Friday, September 12, 2014

The Girl in the Scandalously Short Red Dress

Sandi Asbury-Johnson front and center in
"The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas"
I have watched my wife dance in all kinds of productions.  I can pick her out of a line of dancers even if they are wigged and wardrobed exactly the same moving around in frantic artistry.  Instinctively my eye goes right to her no matter where she happens to be dancing at that moment.  It is a skill/habit that I embrace with great pride.

This is a picture from the movie, "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas".  The beautiful lady in the center in the scandalously short red dress is my wife. Sandi was one of the "whores" in the movie with Dolly Parton and Burt Reynolds.
It is not the only movie Sandi has done in her incredible career, but by nature of the subject matter perhaps the "sexiest" one.  This is the beginning of a dance number where they strip down to g-strings. Before they were finished filming that number I was thrown off the set.   It wasn't personal there were just too many people trying to watch that day and I was absolutely not essential to the production.

Years after the movie was released I was in Atlantic City performing.  A friend came to visit me from New York.  After my show he wanted to see some of the other shows in town and invited me to go with him.  He wanted to see a "drag queen" review that was at a different Hotel.  There was nothing better to do on that night so I went with him.
The star of the drag show was a Dolly Parton impersonator.  He/she was very good and I suppose if you can't see the real Dolly, this illusion works for some.  If you don't have a real Rolex a knock off watch will still tell you the time.
For the finale of Faux Dolly's act several other he/she dancers joined her/him on stage.  They recreated a production number from "Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" down to the original Tony Stevens choreography and costumes.  I have to say after watching that movie countless times they did a very accurate recreation.
As I sipped my cocktail trying to remember I was watching a troupe of men I found myself tracking one particular dancer on stage. My eye went right to the same dancer almost ignoring the rest of the cast.  It was a guy in puffy hair and a scandalously short red dress.  At first I just thought I was drawn to the red color but then it hit me.  This drag queen was performing Sandi's part in the movie down to her costume. I was entranced by a drag queen on stage impersonating my wife.  The number ended to a big ovation, but I was still trying to come to grips with the fact that I had strange feelings of attraction to the boy/girl in the scandalously short red dress.  Life sometimes throws you a curve.  

As you were,
Jay  

Thursday, September 11, 2014

I Always Remember

So much has happened since then.  So much has changed... but my raw emotions never seem to change.  Here is the way I will always remember it.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


September 11 Remembered...

Reprints from the past:

Those of us who did live past this day in 2001 we will never forget those who didn't.  They were all of us.  There were no blogs, no tweets, no texts, no smart phones connected to social media back then,  but it was seared into my consciousness nonetheless. It was seven years before I thought I could write about it here.

Written on: 
Thursday, September 11, 2008

September 11, 2001 was a Tuesday. No one of this generation will forget where they were when they heard the news about a plane hitting the World Trade Center that morning. Most of us were watching CNN by the time the second plane hit. I was in Boston, which immediately became part of the crime scene.

I was performing for an Insurance company. A week earlier they called and asked if I could move my performance/presentation to Tuesday morning instead of Monday afternoon. They had a scheduling problem and that would help. I had no problem with coming in and leaving a day later. I didn't think much about it until after the events of 9/11. My manager at the time just switched my flights around and adjusted everything by 24 hours. That change in schedule saved my life.

My traveling MO is to catch the first nonstop home to Los Angeles the morning after my performance. In most major cities American Airlines is my carrier of choice. I am a two and and a half million mile American Airlines AAvantage member and in 2001 had Executive Platinum status. It was of no help when all air travel stopped for a week after the towers fell.

Until the company delayed my performance by 24 hours I was booked on the first non stop home after my Monday afternoon show. I was booked in seat 4E non stop from Boston to Los Angeles, Tuesday, September 11, 2001, American Airlines #11. I remember at the time thinking that flight #11 on the 11th of the month seemed lucky. That plane hit the north Tower of the World Trade Center at 8:45 am. Because the show date changed I wasn't on that plane. I was waiting to go on stage.

Even with that graphic life changing example, I sometimes forget that everything happens for a reason. One small decision is sometimes the one that changes your life. Only with perspective do we understand it as either good or bad, and ultimately even good and bad are human judgments.

It would seem natural to thank God for saving my life, but doesn't that make him responsible for the 3000 souls he didn't save that day? There were people on flight #11 much more "deserving" to live than me, or at the least equally deserving. They prayed for protection and deliverance that morning.

I would have been sitting on the plane next to David Angel who was the very talented writer/creator of the television show "Frazier" had my show date remained as contracted. He was deserving to have another day in his life, but he rode the plane into the tower. Who did God love more, me or him? It is a stupid question.

That event does not define me. I do not count the days since I was saved. I have not used it as a testimony in Church. I don't think I was given a celestial "do over". I rarely even remember it unless prompted by some event. All I know is I am here to write briefly about it and David Angel is not. I wrestle with the name Angel trying to make it some sort of metaphor. It is as fruitless as thinking flight #11 on the 11th was lucky. It was what it was. Those who have moved on are not looking back, but here's to all of us who are left behind to try and figure it out.

We will never quite be as we were,
Jay

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

To the Moon Alice.

Between reports of ISIS beheadings, Humas rocket attacks and the Syrian uprising the Constant Conflict News (CNN) was able to report on home fed American violence this week.  Ray Rice and sparing partner Janay were all over the news defending their right to practice Cage Boxing in Atlantic City elevators.  
The NFL players who have been in trouble with the law is not news nor is it a short list.  There have been charges of rape, murder, abuse, drug dealing and assault to name only a few.  Some have served jail terms, been released and returned to their "out of proportion salaries" as football players.  Michael Vick comes immediately to mind.  But then he was only violent toward dogs.
Here are a few facts that can not be separated from the "story" of Ray Rice. 1) The NFL is a multi- billion dollar business in America and winning teams make more money. 2) Players are not people, they are the raw material used in the manufacture of this NFL product called sports. 3)  Lastly and most importantly, the NFL is the passive promoter of a very violent business. 
There is a pretense of thinking professional football is a sporting contest but it is only the modern day PC version of gladiators in the Roman Colosseum.  At least we do not kill players on the field anymore.  However, death and disability due to repeated head injuries years after the players are too old to play is just now being considered.  Obviously the difference between us and the Romans is the length of time it takes for a gladiator to die. 
Football players become rich and famous if successful. They become role models valuable to advertisers who want to sell the products that they endorse.  However, they are not hired because they can sing or dance or tell a great joke. They are hired to play in a violent physical game.  
There is little doubt that violence is encouraged in the sport.  In recent years teams have been fined for encouraging injuries to the opposing team with bonus checks.  They never use the actual word "violence", they call it toughness, or hard tackles. 
So in this industry of inflicting injury the players are not taught manners, sensitivity and normal human interactions. They are taught to hit, hurt and immediately react to a quick snap with all the fury they have. Why then are we surprised when some of these players can't turn off that knee jerk violence when not on the field.  
Ray Rice reacted as football groomed him when his wife did something or said something he didn't like in an Atlantic City elevator in February.   Ray saw someone step over the line and he reacted violently to stop them cold in their advance.  This is not to say that men in other professions do not abuse women, but only in this case does it come from on the job training.  
On "The Honeymooners" Ralph Cramden used to threaten Alice with a balled up fist.  He would say "One of these days, Alice. One of these days,  bam zoom... to the moon." Threatened spousal abuse passed for humor back in the late fifties.  But it is now as dated as the flat painted sets of a black and white sitcom.  Today we are horrified to see a grainy black and white video of a man actually carrying out the Cramden bam zoom threat. 
Ray Rice may or may not play football again.  It doesn't matter he is not ground zero for the problem. Until violence is no longer profitable, and playing a game is more important than winning there will be no change.   
Like work horses professional football players will be trained, encouraged and rewarded for going into a blind rage when they hear the word "hike".  The kind of human they become when not on the field is not the concern of the NFL... unless it affects the cash flow.  When no longer able to hit the hardest or run the fastest they will be turned out to pasture.  Or in the case of Ray Rice... fired because he exposed the underbelly of professional sports. 
If a picture is worth a thousand words... a grainy elevator security video must be worth millions of words. But they are not the words of one man's violence toward his wife, it is a cautionary tale about the hypocrisy Americans have toward violence itself.
As you were,
Jay



Friday, September 05, 2014

Thank you Joan Rivers

I guess if I were to script the exit of an 81year old female comic, she would do one last great show at a club, go into a coma and die a week later.  That seems to be the way it was with Joan Rivers, she did it her way and made a quick exit.
When a comic is so much of the moment, so prolific and has no filter on her pointed wit, humor is sometimes eclipsed by their acerbic nature. That is to say, sometimes I think Joan Rivers went too far in her quest for the joke. I often found myself laughing out of embarrassment.  But I did laugh, even if I thought the joke was a little cruel, there is no doubt it was funny.  There is no line in the sand, funny is funny even if to laugh is sometime against polite society or political correctness. 
Joan influenced so many comics, blazing the trail for female comedians to become accepted in a male dominated profession.  But she was so much more than a female stand up. She was a quick draw with a perfect one liner and never stopped working on new stuff in front of a club crowd.  
Waylon Flowers said that his original routine with Madame was a monologue too blue for Joan to perform. However, Waylon felt It was just right for the unfiltered horny old lady puppet that became Madame. 
I knew Joan Rivers in a professional way. I did a week of $20,000 Pyramid with her, was on her talk show, her radio show and she came to see my solo show "Jay Johnson:The Two and Only" off Broadway at the Atlantic Theatre.  After she saw Jay Johnson:The Two and Only, she had me back on her radio program in New York to promo the show.  She was really wonderful to me. 
I knew Joan Rivers as a staple of the Tonight Show and even the Ed  Sullivan show. She was a headliner when I was fighting acne.  In fact she is responsible for one of my characters.  It is a story I got to tell her personally the week we did Pyramid together.
I was looking for a new character and it seemed all the great ideas had been done.  I really needed to reach for something different.  It was the mid 70's when the love generation had turned drinking age.  People were communing with nature and the popular notion of the time was to converse with your house plants. New research at the time suggested that talking to your house plants and even playing music for them improved their health.  It became a popular notion.
Joan Rivers was on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson one evening. I tried never to miss Johnny. In that perfect conversational style of comedy that Johnny mastered, talking to plants came into the moment. Johnny said to Joan, "Do you ever talk to your house plants?"
Joan said, "Yes, and the other day they said to me... For God's sake shut up Joan."
It is difficult to remember the actual moment of inspiration when you are creating a character, but not this time. This was it, the lightning flash; it was what I was looking for.
House plants that had experienced enough conversation and were speaking up in their own defense. Phil O'Dendren was born at the second Joan Rivers' line settled into my brain. 
It took weeks to make the puppet, and more time to come up with the routine, but Phil and I went on to do most of the major talk shows of the day. Joan Rivers is Phil's muse, and always will be. 

I have been looking for a picture of Joan, Bob and me taken backstage at the Atlantic.  It must be in a box marked Broadway stuff in my office storage, but I can't seem to find it.  Joan made a joke at the time that Bob's face was more flexible than hers.  Her sessions with the plastic surgeon were not above her own acerbic wit. We laughed, but that is too be expected when in the company of a great comedian. 
A lot of people miss you Joan. 
As you were,
Jay

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Can Ventriloquism Be Recorded?

Jaysons Imagination,inc. ©Jaysons Imagination, Inc. 2014
Artist Title: Flying Coach to Coast.
©Jaysons Imagination, Inc. 2014
It is a line from my show Jay Johnson:The Two and Only.
Can Ventriloquism Be Recorded? 
It was a legitimate question asked by a reputable sound man on the set of SOAP.  A very efficient, audio professional, he was aware of acoustic anomalies. He had certainly not ruled out that possibility for why he was in the studio and not in the booth. He knew the physics of why a duck quack will not echo. He was here to solve the audio problem. 
I was clueless. It was the first time I had ever been on a sit com  studio stage,  I thought a quack did echo.
But it was also the first time anybody on a sit com studio stage had ever worked with ventriloquism, which was the one thing I did know about. 
The audio man seriously wanted to know:
Could ventriloquism be a sound anomaly?
Because with all the 1970's state of the art audio equipment ABC owns , there is a problem recording my voice. 
Actually not my voice, my speaking voice was recording fine. It was my ventriloqual voice. 
Specifically Bob's voice. My ventriloquated falsetto is not the an easy sound. It falls higher than my voice so it is difficult to equalize. During my first week, I become aware that the sound of Bob's voice was not recording properly.  The note I got from the sound booth was "We can't understand Bob." Since I am the newest recruit to network television I don't know what they are talking about.  
I tried to sort it out in my mind.  Actors struggle with parts all the time. I must find a better way to deliver my performance.  They can't understand Bob's diction? Is it not loud enough, too high of a register?  I kept trying different timing and different inflections. I hoped this might help the sound guru's hear it more clearly.  Nothing was working. The sound anomaly was still there,
During the first taping, in front of a live audience, the stage manager watched the boom guy move the microphone from me to Bob when Bob spoke a line and back to me when I spoke.  Obviously, Bob's voice was always off mic.  Anomaly discredited as fiction.  Next on to the qualities of a quack. 

I get to act that story in full stage during "The Two and Only". It is even more fun to tell it live. 

Once again the drawing illustrating this blog post has nothing to do with it's content.  That is very unusual in this personalized Internet of everything. Google can actually scan the words in this post in milliseconds.  With the same speed Google can place an advertisement to the side of the page that conforms to some algorithmic interpretation of what this post was about. 
The drawing above is one of my sketches chosen at random. Random is a computer's best friend and it's worst enemy.
I drew the Ghost of "Flying Coach to Coast"  while in flight flying home from the last trip I made. 
As you were,
Jay

Before anyone goes crazy I think the Myth Busters proved that ducks do echo. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Comments and opinions...

The two posts that I wrote about Robin Williams death got more hits than any of the other 1729 I have composed.  In one I mentioned Robin's self acknowledged bipolar condition. In another I talked bout depression and the disrespect of misunderstanding it is sometimes given.  Other than writing about depression from the informed position of my own struggles, I really wasn't discussing the state of mental health care.
Today I get a comment with links and quotes touting the complete nonsense of psychiatry and psychotropic drugs. I immediately deleted the post for several reasons.  It is a long comment that could have been written by a Scientoloigist  as zealous as Tom Cruise, but it was written anonymously. If the comment or statement was a rebuttal in a court of law it would not be allowed because of here say and relevance. Adding to the irrelevancy of the comment, it was attached to a blog post I wrote about the Emmy's.  Not sure what the intent of the comment was, but irrelevant, rambling, roiling comments are not allowed to remain on TWIAS especially if they are signed anonymously.
And...

I got a lot of comments on Facebook when I published this photo of my dog Boo. Some were quick to point out the "wooden children" in the background.  To be honest I had not taken notice of anything but my cute dog's face. Although no one used the words creepy, the implication was there.  It was as if the picture below was the one posted. The main character is related to Bob, the yellow shirt belongs to John Henry and that is an Alligator from a Punch and Judy cast on his shoulder.

Unless I am making them talk, Boo pays no more attention to these wooden Americans than she does to the chair. Thank you to everyone who expressed concern that I might be frightening a cute dog with the tools of my trade, but no worries she is fine. There are only two things that vex Boo and neither is a vent puppet. Squirrels and lizards are the only things that occupy her attention  beside treats .   And as you know I rescued Boo from Weird Al Yankovich so the only thing that traumatizes her is accordion music, not puppets.

I hope everyone has a wonderful Labor Day weekend.  Since there is not MD Telethon this year, it seems to be a perfect weekend to watch.  "Jay Johnson: The Two and Only."  And for all your difficult people on your Christmas list.... my Friend GFlash reminds us all that there are only 18 Friday's until Christmas.  

As you were,
Jay

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Spread the Emmy's Around

Once again the Emmy's were awarded to the television elite last night, and once again I came up empty handed.  That is not to say that I was nominated, nor that I did anything that would qualify this year but the ego of an actor can not be over estimated.  Perhaps the best example of how the Hollywood ego works can be viewed in the Christopher Guest movie "For Your Consideration"
To vet myself with full disclosure, I don't know anyone who has ever delivered a line on a television stage who does not also secretly prepare an Emmy acceptance speech just in case.  I certainly have one ready.  I got to use a version of it when I won the Tony® Award but just in case the Emmy gods are reading this I'm still ready to receive that golden angel for my mantel.

So under the category of "Who really cares outside of Los Angeles county"  I think the Emmy qualifications need to be changed. In the history of the Emmy's you will find that the same show and the same actors win consecutive Emmy's for the same work year after year.  Not that they don't deserve to be honored for continuing to produce good work,  but it is the only major award where that is even possible.  And frankly it is boring. 
SOAP was nominated for Emmy's year after year but always lost to M*A*S*H*. At the time M*A*S*H* was the juggernaut that could not be stopped.  M*A*S*H* was on for 11 years and won 14 Emmy's.  For the years 1971 through 1982 the bet was alway on M*A*S*H* to win and it usually did.  
In contrast "Phantom of the Opera" has been running for 22 years on Broadway.  It opened on January 26, 1988 and that year won 8 Tony's.  Unless it closes and is one day brought back as a revival it will not be eligible for that award again.  And rightly so. The American Theatre Wing has already honored this production with it's highest award.  
The same is true of the Academy Awards Oscar.  A movie, actor, producer, director or any other job on a movie is only eligible for consideration the year it opens.  
The Emmy can be awarded to the same actor or the same show, every year the show continues to run.  To me this is not fair to newcomers who may require more than a year to establish a character or show.  So if you are listening  "Academy of Television Arts and Sciences" here is how I would change the Emmy's.
First of all a show or actor can be nominated every year the show and that character run on television.  Do the work and reap the benefits I say... but here is the difference. If a show/actor wins an Emmy for work during a season... they are not eligible to be nominated for the next two years.  To keep giving out the same Emmy for the same role to the same person is boring.  The next two years that Emmy is available to someone else.  Then after two years if an Emmy award winning show/actor is still doing the same high quality work they can be nominated again.  If that show or person were to win again, the second Emmy would not be for the same work you did last season, but would honor the fact that for the last two years a person continued to do great work.
I have been on this band wagon before and don't know of anyone else who is a champion for the same change. Try to convince Alan Alda how much better it would be if he only had three Emmy's for M*A*S*H* under a new rule instead of the 6 he received under this existing system.  I doubt it will change and the rule will always be "Them that's got seem to get more".
As you were,
Jay
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