Posts Tagged ‘Apollo’

Bowling, Tim Matheson, and “Dreamer”

Sunday, May 14th, 2017

“You just dream about something, that’s all it’s ever gonna be.  Just a dream.”

So says Harold Nuttingham in the 1979 film Dreamer, a post-Watergate, feel-good movie with a down-to-earth vibe.

Nottingham dreams of being a bowling champion—hence, his nickname “Dreamer”—but he can’t even get a PBA membership until he storms an executive meeting, proves his credentials, and demands inclusion in bowling’s upper echelon.  His statement about dreams targets father figure Harry White, a former PBA bowler who never quite reached the level of excellence that Dreamer envisions—and is capable of achieving.  Dreamer’s words nudge Harry towards buying an option for them on an 18-lane establishment with a coffee shop and a bar in Peoria.

Dreamer’s car broke down in Alton, Illinois two years before, creating an opportunity for him to work at the Bowl Haven, where he practices his game; Harry runs the pro shop.  Repairing the bowling racks is among Dreamer’s duties.  Tragically, Harry dies of a heart attack late at night, while bowling; he had a heart condition, so the news is not surprising to Dreamer.

Tim Matheson plays Dreamer, Jack Warden plays Harry, and Susan Blakely plays Dreamer’s girlfriend—Karen Lee, who also works at the bowling alley, as a cashier.  “Debra Winger rocked her audition, but the studio decided on Susan,” explains Matheson.

Bowling icon Dick Weber plays Johnny Watkin, Dreamer’s opponent in the film’s climactic match.  Matheson reveals, “Dick Weber was instrumental in helping me with my bowling.  He showed me ways to patch up my thumb until my calluses healed.  We also worked on creating a style that was interesting visually and looked real.

“I was in a bowling league in Burbank.  At the Grand Central Bowl in Glendale, I kept score for bowlers.  You could make 10 bucks a night, which was a decent amount of money.  So, I was very comfortable in that world.  For the movie, we bowled in an old alley in St. Louis.  I averaged around 165-170.  My highest was 199.  One day, we’re shooting a sequence and I’m keeping score consecutively with the takes.  My score was 224.

“Dick told us about the tricks that bowlers used.  They soaked balls in solvent that would soften the ball, so when you went to the tournament, it would react with more torque.  If you threw a ball with spin, it spun more.  Now, there are rules preventing this from happening.

“Jack Warden was one of the great storytellers of all time.  He told us that he auditioned for John Houseman, who was directing King Lear.  He was just beginning acting, but he had a blue-collar job during the day.  He didn’t have time to change for the audition, so he went in his coveralls.  Houseman said, ‘What part do you think you’ll audition for?’  Jack responded, ‘How about this Lear guy?’

“He was full of bravado and always gave advice if you asked about a scene.  He was a great acting coach, just gold.  He was a gem.  Susan was such a pro.  So wonderful to work with.  Sexy and intense and all the good things you’ll hope for in a partner that you play so many scenes with.”

It is convenient to compare Dreamer to Rocky, which premiered during the Christmas season of 1976; the elements are there—underdog taking on the champion, mentor tutoring the underdog, love interest.  This would, however, overlook the density of emotional resonance that Rocky evoked.  Where Rocky Balboa wanted to go the distance with Apollo Creed because no fighter had accomplished that seemingly impossible task, Dreamer has unwavering confidence that he belongs in the pantheon of bowling champions, if only he gets the opportunity to prove it.

Typical for Hollywood, Dreamer concludes with the upstart winning in dramatic fashion, dethroning Watkin by one pin in the 10th frame for a final score of 245-244.  Dreamer may not have had the edge of The HustlerRocky, or The Sporting Life, but it follows the template for Hollywood’s sports films.  We want the underdog to win because they remind us of ourselves.  Who wouldn’t rather play for the Miami Sharks rather than the Dallas Knights in Any Given Sunday?  Who wouldn’t rather play with Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn, Jake Taylor, and Roger Dorn on the Cleveland Indians rather than the New York Yankees in Major League?  These types of films fulfill the need to hope, allowing us to live vicariously, whether the hero is a bowler, a rugby player, or a major league pitcher.

To the extent that Dreamer has a villain, it’s the PBA, which looks askance, at least initially, at Dreamer’s qualifications.  Though not explored in depth, the confrontation between Dreamer and the PBA’s powers that be, including Watkin, represents a frustration at bureaucracy that was felt 100 years before Dreamer hit movie theaters and will be evident 100 years hence, in whatever medium audiences use to consume visual entertainment.

After the climactic game between Dreamer and Watkin, the last shot of the film shows Dreamer and Karen Lee packing up their car and listing their itinerary of bowling tournaments.  As they pull away, we see that the building behind them is the Harry White Memorial Bowl.

Taking Matheson’s portrayal of Eric “Otter” Stratton of Animal House as the archetype of a slightly arrogant character brimming with confidence, one can find levels of that personality in several of his subsequent roles, including:

  • Larry Sizemore (Burn Notice)
  • Al Donnelly (Black Sheep)
  • John Hoynes (The West Wing)
  • Harry Stadlin (Just in Time)
  • Alan Stanwyk (Fletch)

Alan Stanwyk is devious when he sets up Fletch to be the dead body in a burning car, thereby allowing him to escape to South America undetected.  John Hoynes is a political manipulator along the lines of LBJ—a Senate Majority Leader from Texas who lost the Democratic nomination to an underdog from New England and settled, uncomfortably, for being Vice President.

And yet, there is an underlying likability to these characters—they do not, in any way, exude nastiness.  Dreamer, neither, though his single-mindedness about pursuing a professional bowling career excludes Karen Lee, whom he considers to be a distraction during competitions.  This, of course, is reconciled after Harry’s death, which prompts Dreamer to realize that Karen Lee is not an appendage to his career, but a necessity to his life.

The Bowl Haven still stands today, a 24-lane escape for Altonians looking to knock down some pins.  Those of a certain age may remember the summer of 1978, when the Bowl Haven closed down for shooting.   Once owned by the Netzhammer family and built in the late 1950s, the Bowl Haven enjoys continuity to the past with Bill Netzhammer, the original owners’ son, managing the lanes that Dreamer once practiced upon.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on March 4, 2017.

The Astrodome’s Début

Friday, December 16th, 2016

Houston, we have a solution.

Famous for its humidity, Houston unveiled a revolutionary, futuristic, and air-conditioned sports refuge—the Harris County Domed Stadium, also known as the Astrodome.  Débuting in 1965, the Astrodome’s monkey reflected the 1960s Space Age, when Houston dominated the world’s attention as the headquarters for NASA, which launched unmanned spacecraft and manned flights in the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs.  Houston’s Major League Baseball team changed labels, too.  Introduced as the Colt .45s in 1962, the team became the Astros concurrent with the Astrodome’s début.

Houston’s relationship with professional baseball began in 1888 with the Houston Buffaloes, a minor league fixture until 1961.  The Buffaloes, in fact, needed to be expunged from Houston so that a major league team could enter the market.  On January 17, 1961, the Houston Sports Association, the entity owning the rights for a National League team in Houston, purchased the Buffaloes and moved the team to Oklahoma City, where they became the 89ers.

The Astrodome provided Houstonians the opportunity to see events without worry regarding the weather.  “The searing Texas sun will still beat down, the angry Gulf Coast winds will still howl and the tropical rains will still fall, but NOT on the spectators in the Astrodome,” described the Houston Sports Association in its 1965 promotional magazine Inside the Astrodome.  “They sit in almost regal splendor in plush-type opera seats protected overhead by a permanent translucent roof covered with 4,596 skylights of clear ‘Lucite’ plastic and in a temperature of 74 degrees controlled by a $4,500,000 air-conditioning system of 6,600 tons.”

Until the Astrodome was erected, though, the Colt .45s needed a home field.  Colt Stadium was erected in a few months, though its conditions endorsed an indoor facility for Houston.  In his 2014 book The Astrodome: Building An American Spectacle, James Last wrote, “The team would play three seasons in Colt Stadium and, by all accounts, conditions there underscored the need for an indoor venue.  Ballplayers and spectators wilted under the high heat and humidity and were feasted on by mosquitoes drawn to the damp, low-lying site”

Besides the comfort provided by luxurious seats, cool temperatures, and protection from the elements, the Astrodome entertained fans with an electronic scoreboard featuring animation, an innovation in the mid-1960s.  Along with NASA’s missions, the Astrodome became geographic shorthand as it elevated Houston to worldwide fame.  In their 2013 book Deep in the Heart: Blazing A Trail From Expansion To the World Series, Bill Brown and Mike Acosta cite the description of renowned baseball journalist Mickey Herskowitz:  “But somewhere along that first year (1965), you could go to any city in the world, London or Paris for example, and if somebody asked where you were and you said Houston, they would know about the Astrodome.  People forget the impact the Astrodome had.”

The first game played in the Astrodome was an exhibition between the Houston Astros and the New York Yankees on April 9, 1965.  Dick Farrell threw the first pitch, Mickey Mantle hit the first home run, and a new era of multi-purpose domed stadiums was born.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on February 11, 2015.

Tom Selleck and Baseball

Wednesday, December 14th, 2016

A prime time powerhouse on the roster of Reagan Era television programs, Magnum, p.i. invokes images of Aloha shirts, a red Ferrari, and a Detroit Tigers baseball cap worn by the title character, played by Tom Selleck “with a shaggy charm that manages to cut through most of the cops and robbers blarney,” according to James Brown in the December 11, 1980 edition of the Los Angeles Times.  Magnum, p.i. revolves around the personal and professional travails of Thomas Sullivan Magnum IV, a former Naval Intelligence officer working as a security expert for the Hawaiian estate of novelist Robin Masters, whose voice is heard in several episodes, but whose face is never seen; the estate is nicknamed Robin’s Nest.

Living in the estate’s guesthouse in exchange for his security services, Magnum also runs a private investigation business on the Hawaiian islands with occasional assistance from Vietnam War buddies—Marine Corps Door Gunner Orville “Rick” Wright and Marine Corps Pilot Theodore “T.C.” Calvin.  Now settled in Hawaii along with Magnum, T.C. runs the Island Hoppers helicopter tour business and Rick manages the bar and restaurant and the King Kamehameha Club.  Robin is on the club’s Board of Directors.

Magnum’s battles at home consist primarily of verbal sparring about estate perks—access to Mr. Masters’s possessions, for example—with Jonathan Quayle Higgins III, the estate’s majordomo, who is fond of patrolling the estate with his “lads,” two Doberman Pinschers named Zeus and Apollo.  Magnum addresses plot points with narration often beginning with the phrase “I know what you’re thinking,” his plans to write a book on how to be a first class private investigator, or references to his instinct, which he labels his “little voice.”  Donning a Tigers cap pays homage to Magnum’s favorite baseball team, also Selleck’s.

Baseball-themed storylines highlight two episodes of Magnum, p.i.  In the 1983 episode “Squeeze Play,” a high-stakes poker game between Robin Masters and adult magazine mogul Buzz Benoit at the latter’s Beverly Hills mansion leaves the legendary scribe at the mercy of the wisecracking publisher; the two media icons go back two decades—in his magazine’s first issue circa 1961, Buzz published Robin’s first story, titled Babes in Babylon.  At the episode’s beginning, Buzz has already won a signed Picasso, a case of 100-year-old champagne, Robin’s master tapes of Jack Teagarden’s original songs, plus one original Robin Masters story for the next issue of his magazine.

When the subject of co-ed softball arises, Buzz gives Robin a chance to recoup his losses—the publisher’s Blasters versus the novelist’s King Kamehameha Club Paddlers.  If the Blasters win, Buzz gets control of Robin’s Nest for one year.  If the Paddlers win, Robin’s debts are wiped out.  The Blasters win.  All seems hopeless for Magnum, Higgins, et al., until Magnum realizes that Buzz plays poker with marked decks.  The bet, therefore, was never valid.

“Squeeze Play” references a real Yankees-Tigers game when Magnum recalls going to Briggs Stadium with his Uncle Lyle in June 1956—the game indicated is the June 18th contest, which the Yankees won 7-4, thanks to Mickey Mantle’s three-run homer that went over the stadium’s 110-foot roof.

In the 1982 episode “Jororo Farewell,” the 12-year-old Prince of Jororo, a fictional country, stays at Robin’s Nest when his baseball team visits Hawaii to play T.C.’s team in a goodwill game.  Simply, the prince is a target for those who want to harm the royal family of Jororo; the team stays at a hotel in Waikiki while the prince remains under the watchful eye of his security detail and, naturally, Magnum.  After a practice game, Jororian dissidents ambush the prince’s car; Magnum helps thwart their efforts with honed shooting skill.  When kidnappers abduct the prince, Magnum deduces that the team’s coach is involved, tracks him to an airport, and discovers that the prince jumped out of the rear cargo door of the kidnappers’ plane before it took off.

Baseball also provides the backdrop to Selleck’s starring role in Mr. Baseball, a 1992 film depicting Selleck as Jack Elliot, an aging, disgruntled, and overconfident major leaguer now playing for the Chunichi Dragons in Japan.  Elliot, at first dismissive of playing in Japan, learns humility, respect, and teamwork.  After finding success overseas, Elliot returns home to a coaching position with the Detroit Tigers.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on January 19, 2015.

NASA, Space, and Popular Culture

Monday, June 29th, 2015

RemingtonNASA’s Golden Age of Projects Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo inspired television programmers and producers to use space as a theme in the 1960s.

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1960s Sex Symbols: Witch or Genie?

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

Who would you rather have as your other half in romance, marriage, and domesticity?  A witch or a genie?

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Houston, You Have A Problem

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

A once venerable symbol of the future is on the precipice of being an ignored relic of the past.

The Houston Astrodome. The first domed stadium. The 8th Wonder of the World.

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