Posts Tagged ‘Gimme A Break’

The Year the Yankees Won the Tonys

Saturday, April 22nd, 2017

In 1956, Mickey Mantle won the American League Triple Crown, Don Larsen pitched a perfect game in the World Series, and Whitey Ford led the major leagues in Earned Run Average.  It was also the year of another World Series championship for the Bronx Bombers, further emphasizing the team’s dominance in the 20-year period after World War II.

The Yankees represented a source of drama beyond ballparks in 1956—Damn Yankees, based on Douglas Wallop’s novel The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant, got a plethora of recognition in the form of Tony Awards for:

  • Best Musical
  • Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical (Ray Walston)
  • Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical (Gwen Verdon)
  • Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical (Russ Brown)
  • Best Conductor and Musical Director (Hal Hastings)
  • Best Choreography (Bob Fosse)
  • Best Stage Technician (Harry Green)

Damn Yankees also got a nomination for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical (Rae Allen).

Ray Walston played the Devil, also known as Applegate, in Damn Yankees. Convincing a hapless Washington Senators fan to sell his soul for the chance to lead the Senators to baseball glory made Applegate an epic character in popular culture.  “Mr. Walston was satanic with a wry twist, underplaying a role that could have become villainous and singing wistfully about death and destruction in ‘Those Were the Good Old Days,'” wrote Mel Gussow in his 2001 obituary of Walston for the New York Times.  Lewis Funke praised Walston in his analysis of Damn Yankees when the show débuted in 1955:  “Authoritative and persuasive, he does not overdo a role that easily could become irritating in less expert hands.”

Gwen Verdon was a theater touchstone, winning four Tony Awards in her career.  Married to legendary choreographer Bob Fosse, Vernon had abundant work as a guest star on television, including roles on WebsterGimme a Break!M*A*S*HFameDream OnThe Equalizer, and Touched by an Angel.  Verdon’s body of work in movies includes The Cotton Club and Cocoon.

Los Angeles Times Theater Writer Don Shirley quoted Times dance critic Lewis Segal in his 2000 obituary of the dancer:  “Verdon was to Broadway dance what Ethel Merman was to Broadway song; an archetypal personality whose talents inspired the best from those who created works for her.  More than anyone, Fosse continually mined her saucy yet vulnerable stage persona for new facets, using her as a living anthology of show-dance style.”

Shirley wrote, “Her dancing was characterized by her ability to make the most intricate technical choreography look spontaneous and almost carefree.”

Walston and Vernon reprised their roles for the 1958 movie version of Damn Yankees.  Tab Hunter took on the role of Joe Hardy, a standout with the Senators, thanks to the machinations of Applegate.  Stephen Douglass played the role on Broadway.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on October 18, 2016.

Bay City Blues

Monday, January 9th, 2017

Five years before Ron Shelton turned his script for Bull Durham into his directorial dbut, NBC aired Bay City Blues, which introduced millions of people to the pleasures, idiosyncrasies, and slightly desperate aura surrounding the minor leagues.  NBC’s prime time lineup began the 1983-84 television season with several shows that looked promising, but quickly fell to cancellation, e.g., BooneMr. SmithManimal.  As well, Bay City Blues struck out.

NBC brought Bay City Blues to prime time in the wake of an abundance of critical acclaim surrounding its groundbreaking police drama Hill Street Blues and medical drama St. Elsewhereboth produced by MTM Enterprises.  Television critic Howard Rosenberg of the Los Angeles Times wrote, “‘Bay City Blues’ applies the ‘Hill Street’ formulaan ensemble cast of eccentric characters bouncing their troubles off a firm but sensitive and understanding father figureto a new set of engaging circumstances.”

Bay City Blues revolved around the Bay City Bluebirds, a Double-A team in northern California.  Steven Bochco and Jeffrey Lewis created the show; Hill Street Blues was another Bochco co-creation, hence the parallel described by Rosenberg and other critics.  With the minor leagues serving as a limbo of dreams from which the Bluebirds seek a reprieve, Bay City Blues showcased future stars:  Sharon Stone’s legs launched a thousand sexual fantasies in Basic Instinct; Ken Olin represented the angst of baby boomers in thirtysomething; Michele Green transitioned from mousy to mighty as an attorney in L.A. Law; Mykelti Williamson befriended Tom Hanks as Bubba and Forrest respectively, in Forrest Gump; and Michael Nouri built an outstanding career as a character actor.

In New York magazine, John Leonard wrote, “When Bay City roots for its Bluebirds, it is rooting for youth and heroism, the lucky break, a last chance, grace under pressure, justice, and nostalgia.  Baseball, at least for the man-child in this promised land, is so American Dreamy because it’s so helplessly nostalgic.  Before we die, we want to steal second base.  This game, in theory, could go on forever.”

Fantasies of a better life comprise a cornerstone of the minor leagues portrayed in popular culture.  Cecil “Stud” Cantrell mourns the lost opportunity to compete with Stan Musial for a spot on the Cardinals when he suffered in injuries in World War II preventing him from going further than the Tampico Stogies in the novel Long Gone and the eponymous tv-movie.  Crash Davis embodies grace at home plate while he mentors a deeply talented but crucially ignorant pitcher pitcher in Bull Durham.  Hal Hinson of the Washington Post wrote, “What [Bull Durham] has is flavor, reality, a sense that the game is played by actual people, boys mostly, and not heroes.”  Pastime explored a similar mentor-mentee paradigm.

Built in the San Fernando Valley for Bay City Blues, Bluebird Field also appeared in the 1985 movie Brewster’s Millions.  In 1989, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power tore down the field, which also served Mission College and Village Christian High School.

NBC dropped Bay City Blues from its prime time lineup after four episodes aired.

A version of this article appeared on wwwthesportspost.com on November 15, 2015.

Father’s Day For All the Single Dads

Sunday, June 17th, 2012

Happy Father’s Day!

Since television became a mass medium during the 1950s, the single dad paradigm has been a staple of prime time television. From Mayberry to the Ponderosa, the single dad character has shown courage in the face of adversity, strength in the wake of tragedy, and common sense in the presence of chaos.

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