James Garner died the other day. At age 86, of natural causes in his home in L.A.
The man lived a charmed life, he was a movie star who made a ton of dough. Still, I feel a little sad. I was big Jim Garner fan. He was funny and witty and cool.
I saw a ton of his movies back in the day, starting with The Great Escape. Which just may be the greatest Hollywood war movie — ever!
He played Bob Hendley, the sly and slick prisoner they called the Scrounger. As I recall, he got caught when the plane he was flying crashed.
I was about nine when I saw that movie. Probably went home and cried cause none of the good guys got away.
I also loved him as Charlie Madison, the cynical adjunct to the lieutenant commander in The Americanization of Emily. Which just may be one of the greatest Hollywood anti-war flicks — ever!
Paddy Chayefsky wrote the script. Let’s all quote one of Garner’s great lines…
“I don’t trust people who make bitter reflections about war, Mrs. Barham. It’s always the generals with the bloodiest records who are the first to shout what a hell it is. And it’s always the war widows who lead the Memorial Day parades.”
Amen to that.
I loved his TV shows. Especially The Rockford Files. Which I used to watch every week with my mom.
He played Jimmy Rockford, this down-on-his luck private detective who lived in a trailer and was always broke. He’d get messages on his phone machine that went like this…
“Jim, this is Norma at the market. It bounced. Do you want us to tear it up, send it back or put it with the others?”
With Diahann Carroll at the March on Washington…
As much as I loved Garner’s movies and TV shows, I never knew much about his life.
I definitely didn’t connect him with politics. If you asked, I’d have guessed he was a Republican, like Clint Eastwood, John Wayne or the other macho stars of that time.
But, no, it turns out he was “a lifelong Democrat, who was active in behalf of civil rights and environmental causes,” who met his wife “in 1956 at a presidential campaign rally for Adlai Stevenson,” according to his obit.
As such, he was one of the few Hollywood stars who had the guts to appear at the Great March on Washington in 1963.
Along with Marlon Brando, Burt Lancaster, Sammy Davis Jr., Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte and Charlton Heston — who used to be a liberal before he lost his mind.
Nowadays, standing with Martin Luther King may not sound like much. But back then it was a pretty radical thing for a white actor to do.
When needed he was there. For that and everything else, I say — thank you, Mr. Garner!
|Leave a comment|
In honor of Michael Jackson’s topping the charts — five years after he died — with Love Never Felt So Good, another one of his irresistible pop sensations, we reprint this blast our glorious past…
I was driving in the car when onto the radio came – Off the Wall by the great Michael Jackson!
I cranked up the volume and started singing.
“Cause we’re the party people, night and day — livin’ crazy that’s the only way….”
I hadn’t heard that song in years. Brought me back to a wild New Year’s Party, as `79 turned into 1980. A young Benny Jay — with a ton of hair – acting crazy. Thank goodness there are no known negatives to be used against me.
Thing is – the song stayed on my mind, long after it ended. I’ve been singing it day and night ever since.
Eventually, I boiled it down to two lines, which I say over and over, apropos to absolutely nothing. I fear this may be the first sign of some odd form of insanity.
Like this recent exchange with a receptionist…
“Hold for Mr. Jones,” she says.
“We’re the party people night and day — livin’ crazy, that’s the only way,” I say.
“Sorry — just ignore me.”
In my mind, I dance like this….
One day I was talking to this twenty-something year old I’ll call Adrienne. Cause that’s her name.
“Do you know where this line comes from?” I asked. “`We’re the party people, night and day — livin’ crazy, that’s the only way.’”
“No,” she said.
“That’s cause you’re too young. Ask your mother — she’ll know.”
So she texted her mother. A few minutes later, her mom texted back: “Michael Jackson.”
“See!” I said. Then I said the following line from the song: “`Gotta leave that nine to five upon the shelf, and just enjoy yourself.’”
“Oh,” said Adrienne. “If you’d asked about that line, I’d have known the song.”
Like I did something wrong.
The next day, I’m in the county clerk’s office, chatting with the nice lady at the desk. When I get the urge.
“Do you know this line?” I asked. Then I say, not sing: ”We’re the party people, night and day — livin’ crazy, that’s the only way.”
But in reality, I’m more like this….
“Oh, I know that line,” she said. “But I can’t remember where it’s from.”
“I’ll give a hint,” I said. “The writer died in 2009.”
Looking at me as if to say — Duh! – she pulled out her cell phone and showed me her screen-saver picture: A young Michael Jackson, doing the moonwalk.
Then she started singing — right there in the clerk’s office! “Gotta leave that nine to five upon the shelf — an’ just enjoy yourself.”
At which point, I said: “Yeah!”
Which didn’t have any applicability to anything. Just got caught up in the moment.
Yes, he was weird. But I miss Michael Jackson
|Leave a comment|
My wife and I are sitting in the living room, watching Munich, the Steven Spielberg flick, which we rented for the night.
And I say…
“You can tell what’s his face wrote this script. The dialogue sounds just like him.”
“Who’s what’s his face?” she asks.
“No, I don’t know…”
“You know — that guy. The one who wrote that play…”
“You know — we saw it with Randy and Vickie.”
“You’re not telling me me anything…”
Suddenly, it’s like my brain’s overwhelmed. I’m trying to remember the name of the writer while talking. It’s too much.
“We saw it at that theater on Belmont…”
“This doesn’t help me…”
“It’s got Angels in the title.”
“Angels in America. That’s the name of the play!”
“Oh, that play…”
“And he wrote that other play. It’s got Caroline in the name. You know, he’s a gay guy. Very liberal. Oh, come on — what’s his name?”
I can see his face…
This is killing me. I can see it all. The plays he wrote. Where we were and who we were with when we saw them. I can see his face and hear his voice from the TV specials on public TV. He’s got curly hair and a gap in his front teeth!
But I can’t remember his fucking name!
I’m having a moment of panic. This could be that first dreaded sign of dementia. Where things start to shut off!
“I can see his first name,” I say. “It starts with an A…”
“No, not an A,” says my wife.
“Is it a K?” I ask.
“No, not K.”
We turn our attention back to the movie. The hero’s having a horrible nightmare. He wakes up in a pool of sweat. A beautiful and sinister assassin has bared her curvaceous breasts.
“Kushner!” says my wife.
“You’re right. That’s his name.”
It’s hard to describe the glow of delight and satisfaction that radiates her face. I’m telling you, man — as you get older, you’d be surprised by the stuff that makes you proud.
A few minutes later, the credits role. And sure enough — screenplay by Tony Kushner and Eric Roth.
“Told you,” says my wife.
“Yes, you did,” I say.
“I remembered his name before you did.”
I say nothing.
So she repeats herself — just to make sure I heard her. “I remembered the name first — I remembered the name first…”
Aw, shit. Trash talking wives. First dementia now this. It’s always something.
|Leave a comment|
It’s with a heavy heart that I must point out a grevious oversight by Milo, my longtime friend and partner in The Third City blogging empire.
The other day, he wrote, and I quote: “I don’t care for the Chicago Cubs.”
Alas, that is not true. Sort of.
Not sure why Milo made this error. Maybe those years of wanton boozing, whoring and drug consuming have finally caught up with him. But here’s the fact…
When I first met Milo — way back when — he loved the Cubs. Tis true! In fact, I remember the day he gave them up.
Let’s go back in time to 1983 or `84 — something like that.
It’s a soft summer night and we’re sitting on the front stoop of Milo’s two-flat apartment in Lakeview.
It’s me and Milo on the front step. And Roger — Milo’s old friend from Gary, Indiana — behind us.
As I recall, we were smoking a joint. Or Milo was smoking a joint. By this time I believe I’d stopped smoking joints.
It doesn’t matter. What matters is that Milo was railing against Cubs management — then the Tribune company — for having unceremoniously dumped Ernie Banks from his position with the team.
Apparently, the previous Cubs owners had signed Ernie to a contract that obliged him to do little more than hang around the ballpark shaking hands with fans.
As Milo saw it, Ernie had earned that easy gig on account of the fact that he was the greatest Cub — ever!
Our conversation went a little like this…
“Those lousy motherfuckers fired Ernie Banks!” said Milo.
“I know,” I said.
“How can you fire Mr. Cub?”
“Those dirty sons of bitches!”
“I hear you…”
Milo & Roger back in the day…
“You don’t see the Yankees firing Mickey Mantle, do you?”
“Right now the Yanks are paying Mickey Mantle $100,000 just to walk around the ballpark being Mickey Mantle.”
“Joe DiMaggio, too!”
“That’s it – from here on out, I’m through with those fucking Cubs!”
It was at this point that, from the back, came the voice of Roger. It was the first words he’d spoken since Milo went on his tirade. Until then, we’d forgotten he was even there.
“Well, the Tribune does have a fiduciary responsibility to its stockholders,” he said.
Folks, let me tell you – Milo and I were stunned into silence.
This may have been the first time we’d ever heard the word fiduciary. I’m not sure either one of us even knew what it meant. But it sounded really impressive coming out of Roger’s mouth.
To this day, Milo and I can’t mention Roger’s name without adding the word fiduciary.
In my opinion, with that one comment, Roger established himself as the smartest kid to ever graduate from the public school system of Gary, Indiana. Right up there with Milo, of course.
Anyway, that’s my story and I’m sticking with it.
|Leave a comment|
In recognition of LeBron James ditching Miami for Cleveland — ha, ha, ha, ha! – the editorial board of The Third City has decided to re-print this brilliant essay from July 19, 2010 that sums up our position on the Heat.
I’m at a community meeting on the north side talking about property taxes when the text from Norm comes in. One word says it all: Heat.
On my walk home, I call him on my cell phone. “It’s official?” I ask.
“Yeah, Benny, it’s official…”
“You saw it?”
“I saw it, Benny…”
“You watched his announcement?”
“Yeah, dawg, I saw it. Bunch of bullshit, but I saw it…”
I’m standing in the middle of an intersection, waiting for cars to pass.
“I thought he was coming to Chicago, Norm. I actually thought he was coming to Chicago…”
“If you’re pissed, you should see the motherfuckers in Cleveland. They’re burning his jersey….”
“Nope. At least we got D Rose and Boozer and Jo Jo and Deng. Those sorry-ass motherfuckers ain’t got nothing….”
Don’t like these guys….
Hardly cheers me up. I feel like the Christopher Walked character in The Dead Zone (great movie, by the way). I see the future and it’s bleak: Many, many championships for the Heat.
The traffic clears. I cross the street.
“Wow, so he really did it?” I say.
“He really did it,” says Norm.
When it comes to sports and my home team loses, I go through two major stages of disappointment. One is disbelief — hence all the questions, as if maybe just maybe Norm got it wrong and LeBron James actually is coming to Chicago. The second is an F-dropping, sore-losing spasm of Blago-like proportions.
“Well, Norm,” I announce. “I got one thing to say about this…”
“What’s that, Benny?”
“Fuck the Heat!”
“Fuck LeBron James. Fuck Chris Bosh. And fuck D Wade — I don’t care if he does come from Chicago….”
“I feel the same way, Benny…”
“And while we’re at it – double fuck Pat Riley!”
For all you basketball dummies out there, this is Pat Riley — the diabolical genius who put this monster team together….
“He’s the best GM in basketball, Benny…”
“True. But it doesn’t mean I have to like him…”
“Didn’t say you have to like him. Just saying he’s the best…”
“And here’s something else I never thought I’d say…”
“If the Heat play the Lakers for the championship next year?”
“I’m rooting for the Lakers…”
“Go Kobe! Go Phil! Go three-peat!”
He’s laughing. “But you hate the Lakers, Benny…”
“Not as much as I hate the Heat…”
“Never thought I’d hear you say that….”
“I hope the Lakers crush the Heat in the finals….”
“It ain’t gonna happen, Benny — the Heat’s not going to make it to the finals…”
“But, Norm – they got LeBron, D Wade and Bosh…”
“Fuck that, Benny. We got D Rose. You hear me, Benny. The Heat ain’t getting by the Bulls. D Rose is gonna come into Miami and beat them motherfuckers…”
“You think so, man?”
“Take it to the bank, Benny…”
Get a big smile when he says it. Feeling better already…
|Leave a comment|
I’m on the phone with my friend Lois, when I make a reference to The Greatest Love of All, one of the epic hits of the `90s.
“I don’t know that song,” says Lois.
“Yes, you do,” I say. ”Whitney Houston sang it. So did George Benson. It was in the movie about Muhammad Ali.”
It’s amazing how much I know about that song.
“Sorry, I’m drawing a blank,” she says. “Sing it.”
Big mistake. As I may have mentioned before, I can’t sing.
But since she asked, I clear my voice and…
“The greatest love — of all. Is easy to believe.”
As always, I’m messing up the words.
“I believe the children are our future. Teach them the laughter — it’s the laughter.”
Uh-oh, I realize I’m seguewaying into The Way We Were.
Sing it, Whitney!
Finally, Lois waves the white flag.
She thinks: Stop singing this shit!
She say: “Nope, still still don’t know it.”
I promise to send here the link to the video of Whitney Houston singing it.
My day goes on. Hours later I’m in a beauty parlor with my wife. I tell her about the conversation.
“Let’s see if you know what song I was singing to Lois.” I say.
So I sing a rendition for my wife, which is not much of an improvement over the one I sang for Lois.
Dig this. My wife says — “Oh, that’s Whitney Houston.”
I’m like — yeah, man!
Then my older daughter walks into the room. And I sing the song for her.
“Duh,” she says. “Whitney Houston.”
So either my singing magically improved in just a couple of hours, or — you have to have lived with me for at least 25 years to understand what I’m singing.
At which point — believe it or not — into the room walks Gina. Lois’ daughter!
I’m thinking — perfect, I can do a social experiment.
In my mind, I was the great Marvin Gaye!
I tell her the basics. I was talking to her mother. I sang a snatch of this song. She didn’t know what I was singing. So, I was wondering — could I sing the song for you to see if you understand it?
She thinks: Man, these fuckers get weirder as they get older.
She says: “Sure — why not.”
I gather myself to make my best presentation.
“I believe the children are our future…”
I’m telling you, people. I’m nailing that baby!
“Teach them to find the way…”
In my mind, I’m Marvin Gaye singing the national anthem at the 1983 NBA all-star game in Los Angeles.
“The Greatest Love — of all!!!”
Alas, when I finish, Gina says: “I don’t know that song.”
I think: What the fuck’s the matter with this family?
I say: “Oh, well…”
Anyway, that night I get an email from Lois, who had clicked onto the link I’d sent her. She writes…
“Oh, THAT song!!!! :)”
Ha, ha, ha. Everyone’s got jokes.
|Leave a comment|
The other day, I got injured in a basketball game. Here’s how it happened…
I was racing down court on the front end of a fast break. Okay, I wasn’t really racing. More like jogging.
And I caught a perfect little bounce pass from Picasso Paul, who doubles as an artist, when he’s not running the break.
I felt Antonio on my right. The dude’s big and strong. Like Tiny Lister, who plays Winston — the bail bondsman in Jackie Brown.
I faked him into the air with a little deke that had the crowd going crazy.
Actually there was no crowd. Just two guys on the side waiting to play.
I was set to pass to Norm, wide open for the easy bucket.
I was seeing stars…
Bam! Antonio whacked my ear with his elbow.
He didn’t do it on purpose. He just went for my brilliant fake. Did I tell you the fake was brilliant?
I saw stars, people. Raquel Welch. Pam Grier. Liz Taylor…
I was walking around rubbing my head.
“You all right?” someone asked.
“Yeah, fine,” I said. Cause real men don’t admit it hurts.
The crowd cheered my courage.
Actually, a guy on the sidelines said…
“You stayin’ in?”
Clearly, he was hoping to sub for me. It’s a dog eat dog out there, people.
Afterwards when I got home, I told my wife…
“I got injured.”
What can I tell you — chicks love a tough guy.
Antonio’s strong like Tiny Lister…
“Where?” she asked.
“I don’t see anything wrong with your ear.”
“What do you mean, you don’t see anything wrong with it. Look closer.”
She looked closer. “I still don’t see anything.”
“You’re not looking close enough.”
She practically had her face in my ear.
She shined the bedroom lamp directly on my ear.
“Oh, yeah, you can see it’s a little red.”
The next morning, I came down for breakfast and my wife said.
“Oh, my God — your ear’s black and blue.”
“I told you!”
Then I started limping.
“Why are you limping?” asked my wife.
“Cause I got injured.”
“But it’s your ear?”
I tell you, man, these women are tough on a baller.
But I will survive — just like Gloria Gaynor said.