Thursday, May 30, 2013

Whatever Happened too...?

Before there was... "So You Think You Can Dance" there was a short lived show starring Jay Johnson and Bob called "So You Think You Got Troubles". It was similar in structure.  Contestants, three "judges" with the outcome determined by voters was the same.  In our case the studio audience voted on the best advise that a panel of "experts" gave as the answer to their "troubled story". It was mainly an interview show giving Bob and I an opportunity to interact with people who had interesting if sometimes disturbing stories to tell. Think, a Daily Show version of the Dr. Phil Show.  
I do not own a complete copy of this show.  To see a small pomo for it on YouTube was at the same time interesting, humbling, and certainly nostalgic.
There were 75 of these shows done over the course of a season. They reside now somewhere in the vault of Ralph Edward/Stu Billet productions. I remember working very hard with the belief I was being groomed as the second string for Pat Sajack. Who could have known that the tide of Television Game shows was peaking at that very moment.  I forged some wonderful friendships from that time in my life. Television was a different animal back then and I am glad that I was part of it. Oh and the voice you hear announcing was my friend Rod Roddy.... who went on to announce for the Price is Right.  We became friends when he was announcing for "Soap". I thought at the time he and I would become Johnny and Ed.  Could have been.
Thanks Stu for giving me this chance and believing in me at the time. 
The best part about this clip is... it is short.

As you were,

Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day

I live in the flight pattern of Van Nuys Airport which is home to the Antique Air force, vintage WWII planes that still fly for special occasions such as Memorial Day.  Moments ago a formation of five P-51 Mustangs growled through the sky above my house. It is rare you get to see a P-51 in action and it is even more rare to see five flying in military formation. It makes me think about what this day is all about. 
My Dad, Lt. Arthur Noel Johnson, Jr., served in WWII as a radar specialist on several Aircraft Carriers in the United States Navy, and because of his specialty in radar and navigation was recalled to serve in the Korean War.
He was on a ship and away at war when my Brother was born, and I learned to talk while he was away for the Korean war.
Dad had four brothers and no sisters.  My mom had three brothers and no sisters. When he returned from active duty Dad had two sons of his own.  At the time it seemed as if the Johnson's could produce only Y chromosome's, but Mom and Dad really wanted a daughter. They were contemplating adopting a Korean girl when Mom got pregnant. As things work out my sister was born. I have never let her forget that she was just that close to being Asian. 
Lt. Johnson - My Hero.
When he finally resigned his commission Dad had this uniformed picture taken and three copies made, one for each one of his kids. This is my copy of that picture on the right. It is not the way I remember my Dad, who passed almost two years ago, because in this picture he is not smiling. The way I remember it, he was always smiling and if he wasn't that meant I was probably in big trouble.
We remember our heroes who died in the armed services today, but there were many men and women who returned from combat duty. They are heroes too. People like my Dad who came back home to make the country he fought for better. 
My Dad was an excellent story teller and his Navy stories were some of my favorites. Growing up there was a framed picture of the Shanghai Harbor printed on silk hanging above my folk's piano.  It was a reproduction of the  late 1940's Shanghai sky line from the perspective of the bay.  In my mind I can still recall Dad looking intently at that picture from time to time.  From the stories I loved so much I knew where he "was" in those moments.
He was on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Blue Ridge with his binoculars. The Ship's time was different from mainland China time. One of the tallest buildings in Shanghai had a clock tower. By checking the time on the tower clock though his binoculars he could calculate what time it was back home. He would try to visualize what his young family was doing at that moment.  If he was on duty it  usually meant we were sound asleep half-way around the world, safe because of him.  
I don't think he needs those binoculars anymore, and he is sailing a ship where time doesn't exist, and just like when he was away from us on the Blue Ridge, I can't see him.  But I know he's "over there" still on duty, thinking about what I am doing, still making it safe for me, and the rest of his family.
I will always remember him on Memorial Day and everyday.
As you were,

Friday, May 24, 2013

So You Think you're Married to a Dancer?

I have a thing for dancers.  Always have always will. For the last several decades my "dancer thing" has been restricted to one dancer in particular,
Sandi Johnson.  It is not that I don't still appreciate a well turned set of gams, it is the fact that my wife Sandi can kick higher than I can jump. I can't risk the pain for a momentary lustful memory of my wondering days. So I appreciate younger tersichorists covertly. 
Since I have known her, Sandi has been taking dance classes, even to this day.  Ballet, and Jazz classes primarily and unless she is working, she will go to one or both twice a week.  
This morning I see her dressed in tights.  I say, "Are you going to class?"
"No." she says, "Why?"
I answer, "Because you're in  your dance clothes."
"These aren't dance clothes... These are just tights."
"Oh," I say, "They look like your dance toggs."
"Nope", says she.
After thinking about that for a moment I say, "What is the difference between the tights you have on and dance tights?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean... those tights look exactly like what you would wear to ballet. How are they different."
Sandi gives me a look and says, "Because.... I am not wearing these tights to dance class today."
It is my inability to comprehend those subtle differences that has out that has kept me from becoming a dancer.  
As you were,

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Live Performing....

It is immediately obvious that Live performing beats Dead performing any day.  Although it could be argued that dead performing does not exist I beg to differ.  
Audience for the dead
Years ago LA was plastered with advertising banners that proclaimed the "King Tut Tour" was coming to town.  The tour did really well and I would have to say that young King Tut is the "deadest" performer of them all by several millennia, and still more talented than young Justin Beiber. But enough about the dead... let's talk Live performing.
Live performing is the ultimate drug of choice for the talented. I am reminded of that each year the Tony Awards come round again because "The Tony" is a celebration of Live performance.
Mel Brooks was documented in a special on PBS called American Masters recently. Here is a man who has seen every side of show business, This Oscar/Tony/Emmy winner has gone from writing (script and music), acting, stand-up comedy, television, movies and wrote and produced the greatest Tony winner of all time, The Producers. In the documentary Brooks said that the greatest thrill of his entire career was his success on Broadway.  That immediate response, the discipline of hitting the mark every night, 8 times a week and the sheer energy it takes is unlike any other.  
There is no other form of entertainment that is as immediate, when performance and experience is such a mash-up. From my personal experience, although much more limited than the likes of Mel Brooks, it is addictive. 
An actor can sit in the audience and experience his performance on screen but it is at best half of the thrill. Nowhere else but on the stage can an actor feel the emotion they convey at the exact moment the audience does. The uniqueness of this event and the fact that it will never be repeated in quite the same way is what the artistry of performing is all about. 
The differences between live and recorded performances may not be so radically enhanced for the audience but I believe the viewers also realize the speciality of the live performance.  There is nothing wrong with a mass produced, always the same, hamburger; but even the most banal of taste buds appreciates the difference between a Big Mac and a homemade one-of-a-kind backyard burger. 
So here is to all the nominees for the Tony Award this year. You are all winners. You have participated in the most unique form of your artistry and your craft has been acknowledged by your peers.  The trophy will eventually tarnish and get older, but that memory of "bringing it" to an audience night after night is an experience-evergreen. 
I am a Live performance junkie and might be persuaded to trade my Tony for the chance to do eight shows a week at the Helen Hayes Theatre in New York for the rest of my days. 
Congratulations to all of you Broadway actors, dancers, gypsies, singers, writers, designers, musicians, technicians and stage managers who will tread the boards tonight. Break a leg and rejoice in this moment. The muse of art has smiled upon you and you are truly blessed. 
As you were,

Monday, May 20, 2013


In New York distance, the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf is a straight six block walk from my house but this is LA so I drive. I pull up in front of the establishment and give my car keys to a person with a heavy foreign accent wearing a red vest. I assume he is the valet but there is nothing to indicate this except the vest and an over-eagerness to drive away in my car. I watch as he finds a parking place on my street about a block from my house, I should have suggested that he just park it in my driveway.
I walk inside the Coffee Bean and immediately the smell of fresh coffee inspires me to start typing. But first I have to locate the perfect table from which to write. It is not crowded today I have my pick of places. I decide that I will occupy the small table by the front window. I can watch the people walking by and immerse myself in the process of creation. I am really looking forward to sitting here, starting my week off with a well written, well thought out missive of social importance. I step to the cash register and encounter a new barrister on duty. "I'll have a double expresso with an extra shot." I say almost by rote.
"So you want a triple expresso?" she said.
It took me a moment to process the fact that indeed it was the same order. Although I have been ordering that same drink since I started coming here, no one has ever called it a "triple expresso" before this moment. Obviously she was new.
As I am paying the girl says, "I think that I have seen you on television, haven't I?"
In my best interpretation of humility I say, "Yes if you look quickly and watch old television shows."
"I knew it. I knew I'd seen you before and I thought it was on one of those old shows."
OUCH... but then she quickly attempted to redeem herself.
"How is your script coming?"
Before I answer I wonder how she knows what I am up to? I am working on two different writing projects right now. One is a stage play and one is a screen play, but how does she know.. and which script is she asking about. Saying, "which one" is too egotistical so I cop out with a place holder answer, until I get more information I say-
"Or whatever it is that you're writing. You are a writer now, right?" She said.
"How did you know that... because I ordered a stiff coffee and have a lap top in hand?"
Counting out the proper change and says, "It wasn't so much that as it is... I have noticed most old actors don't really retire, they just become writers." I am rendered silent during the brief moment she delivers my receipt -
"Is that for here or is it to go?" she asks.
I look around to see that my favorite table by the window is now being occupied by an elderly gentleman stooped over an old Dell lap top typing with two arthritic fingers. He looks familiar... isn't he the guy that used to be the one who played....
"I'll take it TO GO, thanks."
As you were,

Saturday, May 18, 2013

A Dolphin by any other name?

I am not a military man..  Although my father was a Lieutenant in the US Navy during World War II, called back during the Korean "conflict" and served honorably.... none of that was passed on to me. There were some definite naval attitudes in my raising but I think my Dad would have been as good of a Father and wonderful man irregardless of his military experiences.
I never served in the armed forces. Vietnam was my war, but I didn't have to go. I would have gone if called although I never understood how a country of rice farmers had any impact on my life.   For me I think the experience would have altered the person I am today.  It is speculation to wonder if it would have changed me for the better or worse.  
Growing up in the "tune in, turn on and drop out" attitudes of the Make Love 60's I will never understand the military.  An organization who's sole purpose is to train humans to kill other humans on command does not jibe with any part of my being.  Yes, I suppose that I owe my freedom and liberty to that organization but I will never fully understand it. To even understand it would change my persona to that degree.
All this speculation was brought to my attention by an article in the Times today.  It is about the underwater discovery of a 19th century brass torpedo found off the coast of San Diego... just a dingy ride from the Hotel Del Coronado. At the time it was made in the US, it was the state of the art in military armaments. It had a speed of 25 knots and could be fired from above or below the water and did not create a wake in it's path. At a time when most homes did not have electricity, it was a major accomplishment.  
Howell torpedo
 Naval Undersea Museum in Keyport, Wash.
It was called the Howell Torpedo and there were only 50 manufactured.  The design was enhanced and improved upon by another part of the military industrial complex and that standard became the weapon of choice.  Until this recent discovery there was only one known to be still in existence, on display at a Naval Military museum. The one who discovered it will not be promoted, awarded a medal nor even given a party by his buddies.  In fact he doesn't even have a name. 
It happened on a routine training mission.  The Navy was training bottle nose dolphins to use their sophisticated sonar to recognize and locate mines, torpedoes and enemy divers in murky waters, hidden under the ocean floor. The Navy has realized that no man made machine can come close to the abilities of the bottle nose dolphin.  Like bomb sniffing dogs the Military is training the naturally tame dolphin to participate in war. 
It is nothing new, we have been using animals to wage war for centuries, from the war horse to the elephant, dolphins are just the latest exploitation. I suppose that will continue until we can invent a machine that is superior to natural abilities. 
Whether that is moral or right or smart is not the discussion here. What is under discussion is the name of this super sonar soldier the Navy is using.  His name is "10"... not a name so much as a quick way to identify military inventory. 
Drug and explosive sniffing dogs are given names not numbers. When they are retired they usually become the personal pet of the soldier handler. Even for the military there is some sort of acknowledgment that the dog is a living creature not a piece of hardware. There is a belief that dolphins are more evolved and more intelligent than a dog so why are they given numbers.  They don't refer to soldiers and sailors by number. In fact the only living things we refer to by number are prisoners. 
The point is... how hard would it be to give "10" a real name? The fact that he discovered this rare relic so near the Coronado Naval base as to be a potential threat would make him a hero in human standards. In fact no human with any equipment available today could have discovered it.  I doubt he even got an "atta boy 10" when he was patted on the snout. 
I suppose until the world realizes that all life, even animal life, is connected there will be war, and if there is war then there will be organizations dedicated to killing. BUT, until that moment comes can we at least pretend that we care? 

As you were,

Friday, May 10, 2013

Puzzling problems

On FaceBook a man claimed to be a genius because he was able to complete a puzzle in less than three hours and on the box it said, "Three to six years."

Another guy gets a call from his girlfriend.  She is very depressed.  When he asks her what's the problem she says, 
"I got this jigsaw puzzle at the store and I can't put it together. I have been working on it for hours. None of the pieces seem to fit together and I can't make it look at all like the picture on the box." 
"Well, what kind of picture is it?" he asked "Is it that complicated?"
She said, "I think it is supposed to be a tiger,
"Hold on honey... I'll be right over to try and help".
Three to six years.  
The guy makes his way over to the girlfriends house and sees the puzzle pieces spread out on a card table in front of the box.  He stares at it for a moment and says,
"I think you are under too much stress, my dear.  I suggest you relax and have a glass of wine.  I'll help you put the Frosted Flakes back in the box."
I hope you have a wonderful week end.  Happy Mothers Day to all you Mothers.
As you were,

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Used without Permission

I remember when we ran my show in London. I was blogging about the experience with stories involving my stage manager Julia, lighting tech Ruthie and sound man Nathan. London theatre had a different lexicon of terms used backstage and I would write what I heard.  This often involved quoting them.
One evening Julia said something funny and I asked, "Do you mind if I use that in my blog?"
She said, "Why never asked when you quoted me before." Why I thought that my stage manager was unaware of my daily missives was total naivety on my part.
With that experience in mind, I know that my friend Paul Osborne occasionally reads this blog, and I did not get his permission to paraphrase one of his personal social media posts.  But here it is... I'll make it up to Paul later. My Pappy used to tell me "it's sometimes easier to apologize than it is to get permission." 
It seems a Texas cop pulled Paul over because one of the tail-lights on his car was not working. As the cop started to write up the ticket Paul said, "Do you know who I am...?"  The Cop stopped writing for a moment, looked at him and said, "Well, you're NOT Reese Witherspoon." They both chuckled, but the ticket was still issued. 
Another friend had a different cop experience in California.  At a corner there was a sign that said, "No left turn - except RTD busses."  My friend needed to turn left and did so anyway only to find a cop in waiting.  The cop pulled him over and asked if he had seen the sign. My friend Dick said, "Yes sir, and  just for a moment I forgot I was NOT driving an RTD bus."  The cop chucked a little and stopped the ticket writing process.  The cop said, "You are certainly in violation but I have to let you go."  The cop told Dick that once a month some of his cop friends get together at a bar and exchange "ticket" stories. The best story is rewarded with free drinks from the others. The only rule to the game was that the "perp" had to get a pass.  He said he was sure to win with this story so he let him go. I am thinking that Texas cops should have more drinking games on their off time. 

Okay so I didn't get permission from Dick Christie to tell his story either. I'm not sure how I can make it up to him but I will try to practice quid pro quo with Paul Osborne.

Paul has made a career out of designing magic tricks, big and small. He sells blueprints to those magicians who can build their own illusions. He is also a funny guy as you can see from his exchange with the Texas law.  He put together a book of blueprints for things that would confuse and confound even Rube Goldberg. The book is titled "The Mystery of the Sausage and other ridiculous Blueprints"and is on sale at or at "The mystery of the Sausage" website. Get the book and have a laugh or two.
You will note that Paul enlisted the help of one of his good friends to shill for the book by writing the foreword.  Still more reason to purchase the book.
As you were,

Monday, May 06, 2013

A Rant....

Okay we can send communications around the world, we have drones that patrol hot zones, and my car can tell me how to get to my destination. Why can't we solve this problem?
You know what I am talking about.  Liquid soap. That's right an innovation that lets you wash your hands without the mess of a bar of slippery soap. It sounds like such a great idea. My wife was all for it since it keeps the area beside the basin clean and soap scum free. You just push down on the dispenser and a hand full of soap is deposited in your palm immediately... or so the ads claim.

Here is the reality. The dispenser works perfectly a few times when new. That is just long enough for the user to become complacent to the danger.  After a few uses the liquid soap turns to a solid at the tip of the dispenser and slowly begins to "redirect" the squirt. At first not enough to be aware of, but the little devil continues to transform. That's when it delivers the"surprise".

When you least expect it, as you press the plunger, the squirt is propelled in a direction other than the intended palm of your wet hands. 
Scientifically it begins to clog the bottom of the nozzle first because of gravity.... Damn that Isaac Newton.  Eventually this obstruction will cause the liquid soap to jet out in an upward direction with unusual force. 
Two things can happen.  The messy soap can hit the tile causing more of a mess than if one had used a bar of soap, or... arch in a trajectory that hits your shirt or most often your trousers. 
Last week we had friends over for dinner. At one point I excused myself to wash my hands.  The liquid soap was waiting for me.
With wet hands I pushed the devise, as intended, only to watch helplessly as the ballistics caused the soap to land on the front of my pants. To eliminate the soap stain I had to make the spot bigger and more prominent by washing it off.
To eliminate any doubt as to what really happened while I was away,  I immediately launched into an explanation of this failure of product design.  It was an un wanted interruption to the dinner conversation at hand, but necessary to my self esteem.  There was no way to avoid the disbelief of this version of the account among this group of friends who offered their own reasons why my pants were wet in the front. None of this humiliation would have happened if we had just kept the bar soap handy.
This is America... the cradle of innovation. I know there are intelligent engineers who can solve this problem, but we must speak out. It is the squeaky wheel that gets the oil. Join me in protest of this blight on attempts for proper sanitation without humiliation. Are you with me?
As you were,

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Fantasy Check

When the Tony Award nominations were announced last Tuesday it recalled in my mind the memory of when my show was nominated in 2007. Several readers thought I was talking about being nominated this year.
Although it was a few years ago the experience is still so vivid I probably did not set the time line very well in my post. Thank you for all the well wishes, ego stokes are always enjoyed by us thespian/ventriloquists, but alas I did not receive a nomination this year. I did however win the Tony Award the year I was nominated. (Thank you... Thank you very much). Although not currently running on Broadway, the Film of the show will be available for viewing on your own personal entertainment device in a matter of weeks.
I'd like to thank the American Theater Wing and the broadway producers for a memory that still seems as current and exciting as it did then.
As you were,

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

The Tony Nominations

It was a busy week the year that my show was nominated for a Tony.  It was the week of my wedding anniversary to Sandi, and my publicists planned a ceremony to induct the original Bob into the Smithsonian.  To be honest I was not aware they had coordinated it to coincide with the nominations. I was just glad to be back in New York for a week to celebrate my anniversary and prepare Bob for his trip to Washington. 
The American Theatre Wing was going to announce the nominations live on local television on a Tuesday morning very early.  Sandi and I decided not to wake up to watch. Our theory: if the show was nominated we would hear about it somehow, and if it wasn't nominated we would have at least gotten to sleep in at the Washington Hotel. 
The Tony Award Nomination Certificate with Paul and Murphy
I think the announcement began at 7:00am, although I was never sure.  I was trying not to think about it because it was just too much to stress over if I did.  Sandi woke up about 7:20 and looked at the clock. She told me later that her heart sank because she thought the announcements were over and since no one had called us it meant we had not been nominated.  I was still asleep blissfully unaware that this drama was unfolding.
Sandi was just falling back to sleep when the phone rang.  It was Paul Kreppel. He was watching the event live and they had just announced the nomination for "Best Special Theatrical Event" and our show was nominated.  As one might expect our Tony category is not one of the top 5 and was announced later in the proceedings. It did not matter, there would be no going back to sleep, there would be nothing but walking on a cloud for a long time to come.
The direction of the trip changed immediately.  The publicists had already arranged some interviews and there was the nomination press event that next afternoon. It all seemed to jump into high gear.  The one thing I remember thinking was, no one could ever take the nomination away.  The show that Paul, Murphy and I had put together would always be associated with a Tony nomination. It was a validation that could not be taken away. It seemed to justify all the heart ache and trauma that we had endured to get the show to New York.
Sandi never doubted that we would win the Tony from that moment on.  I was never sure of anything except, I would never forget that morning.  I never will.
Congrats to all the nominees.  From personal experience I can tell you that it is a huge boost and a great honor just to be nominated.  Enjoy every minute of it, the feeling is unique to theatre and the business of shows.
As you were,