Friday Video: Meat Pies & Substitutiary Locomotion

We lost another great one this week.

Angela Lansbury just passed away five days short of her 97th birthday. I got to see her perform live twice. Once in 1981 in Sweeney Todd with George Hearn as Sweeney at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. (I liked Hearn, but I loved Len Cariou on the soundtrack album.)

The second time I saw her live was at the Hollywood Bowl concert for Stephen Sondheim’s 75th birthday on July 8, 2005. They were a little rusty, but I finally got to Lansbury and Cariou as the definitive Mrs. Lovett and the definitive Sweeney Todd performing their definitive version of “A Little Priest” as shown below. Definitely (and definitively) worth the wait.

My first awareness of Angela Lansbury was probably her role as Eglantine Price in Disney’s BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS (1971). I knew that the film was based in part on “The Magic Bed Knob” by Mary Norton, a book that my second grade teacher, Mrs. Young had read to the class. I had been absolutely enthralled by the book and was looking forward to seeing on the big screen. Alas, I missed seeing the film in the movie theaters during its first run.

A few years later, the Seal Beach recreation department had a screening of B&B as part of their children’s summer program. The screening was held on a Saturday afternoon in the Seal Beach city hall council chambers because it was large enough to seat an afternoon crowd of kids.

I remember being trusted enough to supervise my two brothers, probably around age 5 and 7 at the time, after being dropped off with them. I’m happy to report that they were very well-behaved and loved the film. That afternoon is one of my fond and treasured memories of the three of us from our shared childhood.

Over 40 years later I spent too many unpleasant hours in those same council chambers as the history chair during Seal Beach Centennial chair meetings, and I would sometimes imagine Angela Lansbury leading an army of empty suits of medieval armor animated by “substitutiary locomotion” into the room to smite the more obnoxious people at the table.

Sigh. That sound you hear is the ancient creaking door of the Twentieth Century slowly shutting.

G. Clifford Prout (1930-2020)

A great and noble crusader has fallen

Lost one of the great ones. Tomorrow, in honor of his passing, I will dress all the household pets and any coyote, raccoon, or possum I can capture.

Thankfully, Alan Abel is still with us.

Caroll Spinney

To create a character — the complexity of skills necessary for the simplicity of execution — is an amazing thing. I was too old to be part of the target audience for Sesame Street when it premiered, but my younger brother was.

My whole family watched Sesame Street during those early years when it when it was a brand new thing. It was witty, clever, funny, and entertaining, but it also had heart. And its heart was Big Bird.

There was something ingenious about making the “child” character in the ensemble also the largest, and all the other characters treated this sweet innocent giant with such gentleness.

At Big Bird’s core, literally, was Caroll Spinney, the puppeteer inside the suit, bringing Big Bird to life with something unique inside of him. Somehow this adult man could become a child again — questing, learning, feeling, growing as all children do.

It was a gift, especially for children making the same journey that Big Bird was making. That’s what true artistry is, a generous gift shared with us all.

This clip of Big Bird struggling with the death of one of the original Sesame Street character, after the actor playing the character had passed away provides a taste of what that gift was.

Imagine a child who had lost someone important — like a grandparent, a parent, or a teacher — seeing Big Bird struggling to process the same emotions and experience and loss. Hell, I’m decades past childhood but I can still recognize Big Bird’s feelings and confusion in myself.

As I said before, a gift for us all.

Rest in Peace, Caroll Spinney.

Dorothy Fontana 1939-2019

Dorothy Fontana R.I.P.

Sad news. Dorothy Fontana and I both worked on the Make Way For Noddy television back in early 2000s, and I was lucky enough to spend some time with her at a writer’s meeting for the show. She was a lovely lady.

I doubt I made very much of an impression, but I was thrilled because she had made an impression on me long before I even met her. There’s her work on Star Trek, of course, but she also wrote for the original Land of the Lost, Then Came Bronson, Circle of Fear, The Waltons, Babylon Five, and… even Wild, Wild West.

I didn’t even realize she had worked on that last one until checking IMDB. All of these shows were part of the pop culture stew I lived on back in the days, and she worked on all of them, and many more. The woman had a career and should be an inspiration to anyone with aspirations to write for television.

I’m glad we had her for so long, and I’m glad I got a chance to meet her.