Sunday, November 23, 2014

"The Thin Man Comes to Pittsburgh"

I had mentioned earlier today that Marilyn and I were headed down to the William Penn Hotel for Sunday Brunch and to be  apart of the studio audience for the performance of a radio play of Dashiell Hammett's "The Thin Man".

It was fun experience.

Right off the bat, I have to tell you that attending an event at the William Penn Hotel is really a cool experience.  For those readers outside of Pittsburgh, the William Penn Hotel was built in 1915, and it really epitomizes old style class and luxury in a way that just isn't done any more.

For example, do they build hotel lobbies like this these days?

I don't think so.

Sunday brunch in the hotel's Terrace Room - very nice.  By the way, I am convinced that opulent brunch buffets in fancy hotels is one of the reasons why the rest of the world hates America, but I digress.

We had some time to kill after brunch, so we enjoyed the stylings of a piano player in the lobby while we sat there and enjoyed the atmosphere.

We then proceeded to the Three Rivers Room where the radio "studio" was set for the performance.

Pre-show entertainment was provided.

And then the radio play version of "The Thin Man" was presented.  

The script for this play was adapted from the Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich screenplay for the 1934 film version of "The Thin Man".  The trick here was that this radio script was adapted for a Pittsburgh setting.  For example, Nick and Nora were in Pittsburgh in 1934, not New York, and were staying at the William Penn Hotel.  Professor Wynant did his scientific research for the Mellon Institute. Gilbert Wynant was a student at Duquesne University. The story was interrupted a few times for "commercials" featuring products that played upon Pittsburgh stereotypes (Yinzer Beer, for example).  You get the idea.  The actors played multiple parts, and changed or added small articles of clothing - a scarf or a hat - when they changed characters.  One of the actresses even played Asta!  However, unlike the true old time radio days, all sound effects (ringing phones, doors slamming etc) were provided by the stage announcers lap top!

If you're familiar with the William Powell-Myrna Loy movie version, then you could follow the story.  Like the movie, it was not as gritty as Hammett's original novel, but it was a fun,  breezy, and entertaining show.  A new and different experience for us.

I was able to get this picture of Nick and Nora, as played by husband and wife Chuck and Jeannine Lanigan.

Special kudos go out to Chuck Lanigan as well as he both wrote and directed this play for live radio.

A great start to the Holiday Season!!!

Sunday Plans

Marilyn and I officially kick off our Holiday Season today when we head on down to Pittsburgh's tres chic William Penn Hotel 

for Sunday Brunch,  which will then be followed by being in the audience a performance of a radio play version of Dashiell Hammett's "The Thin Man".  

The "performance" of the radio play will also take place at the William Penn.

I am thinking that this experience will be kind of like stepping back in time to "cafe society" days when Radio was King.

Should be a fun experience.

A Follow Up on Mike Nichols

I just want to make an addendum to my "Absent Friends" post of three days ago about the death of Mike Nichols.

First, a correction.  Nichols won nine Tony Awards, not six. Wow.

As for the addendum, four of those Tony Awards were for directing the following plays:

  • Barefoot in the Park
  • The Odd Couple
  • Plaza Suite
  • Prisoner of Second Avenue
What do those played have in common? They were all write by the incomparable Neil Simon.

This raises the question: Could  there ever have been greater convergence of talent in the American theater than the collaborations of Neil Simon and Mike Nichols?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

To Absent Friends - Mike Nichols

 Mike Nichols

One of the great show biz talents of the last fifty or so years left us yesterday with the passing of Mike Nichols.

His greatest legacy will be that of the twenty-two movies that he directed, some of them truly landmark films such as "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf", "Catch-22", and, of course, his Oscar winning "The Graduate" (one of my own all-time personal favorites).  The last movie he directed was the very fine 2007 "Charlie Wilson's War" with Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts.

Nichols was much more than that, of course.  He is one of a very select few who have won an Emmy, Tony, Oscar, and Grammy Award.  He was the founder of the legendary Second City Comedy Troop of Chicago.  He has won six Tony Awards, five of them for Directing.  He began as a comedian, and his teaming with Elaine May produced one of the great comedy teams of all time.  Many people have posted YouTube clips on Facebook today of some classic Nichols and May comedy routines.  You could do worse things with your time today than searching some of those out for yourself today.

RIP Mike Nichols.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Steelers 27 - Titans 24

Lesson learned from last night's Steelers game:

Football games are sixty minutes long.

Yeah, it was not a great performance, and yeah, they came very close to losing to another NFL bottom feeder, but, in fact, they WON THE GAME.

Another lesson learned: 

Don't make withering posts on Facebook about the performance of any given team until the given game is over.

And three cheers and a Game Ball for this guy:

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Selected Sports Subjects

A Whirl Around the Wide, Wide World of Sports on a Sunday Morning.....

The Pirates were much in the news this week with the trade with the Yankees that brought Francisco Cervelli  

to the Bucs, and which I commented upon earlier in the week.  Somewhat more surprising, was the signing, or should I say re-signing, of free agent pitcher A.J. Burnett.  

It is surprising that Burnett, who spoke so longingly of retirement two years ago, would forgo a Player's Option with the Phillies that would pay him $12 million and re-sign with the Pirates for "only" $8.5 million.  Maybe he is the rare athlete who means it when he says, "it's not about the money".

The real question is, can he help the Pirates in 2015?  No question of the value that Burnett brought to the Pirates in his two year stint here in 2012-13, but he is now 38 years old and coming off a year in which he lost 18 games, albeit with a lousy team, and posted am ERA in excess of 4.50.  I suppose that there is no great risk in signing him, especially if you feel that Francisco and Liriano and Edinson Volquez will not be back with the team.


I heard Neal Huntington in a radio interview earlier in the week, and found him to be quite forthright and not spilling the usual line of obfuscating b.s. that is his wont.  Most interesting thing I heard was his flat out statement that among three first baseman, Pedro Alvarez, Ike Davis, and Gaby Sanchez (yes, he included Alvarez as a first baseman), only two would be with the team next year.  

Been nice known' you, Ike.


So what else is knew?  Pitt scores a ton of points against North Carolina yesterday, and loses.  Pitt has now scored 111 points in their last three games, and have lost all three of them.  

We keep hearing how Pitt is a young team, that they start lots and lots of freshman and sophomores.  Okay, I'll give you that Paul Chryst had an uphill battle when he arrived here three years ago, and that he has to get the building blocks in place, but this is Year Three, and that line of reasoning (or is it excuse making?) is wearing thin, and it will not be the least bit tolerable in 2015.


As hard as it can sometimes be watching the Panthers play football, the play of James Conner

and Tyler Boyd

make it worth your while to tune in.


I watched the entire Florida State-Miami game last night.  The inevitability of an FSU victory became apparent when Miami began the second half playing to protect their lead rather than trying to build it further.  They completely stopped playing in the manner that gave them that big lead in the first place.  Why do coaches do that?


Best line on Facebook yesterday came courtesy of friend Fred Egler.  In commenting upon Wisconsin laying a 35 point beatdown on Nebraska in snowy Madison, WI yesterday, Fred said that "Bo Pellini looked like a German general at the Battle of Stalingrad."



Speaking of unwatchable performances, I went to the Sewall Center on Friday night to see Robert Morris tip off their Hoops Season, and suffer an 77-50 thrashing at the hands of Lafayette University, and trust me, the game was nowhere near as close as that 27 point spread indicates.  Be that as it may, I trust that Andy Toole will work with his team and coach 'em up to the point where they will be a contender for the Northeast Conference title once again.

What I did find interesting at the game was that fact that a video board has been installed in front of the Media Table that sits court side at the Sewall Center, and that RMU has been able to sell advertising on said board that scrolls throughout the game.  Sponsors ranging from a Moon Township ice cream parlor to PNC Bank to the Allegheny Heath Network are now are getting their messages across to patrons attending the basketball games.  

RMU has indeed entered the Big Time!


The Steelers take on the awful 2-6 Tennessee Titans tomorrow night.  Be afraid.  Be very afraid.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Silent Movies

One of my all time favorite movies is Billy Wilder's 1950 classic, "Sunset Boulevard".  In one scene, faded movie queen Norma Desmond bemoans the loss of silent movies.  "I AM big.  It's the PICTURES that got small", she states in one of the most famous lines of movie dialog of all time.  In another passage, Norma states that it was better then because "We had FACES then, and now they've filled the theaters with words, words, WORDS!!!"

This month, Turner Classic Movies is paying tribute to the great Silent Films, and last week I gave two of them a try.  Each starred two of the great leading ladies of the Silent Era.

The first movie was "It" from 1927, and it's star was Clara Bow.

"It" was a romantic comedy that involved the quality of IT.  IT was that certain, indefinable quality in a person that made them special, sexy, desirable.  Clara Bow was certainly attractive in her role in this movie, and it gave her an indelible nickname in the culture, "The IT Girl".  No doubt about it, when you watched "It" you did so for one reason - Clara Bow's performance and charm.

The second movie was "Sadie Thompson" (1928) and its star was none other than Norma Desmond herself, Gloria Swanson, and this is how she appeared in the title role.

No question, Swanson was dynamic in this movie, and beautiful.  Even watching a deteriorating, eight-six year old black and white film, Swanson was utterly captivating.  I was particularly captivated by her eyes.  They were startlingly clear and bright in this old film to the point that I could have sworn that they were bright blue or green, even though I was watching a black and white movie.  The picture I have posted above captures that to some extent.

As for the movies themselves, you can certainly follow the story despite the absence of dialog (or words, words, words!!!), but what "dialog" there was, in the form of title cards, was really corny by today's standards.  I'm with Joe Gillis, silent movies used to be big,and sorry, Norma, the pictures have not gotten small.

Clara Bow had a sad life.  Her mother suffered from insanity and once nearly killed her, and Bow herself was institutionalized for depression at intervals of her life.  She died in 1965 at the age of 60.

Gloria Swanson was a woman way ahead of her time.  She organized her own production company so that she could control what movies she made and have some control over her own career.  She served as the Producer on "Sadie Thompson" when she was only 29 years old.  On the TCM intro, host Ben Mankiewicz mentioned that Swanson's career went into a bit of decline after "Sadie Thompson", and she made few movies until she returned in "Sunset Boulevard" the role for which she will be most remembered.  After that she did a lot of TV work. She made her last movie in 1974, "Airport 1975".  She died in 1983 at the age of 84.