DCS: gilbert gottfried

My wife and I recently visited the National Comedy Center in Jamestown, New York. Despite its somewhat remote location, the center houses an impressive and comprehensive collection of all aspects of comedy — including films, props, costumes and awards. Through numerous interactive displays, the world of comedy is explored, reviewed, analyzed and, of course, celebrated. In a secluded area, accessed by a nondescript elevator, a small room devoted to “blue” humor is behind a closed door surrounded by many large warning signs. Once the decision is made ignore the warnings, the door is opened and guests are greeted by a huge placard that reads “MOTHERFUCKER” in large block letters, offering a precursor to what is yet to come. The walls are lined with excerpts from controversial routines by Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Redd Foxx among other comics known for their “adults only” humor. On one monitor, a film clip of Gilbert Gottfried delivering a lengthy take on the infamous “Aristocrats” joke while performing at a celebrity roast of Hugh Hefner, shortly after the September 11 attacks plays on a loop. During our visit (and I’m sure at all other times), a small crowd of broadly-smiling guests had formed around that particular monitor.

With Gilbert Gottfried’s surprising and untimely passing on April 12, 2022, I thought about two of the funniest things related to the comedian — and neither one of them was part of any stand-up routine. In 1986, a young Gilbert Gottfried wrote an article for National Lampoon’s “Hot Sex” issue. The piece was entitled “How Not to Get Laid.” It read like a standard instruction manual offering the finer points of how to avoid sex. At its conclusion, the article was summed up with a simple directive that listed the three places where one was guaranteed not to get laid. Those places were (according to Gilbert): 1) A Star Trek convention. 2) The lobby of a Star Trek convention and 3) Anywhere within a 10 block radius of a Star Trek convention.

More recently, my wife and I were looking for something to watch on television and, after our third round of channel-switching with the remote control, we landed on an episode of a show called Celebrity Wife Swap. I am not a regular viewer of this show. The premise is pretty simple. Two male celebrities “switch” lives for a week, each moving in with the other’s family and treating their spouses as though they were their own. This particular episode featured Gilbert Gottfried along with Alan Thicke, the one-time talk show host, highly touted to unseat Johnny Carson as “late night king.” (Spoiler Alert: he did not succeed.) Later, Mr. Thicke found a career-saving home as one of America’s favorite TV sitcom dads.

In the episode, Thicke is taken to Gilbert’s modest Manhattan apartment. We watch as Thicke snoops around, trying to figure out who lives here and with whose wife he will spend the next seven days. He spots a figurine of Iago the parrot from Disney’s Aladdin and he sees a poster for the film Problem Child. He chuckles, smiles and announces that it must be Gilbert Gottfried. Meanwhile, Gilbert is allowed access to Alan Thicke’s home — a sprawling estate with huge, manicured lawns, a multicar garage and room after room of pretentious décor. After a few minutes, Gilbert — eyes squinting nearly shut, hand flailing in all directions — squawks in his unmistakable voices: “Oh, It’s that guy! That guy I never liked! Alan Thicke” The out-of-shot camera crew could not contain their laughter.

Gilbert was one of a kind. His brazen sense of humor will be missed. He was one funny guy.

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inktober52: camouflage

Tommy Cooper was a popular British comedian for four decades. The hulking funnyman, never without his trademark red fez, would perform magic tricks… most of which failed miserably. He used his failures as fodder for rapid fire one-liners that had his audiences rolling in the aisles.

In April 1984, Tommy was performing on the popular television program Live from Her Majesty’s. Minutes into his faux magic act, Tommy suffered a fatal heart attack and died on live television. His death was witnessed by a theater full of people as well as millions of home television viewers… many of whom thought his on-stage collapse was part of the act. Tommy, a heavy drinker and smoker, was 63 years old.

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DCS: christa speck

Twenty-one year old Christa Speck was working as a secretary at Bank of America when she was discovered by Playboy talent scouts. Soon the German-born beauty found herself gracing the pages of the September 1961 issue as the “Playmate of the Month.” Her popularity earned her the title of “Playmate of the Year,” the first time the honor had been given to a foreign-born model.

An invitation by magazine publisher Hugh Hefner to move into the Playboy Mansion was welcomed by Christa and she soon began working as a “bunny” at the Chicago Playboy Club. She also was featured in every pictorial about life at the Mansion that was published in 1960s… much to the delight of her increasing legion of fans. As a matter of fact, Christa was chosen among the Top Ten Playmates of the magazine’s first decade in a poll of editors and readers.

In 1965, Christa married children’s programming producer Marty Krofft. She left the spotlight to start a family. Christa and Marty had three daughters together. They remained married until Christa’s death from natural causes in 2013. She was 70 years old. Marty claims he never read Playboy.

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inktober52: eye

My wife’s grandmother — Sonia — lived 103 years.

She never knew her father. She lived with her mother and grandmother. Sonia was too sick to make the trip to America with her mother, so she was left with her grandmother until she was in better health. Her mother’s parting words were a promise to send for her. Within a few months, Sonia’s grandmother died. Sonia was sent to an orphanage that was run by nuns. Seeing a crucifix on every wall, she knew this was not the place for her. So she ran away. She was around seven years old. She went to live with a rabbi and his family who offered Sonia shelter in exchange for chores. She secretly began to steal flour and grain to give to neighbors that she perceived as “poor.” After a while, she left the rabbi’s home and lived in the woods with a group of young members of the Resistance during the Russian Revolution.

Eventually, Sonia made it to the United States. She located her mother, who had married and had several children. Sonia was tasked for caring for her new brothers and sisters. She was a teenager and did not speak English.

Later in her life, Sonia married and had children of her own. She loved Coca-Cola, Hebrew National salami, gambling in casinos, scratch-off lottery tickets. And singing. She loved to sing. Her favorite song to sing was a nineteenth century Russian folksong called Ochi Chyornye. She sang this song all the time. She taught it to her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. (The song even pops up in the 1940 film Shop Around the Corner, as well as the 1947 film It Happened in Brooklyn, where Jimmy Durante teaches it to Frank Sinatra.)

When Sonia passed away, my wife arranged for a solo violinist to play Ochi Chyornye at the conclusion of the memorial service as mourners were exiting the chapel. She told no one of her plan. The morning of the funeral, family, friends and folks who just casually knew Sonia gathered for a final farewell. My wife prepared a heartfelt speech, filled with bittersweetness. After instructions regarding travel to the cemetery and information about shiva gathering, the air was suddenly filled with the familiar melody of Ochi Chyornye. At first there were some audible sighs from those thinking a recording was being played. But, when everyone saw the woman standing alone at the rear of the chapel, coaxing Sonia’s beloved Ochi Chyornye from her violin…. well, you can imagine.

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DCS: odalis pérez

There are two things I love: unusual and obscure baseball statistics and celebrity deaths. The story of former Major League Baseball pitcher Odalis Pérez fits into both categories.

Odalis signed with the Atlanta Braves in 1998, making his big league debut in September of that year. His regular season record was 0-1, however he won a game for the Braves in their playoff run. This feat put Odalis in the record books as the first pitcher in MLB history to win a post-season game without a regular season win.

In the 2002, he was part of an off-season trade to the Los Angeles Dodgers that brought Gary Sheffield to the Braves. Odalis saw some of his best career days as a Dodger. He became first Dodger left-hander to get at least 12 wins in consecutive seasons since Fernando Valenzuela accomplished it over a decade earlier. 2002 saw Odalis’s first — and only — All-Star Game appearance. He flirted with no-hitters twice in the 2002 season, ending up pitching one-hitters in both instances. In late August, Odalis pitched a 1-0 shutout against the Arizona Diamondbacks. The game’s single run was a homer that he hit, his first Major League round-tripper. Odalis notched another note in baseball history, becoming the first Major League pitcher to win a 1–0 game and hit the game-winning homer since Bob Welch — also a Dodger — did it in 1983. However, Odalis wasn’t finished inscribing himself in the record books.

In 2008, Odalis signed a contract with the Washington Nationals. The former Montreal Expos moved to Washington DC in 2005 and played in RFK Stadium while a new baseball only stadium was being built. Nationals Park opened in 2008 and Opening Day pitcher Odalis Pérez threw the first pitch in the new ball park. He also gave up the first home run in the new facility, when former teammate Chipper Jones took the first ball he saw over the right field fence. However, Odalis also chalked up the first strikeout in the ball park’s history.

2008 would prove to be Odalis’s final season in baseball. He turned down a minor league offer by the Nationals, hoping to hold out for a major league deal. Instead, he was released. Odalis called it a career before the 2009 season began.

On March 10, 2022, Christian Pérez discovered his brother dead on the patio of his Dominican Republic home. A nearby ladder leaning against the house revealed that Odalis — who was home alone — had apparently slipped and fallen from the ladder. He was 44 years old.

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DCS: michael rockefeller

Michael Rockefeller was the youngest child of New York Governor (and eventual Vice-President) Nelson Rockefeller. Michael was a graduate of Harvard University, earning a Bachelor’s Degree in history and economics. After a brief stint in the US Army, Michael joined an expedition from Harvard’s Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology to study the Dani tribe of western New Guinea. The leader of the exploration was documentary film maker Robert Gardner. Michael served as sound recorder for the film in production. However, Michael and a friend left the group to head south. They sought to explore another tribe, the Asmati. Upon completion of the Dani documentary, Michael Rockefeller returned to southern New Guinea to pursue his studies of the Asmati people.

In November 1961, Michael and anthropologist René Wassing were three miles from shore when their 40-foot canoe capsized. Their native guides swam for help but never returned. Michael and his colleague drifted until Michael could no longer be patient. The pair swam the estimated twelve miles to shore where René was rescued. Michael, however, had disappeared.

Investigation and speculation concluded that Michael was attacked, killed and eaten by a local tribe of Asmati people. Cannibalism was still practiced by the trube in 1961. It is believed this was an act of revenge, as Dutch troops had recently slaughtered some Asmati tribal leaders.

Michael Rockefeller was 23 years old.

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DCS: timi yuro

12 year-old Rosemary Yuro began singing as a novelty in her parents’ Italian restaurant. Soon, much to her parents’ opposition, she was getting booked into local clubs in Los Angeles. One night, she caught the eye of talent scout Sonny Knight, who decided to help the young singer on a path to stardom.

First, she changed her name to “Timi,” using a shortened version of her middle name “Timothy.” After more bookings in larger rooms, Timi was signed to Liberty Records, where she recorded the heartfelt ballad “Hurt,” which was a hit for gospel-soul singer Roy Hamilton a few years earlier. Timi’s version shot up the Billboard charts, landing at Number 4 in 1961. Timi was given the nickname “The Little Girl with the Big Voice” and is considered one of the first singer in the “blue-eyed soul” genre.

Timi’s follow-up, “What’s a Matter Baby (Is It Hurting You?),” also charted and she was recognized with a Grammy nomination for “Best New Artist” in 1962. She subsequently lost to Peter Nero. Her next single, “The Love of a Boy,” an early composition by Burt Bacharach, reached Number 44. However, she turned down another Bacharach song, “What the World Needs Now Is Love,” when it was offered. At live performances and on television appearances, Timi surprised audiences. Her deep, smoky vocal style conjured images of a seasoned Black woman or even a man. She received audible gasps when she was revealed as a petite white young lady.

As the 1960s progressed, Timi began to branch out in her musical selections. She released an album of blues and country standards, followed by a collection of soulful reworkings of popular American standards. She toured Europe, where she drew much praise, especially in England. She appeared on many popular British television shows adding to her admiration. She made numerous appearances at the notorious Kray Brothers’ London clubs, as she was a personal favorite of Reggie Kray. Timi continued to tour Europe until 1969, when she left the music business behind in favor of marriage.

Timi mounted a comeback in 1981. She released albums — including a re-recording of her hit “Hurt” — and performed in The Netherlands to moderate success. When her brief and fleeting popularity declined, Timi returned to the United States and released her final album, Timi Yuro Sings Willie Nelson, which was produced by Willie Nelson himself.

In the late 1990s, Timi was diagnosed with throat cancer. She exited the spotlight and passed away in 2004 at the age of 63. Timi was cited as an influence on singers as diverse as Elvis Presley, Morrissey and Siouxsie Sioux.

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DCS: sister rosetta tharpe

sister rosetta

Sister Rosetta Tharpe invented rock and roll.

“What?” you’re probably saying to yourself. “Wait just a second! Little Richard invented rock and roll!” Or maybe you’re saying “Elvis Presley invented rock and roll!” Or perhaps you know that Chuck Berry invented rock and roll. (Maybe you’re saying nothing and just wishing I would get on with this story already!) All of these responses are fine, but none of those performers invented rock and roll. I’m taking about Sister Rosetta Tharpe. She is the true creator of the musical genre that we now call “rock and roll.” How come you’ve never heard of Sister Rosetta, as she was affectionately called? Well, because she was a woman, she was black and she was a lesbian — so, as expected, she was unfairly crushed by history and misinformation.

Sister Rosetta began playing guitar as a child, accompanying her mother musically and vocally on the gospel tunes she learned in church. She began to experiment and started infusing Delta blues and New Orleans jazz into the traditional spirituals. She introduced a unique distorted sound on  her guitar,. Although a female guitarist was a rarity at the time, Rosetta was favorably received by audiences and began recording in 1938. 1938!!! Her first record, “Rock Me,” was a sly reference to the term “rock & roll,” which was a euphemism among the African-American community for sexual intercourse. She released three more “rock & roll” selections and joined up with the Cotton Club Revue, teaming with Duke Ellington, The Dixie Hummingbirds and, later, the all-white Jordannaires, presenting a mixed-race performance that was unheard of at the time. In her technique, you can hear the obvious influence from which both Jimi Hendrix and Prince drew. Rosetta remained popular for years until the fickle public (just as fickle as today’s public) moved on to the next sound. But, Sister Rosetta’s spirit weaved its way through rock and roll right up to the present. She was acknowledged as a favorite singer of Johnny Cash and Aretha Franklin. The great Chuck Berry once confessed that his entire career was one long Sister Rosetta Tharpe impersonation.

Rosetta passed away in 1973. Her grave remained unmarked for years, just like the acknowledgment of her contribution to the birth of rock and roll.

So now you know.

Portions of this story appeared in a slightly different form on my other blog, It’s Been a Slice.

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