Saturday, March 1, 2014

Those Days Are Gone...

YouTube has become a beautiful place for me to search through and see what hidden gems of entertainment past I can find. Having friends of different generations, sometimes I hear famous stories of incidents throughout television, music, or movie history and if I dig hard enough, I can find them.

One such famous incident, is from The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, where a series of guest hosts had begun rotating in occasionally for the vacationing King of Late Night. Carson kept a cigarette box on his desk and one night, guest host Don Rickles broke it on accident. When Carson returned, he discovered it on the air, and decided to confront Rickles, who was filming his own show next door.

It's worth sticking through the whole thing. Doc trying to appease Johnny and keep him calm serves as an excellent build, then the audience reaction to Johnny saying simply, "Should I go over there?" to his line just before he barges through, "I don't give a damn if they're on the air." Rickles is a master of thinking on his feet, so it's quite a joy to see him a little dumbstruck. And it's really a surprise. I mean, this is the 70s! You can see the camera isn't really set up to film (they switch over to CPO Sharkey's camera's, from what I can tell), Johnny's mic is corded, I mean, this kind of thing just couldn't happen back then. They're genuinely surprised. You can hear Rickles' co-star Harrison Page exclaim, "I don't believe this!"
There's a part of Rickles that must be at least somewhat scared for real, because Carson's temper was famous (ask Joan Rivers) and there's at least part of me that believes Johnny's not having fun, he's legitimately pissed. But he must've known it'd make for some really interesting television. It's a really great moment.

Now, I'm not one to constantly pine for days of old, when entertainers were better, movies and music were more inspired, etc., etc. But there is something really special about going back and watching these little treasures of the past. I think one complaint I do have that I defend as legitimate is that the people who were famous were so distinct. Carson was more than just a late-night host, he was the king of late night. Rickles was the insult comic. You didn't need DeNiro and Pacino, you just needed Cagney. John Wayne ruled the western. Orson Welles. Gene Kelly. Elizabeth Taylor. They were just able to make themselves so distinct. Nowadays, what I feel is more the problem is that everyone is expected to do everything. Exceptionalism is rather frowned upon. Disney Channel stars come out of the star-maker machine with their own TV show, some semi-dramatic coming of age movie, a pop single, and down the road they star in a Broadway show. It just all feels rather mechanical, and everyone is trying their hand at all things, without being particularly outstanding at anything.

But I'll save the distinction of the modern era for another discussion.
For right now, I want to share some of the coolest clips I've come across over the years, from an era so different from our own, you'll sometimes wonder if these people were ever real, if these clips were taken from a world apart from our own.

We start with a clip from The Judy Garland show. This duet gives me goosebumps. It's Judy, who's voice has been somewhat wracked by age and abuse (you can see her visibly struggle through some of the notes throughout) but she is a seasoned pro, and Barbra Striesand, who must be in her 20s here, looks and sounds poised and prepared. The two create such wonderful harmonies and moments, it feels unrehearsed and in those days it very well could have been. They're also just two girls, sitting, with no set and costumes, in front of a live audience, and there's hardly a cut to be found. It's one take. And I guarantee they will hold your attention the whole time.

And speaking of Babs...

This is the complete rendition of the title song from the movie version of Hello, Dolly! There are some who would complain about Streisand's age and look to play the character, but you can't deny that voice and she looks stunning throughout. But hidden in this lovely little throwback number, following an extended dance sequence, is a brief duet between Babs and Satchmo himself, Louis Armstrong. At 5:16, coming out of the dance sequence, you hear the two greet each other like old friends. The duet has so many little moments that are difficult to describe but when I hear them, I just mutter, "Ugh. So good." It's barely a minute, but there's few who could make a minute of music so compelling.

Now, I do believe this is from Julie Andrews' show. I was just talking about this clip recently, and I was so happy to find it. Rich Little is a master impressionist, but he can only sing so much. This isn't knocking his talent at all, but look at who he's trying to keep pace with in this clip. First, Julie Andrews, who gets to stand there, look and sound beautiful, while the two impressionists battle it out. Personally, I could just listen to Andrews sing and there are days when I truly miss that voice (one of them being during NBC's new version of Sound of Music, which was, let's say... flawed.) Second, you have Sammy Davis Jr. Now, Sammy was one of my heroes growing up. He truly was one of those guys who could do it all. He was the most talented of the Rat Pack. He could sing, he could dance like nobody's business, and then he managed to pull out these impressions, against Little, who did impressions for a living. It's hard to put Little up against Sammy Davis Jr., who can also sing as all the impressions given. He absolutely nails his fellow Rat Packers, Dean and Frankie. But his best impression in the video is without a doubt Nat King Cole, which garnered a truly shocked reaction from me when I first saw it. Those who know the voice of the King will be impressed too. Little is of course in top form (I love his Goulet the most), and Andrews sounds beautiful. They are wonderful talents, and it's a nice little snapshot of all the great entertainers at the time.

It was 1946 and you had two of the greatest dancers to ever appear on screen together for one time in their career. I could go on and on about iconic dance videos (and I will, at some point) but this is a true rarity. The athletic Gene Kelly and the graceful Fred Astaire danced only twice together in their storied careers, and this was the first. Ziegfeld Follies consisted of a series of musical numbers and comedy sketches, similar to the Broadway series of shows that had been performed throughout the early 20th century. Astaire and Kelly never performed again together in their primes, but they were both wildly successful, (with Singing in the Rain coming out in '52, and Kelly coming out of retirement in '48 for Easter Parade) and their legacies were cemented. This George & Ira Gershwin assemblage is just pure silly and fun, but it's a great showcase for the two absolute best, at the very top of their game.

Speaking of two greats at their absolute best, what can you say about a 15 minute medley of Mary Martin and Ethel Merman, the first two First Ladies of musical theatre doing what they best, and singing all the hits they were famous for. I mean, really. What more could you ask for. Two voices like this just don't exist anymore. The absolute control of Martin. The boisterous bravado of the Merman.