Thursday, January 28, 2021

TEN YEAR BLOG ANNIVERSARY, Finally -"We're Gonna Turn It On"

When I initially decided to write a blog, (with much pushing and prodding from friends and family, likely so I'd stop asking them all directly to read my stuff) my very first idea for a new material post was to highlight how much the TV series The Electric Company meant to me as a kid, how it stayed with me over he years and remained enjoyable in my memory and on subsequent youtube and DVD revisits.

This blog started TEN YEARS AGO (in a couple of days, before the next post goes up anyway) and I have consistently, unfailingly,  kept up with two posts a week- every Monday and Thursday- like clockwork...

Assuming a clock running on bad puns and obscure pop culture references, naturally.

None of those 1046 posts, however, have focused on The Electric Company.

I have always been better at dependability than control of my creative output.

The Electric Company was a marvel, and I think its a truly beautiful thing that it remains frozen in time.  Sesame Street evolved over the years, having psychologists and social workers take the lead from comedy writers, to insure it stayed relevant to each new batch of kids that found it (and needed it) as times, the world and the culture has changed. The Electric Company, however, remains in its unchanged, totally groovy, nineteen-seventies state. 

(We will never speak of the unpleasant attempt at an "in name only" reboot eleven years ago.)

Where Sesame Street turned to Laugh In for inspiration in getting kids' attention, The Electric Company , also a brain child of Joan Ganz Cooneywent back to the source material. The show seemed influenced by Vaudeville itself.   Sketches mixed with other performances and songs in current and earlier popular genres. To drive home the "theater" mindset, it included gags in front of the "curtain" and routines they called "vaudeville."  There were also parodies of then modern shows and movies giving it a child friendly subversive edge. It combined references to 2001: A Space Odyssey with pie in the face slapstick, parody fairy tales, Universal Monsters take offs, superheroes, banana jokes. educational content and excessive rhyming. 

Is it any wonder this show defined my taste in comedy going forward? 
("How do you like my new giggles?")

And the album completely deserved a Grammy.

It also taught me many valuable lessons at a young age such as:

How to read and pronounce words,

The rules of punctuation and grammar,

And the fact that I could never hope to be as cool as Morgan Freeman.

Yes, all this energy, humor and multi decade spanning awesome music was driven by a stellar cast. (And that's not counting Paul Dooley and the other fantastic writers.)

Some are obvious, like Freeman (super cool as Easy Reader, DJ Mel Mounds, Dracula or just plain Mark).
Bill Cosby was there early on too, but...that's the whole "can you separate an artist from his work?" question again.  

Most impressively since she was already established, the woman who would  tie for the  second/third person to win EGOT awards while the show was running- the still awesome Rita Moreno!  She's also got an acting triple crown (her Tony, Emmy and Oscar are for individual efforts not as part of a group.)
She gave the show many of its multiple catch phrases including the most important, 

The rest of the cast was outstanding as well.

Fargo North, Decoder was Skip Hinnant, longest running president of the screen actors guild and voice of Fritz the Cat. (Getting back to that subversive thing.)

Jennifer of the Jungle was Judy Graubart, a veteran improv performer of Second City. Her deadpan delivery worked great with Paul, the overexcited gorilla, and in many other sketches.

Pedro of Pedro's Plant Place was Luis Avalos who was all over Broadway and TV.  Speaking of vaudeville and classic comedy, he could impressively imitate multiple Marx Brothers at once as Doctor Doolots.  (While I'd bet the plant Maurice owed some of his voice to Soupy Sales's White Fang.)

J, Arthur Crank was Jim Boyd, a master puppeteer and skilled comedian, as he demonstrated by graduation from an off camera voice to a featured player.

Valerie the Librarian, Hattie Winston, was in a huge list of TV shows and movies.

And Lee Chamberlin had a one woman stage show before appearing all over the place as well.
She was part of a bit that blew my young mind when Grover got lost and wandered into Vi's diner in one of the first cross overs in my experience.  

To pay it back, I suppose, Carmella (Rita Moreno) showed up on Sesame Street, yelled her catch phrase waking everyone up, and was told her show wasn't on yet. 
(How's that for an early age brush with surrealism.)

Plus the show had LIVE ACTION SPIDER-MAN! 
A live action super hero from the comics on TV! This was HUGE back then!
Reruns of Batman were fantastic, but that was all we had for quite a while.   

Plus, they came up with the most loopy group of villains ever conceived to fight Web-head. 
Some examples:
A guy with a sack of measles he'd throw at you, making you have to: 
"Stay alone in the dark...with NOTHING TO READ!!!"  
"The Wall" a half human/ half wall who would do things like sneak out of the home run fence he blended into to smack a baseball outfielder causing him to miss an easy out.
It was wonderful and insane!

Speaking of insane, Jim Boyd's original (completely unrelated to any Charlton or DC version) superhero, the Blue Beetle was there too.

There were an additional impressive array of guest voices, including yet another super hero!

Letterman sketches featured The Producers alumni Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel as the hero and his enemy the Spellbinder, with their adventures narrated by Joan Rivers.

My life long fandom of Mel Brooks may have begun when his animated avatar taught us that, "Mr. Smith's hat is in the onion dip," and other valuable lessons.

Chuck Jones provided brand new, reading themed, Coyote and Road Runner shorts!

Brilliant novelty song writer Tom Lehrer himself wrote and performed "Silent E," "L-Y" "The Hound Song"  and wrote many other songs.

It was hilarious, it was educational and it was chock full of wonderfully corny jokes.

Then there were the musical performances!  

A mix of "modern" funky tunes, old time rock and roll, vaudeville era song and dance numbers and straight up Motown.  They were always relevant to the phoneme of the day, catchy as anything, and expertly performed.

While the adult leads took part in many of them (Such as Rita Moreno doing a dead on Ronnie Spector impression), and some were animated.  ("My brother's mother, is my mother too...") much of the music was covered by the Short Circus. They were an ever changing group of teens who could musically do it all.

And front and center (to me, anyway)  was Julie.


Given my age the years the show was on (one to seven for the original run plus reruns), 
she was undeniably my first crush.

There are multiple clear and simple reasons for this:

She never left like the other members of the Short Circus who came and went. 
She was dependably always there.

She could sing! 
Oh man could she sing! 
Rock, Disco. slow songs, everything.
She had a sweet voice but could powerfully belt it out as well.

She was funny! 
She held her own in sketches with the great adult comedians on the show.

And she was cute as hell.

In the years after the Electric Company, I thought I saw her in some series and guest appearances, and also thought I recognized her voice in cartoons. 
Then I'd check the credits and think, "Oh, I guess I was wrong, its not her."
She seemed to vanish from the entertainment industry, and the entire Earth.

There is one clear and simple reason for this...

I am a buffoon.

I was looking for someone named "Julie" in the credits each time.

This search was completely contrary to the following facts:

I knew full well that "Carmella's" real name was really Rita Moreno from when I first watched the show.  Once he went on to other things shortly thereafter, I knew "Mark's" real name was Morgan Freeman.  

Heck, I was fully aware "Allison" of the Short Circus was Denise Nickerson, since I saw her as a ghost in Dark Shadows and a blueberry in  Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and that Irene Cara was on the show early on as, um... "Not Irene."
(My attention was normally elsewhere when the Short Circus was on.)

Yet the fact that "Julie" would misinform me of her name never occurred to me.
I mean, she sang, "My name is Julie, Julie is my name."  
Why would her name be anything else?

I am aware the other members of the Short Circus also sang this song with their made up names.  
My buffoonery was very focused.

And yes, I also got upset that there was no confetti in my living room when I read the word on the screen before the timer elapsed.  
I was kind of invested in this show.

June Angela (for that is her name) chose the name Julie based on her idol Julie Andrews.
(Just like Buddy, a drummer in the group picked his for Buddy Rich, which me the buffoon also knew. ) 

Once I figured this out...

Yes, shortly before age forty, shut up.

Once I figured this out I confirmed that it WAS her in Mr T and Tina,  and all those other shows and cartoons I thought I recognized her and her voice in.  Then I looked online to see what else she'd done.  (This was not an option in the early days of the search as, once again I am compelled to mention my daughter states I am, "A fossil.")  

She was the youngest solo soprano of the New York Opera Company, and was invited as a special guest to sing in the International Arts Festival in China for forty thousand people plus being shown live on China TV.  She has also had a long running, impressive and varied stage career along with TV and voice acting.

Naturally as soon as I discovered this, I put her solo CD on my Amazon wish list ranked highest as possible.  I delightfully learned she still was an amazing singer with a gorgeous soprano voice, retaining the ability to impressively belt when needed.

Having one of her tracks come on in the car continues to be a sure fire way to temper any road rage, no matter how jerkily the traffic is behaving.  

The disc features songs from the myriad plays she's been in ("The City" from Sing to the Dawn absolutely rocks), jazz numbers, and an extremely torchy medley of her "My name is Julie" song with the "Electric Company Theme."  

"We're gonna turn it on," indeed.

After ten years I finally wrote this post. 
Thank you to all of my family who's put up with this obsession to write and has read my stuff all these years, friends who've also encouraged me along the way, and multiple nifty individuals I've met online because of these efforts.

Stick around folks, it could go anywhere from here, now.

But more importantly:

What about Naomi???????



Mom said...

You deserve a big CONGRAULATIONS and many accolades for this accomplishment. Ten years is a very long time. 1047 is outstanding. I have enjoyed every Monday and Thursday for all these years. I am so very proud of you. GREAT JOB

Jeff McGinley said...

Thanx a lot for all the support and encouragement, Mom, and for letting me know someone always reads my stuff.

longbow said...

I have not done anything *constructive* for 10 years in a row. Congrats

Jeff McGinley said...

Thank you. Not sure if this counts, but it was creative output, so that's something.
thanx again!

Chris said...

Much respect to you Jeff on doing this for 10 years. I enjoy reading your stories when they pop up. Congrats!

Jeff McGinley said...

Many thanx, Chris. Thanx for reading.