, okay. I don't think Ms. White's name came first because she was the real star. I think it came first because they were aping the form of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" but by any name, I don't think it's a very good movie and I don't think the Stooges are very good in their scenes.
Someone who didn't sign their name wrote to correct me on two points. One, he's right about. I said Curly was the third guy when the Stooges broke into films but of course, Shemp was the guy in their first film appearance, Soup to Nuts. This anonymous correspondent also noted that at one point (two, actually) Moe was prepared to add Emil Sitka to the act. Yes…but as a replacement for Larry, not Curly or Joe.
And then Douglass Abramson wrote to say and ask…
I agree with you, I don't know why anybody would attack DeRita or Besser. Any defects in the films they did as Stooges were due to the short production schedules and shoestring budgets. Your post did get me wondering something about Shemp. I couldn't find an answer online, so I thought I'd see if you knew. Why did Shemp go back to the act after Curly's stroke? Was it family devotion or was there a career element to the decision? He was working regularly as a character actor and was even getting parts in A, or at least B+ pictures. Working a couple of days on Another Thin Man had to be an easier buck than a Three Stooges short.
I suspect being shot out of a cannon in the circus was an easier buck then than being one of the Three Stooges. But I think I answered your question back in this message with information I learned from an unimpeachable source. I mean, if you can't believe a woman who slept with W.C. Fields, who can you believe?
By the way, in case I didn't make it clear in my piece, I think Shemp Howard and Joe Besser have both been underrated. I think both added some sparkle and funny performances to films that didn't have much to offer in terms of fresh jokes, production values and, probably, time to do a second or third take. I am told the Stooge Fanciers have become much more tolerant of non-Curly films these days but I remember a time when it was kind of taken for granted that a Three Stooges Film Festival would not sully the screen with a movie lacking Jerome "Curly" Howard. If you showed one with Shemp, attendees would start barking like a dog, spinning around on the floor on one ear and going "Woo woo woo!"
I'm not knocking them. I've been known to do precisely that when served cole slaw. But let's have a little love for Shemp, Joe and Curly Joe. They had the toughest job in show business if you don't count performing death-defying stunts like Dar Robinson, Yakima Canutt, Vic Armstrong or anyone who ever attempted to direct Shelley Winters.
Here is Les Misérables as it gets performed on Sesame Street. I'm not sure but I don't think these actors are singing live…
This morning on Facebook, I posted a photo of the Three Stooges in It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World: Larry Fine, Moe Howard and "Curly" Joe DeRita. In response, I received a couple of really nasty e-mails from people who couldn't resist telling me how much they loathed Joe DeRita. And what was the horrible thing Mr. DeRita did to warrant such hatred? Why, he'd committed the cardinal sin — one of which we are all guilty to some extent — of not being Curly Howard.
Some history. Leaving aside a few short-lived configurations of the group when they supported Ted Healy, Moe and Larry were always two-thirds of the Stooges. It was the third guy who kept changing. First, in their pre-movie days, it was Shemp. Then Shemp left and he was replaced by Curly. (As everyone knows, Moe, Shemp and Curly were all brothers.) Curly was the guy when they started making shorts for Columbia and Curly was the guy when their films were made on decent budgets and weren't just quickly-shot and/or retreads of what had gone before.
Then Curly had a stroke so Shemp came back to the act and took his brother's place. Then Shemp died and his spot was taken by Joe Besser, and he was the third Stooge until they came to the end of their contract to make pictures for Columbia.
After that, the only prospect for the Stooges was to tour, and that's when Besser pulled out. He said it was because his wife was ill and he had to stay home in Hollywood to take care of her. While Mrs. Besser may have been ill at the time, it's pretty obvious to me that Besser was using that an excuse. He could and did get plenty of work in town as a character actor but at the moment, no one was rushing to hire the Stooges. If you'd been Joe Besser's agent, you would probably have told him it was a good time to jump ship and go it alone. Besides, he was never really a full-time member of the act. Even while making the films with Larry and Moe, he still went out and did non-Stooge roles in movies and on TV programs.
If Moe and Larry were going to make any further money as the Three Stooges, they needed a third stooge…and they got DeRita. I am now going to commit what some will deem as heresy by suggesting he was the best possible choice and that he was probably no less funny than Curly or Shemp would have been in those films, given the writing, production values and the ages of everyone at the time. It also didn't help that given those ages, and their growing following among children, they toned down the physical comedy and what some called "violence."
No, 1960 Curly Joe was not as funny as 1940 Curly…and guess what! 1960 Larry was not as funny as 1940 Larry, and 1960 Moe was not as funny as 1940 Moe, and the scripts and budgets of 1960 did not allow for Stooges films as funny as the ones from 1940, either. Joe DeRita was not the reason Snow White and the Three Stooges was a snooze and a half.
I met Joe DeRita once. He was at a one-day comic convention around 1973, signing autographs. I think the idea was that he'd charge $5 or $10 for a signature, which seemed like a lot of money at the time. He signed a few at that price and then I think he felt bad about it because a lot of little kids were coming by and he didn't want to say no to them or demand money. So suddenly, the autographs were free…and I'm not sure about this next part but I think he sent someone out to look for the people he'd charged and refund what they'd paid.
I remember a couple things about him. One was how he brightened up when I told him I'd visited Larry out at the Motion Picture Country Hospital. He also brightened up when I asked him some questions about his non-Stooge career, particularly his days in burlesque. He obligingly answered all the fans' questions about whether they ever got hurt in their films, and he was polite to those who didn't seem to understand that he wasn't Curly. But when I asked him about his solo shorts at Columbia — he made quite a few before he hooked up with Moe and Larry — he invited me to sit and actually have a conversation. He loved being part of the Stooges but it was, after all, just one thing he'd done in a very long show biz career.
Another thing I remember is what terrible shape he was in. He had not-that-long a walk from the car to his table and he was exhausted and wheezing. He was also much more overweight than I'd ever seen him on screen. The Stooges had not made a film in quite some time and with Larry recovering from a stroke and Joe looking the way he did, it was pretty obvious they never would again. Mr. DeRita didn't seem to think so but that's understandable. When you spend your whole lifetime as a performer, it's hard to ever admit it's over.
The chat was pleasant and largely unmemorable except that I got bragging rights to say I'd met another Stooge. He told me a few great stories about working in burlesque revues in Las Vegas in the late fifties and he said that when he signed on for the Stooges, Moe told him, "Remember…most of our fans are kids so you can't do burlesque shows anymore." Joe said he wouldn't miss it and he thought Moe had missed a bit of irony there. An awful lot of what the Stooges did was burlesque, including some hallowed burley-q routines. They just didn't have the sexy stuff and the scantily-clad women.
I didn't talk with him long because he had a lot of people — young kids and also folks my age and older — who wanted autographs and the above-mentioned bragging rights. A few wanted to tell him their favorite Stooge film or routine…which was usually something with Curly, something that had nothing to do with him. So I left and since then, I've always had a little warm spot for the guy.
Yeah, he wasn't part of the great Stooges era but that was ancient history by the time he hopped aboard. The Stooges made funny shorts in the thirties and early forties…and then as two-reel comedies became increasingly less lucrative, they hung in there by making them cheaper and faster and faster and cheaper. The quality of their films was a pretty steady descent over the last 10-12 years, enlivened only by brief bursts of good comic acting from Shemp and then from Joe Besser. Like the last few years of Laurel and Hardy or the Marx Brothers, the best thing you can say about their last films is that there are moments that remind you of their best work.
None of that was Joe DeRita's fault. Matter of fact, I think he was the best thing in some of those films…which admittedly, was not hard to be. I just think Stooges fans have given him a lot of undeserved raps. One of the Curly Joe haters who wrote me said, "He ruined the wonderment of the Stooges." This person has obviously never seen the last few years of Shemp shorts and all the Joe Bessers. And I'll bet you he can't name a better performer who would have enlisted in that act when DeRita did and enabled the franchise to keep going.
Our pal Shelly Goldstein will be on the radio tonight (Sunday evening) for an hour, playing and talking about ten classics of rock music. It's 100.3 FM, Southern California's classic rock station at 7 PM Los Angeles time. You can listen on a radio if you're in L.A. and you actually own a radio…but everyone can listen online here. I'm hoping somewhere between The Stones and The Beatles, she can squeeze in The Four Lads.
This morning on ABC's This Week, Ted Cruz said that Republicans still have a chance of repealing "every single word" of Obamacare in 2015. No, they don't. But he does think saying that will get him votes and support and other benefits. There are people out there who, first of all, buy into the lie that — as he claimed — the Affordable Care Act has cost "millions of jobs." And secondly, there are folks out there who admire a person who fights and fights and fights and fights and won't admit defeat.
I don't know about your life but in mine, I know people who've taken a medium-sized loss and turned it into a devastating one by chanting this storybook mantra about how a man who won't be defeated can't be defeated. Hey, watch any sporting event where two teams compete. One always loses. I had an acquaintance — now deceased and in large part because of this — who lost a lawsuit, lost all appeals…and then proceeded to lose his life's savings and health, going from lawyer to lawyer, trying to find one who could reverse the loss. By the end, I don't think he even thought he had a winnable case. He just thought that Not Giving Up would somehow prevail.
Cruz isn't dumb enough to think Barack Obama, who'll still be in the White House in 2015, will sign legislation that wipes out Obamacare. Cruz is also not dumb enough to think Republicans can rack up a veto-proof majority in the Senate. There aren't enough seats in play for that to happen. And Obamacare is becoming more popular, not less.
And on top of all that, so many people are signing up for it that you can't just repeal it without dumping millions out of their health plans. To get rid of it now, you have to offer a workable alternative…which Republicans don't have.
I'm not worried about Obamacare being repealed. I do fear for a country that thinks Ted Cruz is a leader.
Who was he? You may not have known the name or face but you heard his voice on thousands of commercials, especially movie trailers. Hal died yesterday at his home in Virginia. Here he is parodying what he did (so well) for a living in a trailer for a Jerry Seinfeld documentary…
Well, it's official: For the first time since I got my first TiVo in 1999, I have no season passes for any late night shows. I gave up on Fallon last week and just canceled my pass for Seth Meyers. The Late Night Wars have finally claimed a casualty in my house: My interest in watching late night shows, at least on a regular basis. Henceforth, I intend to scan the guest lists and record episodes on an individual basis.
Technology has changed the game a lot. Once upon a time, I watched the late night shows — Johnny's, especially — because there was always the chance of missing something wonderful. Too many times, I'd miss Johnny and the next day, someone would say, "Did you see what happened on Carson last night?" If you hadn't, you were probably outta luck. The show might be rerun but not for a long time. (At one point, Johnny's reruns were a year old…and they never repeated shows with guest hosts.)
Today with DVRs, we usually don't miss our favorite shows in the first place, reruns are more current, and anything wonderful can be found on the 'net the next day. That's why I have no hesitation to not record some of these shows anymore. If it's great, it'll be more easily found and watched on YouTube. At times, the initial broadcast almost feels like an effort to generate YouTube videos.
The ratings haven't settled down to any sort of long-term "norm" yet. Fallon is kicking it but a bit less with each passing show. There are more or less two separate races here — the contest for the most total viewers and the contest for the 18-49 bracket. At the moment, Fallon's leading handily in both. Letterman's in second place with total viewers. Kimmel's in second place with 18-49. It wouldn't surprise anyone if that's the way it goes for a long time, though with narrower margins.
You have to wonder how Letterman feels about all this. So far, there's no indication that Leno viewers — older ones who may feel distanced from Fallon's guests and references — are taking sanctuary in Dave's show. They seem to be sticking with Fallon…or at least, he hasn't immediately lost much of Leno's audience share as Conan O'Brien did. The industry press seems to be covering the battle as one of guys named Jimmy with little notice of that guy over on CBS. Dave's show is not unprofitable and I can imagine that if he wants to stay and do it — even clearly in last place — CBS might be willing to tolerate that for a few years. I can also imagine Les Moonves sitting down with Letterman and saying, "We should start thinking about succession…"
Even though reports say he has a contractual guarantee of replacing Dave, I don't think Craig Ferguson will be an option. He didn't do all that well against Fallon at 12:35. I don't know why anyone would think he'd perform better at 11:35. If I were CBS, I'd send a Brinks Truck to Stephen Colbert's house but I'm sure others will be discussed. And maybe not for another few years.
But let's see. I'd guess four more weeks before we'll be able to say ratings have settled in and Fallon no longer enjoys the advantage of sheer newness plus that Olympian bump. It would not surprise me if he wound up right where Jay was. I think NBC would still be happy if that's the case…and Dave would still be wondering when the call's coming from Moonves.
This is the trailer for a new documentary I'm looking forward to seeing. It's all about Elaine Stritch, who has now retired after a helluva career…
John Cassidy goes over the latest jobs reports and unemployment figures. I really don't understand this bizarre claim we're hearing now from some people that folks who are poor or unemployed just aren't trying hard. I'm sure there are a few someplace but every time anyone holds a Job Fair these days, six hundred people show up for 150 openings. Are the 450 who get turned away lazy? Not trying? I can think of at least a dozen people I've encountered lately who are broke, unable to find work and willing to do just about anything legal to make a modest living.