Monthly Archives: November 2007
I remember the man, or at least the legend of the man fondly. I waited through what seemed like hours of talk talk talk on the “Wide World of Sports” to see the man jump whatever. I remember seeing his excruciating landing at Caesar’s Place. I remember listening madly to the AM radio news the Sunday he attempted to jump Snake River Canyon.
And what I remember most was that there was nothing, and I mean nothing, I wanted more for my birthday in the summer of 1974 than the Evel Knievel stunt cycle playset. I did get it, along with the Scramble Van accessory, but really, that was a bit too Barbie for my tastes. I loved the ramp that came with it though, that and the dual ramps that came with the SST Demolition Derby became Evel’s territory as I jumped everything from cats to wagons and even off the cliff of my front porch.
Since that time, I’ve seen documentaries on the man, and I’d have to say he was crazy, stubborn and maybe even a bit of a liar – but one thing was sure, Evel Knievel was an entertainer. There’ll never be another like him.
From the Associated Press:
Motorcycle Daredevil Evel Knievel Dies at Age 69
Friday, November 30, 2007
CLEARWATER, Fla. — Evel Knievel, the hard-living motorcycle daredevil whose exploits made him an international icon in the 1970s, died Friday. He was 69.
Knievel death was confirmed by his 21-year-old granddaughter, Krysten Knievel. He had been in failing health for years, suffering from diabetes and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, an incurable condition that scarred his lungs. He had undergone a liver transplant in 1999 after nearly dying of hepatitis C, likely contracted through a blood transfusion after one of his bone-shattering spills.
His death came just two days after it was announced that he and rapper Kanye West had settled a federal lawsuit over the use of Knievel’s trademarked image in a popular West music video.
Immortalized in the Washington’s Smithsonian Institution as “America’s Legendary Daredevil,” Knievel was best known for a failed 1974 attempt to jump an Idaho canyon on a rocket-powered cycle and a spectacular crash at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. He suffered nearly 40 broken bones before he retired in 1980.
For the tall, thin daredevil, the limelight was always comfortable, the gab glib. Always, he welcomed the challenge whether in sports, at work or play. To Knievel, there always were mountains to climb, feats to conquer.
“No king or prince has lived a better life,” he said in a May 2006 interview with The Associated Press. “You’re looking at a guy who’s really done it all. And there are things I wish I had done better, not only for me but for the ones I loved.”
He garbed himself in red, white and blue and had a knack for outrageous yarns: “Made $60 million, spent 61. …Lost $250,000 at blackjack once. … Had $3 million in the bank, though.”
Although he dropped off the pop culture radar in the ’80s, Knievel always had fans and enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in recent years. In later years he still made a good living selling his autographs and endorsing products. Thousands came to Butte, Mont., every year as his legend was celebrated during the “Evel Knievel Days” festival.
“They started out watching me bust my ass, and I became part of their lives,” Knievel said. “People wanted to associate with a winner, not a loser. They wanted to associate with someone who kept trying to be a winner.”
He began his daredevil career in 1965 when he formed a troupe called Evel Knievel’s Motorcycle Daredevils, a touring show in which he performed stunts such as riding through fire walls, jumping over live rattlesnakes and mountain lions and being towed at 200 mph behind dragster race cars.
In 1966 he began touring alone, barnstorming the Western states and doing everything from driving the trucks, erecting the ramps and promoting the shows. In the beginning he charged $500 for a jump over two cars parked between ramps.
He steadily increased the length of the jumps until, on New Year’s Day 1968, he was nearly killed when he jumped 151 feet across the fountains in front of Caesar’s Palace. He cleared the fountains but the crash landing put him in the hospital in a coma for a month.
Hi son, Robbie, successfully completed the same jump in April 1989.
In the years after the Caesar’s crash, the fee for Evel’s performances increased to $1 million for his jump over 13 buses at Wembley Stadium in London — the crash landing broke his pelvis — to more than $6 million for the Sept. 8, 1974, attempt to clear the Snake River Canyon in Idaho in a rocket-powered “Skycycle.” The money came from ticket sales, paid sponsors and ABC’s “Wide World of Sports.”
The parachute malfunctioned and deployed after takeoff. Strong winds blew the cycle into the canyon, landing him close to the swirling river below.
On Oct. 25, 1975, he jumped 14 Greyhound buses at Kings Island in Ohio.
Knievel decided to retire after a jump in the winter of 1976 in which he was again seriously injured. He suffered a concussion and broke both arms in an attempt to jump a tank full of live sharks in the Chicago Amphitheater. He continued to do smaller exhibitions around the country with his son, Robbie.
Many of his records have been broken by daredevil motorcyclist Bubba Blackwell.
Knievel also dabbled in movies and TV, starring as himself in “Viva Knievel” and with Lindsey Wagner in an episode of the 1980s TV series “Bionic Woman.” George Hamilton and Sam Elliott each played Knievel in movies about his life.
Evel Knievel toys accounted for more than $300 million in sales for Ideal and other companies in the 1970s and ’80s.
Born Robert Craig Knievel in the copper mining town of Butte on Oct. 17, 1938, Knievel was raised by his grandparents. He traced his career choice back to the time he saw Joey Chitwood’s Auto Daredevil Show at age 8.
Outstanding in track and field, ski jumping and ice hockey at Butte High School, he went on to win the Northern Rocky Mountain Ski Association Class A Men’s ski jumping championship in 1957 and played with the Charlotte Clippers of the Eastern Hockey League in 1959.
He also formed the Butte Bombers semiprofessional hockey team, acting as owner, manager, coach and player.
Knievel also worked in the Montana copper mines, served in the U.S. Army, ran his own hunting guide service, sold insurance and ran Honda motorcycle dealerships. As a motorcycle dealer, he drummed up business by offering $100 off the price of a motorcycle to customers who could beat him at arm wrestling.
At various times and in different interviews, Knievel claimed to have been a swindler, a card thief, a safe cracker, a holdup man.
Robbie Knievel followed in his father’s footsteps as a daredevil, jumping a moving locomotive in a 200-foot, ramp-to-ramp motorcycle stunt on live television in 2000. He also jumped a 200-foot-wide chasm of the Grand Canyon.
Knievel married hometown girlfriend, Linda Joan Bork, in 1959. They separated in the early 1990s. They had four children, Kelly, Robbie, Tracey and Alicia.
Knievel lived with his longtime partner, Krystal Kennedy-Knievel, splitting his time between their Clearwater condo and his Butte hometown. They married in 1999 and divorced a few years later but remained together. Knievel had 10 grandchildren and a great-grandchild.
From The Doctor Who News Page:
Verity Lambert has died
November 23, 2007 • Posted By Kenny Davidson
It is with great sadness that we report the death of Verity Lambert, who has passed away at the age of 71.
One of the UK’s foremost television producers, Lambert was the first producer of Doctor Who, holding the post from 1963 to 1965. It was a role that proved pivotal at the time, as, at the age of 27, she was the youngest and only female drama producer working at the BBC.
As the first producer she was instrumental in creating the universe of Doctor Who and was responsible for some of the most important principles of the series, ensuring the programme’s success over the years.
After she left the programme her credits and reputation continued to rise and she became one of the best known players in the industry. She oversaw such iconic productions as Adam Adamant Lives, Budgie, The Naked Civil Servant, Rock Follies, Rumpole of the Bailey, Edward and Mrs Simpson, Reilly: Ace of Spies, Minder, GBH and Jonathan Creek.
In 1985 Verity Lambert established her own independent production company, Cinema Verity. The company’s first production was the 1988 feature film A Cry in the Dark, starring Sam Neill and Meryl Streep. Cinema Verity’s first television series, the BBC1 sitcom May to December, ran from 1989 until 1994.
In 2000 two of her productions, Doctor Who and The Naked Civil Servant, finished third and fourth respectively in a British Film Institute poll of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes of the 20th century.
In the 2002 New Year’s Honours list Lambert was awarded the O.B.E. for services to film and television production. In the same year she received BAFTA’s Alan Clarke Award for Outstanding Contribution to Television.
She was due to receive the Working Title Films lifetime achievement award at the Women in Film and Television Awards on 7th December.
Russell T Davies, the current Executive Producer of Doctor Who, said: “There are a hundred people in Cardiff working on Doctor Who and millions of viewers, in particular many children, who love the programme that Verity helped create. This is her legacy and we will never forget that.”
It is noteworthy that a tribute from the current production team was made in the 2007 story Human Nature, when the Doctor, as the character John Smith, mentions his mother’s name was Verity.
Jane Tranter, Controller of BBC Fiction, said: “Verity was a total one-off. She was a magnificently, madly, inspirationally talented drama producer.
“During her long and brilliant career there was no form of drama that was beyond her reach and that she didn’t excel at. From the early episodes of Doctor Who to the still to be transmitted comedy drama Love Soup, via Widows, Minder, GBH, Eldorado and Jonathan Creek (to name but the tiniest handful of credits) – Verity was a phenomenon.
“She made the television drama genre utterly her own. She was deaf to the notion of compromise and there wasn’t an actor, writer, director or television executive she worked with who didn’t regard her with admiration, respect and awe.
“She will be hugely missed but her legacy lives on in the dramas she made, and in the generations of eager young programme-makers she has inspired.
Menna Richards, Controller, BBC Wales, said, “In Doctor Who, Verity Lambert has left a legacy that lives on in the new productions BBC Wales has been making since 2004. We in Wales owe her a debt of gratitude for handing on such a treasure which continues to be enjoyed the world over.”
“Today (Friday) is the 44th anniversary of her first ever episode of Doctor Who.”
In the most recent cable upgrade from Comcast, we were presented with a new channel – We. Now I thought that I had heard of it before, and what I thought I had heard was that it was a ‘women’s channel,’ similar to Oprah’s Oxygen or the grandmommy of them all, Lifetime. Their website even says WE Empowers Women. Upon looking at their schedule, I’m not so sure.
Their weekend programming seems to be composed of nothing but old “48 Hours” reruns, something called “Rescue Mediums” – about female psychics who make housecalls, and “John Edward Cross Country.” Seems more like a psychic network to me, and wasn’t John Edward revealed as a fraud a few years back, and wasn’t that why he was taken off the air? Perhaps I’ve heard wrong on that, but I still don’t trust this snake oil salesman. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t want to believe I have dead relatives following me around, watching me, all the time, even when I’m on the toilet. Somehow I think there might be better things to do in the afterlife than that.
The We schedule during the week doesn’t promise much more than curiosity, the same sort of curiosity one might have to see a freak show maybe. Programs like “Cruel and Unusual Transgender Women in Prison,” “Bridezillas,” “Unwrapping Macy’s,” “Girl Meets Cowboy” and more reruns of “Kate & Allie,” “Hope & Faith” and “Dharma & Greg” than you can shake a stick at.
And even though it does seem like the psychics/weddings/sitcom-rerun network, I will still give a try. Heck, some of this stuff does sound interesting, especially “Cruel and Unusual Transgender Women in Prison.” Hey, at least Comcast didn’t give us another golf channel…
“Is Marvel Asking for It?” – my comic book review of New Avengers #36, by Brian Michael Bendis and Leinil Yu, is now online at Avengers Forever.
It’s raining Venom, New and Mighty teams together, Luke and Jessica share pillow talk, and Wolverine and Spider-Woman have an, ahem, encounter – check out my review here: http://www.avengersforever.org/reviews/default.asp?RID=546.
And if you’d like to make a donation to help keep the Avengers Forever website as mighty as ever, click here. Thanks!
Ira Levin, Author of Hit Mystery Play Deathtrap, Dies at 78
By Robert Simonson
13 Nov 2007
Ira Levin, whose five-character mystery thriller Deathtrap was one of the biggest hits in Broadway history and the last major example of its once-bountiful genre, died Nov. 12 of a fatal heart attack in his Manhattan apartment. He was 78.
Mr. Levin, who also penned the 1950s military comedy No Time for Sergeants and the novel “Rosemary’s Baby,” split his considerable energies between the theatre and the writing of novels. His popular works of pulp fiction included “The Stepford Wives,” “A Kiss Before Dying,” “The Boys From Brazil” and “Sliver.” They were frequently converted into films that were, more often than not, camp masterpieces. “Rosemary’s Baby” was an exception. Under the direction of Roman Polanski, the story of an unsuspecting young woman (Mia Farrow) who gives birth to the spawn of Satan was rendered into a 1968 film of hypnotic, creeping dread, well in keeping with the political and cultural paranoia of the time.
Stephen King described Mr. Levin as “the Swiss watchmaker of suspense novels, he makes what the rest of us do look like cheap watchmakers in drugstores.”
In the theatre, nothing topped Mr. Levin’s triumph with Deathtrap. The five-character drama about Sydney Bruhl, a playwright with writer’s block, his wife, his talented student, his lawyer and the psychic next door opened on Feb. 26, 1978, and ran for 1,793 performances. Marian Seldes, who played the wife, Myra, became famous for staying with the show during its entire run, not missing a single performance.
Mr. Levin based the role of Sydney partly upon himself, according to the book “It’s a Hit!” Following his success with No Time for Sergeants, which starred Andy Griffith and ran for two years, he found it tough coming up with a follow-up. The comedy Critic’s Choice had a modest run in 1960, but the thrillers Dr. Cook’s Garden (1967) and Veronica’s Room (1975) flopped, as did Interlock from 1958, General Seeger from 1962 and the musical Drat! The Cat! from 1965.
Deathtrap was nominated for a Tony Award as Best Play in 1978. The play was made into a 1982 film starring Michael Caine, Dyan Cannon and the late Christopher Reeve. The film caused a sensation at the time due to a kiss shared by Caine and Reeve.
Ira Levin was born in New York City on Aug. 27, 1929. His father was in the toy business. He finished second in a screenplay writing competition held by NBC while a senior in college at New York University, where he transferred after two years at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. In 1953 he was drafted into the Army, where he wrote and produced training films.
His novel “A Kiss Before Dying” won the Edgar Allen Poe Award in 1953. Following that success, he adapted Mac Hyman’s comic novel about a naive country boy in the peacetime military, No Time for Sergeants into a stage play. The play made a star out of Andy Griffith.
Mr. Levin wrote one more play after Deathtrap. A comedy called Break a Leg, it opened April 29, 1979. It closed the same day. Deathtrap, playing nearby, would run three more years.
“Payoff” – my comic book review of New Avengers: Illuminati #5, by Brian Michael Bendis, Brian Reed and Jim Cheung, is now online at Avengers Forever.
The corpse of Skrull Elektra is revealed to the Illuminati who meet for the first time since Civil War and World War Hulk. The secret Skrull invasion has begun, and now no one can be trusted – check out my review here: http://www.avengersforever.org/reviews/default.asp?RID=545.
And if you’d like to make a donation to help keep the Avengers Forever website as mighty as ever, click here. Thanks!
Biographer: Norman Mailer dead at age 84
By RICHARD PYLE, Associated Press Writer
NEW YORK – Norman Mailer, the macho prince of American letters who for decades reigned as the country’s literary conscience and provocateur with such books as “The Naked and the Dead” and “The Executioner’s Song” died Saturday, his literary executor said. He was 84.
Mailer died of acute renal failure at Mount Sinai Hospital, said J. Michael Lennon, who is also the author’s biographer.
From his classic debut novel to such masterworks of literary journalism as “The Armies of the Night,” the two-time Pulitzer Prize winner always got credit for insight, passion and originality.
Some of his works were highly praised, some panned, but none was pronounced the Great American Novel that seemed to be his life quest from the time he soared to the top as a brash 25-year-old “enfant terrible.”
Mailer built and nurtured an image over the years as pugnacious, streetwise and high-living. He drank, fought, smoked pot, married six times and stabbed his second wife, almost fatally, during a drunken party.
He had nine children, made a quixotic bid to become mayor of New York, produced five forgettable films, dabbled in journalism, flew gliders, challenged professional boxers, was banned from a Manhattan YWHA for reciting obscene poetry, feuded publicly with writer Gore Vidal and crusaded against women’s lib.
But as Newsweek reviewer Raymond Sokolov said in 1968, “in the end it is the writing that will count.”
Mailer, he wrote, possessed “a superb natural style that does not crack under the pressures he puts upon it, a talent for narrative and characters with real blood streams and nervous systems, a great openness and eagerness for experience, a sense of urgency about the need to test thought and character in the crucible of a difficult era.”
Norman Mailer was born Jan. 31, 1923 in Long Branch, N.J. His father, Isaac, a South Africa-born accountant, and mother, Fanny, who ran a housekeeping and nursing agency, soon moved to Brooklyn — later described by Mailer as “the most secure Jewish environment in America.”
Mailer completed public schools, earned an engineering science degree in 1943 from Harvard, where he decided to become a writer, and was soon drafted into the Army. Sent to the Philippines as an infantryman, he saw enough of Army life and combat to provide a basis for his first book, “The Naked and the Dead,” published in 1948 while he was a post-graduate student in Paris on the G.I. Bill.
The book — noteworthy for Mailer’s invention of the word “fug” as a substitute for the then-unacceptable four-letter original — was a best-seller, and Mailer returned home to find himself anointed the new Hemingway, Dos Passos and Melville.
Buoyed by instant literary celebrity, Mailer embraced the early 1950s counterculture — defining “hip” in his essay “The White Negro,” allying himself with Beat Generation gurus Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, and writing social and political commentary for the leftist Village Voice, which he helped found. He also churned out two more novels, “Barbary Shore” (1951) and “Deer Park” (1955), neither embraced kindly by readers or critics.
Mailer turned reporter to cover the 1960 Democratic Party convention for Esquire and later claimed, with typical hubris, that his piece, “Superman Comes to the Supermarket,” had made the difference in John F. Kennedy’s razor-thin margin of victory over Republican Richard M. Nixon.
While Life magazine called his next book, “An American Dream” (1965), “the big comeback of Norman Mailer,” the author-journalist was chronicling major events of the day: an anti-war march on Washington, the 1968 political conventions, the Ali-Patterson fight, an Apollo moon shot.
His 1968 account of the peace march on the Pentagon, “The Armies of the Night,” won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. He was described as the only person over 40 trusted by the flower generation.
Covering the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago for Harper’s magazine, Mailer was torn between keeping to a tight deadline or joining the anti-war protests that led to a violent police crackdown. “I was in a moral quandary. I didn’t know if I was being scared or being professional,” he later testified in the trial of the so-called Chicago Seven.
In 1999, “The Armies of the Night” was listed at No. 19 on a New York University survey of 100 examples of the best journalism of the century.
Mailer’s personal life was as turbulent as the times. In 1960, at a party at his Brooklyn Heights home, Mailer stabbed his second wife, Adele Morales, with a knife. She declined to press charges, and it was not until 1997 that she revealed, in her own book, how close she had come to dying.
In 1969, Mailer ran for mayor on a “left conservative” platform. He said New York City should become the 51st state, and urged a referendum for “black ghetto dwellers” on whether they should set up their own government.
Mailer had numerous minor run-ins with the law, usually for being drunk or disorderly, but was also jailed briefly during the Pentagon protests. While directing the film “Maidstone” in 1968, the self-described “old club fighter” punched actor Lane Smith, breaking his jaw, and bit actor Rip Torn’s ear in another scuffle.
Years later, he championed the work of a convict-writer named Jack Abbott — and was subjected to ridicule and criticism when Abbott, released to a halfway house, promptly stabbed a man to death.
Mailer had views on almost everything.
The ’70s: “the decade in which image became preeminent because nothing deeper was going on.”
Poetry: A “natural activity … a poem comes to one,” whereas prose required making “an appointment with one’s mind to write a few thousand words.”
Journalism: irresponsible. “You can’t be too certain about what happened.”
Technology: “insidious, debilitating and depressing,” and nobody in politics had an answer to “its impact on our spiritual well-being.”
“He had such a compendious vision of what it meant to be alive. He had serious opinions on everything there was to have an opinion on, and everything he had was so original,” said friend William Kennedy, author of “Ironweed.”
Mailer’s suspicion of technology was so deep that while most writers used typewriters or computers, he wrote with a pen, some 1,500 words a day, in what Newsweek’s Sokolov called “an illegible and curving hand.” When a stranger asked him on a Brooklyn street if he wrote on a computer, he replied, “No, I never learned that,” then added, in a mischievous aside, “but my girl does.”
In a 1971 magazine piece about the new women’s liberation movement, Mailer equated the dehumanizing effect of technology with what he said was feminists’ need to abolish the mystery, romance and “blind, goat-kicking lust” from sex.
Time magazine said the broadside should “earn him a permanent niche in their pantheon of male chauvinist pigs.” Mailer later told an interviewer that his being called sexist was “the greatest injustice in American life.”
Two years later, he wrote “Marilyn” and was accused of plagiarism by other Marilyn Monroe biographers. One, Maurice Zolotow, called it “one of the literary heists of the century.” Mailer shot back, “nobody calls me a plagiarist and gets away with it,” adding that if he was going to steal, it would be from Shakespeare or Melville.
“He could do anything he wanted to do — the movie business, writing, theater, politics,” author Gay Talese said Saturday. “He never thought the boundaries were restricted. He’d go anywhere and try anything. He was a courageous person, a great person, fully confident, with a great sense of optimism.”
In “Advertisements for Myself” (1959), Mailer promised to write the greatest novel yet, but later conceded he had not.
Among other notable works: “Cannibals and Christians” (1966); “Why Are We in Vietnam?” (1967); and “Miami and the Siege of Chicago” (1968), an account of the two political conventions that year.
“The Executioner’s Song” (1979), an epic account of the life and death of petty criminal Gary Gilmore, whom Mailer never met, won the 1980 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. “Ancient Evenings” (1983), a novel of ancient Egypt that took 11 years to complete, was critically panned.
“Tough Guys Don’t Dance” (1984) became a 1987 film. Some critics found “Harlot’s Ghost” (1991), a novel about the CIA, surprisingly sympathetic to the cold warriors, considering Mailer’s left-leaning past. In 1997, he came out with “The Gospel According to the Son,” a novel told from Jesus Christ’s point of view. The following year, he marked his 75th birthday with the epic-length anthology “The Time of Our Time.”
Mailer’s wives, besides Morales, were Beatrice Silverman; Lady Jeanne Campbell; Beverly Bentley; actress Carol Stevens and painter Norris Church. He had five daughters, three sons and a stepson.
Mailer lived for decades in the Brooklyn Heights townhouse with a view of New York harbor and lower Manhattan from the rooftop “crow’s nest,” and kept a beachside home in Provincetown, Mass., where he spent increasing time in his later years.
Despite heart surgery, hearing loss and arthritic knees that forced him to walk with canes, Mailer retained his enthusiasm for writing and in early 2007 released “The Castle in the Forest,” a novel about Hitler’s early years, narrated by an underling of Satan. A book of conversations about the cosmos, “On God: An Uncommon Conversation,” came out in the fall.
In 2005, Mailer received a gold medal for lifetime achievement at the National Book Awards, where he deplored what he called the “withering” of general interest in the “serious novel.”
Authors like himself, he said more than once, had become anachronisms as people focused on television and young writers aspired to screenwriting or journalism.
When he was young, Mailer said, “fiction was everything. The novel, the big novel, the driving force. We all wanted to be Hemingway … I don’t think the same thing can be said anymore. I don’t think my work has inspired any writer, not the way Hemingway inspired me.”
“Obviously, he was a great American voice,” said a tearful Joan Didion, struggling for words upon learning of Mailer’s death.
Lennon said arrangements for a private service and burial for family members and close friends would be announced next week, and a memorial service would be held in New York in the coming months.