Friday, May 27, 2011

'The Homecoming'

Last night I watched "The Homecoming," the beloved 1971 CBS Christmas special that spawned "The Waltons."

I had read Earl Hamner's novella, but had never seen the movie and was intrigued by it because the role of Olivia Walton was played by Knoxville native Patricia Neal in her second performance ("The Subject Was Roses" was the first) following a 1965 stroke.

Neal brought a weary reality to the role that Michael Learned never matched. Her face, worn with pain, exuded the hardship of the Depression through which the character endured. The movie also contained an edge the series lacked.

Most of the later TV cast is intact. All of the kids came back, as did Ellen Corby as Esther Walton and Richard Thomas as John Boy. Edgar Bergen makes a rare late career appearance as Grandpa, much more subdued than Will Geer later was, and Andrew Duggan (who shows up at the end) plays John Walton Sr., the role that would be better played later by Ralph Waite.

"The Homecoming" is an excellent film that has been ignored in recent years. I have no idea why CBS or somebody doesn't show this each Christmas. It's a great testimony to Neal's talent. She is missed.

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Friday, May 20, 2011

Cameron's graduation

So my little brother graduated last night.

Pomp and circumstance. Turn the tassel. Good-bye and good luck.

I can remember the afternoon my dad and I walked down to Wendy's on the Strip for dinner while Cameron was coming into the world at Fort Sanders. The Braves were playing on TV when we returned. I held him and told him we'd end up as brothers from different mothers singers like David and Shaun Cassidy.

Yeah, that didn't work out.

Eighteen years slipped away when I wasn't looking. Eighteen years! Damn.

Halls High principal Mark Duff said some good words before graduation. He told the Class of 2011 to expand their horizons, to travel, to read books, to never let their education end. Amen and amen.

I thought about the day I graduated and the trip we took to Florida and the laughs that are but memories.

And the sand passes through the hour glass and time marches on.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Reassessing Jeremy Brett

Being the nerd that I am -- about some things, at least -- I once got into a passionate online debate about who was the better Sherlock Holmes, Basil Rathbone or Jeremy Brett.

Rathbone, you may remember, starred in 14 beloved black-and-white Holmes films from 1939 to 1946. Brett starred in a series of episodes produced by Granada Television that originally aired on Britain's ITV network from 1984 to 1995.

In my mind, Rathbone was the clear winner. His cool, confident style fit the times, the films were by and large a lot of fun, and Holmes just seems ready made for monochrome.

Brett, I felt, was too bizarre, too hypomanic, too eccentric. His Watsons -- David Burke and Edward Hardwicke -- weren't nearly as lovable as Nigel Bruce.

A discussion at work about the revamped "Sherlock" made me think again about Jeremy Brett and the Granada series I hadn't seen in 15 years. And, since the episodes are streaming online via Netflix, I thought it was high time to watch them again and give Brett another chance.

After watching every installment of the Granada "Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" and the first episode of "The Return of Sherlock Holmes," I've come to the conclusion that, by and large, the Granada series is more consistent and more faithful to the Arthur Conan Doyle stories from which the character originates.

Granada must have spent a fortune on the series. It's a beautifully done period piece -- complete with gaslight, cobblestone and London fog -- that stays true, more or less, to the books. And, if you use the original source material as a guide, Holmes is indeed bizarre, eccentric and manic-depressive. Brett had nailed it. And the Watson of the stories was anything but a buffoon. Burke and Hardwicke had done their homework.

The Rathbone/Bruce series has some wonderful moments, and Rathbone remains my favorite, but the installments suffer from inconsistency, an increasingly buffoonish Watson and a decided drop in quality after the switch from Twentieth Century Fox to Universal.

Brett's Granada series also does not live up to its brilliant earlier episodes. He became increasingly and noticeably ill -- some say the character of Holmes was driving him mad -- and the quality of the writing dropped substantially in the later episodes, most of which tend to be downright bizarre.

So, I guess where I've landed is the Rathbone series isn't the Holy Grail I once thought it was and Brett's Granada episodes, especially the first two series, are quite enjoyable.

But, heck, it's Sherlock Holmes. Put me with him and Watson in a hansom as we clip-clop along the foggy streets of Victorian London toward our latest adventure and I'll have a good time no matter who's in the starring role.

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Thursday, May 12, 2011

How one phone call can make your day

Rarely does a newspaper writer hear from pleased readers. We normally just get the complaints.

That's OK. It's human nature. Goes with the territory. Frankly, I'm glad to know somebody cares enough to call.

But, this morning, I had a message waiting for me on my office phone. The woman identified herself as a reader from Luttrell.

"I just got around to reading your articles about the Vietnam veterans and the Korean veterans. I enjoyed them so much. I just had to call and tell you. Keep up the good work."

Folks, this is going to sound corny as all get out, but that means more to me than a raise or a Pulitzer Prize. And I mean that.

My colleagues finally talked me into entering my work in the Golden Press Card Awards this year. I had hesitated from doing so for several years, mainly because like George C. Scott said about the Oscars and actors, I don't believe that writers should compete against one another in such a manner. Plus, the story isn't about me, it's about your friends and neighbors, the people I write about. They deserve the awards.

I was quite humbled to receive an honorable mention in the feature writing category. But, the reader's phone call this morning means more to me than all the gold in California.

And you can take that to the bank.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Henry James, John Boy Walton and a few other things on my mind...

I hadn't read Henry James since college.

But, I was so inspired by this blog post from film critic Roger Ebert, I picked up a couple of his books while at McKay's a couple of weeks ago. Last week, I downloaded "Daisy Miller" for free on my Kindle and read it in one sitting.

My friend and colleague Larry Van Guilder describes James quite well. "Writing has changed so much since he wrote that you have to change gears to read him."

The way his words flow and his picture-perfect character portraits are well worth the shift.

I like to watch "The Waltons" sometimes in the evenings. It helps me relax and satisfies my need for nostalgia. I have always identified with the lead character. Like John Boy, I yearn to write about the human condition and live in New York and linger awhile with the literati.

And sometimes, when life gets a little blue, I pull a volume off my shelf (or click on an eBook in this crazy, wonderful century), and spend some time with a genius like Henry James.

It's enough.

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Tuesday, May 03, 2011

One more silver dollar...

You never know what you're going to find at the lake. Or, in this case, hear.

I pulled up to my little version of Walden Pond just as the sun was reaching its slumber. It had been a long, if rewarding, Saturday of work. Nothing existed on my agenda but to sit on the back porch, read a little, contemplate the universe and smoke a cigar.

Groceries safely in the icebox, gear securely stored, I eased out onto the back porch to sit and think awhile. The workweek was over. It was time to rest.

Echoing from somewhere around the cove came a song. I knew it. But I couldn't quite make it out.

Then it came.

Well, I've got to run to keep from hiding,
And I'm bound to keep on riding;
And I've got one more silver dollar,
But I'm not going to let them catch me, no...

Well, it wasn't midnight yet, but I guess somebody needed a little Allman Brothers to chase away the dark. I could hear someone singing along, very loud and very drunk.

So much for solitude. At least it was Southern rock.

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