August 2008


 

Some Called Them 'The Rat Pack', We Had A Different Name

"The Rat Pack"? That's not what we called ourselves.

   I first met him backstage at the Flamingo Hotel in Vegas. I was involved in a hotsy-totsy, topsy-turvy lovefest with a little lady who went by the name of Joey Heatherton. Her real name was Jo E. Heatherton but I had wisely advised her to change her name to “Joey” since “Jo E.” sounded awfully funny rolling off the old tongue meat and I felt strongly she would have never made it with a moniker like that. 

   She was a perky blonde number. The sort of performer who gives 110% or nothing. Joey never fully understood the mathematical principles behind percentages, which was why she was able to give 110%. I tried explaining percentages to her once; she Stooge-slapped me, kneed me in the groin and pulled my eyelids with needle-nosed pliers. I decided then and there maybe she knew enough math to get by.

    While she belted-out showtunes on stage, I’d be backstage in her dressing room trying on some of her outfits while no one was looking. I was wearing a black sequin backless number and bright pink pumps when he walked in.

    “Well, well, well,” Frank said looking me up and down, “what are you all dolled-up for, kid?”

    “None of your bee’s wax,” I retorted laying my feather boa aside. A garter strap cut deeply into my thigh bringing forth a little liquid I call “blood.”

    “Hey, you’re quick with the comeback,” he said, “I like your spunk, kid-o, and the cut of your jib ain’t half bad, either!” Then the door flung open and in marched Peter Lawford, Sammy Davis, Jr., Joey Bishop and Dean Martin. And so it was that I, a kid all of 6 years old, would be recruited by Frank Sinatra himself to be a member of his infamous Rat Pack (or, as we liked to call ourselves “The Wanderlust Pioneer Explorers”).

    The hurly burly times of the sixties looked pretty distorted from the bottom of a martini glass. Frank, me and the guys were rarely apart, and we were seldom far from the center of a tornado. When the world saw us coming, it took shelter in the root cellar and barred the door. After we’d passed, all that remained were the splinters of our martini toothpicks and spent pimentos.

   Although I was only a young kid, I was already working on an adman’s liver. Dino used to shake his head in amazement at my endless capacity for gin ‘n grape Kool-Aids. “How can you drink that stuff, kid?” he’d blurt in his smooth bourbon baritone.

   “Hell, Dino,” I’d say polishing off a tall tumbler of the stuff on the rocks, “you should see me workin’ a vodka ‘n Ovaltine.”

   ‘The Rat Pack’ was not all smiles and whistles though. The public may have thought we were tighter than a virgin’s nylons, but we were not without our petty bickering. In fact, me and Joey B. got into scraps on a fairly regular basis.

   See, Joey had always been Frank’s ‘funny boy’–– his personal jester. When I entered the scene, all that changed. I had a wacky sense of humor that The Chairman called “friggin’ brilliant–– a laff riot!” The sounds I made with a cupped hand and armpit kept Frank laughing ‘til his baby blues were red.

   Bishop was none too happy being upstaged by a young punk. He’d say, “Hey, Frank– we should pummel the kid’s face with our fists, chop him with a rusty machete into tiny chunks of adolescent flesh and scatter his entrails to hungry rabid dogs.”

   Maybe I was over-reacting, but I sensed Joey wasn’t fond of me. I kept my distance from him, not out of fear for what he might do to me, but rather fear of my own rage. You see, the reason I was on the lam in Vegas is I had shot a man in Reno–– just to watch him die. Then, after he died, I figured Vegas might have more in the way of entertainment.

   I was right.

   In the desert, the greatest stars in the universe burned their brightest. And when it came to cats who were swinging entertainers, none topped Sammy D. Whether wringing every last drop of emotion out of a love ballad, or hoofing tap, Sammy didn’t know the meaning of the word ‘quit.’

  “Sammy,” I’d explain to him, “Webster defines quit as to stop!

   “Can’t hear ya, babe!” he’d shout over his tap shoes rat-a-tat-tattin’ like Morse code announcing Armageddon. He had such an infectious happy-go-lucky nature, well, I’d just have to join him hoofing. And when we’d finish, ten or eleven hours later, Sammy would give me a soggy bear hug and say, “I love you, man, I love you!”

  “Right back at ya, babe,” I’d say lighting a Lucky and flicking the burning match in the direction of Joey B. 

   I didn’t know Peter Lawford very well. Oh, we’d snap a towel at one another passing in the sauna, but I think it was Socrates who said you never truly know a man until you spend fourteen, sixteen years together in a squat Turkish prison cell. The old Greek sure knew people!

   Lawford did introduce me to Marilyn, the Camelot crowd, and he pulled some strings and got me a gig mowing the White House lawn. Take it from me, that thing’s a lot bigger than it looks.

   When I went to get paid, I was ushered into the Oval Office. JFK was in the midst of the Cuban missile crisis or something and seemed distracted. “You’ll, ah, have to excuse me,” he said in his chowder dialect, “I seem to have left my, ah, billfold in my, ah, other trousers.”

   He left to go fetch the do ri mi, and I snooped around a bit. I opened a desk drawer and saw the ‘red button’, the one that would send nuclear missiles screaming to Havana. Being quite the joker, I had my finger poised to give the button a poke. “Put this in your cigar and smoke it, you bearded infidel, Fidel!” I said smugly. But my arm was snatched and held firm. I looked up and a tussled JFK said, “Please, ah, leave solving the, ah, world crisis to me.”

   “Okee-dokee,” I said. He paid me ($15 was tall green for a kid back then!) and I had a story that tickled Frank and the boys no end.

    Soon after that, the Rat Pack began to disband. Dino got belligerent with me when I told him I wouldn’t pair-up with him as a musical comedy duo.

   “C’mon, Scoots,” he sobbed pitifully, “I’ll play the geeky spaz, you’ll be the smooth crooner who gets all the dames.” It just wasn’t my scene, I told him, maybe we’d talk after puberty. Dino was crushed. Dino drank. I split.

   Joey B.’s jealousy spun out of control. He hired a couple goons to bust my legs, then had me hailed with sniper-fire. I took a couple slugs in the chest and head, but had some clean exit wounds. As the docs wheeled me through the hospital on a gurney, Frank was by my side crying like a baby slicing onions. “You’re gonna be all right, ain’t ya, kid?” he asked. I mustered what little strength I had and cupped my hand under an armpit, giving Frank a taste of his favorite sound in the world. Frank convulsed with laughter. Made me smile.

   My parents finally tracked me down at the Vegas hospital and took me back to Ohio. They didn’t like their sweet son hanging around hard drinking entertainers.

   Weeks after I returned to the motherland, I got a call from Frank. He and the boys wanted to have one last little bash. I told Frank I couldn’t get away, my parents had grounded me. But Frank had a plan.

    And so it came to pass on a warm August night in Hubbard, Ohio, the Rat Pack had one final get together in a pup tent in my back yard. I told my parents I was sleeping out with Kevin Moran and Joey Riccitelli.

   I did spend the night with a Joey (she brought some new slinky shear things for me to try on), and a group of guys who were about the best pals a kid could ever hope for.

   The Wanderlust Pioneer Explorers would ride into the sunset of memories and opportunistic memoirs. Mine will come out sometime in the near future, if I can ever get off this damned gin and grape Kool-Aid bender.

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What movies are worth your precious Hamiltons?

What movies are worth your precious Hamiltons?

Hollywood’s upped the ante to $10 for viewing one of their precious little “movies.” Add $54 for a medium popcorn, medium beverage and a box of Milk Duds (“The Blockbuster Bellybuster Valu Combo”) and we’re talking a pretty pricey couple hours. I’ll scribble a few lines to tell you which movies I believe are worth seeing and which ones aren’t worth your Hamilton.

“Pineapple Express”– I suppose if one’s really baked this movie lives up to the hype. Then again, smoke enough goof and staring at a brick is pretty funny. I was not terribly amused by this film so I guess I was obviously too sober.

Oh, it’s got a few laughs and some fun bits, but this is hardly a great comedy or action movie. Clocking in at almost two hours, this film could certainly lose some unsightly celluloid. It gets hyper-violent at the end, but it’s not hyper-amusing as it goes on and on and on some more. Then goes on some more, and a little bit more for good measure.

The movie’s not awful, it’s just awfully disappointing. I wanted more laughs, more amusement. Apparently the idea and the script were created by Seth Rogen and his writing partner Evan Goldberg when they were 16 or so. It feels like it. Guess I’ m just not on the Seth Rogen bandwagon.

I have a little system I use to rate just how much I don’t like a movie. If in a week, someone said I could see the same movie for free, would I? No, not this one. Then how much would they have to pay me to see the movie? $5? $10? $15? $20?

Keep the bidding going on this one. Save your Hammie for something else.

“The Dark Knight”— Take that ten spot you banked not going to Pineapple Express and treat yourself to this big honking action/adventure extravaganza.

Yes, Heath Ledger’s as good as you’ve heard (shame he never heard the great reviews but his performance is probably a lock for an Oscar nomination). Yes, Christian Bale can raise some hell against people who aren’t his family members. And yes, Christopher Nolan succeeded in following up the high cinematic bar he set in “Batman Begins”.

Gotham City looks gorgeously gloomy, ably played by the up and comer city of Chicago with some heavy make-up and dour disposition. The plot is intricate and the supporting cast superb. Aaron Eckhart is suave and de-boner (albeit a bit two-faced), Maggie Gyllenhaal delivers the goods along with Morgan Freeman playing the standard Morgan Freeman character–- the wise one who enlightens the way for heroes while dispensing sage advice. But the movie is owned by Ledger who scowls, grimaces, laughs diabolically behind make-up that wears away throughout the film (the classic symbolism for one losing his mojo). 

Perhaps the best performance belongs to Ledger’s tongue: darting, licking and smacking about like an animal struggling to be restrained. It’s a tongue performance for the ages.

Sure the movie could shed some weight at two and a half hours long, and some of the sub plots don’t work completely, and it just seems a waste to have an incredible talent like Gary Oldman play a milquetoast character like Gordon, but “the Dark Knight” is a hell of a ride and a visual spectacle throughout.  Pony up the Hamilton, pay some more if you’re able to see it in IMAX, but by all means see what the buzz is about.

“Iron Man”–  Another from the comic books, this is one of the best films of the year with great special effects, casting and performances all the way around. The script is tight. The first 20 minutes packs an incredible amount of background into an easily digested and fun to watch appetizer that sets up the hearty banquet ahead. From the opening frame on, the film catapults forward and keeps you interested, engaged and amused.  Sure, the climax is a bit strained, but what do you expect from comic book characters? Robert Downey, Jr. is terrific. Thank goodness he’s clean and sober because his talent would have been tragic to waste. Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow, Terrence Howard have Downey covered for a fun show that’s worth seeing at least once, if not twice. Director Jon Favreau kicked out the jams on this one. Strap on a seat and keep your arms inside the car.

“The Incredible Hulk”– Yet one more movie from the comics (makes me wonder if the Comic Book Store Guy from “The Simpsons” is running the studios these days).

This movie didn’t get its due. While not in the same league as “Iron Man” or “The Dark Knight”, this film is pretty damn good and worth seeing. Edward Norton does what Edward Norton always does: own every scene he’s in. His Bruce Banner is one conflicted cat, just don’t anger up his blood.

The problem is giving Norton a lightweight heroine in Liv Tyler. She disappears in the scenes they share.  The rest of the cast is O.K., Tim Roth serves a hefty dose of evil, and the story moves along at a healthy clip with some cool effects. Not a great film, but certainly worth seeing if it comes to a buck-a-rama near you. Definitely rent and watch when it’s out on DVD.

“Mamma Mia!”–  Yes, I am a heterosexual male and yes, I saw “Mamma Mia!”. In fact, I’ve seen it twice, once on the stage and now on the screen. I really liked the stage production, I really didn’t like the movie version. The reason is simple: the voices didn’t serve the musical. I think they let ABBA down (it’s never ever a good idea to let Abba down, people– ABBA must be served, it is a palindrome for Pete’s sake!).

Yes, Meryl Streep is a very talented actor, one of our best (can anyone cry better than Meryl cries?), but she is not a top drawer singing talent. Respectable, yes– she can carry a tune in a bucket. But phenomenal? Hardly. Her daughter, played by Amanda Seyfried, fares better in the singing department but she doesn’t bring much charisma or magic to the role. Pity, that.

As for the three papa bears in this Goldilocks tale, well, here’s where Mamma Mia! goes way off the tracks. Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard and Pierce Brosnan are likable enough but ill equipped to sing and dance. In fact, we all feel the shame when Pierce opens his mouth to warble. One wishes Daniel Craig as 007 would enter stage left, throttle him soundly and exit stage right.

Nope, the sad thing is this movie does a big disservice to the stage production. It forgets that a musical is about the music. Voices first, voices always.

Save your money for a first rate stage production of “Mamma Mia!”. This movie’s a letdown… and still it’s a blockbuster hit. Guess it shows what I know.

“Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”– Take the two 800 pound gorillas of Hollywood, Lucas and Spielberg, add a proven bankable star (Harrison Ford) and a rising bankable star (Shia LeBeouf) in a franchise that’s grossed ten bazillion trillion dollars worldwide (Indiana Jones) and what have you got?

A terrible waste of a lot of talent.

The script’s goofy, the action ho hum and the adventure M.I.A. One can almost sense Spielberg yawning from behind the camera as he goes through the motions. This fourth installment of Indy should put him to rest, if there’s any justice. It’s already spawned a new expression for the venerable Jump the shark; in this case it’s called Nuke the fridge. 

Fonzie, thank Indy. You’re off the hook for the near future.

The set design of the ending scenes are obviously fake and cheesy. It’s hard to believe so many big names collaborated to make such a forgettable turd. Please don’t enable this people with your money– they may just do it again.

“Get Smart”… and skip “Get Smart”. It’s nothing like the TV show (which had a little something called ‘humor’, or ‘humour’ for British readers). What a waste of Steve Carell, time and money.

 

Maybe I should pay closer attention to details...

Maybe I should pay closer attention to details...

It seems there’s a country named “Georgia” and it’s clear across the world.

Why someone would name a country after a state is beyond me (except to fool people), but it seems that the Russians have invaded the country of Georgia, not the state of Georgia where I live.

So I feel a little foolish writing about a conflict I thought was here when actually it was way over there. I feel sorry for the other Georgia and suggest the Russians go home and chill, for crying out loud. To quote Nick Lowe, “What’s so funny about peace, love and understanding?”

As for me, maybe I should pay a bit more attention to the news and not be quite so reactionary. Then again, being ever vigilant isn’t such a bad thing, is it? My apologies for the misunderstanding. I blame the media.

 

Ready for action. I see it all so clearly now.

Ready for action. I see it all so clearly now.

They’re out there. Somewhere. Out there. I listen closely and can almost hear their dirty commie lung winds being exhaled. I sit and wait. Sit in the dark. Waiting. My finger is perched atop the trigger of a semi-auto bolshevik repeller. I am not afraid to use it. I’m surrounded by ample munitions, Doritos, gummy worms and Red Bulls. Hmm, “Red” Bulls. Maybe I am falling into their trap. Maybe this is their elixir, their pinko poison. Do I question capitalism and democracy? No, no, I embrace and love these like a kitten loves her warm mittens. I am safe. The Red Bulls are safe. I think. I think the Red Bulls are safe. But then maybe that’s what they want me to think. Yes, the ol’ logic switcheroo. Just to be safe, I’ll lay off the Red Bulls. I’ll sit, listen and wait. Are they here? I don’t know. The news said Russians invaded Georgia, but so far I haven’t seen a trace of Trotskyites. I wonder. If they are here, where the hell are they? I wonder. Sitting, waiting in the dark. Need a gummy worm, bad, real bad.

 

How many commies can you count?

How many commies can you count?

The news is ablaze that Russians are invading Georgia. I’ve been sequestered beneath my desk disguised in a unicorn costume (the last thing they’d ever expect to find in Georgia, what with unicorns mostly being extinct and all). But I’ve yet to see any commie aggressors.

As this recent picture attests, if the Russians are on Georgian soil their uniforms are blending right into the landscape. This is what makes the red menace so deadly dangerous. Keep a watchful eye, people, they could be slipping Fluoride into our water supply at this very moment. Why do Stalinists hate dentists so much? It’s just not right! Dentists could help us with off shore drilling, ice caps and bridges.

Be safe. Stay hidden. Don’t make borscht. We’ll make it through this, somehow.

 

Have you seen these guys? If so, RUN! HIDE! SWEAT!

Have you seen these guys? If so, RUN! HIDE! SWEAT!

I’ve seen the headlines in the newspapers and heard the pretty anchor people on that magic TV box yammering about the Ruskies invading Georgia. Yow-zee ka-powzee wowzee!

Apparently the commies are running amuck on Georgia red clay trying to slather their political nuttiness on the locals–– keep your lousy bread lines to yourself, comrade, we like our Wonder Bread that builds free nations 12 ways!

For the record, people, I’ve yet to see any of the pinko buggers here in Atlanta–– and I’ve kept a keen out for them (they’re easy to spot marching in formation).

If they are here, they’re hiding pretty well. I suggest all Georgians practice caution and keep the doors locked, the powder dry, the freedom running hot and cold!

 

A wide mouth of loud mouth soup

A wide mouth of loud mouth soup

With the Olympics ready to kick off in China, I took a blistering run down Memory Lane to recall when the Olympics were held here in Atlanta and I had my own little enterprise called Scullin Communications. It was a time when I couldn’t keep the press or paparazzi out of my life, so I decided to go on the offensive and issue my own press releases to control the spin. The following four dispatches detail my actions and observations of those ’96 Olympic games. They are from a collection of press releases called “For Immediate Release” (published by copier machines nearby). Click on each for the story the press doesn’t want you to read (the Chinese can’t censor this cheese!). Enjoy.

olympics-bid-withdrawn

olympics-commercialization

olympics-fixed

olympics-shameless-self-promo