Saturday, September 30, 2023

Stefan Kanfer's Ball of Fire: The Tumultuous Life and Comic Art of Lucille Ball

Lucille Ball.  She acted in a ton of films and starred in three successful TV sitcoms.  Stefan Kanfer's Ball of Fire: The Tumultuous Life and Comic Art of Lucille Ball attempts to capture that on the page.

Lucy lost her father at a young age (3-years-old) and began her adult career at a young age (17-years-old).  Her modeling career was interrupted when she developed rheumatic fever and it would be a bit longer before she returned to NYC (1932) and resumed her modeling career while trying to learn an acting break.  She became a Broadway chorus girl and then moved over to films. She made numerous films early in small roles that didn't even earn her a film credit.  Her first credit was in 1934 playing the small role of Peggy in Men of the Night. She continued in small roles -- many uncredited -- until things changed for her with the 1937 classic Stage Door.

Stage Door was about young actresses trying to make it on Broadway and the RKO film starred Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers with strong supporting roles from, among others, Constance Collier, Eve Arden, Ann Miller and Lucille Ball.  She's actually a very clear presence in this film.  You can't miss her or her excellent notes in various moments of the film.  She's from far away from NYC and lands just the right reproach to Ginger Rogers when Ginger doesn't want to double on dinner dates with loggers.  Stage Door was considered the film about backstage life until All About Eve two decades later.

After Stage Door, Lucy never did bit parts again.  She was a strong supporting player or she was the lead.  She did Room Service with the Marx Brothers, 1938's The Affairs of Annabel was successful enough to result in a sequel entitled Annabel Takes a Tour and many others.  But the most important early film after Stage Door was 1940's Too Many Girls. It was a musical comedy that did well but where it made the real impact was that Lucy met Desi Arnaz while making this film.

In 1942, she'd make The Big Street with Henry Fonda and earn strong praise for her performance.  Seven Days' Leave from the same year was a hit but RKO didn't care and they got rid of her.  She signed with MGM and made DuBarry Was A Lady -- which remains a strong film and a strong performance from Lucy.  I bought it about 15 years ago in a pack with other Lucy films including my favorite The Fuller Brush Girl (she loses her switchboard job just when she needs to buy a house with her fiancee so she starts selling door to door and ends up caught up in a murder).  That was a film from 1950.  Others in the 40s and early 50s that are worth catching?  Sorrowful Jones with Bob Hope, te 1946 film noir The Dark Corner, the 1947 film noir Lured, Fancy Pants with Bob Hope again, Miss Grants Takes Richmond and The Magic Carpet. 

As early as 1940, Lucy was doing radio.  And that was a smart move because, after RKO dumped her, this saved her career.  RKO thought she was too old to become a big film star. MGM briefly had her in lead roles -- and her friend Bob Hope would cast her opposite him in lead roles -- but more often than not, like in the Hepburn-Tracy film Without Love -- she was back to supporting roles.

CBS radio played My Favorite Husband, a pilot that they had passed on, when another show wasn't ready to air.  It was a hit and they quickly made it into a radio series.  Lucy starred with Richard Denning (Lee Bowman in the pilot).  The book has the show as hit or miss early on but notes that it quickly improved.  Richard Oppenheimer worked with Lucy and certain comic bits began to be developed by the two and the wife became zany.  Oppenheimer also brought on an older couple to play the friends of Lucy and her husband.  Also helping the show get better?  The decision to start performing it in front of a live audience.  That gave Lucy instant feedback and she played well to an audience.  The radio show would be a big success and last for 125 episodes.  It was so successful that in 1950, CBS decided to turn it into a TV series starring Lucy.

But Lucy said no.

She wanted to do a TV sitcom with her husband Desi.  It would take a lot of effort, energy and refusal to be pushed around for Lucy and Desi to get I Love Lucy on the air in 1951.  Two years, later, when I Love Lucy was a big hit, CBS would finally get a version of My Favorite Husband on TV (without Lucy) and it would last for three seasons.

While it's largely forgotten today, I Love Lucy is remembered.  And I Love Lucy is remembered as one of the classic sitcoms of all time.  Audiences -- unlike CBS -- were never concerned or bothered that Lucy was married to a Cuban (in real life and on screen).  What had worked on My Favorite Husband was freely borrowed -- except Gale Gordon.  He wasn't available or he would have been cast as Fred Mertz.  Instead, William Frawley got that role and Vivian Vance was cast as Ethel Mertz.  

Vivian and Lucy would become one of TV's early comedy teams. 

I Love Lucy was a hit and it revolutionized TV.  They wanted to do it in California where they lived but CBS wanted it in NYC as did the sponsor.  Instead, Desi decided it would be filmed so that stations all over could have the same version and same visual quality.  And that required figuring out how to do a three camera show and to do it in front of a live audience.  All sorts of lighting issues arose.  And the best sitcoms still use what Desi and Lucy learned.

And it's a real shame that too many idiots don't grasp today that the multi-cam in front of the studio audience is the way to go with sitcoms.  Modern Family, 30 Rock, Parks & Recreations, The Office, et al are not that funny.  And they don't do well in syndication.  Multi-cams with studio audience sitcoms do great in syndication: Friends, Seinfeld, Everybody Loves Raymond, The Big Bang Theory, etc.  

Now this point of the book was interesting.  But here's where it all changes. 

The filming of I Love Lucy.  The Aaron Sorkin film starring Nicole Kidman as Lucy?  Nothing but lies.  Forget that the film tried to turn multiple weeks (and years) into one week of filming an episode, it didn't even get the basic facts right.  It lied over and over and I'm glad the movie bombed.  Then there's Amy Poehler, another liar, and her documentary about the love of Lucy and Desi. 

Desi cheated non-stop.  That's why she wanted him off the road and in California and them working together.  But I Love Lucy did not stop the cheating.  He cheated on her constantly -- and sometimes with prostitutes.  She's quoted in the book talking about how she forgave him the first time and the second and the . . . eleventh.

Liars.  Lucille Ball's life is more than interesting enough.  You don't have to make up lies to have the basics for a feature film or for a documentary.  It says a great deal about Aaron Sorkin and Amy Poehler that they both felt the need to lie about Lucy. 

I enjoyed the entire book but my favorite part was about Here's Lucy.  That's Lucy's third sitcom.  Stan, my cousin, loves it too.  And it's a good show but I think part of the reason we love it is that we watched it in the 80s with our grandfather who loved Lucy. 


Here's C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"


Friday, September 29, 2023.  More on Wednesday night's debate, a new candidate has entered the presidential race and we'll provide the detailed biography, Ronald DeSantis continues his war on freedom, democracy and humanity, a woman doesn't seem to grasp that the US doesn't need to help her and that her insults don't make want to help her, and much more.

I'm really sick of people who can't handle their own problems.  I'm referring to one ____ in particular who is working my last damn nerve. Emma Tsurkov.

Her sister may or may not be a spy.  Her sister is the stupid woman who went to Iraq -- despite being Israelie -- to 'research' terrorism.  Now her sister is a citizen of Israel.  And she's a citizen of Russia.  Yet for some reason the ___'s family can't get it through their damn heads that a kidnapping in Iraq of a non-US citizen, isn't this country's problem.  

Last week, ahead of the face to face Iraq's Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani was to have with US President Joe Biden -- a fleeting moment -- Emma and her crowd got to Shady Senator Robert Menendez and had him insisting that the matter be addressed between the two leaders -- an outrageous demand.  There would be time to address one or two issues -- and address just means brought up, not really discussed.  There is an Australian man held by the Iraqi government, Robert Pether, who has done nothing wrong but is being held in prison as Iraq tries to get a better deal with his company.  

He didn't go to Iraq to spy and he didn't go traipsing in like some stupid bimbo who fancied herself Kim Aldrich in some children's book adventure.   He didn't invite what happened to him.  But an idiot who goes to Iraq when they know how hostile that country is to Israelis and to Jews -- they ran all but three of them out of Baghdad -- yes, the five Iraqis left in Iraq after 2010 is now supposed to have been reduced to three -- an idiot who chooses to go knowing she is at risk and, on top of that, wants to nose around in terrorism -- for a college paper! -- is really not a US issue.

But her stupid sister can't stop trying to drum up support for her.  All she's doing is turning off people in the US.

Emma Tsurkov has now gone whining to THE DAILY BEAST -- we're not linking to the garbage article.  This is from the sister's garbage:

“Princeton has been one of the most infuriating institutions or organizations to deal with throughout the process,” said Emma, who has been engaging with American lawmakers, the U.S. State Department, Israeli officials, and several other advocacy groups on the case. “I’m feeling that it’s being treated as a PR problem that needs to be handled, rather than a life or death matter for its graduate student.”

Someone let the stupid idiot know that Princeton's done more than it had to.  Campus safety officers patrol the campus, they don't go to other countries and Princeton has no military force to deploy.

One of their students kidnapped?  I know they've expressed their concern and I know that they've tried to get attention for the student's plight.  

They've done more than they had to and they continue attempts to drum up support for the kidnapped victim.  

It's just not there.  And it won't be.  You're pushing in the wrong country, you pushy stooge.

You need to stick with the "Israeli officials" and you need to pick up some Russian officials -- because that's what you are, citizens of Israel and Russia.  Your plight is not our problem.  The stupidity of your sister (if she's not a spy as the group holding her believes she is) is not our problem.

And if Joe Biden were to spend time on one of the two issues -- the plight of Robert Pether matters a lot more.  We know what he is -- a working father of many children.  We know why he really went to Iraq -- it was part of his job.  We know his location and we know how he ended up (wrongly) imprisoned.

By contrast, Emma, you and your sister are the portraits of privilege and you make that clear with each day as you become ruder and ruder while supposedly 'asking' for help.  Now you're attacking Princeton?

Go work with your own governments to free your sister.  She's not an American citizen.  You've given one interview after another attacking American officials and now Princeton.  Clearly, nothing the US could do would ever meet your approval so take your problem back to your own countries.  Again, countries.  You and your sister have dual citizenship so take it up with the governments of Russia and the governments of Israel.  Unless you just enjoy making a spectacle of yourself.

Let's move on to a different topic.  What the hell has happened to WSWS?

There's really no excuse in the 21st century for them not being able to post about a debate the night of the debate.  From approximately 9:00 pm EST to one in the morning EST, their new content goes up.  So Wednesday night's debate really should have been covered Wednesday night to early Thursday morning.  That did not happen and I'm not surprised.  But that they didn't cover the debate in the articles they posted last night does surprise me.  The candidates attacked labor repeatedly while pretending otherwise.  It's really something when, for example, Tim Scott feels the need to dog whistle ("right to work").  Why don't you just say what you mean, speak to everyone on the same page?  It's a public debate.  "Right to work" is not about any individual's right to have a job.  

"Right to work" is about killing unions and their memberships.

Apparently, that's not a pressing issue to WSWS.  

At any rate, Jeffrey St. Clair (COUNTERPUNCH) shares his thoughts on the debate:

The Republican “debate” at the Reagan Library seemed like an exercise in collective madness. And 24 hours and half a bottle of Jameson’s later, I still don’t know what’s crazier, Nikki Haley saying that she’d solve the health care crisis by letting patients negotiate the price of treatment with hospitals and doctors,  Tim Scott’s assertion that LBJ’s Great Society program was harder for black people to survive than slavery or Ron DeSantis’ pledge to use the Civil Rights Act to target “left-wing” prosecutors: “I will use the Justice Department to bring civil rights cases against all of those left-wing Soros-funded prosecutors. We’re not going to let them get away with it anymore. We want to reverse this country’s decline. We need to choose law and order over rioting and disorder.”

Daniel Villareal (LGBTQ NATION) zooms in on one of the many anti-trans moments of the debate:

At last night’s Republican presidential debate, former Vice President Mike Pence said, “We’re going to pass a federal ban on transgender chemical or surgical surgery anywhere in the country.” LGBTQ Nation contacted his campaign asking if he intended to outlaw gender-affirming care for all people, regardless of age. His campaign hadn’t responded by the time of publication.

While Pence’s comment also mentioned “protecting” kids from “radical gender ideology,” his response caught the attention of Alejandra Caraballo, a civil rights attorney and clinical instructor at the Harvard Law School Cyberlaw Clinic. Caraballo posted a video of Pence’s comment on Wednesday night and wrote via Twitter, “They’re going to ban care for trans adults too. It was never about protecting kids.”

“While most anti-transgender healthcare bills in recent years focus on minors, anti-LGBTQ forces ultimately seek to ban all forms of transition-related care, regardless of age,” a recently released report by the Movement Advancement Project (MAP), an organization that tracks policies on LGBTQ+ issues and voting, stated.
“They are pursuing this goal in a variety of ways,” the report added, “including: defining ‘minor’ to include at least some adults; by banning state funds from covering this medical care (e.g., in Medicaid, state employee health plans, and for those in incarceration); explicitly allowing private insurers to refuse to cover this care; and more.”

Most of the time, GIF-like zingers aside, the debate was really just an exercise in click-bait extremism. Why were college students burdened by so much debt? Well, DeSantis opined, partly because so many colleges were teaching gender studies to their captive students. Why were Americans feeling so much economic pain? Well, said Ramaswamy, in addition to Bidenomics, there was the problem that “the Federal Reserve is an agency that has gone rogue.” Did the candidates agree with Florida’s new education guidelines, championed by DeSantis, for how to teach about slavery? No, said Scott, it was wrong to minimize the atrocities of slavery. But, he continued, perhaps suddenly aware that he had come off as too moderate for the GOP crowd, Black families did indeed survive slavery only to be destroyed a century later by LBJ’s Great Society and its expansion of family-destroying welfare programs. Ramaswamy came up with a novel interpretation of constitutional law that would allow him to instantly end birthright citizenship. Pence advocated a massive increase in use of the federal death penalty.

The candidates were quick to spout nonsense on one issue after the next. Yet on the elephant in the room, most of them had nothing to say: There was a deafening silence on Trump’s myriad malfeasances, such a silence that it was hard to take anything they said about the importance of the rule of law seriously.


Yesterday’s debate showcased a Republican Party consumed by anger: anger at themselves, at Donald Trump, at Mexico, at the whole wide world. Voters looking for a positive conservative vision of the future should look elsewhere. This GOP is fixated not on building a better future but on settling scores both foreign and domestic without concern for the long-term consequences. The American people must reject a Republican ideology that would lead us into civil strife at home and years of global conflict abroad. 

It was a mess. It's a shame WSWS found nothing worth correcting or calling out.

As for me, I have no idea whether it's true or not that, in his spare time, Ronald DeSantis puts on a girdle and dress to go marching with Moms For Bigotry.  But if he did, it wouldn't be at all surprising, he's joined at the hip with those hate merchants.  And if you're not getting how much hate he and Moms For Bigotry (who he keeps appointing to state positions) are spreading in Florida, AP reports:

Top officials at a Florida school district ordered the removal of all books and material containing LBGTQ+ characters and themes from classrooms and campus libraries, saying that was needed to conform to a state law backed by Gov. Ron DeSantis that critics have dubbed “Don't Say Gay.”

Charlotte County Schools Superintendent Mark Vianello and the school board’s attorney, Michael McKinley, were responding to questions from the district's librarians at a July meeting asking whether the bill, officially the “Florida Parental Rights in Education Act,” required the removal of any books that simply had a gay character but no explicit sex scenes.

“Books with LBGTQ+ characters are not to be included in classroom libraries or school library media centers,” the pair responded, according to a district memo obtained under a public information request by the Florida Freedom to Read Project. The nonprofit group, which opposes the law, provided the memo to The Associated Press on Wednesday.

The district later backed off a bit, allowing some exceptions for high school libraries. But Charlotte's policy remains one of the more stringent policies adopted by the state's 67 countywide school districts to enforce the bill.

So no biographies on John Wayne even?  He became a dedicated homophobe in later life but he put out for men all the time early in his career.  Let's out them all.  Let's out everyone of your right-wing heroes for the closeted men they were.  

I'm fine with it.  If it makes you hate John Wayne to know he had sex with men, great.  Maybe I won't have to see his garbage films on TCM anymore?  Do we need to talk about Gary Cooper and his long term affair with Anderson Lawler -- which Lawler couldn't keep quiet about when they were living together and only grew more vocal when he was dumped.  I heard about it from Katharine Hepburn who was friends with Anderson -- we were discussing what an awful actor Cooper was -- everyone's heard of it except apparently homophobic right-wingers who don't seem to grasp that they have known gay people their whole lives.  We can do that too.  You love some Gary Cooper on the right because he was a right-winger who named names to the House Unamerican Activities Committee.  You embrace him so embrace his sexuality.   

Moms For Bigotry and Ronald DeSantis want to deny reality and deny humanity.  And their hate has consequences.   Charlie Jones (THE MIRROR) reports:

LGBT+ people, many of who are born and raised in the state, are fleeing Florida as legislators led by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis continue to clamp down on LGBT+ rights.

One expert, who works supporting LGBT+ people and has lost count of the number of people leaving Florida for more liberal parts of the country, told the Mirror DeSantis' culture wars is "putting a target'' on their backs.

The Sunshine State has become one of the most oppressive parts of the US for LGBT+ people as DeSantis desperately tries to boost his profile as a culture warrior in support of his ailing 2024 Presidential bid. Amid the growing numbers of anti-LGBT+ laws brought in by Republican legislators, bigots feel more empowered to lash out at LGBT+ people.

Carlos Guillermo Smith, former Florida legislator and Senior Policy Advisor at LGBT+ charity Equality Florida, spoke to the Mirror about the exodus of LGBT+ people. He said: "They're leaving because they don't feel welcome here. Many do not feel safe, and many are directly impacted by hateful laws that directly target them, and have put them in harm's way."

In August, murals at two LGBT+ centers in Orlando, were defaced with anti-LGBT+ messages and hate symbols. According to the Florida Attorney General, hate crimes based on sexual orientation currently account for 22 percent of all hate crimes

Mr Smith puts the responsibility at the feet of Republican legislators. He said: "When you pass all of these hateful laws as Ron DeSantis has done, it is putting a target on the backs of LGBTQ people. Governor DeSantis and his term coined the term 'groomer' a year ago during the debates around the 'Don't say gay' bill. And that has escalated online attacks against LGBTQ people making baseless accusations about how gay and trans folks are a danger to children."

He needs to be held responsible for the hate that he has spewed -- and for that modified Mo Howard hair cut he sports.  Alex Henderson notes:

Ron DeSantis' hardcore supporters continue to hope that he will turn his struggling presidential campaign around, but polls released in late September are showing no signs of that happening. The far-right Florida governor, according to polls, is trailing 2024 GOP presidential frontrunner by 39 percent (The Economist/YouGov), 43 percent (Morning Consult) or 38 percent (Monmouth University).

Like most of his rivals in the primary, DeSantis has offered only tepid and lukewarm criticism of Trump. The Florida governor has made his "anti-woke" agenda a key theme of his presidential campaign, arguing that he is tougher on "wokeness" than Trump. So far, however, that messaging isn't resonating with most GOP primary voters.

DeSantis is also campaigning on his economic record. But according to The New Republic's Tori Otten, DeSantis' "anti-woke" obsession is costing Florida taxpayers a fortune.

"The Republican-controlled (Florida) State Legislature has helped DeSantis easily take on some of the right's favorite culture wars," Otten explains in an article published on September 28. "He gutted abortion rights, LGBTQ protections, and academic freedom. He also has been locked in a bizarre legal back-and-forth with Disney for the past year. He has repeatedly held up these accomplishments as signs of success."

As Marcia noted last night, a new candidate has declared that they are running for the Green Party's presidential nomination.  Already Randy Tolar (Green Party icon) and Cornel West (political gadfly who most recently had the presidential nomination of The People's Party) were vying for the nomination and now 58-year-old Emanuel Pastreich has entered the race.  Let's do some background since no one else will.  Emanuel got his BA at Yale and his masters at the University of Tokyo.  Of the Nashville, TN born Emanuel, WIKIPEDIA notes:

Emanuel Pastreich (born October 16, 1964) is an international relations expert who serves as the president of the Asia Institute, a think tank with offices in Washington DC, Tokyo, Seoul and Hanoi. He is also a senior fellow at the Global Peace Foundation where he strives to solve geopolitical tensions in Northeast Asia. Pastreich was briefly an independent candidate for president of the United States 2020.[1] In September 2023, Pastreich officially became a candidate for the Green Party’s presidential nomination in 2024.[2][3] Trained as a scholar of Asian studies, Pastreich writes on both East Asian classical literature[4][5][6][7] and current issues in international relations and technology in multiple languages.[8][9][10][11]

Fluent in four languages (English, Chinese, Japanese and Korean), he's written over 20 books.  He has two children and he lost his wife in 2022 (after 25 years of marriage).  His mother is painter Marie Louise Rouff  who has over 20 individual exhibits and had her works included in at least 20 group exhibits.  In 2018, Hermine Hull (MARTHA'S VINEYARD TIMES) covered an exhibit and noted:

“High Square” is the first painting on the left as you enter the program room. A glowing not-quite-square floats in the upper third of the painting, surrounded by hints of other lightnesses that could be parts of other squares. Or not. By glazing with thin washes of paint mixed with lots of medium, the artist has produced a surface of luminosity, with shadows of lightness and darkness on an overall ochre face. There is a sense of redness underneath, and charcoal drawing that begins to describe something, then disappears or fades off. A change of color or value appears to heighten the sense of descriptive meaning of those charcoal lines.

Dad?  In 2016, Peter Pastreich became the interem director of the American Conservatory Theater and AMERICAN THEATRE noted:

Pastreich comes from a background in managing symphony orchestras. He served as executive director of the San Francisco Symphony for 21 years, during which time the symphony more than sextupled its budget. Prior to his time with the San Francisco Symphony, Pastreich served as executive director of the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra for 12 years. He has done management consulting in Europe, and from 2009 to 2012, he served as executive director of the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra.

He has two sisters -- Anna Schlagel (Director of Annual Giving & Events at 10,000 Degrees) and Milena Pastreich (who is a cinematographer and a director (most recent direction was of the film PIGEON KINGS) ) -- and one brother.  Brother Michael has also had a career in the arts.  Sarah L Kaufman (WASHINGTON POST) reported at the end of July, 2020:

The Washington Ballet announced Thursday that Executive Director Michael Pastreich is resigning Friday, after 14 months on the job. His departure follows that of two previous executive directors who have left since ballerina Julie Kent became artistic director in 2016.

[. . .]

In an email to The Washington Post, Pastreich wrote that he, Kent and board chairwoman Jean-Marie Fernandez have been preparing for the announcement for months.

“I was in the midst of purchasing a business before coming to TWB,” Pastreich wrote. “With all that is happening in the world right now, this seems like a very opportune moment to return to the business buying path.” He indicated that he does not yet have a specific business target and that a decision on that will “take months to do well.”

[. . .]

Greenberg wrote in an email that Pastreich’s brief tenure is ending at “a natural pivot point. There will be huge shifts in leadership and greatly reduced staffing in all organizations, especially those in the arts community, during the global health crisis. Michael’s decision to leave was his own, but supported by all.”

Adam Gasner, a criminal law attorney in San Francisco, is Emanuel's step-brother.  His step-mother is Jamie Garrard Whittington, the former Director of Development for the Exploratorium in San Francisco.  

Let's wind down with a Tweet from Paul Rudnick.

The following sites updated:

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