Tag Archives: 1977

How I Earned My Geek Card

24 Apr

April 24, 2013

May 1977. I remember it like it was yesterday.

It was a Sunday, around noon. Little me, not quite six and a half years old, was laying on the carpet in the living room of our small apartment with the New York Daily News Sunday comics spread out before me. The carpet was turn-signal green.  The bedroom carpet was turn-signal red. Hey, it was the 70’s.

Dad asked me and my little brother if we wanted to go to the movies. I suspect this had less to do with wanting to take is to the movies than it did with Mom wanting us all out of her hair. With me and my little brother, not quite four and a half years old, we were a handful. And my Dad could be, well, you had to know him. So my Mom would really appreciate a Sunday without us around.

It was a sunny day and the TV was on, although I am not sure what it was playing. I distinctly remember that it was shaping up to be a lazy day. I’d probably end up driving Mom nuts with getting underfoot, hence Dad wanting to get us all out of the house.

I’m pretty sure I was pretty ambivalent about the whole thing. “What’s playing?”

Dad was flipping through the movie section of the paper. When Mom picked the movie we’d end up seeing Victor Victoria or Kramer vs. Kramer. When Dad picked the movie I tended to enjoy them a little more. A couple of years later, little eight year old me would enjoy Roger Moore in Moonraker with him. (I enjoy that film a bit less today.)

After a few seconds of selection, Dad said “Star Wars is supposed to be good.”

I was not impressed.

“Nah, it’ll be boring like Star Trek. Let’s see something else.”

trek_tv_guide_adAt that time, WPIX channel 11 aired Star Trek on the weekends, two episodes sometime between, I think, 3 and 7. During the week Star Trek aired at midnight. As I said, I was not impressed. Little six and a half year old me said “all they do is talk.” (Ironically, that is one of my current complaints about The Next Generation.)

Dad was a sci-fi fan. Most of my early sci-fi books, by people like Harry Harrison and Frederick Pohl, came straight out of his collection. I read The Dragonriders of Pern because of him, as well as The Elfstones of Shannara. My collection today still features his 1977 hardcover copies of Star Wars and Han Solo at Star’s End from the Book of the Month club. So his wanting to see Star Wars was no surprise.

Well, Dad wanted to go, so we went. And I loved it. So much so that when I got home I turned on the TV to watch Star Trek and I not only sat through it, I loved it. I was hooked.

Oddly enough, it was Star Wars that made me a Star Trek fan.

Star Wars must have struck that right chord of action and aliens that made me want to sit through the Spock and McCoy bickering until the Enterprise encountered the Klingons. Today of course, I realize that the Spock and McCoy bickering is just an example of the type of characterization that makes Star Trek work.

old-star-wars-posterDad took us to see Star Wars five times. We could not get enough, and he went just to see what he missed the other times. Two little kids always want something. Dad was always getting up for popcorn, or soda, or more popcorn, or candy, or more soda, and he said that he saw the same film five times but never saw the same parts twice.

So I became a fan of both series and even though it wasn’t long until Star Trek: The Motion Picture came out, I never did see it in the theaters, probably due to the bad reviews. (Unlike me, Dad had standards.) And looking back, it is a good thing I didn’t see it because if I once thought that Star Trek on TV was talky, I would have been bored to tears by that movie. That was one boring movie.

But when Star Trek II came out, I had already cut out the newspaper ads and pasted them all over the house so there was no missing that movie.

What puts me in mind of this tale is that although I earned my geek card in 1977, I think 2013 is the year I give it back. The new Star Trek franchise is not Star Trek. I see the trailer for the new film and nothing about it feels like Trek. George Lucas of course ruined Star Wars many years ago, and with Disney planning to put out a move a year starting in 2015, this may be the time to bail out before it gets worse. I’ve already torn my geek card nearly in half. Back when DC rebooted in 2011 I decided to get out of comics entirely and, other than a pair of back issues from the late 70’s, I have not bought a single comic book from any company since. So with all due love and respect to Dad, who got me into both comics and sci-fi, I think the ride is over.


Groucho Marx, circa 1976-1977

16 Dec

December 16, 2010

The 1970’s were a great time to be Groucho Marx.

Unless you were Groucho Marx.

Groucho died on August 18, 1977, at the age of 86. By all accounts he was unhappy in his personal life, although his career had undergone a celebratory resurgence. By some accounts, he may have been a bit senile. It was generally understood then as well as now that he was being pushed past the point of what was physically good for his health by his much younger companion, Erin Fleming. Groucho, thrice divorced, was 86. Fleming was 35. By the 1980’s, several lawsuits brought against her by the Marx estate were settled in the estate’s favor, including a payment of nearly a half million dollars to Arthur Marx, Groucho’s son.

While Groucho’s health was on a downswing, leaving the comedian thin and gaunt, his voice nearly a whisper, his image and humor had become a cultural touchstone. Some of the biggest stars of the biggest sitcoms of the 1970’s were huge fans and it was not unusual for Groucho and Marx Brothers impressions to turn up on television. Groucho had become a cultural touchstone for a new generation who discovered him in late night movies.

From M*A*S*H, episode Yankee Doodle Doctor:


Alan Alda, Gary Burghoff, Marcia Strassman, Wayne Rogers

From All in the Family, episode Where’s Archie? part 1:


Rob Reiner, Betty Garrett, Jean Stapleton

Welcome Back Kotter featured Gabe Kaplan’s Groucho impression in nearly every episode, and Robert Hegyes patterned his performance on Chico. Here are the two of them portraying the Brothers on stage for Gabe Kaplan’s Groucho stage show.

Gabe Kaplan, Robert Hegyes

While Groucho seemed to be all over television, at least in the form of his persona, the real Groucho was set to make a guest appearance on Welcome Back Kotter. Kotter, it should be noted, also starred Marcia Strassman, who was part of the Yankee Doodle Doctor M*A*S*H hijinks a few years earlier. Now just a few months before his death, Groucho had to be helped onto the Kotter set, where the audience, expecting the grease paint mustache, duck walk, and rapid-fire zingers of his younger days did not recognize him and even the cast was shocked by his appearance. Robert Hegyes, especially, was affected, wondering aloud how he could go on with the show and do his usual Chico Marx impression after seeing Groucho that way. The cameo was nixed and only a few publicity photos were taken with the cast. However, Groucho’s appearance was so disturbing that the pictures have never been released.

Groucho’s last appearance, one year previously at age 85, was a one and a half-minute sketch with George Burns (then 80 years old himself) on a 1976 Bob Hope television special. The program demonstrated with both perfect genius and utter sadness the two sides of Groucho in the 1970’s. On the one hand we see the real, frail Groucho, sitting on a chair and feeding straight lines to George Burns in a raspy whisper. On the other hand is Billy Barty, dressed as Groucho in his prime, wearing grease paint features, smoking a cigar, and chasing women. It seems that the producers felt that without Barty in the sketch as Groucho “as a young boy” no one would recognize the real Groucho Marx.

Check the sketch out here, at about the 18:20 mark, until YouTube takes it down again.

hope, burns, marx

Groucho had lived long enough to be eclipsed by his own legend. A legend which, unlike Groucho, had not aged in 40 years.

Thank you, Captain Spaulding. Goodbye, Doctor Hackenbush. Rest in Peace Rufus T. Firefly. This is how we’ll remember you:

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