Friday, April 19, 2013

Jonathan Winters, RIP

 I don't often write obituaries, but when comedian Jonathan Winters passed away last week at age 87, I knew I had to write something about him.

 These days, he's best known for four things: as Mork's Benjamin Button-ish, backward-aging son Mearth who punched his way out of a giant polystyrene/cardboard egg ("That's not a boy, that's an old man!") in the final season of Mork and Mindy, as the hapless, everyman truck driver racing to find gangster Jimmy Durante's hidden  suitcase of money "...buried under a BIG 'W'!", in It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, appearances on various talk shows and variety shows from the 50s through the 70s and sporadically thereafter, and voiceover work (as himself  and Ma Frickert - a character he created and played often in drag - in an episode of The New Scooby-Doo Movies, Grandpa Smurf in The Smurfs TV cartoons produced by Hanna Barbera and Papa Smurf in the live-action/CGI-animated Smurfs films.

 His comedy style/persona was hard to describe (actually, it's very easy to describe, if you've checked out his profile on Wikipedia, but it seems less interesting when it's explained as frankly). It was a form of low-key, light satire: he could play average guys, stereotypical gay men, windbag authority figures, showbiz phonies, doddering old codgers, fishing & hunting-obsessed outdoorsman types, myopic children, martians, a cat stalking a mouse and Ma Frickert  - Whistler's Mother brought to life. If he was British, he would've been one of the Goon Gang (Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan, Harry Secombe), The Pythons, or even the Top Gear clowns (Jeremy Clarkson and James May are exactly the kind of characters Jonathan Winters had in his repertoire). Neil Simon once described Spike Milligan as "a demented Jonathan Winters". If you just so happen to own a copy of The Muppet Show Season 3 on DVD, or have seen anything with Milligan (who often came across as a deranged tramp who wandered past security and onto a sound stage) after reading this, you'll wonder, "Is that what the inside of Jonathan Winters mind is like?"

 Those who knew him or were fans of his wondered why he never became as popular or successful as his contemporaries or spiritual comedic descendants. Robin Williams, Jim Carrey, Bill Murray, Will Ferrell, Zach Galifinakis, Steven Wright, Andy Kaufman - any comedian who attempted to always appear "on", not as themselves, can be linked to Winters, but he was only able to find steady work in commercials, voiceovers and in sporadic appearances in film and television (he played the police chief uncle of Alec Baldwin's Lamont Cranston in The Shadow and won an Emmy co-starring as Randy Quaid's Dad in the short-lived 90s sitcom Davis Rules).  I'm inclined to believe the reason for this is because he actually succeeded in becoming his default character as he got older - Elwood Suggins, a farmer who "..can think eggs 24 hours a day" - not particularly edgy, but polite and you knew he was winking at the peanut gallery. I tend to think Inspector Clouseau was Peter Sellers' default character, but his Dr. Strangeglove is too imposing to make people believe that. Winters, like the Goons and the Pythons and the Gear heads, was a trickster.

 Another thing: I've never seen a comic book with Jonathan Winters on it. Jerry Lewis, Bob Hope, even Don Rickles (as Goody Rickles in DC's Jimmy Olsen comics), Elvira and others, but no Winters. I think a comic with him might have had some potential to be entertaining. Or at least have its place in the longbox graveyard with the others. Who knows?

 A website devoted to a film and DVD about Jonathan, Certifiably Jonathan, has its own website and can be previewed here .

 "I think my place is inside the box, underneath the guy receiving the gold medal. They're playing the national anthem and I'm fondling a platinum medallion." - Jonathan Winters

Friday, April 5, 2013

"The Sundry Scribbler - Part 5: Conclusion"

                               The Adventure of The Sundry Scribbler
                                            Part 5: Conclusion


                                              Joseph Adorno

 Sherlock's face gave off an expression that I've seen before on many occasions: it's his contemplative stare. He makes this face whenever he is offered to take on a case. The outcome is always unpredictable.

 "No, thank you," he replied to Blake.

 "Oh?" was Blake's response.

 "Yes. Oh yes. If I did not believe the matter to be in capable hands, I would have stirred into action, but oh no, Blake, you are far more capable than myself. You have read of my work; there is little to suggest that i make a habit of venturing outside feats of pure ratiocination, for that is where my true powers lie."

 "I know, Holmes - 'ghosts need not apply' - as you once boldly put. Still - I invite your input. Would you care to wager how this will play out?"

 Holmes smiled and reached into the pocket of his coat. He drew out his notepad and pencil. "Of course! I will write down a solution gathered from what I have learned today and only today. You may look at it now or - as I would prefer - lock it away until afterward to see how right I was." He tore off a page and handed it to Blake, who motioned to Blyth, who took the note from him and placed it discreetly in the reminds of a battered writing desk drawer.

 Blake faced Sherlock. "Mr. Holmes, it was a pleasure meeting you today. I hope someday we will encounter a perplexing problem that complements both of  our distinctive powers without compromising each other's dignity."

 Holmes scoffed at that remark. "That's nonsense, Blake, and we both know it. Though I do wonder if you might benefit from a talk with my brother Mycroft, who is knowledgeable in the affairs of Mr. Plummer and Mr. Ling. I doubt you would be surprised. I'll contact him if you wish to meet him."

 "No, thank you," he replied to Holmes. "I already know."


 We were settled back in our chairs at 221B, which felt odd in the sense that we had already glimpsed how it would look if an incendiary device exploded within it.

 "Holmes, what did you mean by 'I already know'? Why didn't you accompany Mr. Blake in preventing such an incredible theft?"

 Holmes struck a match and lit his pipe. "I couldn't reveal much in front of Mr. Blyth - I'm sure Blake trusts him, but he is practicing the same avocation as you, Watson - chronicling his friend's cases. Besides, the theft should carry on as Mycroft intended."

 I could not believe this revelation. "Holmes! Explain!"

 "Things are not as they seem, old friend. The disappearance of Westin Pall may seen like a faraway memory, but he is actually a known informer of George Plummer, who also works for Dr. Ferraro - another enemy of Sexton Blake. With a list of enemies as long as Blake's, it should come as no surprise that he would take such precautions to heighten his awareness. Pall's disappearance brought to light the fact that this caper must proceed as Mycroft coordinated it.

 "Dr. Ferraro and Prince Wu Ling are upstarts in London's underworld - they are attempting to keep the remnants of two distinct empires from evaporating - Professor Moriarty's and Dr. Fu Manchu. If they can be controlled into wasting their efforts on seemingly gainful ventures, then both organizations will be effectively dissolved beneath their noses."

 I spat at the mention of the letters in front of that last name. "If that devil is a doctor of any sort, then I am Colonel Blimp!!"

Holmes raised his hands. "Remain at ease - all is well. It is in Mycroft's best interests that Blake believe that Plummer is one of his arch foes, when in fact he is an agent of her majesty's new organized Secret Service. His acts of corruption allow him an established reputation and gain him access in places that even my best disguises would not allow me to enter."

"But what about Mr. Blake's vile siblings?"

"Oh, the threat from them is very real, but not as a deep organizing power - they're wild cards. Plummer has been doing his best to keep them on a short leash with the lure of the massive payoff in this caper."

 "But does this mean the diamonds and rubies are safe?"

 He nodded reassuringly. "Just as the handover was done beforehand, so was the exchange. Blake's involvement will prevent the theft from occurring - and from all the parties involved to realize that they were executing the theft of wade-made faux gemstones if they had succeeded. The fallout from that reveal cannot happen - the consequences would be monstrous."

 "So Blake is a pawn in this matter? I doubt he would enjoy his talents being wasted in such a way."

 "Sexton Blake possesses the same deductive powers as myself - it is only his love of adventure that leads him into farragoes that would bruise the dignity of someone with more pride."

 "Like yourself?"

 He smiled. "You have yet to ask what I wrote on that paper I handed to Blake."

 "That's right? What sort of note could you have written without tipping his hand if he opened it before giving chase?"

 "Two words. The name of the company involved in the gemstone exchange, which Mycroft created as a new base for his organization - Universal Exports."

                                            The End