Monday, February 13, 2017

Rob Meurer: Overlooked by The Recording Academy but Remembered by Music Lovers

When the 59th Annual GRAMMY Awards broadcast reached their “In Memoriam” part of the show Sunday night, I had hoped to see one name in particular, that of songwriter Rob Meurer, an immensely talented, gifted musician and lyricist from San Antonio, Texas. Sadly, his photo and name were not included on the broadcast. If you know the music of five-time GRAMMY winner Christopher Cross, chances are good that you know the name Rob Meurer. Anyone from “back in the day” in San Antonio and Austin certainly know the talented lyricist and musician.

Rob was the ‘other’ side of the ampersand in the frequent songwriting duo—Christopher Cross & Rob Meurer—on the credits of some of the best songs Cross ever released. On Rob’s official web site, it is noted:

“In terms of pop songwriting, though, my closest and most frequent collaborator by far has been my old friend Christopher Cross, with whom I’ve written nearly 50 songs that are in release throughout the world. When we began writing together I often joined in on the music, but in recent years my concentration with Chris has been as lyricist.”

You likely know “Back Of My Mind,” “Alibi,” “Deputy Dan,” “In The Blink of An Eye,” “Open Up My Window,” “Love is Calling,” “Walking in Avalon,” “Rendezvous”—most of which were early in Cross’ performance years following the multi-Grammy winning album “Sailing” that skyrocketed Cross and his touring career. Although the highly respected GRAMMY winner Michael Omartian played most of the songs he co-arranged and produced, Rob Meurer contributed synthesizer and keyboards to “Sailing,” the album that went 5x Platinum status. Then, too, Rob was Cross’ most prolific coauthor of songs on his subsequent albums.

So, as I watched the 55 photos go by on the late-in-the-show “In Memoriam” segment, seeing Keith Emerson and Greg Lake jammed into one slide for economy’s sake, I kept searching for Rob. Not there. Ones I did see showcased included many I knew had not been part of music careers of over 30 years. In fact, the omission of many far more relevant names patently clear. Those not qualifying for a 3-second TV photo image/name include Gary Loizzo (American Breed founder, and early Styx Producer), Maurice White (Earth Wind & Fire), Jerry Corbetta (Sugarloaf), Tommy Allsup (Buddy Holly & The Crickets), Paul Kantner (Jefferson Airplane), Al Caiola (guitarist on film/TV themes and scores), and Julius La Rosa (singer, mainstay on Arthur Godfrey’s show) just to name a few. Although their names were on the official Grammy list, but they belonged on TV as well, in my opinion.

Not seeing Rob’s name on the “In Memoriam” segment, I quickly abandoned watching the GRAMMY program (a better use of time) and went online to learn how a recording artist, record executive or member of the NARAS foundation gets on the consideration list. Turns out that Laura Bradley of Vanity Fair had asked Ken Ehrlich, the executive producer of The GRAMMYs, that exact question early. Quoting Ehrlich’s response to Bradley’s question in her story:

"…the research stage takes far longer than actually putting together the video itself. Out of the hundreds of artists and industry professionals who may have passed away, only about 50 can make it into the montage itself—and each can only be displayed onscreen for a few seconds. Who makes it in is decided by a committee of about 12 or 13 people from the recording academy, just one more way that the ceremony tries to make the system democratic and objective—and driven primarily by musical influence. “There are people that I would put in there, but it’s not about me,” Ehrlich told the A.P.. “It’s about the music industry as a whole and all of its parts: classical and rock and pop and Latin and jazz. So it’s a difficult process.”

Clearly, it’s a difficult process, and only the top 50 make the slates on the broadcast. I hoped that at least the head office would have Rob’s name listed on the official complete list of the “hundreds of artists and industry professionals” who’d died this past year.

Sadly, Rob Meurer’s name is also currently missing from that official list (click here). Their introductory remarks explain:

“The 59th GRAMMY Awards telecast on CBS will feature an In Memoriam segment highlighting some of these individuals via a video tribute, and all of these individuals who died prior to Jan. 11 are included in the official 59th GRAMMY Awards program book. The Recording Academy salutes each individual for their respective talents and contributions to our culture and community.”

To be fair, given the vast nature of the music industry, and those who pass away during the course of a calendar year, it’s invariable that some names will escape notice. But then, it’s on the shoulders of their friends and colleagues in the music business to submit their names to The Recording Academy just to make certain they’re not omitted, one would think.

Another favorite Cross & Meurer co-write is "Alibi":

Rob had been a vital part of new music for well over 30 years. It’s not like anyone is asking for something undeserved; his work deserved remembrance, if not recognition. After a 12-year hiatus from making a studio album, Cross would return with “Doctor Faith.” As a May, 2011, promotional YouTube video notes Cross reflected:

“This album has 13 new songs that were written by myself and my good friend and collaborator, my long-time collaborator, Rob Meurer. Rob and I met each other when we were about 16 and we were in San Antonio playing in bands and he was the keyboardist in the early band, the early records, and then he and I started collaborating as songwriters first in 1988 with “Back of My Mind.” It’s a relationship and a friendship that I feel very blessed to have and I just look forward to continuing the work that Rob and I do.”

Arguably one of Cross’s most successful tours was for the “Dr. Faith” album, and a DVD/CD recording of “A Night in Paris” was released. Rob remained at home in California, and singer-songwriter Kiki Ebsen handled keyboards and vocals on that Dr. Faith tour, as she’d toured frequently with Cross over the years.

Cross’ stock rose from that tour and it wasn’t long before he was destined for revisiting classic rock favorite-type Yacht Rock tours and enjoys continued popularity on the road today. Good music lives forever and audiences want to hear it.

Although Rob was not on the road for “Doctor Faith,” he was busy with one of his most important passions, writing musical theatre and working with promising young musicians in the Rising Star group that his wife, Beth, founded. Of the Los Angeles-based Rising Star, Rob described on his web site “…kids age 8 to 18 learn the art of Musical Theatre and have a whole lot of fun in the process. I also participate, and have found it to be more rewarding than I ever could have imagined.”

Rob remained steadfastly creative, as he also worked with individual promising young musicians, some the progeny of his former Texas colleagues and friends. For one musical theatre project, Rob was again lyricist on a production called ‘Helldrivers of Daytona,” and it was well received. He was a frequent contributor of time and talents to their church home, and his work Rising Star proved to be among the most fulfilling of all his achievements.

Even though he was living in Studio City, Rob and Christopher continued to work together on Cross’ 12th album, “Secret Ladder.” Yet, this time it was working across the Internet, rather than in person, as the duo would send files back and forth over the Internet as they worked on the songs.

Eleven of the 13 tracks on this album were billed as “Music & Lyrics by Christopher Cross & Rob Meurer.” Cross released this album in September, 2014, on his own label. A modest offering, still it was given a great launch with a national broadcast of the CBS “Sunday Morning” program prior to release.

One or more songs should have naturally found their way to radio play, but the state of terrestrial radio is almost as sad as some of last evening’s GRAMMYs segments. Even if they have a string of GRAMMY awards on their mantle, a solid artist can’t seem to catch a break. It’s up to the artist to tour, play every venue they can book, and provide the PR for their own music, but Cross didn’t tour with “Secret Ladder.”

At Rob’s memorial service in Studio City, Christopher Cross delivered an emotional eulogy that included humor, honesty, and truth:

“Rob was so many things but most of all a devoted friend, he forgave all my trespasses….we were brothers. We were also very dedicated to our work. It’s a rare gift to meet somebody so young in life to be able to sustain that kind of kinship for 40 years. We shared the mystical journey of songwriting. It was like God let us in on a secret no one else knew about. I got a much-needed chuckle out of Beth and Anne the other night at the house when I told her about a conversation I’d had with Rob after our “Secret Ladder” had come out, and had sold 12 copies. I said to Rob, ‘Why do we keep doing this?’ And he answered in a very reverent tone, ‘It’s because it’s what we do.’ And I was humbled to think that he could feel like that. And then he followed that immediately with ‘You didn’t think that we were doing this for the money, did you’?”

Scrolling back on Rob’s Facebook page back last summer and early fall, 2016, whenever visitors would comment, even if not his personal Facebook friends, frequently they’d post a thank-you to Rob for writing lyrics for several of their favorite Christopher Cross songs that they had just heard in concert the night before.

Some even remarked ahead of attending a Cross concert: “Hope they play some of your songs, Rob,” even though that was a likely given. To all posts, though, Rob replied personally, with thanks, and the most humble and gracious remarks you’d ever hope to read. In fact, some of them bordered on slightly self-deprecating as they might include, “Thank you for even remembering these songs!” It was overwhelming to think that the collective genius he possessed was something he was entirely unaware of. He just wrote because “it’s what we do.” They were his songs, too.

At the time of Rob’s passing, Christopher Cross posted this message on his own web site:

“To try and explain how I feel, or to try to imagine how his wife Beth and daughter Anne feel at this moment is impossible, but I felt I wanted to share with you the tremendous love and respect I had for this man,” Cross said. “He was quite simply the smartest guy I ever knew, funny, kind, devoted to his family and friends, and talented beyond measure. Not just with the work he and I did, but his own solo work, and his musical theater projects. His love of the craft was as deep as anyone I’ve ever known.”

One of the best examples of Christopher and Rob in sync is their duet on “Minstrel Gigolo,” on the stage of the Galaxy Theatre. Christopher is playing guitar and Rob is playing dulcimer. Two great friends making beautiful music. That’s the way I want to remember them, like the 66,000 other people who watched this particular video, of hundreds online.

To watch this video (pictured right) click here.

Rob’s time on Earth passed far too quickly. And it would be beyond poignant that, on the other side of the ampersand, the Cross & Meurer compositions would include “Blink of an Eye”:

…'Cause it could be gone in the blink of an eye

It could be dawn in the blink of an eye

Isn't it time that you reached for the sky

And let yourself go

There's a fire deep inside

I said baby baby

Let's steal the moon and let love have its way

Burning like a falling star until we are

A million miles away"

Journal archive Music Dish noted

“Rob Meurer first came to prominence as a keyboardist and arranger on the Grammy-sweeping debut album by Christopher Cross, with whom he has since written and produced several albums. He served as Music Director for Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre and Billy Crystal's A Comic's Line and has also worked with Carole King, J.D. Souther, and Van Dyke Parks, and written with Paul Williams & Jennifer Warnes as well as Nashville hitmakers Rory Feek and Sandy Knox…Rob has written books and lyrics for four musicals…and he taught a songwriting course, Lyric Lab for the Music Talks Educational Center.”

“And” Rob Meurer, indeed.

Three separate memorial services were held for Rob: a life celebration service was held in San Antonio, Texas, hosted by Rob’s sister Margaret Ann Hill and her family in October, 2016, for family and longtime friends from the area to remember him.

A private service for family and close friends was held in November in Studio City, California, and the children of the Rising Star Musical Theatre outshined themselves and the other musicians and speakers present with their amazing gifts of music. A video of the service is also posted online.

In December 2016, in Austin, Rob’s wife, Beth, and their daughter, Anne, hosted a celebration of life which allowed so many of their Austin friends to pay their respects.

One exceptional tribute well worth the time to read is by Gregg Barrios (click name to read), a journalist and longtime friend of Rob’s from their high school days in San Antonio (Rob went to Antonian College Preparatory High School and Cross went to Alamo Heights High School as teenagers).

Anyone who wishes can make a tax-deductible contribution to the Rob Meurer Scholarship Fund. His widow, Beth, wrote a beautiful tribute to his work (click here).

Rob may well be “a million miles away” now, and he may not have made it onto the GRAMMY broadcast or even onto the official list of The Recording Academy (yet), but he is forever remembered. It’s not always easy living on “the other side of the ampersand” in any talented duo, but perhaps in the future, lyricists and musicians who are integral to the music we all love and buy will be heralded and championed during their lifetimes more prominently, so we don’t have to worry about them being forgotten upon their passing. Rest in peace, Rob…and…thank you for all the music.

Robert Alvah Meurer

September 28, 1950 - September 24, 2016

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Mike Connors, star of action detective show “Mannix,” dies at age 91

I didn’t get the memo where my childhood was about to be flashing in front of my eyes at least two consecutive nights but here we are. Today, when the news came of actor Mike Connors’ death, it was sad. Sadder still was the Facebook trending topic—“Mike Conners”—as the social media millennials didn’t quite realize how his name was spelled. I’m convinced they couldn’t do a better job with Krekor Ohanian, Jr., which was his name at birth, on August 15, 1925.

No matter how well we think we know our childhood television favorites, because they’ve been in our living rooms as our guests all our childhood, we really don’t know them at all. And yet, we feel like they’re family, or at least I perceive many of us feel that way. And yet, at age 91, it’s not entirely unexpected that we’d lose another beloved actor at this point, but seeing it happen the day after we lost Mary Tyler Moore was sad.

Sources shared that young Ohanian served in the U.S. Air Force during World War II, and upon discharge attended UCLA on a basketball scholarship, majoring in pre-law. Legend has it he was discovered while on the basketball court. From the web site tvbanter.net,

"In an interview with the website Party Favors, Mike stated that after the game, Bill Wellman told the coach, "Ask the kid if he'd be interested in being an actor." When Connors replied, "Yeah, sure." Wellman promised to give him a call the next time he directed a picture." Days later, Mike was asked by the head of the UCLA drama department if he'd be interested in trying out for plays. Although a law student, Mike was soon bitten by the acting bug. He began taking acting lessons at the university and eventually gave up basketball for a career as an actor."

Ironically, the source failed to mention that Connors was playing basketball for iconic Coach John Wooden at UCLA.

This image is by Boris Yaro of the L.A. Times, at a dinner at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in 1973. Coach Wooden and his wife were the celebrities but clearly it was Mike Connors whose presence also brought an extra special spotlight to the occasion.

Mike met his wife, Mary Lou, in the 1950s when they were students at UCLA, as columnist Bob Talbert learned when he interviewed him. They had two children, son Matthew Gunner Ohanian (1958–2007) and daughter Dana Lee Connors (1960-).

At the time of the article in 1973, Mike was 46 years old and pulling in over $20,000 for each episode of “Mannix.” Imagine the modest weekly sum compared to the millions per episode earned by actors in half-hour episodes of “The Big Bang Theory.” Today’s actors have no real concept of what little the stars of yesteryear, beloved stars, and high-caliber dramatic actors at that, had to live on and make it last.

Nor, do any of these modern-day stars know what it was like to take the Sunday newspaper TV magazine or “TV Guide” and circle the episodes you wanted to make sure and watch each week. Printed on paper, not a sequence of shows scrolled through on your smartphone. But enough about the grand old days of Baby Boomer youth. Or not. Just one more thought.

The commitment of television stars to a TV series was driven by ratings and advertising dollars, then as now, and yet just like the compensation for professional athletes over the past 40 years, the discrepancy in base pay and reward pay is absurd. And yet, it’s the nature of the business.

Fortunately for audiences in the 1960s and 1970s, viewers could count on substantially more quality back then each week than today, when we complain because there are 300 channels and “nothing on worth watching” at times. In the 1960s and 1970s, you had CBS, ABC, NBS, and eventually PBS. And you got up and walked across the room to change the channel on your black and white. Middle America didn’t have regular color TV sets with remotes in every living room until many years later.

And, while we’re comparing, an episode of “Mannix” would stand up every bit as strong as does an episode of “NCIS” or even an episode of “Murder She Wrote.” in reruns today. Crime dramas are ever as popular among audiences today.

“Mannix” was co-created by the team of Bruce Geller, Richard Levinson and William Link. TV fans should recognize those names instantly. Bruce Geller, credited as “Developer” also created “Mission Impossible as well as wrote scripts for several popular 1950s and 1960s shows including “Zane Grey Theatre” and “Have Gun—Will Travel.” Geller was also a songwriter and scored stage plays in his talent repertoire.

You probably know Levinson as a writer and producer who, with Link, co-created “Murder, She Wrote,” and “Columbo” and “Ellery Queen.” William Link also created “The Cosby Mysteries,” which lasted for 18 episodes in the mid-1990s, and he wsa co-developer of “Ellery Queen.”

Now you remember the NBC Mystery Movie rotation with “Columbo,” “McCloud,” and “McMillan & Wife? For one year, 1970, the rotation included “Ellery Queen.” Those were the days of a guaranteed prime-time mystery for at least two hours each Sunday. So, looking at Mannix, you recall Joe Campanella in the first five seasons portraying Lew Wickersham and even Robert Reed was in 22 episodes as Lieutenant Adam Tobias, which was a breakout role for him. Of course, Reed would ultimately star as Mike Brady in “The Brady Bunch.”

One of the most progressive shows at its time, when few African-American actresses were cast in lead roles, Gail Fisher portrayed Peggy Fisher, Mannix’s assistant, whose husband was a police officer killed on duty.

“Mannix” ran from 1967–1975 and began as the final show produced by Desilu Productions, before transitioning to Paramount Television. In all, 194 episodes were filmed and broadcast. Just like “Mission Impossible,” the catchy opening theme of “Mannix” was written by the iconic Lalo Schifrin: There are bonus points if you remember what company Mannix initially worked for. (Hint: it begins with the letter ‘I’.)

Ironically, the show was almost “killed” by the people who brought it to life.

“ At the end of its fifth season, ‘Mannix’ has climbed to sixth in the overall rating game, a superb place. Last year CBS layed it in against NBC’s Mystery Movie (that means ‘Columbo’) and the ABC movie blockbusters like ‘Patton’ and Love Story.’ It was ratings murder even ‘Mannix’ couldn’t solve.”

Ironic, then, because “Columbo” was created by two of the three people who created “Mannix,” Richard Levinson and William O. Link. Don’t you know they had to be sitting there smiling all season? Either way, they won.

Precious free time away from filming the show (per the Cincinnati Enquire (8.14.73, page 29) would find the Connors family “watching son, Gunnar, play Little League shortstop and daughter, Dana, riding in horse shows.” Mike and Mary Lou also spent much time with dear friends Marty Allen and his wife, Frenchie, and they were often spotted eating at Nicky Blair’s on Sunset Strip and playing pinball at the arcade next door.

Another weekend both the Connors’ and the French families “flying to Dallas with Bob Hope to entertain some 500 POWs in the Cotton Bowl.” We who grew up in those days know, but millennials have no idea, of what it was like to have Bob Hope’s leadership in entertaining the troops when they returned home or were away from home overseas. He was always successful in securing America’s favorite entertainers and celebrities to join him in those tributes.

Outside of his acting, you couldn’t say that Mike Connors was a high-profile celebrity. He and his family remained cloistered away from the brighter lights and followed his instincts to live conservatively and save his money. In 2009, the four-time Golden Globe winner was interviewed by Bill O’Reilly, who asked, “Did you fit in with the Hollywood mentality?” “When you first got successful in this business, most people that I started with went off the deep end with big, fancy cars and houses they couldn’t afford, and I tried to stay away from that. I tried to realize that everything comes to an end and to try to accept what was there at the moment.”

Years before “Mannix,” Connors was the character Nick Stone in the TV show, “Tightrope,” an undercover police agent who infiltrated the underworld to expose gangsters and every episode he changed his name. It aired from 1959 through 1960 and was described as “He walks a tightrope between life and death as a police undercover man!” The show’s theme was composed by the great George Duning, and you’ll see from the credits he was billed as “Michael Connors.” You’ll enjoy the vintage “Aqua Velva” commercial, too as well as Connors’ pitch for Williams ‘Lectric Shave’ as the J. B. Williams Company also made Aqua Velva!

In the late 1990s, given his deep unforgettable voice, he was selected to voice the character Chipacles in the TV series Hercules, In 2007, Connors final credited appeared in an episode of “Two and a Half Men,” and my hunch is that Chuck Lorre had been a Mannix fan as a kid and well, you know. In 2009, Connors and his wife would celebrate 60 years of marriage and he joked, “The first 59 were the toughest,” adding, “I just try to enjoy life and realize how lucky I’ve been.” In 1976, Philadelphia TV writer noted that Connors “did a pilot for a series that was to have been called ‘Ohanian,’ about a former homicide detective who ran a charter boat service.” At the time Connors recalled “ABC convinced me that they wanted more action (than Mannix) in the pilot. Then when it ran, they said, ‘It looks like Mannix on the water.” That’s often a problem with actors who make a series or character so believably lifelike that they can easily get branded for the rest of their careers. At least the TV show was to be named for Connors’ real-life name, even though it didn’t end up as a broadcast series.

Connors was most proud of his Armenian roots, and in 2014, he was honored at the ARPA International Film Festival (presented by the ARPA Foundation for Film Music and Art), celebrating independent cinema, and in the beautiful tribute material online, they shared a favorite quote by Connors:

“If nothing else…just do the right thing.”

Absolutely, the wisest thing said all day. #RIP Mike Connors and thanks for all the years of entertainment you gave us.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Mary Tyler Moore, legendary entertainer and producer, dead at age 80

Is it okay to say you’ve lost a family member when that person isn’t even a relative? Well, she wasn’t a relative, but I’ve lost one of my very favorite actresses of all time, who at the very least was like a favorite cousin. The first years I ever “knew” Mary Tyler Moore was as Laura Petrie.

As a proud owner of “The Dick Van Dyke Show” book by Ginny Weissman and Coyne Steven Sanders (1983, St. Martin’s Press), there’s instant access to all the episode summaries for the entire series. Immediately coming to mind without even checking the book are the Petrie home address, 448 Bonnie Meadow Road in New Rochelle, NY. Neighbors were Jerry and Millie Helper. Son Ritchie’s favorite series of lines, “Daddy, did you bring me anything today?” “How about a stick of gum, Rich.” “Yay!”

Favorite episodes where Laura/Mary showed her dancing and singing style (“The Talented Neighborhood” where Doris Singleton’s “Mrs. Kendell” would con Rob into heading up the talent contest, and Mary would audition “a little something.” Then Eleanor Audley’s “Mrs. Billings” pushed Rob to the theatrical “Somebody Has to Play Cleopatra,” again showcasing Mary’s theatrical talents. Or, the “Too Many Stars” episode with Sylvia Lewis, competing with Laura for the prime spot; each of these episodes is a classic.

Probably my all-time favorite episode is “The Alan Brady Show Presents,” where the entire Alan Brady Show (Carl Reiner) staff perform in lieu of a scripted comedy.

The Alan Brady Chorus, hands down, delivers the most hysterical musical episode of the lot, at least in this writer’s opinion. Quick, before you watch, who is ejected from the chorus first and in what order? You know you know this!

Moving forward from 1966, when “The Dick Van Dyke Show” concluded, until 1970 when “The Mary Tyler Show” debuted, time passed very slowly for me. But in 1970, entertainment returned as MTM was back, this time in a James L. Brooks-Allan Burns brilliant creation that they also co-produced, together with Grant Tinker. How many times does a retro TV special include this dialogue?

Lou Grant: "Mary, You've got spunk."

Mary Richards: “Thank you, Mr. Grant.”

Lou Grant: “I hate spunk.”

And so, the show opened in 1970 with “Love is All Around,” written and sung by Sonny Curtis:

“How will you make it on your own? This world is awfully big. Girl this time you’re all alone. But it’s time you started living. It’s time you let someone else do some giving. Love is all around, no need to waste it. You can have the town. Why don’t you take it? You might just make it after all.”

Sonny Curtis sang the opening and closing themes on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show" from 1970-1977. And all of America who will admit it, can sing right along with the song that (re)introduced America to beloved character actors who held regular roles including Ed Asner, Gavin MacLeod, Ted Knight, Valerie Harper, Cloris Leachman, John Amos, Lisa Gerritsen, and Joyce Bulifant.

Her MTM Enterprises flourished in its number and quality of primarily comedy shows produced through the years. Daily operations were headed by co-owner and Mary's former husband Grant Tinker, who died just last November, 2016 at age 90.

Together they were an amazing production team, giving us so many shows we can name right off the tops of our collective heads: “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Rhoda,” “Phyllis,” “Lou Grant,” “The Bob Newhart Show,” “St. Elsewhere,” and “Remington Steele,” to name a few.

Oh, let’s not forget the iconic music and characters of “WKRP in Cincinnati.” The “Big Guy” Arthur Carlson, portrayed by Gordon Jump, and “Little Guy,” Herbert R. Tarlek, Jr. (Frank Bonner), Howard Hesseman’s “Johnny Fever” (et al.), Tim Reid’s “Venus Flytrap,” Loni Anderson’s “Jennifer Marlow,” “Andy Travis” (Gary Sanders), Bailey Quarters (Jan Smithers), and everyone’s favorite reporter, Les Nessman (Richard Sanders), who gave us all newfound respect for the Silver Sow Award and passed on the knowledge that turkeys indeed cannot fly. These shows and the legendary characters are essentially all thanks to Mary Tyler Moore.

As the years passed, the final season show opened with (Sing along, go ahead)

“Who can turn the world on with her smile? Who can take a nothing day and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile? Well, it’s you girl, and you should know it. With each glance and every little movement you show it. Love is all around, no need to waste it. You can have the town, why don’t you take it? You’re going to make it after all. You’re going to make it after all.”

You remember the cat meowing at the end of each show?

That was Mary’s own cat, Mimsie, set to be the MGM lion in training. MGM, MTM…you know.The only time it took on a different voicing was when Bob Newhart recorded his own voice saying, “Meow.” Classic Bob.

Back then, it wasn’t well known, but MTM Enterprises actually co-owned the CBS Studio Center, in Studio City, California; hence, most of the MTM series were shown on CBS. That meant ratings gold for the network and Saturday night programming was locked up at one point in the 1970s with the MTM branding.

As TV Line has just reported Mary’s death at age 80 today, I don’t think about the four Emmys she won, the dancer she was, or even the Hotpoint little wisp of a fairy she was. Some of you are too young to recall the very first days of her career. I just think of a woman of classic beauty, dignity, style and grace, who was a guest in my home for 90% of my life. Sometimes I’d have to go to the movies to see her, as she was capable of handling comedy, musicals, and drama with equal skill.

As a spokeswoman for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, we were aware that she had battled the disease throughout her life. We also know that she lost her son far too young and yet, despite her pain, she pressed on with her career. Even after her divorce from Grant Tinker, she continued to entertain us. And she found love again, with a devoted husband, Dr. Robert Levine, who survives her.

In 1979 she starred in an ill-fated one-season series, “The Mary Tyler Moore Hour” and despite a sterling cast (Dody Goodman and Michael Keaton), it fizzled, but not before garnering an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Art Direction for a Series (of course, fellow credit watching devotees will recognize RenĂ© Lagler and Carl Carlson as experts who’d likely garner an Emmy nod for building a set out of popsicle sticks—they’re that good).

In fact, Mary Tyler Moore’s world was defined by, expanded by, and graced by some of the most iconic character actors, production executives, network executives, and behind the scenes pros. Together, these teams gave us decades of joy, laughter, entertainment, escape, and inspiration to enter a business where everything is exciting, day after day, because it is to bring joy into the lives of others.

As Sonny Curtis sang, “Love is all around, no need to waste it. You can have the town, why don’t you take it? You’re going to make it after all.” And the MTM cat meows, knowingly. As Valerie Harper’s character, Rhoda Morganstern, used to say, “Thanks, Mer..” and lots of love.

Friday, January 20, 2017

How the Aggie 12th Man family can show our love and support to an exemplary Aggie grad

Thanks to social media, today I caught wind of a chance to help a fellow Aggie graduate, Ms. Courtney J. Walker, raise $2500. These funds will sustain her basic living expenses until she can secure a position with an international basketball team overseas.

Many of my fellow Aggie basketball fans probably thought the young star’s life was “all set” when she was drafted by the Atlanta Dream last April 2016. Unfortunately, she was drafted in the second round of the WNBA by a team that already had veteran guards in place. Many of us were shocked that she wasn’t already out on the court playing, as she was a four-year starter who set the Texas A&M record for scoring with 1,989 points.

(Photo, left, by Matt Sachs, used with permission)

After the draft, Courtney told "The Eagle":

“I’m not disappointed in not going in the first round, Walker said. I understand teams have needs, so they’re not just going to pick 12 guards even if they’re the 12 best players. I’m OK in going in the second round. This is a business. I’m just happy to have the opportunity and with a great team at that.”

Examining those words, you see instantly her modesty and humility. She was just happy to be chosen in the draft. No one can take that away from her. Now, let’s stop and think about what this young woman accomplished as one of the most important, beloved Texas A&M student-athletes in school history. She completed her degree studies last month and graduated in Computer Engineering. In fact, she was in the middle of posing for her graduation photos on campus last December, when her phone rang.

It was Coach Blair on the line suggesting that she might dash on over to Rudy’s BBQ on Harvey Road like, now, as he wanted her to be his guest that night. She said, “Coach, I’m in the middle of my graduation pictures but I’ll be right over as fast as I can get there.” True to her word, Courtney set a speed record and entered Rudy’s wearing her cap and gown (I reached for my phone and randomly snapped these photos to save for potentially writing about her future pro career.)

When Courtney was a freshman, she recalled being mentored by Kelsey Bone and finding her way. Courtney and Chelsea Jones (an architecture major) spent many hours together as exemplary time managers who kept up very demanding course loads each semester, while playing, traveling, practicing and soaking up all things Aggie. (Game play photos by Matt Sachs, used with permission)

I remember well that Coach Blair would good-naturedly tease Aggie women’s basketball fans saying, “I can’t start my practice until Chelsea gets done with her architecture group project meetings and Courtney gets out of an engineering lab and by then it’s 5:30!” And then he’d put his hands in the air as though he was distressed, but he was bursting with pride that all of his student athletes crushed their classes like they crushed competition at times.

We’ve established that Courtney had the hardest major to deal with while attending college on a basketball scholarship. You’d find both Courtney and Chelsea in the gym when everyone else had left, and as their playing time showed, Courtney was the most outstanding player on the team and Chelsea was the most improved. Both knew discipline and they missed out on much of the typical Aggie’s free time to sleep late, skip a class, or go home during school breaks.

Note to the wise; no Aggie basketball player is going to miss a class, no way, not under the watchful eye of Coach Kelly Bond-White, who can pretty much tell you if it’s 10:00 am on Monday, then player A is in so-and-so class in such-and-such building, and player B is in … You know the drill. Kelly is all about the complete education just as much as Coach Blair is in insisting on graduation. He doesn’t want to mess up his near-perfect record, but really, he cares that each young woman leaves Texas A&M with a diploma, prepared for the world after basketball, and whatever it brings.

About the funds that Courtney needs. What they are for The way to help is by visiting this link to learn more about the GoFundMe account that requests only $2500 total funds for basic living expenses until she can secure a position with an international basketball team overseas. Because she graduated, she no longer has funds from her athletic scholarship, and she doesn’t feel the time is right to commit to a job or engineering career yet because she could be leaving to go overseas at any moment.

Courtney has an agent scouting the best possible opportunity to play professionally. It’s truly a “sure thing” that she will be chosen to play overseas, as have many of our star school athletes, where they make excellent income in their careers. Many of them also prove themselves overseas and are given second chances to sign with WNBA teams, one example being Sydney Colson, today playing for the San Antonio Stars and as an assistant coach working with Head Coach Tina Langley at Rice University.

The fund, in Courtney’s own words, are for her “needs including things such as my prescribed medications, purchasing new contacts and glasses, training expenses, storage fees before I travel, rent, and other related living expenses until an opportunity overseas is afforded to me.”

In one day, she’s received 6 donations totaling $370 of her $2500 goal, one of which came from her former teammate, Achire Ade (we loved Achire before, we love her even more now! #TexasAggieSpirit). It’s only natural, then, that Aggies who believe in helping other Aggies will want to jump right in and participate in this opportunity to give funds to tide this wonderful young woman over until she can secure her ultimate goal.

For more than four years, Courtney J. Walker gave us reason to smile, to scream, cheer, and believe in success for our women’s basketball team. Just a few of her accolades should be noted.

She was named to the Wooden Award watch.

Courtney was also named to the Wade Trophy watch:

Standout former head coach Carolyn Peck said, “Courtney Walker has one of the best midrange jump shots in the country…she was that go-to wing player for coach Gary Blair and is just so smooth.”

Remember when this stellar shooting guard, Courtney J, would log 39 minutes virtually every game and sometimes when we went into overtime, she could always be counting on to be playing 44 of 45 minutes or more, when we were scrambling for the “W”? She, literally, carried our team on her shoulders many games and didn't think a thing about it. Her attitude was always team-centered:

In April 2016, Courtney was named Women’s Basketball MVP at their annual banquet, repeating her award from 2015 and she was also named “Miss Offense” and she led the SEC with 18.4 points per game.

She had three consecutive seasons where she was named to the First Team All-SEC, and throughout Texas A&M's first years with the SEC, was SEC Freshman of the Week and in 2015 was the espnW player of the week, as just two examples of her multiple honors accomplished as a student-athlete.

Here's what ESPN (November, 2015) said:

"Up against what was probably the most challenging two-game week of any team in the country -- at No. 14 Duke on Wednesday and at home against TCU on Saturday -- Texas A&M emerged with a pair of victories to improve to 4-0. Walker was the chief reason why.

The 5-foot-8 guard has made a habit of playing bigger in Texas A&M's marquee games (18 PPG last season against Top 25 opponents), and she delivered against the Blue Devils. Walker scored 22 points on 8-of-16 shooting, with a career-high 11 rebounds. She also scored the most important points of the game. After the 12th-ranked Aggies lost a second-half lead and found themselves trailing by a point in overtime, Walker scored six of the next eight points. Texas A&M never trailed again in the 72-66 overtime win in Durham, a victory that is sure to pay huge dividends in March. Three days later against the much-improved Horned Frogs, Walker put in a 23-point afternoon, and again, her timing couldn't have been better. Off to its best start in four years, TCU led for most of the game, but Walker scored five points in a 9-0 run that gave the Aggies the lead with 5 minutes, 36 seconds remaining. When the Frogs regained the advantage, Walker again had the answer with four points in a 6-0 spurt that put A&M in front. The two-time All-SEC first-team honoree also had eight rebounds and was an efficient 10 of 14 from the field in the 82-78 win. Texas A&M's all-time leader in free throw percentage, Walker went 8-of-9 from the line in the two games and is an 87 percent shooter in her career. …Walker also played 78 of a possible 85 minutes against Duke and TCU… Over four games, Walker is averaging 18.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game, shooting 59.6 percent from the field."

Clearly, Courtney J. Walker was our “go-to” player for all four years of her academic/athletic career as a starter at Texas A&M.

On January 12, 2017, my basketball friends and I landed in Flash Seats very close to the team where we delighted in waiting for the famous “Gary Blair jacket toss to Radar Ricke” when the time is right in the game. My eye spotted Courtney a few rows away, sitting by herself, cheering her team on quietly. She didn’t seek any special recognition or spotlight. She just was happy to be there in support of her team, and that’s what Aggie former students do.

I’m hoping that everyone who reads this will consider a contribution of any amount to spell Ms. Walker while she waits for her dream career to come true.

You can donate anonymously if you wish, or you can include your name.

Please know that your funds go straight to Courtney so she can pay her bills, using this secure online funding portal. Let’s show her what her fellow Aggie family can do to show her our appreciation for everything she did to give us some of the very best basketball games to yell about—ever. Let’s show her 12th Man Spirit and perhaps exceed the modest $2500 she requests.

It may take a few months before she has a signed contract with her international team because it’s a business that doesn’t move as fast as Aggies do!

This is a golden opportunity for all former students, friends, and fans of Texas A&M Women’s Basketball to step up and be a part of a team of encouragement and tangible support for a truly special young Aggie graduate, Courtney J. Walker, ’16.

Again, to help Courtney, click this link. Let’s take a moment to think of this stunning opportunity to say “Thank you” to a young Aggie graduate who, for four straight years, has exemplified everything good and right about Texas A&M as a destination for student-athletes to succeed in life. Gig ‘em, Courtney J. Walker!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Actor Miguel Ferrer Dies at Age 61 after Quiet Battle with Cancer

When Deadline Hollywood reported the death of actor Miguel Ferrer today, at age 61, the first thought was one of sorrow that those who love to watch “NCIS:LA” had suspected for some time now. The man who played NCIS Assistant Director Owen Granger had gone through some visible changes in the past year.

For the first three weeks of January, the entertainment world has lamented the loss of favorite actors, and the usual diatribe has been devoted to “isn’t it a shame that” and yet, we the audience never met these icons in person, so to claim something as “our loss” is a clear sign of what their work product has meant to us, and to so many others, as wanting to identify and associate with an actor’s passing.

Yes, age 61 is clearly “gone too soon” for anyone, but in Miguel’s case, it is unquestionably gone too soon as this talented man had so much great work ahead of him, including voice roles and that, along with the impact of his loss to his family and friends, is substantive.

Being the oldest son of two icons is far from easy. Born to actor Jose Ferrer (Oscar winner, 1951) and Rosemary Clooney (legendary singer), Miguel had grown up in the midst of Hollywood but, strictly from perception at a distance, he is one who wasn’t pressured to enter the business, but willingly did so, while exploring a diverse level of talents and skills. He was an accomplished actor, voice artist and musician.

Like many second-generation Hollywood actors, people often assume that there’s some special advantage in having famous family members preceding them in the business. There is none. Reality was that in 1967, Jose Ferrer and Rosemary Clooney divorced, and all five children lived with their mother afterwards, with Miguel then only age 12. From Rosemary’s own autobiography, the children grew up far from being under close parental supervision but each has found their own way forward.

One especially fun fact from the IMDB data base notes Miguel is credited on drums on Keith Moon’s album, “Two Sides of the Moon.” Now, remember “Owen Granger” and try to match that up with Keith Moon. Pretty funny, right? It’s acting. All acting, especially as he kept his recent health challenges to himself. From actor, to drummer, to ‘voice’, in 1999, Ferrer was nominated for a Grammy for Best Spoken Word Album for Children in Disney’s “The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride Read-Along” (1999).

Although many people know him primarily as “Granger” on “NCIS:LA” or as “Dr. Garret Macy,” costarring with Jill Hennessy on “Crossing Jordan,” Miguel was a veteran dramatic actor in television, but he was also famous for the movie “RoboCop” and “Twin Peaks.” Ferrer was also a musician, among his many talents. In his early years, Ferrer played drums in bands, including those with his mother, and with Bing Crosby, godfather to Miguel’s brother, Gabriel. As a younger musician, he cofounded the band, “The Jenerators,” with actor/singer/songwriter Bill Mumy (“Lost in Space,” “Twilight Zone”).

Although Miguel’s illness was never disclosed by anyone at “NCIS:LA” or “CBS,” it’s clear the series creator Shane Brennan was aware of his health challenges. At the beginning of his work on the current season of “NCIS:LA,” Miguel Ferrer tweeted “Middle of shooting 802. Starting off as the best season yet by far. Stories and action second to none. Some damn good acting too,” on July 26, 2016. Recently as the eighth season has progressed the NCIS–LA office has been searching for a (so far unfindable) mole. Just last Sunday, the episode “Hot Water” showed Granger being stabbed by an assailant while he was in police custody. The next episode, “Under Siege” will not air until Sunday, January 29.

[Right: Photo of Miguel Ferrer and Daniela Ruah by Ron P. Jaffe/CBS, used with permission]

In one of Miguel’s last Instagram posts, 17 weeks ago actually, he shared a poignant picture from 1979 with Todd Fisher, taken at Telluride. It received 599 likes. Who knew that 14 weeks later, Todd would lose his sister, his mother, and his friend? There’s great overlap between the two families no doubt as well as those of others, as many all grew up in similar situations and circumstances, in the public eye at times, and many continue to work in the business today.

Realistically and clearly, we don’t know these people, personally, whose deaths we all tend to fall into a pattern of lamenting across social media. But we feel like we do when we invite them into our homes each week on TV. They are there at our invitation. So, it is a natural reaction then to offer our condolences in memory and in respect of their passing.

No, we don’t claim them as family, but to all who are quietly considering the preciousness of life and the fleeting moments that pass by us faster than sound it seems, may we each remember to be grateful that people spend a lifetime in the world of entertainment, giving us their very best to remember them by, so much so in fact that we pause to reflect on their passing, sharing news of same with others. They will always be remembered and regarded, along with reruns and rebroadcasts of their work.

May we then, perhaps, remember to say “thank you for a job well done” to people in our daily lives who we do know, who might appreciate hearing it now and then. Accolades are for everyone. The following message was posted across CBS Social Media late today:

Miguel is survived by two sons by ex-wife Leilani Sarelle, Lucas and Rafael, and he is survived by his widow, Lori Weintraub, as well as his brothers Gabriel and Rafael, and his sisters, Maria and Monsita, and all of their respective families.

Even though his name is currently a ‘trend’ on Twitter, when that fades, his body of work stands as his best memory for all of us to remember him, with great thanks for his talents.

One of his favorite quotes from his IMDB page:

(1999) "My favorite place in the whole world is Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The whole experience in Wyoming is just fantastic. It's renewing. In the winter we'll go skiing, and during the summer there's golf, there's Yellowstone, there's just whatever. It's the best place in the world."

Vaya con Dios, Miguel Ferrer.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Ruben V Band heats up a frosty College Station night at The Canteen

The most beautiful part of discovering great music is when you least expect it, specifically in between semesters at a venue so brand new that it’s still a best-kept secret in a college-based community that has long awaited such an outstanding establishment.

For us, Ruben V (guitar,vocals), James Pickens (bass), and Steve Mendez (drums) performed blues classics plus Ruben’s original songs that show why this band defies categorization into just one genre. (Photo L to R: Bob Bilberry, Susan Adams, Ruben V, and Rhonda Brinkmann at Cavalry Court)

Our musical search party of four congregated at The Canteen on Friday, Jan. 6, the local restaurant arm of Cavalry Court, a dynamic boutique hotel sure to please Aggies who will discover it upon their return for Spring 2017 classes. Retro military style lettering, serving trays with generous portions of tasty food, atop long parachute-folding style tables are a throwback to those who’ve worked or lived on military bases. Hi top chairs and tables are also available in the true canteen style. For most Aggies, that means “home.” High ceilings and a warm fireplace made this venue most welcoming as it was 28°F and windy outside but it felt like home inside.

If you don’t know the story of Ruben V’s music journey, it’s worth checking out at www.rubenv.com, and please don’t try to categorize his style as “just blues,” because he’s a man whose muse crosses boundaries and barriers. He loves all kinds of music and plays whatever he loves. Ruben generously took the time to visit with us during a break in his sets last night and by the end of the conversation, we were all old friends, so gracious and engaging is his personality.

His music career began at a young age, but just because he idolized his dad. His father had been in a band, performing favorite country standards, and Ruben grew up hearing Hank Williams (Sr.) and others. A young Ruben would get up on stage and play guitar for a song or two with his dad, and guitar-wise, you’d almost be tempted to recall that a young Joe Bonamassa had hopped onstage about that same age and showed the crowd it was about woodshedding rather than age that made a performer worth a listen.

Ruben’s teenage years during the 1980s found him playing heavy metal guitar in the land of big hair and crowds who were still quoting “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” down around Corpus Christi, Texas. Over the course of his career, Ruben has created great original songs in addition to mastering blues, rock, soul, and Latin music alike. Acoustic or with full band, he’s built a loyal following over the years and his first success came playing a lot of heavy metal for audiences. If you’re wondering where to find Ruben V CDs in a record store, the answer is “somewhere, everywhere or nowhere.”

Ruben said, “I used to work in a record store and I remember what it was like when there were artists’ CDs that didn’t fit into any one genre. They weren’t rock or country, blues, or jazz, they were…unique.” Now, Ruben says, “I find myself in exactly that same group of “We don’t know where to put him,” but today that’s more of a fun memory than a true issue of concern. He shifted one major genre, from heavy metal to blues, on the occasion of performing at a beach festival in Corpus on one supremely classic Texas summer day of heat.

Says Ruben, “We were all out there having a great time and it was a typical beach day, and all of a sudden, here’s this guy dressed in a full red suit that looked like velour or suede, playing his guitar, and he was larger than life.” More to be heard than watched, the music of this gentleman would forever change Ruben’s life he said. It was…Stevie Ray Vaughn. “I want to play like him,” Ruben said. And he did. From that point on, Ruben V’s music would expand genres, and potentially confuse some folks along the way as they’d go to one concert and hear one kind of music and then sequential concerts marked additional progress and travel across styles.

Actually, defying categorization into a single genre of music pleases Ruben. He’s just fine with creating his own sound, defining his own brand of music and he’s been fortunate to work with multiply gifted producers, including Richard Mullen (Eric Johnson, Joe Ely and Stevie Ray Vaughn) as well as Jim Gaines (Santana, Blues Traveler and Stevie Ray Vaughn) on his music to date. Yet, Ruben’s original music should not be considered strictly blues. He has his own style and his delivery in performance last night was consistently strong and felt groundbreaking in the vibe, as though he was recreating the joy of when he first learned to love the genre.

The journey for band and patrons alike to locate Cavalry Court’s Canteen was a bit challenging last night, especially since the construction around the venue is in full force, but he said he had not been to College Station in 25 years. The place he’d played then was The Tap. Ruben asked if it was still around and we all shared that it was, though none of us had been there. He laughed as he shared his memories of one night, 25 years ago, he’d just come here to visit a friend who was in a band booked to play The Tap. They were a typical 80s band and yet when they saw him in the audience, of course, they asked him up on stage to do a song. Ruben chose to play a song by Stevie Ray Vaughn. That didn’t really fit in with the genre of those favoring 80s electronic/hair bands, not at all.

One disagreeable patron took his position at the front of the stage, yelling, “That’s terrible. Play Depeche Mode!!” There was another nearby patron who like Ruben’s song selection and he showed just how much by powering back his right arm and slamming it into the face of the Depeche Model fan, the blow landing the dissenter onto the ground.

And that was all it took for the fracas to begin. The entire inside of the bar, stage included, was a wreck, thanks to the fighting that broke out. Blame it on Stevie Ray Vaughn? No, blame it on Ruben, at least that’s what his friends in the band said, “It’s all your fault we can’t keep playing our music tonight, man.” Ruben said, “The band was so mad at me.” Everyone was ushered outside where a group of guys who looked as though they were all part of a football team were waiting for them.

Rather than get pummeled, Ruben said, “These big guys looked at us and said, ‘We really liked your song, man. You’re great.’” And then Ruben laughed as he recalled, “That made the guys in the band hate me even more. I was doing great that night, ha.” Ruben, the band and the football-built guys all went back inside and helped clean up the mess and restore order so the professionals could come in and work to restore the stage et al. the next day. And Ruben left town and he hasn’t been back in 25 years.

He was really glad to be performing at Cavalry Court on Saturday, rather than The Tap, one thinks, but his music has remained the same, only expanded, and this time it’s his band and his friends and his audience who came to see him and hear his music. The good news is that, even though it is between Aggie semesters, he still pulled in a nice crowd of our local townsfolk who wanted music and food on a cold night out.

Here's a quick snippet as a sampler (thanks to YouTube user ChicagoGold66):

The Valencia Hotel Group has properties in College Station, Austin, San Antonio and Houston, and Ruben will be playing at the other properties as well in days to come, so be sure and check him out wherever you are. And, as some in our party did that night, buy one of his CDs or two if you want. They’re only $15 and with his signature, they’re even more valuable. Check out his web site at www.rubenv.com and see his discography; very cool.

The laundry list of famous recording artists and beloved musicians of the blues genre with whom he has shared a stage, whether opening or just on the same bill, is impressive. The producers he’s been working with on recent records have a boutique clientele and a track record for commercial recording success.

Ruben isn’t impressed or moved by any of that. He is just happy to be playing music and traveling the road, taking his songs to appreciative audiences. That, and he’s glad not to be stuck in a job in a record store trying to figure out where to place his own CDs in the stacks. Just don’t try to categorize him in one single genre and you’ll be right at home with Ruben V, friends for years to come. It was the perfect evening out of the cold, warmed by the blues and the musicians who brought them to us.