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Ain’t that a hole in the boat | The Bleat.

Hi there!

That’s Joel Grey. I watch a lot of stuff I don’t particularly enjoy – not to punish myself, but to learn. Everyone has their ideas about how things were, how they were better back then. Well. Time-Life has a new set of disks on this show:

You all remember De-Anne Martin. This ran for many years, and I have a dim collection of the later ones with the Golddiggers, Dean sitting on a stool with a drink and a smoke in Full Swank. Classy stuff. Carson you didn’t have to stay up late to see! It was the death-throes of the Greatest Generation culture, one of the last levees built to contain the rising water of the youth culture. When it was all over I think Dean just went home and played golf and drank and had lunch until one day he checked his watch, said “well, closing time,” and checked out. There’s a book I’ve been meaning to read for years, Nick Tosches’ bio – the description seems to confirm the sense that I get from watching him perform, that the surface was all there was. There was no Deep Dean. People expected to find there was another guy down there somewhere, but never found it. We expect artists to be Complicated; if not, they’re shallow. But maybe he was just a one-story house without a basement. Nothing a guy can do about that.

I got a review copy from a co-worker. Everything I’d read about the show seems right: Martin never rehearsed, treated it all as a lark, smoked constantly; everyone ambled and stumbled through the bits with cavalier nonchalance. To read some reviews of people who recall the show fondly, it was a Golden Age, real entertainment, “classic,” the sort of thing they just don’t make anymore.

That’s true. The variety format is dead. On the other hand, the stuff is terrible. The singing is fine, in that old belt-it-out style, but the humor is not . . . what’s the word, funny? That’ll do. The disk opens with a ’65 or ’66 monologue by ol’ Ski Nose:

He runs through his jokes without enthusiasm, playing to a tape-recorded crowd – the laugh track is tinny and obviously fake – and the jokes are an interminable parade of witless cliches in the old style, meaning, things that should be funny because they follow the commonly-accepted parameters of a joke. They’re mostly two-liners, constructed along lines from 20 years before, beaten to death in the afternoon shows of second-billing Vegas acts. Did you hear about the Person with a Particular Attribute? He suffered a rather expected, and apt, fate. Hahahahahha!

Watching TV of this era brings back early childhood, as you might imagine, but not because of the content. Over my head that went. No, it’s the look – the bright saturated look of the shows. Living color. I thought there’s be little to enjoy until I came across . . . Him.

Yes, it’s Orson. After some gruesome strained routines they cut to Orson on a dark stage:

He does a passage from “The Merchant of Venice,” straight, from memory. I’ll give the advocates of the good-old-days this much: the form of the variety show was so loose and capacious that they could take time out for a man delivering Shakespeare straight up, no chaser. He’s in a tux the whole show. Everyone’s in a tux. Everyone is dressed up, because this is how men of the world dress, right? It’s all a cocktail party, a piping stew of celebrity and wit and glamour.

I call your attention to this bit, with Dean, Jimmy Stewart, and Orson, getting their hair done in a beauty parlor. (You may have to hit reload to see the video; I don’t know why, but that’s what I have to do. Mysteries abound.)

They just outed Rock Hudson and Tab Hunter. Wow.

Earlier in the sketch, they’re talking about their magazines, and if you know the styles of the mags of the era, this one’s easy:

Look had that style, and the internet helped me pin it down to August, 1967.

Of course, they had to take the name off, lest it be seen as a commercial endorsement. Likewise the magazine Dean’s reading, although at one point he turns it sideways to show it has a centerfold. Well, now that we know the approximate date, perhaps we could zoom in on the picture . . .

See that stripe? Okay. Cross-reference with the wikipedia list of centerfolds for 1967, do an image search – oh, the things I do for history – and voila:

It’s Anne Randall, whose “data sheet” (sfw) listed the people she admired: “Ronald Reagan. He’s honest and the kind of man America needs in politics.”
Now she’s a community activist at a retirement resort in Arizona, where she seems to have her hands full. Her website could stand an upgrade, but she seems to be doing good work

As for Martin after the show ended, wikipedia says:

A much-touted tour with Davis and Sinatra in 1988 sputtered. On one occasion, he infuriated Sinatra when he turned to him and muttered “Frank, what the hell are we doing up here?” Martin, who always responded best to a club audience, felt lost in the huge stadiums they were performing in (at Sinatra’s insistence), and he was not the least bit interested in drinking until dawn after their performances.

Don’t think he ever quit smoking, which makes his end a one-two punch: got lung cancer and died of emphysema. But he was 78, and from what I’ve read he was hit hard by his son’s death. You wonder if you’d told him when he was 77 he could have lived three more years if he’d never smoked; he might have looked down at the Pall Mall red, considered it, and said: “Sure. And for what?”

One of the gags in the show: the door. Dean would open the door, and there’d be a surprise guest. Supposedly they never told him who it was, so his reaction would be genuine. Can’t vouch for that – he seems surprised, but it seems to me that he was so good at faking it he didn’t know when he was faking it, and if he didn’t know, then maybe he wasn’t? It was all an act, every bit of it, but it was him.

Then there’s this.

I don’t have any particular love for the Rat Pack; they seemed like comic-book superheroes for men who’d been living square-john lives since they were 18, but the imagery of the era is something else, and you can’t dismiss their role in the playboy-cool male archetype of the time. Or our time: people talk cool, they don’t talk Kurt Cobain or the guy from Weezer or some other post-90s emo-wiener. It’s the guys with the easy grins and the hats and the cigarette and the drink and Angie Dickinson waiting in a room in the Sands. It’s the posture of disengagement, the casual entitlement to the good things and the appreciation of the same, the remnant sense of old-line manliness – which they watched evaporate with no regrets, because hell, they were still doing fine. Dean was fine. Looking good. And hammered.

A good day, with caveats. Worked at home, since Natalie had no school. Put up a lot on the blog – oh, criminey, forget to fix the link to PopCrush. Well. Add that to the list of things. After writing all day, a thick soupy nap, a workout while watching “The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes” – love the show, but the theme has a trumpet that feels like a dentist’s drill on a filling – then wrote the National Review column. Then this. Hope you enjoyed; I got a letter today telling me how pretty much everything I do sucks now, because I’m overextended and just going through the motions here on the site. I’d hate to think that’s true, because I’m not going through the motions, which means giving things my full attention means the result sucks, which is really depressing. I love this site; it’s my life’s work. There will be weak Bleats, but on balance week to week, I think the overall contribution to the amount of Stuff on the internet is worth it. But in case you feel the same, I thank you for sticking with it! See you around.

One more thing about the Dean Martin show, something that says so much about the era:

Marionettes. They had to have marionettes.

 

102 Responses to Ain’t that a hole in the boat

  1. Emily says:

    No suckitude here, in my humble opinion. That pic of the marionette might give me nightmares though.

  2. Redman says:

    Love to have a DVD of nothing but the opening of the door segments.

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