Thursday, April 19, 2007

Things Are Gonna Be Quiet Around Here…


Although it seems like I’ve only been home back home a few days, it’s time to pack my bags and head back to work again.

I’ll be flying to Shanghai this weekend where I’ll be joining Holland America’s “Statendam” for 13 days sailing to Beijing, Dalian, Pusan, Osaka & finally Tokyo (May 5th).

As a result, I won’t be posting anything new until I return next month.


Bub Thomas

Bub Thomas second on Left

Growing up in Central Florida in the 1970’s meant that Walt Disney World was destined to be a major influence on my career. Although I never worked for “the Mouse”, many of my closest friends did and that allowed me greater access to the Theme Park than the average tourist.

In future blogs I’ll talk about Pat Terry, Eddie Erickson, Randy Morris and many other early “Disney Influences” on my career as they were considerable. Today, I’d like to talk a little about Charles “Bub” Thomas.

Bub Thomas was a member of the Main Street Barbershop Quartet “The Dapper Dans”. Grey hair and moustache and wearing a yellow stripped vest, he was instantly recognizable to hundred of thousands of Park regulars.

The Dapper Dans had been a staple of both Disneyland and Disney World for many years and had been featured on the “Mickey Finn Show” on NBC in the mid 1960’s. Up until Bub joined the group, they were primarily known for their vocal talents – Bub brought a touch of Vaudeville to their performances.

Bub sang, danced, told jokes, and even drew caricatures.. When Bub joined the Dapper Dans, he also brought with him a curious instrument known as the Deagan Organ Chimes.

Invented by John Calhoun Deagan in 1900, it is a unique instrument that features a series of spiky hollow tubes connected to each other. By shaking the tubes in specific combinations, melodies and chords are produce.

Under Bub's influence, all of these things eventually worked their way into their performances as well as an increased interaction with the audience. A new generation of “Dapper Dans” performs at the theme park, but Bub’s signature is still all over their show.

I used to go watch them at the Barbershop on Main Street quite often and got to know Bub fairly well. He would always have time after their show to stick around and chat with me, sharing great stories about the “heyday” of nightclubs and the vaudeville circuit.

I learned a lot about my craft from Bub and I appreciated that he always took the time to share his experiences with me when he could have just as easily slipped down the tunnel and rested in the “green room” between sets.

Bub Thomas passed away almost 10 years ago at age 86, but ask any “Disney Regular“ and they have fond memories of this talented man.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Water Water Everywhere

If it’s April in Thailand, you can count on two things. One - it will be hot and Two - it will be wet!

No, not from the monsoons (they come in June) but rather from the Thai New Years Celebration called Songkran. In Thailand, we celebrate three different New Years. January 1st (Western), Mid February (Chinese) and April (Thai).

Although the celebrations involve religious ceremonies at Temples (Wats) what most Westerners see is the spectacle of throwing water on the streets.

The throwing water part was originated as a way to pay respect to people, by pouring a small amount of water on other people’s hands as a sign of respect. Today, young people splash others with water to relieve the heat and that has evolved to water fights and splashing water to people on vehicles.

On every street corner, you’ll see kids with hoses, buckets of water and high pressure water pistols spraying passersby. If you are smart, you keep your wallet and cell phone secured in zip lock sandwich bags for the duration of the celebration.

Think of it as kind of a Thai Mardi Gras, but instead of throwing beads, they throw water!

Of course, the New Years celebration is not just about throwing water, it is a time of spiritual renewal and spending time with family, and just like other New Years around the rest of the world, making resolutions that you will never keep!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Thai TV

Living in a foreign country like Thailand offers a different perspective on life – including through TV.

Our cable system here offers 60 channels, about half are in English. The majority of the remaining channels are in Thai with a sprinkling of Italian (RAI), German (DW-TV), French (TV5Monde), Chinese (CCTV), (Zee) & Pakistani (ONE).

We get American Idol, Boston Legal, Desperate Housewives, Ellen, House, The Simpsons and yes, even Jerry Springer from the USA. We also get series from Australia (All Saints), England (The Bill) and South Africa (Snitch).

What is most fascinating to watch is the news …..

American News programs that follow the old adage, “If it bleeds, it leads..” have a LOT to learn from local Thai TV. Every newscasts contains graphic footage of gruesome auto accidents, crime victims pointing accusingly at their perpetrators being held at the local police station and dead bodies … lots of dead bodies.

Earlier this week there was a story of a tourist found dead in a hotel room apparently from an overdose. He had apparently been lying there for quite some time on the floor wedged between the bed and the wall… in an advanced state of decomposition.

In the USA, you might see the body tastefully covered by a sheet. Here, the naked body‘s distended abdomen is being poked at with a stick ( a very dangerous practice, I can assure you!) by an investigator. To their credit, they slightly pixilated the corpse’s “naughty bits”.

And then they went immediately to a commercial for a local restaurant!

When it comes to International News, we are pretty lucky. We get Channelnews Asia, BBC World, Bloomberg News, CNN Headline News, Fox News and… Aljazeera!

Since most Americans have never seen Aljazeera, let me say that it’s NOT as bad as you might think. Even Sir David Frost (BBC) has a interview weekly show on the network and many former CNN Reporters & Anchors (Riz Khan, Lucia Newman, Veronica Pedrosa etc.) now work for the channel.

While definitely not “Pro-American”, at least the “English Language Version” of the network isn’t referring to us as the “Great Satan”. And to their credit, I’ve not seen one story about Don Imus, Paris Hilton or Anna Nicole Smith!

The beauty of having ALL these resources is that you get to see a lot of different perspectives – Right, Left and everything in between.

The “Other” Dave Barry


Earlier today I was watching the Cartoon Network and saw an old Bugs Bunny Cartoon called 8 Ball Bunny (1950). A running gag in the animated short is “Humphrey Bogart” making multiple cameo appearances asking Bugs "Pardon me, but could you help out a fellow American who's down on his luck?"

That wasn’t Bogey, that was my dear friend – the “other” Dave Barry . Dave died in 2001 – here’s his obit.


Actor-Comedian Dave Barry Dead at 82


LOS ANGELES (AP) — Comedian Dave Barry, who opened for a number of top performers, including Wayne Newton, died Thursday. He was 82.

The comedian, who was not related to the Miami-based humorist of the same name, was born in New York City and started his career at age 16 on radio's "Major Bowes and the Original Amateur Hour."

He moved to California in the early 1940s and served in the Army during World War II entertaining troops.

Toward the end of that decade, Barry began performing in Las Vegas at the El Rancho Hotel. He was featured at the Desert Inn in a revue called "Hello America." He opened for Wayne Newton for more than eight years.

Barry had television and film credits, most notably in Billy Wilder's "Some Like It Hot," in which he played the role of Beinstock, the band's manager.

In the latter part of his career, he entertained on cruise ships and appeared in the "Follies," a Palm Springs, California, variety show.

##

It was on cruise ships that I got to know Dave and his wife Virginia back in the late 1980’s. We often Headlined together for Royal Cruise Lines on the Crown Odyssey and Royal Odyssey.

Dave Barry was a very funny, giving performer who often asked me to share the stage with him for impromptu funny business.

The Obituary doesn’t tell the whole story of this talented man.

Dave appeared numerous times on the Ed Sullivan Show as well as appearances on Green Acres, I Dream of Jeanie, The Monkees, Get Smart,77 Sunset Strip, The Colgate Comedy Hour and dozens of others from the 50’s – 70’s.

Of course, Dave made his place in cinema history playing along side Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon & Marilyn Monroe in the classic comedy “Some Like It Hot!”

Known for his celebrity impressions, Dave lent his voice (often uncredited) to cartoons like 8 Ball Bunny, Slick Hare, Run Rabbit Run, Bacall to Arms and It’s A Grand Old Nag .

A few years ago, while listening to an old Edgar Bergen Radio Show, I recognized his voice (doing Arthur Godfrey!) and I was pleased to hear him given credit at the end of the broadcast.

Dave Barry would probably have been a voice actor with as many credits as Daws Butler or Paul Frees had he remained based in Los Angeles. Being a stand-up comedian was his bread-'n'-butter and it took him on the road for months at a time thus limiting the amount of studio work he could rely upon.

A lot of what he did do when in town was looping and dubbing for movies. In Roger Corman's film of The Raven, he can be heard making sounds for the title character and dubbing voices for Peter Lorre and Vincent Price. In at least one movie, he re-dubbed all the dialogue for the Indian actor, Sabu, to make him more intelligible.

Mention Dave’s name to any old school Las Vegas act and they’ll all have fond memories of this delightful performer. Truly one of Show Biz’s nice guys.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Dal McKennon

At Age 88, Dal Mckennon has had a remarkable career spanning 65 years.


Born in 1919 in Oregon, Dal (Dallas) McKennon first made his mark in show business as the voice of Buzz Buzzard for Walter Lantz Cartoons back in the 1940's. He parlayed that experience into opportunities to voice animated film characters in “Mary Poppins”, “101 Dalmatians”, “Bed Knobs & Broomsticks”, “The Jungle Book” and on TV,“The Archie Comedy Hour”, “Gumby”, “Davy & Goliath” and “The Woody Woodpecker Show

A rarity in show business, Dal excelled not only as a voice character in the animated world but also as a character actor on TV and in the movies. His credits include a recurring role as “Cincinnatus”, the Inn Keeper on Daniel Boone, six episodes of Wagon Train and appearences on The Virginian, The Rifleman, My Favorite Martian, The Andy Griffith Show, Cannon and scores of others.

I worked with Dal in 1995 when I was Cruise Director on board the “Queen of The West” Riverboat sailing from Portland Or on seven day cruises down the Columbia River. As we cruised down the river we would take on evening entertainment in different ports of call.

Dal Mckennon was one of them.

Sporting a white beard, prospector's hat and overalls, Dal looked like he had just left a yard sale at the Gabby Hayes estate. Being a native Oregonian, Dal had a great love for the history of his state and presented a very entertaining music/comedy/history lesson about the Lewis & Clark Expedition to the great Northwest Passage.

Every week Dal would sail with us one night a week and I'd get the opportunity to hear the tales of working with Walt Disney and Walter Lantz. He was definitely a “character” who seemed to embody the “old eccentric mining prospector” his exterior garb portrayed.

Although I haven't spoken to him in several years, I know he continued to work well into 2001 still providing the voice for “Gumby

While most people remember the greats of voice over work such as Mel Blanc, Paul Frees, Daws Butler and June Foray, the next time you watch those old cartoons don't forget Dallas McKennon!

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Vince Eager



For 20 Years, I've had the pleasure of knowing Vince Eager. Vince and his wife Anette have been close friends since we first worked together in 1987 on board the MS Ocean Islander.

If you grew up in the United Kingdom in the late 1950's, you'd remember Vince from over 100 appearances on such TV shows as “Oh Boy”, “Drum Beat” and the “Six Five Special”.



Vince was a tall young man with an even bigger voice released 14 singles and 5 albums in the UK. He was handled by Promoter Larry Parnes who's stable of entertainers also included “Tommy Steele”, “Marty Wilde” and “Billy Fury”.

After the death of his good friend Eddie Cochran in a car crash, Vince parted ways with his manager over Larry Parne's plans for posthumous promotion of Cochran death.

Through the years, Vince performed around the world and starred for 5 years in “ELVIS” on London's West End in the 1970's.

In 1986 Vince took up residency in Fort Lauderdale, Florida when, for twelve years, he became a Cruise Director on luxury American cruise ships. I had the pleasure of working with him on several different ships.

Vince and Anette returned to England in the late 1990's in order to be closer to children and grandkids.

Today, Vince still sings up a storm and tours throughout the U.K.

Autopsy

Long before America's fascination with CSI (and indeed even before Quincy, MD), I was a young high school student working for a Mortuary in Zephyrhills Fl.

Among my duties (for which I was paid a princely wage of $30 a week) I assisted in the removal of deceased, their embalming, Family Visitation and Funeral Services as well as being an Ambulance Attendant.

In 1971, all that was required by Fla. State Law was an American Red Cross First Aid Card and a strong back. God knows what reaction there would have been if those injured souls had known I was only 16 years old! Fortunately, I looked “much” older!\

I attended High School from 7am – 1pm and then immediately went to work where I was “on duty” until 6am the next morning. I had Friday nights off from 6pm – Midnight and worked the rest of the weekend.

Being a small town, we probably averaged less than 10 funerals and “maybe” 30 ambulance calls a month. Most days were pretty quiet and I lived in an apartment above the Funeral Home.

One Sunday afternoon (circa 1971), the telephone rang and Pat Richardson, the Funeral Director & Owner answered the phone and immediately got an ear to ear grin on his face. He jotted down some notes and said to get ready because this was a “special one”.

I was still relatively new to this but I sensed this would be my first “floater”.- a badly decomposed body. Dealing with a floater is a right of passage in the industry – a genuine test of composure (the smell of decaying flesh stays with you forever).

The Funeral Director was looking forward to my “losing my virginity”.

We drove about 20 miles down Hwy 54 and turned on the the 52 Street Extension (known as the Road to Nowhere). We spotted the Sheriff's cars stopped up ahead and pulled along side.

“In the Ditch” One of the Officers said.

And there it was, a half submerged male body floating face up in about four feet of water. The body was distended (skin above the water appeared blackened while below the waterline greenish) and appeared to have been there four or five days. And of course it smelled to high heaven.

Pat turned to me and said “ Go get him”.

Knowing that if I grabbed it by the arm, I'd probably end up with only the detached arm, I decided to roll a sheet lengthwise and thread it under the arms and drag the corpse ashore by the torso from behind. The Funeral Director was impressed by my ingenuity.

Once the body was dragged onto the embankment, we carefully placed it in a disaster pouch (body bag) and proceeded back to the funeral home (with all windows wide open!).

Since this was a probable “Foul Play” scenario, the Medical Examiner was notified and preparations were made for an immediate autopsy. Due to the advanced state of decomposition, it was impossible to perform the postmortem indoors – the ventilation system would never handle the odor so the decision was made to perform the autopsy outdoors – at the Zephyrhills Airport.

So there we were standing in the middle of the open airfield about to investigate the cause of death. Two saw horses and a wooden door formed a makeshift table and portable power equipment was brought in.

I was “volunteered” to assist the Pathologist - Dr. John R. Feegel.

The son of a police officer, Dr. Feegel grew up to become a forensic pathologist, a trial attorney and the chief medical examiner in Tampa. He performed thousands of autopsies; the death of Elvis Presley and Atlanta serial killer Wayne B. Williams were two of his most famous cases.
Additionally, Dr. Feegel became well known as the author of seven mystery novels. In 1976, he won the Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for his first book, "Autopsy."

But this was five years before he was to gain such notoriety.

Your first autopsy is such an assault on your senses, the details tend to get blurred after 35 years. I remember Dr. Feegel to be very talented, personable and very funny! Believe me, the humor helped me through the experience and I'm still grateful for his patience and willingness to allow me the opportunity to assist that summer afternoon.

Most valuable thing he taught me was to smear “Zoxema Metholated Creme” under my nose in order to mask the odor. It really works!

By the way, we found the cause of death was a bullet to the brain and his wife (and her boyfriend) were eventually charged with murder.

I probably assisted in well over 250 Embalmings and 20 Autopsies in my career but I'll always hold a special place in my heart for my “first”

Dr Feegel passed away September 16, 2003 at age 70. His books are still available via the Internet.

Where Are They Now?

Sometimes you work with someone and lose complete touch with them in the ensuing years. That is the case of Cyndi Grecco and Richard Beavis.


I worked with Cyndi Grecco & Richard Beavis on board the Cruise Ship "Meridian" in the early 1990's. She was performing as a Lounge Pianist and he was the Male Vocalist on our cruises from New York to Bermuda.


If you don't remember Cyndi Grecco by name you'll recall the hit record she had in 1976 - "Making Our Dreams Come True" (Billboard #25) because you heard it every week as the theme song to the immensely popular TV sitcom " Laverne & Shirley".


Cyndi also lent her vocal talent to the theme song of short-lived TV Comedy "Blansky's Beauties".


I remember her southern drawl and long hair extensions and her vivacious personality. She was hoping to move from Piano Lounge to Headline Cabaret Act but I don't know if she ever made the transition.


After the summer , we kept in touch by email occasionally but eventually her email address became invalid and we lost touch. Last I heard she was living in Long Beach CA. I've "googled" her and can't find any recent information on her.


Originally from Wales, Richard Beavis was the male lead vocalist in the ship's production shows and also performed his own cabaret show. A handsome young man with a great voice, he was discovered on a televised talent show in England and landed a recording contract.


He went on to tour in the English Touring Show "Buddy!" (The Buddy Holly Story) as Richie Valens. During that summer contract I helped Richard by reading the script in order to help him with learning the dialog.

I know Richard is still out there performing because I hear his name mentioned from time to time but our paths have not crossed in almost fifteen years.


If anybody out there knows either of them, let them know an old banjo playing friend was asking about them!

Sunday, April 1, 2007

In Case of Emergency Dial....

A few weeks ago, I presented a blog entry with unusual signs I’ve collected around the world. I referenced one that I had seen but, unfortunately didn’t have a picture of.

It’s located at the Cruise Terminal in Mumbai, India and basically, it is a “911 Sign” – only the emergency number is 12 digits long! Although I was back in Mumbai last week on the QE2 but I was unable to secure a copy of the picture.

Thanks to comedian Tom Fletcher, who is not only a wonderful entertainer (and friend for over 20 years) but an avid photographer as well, I can present the picture today.

Enjoy!

Being Phillip Huber

Every once in awhile, you get to work with someone who is the absolute best at his craft. While on the QE2 last week in India, I worked with such a person – Phillip Huber.

Phillip is probably the best Marionette Artist of his generation. I first worked with him 21 years ago on board the Costa Cruise ship “Daphne” and we have remained good friends through the years.

The Huber Marionettes have appeared all over the World from Japan to Monaco to Brazil. They are constantly in demand on high end cruise ships as well as theatres across Europe, Asia & South America.

Phillip’s amazing talents were on display in the motion picture “Being John Malkovic” (doing all the puppetry work for John Cusack) and he and his marionette dog “Taffy” danced on Broadway with Tommy Tune in “Busker Alley” He also worked Muppets for Jim Henson’s TV Special with John Denver and has been featured on the “Tonight Show”.

All of the marionettes in his shows are original creations of Phillip. He designs, builds, costumes, choreographs and manipulates all of his characters. Many of which have over 20 different string controls which bring these characters to life in a truly amazing way.

If you are like most people, the thought of going to a “Puppet Show” probably isn’t your first choice for an exciting evening out. I’ve seen my share of marionette shows through the years and the majority of them were pretty lame.

The Huber Marionettes are truly the exception to the rule. If you’ve never seen them, make the effort to go anytime they are in your area. If you have seen them in the past, I certainly don’t need to convince you!

As an aside, Phillip once designed (but never built) a marionette based upon my likeness! It is of course a banjo playing marionette! Phillip still has the drawings so I’m still hoping to immortalized in wood eventually….