William Daniels Says "There I Go Again" As He Recounts Acting Jobs in Book And Interview

Whether winning acclaim as John Adams, Mr. Feeny, or the voice of KITT, how would accomplished actor William Daniels celebrate his 90th birthday? Not doing much, he says.

March 31st, 2017 may be just any other day to him other than his knowing he’s unable to stop his sons baking a birthday cake. That said, I’m still in awe of a man who was grew up in the spotlight. Not surprising for a man having over 70 years of acting experience, his book, There I Go Again, has the feel of writings from an elder professional who doesn’t get giddy in his most joyous moments.

I had a pleasant time speaking to Mr. Daniels and his wife, Bonnie Bartlett. They addressed my questions no matter how goofy they were. The following clips are edited from this conversation. Apologies for the low quality of my voice:

A Chat with Bill Daniels and Bonnie Bartlett

To Pixar and Beyond Review

The fiscal side of the rise of Pixar. Review copy provided by publisher.

To Pixar and Beyond, written by former Pixar CFO Lawrence Levy, is an essential look into the business of Pixar. However, the world of IPOs & finance provides a drier reading experience as learning the craft of artistry as more animation-centric Pixar history books are.

Levy details his tenure at Pixar when it went from a quaint animation company with an uncertain future to a pop culture powerhouse that became an official part of the Disney empire. While financial jargon isn’t exciting, Levy explains and relates terms well as he understands his story will reach non-CPAs, too.

Levy, who was such a friend to Pixar owner Steve Jobs that he could enter the Apple co-founder’s home through the back door, paints a pleasant picture of the man. Jobs is firm, but accepting of input. The climactic moment of Pixar’s initial public offering, where Steve Jobs moves from the 2-3% to the 1% in the wake of Toy Story’s massive success, feels vaguely hollow. The Pixar IPO is a notable success story for “comeback kid” Steve Jobs, but the feeling of jubilation seems like it’s for a wealthy man who sought Silicon Valley cred. To be fair, Levy gives props due to the many creative talents.

I like To Pixar and Beyond for its accessibility, but its receptive audience is limited.

**** out of *****

Read an excerpt of To Pixar and Beyond by Lawrence Levy.

Batman: I Am Gotham Review

I am… not impressed. Review copy provided by DC Comics.

New 52/DCYou-era brooding gothic journeys from Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo are traded in for a Rebirth by Tom King and David Finch. I’m not feeling I Am Gotham that much. Batman’s newest sidekicks/assistants/fodder are two eager, but underwritten, young adults, Gotham and Gotham Girl, who are superpowered, but with a cost because there would be little tension if heroic metahumans can roam freely on Batman’s turf. Hugo Strange and Psycho Pirate are plotting to destroy Gotham as we know it; Batman, his new dynamic duo, along with snarky Alfred and Duke (he’s not Robin!) tries to stop them. These comics were first published when around the time of a certain Harley Quinn-helmed blockbuster so Amanda Waller teases/threatens Task Force X. Continue reading “Batman: I Am Gotham Review”

Mickey's Inferno Review

Papercutz’s latest Disney Great Parody isn’t worth a roasting. Review copy provided by Papercutz.

“Mickey Mouse goes to hell” seems like the premise of an underground cartoon, but it’s the basis of a genuine Disney product. Mickey’s Inferno, part of Papercutz-published Disney Great Parodies series, was originally made by Italians Guido Martina (original writer) and Angelo Bioletti (artist). Inferno’s first appearance in the U.S. was in abridged form in Walt Disney’s Comics & Stories #666 (heh, heh), but this Papercutz version is the complete comic with a newly adapted script by Stefan Petrucha.

Mickey, having finished performing as Dante with Goofy as Dante’s guide, Virgil, is hypnotized to believe he’s really Dante by Morty the Mesmerist with instigation from Peg Leg Pete. While Mickey and Goofy are studying Inferno at the library, Mickey is transported into the book and gets to reenact the cantos of Inferno “for real.” It’s up to Mickey-as-Dante and Goofy-as-Virgil to use their wits (Virgil is supposed to have wits…) to survive and escape.

The results of the creators’ efforts making Mickey’s Inferno is… cute. Not literally cute as Disneyfied Hell is recognizably a realm of eternal torment. The terza rima rhyming narration is faithful to Dante, but I didn’t really get into it. I also had a hard time telling who’s doing the narrating at times. That said, I enjoyed Donald Duck’s role in Mickey’s journey. Bioletti’s artwork is fine allowing just enough visual whimsy to not make the story too grim. Mickey’s Inferno is an amusing curiosity, but understanding Dante’s Divine Comedy is needed.

*** out of *****

Saved By The Bell Creator Peter Engel: More Interesting Character Than Any Bayside Tiger

A review of Peter Engel’s life story-turned-memoir. From an advanced review copy.

80 years old on the release of his book, TV producer Peter Engel has embraced having brought the world Saved by the Bell as his legacy. I Was Saved by the Bell: Stories of Life, Love, and Dreams That Do Come True is more about the creator than his creations. Engel had spent his professional career trying to produce the hit TV show.

Yes, something, something, Jessie was originally on speed something, but who could forget Sirota’s Court? How awesome would a talk show hosted by either Bette Davis, John Lennon, or Orson Welles be? Engel pleasantly recalls his failures to be the next Lorne Michaels (SNL) or Normal Lear (All in the Family).

I’ll go into further discussion of Engel’s book and not just fan-gushing over Saved by the Bell. If you want to hear Peter Engel confirm that Jessie was intended not to take caffeine pills, check out my interview with at the 6:57 timestamp.

Before readers get into the Bell years, Engel had finagled his way into being an NBC page, worked with popular 1950s entertainer/variety show host Perry Como, campaigned for John F. Kennedy with little resources, rode with a reckless Army pilot, found and accepted Christ, and befriended carmaker John Delorean. As someone into TV and showbiz history, I find all this stuff fascinating.

But Bell fans looking for intimate backstage gossip will be sorely disappointed. Peter Engel himself told me not only that Jessie was to take Speed, not caffeine pills in the memorable episode, “Jessie’s Song,” the rest of the script was left unchanged. No one can resist any tidbit about Jessie’s addiction. It’s a memorable episode, but my living in a drug-infested environment and knowing that that girl on my TV screen will be fine in the next episode meant “Jessie’s Song” didn’t resonate anything profound for me.

I Was Saved isn’t the sequel to Dustin Diamond’s dirt-dishing Behind the Bell. In fact, Engel’s portrayal of Diamond is that of a silly goof; he spoke fondly of Diamond during my interview with him. From what I’ve learned from interviews and news from the cast and crew, many of whom are still active in Hollywood, I find it hard to believe anyone else on Bell desires to top Behind the Bell in delivering juicy gossip.

Engel’s reminisces about Bell are more discussing the nuts and bolts of TV production than calling out bad behavior. Saved by the Bell is a teen comedy that relied on the cast’s charm and chemistry with each other. It’s not full of intricate plots and explicit darkness that any broadcast network entertaining Alf or Smurf-loving kids would find unacceptable. Maybe we’re wanting for something that isn’t there.

That said, there are a few interesting tidbits such as when Engel recalls when Brandon Tartikoff wanted him to fire Lark Voorhies after two episodes of Saved by the Bell due to poor performances. Despite a lack of contact between Engel and Voorhies, she pulled through satisfactorily when it came time to shoot “Lisa’s Card.” The cast and crew of Bell would become Engel’s extended family and he was a fatherly boss who would enjoy the energy of the studio audience.

Also in the book, there’s an anecdote of how Diamond was almost swept away far into the Pacific Ocean and footage of his being rescued was used in Hawaiian Style.

There are more stories involving his TNBC shows, but Engel goes into detail about his personal life. He talks about his three romances-turned-marriages, his friendship with Pat Robertson, and also his relationship with his daughter and two sons.

Not every moment is filled with rainbows and sunshine:

  • As Engel’s thrice married, he’s thrice divorced. His book details the moments when his relationships are built and broken down. He’s still on good terms with his latter two ex-wives, though.

  • Near the end of the book, Engel shares when he had a very tense argument with his son who was doing humanitarian work in the West Bank. While the argument is about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict somewhat, Engel tried to persuade his son to stop out of fear his son might die in a dangerous area.

  • He shares his final moments with network exec-turned-Engel company president Linda Mancuso. He first saw her being playfully flustered seeing Mario Lopez. Sadly, she lacked much of her energy during that last dinner date before her passing due to breast cancer.

  • His final moments with collaborator and friend Leslie Eberhard. Eberhard, who was gay, wondered if Jesus would accept him into heaven. Engel, knowing Eberhard to be a good man, responded that if his friend doesn’t get in, he doesn’t get in either.

  • His break from evangelical Christianity after delivering the blistering speech on how “The Gospel of the Pentagon Is Not My Bible” at the 2006 National Media Prayer Breakfast.

  • Also, a “shrine” of his other son’s prestigious award placed between pictures of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama is eerie to me knowing the results and aftermath of the 2016 election.

I highly recommend this book if you like famous people going through professional and personal transformations. During my interview with Peter, I was impressed at his vigor (he runs four miles on his home treadmill) and his willingness to answer my questions to best of his ability in the limited time we had. As a former TNBC fan, the man whose shows were TNBC’s foundation is someone I found to be a pleasant man with an incredible career.

Rating: ***** out of *****

See also: Six Things About Books from Saved by the Bell Alums.

The Miseducation, Mischief, and Misadventures of Trevor Noah

A long book review of Trevor Noah’s 2016 memoir. From an advanced review copy.

Born in the final decade of apartheid, comedian Trevor Noah weaved and blended his way through life in the Johannesburg township of Soweto before gaining fame in his native South Africa, let alone hosting The Daily Show. A straightforward, rise-to-fame biography, Born a Crime isn’t. Noah captures the harshness and humor as a quasi-travelogue noting the various people, places, personal events, and foods he encounters.

In this very wordy review, I examine how Noah tries to make sense of the nonsensical.

Hard Knock Life

Outside of a few movies, reading Born a Crime: Stories of a South African Childhood is a rare occasion for me to read about the sickening depth and breadth of South Africa under apartheid. It was the horrible system where a white minority deploys the worst elements of slavery, divide-and-conquer strategy, and segregation/Jim Crow to force Blacks into becoming second-class citizens. Apartheid eventually withers away, but Nelson Mandela’s democratic election didn’t wipe the residue of apartheid clean overnight.

Race relations and divisions present themselves throughout Noah’s memoir. Apartheid meant everyone was coercively classified into different racial groups. Trevor is a colored (mixed-race) South African, but wasn’t part of the colored community. His mother is black; his father’s white. He had to decide which racial group to socialize with at school. He chose to hang out with the Black kids despite his light skin.

Trevor’s mother, Patricia, had to go through ridiculous measures to hide the proof of her sexual relationship with a white man. On walks through the park, she would enlist a colored woman to pretend to be Trevor’s mom. If there’s no colored woman accompanying them, she dropped little Trevor at the signt of the police and pretend he wasn’t her son.

In the midst of systemic cruelty, Patricia’s actions were necessary. While Trevor’s birth father was distant and his stepfather would later prove to be a monster, I found Patricia to be an admirable mother.

Continue reading “The Miseducation, Mischief, and Misadventures of Trevor Noah”

AppendSix: Saved by the Bell

Welcome to AppendSix, six literature-related facts and notes about pop culture. In this installment, we look into the cheesy-yet-lovable 80s/90 NBC Saturday morning comedy, Saved by the Bell.

I had the pleasure of speaking with creator Peter Engel about Bell and other topics discussed in his memoir, I Was Saved by the Bell. The first AppendSix item is about him.

Peter Engel, Father of Bell

On 15 November, SbtB fans and TV enthusiasts will be able to read Peter Engel’s memoir, I Was Saved by the Bell. It’s a very good biography on the whole, though Bell fans may be disappointed there’s not enough content about their show.

Listen to the audio interview (MPEG-4 audio format)

Engel’s textual self-portrait is that of personal and professional transformations and triumphs. He, a Jewish New Yorker, sought to make the Great American Sitcom, but became a titan of teen television in sunny Burbank, California. The title and Peter Engel Productions logo on the book will get sales from nostalgic fans, but he’s also saved by Jesus. I ponder whether some Christian bookstores will stock it, but the memoir has adult language and some intense situations.

That mini-review out of the way, I found Peter to be a cool interview subject. Check out my 20+ minute interview where he discusses his showbiz career and some of the TNBC shows, including Bell and its lesser successor, Saved by the Bell: the New Class.

Peter has some amusing anecdotes of star Dustin Diamond in the book and spoke glowingly of him during our interview. Now, here’s an essay of Diamond and Behind the Bell.

Going Behind the Bell

Dustin Diamond Behind the Bell cover

The actor who played Screech Powers is no stranger to being tabloid fodder. At about the same time as I interviewed Engel, a local TV station aired the Dr. Oz interview where Diamond presented himself as remorseful and apologized to his castmates. Peter Engel spoke glowingly of Diamond during our interview. Diamond sure took a very bumpy road to get to that point. Continue reading “AppendSix: Saved by the Bell”

Book Review: Thanks for the Money by Joel McHale

This so-called memoir needs more genuine charm. Book review written from an advanced review copy.

Actor Joel McHale wants the title of his memoir/self-help book/joke volcano to be a joking gesture of gratitude. With how few laughs this book has, I took the title as a warning.

Thanks For the Money is a deliberately comedic fleecing from the big-ego persona of McHale. Thanks is a tongue-in-cheek journey through a ex-athlete comedian’s life. I would have no problem with the concept of reading the writings of someone playing a self-absorbed version of himself. What I do take issue with is that Money is obviously ghostwritten. McHale’s blatant acknowledging the ghostwriters doesn’t make it funny, either. McHale’s narrative voice spouts a ton of pop-culture references; I suspect McHale’s actual comedic shtick wasn’t formed by watching The Simpsons or absorbing TV and movie trivia. After reading McHale’s biographies, either the facetious one in the book or the real one by piecing together Wikipedia articles and interviews, that smart-aleck guy in the book doesn’t seem plausible. Continue reading “Book Review: Thanks for the Money by Joel McHale”

A Brief History of Filmation Ghostbusters Comic Books

1986!

Let me get this out of the way: I’m worn down by people raging over the 2016 Ghostbusters movie (Misogyny? Corporate apologetics? You decide!) that I have little enthusiasm for the movie at its release. The hype inspired to take an “ironic,” rebellious take of siding with the Filmation Ghostbusters and looking up their comic book history.

filmation-ghostbusters-comics

These Ghostbusters were a separate media franchise first established as a live action Saturday morning show about 10 years before Columbia Pictures’ blockbuster. As Columbia had permission to use the Ghostbusters name and had something scorching on their hands, the mega-popular GB franchise soon lauched long-running toy lines and cartoons. Not to be outdone, Filmation also made deals to produce toys and a cartoon.

History bears out that the franchise with a potato-shaped slime specter and a giant marshmallow man was far more popular that the franchise with a humanoid gorilla. Filmation closed down in 1989, eventually sold to Classic Media which itself was sold to Dreamworks becoming Dreamworks Classics.
Continue reading “A Brief History of Filmation Ghostbusters Comic Books”

Interview: 2000AD Editor Matt Smith

Editor of 2000 AD & Judge Dredd Megazine

Re-posted from RedHeadedMule.com

Editor of 2000 AD & Judge Dredd Megazine, and also writer of Judge Dredd: Year One, Matt Smith responds to my questions. Tharg the Mighty could not be reached for comment.

Red-Headed Mule: How’s the weather at the 2000 AD offices? What does Tharg think of the inclement conditions?

Matt Smith: Tharg’s full protected from the UK’s never-ending winter by his fully insulated jumpsuit. Besides, the ever-present glow of Thrill-power keeps all the droids warm.

RHM: Why did you choose to use the psychic angle for Dredd: Year One? What other story possibilities did you seriously consider?

MS: I thought it would be interesting to see Dredd’s first dealings with Psi-Division. We first became aware of psychic Judges when we were introduced to Anderson in the Judge Death story, but this is Dredd’s first dip in the psychic pool – and it’s not something he’s comfortable with.

I wanted to go for something that would give the opportunity for big visuals, which would suit comics.

RHM: How did you decide on Simon Coleby (The Simping Detective) as the artist for Dredd: Year One?

MS: He was a couple of weeks off finishing Simp for 2000 AD, knew he could do a good Dredd, and suggested him to Chris Ryall at IDW. The fact the has experience working for US publishers was a bonus. Continue reading “Interview: 2000AD Editor Matt Smith”

Interview: Simon Fraser

Re-posted from RedHeadedMule.com.

In Prog 1791 of 2000 AD, Nikolai Dante, finished his last adventure, Sympathy for the Devil. Dante, the Russian who’s “too cool to kill,” was created by Robbie Morrison & Simon Fraser.

While I’m a newcomer to the Dante experience, I enjoyed the story and art of Nikolai’s fateful wedding day nonetheless. After much anticipation from me, I now present responses, insights, and vivid stories from the Scottish artist.

Red-Headed Mule: While I’m late to the Nikolai party, I’ll still congratulate you and Robbie Morrison on ending the saga. How did you feel after finishing the last page?

Simon Fraser: It felt satisfying in an immediate “I’ve hit my deadline” kind of way. I find it difficult to see Dante beyond that point so it feels like an ending. It feels like we’ve said all that we can say and now we can let him go. When I see it in print next week I’ll have more of a sense of closure probably.

RHM: How long did it take for you and Robbie to make Sympathy for the Devil?

SF: I started working on it at the end of February. Robbie has been working on it on-and-off for 16 years I think.

RHM: How much of your personality have you put into the characters?

SF: Dante is certainly a product of both Robbie and I. His happy-go-lucky attitude is pretty much the way we behave after a few beers. I’d like to think we share a certain boyish charm 😀

RHM: Were there alternate endings to Nikolai Dante?

SF: Nope, that has pretty much been the ending since the beginning. There are some small details that have matured, but ultimately this has been the endpoint we discussed a decade and half ago. Continue reading “Interview: Simon Fraser”

In His Clarissa Novel, Mitchell Kriegman Explains It All

Clarissa Explains It All creator Mitchell Kriegman manages an admirable, but not completely satisfying, juggling act with romance, nostalgia, and realism with his novel, Things I Can’t Explain. Twenty-something Millennial Clarissa explains all her adulthood, but can’t explain why she’s mired in sitcom hi-jinks. She’s still a Darling, but not quite darling.

Clarence Explains It Some

90s kids remember (the 90s kids who watched too much TV) Clarissa Darling, a girl with maturity a little beyond her years and a distinct bohemian-ish fashion sense. She had the obligatory quirky family, but her best friend is Sam, a dude who entered her room via ladder to her window. Continue reading “In His Clarissa Novel, Mitchell Kriegman Explains It All”