Category Archives: A blogger’s musings

Farewell Mike Nichols, a uniquely American artist

Mike Nichols is gone. Comedian, writer, actor, writer, playwright, director, and producer, he left an indelible mark on the American performing arts.

From his obituary in today’s New York Times:

Mike Nichols, one of America’s most celebrated directors, whose long, protean résumé of critic- and crowd-pleasing work earned him adulation both on Broadway and in Hollywood, died on Wednesday in Manhattan. He was 83.

His death was announced by James Goldston, the president of ABC News. Mr. Nichols was married to the ABC broadcaster Diane Sawyer. A network spokeswoman said the cause was cardiac arrest, giving no other details.

Dryly urbane, Mr. Nichols had a gift for communicating with actors and a keen comic timing, which he honed early in his career as half of the popular sketch-comedy team Nichols and May. An immigrant whose work was marked by trenchant perceptions of American culture, he achieved — in films like “The Graduate,” “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and “Carnal Knowledge” and in comedies and dramas on stage — what Orson Welles and Elia Kazan but few if any other directors have: popular and artistic success in both film and theater.

An almost ritual prize-winner, he was one of only a dozen or so people to have won an Oscar, a Tony, an Emmy and a Grammy.

But it is for his earliest success as partner with Elaine May in one of America’s greatest ever comic duos that we will forever remember him fondly.

So with that, here’s a repost of an offering from 22 January 2013:

Mike Nichols & Elaine May: Comedy that stings

For a kid growing up in small town Kansas in the 1950s, television ushered in a new world, full of both terrors and delights.

As a member of the very first wave of what became the Baby Boom, we arrived before the boob tube’s presence became ubiquitous, and when Dad brought home a pair of boxes, one cubical and the other long and narrow, our world paradigm shifted dramatically.

The cube contained a black and white television set, and the oblong box an antenna kit.

Dad cobbled the antenna together inside attic of our two-story home, running the lead down through to wall to the living room two floors down.

Our neighbors, a reclusive elderly couple, had been forced to put up a tall steel tower reaching up about 50 feet before they could grab a decent signal, but somehow Dad’s inspiration worked, and we had television that night.

Our life was never the same.

The fears came through the endless news stories about nuclear bomb tests and the latest Cold-and-growing-hotter War confrontations.

The delights came in the form of brilliant and mostly Jewish comedians, offering a view of the world that zeroed in on the same insanely macabre contradictions we had just begun to discover at the ripe old age of six.

Sid Caesar and his troupe were the reigning stars [how could they not be, with a crew of writers that included the likes of Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, Larry Gelbart, and Carl Reiner]. The show’s cast was legendary. And to top it all off, they did it every week live in prime time.

From Your Show of Shows, Caesar appears with Carl Reiner and Howard Morris [“Uncle Goopy”] in a parody of one of television’s earliest hits, This is Your Life, where an unsuspecting audience member was plucked from obscurity and bombarded with people from her past. In this parody, the show takes the unexpected turn every kid secretly hoped would happen.

“This is Your Story”:

While Caesar and his crew painted in a broad brush with roots in vaudeville and the Catskills, two other comics brought a rapier wit and an edgier, more cerebral nightclub tone. And their targets were typically institutions, and they targeted their most corrosive effects.

Mike Nichols and Elaine May were simply brilliant, both witty and masters of the secrets of timing. It’s not surprising both went on to direct. While Caesar brought the pure catharsis of the belly laugh, Nichols and May left you thinking after the laughter had subsided.

Here they tackle a subject brought to the national attention by East Bay writer Jessica Mitford in her searing 1963 expose of the American funeral industry, The American Way of Death. The venue is The Tonight Show, then hosted by Jack Paar.

“The $65 Funeral”:

And here’s a subject near and dear to our own heart of late.

“At the Hospital”:

Finally, Nichols and May bite the hands that feed them in this wonderful little sketch they presented at the 1959 Emmy awards:

Apologies for the slow posting. . .

We’re under the weather [where the heck did that phrase come from anyway?], and well try to do at least a minimum amount of posting later this evening if we’ve up to it.

Sorry. . .

Slow posting for the rest of today. . .

Urgent personal matters have arisen [not the sort involving peril to live and limb, fortunately].

We may be back much later in the day. . .

Chart of the day: esnl’s Political Compass results

If you haven’t taken the Political Compass test, you probably should because it’s always a good conversation-starter if nothing else. We’ve taken it three times and we always wind up with pretty much the same results:

BLOG Compass

We’ve seen the results of other folks we know, and they pretty much dovetail with both their own and our perception of their Weltanschauungen. . .

The Deptartment of You Read It Here First

Yep, it was Tuesday we began a post this way:

John Oliver: Guilty of investigative journalism


A realization suddenly dawned as we watched this latest and much-viewed clip from HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver about the Miss America pageant: John Oliver and his crew were doing something truly subversive. They were committing an act of actual investigative journalism.

Not only that: The episode captures in a fairly accurate manner the thought process giving rise to a completed print/video/audio investigative report.

SO image the little frisson of déjà vu we experienced came when we read a story published today by David Bauder of the Associated Press:

Oliver adds journalism to his comedy

In poking fun at the Miss America pageant on the most recent episode of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight,” John Oliver reached for the comedic equivalent of low-hanging fruit. Then he veered into something wholly unexpected — investigative journalism.


Robert Thompson, director of Syracuse University’s Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture, calls Oliver’s work “investigative comedy.” Thompson has played the net neutrality segment for his students.

Research indicates that young people are much more likely than their elders to take a deeper dive into news stories that interest them, searching for more information online, said Tom Rosenstiel, executive director of the American Press Institute. What Oliver is doing responds to that desire, he said.

“There is a natural link between committing journalism and committing comedy,” Rosenstiel said. “They’re both in the uncovering and unmasking business, but with different approaches.”

Have to admit its feel nice to see our own work came in advance of a media media outlet the Associated Press — one that is a cooperative, too, and headed by a First Amendment lawyer turned publisher.

Southern Berkeley/North Oakland street seens

Some images captured on a stroll with younger daughter. . .

First, a face spotted by Samantha on the base of a freeway support. . .

14 September 2014, Panasonic DMZ-ZS19, ISO 800, 33.3 mm, 1/100 sec, f5.5

14 September 2014, Panasonic DMZ-ZS19, ISO 800, 33.3 mm, 1/100 sec, f5.5

Another face, spotted on the asphalt beneath out feet. . .

14 September 2014, Panasonic DMZ-ZS19, ISO 100, 12.5 mm, 1/400 sec, f4.9

14 September 2014, Panasonic DMZ-ZS19, ISO 100, 12.5 mm, 1/400 sec, f4.9

Another sidewalk vignette. . .

14 September 2014, Panasonic DMZ-ZS19, ISO 100, 4.3 mm, 1/1000 sec, f3.3

14 September 2014, Panasonic DMZ-ZS19, ISO 100, 4.3 mm, 1/1000 sec, f3.3

The ghost of a long-vacant neighborhood snack stand. . .

14 September 2014, Panasonic DMZ-ZS19, ISO 100, 18.4 mm, 1/400 sec, f5.3

14 September 2014, Panasonic DMZ-ZS19, ISO 100, 18.4 mm, 1/400 sec, f5.3

And light and shadow at play on a street tree bole. . .

14 September 2014, Panasonic DMZ-ZS19, ISO 100, 24.4 mm, 1/320 sec, f5.4

14 September 2014, Panasonic DMZ-ZS19, ISO 100, 24.4 mm, 1/320 sec, f5.4

Take Five: Variations on a Brubeck theme

For a generation of white youths outside a few big cities in the late 1950s, jazz was a somewhat distant concept, usually associated with big bands or else in Noir mysteries. Ballads, then the Rock revolution launched with Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog” in 1956 [esnl, then 10, ground his 45rpm disc into dust, giving equal treatment to “Don’t Be Cruel” on the flip side, altogether the best 45 we ever owned].

While Elvis appealed to a 10-year-old growing up in a Kansas farm town, we didn’t discover jazz until we were in high school in a somewhat large college town at base of the Rocky Mountain foothills in Colorado.

The album that made us an instant convert was Dave Brubeck Quasrtet’s Time Out, which we first heard on the 1961 rerelease of the 159 original.

And one song turned into an earworm, subtly syncopating the way we strolled down the street or pedaled our bike.

Herewith, “Take Five,” with Brubeck on piano, Paul Desmond on alto sax, Eugene Wright on bass, and Joe Morello on drums, via vlogger TheDathi:

Dave Brubeck – Take Five

Contrast Brubeck’s performance of his Paul Desmond’s composition with this incredibly intense 1976 rendition by Al Jarreau via vlogger omgadd:

Al Jarreau 1976 -Take Five

Program note:

Super Rare – from a German TV Broadcast

Next, George Benson applies his impressive guitar chops at the Montreaux Jazz Festival via vlogger Vicente Garambone:

George Benson playing “Take Five”

Program note:

George Benson’s insane performance.

Next, Brazilian guitarist Diego Figueiredo lays it out, via DRProduções Artísticas:

Diego Figueiredo – Take Five

Program note:

Diego Figueiredo e Alexandre Martins 2007. Ibirapuera

And to round things out, a radically different version from Lahore, Pakistan’s Sachal Studios:

Sachal Studios’ Take Five Official Video

Program note:

Recorded at Sachal Studios, Lahore, Pakistan – the premiere of Take Five’s Official Video!