Wednesday, April 29, 2009


People who have anything to do with singing, acting, comedy, juggling, magic tricks, working with trained animals, or any other facet of show business are not the least bit hesitant about changing their names.

They are convinced, or are convinced by somebody, that the clunker of a name they were born with-–which hangs around their necks like an anchor--is keeping them from becoming the star they were meant to be.

I'd like to begin my case with Alan Alda. A funny, talented actor with a name that's simple, direct, uncomplicated. But his real name is layered with intrigue, complexity, power. Alphonso D'Abruzzo. The mere sound of it--if not sending chills up your spine--insures your immediate respect. Of course, it also guarantees that you would never sit near a window with him while eating at an Italian restaurant.

Albert Brooks--who I loved in Broadcast News, Defending Your Life, and Lost In America--is a brilliant comedic actor. But he might have been even more brilliant if he had kept his original name, Albert Einstein. I'm not saying he would have unraveled the string theory or solved the mystery of crop circles. But it might have inspired him to greater heights.

50 Cent. He could have called himself 10 Cent or 25 Cent, but for some reason he opted for 50 Cent with no s on the end. And why 50? Why not 75 Cent? Or something more upscale, like 50 Dollar? Personally, I like his actual name, Curtis Jackson. It sounds grounded and real. And not like someone who's fixated with bad grammar and chump change.

Cher. One-word names like Cher, Sting and Madonna are probably used because they're easy to remember. But they have no depth or sense of history. Cherilyn Sarkisian has the ring of a woman with substance and should have been Cher's pick for stardom. But if Cher were stubborn and insisted on sticking with a one-word name, I think Sark would have been a more provocative and perhaps career-extending choice.

I can't even understand wives taking the names of their husbands. What about husbands taking the names of their wives? Am I out of line here? Will there be scolding letters of indignation? Or better yet, Why don't each of them just keep the names they started out with?

But to be fair and balanced, I can certainly understand criminals changing their names to make them harder to catch and imprison.

And then there's Doris Day, whose birth certificate says Doris Von Kappelhoff. There's no question in my mind that she had every right to change her name and I think we're all in agreement here.

To take it one step further, I hope she did it before entering grade school.


Sunday, April 19, 2009


When it comes to celebrities and the people who love them, it seems the deader the better.

Elvis, James Dean, Anna Nicole Smith, and Marilyn Monroe were all bigger than life. But they became even bigger when their farms were bought and their buckets kicked.

Unfortunately, this ongoing trend is in no danger of dying. It's borderline pathology to spend years worshiping a collection of dead people known for wearing dark glasses indoors and doing their best to avoid photographers.

But why such reverence? Why the burgeoning fan clubs? What the hell is going on? THESE PEOPLE ARE DEAD!

Is it a backlash to our own lack of permanence? Is it the scarcity of star status that is driving the nuts among us to extend their glorification of celebs long after the obituaries have been written?

Those who claim to know about such things say it's not a mental disorder – as I claim it is-- but rather an exuberant and lasting fascination with the rich and famous who just happen to be six feet under.

Perhaps these fans should get a life. Or at least a hobby that doesn't involve things no longer breathing.

The Elvis “sightings” are still more proof that some fans don't accept the finality of a death certificate. There is even some wacko with a website preaching that Elvis was sent by God to elevate our spiritual values and fight organized crime in Las Vegas.

If people need a fan club for the dearly departed, what about Socrates, Einstein, Edison, DaVinci, Mozart, Lincoln, Ben Franklin, Helen Keller, or my fave, Mark Twain?

I fear that the future wave of stars we bereave and exalt might be the likes of Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, and Britney Spears.

I can't speak for others. But I see no reason why we should limit our adoration of the deceased to the twits and the ditsy.


Saturday, April 11, 2009


I don't trust speed readers.

It creeps me out when the main goal of reading a good book is how fast can you finish it.

I have a theory that a man so inclined would make a lousy lover. Myself, I like to pore over a chapter, linger lovingly on a passage or well-turned phrase, be touched by a stunning metaphor, or even roll a perfectly chosen word around on my tongue.

Hell, you can't do all that when you're zipping through a story at 1,000 words a minute. If you're an average reader, you cover maybe 200 words a minute, which is nothing to be ashamed of. But neither is ending a sentence with a preposition -- despite what your third grade teacher said.

Let's say you were speeding through a book by Mark Twain and you missed a classic line like: “I was seldom able to see an opportunity until it had ceased to be one.”

Or maybe in your rush to finish a book by Churchill you ran right over this zinger: “Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.”

Not slowing down to enjoy the moment is like somebody telling you they're too busy to watch a gorgeous sunset sinking slowly down a sky of pinks and purples.

I can imagine two bookish speed freaks trying to outdo one another in a bar. The first one says, “I read War and Peace on my lunch hour.”

“Not bad,” says the other one, “I finished Moby Dick on my 10-minute break.”

When I'm reading a book that I own and not one from the library, I do something that many consider criminal, or at least of questionable taste.

I underline words and phrases and sometimes even whole paragraphs that I admire and want to save and look at later.

This act of “defacing” is done out of respect. And respect for something superb or exquisite shouldn't be hurried or skimmed.

Skimming, it seems to me, should be restricted to flinging thin flat stones across a calm body of water.


Friday, April 3, 2009


I'm here to blow the lid off The Wizard of Oz.

Oh, I know the movie has been around for 70 years, and a lot of people are going to be ticked off by my brutal assault on their cherished classic. But this cautionary tale of family values has been hoodwinking children of all ages for too long.

It's time we took off the rose-colored glasses and looked at your beloved film under the harsh and glaring spotlight of truth.

Auntie Em Was A Bit Of A Witch

Let's face it, she was mean and bossy. She was always too busy to give Dorothy the time of day. About the only nice thing she did was hand out crullers to Hunk, Zeke, and Hickory. But she only did that because they couldn't work their butts off on an empty stomach.

When I found out she ended up a total recluse in real life and eventually committed suicide, it wasn't exactly a surprise ending.

Many Munchkins Had Criminal Records As Long As Their Arms

Known as the Singer Midgets, a bus load of them had once mooned Manager Lee Singer on the corner of 68th and Central Park West for what they called a questionable business deal. In the movie, one of the munchkins (probably high on drugs) once mistakenly shouted out “Judy” instead of “Dorothy.”

Another one supposedly hung himself during one of the difficult dance numbers. And several of them made their living by begging, pimping, and other deeds too unsavory to mention.

Poppies Is A Poor Floral Choice When Pushing Family Values

Running through a field of poppies is a little too hip and druggy for a G-Rated film. For my money, lilies would have been a wiser and purer choice for impressionable youngsters, some of whom were no doubt aware of the blatant symbolism.

Scarecrow Should Have Returned His Diploma

There's a scene when Scarecrow gets handed his diploma and starts excitedly reciting the Pythagorean theorem – the sum of the squares of the lengths of the sides of a right triangle is equal to the square of the length of the hypotenuse. Somehow, inexplicably, he gets this simple theorem wrong and nobody corrects him. This could prove troubling to a child years later when he learns that Scarecrow really had straw for brains.

The Mighty Oz Was A Big Lush

The Wizard, Frank Morgan, was drunk half the time on the set so he might have been seeing a horse of a different color without the assistance of movie magic. No question he was charming. But he could have pumped up his own balloon with all that hot air.

He claimed to be a good man, but a bad wizard. Wrong. Besides being a blustering humbug, he wouldn't grant Dorothy and her pals their wishes until they wasted the witch and brought back her broom as proof.

Returning To A Tacky Farm And A Bunch Of Oafs

In the final scene, when Dorothy wakes up and returns to her pathetic black & white existence, all the hayseeds were falling all over themselves about Toto. Was he put to sleep for biting Miss Gulch? Did the sheriff sentence him to the dog pound? We're never given the truth about Toto.

I can imagine kindly Auntie Em explaining it to Rainbow Girl: “Yes, there's no place like home, Dorothy – even though you'll never see your cute little dog again!”