spatch: (Bankrupt)
While driving through Medford today, [ profile] muffyjo and I noticed that the Outback Steakhouse in the Stop & Shop plaza -- and indeed, one of the last few reasons to go to that plaza other than for the Stop & Shop -- is gone.

Windows boarded up, doors locked tight, sign removed from the facade, potential inconvenience apologized for, gone gone gone.

For many it may not be that harsh a blow to American chain restaurants, or to cuisine in general. And truth be told, the US Version of Australia that the Outback Steakhouse featured was tiresome and frankly embarrassing, what with the KANGAROO XING signs and boomerangs everywhere and dishes with names that used outdated Australian slang. The restaurant has ashamed at least one Australian expat I know in the States, and I am certain there are others whose faces will be slightly less red after hearing this news.

But then again, says Mr. Mondegreen, the coin falls on the other side of the shoe as well: There are US-themed restaurants elsewhere in the world which seem to believe that Texas is the true face of all things American. They might believe it -- and Texas believes it, for sure -- but it isn't truly representative of the country as a whole. So it was with the Outback Steakhouse and Australia. Embarrassing culturally, but ... oddly enough, this restaurant was a social focal point for me.

Several of my circles of friends, it turned out, frequented the Medford place. It was where bets were made over poorly-designed cocktails, where Margarita Bob conquered the chipotle-pineapple margarita, or where the margarita conquered him. We're still not sure of the final score there. The post-modern rock group Razorblade Motorcade (so post-modern, not a single song was ever written or recorded) had their CD cover art taken in the parking lot outside after eating there. One could get drunk and saunter a few doors down to the TJ Maxx (now AJ Wright) and make fun of the exquisitely tacky home furnishings out loud. (Trust me, it's worlds of fun if you've got the right store and the right buzz and don't have to drive anywhere.) It was also where a Theatre@First delegation regularly went after their monthly meeting and indeed, one of the first thoughts that [ profile] muffyjo and I had when staring at the boarded windows was "Now where will the Steering Committee eat?"

Most importantly, it served the best cheese fries with or without the bacon on top and if you asked nicely you could get both ranch dressing and honey mustard sauce on the side and that was practically a meal in and of itself. The French Onion soup was definitely not recommended and I have a cracking great story concerning another soup of theirs which unfortunately cannot be told in mixed company, but their steaks were consistently good and again I draw your attention to the cheese fries and the copious amounts of alcoholic beverages, some of which were actually quite tasty.

It wasn't a destination restaurant. Nobody, with the exception of the T@F Steering Committee I guess, ever said "Hey! Let's up and go to the Outback Steakhouse!" The decision process leading to a visit usually went more like "Hey, let's go out to dinner! You free tonight? Awesome! Where should we go? No, not into the Square, it'll be too busy... oh that's a good idea, but I had Chinese last night... not feeling up for Indian? Hmm, what about Outback? Does that sound good? Okay, let's go."

Because of its magical power to be there for you by default, it was often referred to fondly as the Fallback Steakhouse. But now we no longer have our fallback.

Oh, there are other middle-class restaurant chains nearby. The Valley of the Things in Everett has a Texas Roadhouse, speaking of that whole Texas thing, which gives you free peanuts and lets you drop the shells on the floor (but which does not have a "No Yee-Hawing" section; make a mental note never to take someone there on their birthday unless you truly hate them) and a TGI Friday's. Cambridgeside has a California Pizza Kitchen which features a kitchen that makes pizzas obstensibly from California, and a Cheesecake Factory, which does not feature a factory that makes cheesecake. (That revelation is still a stinging disappointment.) You can head up to Burlington if you're really jonesing for a Chili's or, as the Medford sign suggests, another Outback.

But they're just not the same. Try as they might, they just won't capture the spirit of the place I'd been going to with friends of one stripe or another for eight, nine years now. I fully realize I am waxing rhapsodic about a restaurant chain of dubious theming and getting all nostalgic like Butters talking about Bennigan's, but you probably have a similar restaurant which you frequent. It may be embarrassing for you to admit it to the snobs you know who consider themselves gourmets, but you go anyway because hell not every trip out can be a visit to the French Laundry and your friends go too and it's fun and you know what to order and what not to and sometimes there are drinks specials. And then one day you go by and the whole operation has disappeared.

I am going to hit myself over the head with this keyboard if I use the words "end", "era", "of" and "an" in a certain combination, so I guess I should finish up and ponder the fireworks tonight instead. Or maybe just take a nap. It's been a long day.
spatch: (Default)'s NYC guru has this to say about the Statue of Liberty and why access to the crown has been closed since September 11...
On that fateful day in 2001, she held her head high as she witnessed with her own eyes the horrors that took place just across from her watery home. Symbolism and sentimentality can be infinitely applied to her place in it all, and the National Park Service (the statue's operator) is taking it very seriously. Due to security reasons, the top of the Statue of Liberty will continue to be closed to the public.
The only thing is that Lady Liberty (who's been known to shed a tear for one cause or another from time to time) didn't witness any of that. The statue faces the harbor with its back to the skyline, more or less. Back when the crown was open to the public, you didn't climb up to the top for the view of New York. Nah, you climbed up for the HOLY CRAP I'M IN A GIANT STATUE'S HEAD factor (and when you're eleven years old, my god is that factor incredibly compelling.)

My favorite Statue of Liberty story involves Bill Gaines from MAD Magazine. Bill was a huge Statue of Liberty nut, and probably held the record for most collectible items featuring the statue. One of his lifelong dreams was to climb up into the torch, which has been closed to the public since 1916 (and not due to any terrorist attacks. I don't think.) Well, his wife Annie once pulled a few strings with the Parks Department back when this kinda thing wasn't viewed as a terrorist attack, and Bill got to stay in the statue after closing time (just like in From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler!) and, once everybody had left, the string-pulled Parks Dept employee unlocked the gate to the arm and let Bill, Annie and Dick DeBartolo climb up the arm to get to the torch.

Problem was, Bill wasn't a very small man (in his memoirs Good Days and MAD, Dick describes Bill as "being a dessert fan") and the passageway in the statue's arm actually narrowed when it got to the wrist, I believe. In climbing up to the torch, Bill found himself actually wedged inside the statue's arm with nowhere to go. Being stuck in the statue's arm was bad enough, but Annie and Dick had gone before Bill and were already out on the torch's little balcony. Being stranded out on the torch was probably worse than being stuck in the arm.

Fortunately, with a bit of moving around, Bill was able to unstick himself and back down the ladder, letting a very relieved Annie and Dick escape as well. They got to enjoy (for varying definitions of the word "enjoy") the torch but unfortunately, like Moses, Bill was never able to visit the Promised Land. (Though for Moses, at least he never got himself wedged in a giant copper arm.)

And that's just a few random things about the Statue of Liberty for you today. You're welcome.
spatch: (RKO Radio Pictures)
One of the classic film urban legends (or rumors, or perhaps "hopes") is that somewhere in South America, stashed in someone's basement or hiding in a chest in an attic, is a full, uncut version of Orson Welles' The Magnificent Ambersons. Welles finished his first cut of the film in 1942 while in South America shooting a documentary called It's All True, which itself was devised in an attempt to improve relations between the US and several key Latin American countries. We were in a war, see, and needed all the pals we could get. If we couldn't get pals, we would've settled for good neighbors.

Neither Ambersons nor It's All True turned out the way Welles wanted them to. Higher-ups at RKO, the studio which was to distribute the films, grew seriously unhappy with the way Orson was behaving while down in Brazil. Oh, sure, the guy worked like a madman, but he also played like a madman as well, and his filmmaking approach (progress? what progress? can't you see there are dances to dance, skirts to chase and delicious drinks to enjoy?) had long since ceased to worry the RKO brass. It had begun to piss them off something fierce. At this point in time Welles had only one film to his name. It just so happened to be Citizen Kane, which nearly everybody but William Randolph Hearst had praised, so Welles was under serious scrutiny from a lot of different eyes. His second film would have to surpass Kane in brilliance or else it'd just prove that Orson had gotten lucky the first time around.

The first audience preview of Ambersons was an absolute disaster. The film was previewed second on a double bill. The first film screened was a light-hearted, zippy peppy musical, which was what audiences wanted, especially so soon after Pearl Harbor. By all accounts, they loved it. The Magnificent Ambersons, on the other hand, was a brooding, slow-paced moody drama with (in the original cut) no uplifting ending, and it clocked in at just over two hours. Faced with this ordeal, the audience turned sour, began heckling, and left behind angry survey cards which were the 1940s version of YouTube comments only with just slightly less cussing (and, one presumes, without seventeen comment cards all containing the same line of dialogue with no extra comment.)

RKO knew they had to make drastic cuts to the film. Orson would never approve of their cuts, and they knew it. They also knew they didn't have to worry about that since Welles was completely powerless, being out of the country and without the right of final cut (he'd given it up during contract negotations.)

Welles could make suggestions from afar via telegram and telephone and he did, very much so, but his dispatches often carried no weight. If he had been in Hollywood, or if Robert Wise, the film's actual editor, could have gone to Rio to work with Welles (his trip was denied due to wartime travel restrictions) there's a good chance that the film might not have been butchered as it turned out to be. As it was, Wise edited the film under the guidance of studio executives who disliked Welles. Also involved with the editing process was Welles' own business manager, Jack Moss, but he was completely ineffective in defending the project and upholding what Orson wanted.

The result was a drastically shortened movie with a new, happier ending tacked on. Welles' relations with RKO fell apart. The studio eventually destroyed all the unused footage of Ambersons ("to free up vault space" was the official story, though it doesn't take a tinfoil hat to theorize they'd done it to keep the material out of Welles' hands.)

It's All True suffered disaster after disaster, including the accidental drowning death of an impoverished fisherman whose true story was being recreated for the film. The jangadeiro was one of four who sailed over 1600 miles down the coast of Brazil in order to bring public attention to their way of life, which involved working in a semi-feudal system of dubious legality. In the spirit of the pseudo-documentary, Welles had cast all four of the jangadeiros as themselves. However, as they were filming the re-creation of the dramatic conclusion of their journey, their raft capsized, killing one of the jangadeiros before a rescue crew could swim out to help him. Stop for a moment and boggle at that irony if you'd like; then we'll move on.

RKO quickly cut their losses on the project, which first had its budget slashed before it was eventually cancelled outright. Combined with the well-publicized Ambersons disaster, Orson Welles' reputation as an enfant terrible who couldn't finish a project was amplified and inflated, however justly or unjustly you want to call it.

Stories would later circulate that a print of the Ambersons first cut had been sent to Welles in Brazil, and there would be some folks in Rio who claimed to have seen it. Where that print went, though, nobody knows. It could very well be stashed somewhere. One can hope.

I only write this tonight (wait, was that just a lead-in?) because of an awesome piece of news out of Argentina. What appears to be an original, full print of Fritz Lang's Metropolis has been discovered in Buenos Aires. Lang suffered Hollywood studio butchery similar to Welles' ordeal when his amazing German impressionist masterpiece went over to the States. Executives at Paramount slashed nearly a quarter of the film's content, oversimplifying the story and removing key scenes for American audiences. Lang's original cut was lost in Berlin, and the versions of Metropolis you can get on DVD today will tell you, at certain points, what the next scene in the original narrative was supposed to have been. Even that, however, is based mostly on speculation.

Well, soon we won't need those title cards anymore. The discovered print has been brought to Berlin for restoration (after 80 years in hiding look as good you will not, hmm?) and it's only a matter of time before it's released. This is an amazing find. I cannot wait. Isn't it wonderful? And to think that maybe someday we'll be saying the same thing about The Magnificent Ambersons. Hope springs eternal, cat. Just remember that.
spatch: (1939 World's Fair)
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THE BENDIX LAMA TEMPLE was a reproduction of a 1767 Buddhist temple in Jehol, China. The replica was built in 1930 and in 1933 was transported, piece by piece, to Chicago Century of Progress International Exposition at the behest of watch magnate Hugo Vincent Bendix. Sven Hedin, Bendix's explorer contact in China, was unable to find an actual temple or pagoda to purchase and move to the States. So instead, Hedin proposed to build a replica and ship it across the Pacific. That way they could easily claim the building had been transported, piece-by-piece from China, and by that claim infer it was the genuine thing, instead of having to outright call it a duplicate from the start. Inside, the "finest existing example of Chinese Lama architecture" displayed Tibetan art, relics and interior decorations as part of a "working Chinese village" demonstration.

The temple at Jehol itself, though, wasn't a real temple either. It, too, was a replica, this time of a temple in Lhasa. It was built in the 18th Century at the summer retreat of the Manchurian emperors, who had created a "working Tibetan village" for their amusement and that of their guests. Bendix's temple, then, was a recreation of a recreation, but little mattered that to him, nor, I presume, to any of the millions of guests who passed through it during the Chicago exposition.

After the Exposition the temple was once again dismantled and eventually rebuilt for the 1939 New York World's Fair. This time around, however, the temple was not used as a showpiece for a working village, nor did it display educational relics and decorations. No, this time around (and here's the truly bizarre part) the temple housed a girlie show, and the outside bally went something like this:
IT MIGHT SOUND STRANGE and a trifle incongruous having lovely girls in front of the million dollar temple of Jehol, whose gold leaf roof you can see over the top of this fa├žade, but the fact is that we have a girlie show in here and a good one.

The author of the book Forbidden Tibet, Horizon Hunters and technical advisor of the picture Lost Horizon, he doesn't want his good name associated with this scandalous enterprise as brought back from the land of the Lost Horizon, those Terpsichordion aphrodisiacs, the love temptation dancers from the lamasteries of Tibet. A lama is a Buddhist priest and as such he must remain celibate. He must be deaf to the calls of the flesh, immune to the pangs of passion, and adverse to the charms of beautiful women. In other words he must not marry or anything.

Once each year he is given a test, the questions of which are the unquestionable figures of questionable young ladies, courtesans brought from the outside world to corrupt the young lama and seduce him from his holy way of life.

Now ladies, this show has been approved by Good Housekeeping, but in case a stray moron seeking a racy spicy girl show is in this otherwise obviously intellectual audience, he too can go in there and not know the difference, but you, you lovers of art will surely recognize this show to be the apogee of oriental choreography.

The whole thing rises to a climax when Sasha and her hilarious horde of vivacious vestal virgins unite in that unclad climax, that orgiastic ecstasy at the tail end of our performance, the passion dance of love. It's terrific. Now once inside, sit down as long as you like and admire the bare beautiful temple but those beautiful bare forms and they, I say, are not too formal. Go on, right away. This being the first show of the afternoon, I am going to cut the price of admission in half.

Everybody goes!
What remains of the temple now reside at the Sven Hedin Foundation in Stockholm and are known as The Golden Pavilion.
spatch: (HAMBONE)
Ever have one of those mornings that start off so well that you think "Well, the only thing that could make this morning complete is an ice cream sandwich" and what do you know, there's ice cream sandwiches in the freezer?! Nrom nrom nrom. Friday started off that way. Quite nice.

Friday was a very long day. I took the Acela into New York for an evening of musical theater and then a late-late-late night bus ride back. Earlier this autumn I picked up one of the last few remaining face value tix for a Friday night performance of Young Frankenstein, currently in previews at the Hilton Theatre. Was pretty excited to get the tick (er, ticket) because hey, Mel Brooks and his creative team did a good job out with The Producers; hey, Andrea Martin is in it; hey, Sutton Foster too; and hey, Young Frankenstein was a funny film to begin with so if it gets the Producers treatment and goes all bigtime and stuff, I can boast and brag that I saw it before you did neener neener neener (with the exception of katre and some Seattle people, apparently.)

By the way, I finally discovered the beauty and glory that is the Acela train's Quiet Car. No cellphone conversations, no loud yammering, no screaming kids, just blessed quietness, all politely and quietly enforced. I mean, the loudest noises in the car, besides station announcements, were tiny things such as someone went rustling through a bag or an occasional "hrumph" from the older businessman seated next to me (he had a throat-clearing tic, apparently, or he just constantly did not like what he was reading.) All in all well worth the C-note you gotta drop for Business Class. I'm not sure if the Quiet Car only exists on the Express trains; there certainly wasn't one the last time I rode biz class on the Acela's local service, sitting in the Kiddie Business Class car and stopping at every station stop, it felt like, in Connecticut.

I arrived in NYC with the express intent of visiting the Museum of Television and Radio first, then dinner at a favorite restaurant, and then the show. It was a one-man trip, a solo venture, and I was glad to enjoy my solitude in the midst of the most crowdedest city in this time zone. And while I handily accomplished all three tasks, hooray hooray, I was not prepared for the insane humidity. God damn! The rain I was ready for but the humidity played hopscotch with my internal thermostat. I waited for my E train on the 42nd Street platform, amazed at the humid blech that hung over everything, in October, even! Whenever the A express stopped on the other side of the platform, I rushed over and hung out by the open doors of the blessedly air-conditioned train, then hustled back over to the E side. When I got to 53rd and emerged from the underground into the rain, my hair was already soaked and I hadn't even been aboveground yet.

1. In Which Pooh Bear Visits The Museum of Television and Radio )

I had to cut my time at the museum short for dinner. I still had some time left; your $10.00 admission allows you an hour's worth of viewing though they gave me nearly two (must've been a slow day) but I'd seen all I could see at that point. I'd definitely return with the list of flops I'd been working on.

Bidding Sandy and Fred adieu, I stepped back outside into the humidity, ambled over to a 6 train, and rumbled down to the 20s for some food.
spatch: (Spike Dancing The Hula)
I've noticed a curious callous on the side of my left index finger, just below the second knuckle. I couldn't figure out how in the world I could have gotten such a callous, until last night when I reached for the freshly opened two-liter bottle of soda on my computer desk, grabbing it by the neck for to take a healthy swig.

(I go through so much Diets Coke and Pepper that buying it by the two liter is cheaper than buying it by the six-pack. And I only swig out of my own bottles. Anything stored in public spaces gets poured into a glass in a most genteel and seemly fashion. Honest.)

I had a night of vaudeville last night and I was happy to have it. To celebrate the 80th anniversary of the release of The Jazz Singer and the first feature-length "talkie", TCM played the film and then followed up with an hour and a half of ancient Vitaphone shorts from Warner Bros. The shorts, all filmed with sound around 1929, weren't actual storytelling motion pictures, but of actual vaudeville acts which performed around the country then. Wowee!

I hadn't realized there were such abundant records of vaudeville, which has since passed into legend as one of the truly great American forms of entertainment. Yes, England had its music halls which featured a variety of billed acts just like American variety theater, but there was something about the American vaudevillian's itinerant lifestyle that gave the artform a unique image almost romantic in its nostalgia: enterainers schlepping from town to town, often bringing with their entire worldly possessions in one case, performing in horribly maintaned theaters to indifferent -- or worse, hostile -- audiences, sleeping in fleabag hotels and receiving numerous bedbug bites (a bedbug often feeds in three bites clustered around the same spot on the body, which became known as "Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner"), honing their act, perfecting their craft, and all the while hoping to Be Noticed and move from one of the small-time circuits to the Big Time, performing in the Keith's chain of theatres or, dare we dream, the biggest of all Big Time prizes, the sign that you'd finally Made It, playing the Palace in New York City. The Palace! The acts were wide and varied, from two-man comedy teams to singers both comic and serious to dancers to acrobats, jugglers, revue companies, and of course, trained animals.

The genre spawned its own slang. Some of the more colorful phrases are still in use today: "the big time", "second banana", "bombed", "schtick", "knocked 'em dead", "went over", "headliner" and, in the case of poor amateur acts, "getting the hook."

Ah, yes, vaudeville. )

This was not high art. Heck, some of it wasn't even particularly good. But you must know by now that I'm a sucker for entertainment for entertainment's sake, as well as any evidence of how generations before mine enjoyed their particular kinds of entertainment, and it was all the more fascinating to me since I realized I wasn't watching the cream of the crop. Sure, the acts I saw must've been well-known in their time; they were definitely good enough to be deemed worthy of filming, but they never broke into the new Big Time (films and radio) as far as I know. These were the acting stiffs, the very same who schlepped from city to city, performing these same routines over and over again to a new audience every few weeks. These weren't recreations or parodies of routines that we'd see years later on television; this was the real thing, baby. This was vaudeville! God, it was fascinating!

There are a few groups that are dedicated to restoring the Vitaphone shorts, some of which are available online if you know where to look, and I suggest you do. If only to see the lady with the cello suddenly stop her song and, with a crazed comic look on her face, frantically pound a maniacal boom-tiddy-boom-tiddy-boom-tiddy-boom beat on the darn thing with her bow, then continue on as if nothing had happened. She must've been a gas to hang out with on the train.
spatch: (Pronoun Bus)
I seem to have found myself watching Bob Barker's last turn on The Price Is Right.

So I can say I was there, man.

The first contestant won a Corvette, and then they played Plinko. The place is going nuts.

(LIVE BLOGGINGING!!!1 updates in comments)
spatch: (RKO Radio Pictures)
"Be careful, Roxy, [the] Shuberts will want to build a theater there."
Producer and playwright Arthur Hopkins, upon viewing the cavernous orchestra pit at the Roxy

MOTION PICTURES WERE FIRST EXHIBITED IN THE UNITED STATES as acts on a vaudeville bill, in the midst of acrobats, balladeers, and ethnic comedians. The first theater devoted entirely to movies opened on Canal Street in New Orleans in 1896. Rothafel enjoyed a mixture of both, and in his first theater outside Scranton, Pennsylvania, incorporated both moving pictures and live entertainment into a full show. Along with other showmen, he elevated the movies beyond mere vaudeville novelty status, giving them equal billing with live acts or sometimes even better. While he was a stage showman first and foremost, with grand visions of orchestras, dance corps and elaborate production numbers filling his head, he was also a shameless sentimentalist, and knew that while his bally could bring the audience in, what really counted was the human connection. These melodramatic films, fraught with human emotion and displayed on a giant screen, could tell a story to those in the balcony in a far more intimate fashion than a hundred dancers or actors could ever hope to accomplish onstage -- but still, those dancers and all their hoopla couldn't hurt.

So it was with the Roxy Theatre. Cathedral of the Motion Picture it may be, its main attraction would always be heralded by spectacle. Take, for example, the opening night on March 11, 1927. The house lights were already down; Roxy's ushers had led the audience to their seats in almost total darkness.

Those filling the house that night included Charlie Chaplin, Irving Berlin, Harold Lloyd, Will Hays (whose notorious code of morality would dictate Hollywood's content from 1930 until the adoption of the MPAA Ratings system in 1965) and New York's favorite speakeasy owner and hostess extraordinare, Texas Guinan. The program began with a single spot focused on a lone figure center stage. It was not Roxy, it was not Gloria Swanson, it was not a tuxedoed emcee. It was a robed monk with a scroll, who intoned a florid, extravagant benediction:

Ye portals bright, high and majestic,
open to our gaze the path to Wonderland,
and show us the realm
where fantasy reigns,
where romance and adventure flourish.

Let every day's toil be forgotten
under thy sheltering roof:
O glorious, mighty hall,
thy magic and thy charm unite us all
To worship at Beauty's throne.

Then, after an undoubtedly dramatic pause, one final phrase: "Let there be light."

And there was light, and the audience saw it, and it was good. )

Next: The Boys and the Girls of the Roxy
spatch: (RKO Radio Pictures)
Picture 'bout a Minnesota man so in love with a Mississippi girl that he sacrifices everything and moves to Biloxi...
IN THE EARLY WINTER OF 1927, silent film star Gloria Swanson travelled to West 50th and 7th Avenue in New York City to visit Samuel L. Rothafel, powerhouse showman, tireless promoter, and theater manager since "the days when pianists trebled 'Hearts and Flowers' whenever a Sousa march didn't fit."

It was there that Roxy, as he was known to his friends ("...and you may call me that, too, when you write," he would later advise his radio audience) eagerly gave Swanson a tour of his nearly-completed prize: an enormous, outlandishly rococo movie palace capable of seating almost 6000 people. The actual auditorium number was around 5900, but in Roxy's inimitable fashion, he upped it to 6200 in the press by counting all the chairs in the offices, lounges, and even the maintenance rooms.

Gloria walked with Roxy up to the upper balcony, where workmen were busy plastering the ceiling. Impetuously, she grabbed a trowel and inscribed "ROXY - I LOVE YOU - GLORIA" in one corner. Roxy ordered that it stay on the ceiling forever. The Roxy Theater opened on March 11, 1927 with Gloria Swanson's latest film, "The Love of Sunya", as one of the features and Swanson herself in attendance. The Cathedral of the Motion Picture had arrived.

In 1961, after years of declining attendance, failed revitalization attempts and numerous protests, the Roxy was closed and demolished. Roxy himself was long gone, but Gloria Swanson paid one last visit to W. 50th and 7th, accompanied by a Life Magazine photographer. There, in evening gown and boa, she posed amidst the ruins. Swanson was photographed in several poses -- one echoed the glamour and beauty of the old palace in stark contrast to its reality. But the most enduring image is her pose to the left, arms outstretched in one final gesture of exaltation and praise to the treasure that was; Gloria triumphant.

The corner of W. 50th and 7th in Manhattan is now home to The World's Largest T.G.I. Friday's.

Next: Let There Be Light
spatch: (Venture Bros - Henchman)
The WWE (formerly the WWF until the other WWF sued 'em) is reporting that wrassler Scott "Bam Bam" Bigelow is dead at the age of 45. Bigelow was a classic heel, a mustachioed bad guy whose bald head was covered in tattoos. He was often accompanied by one of the scariest wrasslin' ladies this side of Sensational Sherri.

But Bam Bam Bigelow was one of the few wrestlers I ever marked out for, and all because of one drunken couple.

For those not familiar with wrestling terminology, a "mark" is one who believes wholly in the 'sport' of professional wrestling; one who takes in the whole spectacle hook, line and sinker, and who doesn't believe (or doesn't care -- or want -- to believe) that the outcomes are pre-determined and storylines plotted out months in advance. In other words, a sucker.

And to "mark out" is, well, to behave like a mark. To throw yourself headlong into the match and support your favorite as if you are the one whose cheers and screams really matter. I haven't followed professional wrestling for a long time now; the WWF of the 1980s was camp, fun kid's stuff and accordingly, as a kid I ate it right up, but nowadays I see this "soap opera for men" and its overblown innuendo and every type of stereotype-bashing and I realize who they're playing to now, and it's not me.

But good old fashioned pro wrestling, with Mean Gene Oakerlund, Hulk Hogan, "Macho Man" Randy Savage, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Jake "The Snake" Roberts, Bret "Hitman" Hart and Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart, Superfly Jimmy Snuka, "The Birdman" Koko B. Ware, Mr. Perfect, Leapin' Lanny Poffo (Randy Savage's brother who would later become "The Genius"), and good old Barry Horowitz, the professional self-backpatting jobber who could always be counted on to throw a match to help bring a new name up... those were the guys my brothers and I grew up on.

This, then, brings us to Bam Bam Bigelow and the Great Mark-Out. It must have been I think the fall of 1993; it was my little brother's birthday and I'd given him floor seats to the WWF show when it came to our neck of the woods. We went along with my other little brother. I honestly can't remember any of the matches on the card except for a particularly tiresome Doink the Clown match with midget Doinks coming out from under the ring -- I always hated Doink's angle -- and Bam Bam's, because that's when this couple next to us got real excited. They must've saved up for months to make it to this match (I know I did, and I was a broke college student) and it became readily clear they'd only come to see Bam Bam do his thing.

The woman had crammed herself into a pair of fancy goin-out spandex pants and a halter top which had been stretched to the point of obscenity. She smelled like she'd been dipped in booze, I mean literally picked up with a giant pair of tweezers and dropped in a giant vat of Jack Daniels in Lynchburg, Tennessee. Her companion was this tall skinny drink of water with an Adam's apple three times the size of his throat and a pencil thin mustache he must've been working on for months now. The woman first endeared herself to us when she loudly proclaimed early on "I smell PATCHOULI around here! D'you know the ONLY PEOPLE who wear PATCHOULI are? They're the ones SMOKE THE WEED!!" Sure, perhaps she was right, but "I smell patchouli around here!" became a long-lasting catch-phrase between me and my brothers, ranking right up there with "Hey guess what? They have comigs, and cheetahs run fast." (Don't ask.)

The skinny guy didn't say much until Bam Bam Bigelow came out. Bam Bam was a real heel at the time; he'd probably just done something nasty to a fan favorite on a recent TV broadcast and was getting a lot of heat (fan attention) for it. His entrance was heralded with a lot of booing and object-throwing whatnot; his no-name jobber opponent was already in the ring, just counting the seconds until he could fall for a 3-count. As soon as the tall guy saw the bald, tattooed head approaching ringside, he just exploded in a mark-out the likes of which I'd never seen before and probably won't see again. He shot up like a rocket and started punching the air with a gangly fist, knocking his black mesh cap off in the process. Then he started hollerin like you wouldn't believe. It was religious, if your religion involves cussin like a sumbitch.


The lady started providing similar encouragement to Bam Bam, who of course didn't need any of it but received it anyway. It was at this point my brothers and I looked at each other and shrugged. What else could we do? We joined in as well.


We let ourselves get caught up in the fan emotion and gleefully helped this crazy couple cheer on their favorite. We probably were the only five people in the place who, right then and there, actually cared for the big, mean, evil guy who was going to win anyway. But as far as we were concerned, this was the best thing we'd ever done at a match since we'd run to ringside in the late 80s and rubbed the Bushwhackers' sweaty Aussie heads for good luck.

Rest well, Bam Bam Bigelow. I'm gonna miss that guy. One of God's own prototypes.


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July 2017

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