Friday, February 17, 2017

A Question of Reality

This is a rarely seen picture of Charlie McCarthy in  Black Face. It is from a scene in a 1939 movie called "You Can't Cheat An Honest Man"  staring WC Fields. Fields also wrote the story of the film under the name Charles Bogle.
Although part of the original film the scene was edited out when it played on television, for obvious racial reasons. 
But the story behind this photo and that scene is not a story about changing political correctness, but a story about the definition of an actor. 

The story goes like this.  The movie is about a traveling carnival. Fields character Larson E. Whipsnade is the owner and main barker of the troupe.  It was a Universal Production filmed on the Universal Lot in Hollywood. In 1939 Universal like all movie studios were big factories turning out several films daily.   
 The time came to film Bergen and Charlie in a minstrel show scene. This meant Charlie McCarthy needed to be "made up" in Black face. A controversy broke out between unions as to which one was responsible for actually applying the black face to Charlie.  The make up union said that since Charlie was an actor, they would apply the proper make up.  The prop union argued that Charlie was in reality a prop and they would apply the proper paint. They began to argue about it. Neither union would bow to the other and both claimed jurisdiction. Make up held firm and said that either they would be the one to do it or they would walk out on strike.  The property Union made the same argument, threatening the same action.  The director could not determine the actual status of Charlie and deferred to the Producers.  The producers were not in solidarity and they also began to fight.  
The issue became so contentious that it went to the head of the studio to make a final decision.  His decision was to shut the production down for the day to have more time to resolve the matter to everyone's satisfaction.   But by the end of the day neither side had budged and threatened a work stoppage "studio wide" if it was not determined who was the responsible union.  
Edgar Bergen was called to the office of the head of Universal. They said to Edgar, "What would you do if this were just a bit in your act.  Who would you use to get it done."
Bergen replied that he would simply take some burnt cork and apply it himself. Since that avoided any union disputes, head of Universal said, "Do it.. Have that black on Charlie's face by tomorrow morning so we can continue the scene". That was indeed the solution to the problem.  
To this day if you look in the archives of Universal Studio you will find a 1939 production report stating that Production on Fields picture number #693072 was shut down for the day to determine if Charlie McCarthy was actually an actor or prop. The question was never resolved, not even to this day.
Editors note:  60 + years later it was still an issue.  On Broadway we had to have a discussion and clarification for "Jay Johnson: The Two and Only"  to set some parameters regarding my vent figures and Broadway union stage rules.  My characters were actors while on stage during the show, but they became props the minute the show was over.  I was allowed to pack them up and set them on the edge of the stage, but the prop master carried them to and from their own "dressing room" located next to mine.  For a one person show this was our compromise.  
As you were,

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Time Out of Mind

It started out as just a joke.  A clever little "what-not" to sit on my shelf with other items of memorabilia.  It is a bogus prescription bottle I forged for my own amusement. The prescription reads: "If you forget what these pills are for... take all of them at once." The bottle contains ten 500mg capsules of Arsenic trioxide.  I call it my time out of mind cure.
There is only one thing worse than having your mind trapped in a body which can not respond to mind's desires. Much worse, to me, is being trapped in a body when your mind no longer functions to control that body.
My philosophy of existence is totally wrapped around the idea of a universal consciousness that expresses itself individually.  I believe life is the manifestation of this unique and individual concept of identity.  To over simplify: life on Earth is actually a concept of consciousness created to teach us abstract concepts that do not involve the physical senses.  What we think is reality is only a complex dream of symbols that should ideally teach us how eternity is experienced... in the abstract.
Take LOVE for an example.  Love is not a thing we can hold and touch.  It is not a scientific experiment that can be measured. It is just a feeling in our Earthly dream but a law in the cosmic consciousness of spiritual reality.
So how do we understand the law of love, and how do we learn what  that law is and experience it?  The abstract can not be taught with abstract examples.  So, Consciousness creates a dream reality that gives us seemingly solid examples of the abstract. Again to over simplify, if you ever want to have an earthly example of "unconditional love" open your heart and raise a dog.  By experiencing the feeling for a dog which becomes part of your life you can come to understand the abstract concept of "unconditional love".  When we can understand love from the physical there is a better chance for us to "know it" in the abstract. Learning how to exist in the eternity of abstract is the goal of this earthly experience.

Holding to that believe I find a conundrum.  To learn how to exist the conscious moment of the eternal now requires acute awareness of this symbolic dream reality.  How can we lean these abstracts when our mind can not understand the physical parables all around us? What happens when you are facing Alzheimer's disease or just plain dementia? That is the conundrum.  To learn,  you must be able to understand.  How do you graduate into eternity when you have a learning disability?

So, this little bottle of pills sits on my shelf above the computer I am typing on right now. The older I get the less of a joke it becomes.  It is not a perfect plan because it assumes I can understand the directions for taking the pills after having forgotten what they are for.  Perhaps the joke will ultimately be on me.
I have seen the mental decline of close members of my family.  One from Alzheimer's, one from a stroke and another with just age related dementia.  On the other hand I have friends and relatives in their mid 90's who are as sharp and aware as ever they were.  I know which direction I would like to go in my life.  What will I have to learn to keep being able to learn?  Another conundrum.

As you were,

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

God is NOT.....

Digital Airbrush - by Jay Johnson
There is an old parable that goes something like this.

A garden of tomatoes has grown wild with weeds. The gardener asks a young man to weed the tomatoes while he is gone.  It is a simple task, pull all the weeds out of the tomato patch so the tomatoes can grow bigger.
After several hours the gardener returns to find the young man has barely started the job.
"Why haven't you finished?" Said the man.
The boy says, "There are so many kinds of plants here. I am not an authority on plants like you.  I don't know what to pull up and what to leave."
The gardener said pointing out a plant, "This is a tomato plant.  That's all you need to know.... pull up everything that's not like it.  You don't have to know what the 100's of kinds of weeds look like, you just need to know what a tomato looks like. "

In trying to make right ideas grow we get completely overwhelmed by all the wrong ideas that surround the right ones. Wrong comes in so many different forms and grows in so many different ways we get stuck trying to figure out which ones should be tossed away.  It is easy when you stop looking at the form of wrong and look only to save the right.

God is not Christian nor Muslim nor Buddhist nor Jewish nor Hindu nor Scientologist nor Frisbeetarian nor Republican nor Democrat, Independent, Fascist nor Socialist.  God is just God, Omnipotence, omnipresence and omniscient.   To put a label on God diminishes his universal Love.

There are so many wrong ideas invading my life right now.  I try to exorcise them but like Hydra's head two more grow back in its place.  What I really should be doing it just mucking the shit from my mental stall and holding only to the horse.  It requires listening to that small voice inside my own identity.  I don't have to wait for a Christian to tell me what is God, nor a Muslim to explain the concept of infidel, I have my own direct channel to the Almighty. When I am listening to my own spiritual GPS I am going via my own route. When I am holding to what I conceive as the highest source of Good then I am only looking for tomatoes and not becoming an expert on weeds.  What ever you feed on or feed into will grow stronger.

If we really do believe in a universe that is above selfish human failings and a country NOT of conditional love but equal Liberty and Justice for all, then why do we entertain other ideas of what we are?  In the paraphrased words of George Carlin... "Humans are not as powerful as the Universe. The earth will shuffle off humans from its surface like so many fleas off a dog."

We need not be concerned with the short term stupidity of those who think they are "in charge".

Ralph Waldo Emmerson said: "There is always some leveling circumstance that puts down the overbearing...... the dice of God are always loaded."

As you were,

Monday, February 06, 2017

The Duck Call Experiment

Annimation Cel on Mirror - Jay Johnson
I remember the excitement I had starting this blog.  My desire was to document my first hand,  first time experience living in New York City and doing a Broadway show.  It became a nightly ritual for unwinding after the theatre. The blog was an outlet to tell the stories I saw every day. Most observations were funny because when you are in a state of happiness laughter comes easier. *

If nothing unusual happened at the theatre  my walk home through the streets of Time Square would offer ample material to write about. Of course doing my show in that theatre nightly was always special enough to write about.   I hope one day to read those posts again to perhaps relive the experience.

However, as I was looking back on a recent few posts my blog has taken a bluer-darker turn.

How did  "The World is a Stage" become a political dossier.  I have never been political in my life. In my career I've never done edgy political humor so I was never looking for the political scandal to make jokes about. I wanted to fit into any situation.  When I arrived in California Richard O. Linke told me that the definition of Class: "Being Comfortably at ease in any group".  I don't know if that is textbook but I thought it was something to strive for.  I have spent years as a corporate show entertainer avoiding the conversation of politics.

But, Politics seems unavoidable right now.  It dominates every aspect of social intercourse. It is nearly impossible to avoid, even in a show biz blog.

In hopes of  personal growth beyond the steady drone of politics; I will use this post as a test.

I named it the "Duck Call Experiment".
Theory is: you do not expect turkeys to show up if you are blowing a duck call.
Existentially stated: What you put out into the universe comes back to you.
Millennial explanation: I mean,  when you order something online you, like, get a bunch of other offers to buy something like it. Right?

*Here is my "Duck Call" :
I will start with the story of an actual duck. I find that magicians have the best stories.  
Mike Caveney works with a live chicken on stage and told me this one involving livestock productions. (Magical term ofr pulling an animal out of some impossible place) 
It seems that a friend of his was going to do the "duck bucket" trick at the Castle.  As you might expect that trick involves producing a live duck from an empty bucket.  (No I can't tell you how it works because of the Magicians code of secrecy). It doesn't matter since the story does not involve the production method anyway. 
The magician didn't want to travel with a real duck so he decided to get one when he got to Los Angeles.  The place to get a live duck is Chinatown, so that is where he ended up.  He was directed to a shop keeper with a pen of ducks for sale.  The magician wanted just the right one as far as size and color.  He looked at all of them and found a white one that was just right.  Although the merchant did not understand his reasons for wanting a specific duck, he finally isolated the one the magician wanted.
In one well perfected move he grabbed the duck threw it down on the chopping block quickly cutting off its head saying, "You like me to take off feathers." 
Little did the duck know that he was just moments away from going into Show business.
As you were,

Friday, February 03, 2017

Whose Ethics shall rule?

Art by Jay Johnson
America was founded as a Nation of Law. Law exists because we have a desire to be ethical human beings, but disagree on whoes ethics should be the standard.
The short definition of ethics is: acting in the highest sense for the goodness for all.  In school I pledged allegiance  every morning to a Country that supported "liberty and justice for all".  I still believe that is what America was founded on.
Universally all humans are held to the same ethical standards.   They have been spelled out in many philosophical writings, social mores and decrees. The most simple rule of universal ethics is: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." But short term and egotistical thinking gets in the way of that simple rule. Ego says, my existence is so much more important than someone else's existence: I must take from another for my own good.  

Short term thinking agrees and says we need it right NOW.  So when humans decide they can disobey a natural law of ethics, we pass a law that says, "Do not Steal".  Unfortunately law is still not enough to keep people ethical. The ego and short term thinking will try to parse the words of the law to still have it MY way.  That's when we get legal dilemmas.

"Am I allowed to steal back something that was taken from me in the first place?"

To adjudicate such an interpretation of law we have the court system.  The problem is, the court is composed of humans who try to impose their own interpretation of their ethics on the law and we are back at square one.
Unless you are a sociopath you know deep in the center of your being what is right and what is wrong. In a perfect society we would need no laws because every one would behave to the highest standards of the "do unto others" ethics. But we don't live in a perfect society and some have lost touch with the center of their being, so laws become the imperfect spearhead for ethics.  But because of this we can have a situation which is Legal but not at all ethical. Justice is sometimes Unjust.

Justice should be blind. Justice should be ethical. Justice should know only what is the highest interpretation of the good for all humans involved and rule accordingly. So wouldn't we want to hold a Judge to the highest standard of universal ethics? Unless you are a sociopath the answer has to be yes. But that is not the case.

Congress and the President are now trying to find a Supreme Court justice.  But they are not looking for someone who is fair and will rule in favor of ethics when future lawyers try to parse the wording of a law; They are looking for a candidate who will bend the words of the law in the direction of their own personal interpretation of ethics.  They want a judge who will always rule in favor of individual ethics not the universal.  We are back to square one... whoes ethics should be the standard.

In my highest desire I would like the highest justices in the land to be fair, not political.  I want the Supreme Court justices to be independently constitutional and not "beholding" to any ideology. Unfortunately, that is not the way the political game is played. Congress will approve someone who is already in lock step with those currently in power.
Law should be the like gravity, affecting all to the same degree.  If law ultimately can be bent to benefit some and not all it is no longer law nor ethics but a dictatorial edict.
By eliminating the phrase "engaged in a great civil war" Lincoln's words are as true today as they were scores of years later.

"Our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are...(omitted) testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure." 

Lets make it the country it should be, not a country forced upon us.  
As you were,

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Ground Hog Day 2017

I had lunch with my friend Bob Mandan today at his house along with two of Bob's other friends.  It is his 85th birthday. Bob doesn't get out and about like he used to but he is still his charming self and still the perfect Chester Tate.  

I repost this article I wrote about my friend from his birthday in 2012, preceded by this editors note written today.

There are friends, there are people you have worked with and then there is a person like Bob who is both. I recall so many fun times together when we roamed with a group of actor/publicists/writers called the "Terrible 10".  We got that name because we were a terrible table of ten if you were sitting next to us at a restaurant.  We laughed the entire time and were not quiet about it.  If you were looking for a quiet evening's meal we were not the table you wanted to sit close to.
Happy Birthday Mr. Mandan. I cherish your friendship.
Nothing has changed in the way I feel about you since I wrote the blog below.

It's GroundHog Day
On my top ten list of movies "GroundHog" day is near the top.   And here it is in real life, Groundhog day 2012.  But I think the Punxsutawney rodent gets too much attention today.  It is a special day for other reasons.

Robert Mandan, Bob Campbell, Jay Johnson, Jay Sandrich
Opening night of "Jay Johnson: The Two and Only"
It is also the birthday of my friend Robert Mandan: "Better Dressed!" 
Only a true SOAPY will get that reference, but it is how I know my friend Mandan. He is better known to some as Chester Tate on SOAP. 

Robert Mandan
I remember when I moved to Los Angeles I was with my  vacationing folks having dinner at the  Toulca Lake Marie Callendars. Although I didn't know his name at the time Robert Mandan was also waiting for a table.  Mandan is one of those actors I had seen in many staring roles. Bob was my first "celebrity siting" in my new home town.  Bob received the ultimate compliment my Father had for working actors when he whispered to me, "That guy has been in a gillion films." Indeed my friend has been in a "gillion" things. Take a look at his IMDB - Robert Mandan. That impressive list is only the film and television roles. There is an even more impressive list of stage productions that Bob has done, including an Ovation Award for "The CareTaker" and a critically acclaimed portrail of "King Lear", not to mention three Broadway shows. 
 I had no clue that soon I would be working with that "guy who has done a gillion films". We became friends almost immediately.  For a time we had the same personal manager, the same publicist and hung out with the same group of television actors.  We were known as the "terrible ten" because of fun we used to have at various Los Angeles restaurants. The members of the social group changed but Bob and I have remained friends all this time. 
Bob and his wife Sherry have been impromptu godparents to both my sons.  My oldest son will say, "How is Mandan?" even today.
Robert Mandan in "Barney Miller"
Chester Tate and Benson
Bob is an actors actor.  He never stops studying and learning how to better deliver his gift. He is funny and smart and yes, as piss elegant as Chester Tate sometimes. If you're lucky a working relationship turns into a real friendship in this town of huge openings and quiet closings. I am grateful to have friends like Bob and Sherry in my life. On a day like GroundHogs day when the talk is about the weather, I will be thinking about my friend Bob Mandan, certainly not a "fair weather friend".  
Note to Mandan: You are not getting older, like wine you are getting more valuable.
Happy Birthday, Mr. Mandan. We shall celebrate with a bottle of "HOOP DE HAH".

As you were,
Bob Mandan on "Three's a Crowd"
Bob Mandan on "Star Trek,The Next Generation"