Betty's Blog

77 Years of Tolkien

September 18, 2014

I was in high school when I read "The Hobbit" for the first time. Since then, I've read the first in the series and its sequel, "The Lord of the Rings" so many times that I've lost count. Of course, I've also seen the movies. All of them. More than once.

I loved the pretend-world of Tolkien's novels. The novels, still considered classics of children's literature, were imaginative beyond anything I'd ever read. Entering Tolkien's Middle Earth was like leaving the planet for a while. Instead of homework and chores to do, you were swept along on epic quests, traversing strange lands and encountering all manner of beings from trolls to elves to the dreaded Gollum.

"The Hobbit" was first published on September 21, 1937 and was immediately nominated for a Carnegie Medal. 77 years later, the stories haven't lost their appeal. The movies and video games are wildly popular among kids and adults, but thousands still travel to Middle Earth the "old school" way -- reading the books. I think there's good reason for that -- no amount of special effects and computer generated imagery can compare to the world your own imagination draws when you turn the first page of one of Tolkien's masterpieces.


My Favorite Teddy Bear

September 11, 2014

Elvis & Priscilla Presley's "Honeymoon Cadillac" went up on the auction block this week. They were frequently seen riding around Memphis in the 1967 Coupe De Ville, a point of history that the seller hopes will help him fetch more than the $30,000 appraisal.

Not many of us can afford to pick up those pricey pieces of The King's history, but we can still listen and recall the days when you bought singles on 45rpm vinyl disks. (We called them "records.") Of course, I've long since transferred my own Elvis collection to my MP3 library, but there's nothing like listening to the scratch and hiss an old 45 once in a while.

So many memories live in those scratchy old records. One from the day my girlfriends and I were dancing so wildly we knocked my portable turntable off the bed. Another from when my mom came in and dragged the needle across the record yelling, "Turn it down!" But my fondest memories are from sneaking off to see his movies despite the fact that our parents had explicitly forbidden us to see The King on the big screen.

Millions of fans worldwide remember his music, his movies and his banned-from-television moves that made all the girls shiver and scream. For me, Elvis was, and will always be, my favorite teddy bear.


Hello "Kitty"?

September 04, 2014

I just found out that Hello Kitty isn't a kitty at all. According to her makers, she's a little girl. That's a hard pill to swallow for someone like me, who fell in love with a cartoon cat some forty years ago.

But Sanrio, the cartoon's creator, insists that she was never introduced as a cat. Anthropologist Christine Yano, who is preparing an exhibit in honor of the not-cat's 40th anniversary, was chastised by Sanrio for calling the creature a cat, "Hello Kitty is not a cat. She's a cartoon character. She is a little girl. She is a friend. But she is not a cat. She's never depicted on all fours. She walks and sits like a two-legged creature." Wow. There goes my world view.

According to her back story, Hello Kitty is a little British girl named Kitty White. She's a scorpio who loves her mom's apple pie, origami, playing piano and collecting cute little things. She has a whole family of cat-like humans, including a twin sister, Mimmy. She even has her own cat, Charmmy Kitty, who "acts more like a cat than a person." I guess that part of the story makes sense -- when have you ever seen a cat keep another cat as a pet?

In the end, it doesn't really matter. Hello Kitty is still the same BFF who is happy when you're happy, sad when you're sad and always ready to make new friends.

Happy Birthday Scooby Doo!

August 28, 2014

Can you believe Scooby Doo, will turn 45 on September 13? That's 315 in dog years! But even at his ripe old age, this dog doesn't show any signs of slowing down. The first episode of "Scooby Doo, Where Are You?" aired in 1969 and the series ran for two years. In the decades that followed, ten more Scooby series aired on various networks. Now Scooby has his own web site, his own video game and Comedy Central plans to pick up the pooch with their new series, "Be Cool, Scooby Doo," scheduled to air in 2015.

Scooby and his beatnik buddy, Shaggy made up one of the silliest cartoon duos on TV with their goofy jokes, which only they laughed at, and the crazy faces they made when they unexpectedly ran into -- and from -- a "supernatural" enemy. Scooby, whose fear of ghosts or anything else was promptly cured with a Scooby Snack, always had a way of helping the kids of Mystery Inc. solve cases by bungling his way through -- with a little help from Shaggy.

With Scooby's big day coming up, I just had to go back and watch a few episodes, beginning, of course, at the beginning with Scooby's "birthday" episode, "What a Night for A Knight." I think I laughed even more than I did when I watched the crazy canine and his pals for the first time. Those old cartoons are still hilarious and Shaggy's beat-speak, the flower-power van and the kids' retro fashions transported me right back to the sixties. All the more reason to wish our favorite Great Dane Detective a happy birthday filled with Scooby Snacks and cases to crack!


The Evilest of Evils

August 21, 2014

Everyone loves to hate the bad guys. And some of the most lovable villains of all have been brought to life by Disney. Who didn't love to hate Cruella de Vil? Or Aladdin's Jafar? Or The Big Bad Wolf? But the queen of all evil queens was the "Mistress of All Evil" in Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent.

I remember watching Sleeping Beauty as a kid and breathlessly crying, "No! No! No!" as the evil queen persuaded her to touch the spinning wheel that would put her to sleep and cheering as the Handsome Prince escaped Maleficent's clutches and woke the sleeping kingdom. I think Maleficent was one of Disney's scariest animated villains ever. She was so scary that during screenings of the original film in 1959, many parents had to leave the theaters -- with their crying, frightened children!

The new evil queen, played by Angelina Jolie in Disney's remix of the old tale, is just as scary as the first. Jolie admits that when she was in costume or acting, she "scared little girls" so much that the filmmakers hired Jolie's daughter to play the role of young Princess Aurora -- because she wouldn't be afraid of her own mother during shooting! Jolie relished the role, though, saying that the character was one of her favorites as a child. It's no wonder she plays the part so well.

Though Maleficent isn't an animated film and the story's point-of-view changed for this remake, one thing hasn't changed: Disney's Maleficent is today as she was then: magnificent.

A Fond Farewell to Robin Williams

August 14, 2014

We were all shocked and saddened this week by the news of Robin Williams' death. It seemed unbelievable, untenable. Memorials sprung up online and in the real world as the nation grieved the loss of one of its favorite, funniest sons. Among the most touching tributes were those that asked us to remember Williams not for his sad end, but for the laughter he brought to the world.

In an emotional remembrance, Conan O'Brien called Robin Williams "the best talk show guest in the world." I must agree. While I loved him as Mork, Garp, Popeye, Aladdin, Peter Pan, John Keating and Adrian Cronauer and I watched his stand-up shows over and over again, I always enjoyed his talk show appearances the most. Especially on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show, where Williams made his first appearance in 1981, stunning the host into helpless laughter with his speed-of-light comedic mind and intentionally driving the camera operators mad by refusing to sit still.

Though he was an accomplished dramatic actor, his particular genius was for making people laugh. His comedy was an unpredictable, high-energy, maniacal thrill ride that left you breathless, your sides splitting like you just ran a marathon, your cheeks aching with laughter. He made the mundane hilarious. He made the hilarious surreal. He made the surreal absurd. And he made the world a little better just by being in it. Rest easy, Robin Williams. We will always remember the laughter.



Happy Birthday Lucille Ball!

August 07, 2014

Yesterday was Lucille Ball's birthday. So, of course, I had to pay my respects by watching part of an I Love Lucy marathon on television. Once I started, I couldn't stop watching even though I've seen every episode dozens of times. (At least!) Finally, a three in the morning, I dragged myself to bed so I wouldn't end up sleeping at my desk all day.

But before the sandman came to claim me, I was able to see some of my favorite episodes, including "Job Switching", which most of us know as the chocolate factory episode. Decades later, it's still hilarious to watch Lucy and Ethyl stuffing their faces with chocolates to keep up with the conveyer. Did you know the wordless supervisor in that episode was an actual candy dipper from the See's candy factory? She didn't speak because she had trouble with the lines -- it was a show business accident that created a historical comic moment. I also got to see my all-time favorite, "Lucy Does a TV Commercial", aka the Vitameatavegimin episode, before lights-out. I always loved how Lucy wanted to be a star so badly! Lucy would stop at nothing to get her fifteen minutes of fame -- even when it ended in disaster, which was almost always.

I Love Lucy first aired in 1951. Over 60 years later, at any time, night or day, the show is being broadcast somewhere in the world -- and probably keeping people up deep into the wee hours of the morning, just like me.


Summer Reading

July 31, 2014

There's nothing like a good book to keep you occupied during the dog days of summer. Or a few good books. When it's too hot to go anywhere but the beach or the pool or too hot to go outside at all, a good book is great company while you're huddled in front of the air conditioner.

I loved summer reading when I was a kid because I got to choose books I wanted to read. And I didn't have to write book reports or essays or take tests on them like I did during the school year. Though I didn't read the classics during summer break, I read a lot, which seemed to make my parents as happy as it made me.

Nancy Drew mysteries were always at the top of my summer reading list and I loved all comic books from Archie to the X-men. But my favorites were movie magazines for the pictures and the superstar gossip -- I devoured stacks and stacks of the glossy mags while imagining myself living the whirlwind sometimes topsy-turvy life of a Big Star. I've grown up (a little) since then, but I don't think I'll ever outgrow my summer favorites!


Woo-Hoo! It's A Simpsons Binge-A-Thon!

July 24, 2014

This fall could give us TV's biggest premier ever -- of a 25-year old show. From August 21st through September 1st, FXX will air every single episode of The Simpsons in the biggest TV marathon ever. That's 552 episodes of the animated television show, plus the full length feature film! Also, for the first time ever, the network will make every episode available online.

I remember when The Simpsons first aired on television as a cartoon interlude on the Tracy Ullman Show. I thought it was funny and edgy, but I never thought it would become a spin-off. Even after the premier, I didn't think the show would last , so for many years, I videotaped every single episode. I was hoping to preserve the most inventive cartoon I'd ever seen forever. On VHS tapes.

It seems laughable now. I was dead wrong about The Simpsons' longevity and somewhere along the line I stopped recording the show, probably when it went into syndication or maybe when VHS succumbed to the superior technology of the DVD. But I never stopped watching and laughing at America's most dysfunctional family. And now we'll be able to watch the entire 25-year catalog of episodes at once, or watch them on-demand any time we want. So I guess I can finally throw out all those years of VHS tapes. It seems like The Simpsons is here to stay!

Beatlemania

July 17, 2014

Are you watching "The Sixties" on CNN? It's an original series that explores the politics, pressures and parties of "the decade that shaped America." I confess: I'm addicted to it. One of my favorite episodes so far was "The British Invasion" because I remember all those bands like the Dave Clark Five and The Rolling Stones. But my favorite "invader" of all was The Beatles.

I remember when The Beatles toured America as if it was yesterday. I tried at least a half a dozen times to get tickets, but I never did. Not that my mom would have let me go to one of their concerts anyway. She didn't consider rock and roll music. And she really didn't like their haircuts, or rather, their lack of haircuts. But I loved them. I begged and begged until she let me watch them on "The Ed Sullivan Show", but that was as close as I ever got to the Fab Four.

Now one of my favorite stars is making an authorized documentary about the supergroup from Liverpool. It's rumored that Ron Howard's as yet untitled film will with feature participation by Sir Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. Yoko Ono Lennon and Olivia Harrison will also participate on behalf on their late husbands. But the best thing is the filmmakers are encouraging real people to participate in the project! If you have film or photos of the group, you can submit them at TheBeatlesLiveProject.com for a chance to claim your own place in music history. Since I didn't get to go to any of the concerts, I don't have any photos of my own, but that's okay. I'm happy just to see the film and relive those days when The Beatles were the biggest thing to hit America - ever!