Saturday, November 05, 2011

My thoughts on Andy Rooney

Andy Rooney was our national curmudgeon. Every week on 60 MINUTES he would grouse about traffic or women’s hats or other people who grouse about women’s hats. In beautifully written detail he would call out paperclips or hypocrisy. I always loved Andy Rooney. He was a man of my own annoyed heart.

There’s an art to being a curmudgeon. It’s not enough to just complain about things, you have to be entertaining while doing it. Otherwise you’re just a crank or running for office. A good curmudgeon can say the things we wish we could say if we weren’t worried about losing our jobs or friends.

Andy Rooney was the best. You could watch him every week for 30 years and rarely say to the screen, “Oh shut up!” I’m sure Andy would consider that the ultimate compliment.

He was also one of the last curmudgeons. Yes, we still have Lewis Black, Fran Lieborwitz (when she's not just freeloading in the Hamptons), and a few other notable malcontents, but it’s not like the old days. Back in the ‘40s to the ‘60s, when Andy Rooney was just middle aged, the airwaves and publications were filled with these golden arch voices. George S. Kaufman, Oscar Levant, Henry Morgan, Fred Allen, and Dorothy Parker were just a few.  (The ones I missed would probably say, "Typical!")  They would showcase their razor-sharp wits on game show panels, radio shows, talk shows, newspaper columns, and celebrity funerals.  It was certainly their heyday.  There were way more forums and way fewer anti-depressant drugs.


But through all the eras, all the changing times, there was Andy Rooney – a beacon of bitching. I will miss him. I hope that whenever there’s a moment of silence for him on TV we see the little stopwatch in the corner.

And I for one intend to keep the flame alive, for if nothing else, the blogosphere is merely our generation’s answer to the second seat on the WHAT’S MY LINE? panel.

24 comments:

Jake Mabe said...

Funny you should mention Henry Morgan. I saw him once, sitting in that infamous second seat on "What's My Line," interrupt and insult Bennett Cerf while the Random House publisher was trying to tell a joke before introducing host John Charles Daly. Totally pissed me off. But, I guess that was the point.

Peter J. said...

Speaking of curmudgeons, have you ever run across Harlan Ellison in your travels around Hollywood? (I don't think he ever ventured into the sitcom world.) If so, anything to share?

Kirk said...

I liked Andy Rooney when he first began appearing on 60 Minutes, but got a bit turned-off as he became more reactionary. Still, your point about curmudgeons, and the lack thereof nowadays, is well taken. Used to enjoy Henry Morgan on the Game Show Network's black-and-white nights. And, Jake, funny you should mention Morgan mocking Bennett Cerf, as Cerf always seemed to be mocking John Charles Daley. Guess he got a taste of his owm medicine.

As for Oscar Levant, he was always a kind of subversive influence in those otherwise innocous MGM musicals in which he appeared.

Pat Reeder said...

CBS actually used to give Andy Rooney hour-long prime-time specials, like "Mr. Rooney Goes TO Dinner." But somewhere in the '70s, probably when everyone was on Valium, they decided that an entertaining curmudgeon might harsh our buzz, dude, so they cut him down to a few minutes a week. I often tuned in the end of "60 Minutes" just to see him. I even wrote some industrial videos in his style for a really terrific Andy Rooney impersonator.

Fortunately, there were still places for people who made pithy, poison-tipped observations about the passing scene. Before the Internet came along, many of them were in radio, where I've made a living for 20 years writing their material. One of our longtime clients wrote me yesterday to tell me he was retiring. I told him what I always say: I'll never retire because I'd just sit around watching the news and making humorously nasty comments about all the idiots in the world. I do that now, and they pay me for it.

Kudos to Andy Rooney for getting CBS to pay him so well for it for so long.

HogsAteMySister said...

R.I.P. Andy. Hope the women's hats in heaven don't annoy you.

Mike Barer said...

In Seattle, we had Emmet Watson who wrote a column for the Seattle PI, then the Times. He founded a phony movement called "Lesser Seattle" and always complained about Californians moving there.

tb said...

Didja ever notice how they call it a flight of stairs? Stairs don't fly! RIP Andy

Naz said...

I truly enjoyed Andy Rooney. May he rest in peace....tick, tick, tick tick...............

Mary Stella said...

Even when he was his crankiest, most curmudgeonly self, Andy was my favorite part of 60 Minutes. Like a great dessert at the end of a heavy meal, he was the perfect finish.

normadesmond said...

i say andy was probably a nice guy in real life.

henry surely was not, that's why
he was so good at what he did.

Anonymous said...

Interesting observations Ken. I'd love to hear more speculation on why you think curmudgeons have gone out of fashion.

Maybe in this age of irony, the curmudgeony style is taken as too obvious, too on the nose?

Or maybe back then their was a shock effect of just speaking your mind, that just doesn't shock any more.

Something else??

Mac said...

This is why I loved Becker. Everything annoyed him but in a funny way. It's like a release valve.

Jan said...

The best part of Andy Rooney's bit on 60Minutes was his desk, other than AR, of course.

Phillip B said...

I'd suggest that curmudgeons are still among us, they simply evolved into stand ups who do "observational" humor. Perhaps Jerry Seinfeld will eventually be on 60 Minutes - the world be a better place had they given George Carlin a shot at it.

BTW - favorite Rooney impression was Joe Piscopo asking "Didja ever notice there were no Nazi's named Steve?"

cshel said...

It just doesn't feel like 60 Minutes without Andy Rooney. I'm really sad about his death. He had just retired, and then he has minor surgery and dies of complications. What the hell happened?! I can imagine a funny commentary by him, about that, on the other side.

I really enjoyed Becker's curmudgeonliness, too. That was hard to spell. : )

Michael said...

One of Rooney's greatest was not long after he started doing his commentaries. He alternated with Point/Counterpoint, with Jack Kilpatrick and Shana Alexander, which SNL spoofed with the immortal, "Jane, you ignorant slut." One week, Rooney spoofed them. The other featured ended shortly thereafter and he was a weekly commentator.

I'll never forget his tribute to Harry Reasoner, with whom he did a bunch of documentaries in the 1960s--"An Essay on Doors," "An Essay on Women," etc. It reminded us that Rooney was a curmudgeon, yes, but he also was a brilliant writer. His conclusion talked about how Reasoner was the smartest man he ever knew, but he also was the dumbest. He lost a lung to cancer, and he kept smoking cigarettes. Then, with his voice breaking, Rooney closed, "How dare he be so careless with our affection."

Roger Owen Green said...

I really did like Andy Rooney early on, as noted HERE. And he was from my adopted hometown of Albany, NY.

Ellen said...

“If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.” - Dorothy Parker

Brad C. said...

Probably the reason it's hard to find curmudgeons these days is the fear of network execs giving airtime to anyone over 30. Despite that, Larry David has built a pretty good career on being a "stealth" curmudgeon.

VP81955 said...

Goodbye to Mr. Rooney, a wonderful writer dating back to his Stars & Stripes days during World War II.

And somewhere, Andy is smiling because his beloved New York Giants rallied for a 24-20 victory at New England today.

Matt said...

I thought you just posted on how nice Henry Morgan was? (Nods to Corey from yesterdays comments.)

Anonymous said...

An expert at belaboring the obvious, and about as funny as a toothache.I suspect his serious writing was better that the 60 Minutes stuff.

RockGolf said...

@Matt: Henry Morgan - nasty.
HARRY Morgan - nice.

This has been another episode of Know Your Morgans.

Perfect WV for this post: prumpl

Colleen Kelly Mellor said...

Colleen Kelly Mellor said: Andy Rooney continued his political incorrectness (you know, when the rest of the world and Hollywood in particular began vanilla-cizing everything...) lest it offend.So, he got the term 'crotchety' and his unrepentant brows signified such. Yes, we'll miss his commentary...a rare gem of crystalized thought. Something like: "Have you ever noticed the homes/businesses of so-called psychics? Most are nasty. I mean, if someone were really good at seeing into the future, she'd see where she was going and switch into a different profession."