Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Anorther Detroit childhood icon passes away

From today's (May 25) Detroit Free Press online edition
Ricky the Clown made generations of kids laugh

Family friend fondly recalls the amazing life of a Detroit legend
For a kid growing up in Detroit in the 1960s, it was better than going to the circus or the zoo. That's how I remember my family's visits to the home of Ricky the Clown.
Ricky -- born Irvin Romig -- died Sunday at age 90. It boggles the mind to think how many kids he made laugh in a lifetime of clowning. I was one of those kids, but luckier than most, because Irvin and my dad, Richard Panzenhagen, were best friends. They grew up under the same roof on Mt. Elliott in Detroit.
By 1960, my family had moved to the east side of Detroit; Irvin, his wife, Rose, and son, Chris, had moved to the faraway reaches of West 10 Mile Road. Driving to Southfield, a veritable wilderness in those days, was akin to driving Up North -- the Lodge Expressway wasn't even finished yet.
The Romigs' ranch-style home was across the street from WXYZ-TV's (Channel 7) Broadcast House, where Irvin performed on such programs as "The Ricky the Clown Show" and "Action Theater."
While their house was comfortable, the backyard was amazing. It was the biggest one I'd ever seen and, believe it or not, a llama lived back there. It didn't do much, but how many people do you know who have a llama in the backyard?
Irvin had go-karts for us kids to ride, and he'd haul grownups around in a contraption that resembled a paddy wagon hooked up to a tractor.
The basement was a kid's delight, a storehouse of props that had been used in the act over the years -- everything from toy guns to musical instruments to a gorilla outfit. The best part of any visit, though, was Irvin himself, who would slide easily into his Ricky persona to entertain guests.
I'll never forget his endless supply of gags and one-liners, or his over-the-top version of "Mammy." Mostly I'll remember the joy Irvin got from entertaining others. His laughter was infectious.
Ricky the Clown was inducted into the International Clown Hall of Fame in 2001, alongside the likes of Emmett Kelly and Red Skelton. Yet it's fair to say that Irvin Romig didn't achieve real stardom. His greatest legacy will be that he made generations of kids laugh. Luckily, I was one of those kids, and I had a front-row seat.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

See "The Pacific" over Memorial Day on HBO

Attention! On Memorial Day Monday, May 31, Home Box Office has scheduled to air the brilliant miniseries "The Pacific," in its entirety, back--to-back, all 10 episodes in a row, starting at 2 p.m. (Eastern)/1 p.m. (Central).
If you have NOT seen it, you must! If yo've already seen it, see it again. It's THAT good!!!
That effort is why HBO stands head and shoulders above ALL other pay cable, or anything else, on television.
And I might suggest watching some of the outstanding documentaries on HBO's side channels (notable Signature), uncluding one called "Souting Fire" about the First Amendment and the various attacks on our freedom of speech and religion in this nation - sacrificing freedom for security. As Jefferson said, "When you sacrifice one, you get neither."

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Bristol Stomp

“The kids in Bristol are shape as a pistol when they do the Bristol Stomp!” – The Dovells, 1962

Bristol Palin, 19, has done absolutely nothing in her life that would warrant ANYONE paying her a dime to speak about anything. Yet, she’s about to hit the speaker circuit, at between $15,000-$30,000 a pop, to follow in her mother’s footsteps as someone getting paid with nothing concrete to say.
ALL this girl/woman has done in her short life is have teenage, unprotected sex with her then-(slug)boyfriend, give birth, NOT get married (before, during or after) and then get paraded around the country by her candidate mother, as a mere prop, for political purposes (the latter isn’t as immoral as it is disgusting).
So seeing how “Mama Grizzly” has chewed up the American scenery, little Bristol is trying to get wealthy herself … having done nothing worthy of getting wealthy. Like every other slacker of her generation.
Well, I guess welcome to the 21st century, Chuck, where your old fashioned concept of earning rewards through hard work just doesn’t apply.
Palin-lite is listed online on the speaking group, Single Source Speakers, website as “available for conferences, fundraisers, special events and holidays, as well as women’s, youth, abstinence (that’s rich!) and ‘pro-life’ programs. The fee will depend on the group and “what she must to do prepare.”
How about growing up in the first place?
This is how LOW this society has fallen. Her mother can only make millions throwing mud, aiming guns and acting like a shrew, which I imagine is now the new definition of the American success story. If so, give me the old days when you actually DID or MADE something in order to get rich.
Spreading your legs for the town teenage hockey hero, other in porn films, is NOT my idea of a success story that anyone should heart. Why can’t these Alaskan hillbillies go back to the doublewide they came from?

Monday, May 17, 2010

The face of politics' future?!

Is this a face only a "Mama Grizzly" could love ... or understand? Hey, Sarah, stop squinting or you get all those nasty age lines in your face that NO amount of regeneration makepu can hide!
Guys, this IS a MILF (Moron I'd Like to Forget - stolen from Bill Maher but oh so TRUE!)

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

And so long from the Tiger Stadiums of my mind …

“And the poet, Alfred Lord Tennyson, once wrote in his epic poem ‘Ulysses,’ “I am a part of all that I have met.”
Ernie Harwell, August, 1981, Hall of Fame induction speech
I am approaching 58 years of age and if you ask me to be honest, all I ever “wanted” to be was the first starting first baseman for my hometown Detroit Tigers. I never had dreams of being a doctor, lawyer, accountant (although my mother did) … or journalist/newspaper owner.
I wanted to spend my days and nights hovering around the dirt and grass at the corner of Michigan and Trumbell Avenues. But an inability to move faster than the average tortoise and a subsequent football injury eliminated that possibility (which was NEVER going to be possible).
I wanted that life because I heard Ernie Harwell tell me what a wonderful thing it was to play for the Detroit Tigers. And now, as I eventually become a senior citizen, he is gone from us – his voice stilled by cancer at the age of 92 on Tuesday afternoon. As a true Tiger fan, I cannot tell anyone, or express the inner sorrow I feel because the world, not just the sport of baseball of the Detroit community, is NOT better off for his departure. When Ernie was among us, he MADE it a better place to live.
I saw my first game in 1959 (Baltimore at Detroit), but I didn’t start listening to Tiger games until the next season, when Ernie Harwell began his broadcast career with Detroit. And for the next 44 years (save one year when management stupidly thought his time at the microphone was over and the fans expressed such outrage that he was hired back the following season), Harwell WAS the voice of the Tigers and the voice of the Motor City. In fact, I have NO idea who did play-by-play prior to his arrival (from Baltimore after stints with the Brooklyn Dodgers, eventually replaced by Vin Scully and the New York Giants) … nor do I know who does it today.
It doesn’t matter because, for my taste, there was NO baseball broadcasting in Detroit without Ernie Harwell.
Each sport has its iconic voices. As a young Detroiter, other sports had them as well (Van Patrick for Lions football, Budd Lynch for Red Wings hockey, Bob Ufer for Michigan football). But none of them EVER reached the level of worship that Harwell possessed. And he didn’t purposely seek for it to happen that way. It just did because of young boys like me who grew up and maintained that admiration.
He was not a big man, slight in stature, but you don’t measure strength by sheer physical mass. You measure it by character and no one was stronger in that field than Harwell. He gave all his credit to God and his wife of 66 years (at the end), Lulu. No one before, and after his passing, can utter a single word of disdain for Ernie. All the tributes are glowing as they should be.
Even as his illness slowly sapped his strength, Ernie pressed forward; in fact, was to have received an award in New York City today (which he would have strived to have attended except for that small inconvenience called death). The Detroit public packed a downtown theater last winter to hear Harwell’s stories one final time in the name of charity – to help the homeless along with author/sportswriter Mitch Albom. From every account, you’d thought they were all in church – solemn and worshipful.
Last September, he made his final public appearance at the Tigers’ new home, Comerica Park, and it was such a special occasion, they interrupted the game in the fifth inning to have Harwell come to home plate and thank the fans and players for his life. He always made it a point to tip his cap to the Michigan faithful and took pride in the fact that when he would die, it would take place in a place he came to live (despite ALL its massive social and economic problems).
I’ve written often about how, following the disastrous 1967 riots, the Tigers, en route to their first World Series title since 1945, literally saved the city from itself. Instead of focusing on their problems, people of all social, racial and economic backgrounds tuned into their radios and television sets to hear the exploits of Al Kaline, Denny McLain, Willie Horton, Mickey Lolich, Gates Brown, Norm Cash, Mickey Stanley, Jim Northrup and others. The voice that helped soothe the savage beast was that of a Georgia native who was the only broadcaster in the history of the sport ever “traded” to another franchise for an actual player.
Instead of finding ways to destroy the city during another steaming summer, fans wondered aloud how Harwell knew everyone in the ballpark when he insisted that “a man from Waterford Township caught that foul ball.” Hell, we all knew he was just making that up but it was a badge of honor to have your community mentioned during a Tiger broadcast.
And his stadium “office” inside Tiger Stadium was SO close to the field, and so close to the fans, that people would wave and shout greetings to him between innings. It might be an overused term but it is the only statement which holds total truth in each word: he WAS a man of the people.
Harwell was inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame on Aug. 2, 1981 (broadcasters earn that receiving the Ford C. Frick Award, where, on the Hall of Fame website, Harwell’s microphone is the iconic symbol). At that moment, he joined the absolute giants of American sports broadcasting (Mel Allen, Red Barber, Bob Elson and Russ Hodges, his former Giants on-air teammate).
In his speech, Harwell, a published author of scores of books about baseball, his faith and life, beautifully answered the question, “Why is baseball SO special?”
I close with his words, not mine, because his do justice to his talent and his love for the greatest game ever created:
“Baseball is the President tossing out the first ball of the season and a scrubby schoolboy playing catch with his dad on a Mississippi farm. A tall, thin old man waving a scorecard from the corner of his dugout. That’s baseball. And so is the big, fat guy with a bulbous nose running home one of his (Babe Ruth’s) 714 home runs.
“There’s a man in Mobile who remembers that Honus Wagner hit a triple in Pittsburgh 46 years ago. That’s baseball. So is the scout reporting that a sixteen year old pitcher in Cheyenne is a coming Walter Johnson. Baseball is a spirited race of man against man, reflex against reflex. A game of inches. Every skill is measured. Every heroic, every failing is seen and cheered, or booed. And then becomes a statistic.
“In baseball, democracy shines its clearest. The only race that matters is the race to the bag. The creed is the rulebook. Color merely something to distinguish one team’s uniform from another.
“Baseball is a rookie. His experience no bigger than the lump in his throat as he begins fulfillment of his dream. It’s a veteran too, a tired old man of thirty-five hoping that those aching muscles can pull him through another sweltering August and September. Nicknames are baseball, names like Zeke and Pie and Kiki and Home Run and Cracker and Dizzy and Daffy.
“Baseball is the cool, clear eyes of Rogers Hornsby. The flashing spikes of Ty Cobb, an over aged pixie named Rabbit Maranville.
“Baseball just a came as simple as a ball and bat. Yet, as complex as the American spirit it symbolizes. A sport, a business and sometimes almost even a religion.
“Why the fairy tale of Willie Mays making a brilliant World Series catch. And then dashing off to play stick ball in the street with his teenage pals. That’s baseball. So is the husky voice of a doomed Lou Gehrig saying, “I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth.”
“Baseball is cigar smoke, hot roasted peanuts, The Sporting News, ladies day, “Down in Front,” “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” and the “Star Spangled Banner.”
“Baseball is a tongue-tied kid from Georgia growing up to be an announcer and praising the Lord for showing him the way to Cooperstown. This is a game for America. Still a game for America, this baseball!”
God rest this gentle man’s soul; his like will not pass this way again anytime soon.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Hail! hail! to the greatness of "The Pacific"

I cannot find enough words of praise when writing about HBO's brilliant miniseries, "The Pacific," one of the bets thing EVER shown on television following ... HBO's previous WWII effort, "Band of Brothers." It's harrowing, moving, disturbing, frightening, heroic and ... almost all of it true to the details.
As a son of a Jewish World War II vet, I grew up knowing several things:

1) The war sucked (as do ALL wars), but we were completely justified in what we did, including Hiroshima/Nagasaki because it SAVED the lives of perhaps a million Americans and Japanese (we learned on Iwo Jima that an invasion of the Japanese mainland would prove to be bloodier than anyone would imagine);
2) What the Japanese did to others were as horrific as some of the things Germany inflicted upon Europe (if you don't believe it, ask older Chinese people; they STILL seeth at those memories).
3) WWII was a war of liberation for Africa/Europe and the U.S. symbolize the liberators; establishing a permanent link of fairly goodwill to that continent (despite what some USA administrations believed about "old Europe").
4) War IS hell - all of it, wherever it is fought, regardless of the combatants. It's drivenby hatred far too often rather than any speck of necessity.
5) The Holocaust was real and perhaps the single most heinous planned campaign in all of mankind's existence. Each week, as I went to temple, I would see old men and women in their seats, often with their concentration camp tattoos on the arms visible. They could tell you that Hell existed on earth because they went through it ... and survived.
"The Pacific" is outstanding television and tells the complete story of the men who fought island to island. The non-combat storylines are necessary to show that these were not robots, but human beings. Last Sunday's episode might have been some of the saddest narrative seen in recent years. If the ending didn't get to you, you have no soul (no spoiler alert!).
And, here's the real thing: It's based on total truth. Sledge's first book, "Helmet for My Pillow" is the basis for his storyline and R.V. Burgin's new book (also characterized in the show) is also employed. Burgin lives in Lancaster, Texas, where I worked for five years as that community newspaper's editor (however, never knew him or met him - he kept a low profile until plans wre unveiled to do this miniseries). If you Wikipedia John Basilone, you'll find how much accuracy has been retained in his narrative.
The world would have been totally different - we probably would not be here - had the outcome not been what it was in 1945. It was NOT a foregone conclusion; it had to be earned.
And those few survivors today should be honored through tributes like "The Pacific" and "Band of Brothers" before it.
People, you'll NOT regret seeing it when you get the chance.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Visiting the BIG HOUSE

As a proud alumunus of the University of Michigan, THIS is a great scene - the President of the United States addressing the graduating Class of 2010 inside "The Big House" - Michigan Stadium before a crowd of 80,000.
It's the biggest place to see a football game and it's the biggest place to hold a commencement ceremony.
Which is why this school is still no. 1 (except in football).