Thursday, October 28, 2010

Aloha, Danno

Just heard some sad news.

James MacArthur, known to millions as "Danno" in the original CBS version of "Hawaii Five-0," has died of natural causes in Florida. He was 72.

I like to watch reruns of the original "5-0" on DVD at night. They are a lot of fun and the scenery is always awesome.

MacArthur was the last surviving member of the original cast. Jack Lord, who played 5-0 boss Steve McGarrett, ("Book 'em, Danno!") died in 1998. Kam "Chin Ho" Fong died in 2002. Zulu ("Kono") died in 2004.

According to a newspaper report, MacArthur will be buried in New York next to his mother, the actress Helen Hayes.

He was reportedly slated to appear in a guest role on CBS's reboot of the show, which debuted this season. Hate that didn't happen, both for nostalgic reasons and because I'm looking for an excuse to continue watching the remake.

It's OK -- but that's the problem: it's just OK. The new version lacks a certain kind of cool that made the original so special. Lord was such an icon as McGarrett (frankly, so was MacArthur as Danno) that it's hard to see anybody else playing the role.

I do like the action and I love Grace Park. Guess I'll keep tuning in -- for awhile.

Meanwhile, here's a heartfelt aloha to James MacArthur. Rest in peace, Danno.

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The game is afoot -- again!

OK, I'll be honest.

When I heard that the BBC was bringing Sherlock Holmes, the detective for the ages, into the 21st century for a revival TV show, I almost choked on my Calabash pipe.

Coming on the heels of the Robert Downey Jr. debacle last year, I thought enough was enough. Holmes belongs in black and white, wandering the gas-lit streets of Victorian England, trailing a hansom, the clop-clop of horses mixing with the ubiquitous fog. No thanks to all this. Basil Rathbone and Jeremy Brett have done it better. Don't bother.

I could not have been more wrong.

The first of what will sadly only be three episodes (this season) of "Sherlock" aired on PBS Sunday night. And wow. Amazing. Awesome.

The wonderfully named Benedict Cumberbatch is picture perfect as the master sleuth, faithful in so many ways to Conan Doyle's original Holmes. He's smart. He's smarmy.

Martin Freeman (of the UK "The Office" fame) plays a great Dr. Watson, who is again recovering from a bullet wound in an Afghan war and looking for a flat mate. His Watson isn't the lovable bumbler a la Nigel Bruce. Nor is he the more staid Watson in the Grenada tradition. Nope, Freeman's Watson is steady, big-hearted, but ready for action.

The chemistry between the two leads sparkles and shines. The script from episode one was quick, witty, charming.

It's a little jolting at first to see Holmes plugging away on a PDA, but for some magical reason all this works remarkably well. The duo responsible for this return to 221B Baker Street are writers for the popular new incarnation of "Dr. Who." They have done well with two venerable franchises.

If I have one complaint, it's that everybody keeps calling our hero by his first name. Anybody remotely familiar with this universe knows that there's nothing like hearing somebody yell an exasperated "Holmes!" at the top of their lungs.

Major points are due for being faithful to the original source. Brother Mycroft is here in rather amusing fashion. And, yep, signs of Professor Moriarty have already popped up on the horizon.

The two other episodes of the season will air at 9 p.m. (Eastern) the next two Sundays on PBS's "Masterpiece Mystery." Do yourself a favor and don't miss them. This is, by far, the best program I've seen this season.

Although "Friday Night Lights" is back for a final year if you get DirecTV. But that's another blog for another day...

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Ready to read

And so the rains have arrived on Rocky Top.

The meteorologists are now saying we might get lucky, that this sudden squall has weakened, might save us from the Category 3-like pressure that shocked the Midwest earlier this afternoon. What a strange day. We set a record here -- mid-80s in late October. Crazy.

I am hunkered down at the house, tired of the television, ready to read.

For some reason, I can't get Pat Conroy out of my mind. Maybe it is because I finally got around to reading "Beach Music" when we were in Florida back in September. Maybe it's because he is releasing a new book, "My Reading Life," next week. Maybe it's for no reason at all.

I keep vowing that I'm going to give up Conroy. He keeps writing the same book. He's too wordy. His books are like mini mental breakdowns, full of pain and passion and misery and mysticism.

But, heck. He's such a good wordsmith. And he tells a good tale.

I think I'm going to like this next one. It's a memoir, about the writers and the writing that shaped his life. One can relate. Don't know where I'd be without Hemingway, Hamill and the Hardy Boys.

I've told you before how much it bothers me that people don't read books anymore. It scares me for one thing. Occupational hazards and all that. But it also makes me wonder what kind of society we've become.

Plus it's so much fun.

Maybe I will venture into the Spanish Civil War later tonight with Papa Hemingway's Robert Jordan. Maybe I will "Look Homeward, Angel" with Thomas Wolfe. Or maybe I'll find myself walking once again along the Carolina coast with Conroy.

Whatever I choose, the journey will be mine, singular, solitary, satisfying.

Such is the pleasure of a good book on a rainy Tuesday night.

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Cas Walker and other fun tales

So you should have been out at the Halls Senior Center last Tuesday when Larry Mathis and Bud Brewster broke into Cas Walker's old "Farm and Home Hour" theme song.

When the mornin' paper hits the street/Cas Walker's prices can't be beat...

Larry and Bud were part of the program at the Halls Business and Professional Association's monthly meeting hosted by "Heartland Series" guy Bill Landry. Landry, thanks to the Hallsdale Powell Utility District, is going to spearhead an Appalachian Experience for students at Halls High School. It seems like a pretty fun deal.

And, who knows? They might actually learn a little bit about where we came from.

You'd like Larry and Bud. They are two fellas who have never met a stranger.

I'm still laughing at some of their Cas Walker stories. You can read my interview with them in Monday's Shopper-News or beginning Sunday night under my name at

I guess my favorite Cas Walker story is the time he buried the guy in the parking lot of one of his grocery stores. As nutty as he was, Cas was light-years ahead of his time when it came to publicity.

You should hear some of the tales. Yes, it's true that he once punched former county commissioner Billy Tindell's mother on live television. Yes, it's true that he punched former city council member Jim Cooper during a discussion about property tax rates.

Another good one is the time Cas showed up late for a Knoxville city council meeting.

"Mr. Walker..." the clerk said as Cas walked in the door.

"I'm agin' it," Cas replied.

The clerk was calling the roll.

When Larry hit the high notes on Cas's song (Do all your shoppin' at the Cas Walker store...), I looked around the room and saw nothing but smiles.

Love him or hate him, Cas Walker was one of a kind.

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Friday, October 15, 2010

Love is all around -- one last time

Got a grin in the mail this week via those amazing folks at

Ordered my copy of the seventh and final season of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," the classy, hilarious 1970s sitcom about life in Minneapolis's WJM newsroom.This has long been one of my favorite shows -- funny, witty, at times silly. It had to be a breath of fresh air when it popped up on CBS's primetime lineup in September 1970. No monster families. No "My Mother The Car." No Hooterville.

This was one of the first programs -- soon to be followed by "All in the Family" and "M*A*S*H" -- to be populated by characters that felt like real people. Who doesn't know a perky Mary Richards or a gruff Lou Grant or a beloved boob like Ted Baxter?

By the 1976-77 season, Mary's audience was starting to dwindle and she and her former husband/co-producer Grant Tinker decided it was time to say goodbye. This season contains some classic moments. Lou having to carry Ted out of the room when his wife Georgette gives birth. Lou and Mary's infamous "date." That classic final show.

Of special note on the DVD is the "curtain call" that the cast received at the end of the last episode, which hasn't been seen since its original 1977 airdate.

I guess it sounds silly to say it, but one can get attached to well-developed characters of a favorite show. They become, in a way, part of the family, showing up in your living room the same time each week, guaranteed to make you laugh and, maybe, shed a tear or two every now and then.

I try to resist the urge to go down the "they don't make 'em like this anymore" route, but with "Mary Tyler Moore" it's true. Television shows by and large just aren't this good anymore. Heck, the networks have become so cheap they don't even like to pay writers, which has led to the cultural wasteland that is reality TV.

So, yep, love is all around for one last season with this last "Mary Tyler Moore" DVD set. After all these years, she can still turn the world on with her smile.

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Monday, October 11, 2010

First, do no harm

My mentor taught me that the first rule in journalism is, or should be, "First, do no harm."

In other words, get your facts straight. Do your homework. Don't muddy up the water.

Don't get it wrong.

Steve Dixon of the UK's Sky News learned that lesson the hard way over the weekend. Dixon was interviewing Bee Gee Robin Gibb. Talk turned to British actress Barbara Windsor's claims that she had a sexual relationship with Robin's twin brother, Maurice, back in the 1960s.

According to reports, Robin was amazed to see photographs of a beardless Maurice. Dixon then asked whether Maurice might be watching the program.

Well, that would be quite a feat. Maurice died in 2003.

I didn't see the clip, but Dixon was apparently horrified, and audibly gasped, according to a report in the Daily Mail. Robin Gibb reportedly remained calm and just kept talking about his late brother.


The Bee Gees are mainly known now for the huge hits they enjoyed during the disco craze of the late 1970s -- and for the backlash that soon followed and kept their music out of fashion for a decade. It's a shame because their best work happened in the late 1960s and early 1970s when the Brothers Gibb (BGs, get it?) weaved harmony over dark and imaginative hits like "I Started A Joke," "I've Just Gotta Get A Message To You" and "I Can't See Nobody."

If you want to see the group in their prime during this period, surf over to YouTube and search for clips from their 1971 concert at the Festival Hall in Melbourne. It will make you forget all about "Staying Alive."

You can read the full report about Dixon's disaster here:

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Sunday, October 10, 2010

A slice of Appalachia

The long timers say the crowd was off this year, but what a perfect afternoon to come home.

I eased into the field beside John Rice Irwin's home about half past 11. Couldn't spot one cloud. But you could drown in that blue, boy.

They've been holding this homecoming at the Museum of Appalachia for a lotta years now. Folks come from all over. Forty-two of the 50 were represented this year, as were several foreign countries.

Stopped to listen to a stream of mountain music. Somebody was singing Merle Haggard's "What Have You Got Planned Tonight Diana," one of his forgotten singles, while I watched a soda jerk shoo yellow jackets away from his cold drinks.

"They haven't been bad until today," the man said of the four-day festival. "So, I guess that's pretty good."

I noticed a cup of soda sitting by itself near the barrels of pop.

"I gave them their own drink, but they don't want any of it," the man said.

A little while later, Paul Williams and the Victory Trio began belting out bluegrass gospel, so I moved over next to the barn, concentrated on a Coke, and offered up an ear. Could have listened to that all afternoon.

Sat down on a log to finish my Coke. Some guy from down the street was feeding his granddaughter chocolate ice cream.

"I guess I'm getting old," somebody said.

"There's no getting to it for me," the man replied. "I'm already there."

Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver were finishing up a set when I walked back to my car, sweet tea in one hand, bag of goodies in the other. Didn't feel too well, but a slice of Appalachia made me forget all about it.

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Monday, October 04, 2010

Braves bring a smile

Sunday afternoon was cold, gray, windy.

Didn't feel so good. Kidney stones and such. Ugh.

But my long lost first love, those amazing Atlanta Braves, found themselves on the brink of the postseason. All they needed was to win Game 162 and get a little help from the San Francisco Giants to win the National League Wild Card. Wow.

I propped up on the couch and managed to make it through one of Chip Caray's telecasts. You ain't your daddy, fella. Routine singles don't warrant all that screaming.

There was Bobby Cox, a guy you'd swear was 80 years old, but hasn't yet made it to 70. It seems like he's been there forever, doesn't it?

Bobby is saying bye-bye after this year. The young Turks on this year's squad dedicated the season to him, said they wanted to send him out a winner, give him one more day in the sun.

Darned if they didn't do it.

After a terrible start (anybody remember that 9-game losing streak?), the Braves found themselves in first place for much of the summer. I kept thinking that the Phillies would prove to be too loaded, that they'd eventually catch these scrappy Braves.

And that's what happened. But, down-to-the-wire races are fun. Expansion took some of it away, but the pennant (and wild card) races endure, as does most everything that's grand about this old game.

The ATL nearly blew a big lead, but held on to win, 8-7. I didn't jump up and down, but I did smile, and pulled the fading Braves jacket out of the closet. The blue dye is starting to bleed on whatever one wears underneath it. Which is fitting, because I, too, once bled Atlanta blue.

Baseball isn't what it used to be. I don't live and die with it anymore. To tell you the truth, I didn't watch too many games after the All-Star break.

But yesterday, when I didn't feel too well and the chill of an early fall enveloped East Tennessee, my long lost first love showed back up for three hours, right when I needed them, bringing some unexpected joy, reminding me of precious memories all but gone with the wind.

Here it is October and Atlanta is back in the playoffs. For a few minutes anyway, all seems right with the world.

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