"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Monthly Archives: September 2011

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From Ali to Xena: 38

Crockett and Tubbs (Mostly Crockett)

By John Schulian

Even though it disappeared from prime time more than 20 years ago, “Miami Vice” still has a hold on people, whether it’s because they dressed like Crockett and Tubbs at a bar mitzvah or they’re looking for cocaine residue on those of us who helped make cultural icons of TV’s hippest cops. Myself, I’ve never looked good in white loafers without socks, and I’ve never done coke. But I didn’t realize I should have said so to Robert Wuhl before I went on his radio show last spring to promote “At the Fights,” the boxing anthology that the sainted George Kimball and I edited. I was primed to talk about everyone from Muhammad Ali and Roberto Duran to Norman Mailer and A.J. Liebling, but as soon as Wuhl saw “Miami Vice” on my resume, he wanted to know about all the coked-out shenanigans on South Beach. When I told him I didn’t know anything, he gave me the kind of look Hillary Clinton must have given Bill the first time she asked him about that Lewinsky woman and he lied his presidential ass off.

I was telling the truth, though. I really didn’t know anything beyond the same rumors everybody else seemed to have heard. When I was on “Vice,” the last thing on my mind was getting high. I wanted to establish myself in Hollywood, and this was my chance to do it. We wrote the scripts at Universal Studios and shot them in Miami, which gave everybody there plenty of chances to go native. The most outrageous behavior I heard of, however, was when Dick Wolf called Don Johnson only to be told that Don had gone skiing in Aspen. I suppose you could excuse him because he’d run off on a Friday when he didn’t have much work to do, just a couple of scenes in which we could shoot his double from behind. Of course his double had the world’s worst wig and looked the way Don would have on a diet of Krispy Kremes, but Don got away with it. It’s good to be the star.

If Don had been anything less, he wouldn’t have directed an episode I’d written called “By Hooker By Crook.” He lobbied for Melanie Griffith, his ex-wife, to play a socialite who moonlights as a madam, and, wonder of wonders, she got the part. In a cast that was magnificently goofy – Captain Lou Albano, the wrestler; Vanity, who had been Prince’s main squeeze; George Takei from “Star Trek” – Melanie was the main attraction. She and Don did a lot of rolling around in bed for the sake of the episode; in dailies she’d pull a sheet tight around her at the end of each take and laughingly tell the crew, “Quit looking at my tits.” Don and Melanie must have done some rolling around off-camera, too, because they wound up giving marriage a second try. That one didn’t work, either.

The fact that Don was directing didn’t mean much to me until I came home one night to my apartment in a complex crawling screenwriters, guys going through divorces (who may have been screenwriters too), stage mothers and their children, strippers, and hookers. The phone was ringing as I opened the door. It was Dick Wolf.

“Don wants you in Miami,” he said.

“I’ll catch the first thing smoking in the morning,” I said.

“No, you don’t understand. Don wants you there now.”

Apparently our star had developed a case of the yips as his first day of directing drew near. So I took the red-eye to Miami, where a driver picked me up and drove me to the art deco hotel where the company was quartered. I slept for a few hours and then went out to the set. The first person I saw coming out of Don’s trailer was Kerry McCluggage, the president of Universal TV. That’s when I knew how big a deal this was, and just how skittish Don was.

As it turned out, he asked very little of me. I expected a demand for major revisions, but all he wanted to do was look out for his character, Sonny Crokett. He combed the script looking for the few good lines I’d given Crockett’s partner, Ricardo Tubbs. Every time he found one, he’d say, “I think Crockett should say that,” and I would dutifully make the change. Poor Philip Michael Thomas. He wasn’t much of an actor, but he was a good enough Tubbs, and here was Don turning him into a nonentity in his one shot at glory. It was as if Phillip didn’t realize what was at stake. Don certainly did. He’d been the king of failed pilots until Kerry McCluggage talked him into doing what Brandon Tartikoff, the wizard who ran NBC, famously called “MTV Cops.” Now that Don had finally found success, he was biting down on it like a pit bull.

Because I was in Miami to aid and abet him, he invited me to dinner at his home on Star Island. It was just Don, his son, and me (and the hired help, of course). He kept calling the boy “son,” as if he couldn’t remember his name. It was all perfectly pleasant, though: a nice meal, a little light conversation. And then Don looked at me very seriously and said, “They tell me you used to be a sportswriter. That’s a strange way to make a living, isn’t it?”

This from a guy who played an undercover cop who wore pastel clothes and sockless white loafers, drove a Ferrari Testarossa, had a pet alligator named Elvis, ran around glorious mansions shooting bad guys, and spent more than a little time staring moodily into the distance while Phil Collins or Simply Red or some other hot music act played in the background.

And he wanted to know if writing sports is a strange way to make a living.

“Yeah,” I said. “I suppose it is.”

Click here for the full “From Ali to Xena” archives.

Beane Counter

Read anything about “Moneyball” lately?

I haven’t seen the movie yet but I did read this article on Billy Beane in the New York Times Magazine.

And over at The Atlantic, Allen Barra has a critical essay on Michael Lewis’ book.

Morning Art

“Orestes,” By Willem de Kooning (1947)

New York Minute

In the elevator this morning with my neighbor, Bee. She’s a nurse and we sometimes meet on our way to work. She is a zaftig Puerto Rican with a big smile. Got an easy laugh. Bee’s also a huge movie fan so I mention the upcoming George Harrison documentary by Martin Scorsese.

“Oh, I love Rock n Roll,” Bee said. “I was one of the only Latina’s that did back then. You don’t believe me? Inagaddadavida, baby!”

Beat of the Day

And So…

The final day of the regular season. Sox and Rays are tied for the wildcard in the AL; Braves and Cards are tied for the wildcard in the NL.

It’s gunna hoit for someone.

Would You Believe?

…That the Red Sox and the Rays both won tonight? That Russell Martin hit into a triple play? That Rafael Soriano screwed the pooch and gave up the deciding three-run home run? How about that Boston’s third-string catcher, Ryan Lavarnway (and what a wonderful name that is), hit two home runs? Lavarnway also made a critical play to get the second out in the ninth inning too.

It all happened folks. And so there will be another night of channel-flipping, nail-biting, and general playoff mishegoss. Would you expect anything less at this pernt?

The good news is that Bartolo Colon pitched reasonably well for the Yanks in the 5-3 loss.

Otherwise, the Yankees were a footnote in this drama. Final game of the season. Dig ‘um, smack.

Tune Up, Tune Out

Bartolo Colon’s playoff spot might be determined by what he does tonight. He’s been like a balloon with a small tear in it. The air has been slowly escaping for more than a month now.

Eduardo Nunez SS
Curtis Granderson CF
Robinson Cano 2B
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Mark Teixeira 1B
Nick Swisher RF
Jorge Posada DH
Russell Martin C
Brett Gardner LF

Never mind the nonsense:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

[Photo Credit: Cortes 2]


New York Minute

I remember waiting for the subway once with my grandfather. 81st Street, Museum of Natural History stop.  He walked to the edge of the platform and leaned over to see if a train was coming. That image is frozen in my mind. He was not a physical man and I was convinced he would tip over and fall over, down to the tracks. He didn’t. When the train came, we got on and an older guy kept looking at me and I thought he was going to mug us.

Mug. That was a word that was always on my mind as a kid in New York. I don’t hear it so much anymore. Not “jack” or “rob.”  Mug. Whenever I was on the subway I’d try to guess who would mug me and how I could escape.

[Photo Credit: Bruce Davidson]

Million Dollar Movie

Here’s James Agee on our man Buster:

Very early in [Keaton’s] movie career friends asked him why he never smiled on the screen. He didn’t realize he didn’t. He had got the dead-pan habit in variety; on the screen he had merely been so hard at work it had never occurred to him there was anything to smile about. Now he tried it just once and never again. He was by his whole style and nature so much the most deeply “silent” of the silent comedians that even a smile was as deafeningly out of key as a yell. In a way his pictures are like a transcendent juggling act in which it seems that the whole universe is in exquisite flying motion and the one point of repose is the juggler’s effortless, uninterested face.

Keaton’s face ranked almost with Lincoln’s as an early American archetype; it was haunting, handsome, almost beautiful, yet it was irreducibly funny; he improved matters by topping it off with a deadly horizontal hat, as flat and thin as a phonograph record. One can never forget Keaton wearing it, standing erect at the prow as his little boat is being launched. The boat goes grandly down the skids and, just as grandly, straight on to the bottom. Keaton never budges. The last you see of him, the water lifts the hat off the stoic head and it floats away.

…Much of the charm and edge of Keaton’s comedy, however, lay in the subtle leverages of expression he could work against his nominal dead pan. Trapped in the side-wheel of a ferryboat, saving himself from drowning only by walking, then desperately running, inside the accelerating wheel like a squirrel in a cage, his only real concern was, obviously, to keep his hat on. Confronted by Love, he was not as deadpan as he was cracked up to be, either; there was an odd, abrupt motion of his head which suggested a horse nipping after a sugar lump.

Keaton worked strictly for laughs, but his work came from so far inside a curious and original spirit that he achieved a great deal besides, especially in his feature-length comedies. (For plain hard laughter his nineteen short comedies — the negatives of which have been lost — were even better.) He was the only major comedian who kept sentiment almost entirely out of his work, and he brought pure physical comedy to its greatest heights. Beneath his lack of emotion he was also uninsistently sardonic; deep below that, giving a disturbing tension and grandeur to the foolishness, for those who sensed it, there was in his comedy a freezing whisper not of pathos but of melancholia. With the humor, the craftsmanship and the action there was often, besides, a fine, still and sometimes dreamlike beauty. Much of his Civil War picture The General is within hailing distance of Mathew Brady. And there is a ghostly, unforgettable moment in The Navigator when, on a deserted, softly rolling ship, all the pale doors along a deck swing open as one behind Keaton and, as one, slam shut, in a hair-raising illusion of noise.

Perhaps because “dry’ comedy is so much more rare and odd than “dry” wit, there are people who never much cared for Keaton. Those who do cannot care mildly.

Oh, yeah. And Buster loved baseball too.

Taster’s Cherce

Yeah, I know it’s only Tuesday but dig these apple pancakes over at Smitten Kitchen.

Morning Art

“Figure in Landscape, No. 2,” By Willem de Kooning (1951)

The de Kooning Retrospective at the Modern is a big show and it is fuggin’ gorgeous. It’s up through the middle of January. Don’t sleep.

Beat of the Day

Women by Robert McGinnis.

Ladies by the Beasties:

Be Here All Week

From George King in the Post:

Russell Martin was ejected by plate umpire Paul Schrieber in the fifth inning after Hughes believed the ump missed a couple of pitches.

“I said to (the umpire), ‘Did you stretch before the game?’ He said ‘What?’ I asked him again. Then I said, ‘I believe you are kind of tight right now.’ And he threw me out of the game.

“He wanted to hear what I was going to say because why else would he take off his mask and walk around me. I kept my mask on my face, nobody knew what was going on. I thought this was a game it should be fun. I was just trying to loosen things up a bit because he wasn’t having a good time. I didn’t say he sucked, I didn’t say he was the worst umpire in the league, I didn’t say any of that stuff. I just made a joke and he threw me out. No warning. Nothing.

“He said my antics were tired. Me walking to the mound kind of slowly. But it’s frustrating when you are not getting calls. I got thrown out for being funny, I guess. I got thrown out for having a sense of humor. I had Joe [Girardi] laughing. I can’t wait to see the report he is going to write. I felt it was the perfect time to do it. I was just trying to lighten up the mood. It just popped up in my head. I think he took it the wrong way. I just thought of it on the way back from seeing Phil. Phil was getting frustrated. a My standup days are over, shortlived. We can’t talk anymore. I was shocked I got thrown out. I was just trying to get him to laugh.”

Tough room, huh?

[Drawing by the great Drew Friedman]

You Don’t Say

What do I know from tonight’s games? I don’t know dick, frankly, because The Wife was watching “Dancing with the Stars.” But I followed along on the computer, at least to check the scores, and saw some of the video highlights. What I learned was that Russell Martin was thrown out of the game while behind the plate for arguing balls and strikes. I know that the Yankees caught two runners stealing in one play and that Desmond Jennings made a spectacular catch in left field. Oh, and I learned that aside from Robinson Cano’s two hits, including a first inning home run, James Shield had his way with the Yanks. He lasted until two outs in the ninth, walked Eric Chavez and our old chum Kyle Farmaduke got the final out.

Final Score: Rays 5, Yanks 2.

I also know that Josh Beckett spit the bit, giving up six runs–an inside the park home run was the icing on the gravy–and now the Sox and Rays are tied for the wild card with two games left in the season.

Whoa, Daddy.

Knock ‘Em Out the Box

Yanks down in Tampa for three to end the season. The Rays are fighting to make the playoffs and they need some help from the Orioles. The Yanks are looking to rest some guys and keep everyone healthy for the ALDS.

Cliff with the preview.

Derek Jeter SS
Curtis Granderson CF
Robinson Cano 2B
Alex Rodriguez DH
Jorge Posada 1B
Eric Chavez 3B
Russell Martin C
Eduardo Nunez RF
Brett Gardner LF

Never mind the nap:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

[Photo Credit: Krstnn Hrmnsn]

Afternoon Art

“Pencil drawing of Elaine de Kooning,” by Willem de Kooning (1940)

Fear and Faith in Texas

Read of the Day comes from D Magazine. A fine story by Michael J. Mooney.

The piece made me appreciate how fragile life is, how things can get spoiled–or at least be altered–so quickly. It also made me think about forgiveness and that having compassion is something you do to save yourself.

Check it out.

[Featured image by Juanangelr]

New York Minute

Ah, if only we had a time machine and could go back and sit in the Polo Grounds. Man, that’d be nice.

[Photo via The Mighty Flynn]

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver