What do Lucille Ball and Malcolm X have in common?
They’re both part of Studio 360 American Icons series. This fall, we’ve traced the impact of The Autobiography of Malcolm X on race relations and glimpsed the dawn of the American sitcom with I Love Lucy. Last week we visited Monticello – Thomas Jefferson’s home in Virginia – and in wandering the building and the grounds, confronted some lingering questions about the country and its founding.
Monticello (photo by Geoff Kilmer / Monticello)
Now we’re turning to you for a little “listener support.” No, it’s not a pledge drive (though we encourage you to support your local station…).
Tell us what we’ve missed. We’ve produced nine new Icons — we want you to decide the tenth. If your pick is selected, we’ll make a radio story about it — and you could be a guest on an episode of Studio 360.
We put out the call a few weeks ago, and our listeners have already come up with some surprising and impressive ideas. They range wide across America’s cultural landscape: from My Antonia and The Sound and the Fury to Bugs Bunny, from the Airstream Trailer to Apollo 11. Daniel Leathersich, of Kutztown, Pennsylvania, suggested Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” because it’s a “quintessential song of the dreams of youth, the wonder of escape, and what people become from their memories.”
We need to hear from you. Tell us your ideas…and listen for our tenth American Icon!
The TED Conference has a reputation for attracting and honoring international dignataries, prize-winning scientists, and even rock stars. Always keen to shake things up, it’s giving its top honor — the TED Prize — to a graffiti artist. The 27-year old Parisian known publicly only as JR has been awarded the $100,000 prize.
Taking his work to the streets, JR photographs people living in poverty-stricken areas around the world. Then he enlarges the portraits and posts them (often illegally) on rooftops, building walls, or wherever he sees fit. His work has “shown” around in the world – including Kenya, Brazil, and China – on walls, broken bridges, and in slum villages.
In addition to the money, JR also gets “One Wish to Change the World” – an opportunity to create and lead a philanthropic project, funded by the TED community and staff, and Sapling Foundation. When asked what his “wish” will be, JR told The Independent, “I go to local communities, forgotten communities or antagonistic communities, and try to energize them and bring them together and make them think, through the medium of art. I would want my ‘wish’ to be something like that, but on a global scale.” He will present a plan for how to do that at next year’s TED Conference.
Past winners of the TED prize include Jamie Oliver, Bono, and Bill Clinton.
The World Series starts tonight. And if you’ve watched any Major League Baseball this year, you’ve probably noticed the twisted metal chains many of the players wear. If not, take a closer look at the necks of Texas Rangers’ shortstop Elvis Andrus or San Francisco Giants’ outfielder Andres Torres. The necklaces, which are often coordinated with team colors, are all over the league – they caught my eye mainly because they look really uncomfortable to wear.
Andres Torres, San Francisco Giants (Ben Margot/AP)
So what is this cumbersome accessory?
The necklaces are made out of titanium by a company called Phiten. It claims the jewelry is specially designed to enhance an athlete’s performance by providing pain relief, improving circulation, and reducing stress: “Phiten products work with your body’s energy system, helping to regulate and balance the flow of energy throughout your body. Proper energy balance helps to alleviate discomfort, speed recovery, and counteract fatigue. Athletes find that they tire less easily and recover faster from intense physical activity.” Former Yankees pitcher Randy Johnson is credited with starting the craze after discovering the product on an All-Star trip to Japan in 2001.
There is no scientific proof that Phiten’s products work, but players from 2003 World Series MVP Josh Beckett to 2008 and 2009 NL Cy Young Award-winner Tim Lincecum use and endorse the necklaces.
A Phiten titanium necklace costs around $40. The company has several other products on the market as well, including lotions, stress relieving patches, bracelets, socks, and compression shirts and shorts. The accessories are even starting to be used in other sports as a legal performance-enhancer. Whether the effect is bona fide or placebo (athletes are, of course, also known for their superstitions), for many these necklaces are a must-have on the field.
Feeling adventurous this fall season? Well National Geographic has you covered with this zebra-printed Great Migrations reusable accessory. If you’re in need of a new handbag, tote bag, grocery bag, or Mary Poppins bag (you know, the ones you just throw a lot of junk in and call it a purse), this is your lucky day.
This bit of swag promotes the episode “Zebra on the Move” from the new series Great Migrations, premiering November 7th.
There’s also a beautiful book of photos that goes along with the series.
We also got a blue super air blaster from co-sign collective (a group of independent business owners and contractors within the entertainment industry) — but this has us scratching our heads. How do you use it?
The Vaselines were persona non grata in the US when the late Kurt Cobain called them his favorite songwriters. Cult status was instantaneous, but the band had already dissolved. After a 20 year hiatus, the Scottish pop duo has reunited, though not remarried. On last weekend’s show, Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee told Kurt what brought them back together — and they played songs from their new album Sex With an X.
Girl in a Coma‘s creation story reads like a fairy tale: teen girls plaster bedroom walls with posters of dreamy pop star; start a band named after pop star’s song; play hard in that band for 10 years. Until one day… the phone rings. It’s the man from the posters. Morrissey. He invites them to open for him on tour.
The young San Antonio trio — sisters Nina and Phanie Diaz and their close friend Jenn Alva — are now paying tribute to the music that shaped them on their new album, Adventures in Coverland (out tomorrow). While no Morrissey tunes show up on this record, songs by artists who contributed to his rockabilly bent (and pompadour) are there, like Ritchie Valens — alongside fellow new wavers Joy Division. Coverland showcases Girl in a Coma’s unexpected mix of influences — they grew up listening to Selena alongside moody Britpop.
They somehow manage to blend it all beautifully: Nina’s Patsy Cline-ish croon crossed with crunchy post-punk guitars and a touch of Tex-Mex twang just works. Check out their new video (directed by drummer Jenn) of “Walking After Midnight.”
I spoke to the band in 2009 about their musical roots and their unlikely Morrissey story. “I loved him so much it hurt,” said Nina. But once the band met him, said Jenn, “everything just switched and the whole fan just shredded off, and it was time to work.”
This summer, Luke Geissbuhler, the cinematographer behind the mokumentary-style movie Bruno and the upcoming film The Virginity Hit, masterminded a very different kind of movie. With nothing more than a weather balloon, an HD camera and a GPS device, Gessbuhler and his 9-year old son created a homemade spacecraft and set out to capture its journey on video. The duo encased the camera, GPS and a parachute in a foam container, tied it to the end of the balloon and released it near their home in Newburgh, New York. Hoping to view the video once the balloon fell back to earth, Geissbuhler tucked a note inside the foam container promising a reward to anyone who returned the spacecraft to its rightful creators.
Turns out, the spacecraft was found in a tree later that night, not far from where it was released. But when Geissbuhler and his son watched the video they were amazed to find out that their experiment was a tremendous success. Their makeshift spacecraft had spent the afternoon in space!
To me, the video is a testament to the adage that anything is possible. With a bit of tenacity, research, and a few “flight tests,” the duo engineered a device that overcame huge odds. Their tiny balloon made it through 100mph winds, reached the upper stratosphere of Earth in only an hour, and managed to land only 30 miles from where it was released! Oh yeah and the resulting film is pretty fantastic too. Geissbuhler managed to tailor the spacecraft to keep it from spinning and the result is a steady and watchable short film. When the balloon first breaks past the white clouds and reaches the blackness of space, the view is truly breathtaking. For all of you who wondered as a kid what happened to those birthday balloons that got away, you now have your answer.
Just last weekend, the British novelist Howard Jacobson was lamenting that he wasn’t being taken seriously. “There is a fear of comedy in the novel today,” he wrote the Guardian Saturday Review. “When did you last see the word ‘funny’ on the jacket of a serious novel?”
It’s the story of three old school friends who grapple with love, loss, and what it means to be Jewish in Britain — themes that are staples of Jacobson’s work. The Guardian calls the novel “laugh-out-loud exploration of Jewishness” and notes that it’s the first “unashamedly comic novel” to win in the 42-year history of the prize.
We’ve been lucky to have Jacobson on the show twice — he’s a fantastic talker, thoughtful and seriously funny too. In 2007, he read from Kalooki Nights (which was previously longlisted for the Booker Prize). And for our American Icons episode all about Superman, we asked Jacobson for his take on the caped crusader’s Jewish origins. Among his observations: “Krypton is like an ideal Jewish suburb. All the men are highly scientific and cerebral. An all the women are good-looking and motherly, but care mainly about whether their boys do well at school.”
Solomon Burke — the legendary singer, songwriter, and pioneer of soul music — passed away this weekend from natural causes. He was 70. Known for his influence on contemporaries like Sam Cooke and James Brown, his song “Down in the Valley” appeared on Otis Redding’s 1965 album Otis Blue. Probably his best known song, “Cry to Me,” was featured on the soundtrack to Dirty Dancing.
Although he never reached the same level of success as Cooke and Brown, Burke made an indelible mark as a writer and performer of soul. And even late in life, Burke experimented with his sound and recorded an entire album of country music, titled Nashville. He stopped by Studio 360 in 2006 and told Kurt Andersen “it’s time to do different things and time to get out of the mustard and ketchup (catch up).”
On Monday, we started our Week of Lucy with a pop quiz. Here are the answers:
Question #1: Which was not in the contract for the cast members?
A. Desi Arnaz could only perform a song when it was deemed by the writers to be essential to the plot.
B. Bill Frawley was allowed to miss performances if the Yankees were in the World Series.
C. Vivian Vance’s weight had to exceed Lucille Ball’s by 10 to 15 pounds for the entire run.
D. Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz were given 100% ownership to the rights of I Love Lucy.
It has long been rumored that Lucille Ball contractually required Vivian Vance to weigh more than her, but it’s not true. In 1975, during an appearance on a daytime talk show, Vance poked a little fun at this persistent piece of gossip by reading from her supposed employment contract. This is a snippet of what she read:
Party of the First Part [Vance] must promise to never dye her hair within five shades either way of the Party of the Second Part [Ball], also known as the lovable natural red head
Party of the First Part must also agree to put on an additional five pounds per month for the next year and retain her rotundity.
Party of the First Part must strive against all odds to never garner more laughs in any given situation w/in the structure of the Lucy show. There is, incidentally, a penalty if this occurs.
Question #2: Which notorious dictator had reels and reels of old I Love Lucys?
Question #3: Upon seeing the I Love Lucy pilot, what cultural luminary said, “Keep the redhead. Ditch the Cuban. No one will understand him.”
A. Oscar Hammerstein
B. Truman Capote
C. Dorothy Parker
D. Carmen Miranda
Oscar Hammerstein was good friends with Milton Biow, the ad man who helped I Love Lucy find its sponsor, Philip Morris. When Biow explained that the Cuban came with the redhead as a package deal, Hammerstein said they shouldn’t let him sing. As a result, it went into the contract that any performance by Desi had to be essential to the plot. (As the show became a huge hit, Arnaz did as much singing as he pleased.)
Question #4: What did William Frawley not do on the set of I Love Lucy?
A. Pause rehearsals in order to place a bet on a horse race.
B. Rip out his pages from the script, so that he’d know his lines and nothing more.
C. Get in a fistfight with cameramen who he thought were shooting him at unflattering angles.
William Frawley played the curmudgeonly landlord Fred Mertz. Frawley was an old vaudevillian, a gambler, and a drinker – a good time guy, not a particularly diligent worker, and certainly not worried about looking pretty for the camera. Sometimes, when Frawley would be napping on the set, Desi Arnaz would give him a “hot foot,” a kind of old timey prank when you set someone’s shoelaces on fire (watch out, Kurt). The writers of I Love Lucy knew that if they wrote too many lines of dialogue for him, Frawley would pull them aside and give them a talking to. Number one hit show be damned, he needed time to play the ponies.
Question #5: During the second season of I Love Lucy, Lucille Ball was pregnant, and so was her character on the show. Which of the following is not true:
A. The word pregnant was never used during on the show.
B. The twin beds of Lucy and Ricky Ricardo were pushed further apart.
C. A priest, a rabbi, and a minister vetted the scripts.
D. Philip Morris dropped sponsorship during the pregnancy.
Philip Morris did not drop its sponsorship during the episodes of I Love Lucy in which Lucy was pregnant. But Lucy Ricardo did cut back on her smoking while she was carrying.
Question #6: Who played Little Ricky on I Love Lucy?
A. Richard Keith
B. Keith Richards
C. Desi Arnaz Jr.
D. Keith Thibodeaux
Answer: A or D
Most people assume that Desi Arnaz Jr. played Little Ricky on I Love Lucy, something that bothers Desi Jr. Little Ricky was actually played by Keith Thibodeaux, a child actor who could play the heck out of a conga drum. In the credits of I Love Lucy Thibodeaux is listed as either “Little Ricky” or “Richard Keith.” And at one time, he was even listed in an encyclopedia of TV as Keith Richards. (That’s a show we’d like to see.) Thibodeaux left acting and later co-founded Ballet Magnificat!, an arts organization “dedicated to presenting the good news of Jesus Christ to the whole world.”
This weekend’s episode of “Studio 360” is dedicated to singing the praises of the latest American Icon in our series, I Love Lucy – listen to the show HERE.