Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year!!!

Forget the Rose Parade. Here's the REAL deal -- the annual Doo Dah parade in Pasadena.

Tomorrow: my review of JUNO.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

May 2008 be for you...

...what 2007 was for Martin Scorsese, Jordin Sparks, Harry Potter, Tina Fey, Forest Whitaker, Amy Adams, Amy Ryan, Amy Winehouse (when not in rehab), Judd Apatow, John Mayer, the Boston Red Sox, Nikki Blonsky, Dirk Nowitzki, Keith Olbermann, the Dixie Chicks, Jonah Hill, Justin Timberlake, the Sopranos, Will Smith, the New England Patriots, Perez Hilton, the Colbert Report, Whoopi, Fergie, Ellen Page, the Rock, Katherine Heigl, Tom Stoppard, High School Musical (1 and 2), Plain White T’s, Evgeni Malkin, House, penguins, Facebook, Alan Arkin, Seth Rogen, Tony Bennett, Khaled Hosseinl,Jake Peavey, the Florida Gators (football and basketball), Terry O’Quinn, Frank Langella, Mad Men, the Coen Brothers, Don Draper (or whatever the hell his real name is), Transformers, Josh Groban, Homer Simpson,, Steve Nash, Ugly Betty, Zac Efron, the Ducks of Anaheim, Radiohead, Nikki Finke, Howie Mandel, the Black Eyed Peas, the Colorado Rockies, Jon Stewart,, Adam Levine, Wii, Wifi, Helen Mirren, Spring Awakening, Sean Kingston, C.C. Sabathia, Martin Brodeur, YouTube, Carrie Underwood, A-Rod, Dexter, Tony Parker, the Police, Dick in a Box, Ryan Seacrest, Jennifer Hudson, the Disney Channel, Alec Baldwin, the Huffington Post, Brandon Roy, Drew Carey, Xanadu, Charles Gibson, Miley Cyrus, Corey Brewer, Jason Bourne, Michael Cera, the Indianapolis Colts, Colt Brennan, the Amazing Race, James Spader, Project Runway, the Conchords, the Boss, Bees, Spiderman, Jimmy Rollins, Shia LeBeouf, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Lauren Conrad, Diablo Cody, Halo 3, U. of Hawaii Warriors, Ted Danson, rats that cook, Andrew Bynum, Rihanna, Tim Tebow, Little Miss Sunshine, LaDainian Tomlinson, Jaime Pressly,, Buy U a Drank,David Hyde Pierce, the San Antonio Spurs, Alicia Keys, Pushing Daisies, Smashing Pumpkins, the iPhone, Battlestar Galactica, Shrek, Steve Carell, Once, Paul Thomas Anderson, Tom Brady, Michael Clayton, Matthew Weiner, Jay-Z, James Patterson, Randy Moss, and me for this blog, thus elevating my status to pundit from crank.

How Diana became Annie

A reader discovered that my daughter Annie's real name is Diana and wondered how and why she made the change. Annie herself has graciously agreed to answer.

There has been an inquiry about my going by Annie rather than Diana. Most of you probably had no idea that my name was Diana unless you've either a) known me since birth b) are a friend of mine or c) have read my father's book (so that's what like two of you?). There was no "Kafka-esque metamorphosis". It was more of a Bruce Wayne/Batman secret identity thing although now that its been revealed I guess my crime-fighting days are over. So you are all to blame when Two-Face starts reeking havoc again.

Actually my parents always called me "Annie." Other delightful nicknames include Dow Chemical, Porntip and Youngster Fishman. So its not too surprising that I chose to go by Annie instead. Though you're all welcome to call me "Porntip."

My favorite quotes of the year

Sherri Shepherd, new co-host of THE VIEW even topped fellow hen Elisabeth Hasselbeck in stupidity by saying she doesn’t know if the world is flat and hasn’t really thought about it.

President Bush on September 20th said this about the very-much-alive Nelson Mandela: “"I heard somebody say, 'Where's (Nelson) Mandela?' Well, Mandela's dead. Because Saddam killed all the Mandelas."

Britney Spears on VH-1: “I’ve never really wanted to go to Japan. Simply because I don’t like eating fish. And I know that’s very popular out there in Africa.”

You’ve seen it on YouTube. Lauren Caitlin Upton, Miss South Carolina Teen USA (pictured above) answering a question about why 20% of Americans can’t locate the U.S. on a world map. She said, “I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because, uh, some people out there in our nation don’t have maps, and, uh, I believe that our education like such as in South Africa and the Iraq, everywhere, like, such as. And I believe that they should, our education over here in the U.S. should help the U.S., er, should help South Africa, and should help the Iraq and the Asian countries, so we will be able to build up our future for our children.”

And my favorite:

Pam Anderson ended her marriage with latest hubby, Rick Salomon. They were married Oct.6 in Las Vegas in the hour and half interval between her two magic shows. They'd been friends for years. In an interview on Ellen's show Anderson revealed how they went from friends to lovers. "I paid off a poker debt with sexual favors, and I fell in love. It's so romantic."

Friday, December 28, 2007

LA is so much better without people

The best week of the year in Los Angeles is always this one, the final seven days of the year. More picketing and jury duty is on tap for me in January but here in the waning days of December I can bask in the glory of the city that Zorro once called home.

First of all, the town is practically empty. Most people from the industry are gone, terrorizing the help in Hawaii and Aspen. There’s very little traffic. You can actually make the fifteen minute drive between Brentwood and LAX on the 405 Freeway in only forty minutes. It’s like you’re flying! Hard to get into restaurants? Not this week. Spago will even make reservations for people they don’t know. And at 7:00 not 10:30. (Unfortunately, their chefs are probably in Aspen and Hawaii.)

Los Angeles is so deserted I heard of a friend who found a parking place at the Grove shopping mall. But that’s still just a rumor.

For industry guild folks, as a nice respite from picketing, there are free movies. In the hopes of snaring nominations from any organization that gives out awards (even the WGA), studios let eligible voters and guests attend contending movies gratis. It’s also their way of giving back to the community. However, the nanosecond the nominations are announced this lovely gesture ends instantly. And they go back to the business at hand – busting the unions.

Most of the city’s attention this week is on the upcoming Rose Parade and Bowl. If you have six friends over to your apartment to play poker, the Rose Queen and her court will come and speak to your group.

The Rose Bowl traditionally pits the champion of the Pac 10 with the champion of the Big 10. It’s always a big deal, “the Granddaddy of Bowl Games”. This year, it’s USC and Illinois (a team that didn’t even win the Big 10) and since the BCS championship game has now become the only bowl that counts, the anticipation and excitement of the Rose Bowl equals that of the WNBA finals.

Every year fans from the Big 10 representative flood into Southern California. They’re easy to spot. They’re always the nicest people you’ve ever met and they’re always wearing school shirts and hats. I’m beginning to think they come to LA for a week with only that one outfit. The Illinois school color is orange so it feels like Halloween.

Highlight of the Rose Bowl festivities is the Lawry’s Beef Bowl. Lawry’s is the greatest prime rib restaurant in the world (a more popular attraction to Japanese tourists than Disneyland). Every year they invite each team and feed them as much prime rib as they can eat. Usually the winning team tops out at around 630 pounds of beef. During the Rose Bowl, you’ll notice half the players sleeping the bench. That’s why.

The New Year's Eve tradition is to watch Dick Clark and experience the year change in tape delay. Unless you have satellite. Then you can watch the East Coast feed in which case you're in 2008 for three hours while the rest of us are still in 2007.

The Rose Parade is Tuesday morning. Today some idiots will start staking out spots along the parade route. Every local channel will broadcast the parade. KTLA gets a 50 share, everyone else gets a 2. Why these other stations still bother is beyond me. KTLA coverage begins at like 3:00 a.m. Five hours of watching people paste flowers on floats and the idiots from today freezing. KTLA will begin replaying the parade immediately upon its conclusion. Then they replay it again. And again. Sometime around January 15th they return to regular programming.

Bob Eubanks has been hosting the parade since the floats were powered by horses. For many of those years his co-host was Stephanie Edwards, a popular local personality who was mostly known for being the carnie for Lucky Markets. She was replaced in the booth by local KTLA morning news anchor, Michaela Pereira. This caused quite a stir. Most people felt that Michaela was horrible and resented her in that Deborah Norville way for squeezing out our beloved Stephanie. (Fans would show their support for Steph by shopping at Lucky but Lucky no longer exists.) Now it’s three years later, Bob and Michaela are back and most people don’t even remember Stephanie Edwards. On to new important causes.

Then on New Year’s evening all the locals will go out to dinner, have to wait 45 minutes for a table since the Illinois rooters got there first, and things will return to normal.

So for my fellow Angelinos – enjoy it while you can!

By the way, happy 90th birthday to my second cousin Manny Thaler. He used to play in Glenn Miller's Band. He's still getting chicks off that gig.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Don't write at Starbucks

I’m writing this on an airplane. It’s actually one of my favorite places to work. It’s generally quiet, the alternative is watching some bad Jane Fonda/Lindsey Lohan movie, and I can now write off American Airlines as an office.

More and more it seems writers are getting out and writing in public. Thanks to laptops and ipods you don’t have to feel isolated sitting in a room, you can feel isolated sitting in a coffee shop or library.

A friend of mine writes in the produce section of Gelson’s market. Another writes on commuter trains. Several work in bars but God knows what those scripts look like.

The only place I think should be made off-limits for working on scripts is Starbucks. It is such a clichĂ©. Starbucks is not for real writers, it’s for posers. I see these “artistes”, hunched over their laptops, determined looks on their faces, clacking away, marveling at their own brilliance and I think “what a bunch of assholes!” And then to draw even more attention to themselves they wear the writer costume – the sweater around the neck, baseball cap indoors, sandals, Blackberrys peeking out of their Levi shirt pockets. I guess their ultimate goal is impress but they obviously never heard the old joke about the Polish actress who tried to get ahead by sleeping with writers.

Visit one of our strike sites. We’re not a super cool bunch. Really, we’re not. But we don’t care. A real writer impresses with his work.

I know there are some very good writers who set up shop at Starbucks and to them I say, just go to Peete's or Seattle's Finest or Dunkin Donuts.

Banging out scripts is hard work. And if getting out in the world, getting a little stimulation and inspiration is going to help, then by all means go for it. I prefer planes, the UCLA stacks library, the Brentwood Country Mart, waiting rooms, and the beach.

Where do you write?

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Maui Christmas

Levine family vacations are becoming more precious and rare. Damn those kids for having lives! Soon they’ll want to bring their boy and girlfriends, and my wife – kind hearted soul that she is – thinks our pool man, Chuckie, deserves a trip. But this year it was just the four of us. Annie flew in from Chicago, Matt from Silicon Valley and we all spent a week together at the Grand Wailea hotel on Maui.

Bumped into Jimmy Kimmel and Sarah Silverman at LAX. I thanked him for sticking up for the writers and he said, “No problem. That’s why I have to leave the country.”

Not to shirk my strike related duties I did picket the Four Seasons every morning.

As longtime guests of the Grand Wailea we were given preferential treatment. They wanted to put us in rooms on the ground floor right along a busy path. And for good measure one was a handi-capped room. Nothing says “parrr-tyyy” to two twentysomethings like wheelchair access showers. We were finally moved to better rooms next to a family of twelve.

The Grand Wailea caters primarily to families. The Four Seasons is the first four rows of the Laker game.

The weather was spectacular and we were verrrry lucky. The week before they had “Kona” storms – constant deluges. Power was out at the hotel for a day, two in nearby Kihei. And since they employed a card key system it must’ve been fun for guests trying to get into their rooms. Yes, the hotel did have a backup generator but that was used to keep the blenders going. This is high Pina Colada season!

The waves during the storm were ten feet high, went over the beach, past the garden path and landed in the kiddie pool. That must’ve scared the shit out of the little darlings. But the snorkeling was great. You just sat on your balcony and watched the fish fly by.

The art gallery at the Wailea mall still has that sign offering original paintings by Paul McCartney, Tony Bennett, David Bowie, and in much smaller letters – Picasso.

Every time I return to Hawaii I am more convinced it’s the most spectacular place on earth.

Imagine the beauty of LOST without the polar bears, mysterious smoke monsters, the “Others”, abductions, explosions, killer force fields, flying spears, illegal medical experiments, and that annoying couple they buried alive.

Oh no! USA TODAY will no longer print its Hawaiian edition. How will the locals get their pie charts and day old scores?

My stomach thought it was in Mexico for the first two days. But the good news is – who loses weight in Hawaii?

Every lounge singer on Maui thinks she’s Norah Jones. I miss the days when they all thought they were Joni Mitchell.

“Mahalo” means thank you. But I understand that since it’s written on every trash can many tourists think “mahalo” means “trash”.

Celebrity citing at the hotel: C.C. Sabathia who just won the Cy Young award. He didn’t bring it down to the pool so I assume he’s married.

My Red Sox fan, Matt wanted to thank him for choking in the American League Championship Series but settled on saying “mahalo”. Of course, depending on what C.C. thought “mahalo” meant…

I also wonder how many vacationers think “Wifi” is a Hawaiian word.

Two weeks ago Jennifer Love Hewitt was at the Grand Wailea. Those now famous bikini shots of her were taken there. We got the New Jersey B’nai Brith women’s auxiliary league.

Went to Roy’s in Kihei on Wednesday night. Fabulous as always. Even better than my dinner the night before – a banana.

Now that it’s known that the Haleakala volcano is dormant the only way to lure tourists into its crater is to claim they can now get the NFL Network in there.

Someone had a tattoo of the Hawaiian islands on her back. Or eczema.

Did you know: Herman Melville was a pin spotter in a Hawaiian bowling alley in 1843? That’s true. Today he’s considered a great writer. Back then he was just “the Dude”.

The big local story was the U. of Hawaii football team. They’re off to the Sugar Bowl. They should be going to the Rose Bowl and their quarterback, Colt Brennan should have won the Heisman Trophy. They get no respect, even after an undefeated season and dropping Rainbow from their team name.

The Channel 9 weekend weather wahine advised any locals going to New Orleans to see the Sugar Bowl to be sure to bring their winter clothes. Expected high: 68 degrees.

You can’t walk ten feet in any direction without some jogger calling out “on your left!”

Hawaiian sunsets alone are worth the frequent flier miles.

As are the papayas. They taste so much better when not shot with Botox or whatever the US Agriculture Department pumps into them before shipping ‘em to Cleveland.

I stopped off to watch one of the many beautiful weddings at the Grand Wailea too-cute-for-words chapel. The gorgeous bride walked down the aisle, heard the organ music, the applause from her cherished friends and family, and a guy yelling “on your left!”

There is a vineyard on Maui that makes pineapple wine. Next time you’re in a really fine restaurant ask the sommelier which pineapple wine he recommends.

LUST, CAUTION just opened in Hawaii, only three months after its mainland release date. Too much caution, not enough lust.

Attention bargain hunters: One can of Diet Coke at the Grand Wailea cafĂ© – only $3.61. Hurry! Before they come to their senses!

On Saturday I finally bumped into someone who looked vaguely familiar. Turns out its my lawyer.

As Christmas approached the Grand Wailea got more crowded. The traditional holiday knife fights over chaise lounges didn’t begin until the 21st this year.

Santa himself was in the lobby taking pictures with starry eyed little children and drunk frat boys from TCU who just got out of the hot tub. At least the wee kinder dried themselves off before sitting on Santa’s knee. That heavy woolen suit must’ve smelled like a dead raccoon by the time the tattooed Samoan elves mercifully sprung him.

All in all it was another wonderful week in paradise. My two New Years resolutions for ‘08 are (1) to move to Hawaii and (2) look good in shorts. At least with the first one I’ve got a shot.

Happy New Year and may Hi’iaka, the Hawaiian God of Spirit and Dance always be “on your left”.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Charlie Wilson's War

Saw CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR at a theatre in Maui that specified “shirts and footwear required”. Needless to say, this crowd was not wowed by the film. But to be fair, if anyone was expecting a big star-studded splashy event picture this was not it. CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR was a very well made but sober true story about the Afghanistan-Soviet War of the late 80s. The stars make the tough subject matter palatable for those general audiences who need to be reminded not to attend the theatre barefoot.

I don’t know if I need a spoiler alert since the trailer and every review I’ve seen pretty much lays out the story. This Texas councilman arranges a covert war. We just watch the events unfold. The screenplay by Aaron Sorkin crackles at times, occasionally goes off on riffs of policy and political speak (the same stuff we all zoned out on in WEST WING but followed the story anyway), and is heavy on smart but light on emotion.

Tom Hanks, affable as ever, stars as Charlie Wilson. He pretty much goes back to the accent he employed in VOLUNTEERS (and even dons the white dinner jacket again). Philip Seymour Hoffman absolutely STEALS the picture. Hands down. No one even close. His first scene alone should earn both him and Sorkin Oscar noms.

But then there’s Julia Roberts. There must easily be a hundred other actresses who could have played her part as well or better. You’re getting the name, a really bad wig, and nothing remotely special. You watch her scenes and think to yourself… if only Meryl Streep were playing this… or even Allison Janney.

Mike Nichols got some great performances and it was refreshing to hear a Sorkin script spoken at a pace that real people speak in. CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR is well worth seeing, it’s a story that deserves to be told, and I hope it does well in the boxoffice.

But I dunno, I was expecting more. After all, I paid full price and wore real shoes, not even flip flops.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas

When you think of Christmas you think of togetherness, and pretty lights, and snow.

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYBODY!(Picture: courtesy of Tom Straw)

Sunday, December 23, 2007

A Christmas Story: different versions

Here's one of my favorite scenes from A CHRISTMAS STORY.

Proving that Christmas can commercialize anything, here's A CHRISTMAS STORY CINGULAR AD.

And finally, for those of you who have seen the movie and have a twisted sense of humor -- here's another example of how trailer makers can make any movie look like any genre. Ho ho ho.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

My favorite Christmas movie

My favorite Christmas movie is A CHRISTMAS STORY. It was released in 1983, written by Jean Shepherd, Leigh Brown, and Bob Clark, and directed by Bob Clark. TBS or TNT (one of those Turner networks with a T) plays it every year for 24 straight hours on Christmas. And every year our family watches it. Never in order anymore. We see a chunk here and a chunk there but we’ve all seen the movie fifty times so it makes no difference.

A CHRISTMAS STORY is a wonderful character driven comedy with heart, big laughs, and is steeped in Americana. Set in a small town in the Midwest in 1939 it was inspired from short anecdotal stories by Jean Shepherd. If you’ve never heard of Jean Shepherd, he (yes Jean was a he) was a master storyteller. Besides books and articles he had a one hour radio show for years on WOR in New York. On the show he would just talk. That’s it. No calls, no guests, no sound bytes, no music, no Robin Quivers. Just Jean. He would open the mic and for an hour, off the top of his head, would tell stories that were absolutely spellbinding. I remember once listening to him describe movers taking a piano out of an apartment and I was enthralled. You can read more about him here.

Jean narrates this movie (a device that THE WONDER YEARS later stole, I mean “adopted”) that follows a goofy bespectacled kid and his family over one holiday season. That’s all I’m going to say. If you haven’t seen it, you’re in for a treat.

When first released in 1983 just before Thanksgiving, the movie did tepid business. The reviews were generally good. Roger Ebert said it was “Funny and satirical…a sort of Normon Rockwell crossed with MAD magazine.” But it really didn’t begin to catch on until Ted Turner showed it repeatedly on his Superstation. Now it’s a cult classic, and like I said, airs as a marathon every Christmas.

And I’ll leave you with this fun factoid: Where do you think this heartwarming family Christmas tale first appeared? That’s right, in Playboy Magazine.

Happy holidays.

O Holy Night

A beautiful Christmas song for you to celebrate the season. Feel free to sing along.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

It's Gone!...No, it's $.39.

If you’re a published author and your book is out of print, spare yourself the humiliation of going to or one of those on-line book dealers and looking up your masterpiece. Even during the big holiday buying season. Steve Martin will never have this problem.

For my book, “It's Gone!... No, Wait a Minute…Talking My Way into the Big Leagues at 40”, published by Villard in 1993, copies are available for as little as $0.39. I don’t think the instrument has been invented to calculate my royalty on $0.39.

And then there are the comments.

Ex Lib (meaning an ex library book). Even libraries dumped it! And to add further indignity, a blog reader mentioned he bought one recently that was an ex lib from Seattle. I broadcast in Seattle!

I can scan the book & author’s signature in your request. Someone ditched a copy I signed. Since I didn’t do any book signings (the publisher said I was not famous enough – also great for the ego), this means the copy probably belonged to a friend… or relative.

Gift inscription included Someone who didn’t even buy it wants to unload it. And it’s worth the $0.39 to get it the hell out of the house.

Remainder table price still on dust jacket Alerts the buyer that the original list price was $1.00 or two for $3.00.

There were a bunch of those. Not sure how they could tell. No mustard on the pages? No one underlined the “good” parts?

Looks like an interesting title Be still my heart!

I must say the only comment that bugged me was the library tossing it out. So I decided to check which library near me still featured it. Starting from nearest location, within ten libraries the distance was up to 233 miles. So I feel better. That’s still within walking distance.


There have been a lot of programs this year on the anniversary of the "Summer of Love". But the best has been saved for last. GREAT BIG RADIO. from the 23rd through New Years Day sets the Way-back machine for 1967. During that stretch, nothing but the music of 67 -- the big hits you remember, the great ones you forgot, the ones you thought you'd never hear again, the ones you were hoping to never hear again. Beatles, Stones, Motown, psychedelic, sunshine, folk rock, protest, Monkees, Memphis soul, Beach Boys, garage bands, Sinatra (two of 'em), acid rock, bubblegum, chicken rock, Jimi, Jim, Janis, and my personal favorite -- Lulu! Hear it ALL here on GREAT BIG RADIO.

And no this isn't a Pay Per Post. I'd make less than my book royalty.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Blogging for bucks!

Why can’t I get in on this scam? There’s a company called PayPerPost. Another called ReviewMe, Loud Launch, and They pay bloggers to hype their products or give reviews in exchange for cash. As the guy who staged a seminar and renamed his daughter Dow Chemical Levine for product placement money I think this is a fabulous idea! Especially during the Christmas season. Sure it’s misleading and destroys all credibility but we’re talking XMAS CASH. (I heard someone refer to a twenty dollar bill recently as a "Yuppie Foodstamp".) Plus, I'm on strike. First however, I have to go back and retract some things I’ve said earlier in this blog. Anything I’ve ripped in the past – I didn’t mean it.

I actually loved the Oscarcast and think that movies are better than ever. Especially the ones that plan on launching expensive Oscar campaigns. FANTASTIC 4 -- now there's a great movie!

I’m sorry if you got the impression I hate Carnival cruise lines. Being on a ship with 10,000 other people (8,000 over capacity) just means you make more new friends who like to eat greasy bbq food at midnight.

I’d rather be canceled off a JetBlue flight than any other airline in the world.

If you’re looking for the ideal family outing, look no further than an NBA game. The players are all model citizens, and the crowd? Why it’s just like being at a church social with your neighbors.

A sitcom star waiting to happen is Traci Lords.

Getting Hepatitis A is a small price to pay to have the fabulous Wolfgang Puck cater your next event.

Celine Dion just closed in Las Vegas. Sorry you missed her. Nothing says love like the theme to the Titanic with circus performers flying around.

If I were Oprah, my book pick this month would be “Murder in Vegas” by Steve Allen.

And finally…Watch THE SOPRANOS on A&E. It shows the Mafia the way it really is – no profanity or nudity.

Hopefully, PayPerPost you will see that I am a whore and can be bought. Let’s do business! The only thing is, I would have to change the name of my blog to BUY KEN LEVINE. But hey, for $12, why not?

Mele Kalikimaka.

Christmas in Prison

I guested for an hour with Ron Jacobs on Whodaguy Hawaii radio. In that hour I was introduced to the touching holiday song, "Christmas in Prison" and maybe the worst girl group I've ever heard, Petty Booka. Other musical selections included "Pico & Sepulveda" (an LA classic) and the theme for one of my many failed series.

A new post follows shortly. Aloha y'all.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Steve Martin

Just finished Steve Martin’s new book, BORN STANDING UP. It is the perfect holiday stocking stuffer for anyone interested in comedy. Like most funny people he is very introspective, very neurotic, and with his talent comes a whole closet full of demons. But he’s very candid and revealing. He shares his failures – professional and romantic, his anxiety attacks, his dysfunctional family, where the back entrances are at Knotts Berry Farm.

Side note: It seems that every artist growing up in LA in the 60s had a distant somewhat abusive father. What was it with these guys? “Son, it’s beautiful and sunny all the time. You never have to shovel snow like many other kids your age, so I’m going to have to beat you.”

There’s also a book-on-tape of this book with Martin himself reading it. (On the one hand you say, “Of course he reads it himself, it’s first person” but knowing Martin, I would not have been shocked if he had gotten Stuttering John or Elaine Stritch to do it instead.) But the thing you miss with the audio presentation is the pictures. And they’re great. Most never before seen. And even better – he includes a handwritten critique of his act when he was 15. Wow. You really feel that he’s giving you the inside stuff.

Martin contends that he had no gifts, that his success was just a product of sheer will, hard work, and endless repetition. I think he sells himself short. His stand-up act was inspired, totally original, and yes, polished over many years but you need the comic chops to pull it off and he had ‘em.

The book takes you into his thought process. Martin was (and is) a student of comedy and everything he did was painstakingly thought-out and carefully crafted. He was no “wild and crazy guy” by accident. I learned a lot and I've been doing this for awhile now.

From his days in Disneyland, writing for the Smothers Brothers, losing two girlfriends to director John Frankenheimer – Martin tells it all. It’s a great and very informative read.

The thing I admire most about him is how he continually re-invents himself. From stand-up comedian, to actor, screenwriter, novelist, playwright, and now memoirs writer. There's really only one frontier he hasn't conquered -- probably because it's the toughest. And maybe someday, if he has the courage, he'll try his hand at blogging.

Steve, if you need any tips give me a call.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Okay, you can play Christmas music now

Hello from Hawaii. Now that it's only a week until Christmas and not the day after Labor Day I think it's finally appropriate to play Christmas songs. Here are some of my favorites and no-so-favorites. What are yours?

I like Hawaiian holiday music. It's Christmas with a "K"...actually seven Ks, twelve As, and nine Es. Whodaguy Hawaii Radio will transport you to the land where dolphins replace reindeer and Santa Claus arrives on jet skies. Hear it here.

Personally, I get a warm feeling when I hear Nat King Cole’s “Christmas Song”, which was written by Mel Torme. One Christmas night I saw him eating alone at Delores coffee shop. It was ironic but sad.

The Phil Spector Christmas album is still my favorite. Putting aside that he killed someone, we thank Phil for a real musical gift.

And Darlene Love's , "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas" which is a recent parody of her own work on the album is maybe the funniest Christmas song ever.

I fancy the oldies. Brenda Lee’s “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree”, Bobby Helm’s “Jingle Bell Rock”, and the Beach Boys’ “Little St. Nick”.

The Boss’s Xmas ditty is pretty catchy as are the King’s.

Re: “White Christmas”, give me the Drifters over Bing. (Interesting that so many classic Christmas songs were written by Jews.)

Some obscure holiday songs I recommend: “Run Run Rudolph” by Chuck Berry, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” by the Four Seasons, “Monster Holiday” by Bobby Boris Pickett (that one always tears me up), and “Santa Claus is Watching You” by Ray Stevens. Super obscure but worth finding is “Lost Winter Dreams” by Lisa Mychols. And for the motherlode of bad taste fun, try to find Claudine Longet singing “Winter Wonderland”. Before she shot skier Spider Sabich in cold blood she and husband, Andy Williams, were the first couple of the season. Their annual family Christmas special was a must-see. They even have a kid named Noel.
Songs I can’t stand: “Feliz Navidad” by Jose Feliciano, “Having a Wonderful Christmas Time” by Paul McCartney, and “the Little Drummer Boy” by anybody. Whey do stations overplay TO DEATH the songs that are the most repetitious? I seem to recall Paul Anka singing Christmas in Japan, which was like a drill to the head. Also, anything sung by kids usually makes me cringe.

I’m only sorry Kurt Cobain left us before he could give the world his Christmas album.

For a more vocal pop sound, you can’t beat Linda Eder’s holiday album. Her version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” would bring a tear to a glass eye. Listen for it the next time you’re in an elevator. Streisand is great but there’s more ornamentation than on the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center. Johnny Mathis is a little too sugar plum fairy for my tastes, and you can always count on “Mr. Peace and Goodwill to All Men”, Sinatra. The Carpenters have their fans too. And The Manhattan Transfer's acapella album is gorgeous.

But if I had to pick my all-time favorite Christmas song, the one that most expresses my feelings about the holiday season, it would have to be “The Christmas Song” by the Chipmunks. Sometimes the right song and the right performers just combine for sheer perfection.

Hopefully I can get the strolling Hawaiian minstrels to sing it tonight at the bar.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Quibbles & bits

Aloha. The Levines are off to Hawaii. My idea of a White Christmas is sand. Daily posts will continue. They just might not be as long.

Writers, I hope you’re happy! Jeff Zucker has threatened that if the WGA strike doesn’t end soon NBC may discontinue its lavish Upfronts parties FOREVER. That’s right. No more would NBC spend between $3 and $5 million dollars each year on huge bashes for Madison Avenue, stockholders, agents, managers, and miscellaneous television executives. Boy, that’ll show us!

Now that the Mitchell Report has revealed that F.P. Santangelo has used steroids, do you think it will keep him out of the Hall of Fame?

While on the picket line at 20th last week a fire engine entered the lot. I thought, wouldn’t this be a great scene? A studio is on fire. The fire engines arrive but won’t cross the picket lines.

I miss Hy Lit. Anyone from Philadelphia will know what I mean.

Funny movie to Netflix (a word that has now become a verb) – FRANKIE & JOHNNY ARE MARRIED. It’s a recreation of the nightmare that TV director Michael Pressman went through trying to mount his own Equity waiver production in LA. Alan Rosenberg proves to be the good sport of the year as he plays the most monstrous actor you’ve ever seen (and he uses his real name). You’ll laugh until you want to kill yourself. Cameos by David Kelley and – unbelievably -- Les Moonves. I should have brought him to "bring an actor buddy to strike" day.

Most big stars will not be attending the Golden Globes this year. Not wanting to cross the picket line is the reason – for one or maybe two.

A furious Roger Clemens insists he NEVER took steroids and all 82 mentions of him doing so in the Mitchell Report are wrong.

How can you take the Golden Globes seriously when not one Judd Apatow movie (KNOCKED UP, SUPERBAD, WALK HARD) was nominated for “Best Comedy”? Nor was ENCHANTED.

The new AMERICAN GLADIATORS have just been announced. They are:
Fury, Helga, Justice, Mayhem, Militia, Stealth, Titan, Tor, Venom, Wolf, Crush, Siren, and Sanjaya.

My Northwestern Wildcat daughter Annie has watched numerous episodes of THE MAN FROM UNCLE with me and feels that Illya always got the shaft. Yes, he was the heartthrob in his day, upstaging Robert Vaughn, but this is what Annie says she observes every episode:

Napoleon: “Here Illya, I’ll seduce this beautiful blond woman while you climb up seven different buildings, while wearing a number of stupid disguises and inevitably get captured by Thrush.”

And Annie loves how Napoleon always is bemused, “Oh Illya, what trouble did you get into now? By the way, have you met Miss Florida?”

Talk to you tomorrow from the land where you never see a Michigan plate.

Mele Kalikimaka.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Unchained Melody

"Unchained Melody" (written by Alex North & Hy Zaret) is one of the most beautiful and emotional songs of all-time. Most of you I'm sure have heard the Righteous Brothers' classic rendition of it. If not, here it is.

There are over 500 versions of this song, but maybe the best, certainly the most powerful is by Vito & the Salutations. This is a master class in interpretation. I warn you -- you're going to need a hanky.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Explaining the playoff picture

This is the time of year when the NFL playoff picture gets very muddy. But I have managed to simplify it for you. So, to clear up any confusion…

If Detroit beats San Diego and St. Louis beats Green Bay and Baltimore beats Miami then Indianapolis would have home field advantage but New England would have a bye and Washington would get the first wild card spot unless Carolina beats Seattle and San Diego beats Detroit and then Cleveland would have the first wild card spot while Arizona gets the other and Indianapolis gets a bye but must play their remaining playoff games on the road unless their second round opponent is Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh beats St. Louis next Thursday while Chicago beats Minnesota on Monday.

But if Minnesota wins and Seattle loses by more than 20 points then the Giants would be the first wild card or the second wild card if the Jets lose to New England, in which case Detroit would be the second wild card but in the other division. But if Tampa Bay beats Atlanta then Detroit would move to the AFC and Jacksonville would get their choice of either the AFC, NFC or NBA. And Miami would be eliminated from next year’s playoffs, Dallas would have to play all Monday night games on Tuesday, and Kansas City would become Tennessee but only if Buffalo upsets Cleveland and Oakland upsets Indianapolis in which case New England would get two byes, and Cincinnati would lose home field advantage for all home games and New Orleans would get the second wild card spot assuming they don’t already have it, in which case the Giants would not have it even though they thought they did and San Francisco would get the first pick in the draft.

I hope that clears it up for you.

You’re welcome.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Golden Globes

What a week! The Writers Guild Award nominations were announced as were the Golden Globe nominations and the Mitchell Report naming those major league baseball players who took steroids. In cross checking I’ve found no one who has made all three lists. For those new to this blog, one of my features is bitchy award show reviews. Oscars, Emmys, sometimes the Tonys and the Golden Globes until I fell asleep during them one year. Not that they’re not important. But the Globe nominations do signal the beginning of awards season (which ends with the Heisman Trophy naming the beginning of December). And so to get you in the mood, here’s my Golden Globe review from a few years ago. It’s okay that you didn’t see the show, remember the show or the movies involved. The really famous targets are ageless.

It's the lid lifter to the 2004 Awards season, beginning with the show where the awards can be bought -- the Golden Globes. Winners are selected by the "foreign Press" meaning your busboys at Jerry's Deli. To put the Golden Globes in perspective, Pia Zadora won one. Jaimie Lee Curtiss once threw a big brunch at her house for the "Foreign Press" and copped a best actress award.

Sir Laurence Olivier at one time won a Golden Globe, which literally broke in his hand during his acceptance speech.

And they are presented at a hotel owned by Merv Griffin and televised tape delayed to Hollywood with Dick Clark as producer. All meals are prepared on a George Foreman grill.

The big incentive for stars to attend is that they do provide dinner. And they can thank the busboys for voting for them.

The big attraction for the audience is that both movies and television are represented. And Charlie Sheen doesn't host (like the People's Choice Awards, which is the Golden Globes with Jamie Cromwell as the biggest movie star)

Three weeks ago I was in that same ballroom to attend a gala dinner honoring the Chairman of Fox Television. Two days later he was fired. It's clearly where Hollywood goes to express its sincere gratitude.

Where else can you see Clint Eastwood and the Queer Eye guys considered peers?

Always glad to see Barbra Streisand...when she doesn't have to talk. And I loved her sheepskin gown. Last worn by Sonny Bono in 1965. Notice how they showed Babs on camera fifty times and her husband (a nominee) maybe twice?

Great that Anthony LaPaglia won...on NBC. This is the same network that refused to approve him for the co-starring role in the short-lived comedy, KRISTIN. Judging by the shot of his wife falling out of her dress, he already has two golden globes.

When Francis Conroy is not the most obscure actor to win an award you know you're in trouble.

Other than Rene Zellweger, none of the other Best Supporting Actresses were in movies that played anywhere other than art houses. What a surprise that she won. The FP loves her. She eats out a lot.

When Rene Zellweger actually thanks the guy who makes sure she doesn't lose anything in her purse then you know these people are taking themselves just a tad too seriously.

Do seat fillers get to eat the meals of the people they’re substituting for?

Jessica Lange's hair looked like a Monet haystack.

The theme this year was "lessons". Every actor learned a "lesson" from either their director or family or guy who made sure they didn't lose anything in their purse.

I'm sorry Diane Lane lost. Stop blaming her for JUDGE DREDD.

How many times did you scream "Get Off!!!" during actors' acceptance speeches? I stopped counting at ten.

Diane Keaton actually prepared that hideous, rambling, incoherent speech of hers. We get it. You're old.

Glad “24” won. Quite a few people from the show got up to accept. One was a mole. But whom???

Jaimie Lee Curtiss should have hosted a brunch this year. But it's an honor just to be nominated.

Pacino is starting to look like Frank Zappa. And sound like him. What the hell was his speech about? Even he got lost. I was impressed however, that he acknowledged his twins and actually knew their names.

The gowns were by and large simple and elegant. I have one suggestion for Rene Zellweger: sleeves!!

When you watched the Michael Douglas tribute montage didn't you say "God, he's gotten old?" Highlight of the night for me was seeing Karl Malden. I'm happy Michael received that award because as part of his pre nup with Catherine Zeta-Jones if he didn't win the Cecil B. DeMille Award she was entitled to another million dollars of his money when they split.

THE LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY did so well I say it's time for a sequel.

Peter Jackson, its director, forgot to thank the talking tree.

Can you imagine if Sofia Coppola had beaten out Peter Weir, Peter Jackson, and Clint Eastwood? Notice how Jackson acknowledged all of his fellow nominees except Coppola? So Coppola and the talking tree both got dissed.

All five Best Actress nominees were blondes. The foreign press loves that exotic American look.

Charlize Theron won for a great performance. Who knew she could play ugly?

Melanie Griffith has crossed into middle age. Oh...and get a babysitter next year, Mel.

For the eleventh straight awards show Jim Carrey wasn't funny. And for the eleventh straight awards show he thought he killed.

LOST IN TRANSLATION -- Best COMEDY??? Good movie but excuse me, aren't comedies supposed to be funny? I guess when you work the back sink at Jerry's nothing is funny. bring on the real award shows – like SAG and the Patsys!

I made the BBC

I was included in a recent news story for the BBC on the Writers Strike. Like all kids growing up in Los Angeles my goal was to someday appear on the BBC. Actually my goal was to guest on THE AVENGERS and play a love scene with Diana Rigg but this is pretty cool too. You can find it here if you're interested.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The museums you have to see!

In a nod to its proud and rich heritage, Las Vegas is planning on erecting a “museum to the mob” to open by 2010. Exhibits will salute the city’s founding fathers – Bugsy Siegel, Meyer Lansky, Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal, and Anthony “Tony the Ant” Spilotro. To add to the absurdity of this project, it was the brainchild of the current mayor, Oscar Goodman, a former defense attorney who represented some of these mobsters.

But it got me doing some research. What other bizarre museums are here in America? This list is incomplete but there are certainly enough for you to wanna make your summer vacation plans. So until the Mob Museum opens in Las Vegas, you and your family are welcome to see and enjoy…

The Dr. Pepper Museum
The Triangle Tattoo Museum
The Red Light Museum of Prostitution
The American International Rattlesnake Museum
The International Museum of Toilets
The Exotic World Burlesque Hall of Fame
The Museum of Useful Things
The Lucy-Desi Museum
The Salt Museum
The Museum of Sex
The Bata Shoe Museum
The UFO Museum
The UFO Welcome Center
The Museum of Colorado Prisons
The Texas Prison Museum
The Lunch Box Museum
The Tick Museum
The Cockroach Hall of Fame
The AAF Tank Museum
The Haunted Monster Museum
The Andy Griffith Museum
The Oldest Peanut Museum in the US
The American Cave Museum
The Creationist Taxidermy Museum
The Vacuum Museum
Stark’s Vacuum Cleaner Museum
The Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History
The Drive-In Museum
Velveteria (velvet painting museum)
The Mount Horeb Mustard Museum
The Museum of Roller Skating
The Burlingame Museum of Pez Memorabilia
The Museum of Bad Art
The Big Daddy Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing
The Teddy Bear Museum
The International Towing & Recovery Hall of Fame/Museum
The Trash Museum
The Sewing Machine Museum
The Museum to the Creator of Conan the Barbarian
The Conspiracy Museum
The Museum of Surgical Sciences
The Dukes of Hazzard Mini-Museum
The US Border Patrol Museum
The McDonalds Museum
The Big Mac Museum
The Liberace Museum
The Twister Museum
The Houdini Museum
The Weightlifting Hall of Fame
The Museum of Mourning Art
Schmidt’s Coca-Cola Museum
Venthaven Ventriloquist Dummy Museum
The Lawrence Welk Museum
Mr. Ed’s Elephant Museum
The Museum of Hoaxes
The Elevator Museum
The Natural Museum of Funeral History
The Museum of Funeral Customs
The Captain Kazoo Museum
The Troll Museum
The Spy Museum
The Museum of Menstruation in Maryland.

And it’s not a museum but certainly worth an honorable mention…

The Circus Performers Mass Grave in Forest Park, Ill.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The latest from the line

Funniest moment on the picket line at 20th on Tuesday: I was walking behind legend Alvin Sargent (SPIDERMAN 2, ORDINARY PEOPLE, episodes of ROUTE 66, etc.) who was drinking coffee from a Styrofoam cup. Moments after he had finished, fellow scribe Allan Katz came over and put a penny in his cup.

For many, this strike is like the 60s all over again except without teargas and hair.

It was “bring an actor buddy to strike” day although I didn’t see many thesps at my location. If you want to get actors out on the line stage “bring a camera crew to strike” day.

Why does the media even bother to print press releases when everyone knows they’re bullshit? Who other than an idiot believes the AMPTP was very “disappointed” that the recent talks broke down? The fact that they themselves caused the breakdown didn’t figure? When it’s public knowledge that they’ve hired an expensive spin PR firm why does the media then buy into it, reporting what they say as if it’s news? Their new insulting proposal was a “new economic partnership”. Gimme a break.

Oh, that’s right. The media is their bitch.

Here’s a more accurate account of what went down:

The AMPTP, in its well orchestrated game plan to bust the union, broke off negotiations Friday, blamed the WGA for the rift, dismissed all of the WGA’s proposals outright, and left the scene chuckling among themselves that “this should fuck over their Christmas but good”. Plans are to let guild members suffer, spread fear through the media, go on expensive holiday vacations, and then resume talks in mid-January just in time to salvage their TV season and clean house of producers who have deals with them.

If one of the goals is to break our spirit, the AMPTP’s tactics are having just the opposite effect. Turnout at strike locations has been excellent. Especially in New York, where despite the freezing temperatures and sleet (orchestrated by the AMPTP), over 300 picketers showed up at ABC Daytime in Manhattan. (Picture courtesy of Tom Straw)

Whoopi Goldberg, co-host of THE VIEW came out with hot chocolate for the picketers. Sherri Shepherd didn’t realize there was a strike. Elisabeth Hasselbeck started shooting at them.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Animal actors

A reader’s question: What’s it like writing for animals?
A lot easier than directing them. On FRASIER the key to writing for Eddie was not asking too much of him. Moose (Eddie’s real name) had an extraordinary trainer in Mathilde de Cagny. As long as the stunt was quick and doable, Mathilde could get Moose to do it (always through treats and loving care). If there was some question while we were writing we would just ask Mathilde. More often than not she’d say Moose could do it. The dog was a gamer! With actors we had to ask their managers.

Other writers were more of a problem. One day in the writers room I pitched some bit with Eddie and a sock and one of the writers (who constantly drove everyone nuts) asked, “What is Eddie thinking now?” What is he fucking THINKING??! How do you answer someone like that without being brought up on charges?

Moose passed away at 15, which is like 108 dog years. I'm only sorry he never got to be on INSIDE THE ACTOR'S STUDIO with James Lipton.

Directing animals is another story.

I directed an episode of JUST SHOOT ME called “Sewer”. The B-story had Nina (Wendie Malick) bringing in an orangutan. I forget why but I’m sure it was for a good reason. He was a little harder to train and was in a good part of the show.

On filming night I said to the actors, if he does anything unexpected just go with it and stay in character. We can always re-shoot the scene. Likewise, I told the four camera operators, if you’re on the orangutan and he does something wacky stay on him. Don’t go to your next shot.

Sure enough with cameras rolling and the audience in place, Wendie steps out of the elevator hand in hand with her furry friend, approaches David Spade’s counter, and has a brief exchange with him. The orangutan, who comes up to Wendie’s knees, lifts her dress a few inches, and peers right up between her legs. God love her, Wendie stayed completely in character and reacted with utter nonchalance. The audience went completely nuts. It was a five minute laugh.

After the show had been filmed and the audience released I went back to do some pick-ups. The orangutan’s trainer tapped me on the shoulder and gently told me it was past his bedtime. I said it would only be about another fifteen minutes. He repeated: “Uh, it’s past his bedtime.” I then asked what happens if he stays up after his bedtime?

“He bites everybody he sees.”

“Okay everybody, that’s a wrap!”

I’ve heard stories of actors who were reluctant to work with animals for fear of being upstaged, but I’ve never personally encountered one. However, I think there was a cat who once refused to work with Dustin Hoffman.