Grab Bag, Round 3

It was recently brought to my attention that I had not updated this blog since December 6. I am not going to say it has been because I have not had anything to write about, but I really have not felt compelled to write or made the time to write for publication a priority. I am not going to say it has been because I’ve been too preoccupied (not “busy” — too many people are reportedly “busy,” and I am not one of them) becoming 1% fluent in French, devoting a lot of memory space to what cat treats my cats prefer (is this a warning sign for dementia?), and just generally loving my job and life and cats.

Oh, let’s be honest: I have not had anything to write about. And I can hear one of my writing professors tearing this sad, rambling excuse of an introduction apart. Get to the point! Where is there a kernel of truth in this? So sorry….but I really do remember what cat treats I buy my cats and which ones they prefer! Sigh. Without any further ado or anything in particular to write about…Allons-y! 

I’m glad Casey Affleck won the Oscar for Best Actor. Like really, really glad. 

The Oscars are not perfect because in case you have not noticed the world is not a perfect, fair place. Some of my favorite actors have never been awarded Oscars–some unjustly so (cough, cough Montgomery Clift!!!! cough, cough), some understandably so (Cary Grant was just so effortlessly good, everyone despised Robert Redford for being so good-looking and talented, and I need someone to explain why Richard Burton never won one to me actually)–and so it’s easy for me to be dismissive of the award and to say it doesn’t really matter. But at the same time, The Oscars are a recognition of the finest acting and do occasionally get it right. See: Marlon Brando, Daniel Day-Lewis…and, this year’s winner, Casey Affleck.

Affleck’s win is being reported as controversial because of the sexual harassment allegations made against him. I do not know if the allegations are true. I’m not condoning that behavior, but I do know that his acting in Manchester By the Sea is of the highest caliber. I saw this film in the theater in January, and it has been a long time since I have been so moved and utterly captivated by a performance. He inhabits the role so heartbreakingly completely, it really is hard to believe that he is just acting. His character hardly ever cracks, rarely lets us in, yet Affleck did a phenomenal job of making him real. Pure artistry. So he deserved the award. The award is for acting, not being a perfect human being. End of discussion.

(But can we discuss how it is even possible that he is related to Ben Affleck? Really?! Guess who stole all the acting genes?!!)

While we’re on the subject of actors…

This line was read out of a book I purchased recently: “Leonardo DiCaprio is to Titanic what Clark Gable is to Gone with the Wind.” I’ve been thinking about that sentence a lot. It’s a dumb sentence. Of course Leonardo DiCaprio is to Titanic what Clark Gable is to Gone with the Wind: they’re both the lead actors. Unless the sentence is implying that Titanic and Gone with the Wind are somehow in the same class of movies or that Leonardo DiCaprio and Clark Gable are in the same class of actors, which is an ugly can of worms I do not want to open. Hadn’t Leo’s career kind of peaked with Growing Pains?  Luke Brower, man!! Classic.

And while we’re on the subject of Growing Pains

Maybe I stopped updating this blog because 2016 was so darn depressing. (Jimmy Fallon’s assessment of Manchester By the Sea was so spot-on: the only thing more depressing than 2016.) We lost Mrs. Brady, Dr. Jason Seaver, George Martin, David Bowie, Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, and George Michael–on Christmas day, no less–to name a few off the top of my head. Really, when George Michael died, I felt like I’d been knifed. (Quick, which actor told Hedda Hopper the story of his life in one sentence was “I’ve been knifed”? Quick now!) I could not listen to his music for a few days because I just felt so inexplicably sad and his music had always made me happy. I’m over that now–YAY!!–but what a loss. CHOOSE LIFE!

So how was your last Christmas?   

Besides George Michael dying, my Christmas holiday was quite enjoyable. I did not ask for any books for Christmas this year because even though I am a firm believer that you can never really have enough books, my shelf space is trying to challenge that belief. Still, I received two absolutely beautiful books — a stunning annotated edition of Little Women and The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots, a never-before-published story by Beatrix Potter, freshly illustrated by Quentin Blake. I love them both (even though it will probably take me the whole year to fully digest the annotated Little Women)–so much so that I felt compelled to write my first Barnes and Noble review of The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots because apparently, there are people in the world who do not appreciate Quentin Blake’s talent as an illustrator aka people who have no taste. Ugh.

That reminds me of how I used to pollute the internet with my Paul Weller obsession…

And how recently, I watched the Showtime documentary about my almost favorite band aka The Jam, About the Young Idea. It was so great and totally re-awakened my love for all things Paul Weller. Once upon a time, Paul Weller was all I cared about. Like really. He stole my soul, and I’m not 1000% sure that he has given it back, but I have stopped stalking him obsessively. It probably helps that I was banned from Tumblr, my main outlet for expressing my Paul Weller obsession (because hey, no one in my vicinity cares about Paul Weller). But I wasn’t banned for being obsessed with Paul Weller. In fact, I’m pretty sure I was the only person on that website who cared about Paul Weller. I was banned for posting pictures of Morrissey. Yep. Steven Patrick Morrissey. You’re the one for me, fatty–you’re the one I really, really love… We should talk about that song sometime. It’s great.

Anyway.

I’ve been listening to The Jam and The Style Council and Paul Weller a lot lately after not listening to him extensively for a couple years anyway, and I still remember every line, every beat. That’s kind of alarming but also comforting. Is there a study on this phenomenon? I love to listen to The Jam when I am angry or frustrated or just have a lot of energy or am just breathing because I really, really love The Jam. Like, can “Going Underground” be my wedding song? And the public wants what the public gets, 
But I don’t get what this society wants! Paul Weller was–IS–an amazing lyricist, and I don’t know if enough people realize that. That guy could pack so much into just one line. Two lovers missing the tranquility of solitude. The world is your oyster, but your future’s a clam. And oh, who could pick just one line from “Town Called Malice”?

And then there’s The Style Council. Oh, The Style Council. More great lyrics, even better videos with Paul Weller’s often questionable haircuts and lamentable lack of dance moves. Really, that man should never have been without a guitar on stage. I could probably devote an entire blog entry to every Style Council video. But I doubt anyone would want to read that. Or would you?

Anyway, I love Paul Weller. Like a lot. And I just recently have been reminded of how much.

Remember when I told you this was my favorite picture of Paul Weller?

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Yup. Love this guy. He’s actually really talented and sometimes charming.

I still love Ellery Queen.

And I’m still sad there was only one season of the Jim Hutton series. But I still imagine Jim Hutton as Ellery when I read the Ellery Queen novels (which are a lot of fun to read), and I still watch the episodes over and over again, even though I know how they’re going to end. Why? Because Ellery has an expression for every emotion I’m feeling. Take a look…

I come home to find my cat has poop on her butt…again.

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I tell my ten blog readers that I’m going to start posting analysis and discussion of Style Council videos: 

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I see Marlon Brando in a Rolex commercial: 

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I need a sassy comeback, but can only muster a Melville reference: 

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Did I put deodorant on this morning?

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I realize it is 12:30 in the morning; I am always in bed by nine!

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Me currently:

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I told you I didn’t really have anything to write about. Well, didn’t I? All right. That’s all, folks.

 

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Match wits with Ellery Queen…and see if you can guess WHODUNIT!

Mothers give you life.

And some mothers give you life and love.

And then are some mothers–the best mothers–who give you life and love and Ellery Queen.

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A few months ago, my mom asked me to request the Ellery Queen television series from the library. I did, and, out of curiosity, I watched the pilot episode with her.

And from that moment on, I was irreversibly hooked.

Let me put this in perspective for you: When I requested the series from the library, I had to do so through another library district, which meant that my request was only granted when the item was just sitting on the shelf. Duh, you may be saying to yourself. Now, I understand that local patrons should be given priority, but it was a little frustrating that I could not even be placed on a waiting/hold list. And even more frustrating that once I did get the item, I could never, ever renew it. (I mean I know I am obsessive, but watching twenty-three episodes of an hour-long show in seven days? I’m not that obsessive.)

So I religiously checked the status of every district’s copy every day, waiting for a copy’s status to read “available.” Crazy, right? Maybe to someone who has never watched this show and suffered from severe withdrawals. Fatigued with such withdrawals, I finally requested that my local library purchase a copy of the series so that I could check it out with more ease. (Why buy something when you can have the library buy it for you? This is my life philosophy.) And they approved the request and purchased it and all was well…Until someone else put a request on the copy, and once again I can’t renew it. But it’s okay. I’m accepting that I will have to return the series to the library tomorrow. Tomorrow at 11:59 P.M., of course.

Anyway. On to the show!

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Ellery Queen follows its title character, a mystery writer, as he works with his father, Inspector Richard Queen, to solve murder cases. Ellery Queen, as portrayed by Jim Hutton, is affable, absent-minded (endearingly so), and highly intelligent, although he is never condescending and always modest about his intellect. For example, in the pilot episode, Simon Brimmer, a radio actor who stars in the mystery series “The Case Book of Simon Brimmer”, offers to buy the rights to Ellery’s work so that they can be adapted for his radio program. Ellery denies the offer, and Brimmer tells him he’s making a mistake. Ellery pleasantly replies, “Oh, probably. I make a lot of them.” Later, in the same episode, Ellery explains his deduction skills to his father, “It’s really very simple. I make it a point to be observant and to pay attention to details.”

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Hutton breaking the fourth wall. Oh, Ellery, you look so sharp in your tuxedooooooo. I think I missed the essential clue while drooling. Oops.    

Ellery expects you to pay attention to those details, too. At the end of each episode, Hutton breaks the “fourth wall” and asks if you’ve pieced together the clues and solved the mystery. The mysteries are packed with complexity and suspects, however, and I really only ever solved one case ahead of Ellery. The not-so-easy-to-solve mysteries are only part of the show’s appeal, though. The other part, of course, is the superb portrayals of the principal characters–Jim Hutton as Ellery Queen and David Wayne as his father, Inspector Richard Queen.

Ellery Queen is, of course, derived from the stories and characters created by Ellery Queen, a moniker used by cousins Frederic Dannay and Manfred Lee, who, in a stroke of genius, made their main character also the author of their mystery novels and stories. I’ve only read a handful of the short stories so far, and they’re great fun, but Hutton inhabits the character so completely, he makes it so much his very own. As does David Wayne, who, I just discovered, is the flirty neighbor in Adam’s Rib

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Inspector Queen! What would Ellery say? Dying of laughter at Tracy’s face. Love that guy. 

The chemistry between Hutton and Wayne is so effective that it is difficult to step back into the real world and realize that Jim Hutton is not David Wayne’s son, and they do not solve murder cases together. Sniffle, sniffle.

Each episode is also crammed with some impressive guest stars, including Tom Bosley, William Demarest, Eva Garbor, Vincent Price, Sal Mineo, Larry Hagman, Dick Sargent, Don DeFore, and Thayer David (you know–Professor Stokes!). And a ton of others. Seriously. If the show has a fault, though, it is in some of the melodramatic acting from the occasional minor character. Jim Hutton, though, was inexhaustibly dedicated to the show. According to the show’s co-creator William Link, Hutton never left the set and virtually lived in his trailer. His dedication and work paid off–he undoubtedly makes the show. Sadly, the show only lasted one season, and Hutton died of liver cancer just a few years later in 1979 at the much, much, much too young age of 45. (When Hutton’s son, Timothy, won his Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for Ordinary People–one of my favorite movies ever–he paid a nice tribute to his father, who died just a few months before filming began.)

I just love Ellery Queen. The characters, the actors who bring them to life, the recreation of the time period (late 1940s), the brow-furrowing mysteries, and the infuriatingly catchy theme song. Thanks, Mom.

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P.S. Something that was never a mystery in the show was Ellery’s style. He was always dapper. And for fun, I’ve set up a Tumblr blog here to chronicle Ellery’s sartorial choices. Life? Yeah, don’t have one of those.