Tuesday, September 27, 2016
Sunday, September 18, 2016
SQUEEZE, "Up the Junction."
A few months ago Harris Publications went under. I hadn't heard about it till now (which gives you some idea of how important THIS news is. What, another newsstand mag company dying because everybody wants free digital content??)
The first job I had as an editor was at Harris. I freelanced for many magazines, including Countrywide (originally co-owned by Harris and Myron Fass) and then edited the rock mag ROCKET.
The New York Post:
One irony was that Harris was still publishing a hip-hop magazine. He no doubt figured that audience doesn't own a lot of computers. They still buy bootlegs off guys who spread out blankets on sidewalks, or cardboard boxes in front of bodegas.
Of course I would've felt pretty ridiculous hanging on over there, hacking my way through whatever titles fell into my lap, including hip-hop titles and "Juicy" gossip mags aimed at cretins.
How sad for some who DID stay there for 3 decades or more, to the bitter end. Pensions, anyone? I don't think so. A stack or two of yellowing hairdo magazines in the closet to show for your life?
Well, I can see it for a few people I recall over there, who liked a comfy, ordinary and predictable lifestyle. But why not just take a government job printing pamphlets or something? You would've gotten a pension and been retired already.
Over the decades, I never thought of "dropping in" and seeing how Stan Harris was doing. I barely knew what was going on over there, except that they'd acquired "Eerie" and "Vampirella" when Warren Publishing went bankrupt. It turned out, via a Jim Warren lawsuit, that they DIDN'T acquire "Eerie" after all. But Stan Harris did do very well for many years with "Vampirella," and an expanded collection of comic books to replace such vintage items as "Teen Spectacular" and the adult "He and She," both edited by my friend Peter Dvrackas.
So. Today I had nothing better to do than wonder, "What's with Harris Publications?" I don't recall what word association got me to Googling, but when I did, I discovered the company is, to use British slang from that Squeeze song, "Up the Junction." Kaput. As in this from FOLIO:
BILLBOARD actually mentioned the modest magazine empire of Mr. Harris, using a generic Getty Images photo of a closing office door. For a moment I thought, "Is that Phyllis Goldstein?"
Stan Harris surprised his staff by shutting down with just one day's notice. He told 'em on Thursday that they had to gather up their stuff and be GONE by Friday. That's sort of standard operating procedure, isn't it, so that the employees don't have time to strip the place bare?
It sounds heartless but Harris Publications was basically a "family run" outfit and, at least early on, not known for being mean. I don't recall any firings and just the usual backbiting animosity and Machiavellian pettiness. The former I recall centering on a now well-known gay gossip columnist who at the time was a white-shirted nerd trying to climb up by demanding access to my rock and Peter's entertainment world connections. He was the assistant to a repulsive old crone who liked wearing low-cut blouses revealing cleavage that resembled two clumps of string cheese. You looked because it was a train wreck, but she appreciated it just the same. He and the crone were not above spreading rumors.
As for Machiavellian pettiness, one employee had a pudgy, precocious daughter of about 13, who should've been in school a lot more often than pestering me. She'd come by with a smirk, pick up a bunch of incoming promo record packages, and coyly say, "YOU don't need THESE, do you?" My stock line is, "I don't know till I open them, and I'm not opening them now. When I do, they'll go to the record reviewers. You can take THESE if you want..."
I'd point to the shelf of "anyone can grab these" albums, which she never bothered to look at. To get on her good side (because Daddy was important in the company) I did what I could to keep her happy. "I'd LOVE to see Eric Clapton..." she said, in the kind of grand manner that inspires effeminate homosexuals to copy the worst traits of the opposite sex.
I wasn't going to the show myself, and hadn't assigned anyone, but I called in a favor with the record label, got the "plus one" tickets so she could go to the Nassau Coliseum. My reward, a week or two later, was that her Daddy had gone to Stanley Harris to say I wasn't running the magazine right: "My daughter says he's picking the wrong acts for the cover, and there's hardly anything that she likes."
The magazine was selling well. I didn't have much response that would've been good office politics, so I just assured Stan I appreciated the input. And that the way most of the 100 pages were divided, was to give the space to whoever was on the charts, not on any one person's personal opinion.
I suppose my first experience with changing trends (as opposed to inept business practices, which often sent minor magazine companies into bankruptcy) was when KISS faltered. You couldn't just put 'em on the cover and get sales. Punk and disco were getting popular and neither translated into magazine sales too well. Always a cautious fellow, Harris decided to quit while ahead.
He shelved the newest issue, which was just about to go to the printer. Sorry, Gene Simmons, Nick Lowe, Genya Ravan, etc. etc. He offered me Peter's men's mags. I declined, as I didn't want to take work away from Peter. So Stan hired someone else and Peter was eased out. My parting with Harris was amicable, although I did run into the circulation guy whose daughter had backstabbed me, and to his surprise, I told him what I thought of him AND his daughter.
Fast forward through the good and bad comments left at the news of the end of an era:
Harris Publications was a niche market, and he wisely played it conservative. Yes, as you walked through the place, you would find some boring drones working on hairdo magazines, second-rate adventure stuff, and hacky entertainment efforts, but most of it served a purpose and offended nobody. Well, my stuff and Peter's stuff sometimes did, which Stanley viewed warily. Peter would add a bit of kink to the men's titles and the first issue of ROCKET offered Debbie Harry nude (quite a coup for us), which got us banned on some newsstands. The second issue had a topless shot of Amanda Lear which likewise rankled some conservatives.
Stanley was not too interested in making waves, unlike his flamboyant ex-partner Myron Fass, but I didn't think that was such a bad thing. Not "such a prize?" He was ok. With only a few exceptions, so were most of the staffers and editors.
One irony was that eventually, amid the gossip mags, decorator and hairstyle tomes and comic books, Harris was known for a lot of gun magazines. The irony is that the legendary split between Myron Fass and Stanley Harris (who were co-owners of Countrywide Publications) included an in-office pistol whipping. Harris emerged bloody from an encounter with the never-stable Myron. This effectively split the company. Harris took half the titles and formed his own group. Fass, a fat and unpleasant maniac, soon belly-flopped into bankruptcy on his own.
Fast would often wear a gun around the office. I remember, when I was freelancing for Countrywide, he once dropped by an editor's cubicle while I was there, stared at me, and asked the editor, "Should we kill him?" The editor mildly said, "No, he's always on time with his stories. I need him." Fass's gun was at eye level as I sat.
So, Harris eventually had all these niche gun magazines, which apparently were quite beloved.
One gun fancier reported on the sad disappearance of the titles:
I do believe in the 2nd Amendment, to the extent that if someone likes shooting ducks out of the sky for kicks, they can do it as their conscience (or lack of same) dictates. Likewise, if you feel insecure, and you want a gun under your pillow, and you don't think someone else will get a hold of it, ok. Harris probably felt these considerations made it easy to ignore that much of gun manufacturing involves semi-automatic weapons that serve no other purpose than to maim and kill innocent people. He probably also figured that John Lennon being gunned down by a fat slob who easily got a weapon was, well one of those things.
I kind of wonder if Stanley, who kept a very low profile, actually showed up at gun-nut conventions, or joined his editors in cheerfully wandering around a gun show. I wonder if his thoughts ever traveled back to the days when his partner walked around with a gun at the office, threatened people, and ultimately tried to put a few ounces of metal up his nose.
I wrote a magazine in tribute to the slain John Lennon. I didn't do it for Harris.
It was for one of his long-gone competitors. Give the man credit. While the infamous names such as Traub, Zentner, Fass, Goldstein and Goodman (Chip) vanished, Harris did not. His shrewd knowledge of which mags could exist on circulation alone, or on minimal ads, kept him around long after most of the others had filed bankruptcy.
Any thought I had about what a nice, safe life I would've had if I stayed, ended when I noticed via "Glass Window" that nobody had a raise in the past 7 years, and the workload seemed to get worse. Most of the mags were dull, middle-America craft items, many with their own websites. Romantic-Country dot com for this safety sterile item:
So who would I be talking to up there? Middle-aged women checking over cover-lines about hairstyles and comforters? Some nut doing sports? Some aggressive chicks promoting guns? At least the latter swiftly found work elsewhere.
What have we learned from all this? That time moves along. That the publishing world is getting worse. That people don't want to buy anything or have anything on shelves when it can be downloaded FREE and stored on a CLOUD.
Some ex-employees have some good memories. And so it goes.
No, none of the above clips are anything I wrote. Especially not this one.
SOME people found it a nice place to stay. Two women from my days at ROCKET were there at the end (along with Harris himself, of course).
Yep, another Harris mag with its own website. And, what, no photos anywhere of Stanley, Phyllis or Mary. In fact, if you Google the guy, you're more likely to find a photo of his insane, now-deceased ex-partner Fass.
No. No more mags like THIS, which out-lasted ROCKET by far, and were prized while Stan dispensed with the men's mags as fast as he could:
I added the images of the mags, and clips from various websites as "cut and paste" material. Sort of a tribute to much of what they did at Harris Publications.
Thursday, September 15, 2016
That Great Big Beautiful Dahl, so beloved by some in the children's book world, has been dead for quite a while.
Should we say something good about the dead? He's dead. GOOD.
He wished the same for Jews everywhere. It didn't matter if he knew them or not. As far as Roald Dahl was concerned, "Hitler didn't just pick on them for no reason..."
Dahl was such an antisemite, he used his celebrity to promote hatred of anyone based on their Judaism or, in fact, on simply being born of Jewish parents.
Give him credit for his honesty, but that's about it. Then again, he picked a target not known to fight back, and he was quoted in British newspapers that didn't seem to care about fair and balanced reporting.
Dahl was not treated like a pariah for his views.
That was reserved for another children's author, TOMI UNGERER.
Did Ungerer preach hatred to interviewers? Of course not.
He was banned from libraries in America because his cartooning included satirical and sexual cartoons for the Village Voice and other lucrative and well-respected international markets. Doesn't that tell you more than you want to know about how cavalier antisemitism was and still is?
Fact is, any politician or celebrity can say almost the same things Dahl said (how about "Israel should be wiped off the face of the Earth") and nobody would object. Not as much as they would if somebody wrote (erroneously): "Francis Scott Key is a stone cold racist...NEVER stand up for the National Anthem."
A week or so before the happy 100th birthday for Roald Dahl, Gene Wilder died.
Dahl would've been upset...that it took so long. Gene Wilder, "Willy Wonka," was a Jew. As far as Roald Dahl was concerned, "Hitler didn't just pick on them for no reason..." and if Hitler felt that little Jewish kids should go into crematoriums after being starved down to skin and bone, that would apply to Gene Wilder.
Roald Dahl believed Gene Wilder should've never played Willy Wonka. He should've been killed while still a child. "HITLER DIDN'T JUST PICK ON THEM FOR NO REASON."
Hitler, of course, didn't just "PICK ON" them. He raped them. He starved them. He experimented on them. He tortured them. And then he killed them.
From his comfortable desk in Great Britain, a very fine desk indeed, because the royalties were pouring in for his oh-so-fanciful children's books, Roald Dahl spread his messages of hate and intolerance.
For the very, very young, he wrote about how bad "ugly" thoughts were:
To the adults, Dahl offered no end of ugly thoughts.
In 1983, in the Literary Review, Dahl promoted the stereotype of "those powerful American Jewish bankers," declaring the United States was "utterly dominated by the great Jewish financial institutions over there."
In the New Statesman, he whispered about the odious "Jewish character that does provoke animosity," unlike the Irishman, the Black, the Latino, the Asian or anyone else. "Hitler didn't just pick on them for no reason."
And in 1990, Dahl proudly declared, "I am certainly anti-Israel, and I have become anti-Semitic," as if that was something to be proud of. Perhaps he carried a card that he could present to Arabs: "I have become anti-Semitic."
Dahl was so far gone, he even raged that "there aren't any non-Jewish publishers anywhere."
He promoted the worst kind of bigotry.
Today, there were people who are willing to riot because Francis Scott Key wrote "The Star Spangled Banner," and a few revisionist-history buffs (such as Shaun King of the NY Daily News) want to pretend he was a "stone cold racist." There are those who calmly agree that Israel should either be wiped off the map, or handed over to the Palestinians, since Jews have absolutely NO right to walk where Moses stood, or a Jew named Jesus.
While "ain't no man righteous, not one," it seems that Roald Dahl gets a bye because, why, he wrote "Matilda" and "Willy Wonka" and "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang," and these are lovely books. There seems to be no attempt to even acknowledge that the man had some serious faults, or that not EVERYTHING he wrote deserves to be taken to one's heart.
Tomi Ungerer was in exile for a lifetime. Entire generations of children couldn't find his books in a library. Ronald Dahl, who committed the great offense of promoting religious-racial hatred and intolerance, was always welcomed.
Today's climate, regarding BLACKS or MUSLIMS or LATINOS among others, absolutely demands total respect. Anyone suspected of intolerance (such as Francis Scott Key) is raged against as someone whose poetry should never be read by anyone ever.
We live in strange times, but it seems that the one constant, the one thing that never changes, is how often antisemitism is deliberately ignored. Dahl actively spoke about the destruction of ONE particular country and the persecution of ONE particular people, and he was, and is, far from alone, and far from censure.
Wednesday, September 7, 2016
It seems that some rednecks and drug addicts are getting their kicks by wearing clown make-up and turning up in odd places, acting like they're about to kill someone or shout "Allah Akbar" instead of "Allakazam." In other words, if they were carrying a bucket, it wouldn't be full of colorful ticker tape made to look like water.
Oh, moans the New York Times, real clowns are upset by the bad publicity.
WHAT real clowns? Democrats? Republicans? Birthers? Westboro Baptists? People who think James Corden is funny?
The New York Times, still thinking Andre Watts is the height of soul music, probably isn't aware that there's the INSANE CLOWN POSSE, and just the other day, a woman happily let a guy chop off her pinky and drink her blood so she could salute them.
The New York Times, who will still devote natter-space to a review of some revival of Godard and Truffaut movies, probably isn't aware of all the best-selling horror movies and DVDs involving CLOWNS with razor-sharp teeth.
So, as is their hacky style, they ran a news story on the trend of people dressing in clown drag to scare people and gave it the personal touch by focusing on...a sensitive clown you never heard of.
Aw, poor "Sir Toony," he is upset that potentially homicidal rednecks are ruining his profession's great reputation as...as what? People who make little kids cry?
Does it even need to be said that clowns in the 21st Century are just very bad stand-up comics who couldn't tell a joke right? (Seinfeld seemed to think so, devoting an episode to how horrifying clowns are).
If they aren't rejected stand-ups, clowns are failed mimes who have to resort to even more ridiculous and garish make-up and schtick even more stupid than pretending to be trapped in a glass box?
Even children under 7 are quickly bored after a) a bunch of clowns get out of a tiny car in the middle of a sawdust ring that smells of elephant manure, and b) after they throw buckets of water on each other and then, running to the ringsiders, throw buckets of...confetti.
The most famous clown was at one time Emmett Kelly, who was a figure of pathos, going back to the "Laugh Clown Laugh" days of opera and a Lon Chaney silent film. An eloquent, even Chaplinesque bit, was trying to sweet a spotlight off the floor. It was quite touching if you saw it. Once.
Today, the most famous clown is an obnoxious huckster for greasy hamburgers, fatty fries, and diabetes-inducing soft drinks. To anyone with red hair, or the first name of Ronald, or both, "Ronald McDonald" is an especially irritating pop icon.
In my experience, I've never met a clown I didn't HATE. For one thing, like poor "Sir Toony," they are a paranoid bunch, forever moping that their corny antics aren't appreciated. They are a clueless lot, too, never coming to grips with the fact that most of them either work kiddie parties for chump change, or work FREE, "practicing" their "craft" on sidewalks or in public parks, calling attention to their pathetic selves by strangling balloons into barely discernible weiner dogs or bunnies. ("See? Those are the ears? Be careful that you don't make it pop...Awwww...don't cry...please don't cry...")
Prop comics from the Planet Hack, they usually stuff their pouchy costumes with sure-fire visual gags like chattering teeth or oversized spectacles. They don't seem to understand why bringing their garish faces down in front of a child and demanding, "Squeeze my nose," gets tears and cringing.
Mostly these stupid clowns rail against how the word "clown" is now a pejorative, along with BOZO. What do they blame all this on? Not their stale sense of humor, their inept miming, or their out-dated make-up. They blame it on John Wayne Gacy and all these decades of people who see the lack of humor and the anti-social hostility behind clown drag.
So we have some people in the Red States dressing up as clowns and scaring people just by...dressing up as clowns. If you want to be generous about it, a clown protesting this, is probably the only time he's getting a laugh.
Martina is one of the most miraculous players in tennis history. Just look at her. She's got thin arms, she's a half-foot shorter than most players, lacks a killer serve, and yet had the skills to be #1 for a while. She came back from retirement to forge a career as a great doubles player, usually with some mediocre older male and rarely with a current Top 10 female (like Coco).
One might almost be tempted to go see her at the OPEN.
But you get a much better look at her on TV or (since this match wasn't deemed worthy), streaming over the Net on a lesser version of ESPN.
Tennis is mostly a bore to watch. The guys are almost all sweaty, goofy looking power players, from greasy Nadal to lantern-jawed Slavic slob, the gawky Joke-o-Vitch. Andy Murray, by default, would be the only one to root for. The ladies? They've almost all shifted to wrap-skirts and boy-shorts which removes the voyeuristic appeal. Mostly, they too are power players.
When all you can see are two idiots bashing a ball as hard and fast as possible at each other, you better sit UP CLOSE ($200 or $500 for that) or watch it on TV.
As to getting a chance to see Hingis in person? Well, unfortunately, that not only involves a bus to a train or a train to a train or a cab to a far-off venue, but after your tedious and/or expensive ride, what do you get?
Unless you're very affluent, you get a seat wayyyyyy up in nowhere. You can barely see the ball and the players scrabble around like angry voles.
Yeah. Who wouldn't want to sit so far away the game is almost a rumor?
Like bad rock concerts in stadiums, you're supposed to go to a live show...to WATCH BIG SCREEN TV.
You glance down and think, "This is really happening. That's flesh and blood down there." Then you have to go back to WATCHING BIG SCREEN TV to enjoy the game.
Martina's game began at 11 in the morning. Who the HELL is going to go? Aren't most people at work? The motley crowd was full of affluent arrogant Yuppies who could tell the boss, "I'm taking 2 hours off." Add a smattering of students, and a few who arranged their vacations around the Open schedule, and that was it. A day game on a Wednesday.
The place was maybe a third full. If that. It doesn't help that bad tickets were probably $70 and decent ones $150 and seats in the coveted BLUE areas on either side of the court were double or triple.
It doesn't help that most of the "stars" are old-timers everyone's seen over and over. The biggest draw is Serena, since she MIGHT break a Graf record if she wins. A big SOOOOOOOOO to THAT. She's a great player but she really doesn't have much personality, and for most of her career you had little sympathy for her since she steamed over women half her size, and rarely displayed mental or physical errors that made her human.
Oh, and one other thing. It was 11am in Queens, New York, with the hot sun beating down, easily burning the affluent whites sitting in the good seats for an hour. If you were off in the balcony somewhere, you had some shade. AND...it was HOT AND HUMID.
At home, thanks to the Internet and air conditioning...pretty cool, and Martina...still hot.
Tuesday, September 6, 2016
The timing wasn't right back in 2013 when Jerry Lewis showed "Max Rose" at the infamous Cannes Film Festival. Yeah, they canned it, with Variety saying it was for "only the most undiscriminating senior audiences — or the most irrationally charitable of Lewis fans."
The film was roasted for being too sentimental and having an intrusive, sappy soundtrack courtesy of Michel Legrand. "Lewis doesn’t deliver a dramatic performance so much as a rote run-through of extreme expressions — from bug-eyed stares, winces, squints and grimaces to a toothy grin as the narrative clouds (and his eyebrows) finally lift."
Now? The NY Times declares Lewis is a fine dramatic actor (while the Legrand score still stinks).
Timed for art house releases just as everyone is missing Jerry and his Labor Day Telethon antics, "Max Rose" seems to be perversely praised by critics tired of the summer's comic book hero movies. If the choice is broad ethnic comedy from some black guy in drag, or whatever pig-faced fat-is-beautiful magi-dramas Amy Schemer releases, critics are going to encourage Jerry Lewis. Or anyone else making an indie film aimed for anyone over 50.
Some critics even note that a nursing home scene features Mort Sahl, who was a Lewis crony 50 years ago, appearing on one of Jerry's failed talk show episodes. Sahl has never considered himself an actor, and still wants to be a force in stand-up. Guided to a chair on a small stage in a tiny California venue, he's doing made-for-Facebook shows of anecdotes (all those who still remember Haig...) and questions from the audience.
Fans of Lewis (or Sahl) still are wondering what's so great about the films of Judd Apatow and why "Big Bang Theory" is still on the air, or how Charlie Sheen got to be worth a million bucks an episode as a comedy talent. So they are embracing their often cantankerous idols while it's still possible.
Both Jerry and Mort are as capable of nasty and irrational behavior towards fans as they are in at least appreciating when they buy tickets. Jerry does note that fans are different now:
"They don’t ask for autographs. They want a picture. Everybody now is a photographer, and none of them know what the fuck to do with the camera or the picture they take. It’s a pain in the ass. It’s a PAIN IN THE ASS. Not a lot of people will say that!”
Jerry will, and if that's not a good reason to go see "Max Rose" before it comes to streaming and illegal downloads, then maybe it's a reason to go see him on tour.
Yes, Jerry is once again doing some select clips-and-questions shows. Unlike Mort, Jerry is able to do it in Vegas and in several major cities. He'll even be part of one of those ridiculous "cruises," (for TCM) where a boat-load of "buffs" pester a few stars till the stars go into hiding.
Maybe someone at a Q&A show can ask if he'll be standing at the stage door afterwards, letting people hug him and scream "Heyyyyy, Layyyydeeeee" and take selfies with him. Heyyyyy, it would be worth asking just to hear Jerry turn from comic to caustic and shout "PAIN IN THE ASS" and "WHAT THE FUCK" in person.