“My Two Pontiffs.” Coming to TBS!

English: Pope Benedict XVI during general audition

Expect things to get c-c-c-r-a-a-z-z-z-y in Pope Land!  Castel Gandolfo is one villa that’s just not big enough for two popes.  Benedict likes things just so, and doesn’t enjoy sharing his direct line to the Almighty with other nuncios.  Meanwhile, Pope Francis is an easy going guy who enjoys a Tango Canyengue any time he can find a partner.  Uh oh, he’s swaying his hips and crooking his finger at a group of hungover American cardinals.

Pope Francis met with media

A bit of a prankster, Pope Francis gets the Swiss Guard guffawing by hiding the red pope shoes Benedict snuck out of the Vatican. To show he still has a sense of humor, Benedict keys the newbie’s popemobile.

Benedict softens when Francis makes a peace offering:  A well-preserved copy of Benedict’s seminary yearbook, the one with the photo of the graduation day dance on the title page.

Bishops dance

Next week:  While Benedict knits a cassock for the Vatican dachshund, Pope Francis helps himself to the Cannoli in the Emeritus drawer of the papal fridge.

When Snow White and the Seven Dwarves Went To War

Few people have the remotest idea how tortured was the path that “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” took to arrive at the silver screen.  It was to be Walt Disney’s first feature length film.  At the time, Disney, still an upstart in the movie business and angling for the respect of his fellow studio bosses, planned his debut feature as a live action film.  Yes, live action.  So began a nationwide casting search for little people who could create an emotional bond with American movie audiences. No circus, carnival sideshow, zoo, or junior high school escaped the scrutiny of Disney’s casting directors.  Finding his ensemble  was only the beginning of this film project’s troubles.

A friend who teaches a History of Intellectual Property course at a prominent Canadian law school revealed the details of this correspondence only if I promised not to identify him.

Walt Disney in a 1937 color movie trailer for ...

From the Desk of Alan Haimisch, Diminutive Artists Agency (DAA)

To:  Walt Disney

Re:  7 Dwarves.

Cc:  Sleepy, Dopey, Doc, Bashful, Sneezy, Grumpy, Happy

September 30, 1935

Dear Mr Disney,

I was just as disappointed as you to hear that the Seven Dwarves felt compelled to walk off the set of  “Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs.”  I warned you that the archaic spelling of “Dwarfs” in the title would chap Grumpy’s tiny ass.  For godsakes, his M.A. diploma in English Composition hangs on the wall of his trailer.  The little grammarian is willing to go to arbitration to see “Dwarves” find its proper place in the title.

No less happy is Happy.  He insists the alternate title proposed by your VP of Casting, “Snow White and the 7 Sawed-Off Magical Creatures” would upset his girlfriend.

And do I need to mention the boys’ discomfort at having to work on Tuesday, the Dwarf Sabbath?

Sincerely

Alan Haimisch                                                                                                                                                  Diminutive Artists Agency (DAA)

The famous "Heigh-Ho" sequence from ...

October 2, 1935

Cc:  Sleepy, Dopey, Doc, Bashful, Sneezy, Grumpy, Happy

Dear Alan:

It’s a shame things have come to this.  A movie certain to carve out a special place in Disney lore, our first live action feature film–has been jeopardized by the poor behavior of your clients.  We let ourselves dream that its eventual success would spawn a sequel, “Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs 2.”  We even commissioned a script.

Now, it’s all hanging by a thread, my friend.  Unless you ensure your seven clients’ appearance on the set, in costume, by 9 am Monday, they’ll be lucky to find work as ride attendants at Asbestos World.

Respectfully

Walt Disney

Calendar girl 1

October 30, 1935

Dear Mr Disney:

I assure you their brief walkout was a reasonable reaction to dismal working conditions.  In a cost-cutting move, you asked Doc to work as the physician on the set, a flagrant violation of his contract.

Indeed, there have been genuine health issues.  Sneezy, it turns out, is not just allergic but goes into anaphylactic shock in the presence of apples, poisoned or otherwise.

While we’re on the subject of food, you should know that Sleepy has been forced to perform grueling stunts without a snack break.   This practice has become a health risk in light of his recent hypoglycemia diagnosis.

By the way, dangling the prospect of a sequel in front of the Dwarves was a low tactic calculated to sow jealousy among them.  Poor Dopey worries that the numeral ‘2’ in the sequel title would require fourteen little fellows and diminish the profit participation of the original seven.

Sincerely

Alan Haimisch
Diminutive Artists Agency (DAA)

Calendar girl 7

November 6, 1935

Dear Alan:

We’re happy to make the little fellows more comfortable.  In exchange, perhaps, you could restrain Grumpy’s attempts to undermine the film’s reputation.  At every opportunity he bleats to the press that the film has been re-titled, “Snow White, On Her Back Again.”

I Remain,

Walt Disney

PS  Why do you keep harping on the size of the Dwarves?  You’re barely five feet tall yourself.

 

Hayworth in the strip scene from Gilda.

November 12, 1935

Dear Mr Disney:

When Grumpy referred to your movie as “Snow White, on Her Back Again,” his rigid sense of morality had gotten the best of him.  He was objecting to the on-set, sexual double-team foisted on Dopey by the Queen (Bette Davis) and Snow White (Rita Hayworth).

Dopey had already complained that his love scene in the forest with the gorgeous but clearly incapacitated cleaning lady was neither believable nor  legal.  But Miss Hayworth lured the little guy into her glass enclosure with a slice of bratwurst and, after that, he was no match for her superior bulk.

Regards

Alan Haimisch
Diminutive Artists Agency (DAA)

Calendar girl 8

November 20, 1935

Dear Alan,

The Studio might be willing to meet you half way.  We will consider substituting the more grammatical “Dwarves” to the title. We’ll substitute a hypoallergenic peach for the poisoned apple.  We’ll bring in a stuntman so Sleepy’s blood sugar won’t be an issue. And if it makes Dopey more comfortable, his love scene will be with an animatronic Snow White.

If I agree to those conditions, will you drop any legal action and assure the studio that the 7 Dwarves will appear on time, as per contract, at 9 am Monday?

All The Best

Walt Disney

Calendar girl 9

November 23, 1935

Dear Mr Disney,

Thank you for your gracious show of flexibility.

Most of the boys have agreed to show up as promised.

Unfortunately, Monday is the day that Happy will be honored by the American Psychiatric Association for his pioneering work in archetypal research, specifically the “Who’s Your Favorite Dwarf Personality Profile.”

Can you adjust the shooting schedule to accommodate these arrangements?  And send the studio aircraft?

Best

Alan Haimisch                                                                                                                                           Diminutive Artists Agency (DAA)

Calendar girl 10November 26,  1935

Dear Alan,

We won’t be needing your wee clients after all.  In a labor saving move, we’ve decided to hand-draw the characters and, if necessary, distribute flip-books of the fairy tale.

Regards

Walt Disney

Calendar girl 4

November  28, 1935

Dear Walt,

The Dwarves don’t think America is prepared to believe cartoon heroes.

Until you come to your senses, the boys are off to the USSR to entertain the hero of the little guy, Uncle Joe Stalin.

All The Best

Alan Haimisch                                                                                                                                                 Diminutive Artists Agency (DAA)

Editor’s Note:  The Dwarves were never heard from again.  It’s assumed they lost their lives in Stalin’s purges, however KGB files released during Glasnost suggest two of the Dwarves actually served as willing assassins for Stalin.  The files say their lack of height was an ongoing challenge. Though ineffective as hit men, according to insiders they acquired a reputation as skilled knee-cappers.

 

About my MacArthur Genius Award

MacArthur "Genius" Reginald R. Robin...

Dear MacArthur Foundation:

The MacArthur Genius grants have been announced and, once again, due to what must be an oversight, my name wasn’t included among the list of fellowship winners.  If I’d been nominated, I would have demonstrated a genius for understatement with a graceful but insincere protest something like this: “There must be a mistake.”

But now that I’ve been overlooked, I have to say there’s been a mistake.

How could the foundation not recognize what’s been obvious to so many, my towering genius in these fields:   creating clutter, generating resentment, and denying reality (I still think I’m the sexiest man alive, but just try to reason with the editors of “People” magazine).

It’s not as if I’m demanding a royalty for my accomplishments–I pioneered texting and walking–but won’t someone say thank you?  As for my screenplay, “Hamlet vs Goodzilla,”  the motion picture industry has chosen to ignore the fact that I managed the entire task in fifteen minutes.  Et tu, MacArthur Foundation?

Has someone inside the organization sabotaged my application?   Or is it possible that the guy on the corner who’s been debiting $39 a month from my checking account doesn’t actually have an “in” with the MacArthur board?

Yours Truly

Gravitas, baby!

My infallible election predictor

Official photographic portrait of US President...

With the Presidential election only a day away, it seems like a timely idea to revisit my first posting to this blog.  Its methodology and conclusions are utterly non-partisan and, compared to the punditocracy’s tea-leaf readings, laser accurate.  I take you back in time to the March 2012 Gravitas, baby!

Can you absorb one more election pre-mortem?

In these days of radical downsizing—unless your organization is too big to downsize–may I suggest several more candidates for the axe:  Gallup, Harris, Zogby, Mason-Dixon, Quinnipac, and the other pollsters whose research occupies far too much of our mindspace.

The more reliable predictor of presidential electability is my “Cool Guy” political paradigm.   It’s an unscientific but utterly infallible measure.

Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts,...

What is the Cool Guy prism?  It insists that in national campaigns, the cooler candidate always prevails against a dorkier adversary.   Experience, policy expertise, wealth, family connections and other factors that we always thought vital only truly count when they add or detract from our perceptions about a candidate’s “Cool.” When so many of us suffer from the madness borne of election fever, doesn’t it make sense that we seek a more human remedy?

By “cool,” I’m not talking about the amount of McLuhanesque cool a candidate projects although I’ll admit it seems to be a television-age phenomenon.  First, let’s define our terms.  A Cool Guy is unflappable, genuine, and quietly confident. A woman, by the way, can be a Cool Guy but only if she’s really cool.

You want proof?  In the last presidential go-round, Barack Obama was indisputably cooler than John McCain not to mention Hilary Clinton and his other Democratic primary opponents.  Barack was way cool.  Absolute cool.  He couldn’t lose.

The real test of the Cool Guy paradigm, however, is whether it also applies to past presidential contests.

Whether you detest George W Bush or not, he presented enough ranch-hand cool to dispatch John Kerry in 2004. Four years earlier, against the vice-nerd, Al Gore, who labored to push every sentence up a hill, W was practically Rat-Pack cool.  Today, even with a big, new bankroll that should re-brand Gore as cool, what does he do?  He tells us the end is near.  Not cool.

Before George W, we saw the cool-meister, Bill Clinton, face down Mean Bob Dole.  No slouch in the understatement department himself, Dole had no chance against Slick Willie.  Even Clinton’s first national opponent, Bush 41, an incumbent President with a Desert Storm notch on his belt, couldn’t outcool Bill Clinton.

George HW Bush was nobody’s idea of cool.   And was the flame ever lower than whatever animated his opponent in 1988, Michael Dukakis?  But once Dukakis put on that geeky tank driver’s helmet, he was lost.

You can argue whether Ronald Reagan fits the Cool Guy paradigm but remember, the deciding factor is relative cool.  Reagan was, by that standard, sure to be a landslide victor over irascible Walter Mondale or his predecessor Democrat, the Puritan scold, Jimmy Carter.

And so it always goes.  Carter was cooler than the uber-bumbler, Gerald Ford.  Richard Nixon, by every known measure, was light years from Cool but, compared to George McGovern, perpetually at war with the Viet Nam War, or the pathologically Happy Warrior, Hubert Humphrey, he was a shoo-in.  1968 was also the year of George Wallace’s third party appeal to white-hot working class resentment, not the coolest image a candidate can craft.  Wallace didn’t help the cool of his cause by naming a warmongering Air Force General as his running mate.  Lyndon Johnson was not cooler than his 1964 opponent except in the public mind.  LBJ successfully hung the “warmonger” tag on Barry Goldwater, and Goldwater complied by threatening North Viet Nam with a return to the Stone Age.

Before LBJ there was JFK, unflappable, whip-smart, witty, and secure in himself.  He was as cool as they get.  What we’ve learned about Kennedy since then has only burnished his rep for Cool.

Does all this mean that Cool is objectively better?  Only in the eyes of the electorate.

Cool guys, in the heat of a campaign and under the sway of consultants, fritter away and even lose their cool.  How else to explain the loss of a lifelong cool guy, maverick, hero–John McCain–who under the glare of the national campaign, became the hot-under-the-collar candidate.  At the beginning of the 2008 race, the odds seemed to be against the inexperienced Obama, but the odds don’t have a chance against genuinely cool people.

What does any of this mean for the Republican Party cool-o-meter this year?  Somehow, Mitt Romney has managed to make being filthy rich seem uncool.  His inauthenticity almost put him at a disadvantage against Rick Santorum who didn’t give a damn what his political consultants thought as long as he could talk out of his ass.  He’d be too damned comfortable playing role of the “Shakespeare In Love” censor who shuts down “Romeo and Juliet.”  That made him even less cool than Romney.

That’s the competitive frame for candidates going up against a President who, in one year, iced Osama Bin Laden and channeled Al Green.  A Prez.

The Mitt-meister out-cooled the President in the first debate.  Instead of smelling blood, he opined that Obama was a decent guy.  Most fair-minded folks would cconsider that a menschy, cool move.

Since then, Romney’s problem hasn’t been Obama as much as his own political allies, officials who rationalize rape, deny science, and wink at voter suppression.  That’s some seriously uncool, anti-democratic shit. The question is, has the Republican friction-machine done irreparable damage to its own candidate’s cool?

So, who do I predict will come out on top in 2016?   That’s easy.  The Cool Guy.

 

Obama challenges Romney to a duel

The Voice (U.S. TV series)

Following a savage rhetorical beating at the hands of his opponent, President Obama has taken the campaign battle to the Romney team with a daring, new challenge.  A one-night only singing competition between the candidates on “The Voice.”  Obama’s handlers laid out their strategy this way:  “If we can’t use actual sidearms, a free-market musical skirmish has got to be the next best way to settle this thing.”

English: Christina Aguilera sings "Can't ...

Deprived of his usual trick-bag of rhetorical traps, President Obama will have to rely on a silky falsetto and, to nudge the army of unmotivated millennial white kids, a knit beanie. With voting constituencies of challenger and incumbent hardened before the actual election day showdown, both candidates are confident a singing competition will connect them to the undecided portion of the electorate.  (Political demographers have analyzed and parsed this group into two subgroups:  1) People committed to their indecision.  2) The Re-undecided.)

English: Cee Lo

Hoping his hard luck story will resonate with the judges. Romney laid out his plan.  “I can’t imitate Al Green like Obama but I surely can make “Let’s Stay Together” my own by transforming it into a marching band piece.  It’s amazing how you can improve rhythm & blues by muffling the rhythm  with a high-velocity mixture of styrofoam and other petroleum-based products.”

Now, Mixmaster Mitt has to dig deep to find a song about deregulation that will make the chairs of Adam, Christina, and Blake spin in his direction. Until Cee-Lo Green supplies a picture I.D. and an electric bill, a Denver Boot will be clamped around his chair.

English: Blake Shelton at the 45th Annual Acad...

This will be one campaign event with no stump speechifying, debate zingers, scripted answers, or gotcha questions.  All that will matter to the judges are vocals that preserve their sense of hearing.   During the musical duel, expect to see dramatic cutaways to the campaign teams in the green room jumping up and down and imploring Blake Shelton to press his red button.  Others will simply implore Christina Aguilera to jump up and down.

Me and Etta James and Yom Kippur

Français : La chanteuse américaine de blues Et...

Twenty years or so ago, I phoned R & B legend, Johnny Otis, to ask if it was okay for a Jewish kid to drop in at the Sunday church service he conducted inside his West Adams district mansion.  He said, “Sure!  After all, we got the same hero.”  I’m sure he meant Jesus.  I was thinking Ray Charles.

The actual draw for me was Etta James appearance in Johnny’s choir.  Ketty Lester and Shuggie Otis, Johnny’s guitar-prodigy son performed too, but I was there to watch and feel Etta.  And when she stepped out of the choir and stood five feet from me, she transformed Joe Cocker’s “You Are So Beautiful” into an acappella “God Is So Beautiful” that rocked every soul in the room.

Johnny Otis

I still nourish my spiritual connection, perhaps imperfectly, by presenting the Almighty with a daily list of wishes and grievances.  On occasion, I’ll even drop into Sabbath services at my local temple.  But Judaism 2.0 has made worship a whole new deal.  Now, during the High Holidays, I can save the trip and tune into that temple’s video webcast or as it’s known on the website, the Sanctuary Cam.

Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, was about to arrive.  Elevating the importance of this holiest day would be the performance of my friend, Julie, in the role of guitar-strumming itinerant Cantor.   I rushed to beat the sunset deadline for the start of the ritual fast by shoveling a fistful of wavy potato chips into my gullet.   My sofa became hideous, one more sacrilege from which I’d have to avert my eyes, one more thing for which I’d have to atone.  On the plus side, I didn’t have to wear pants.

I conjured up the Sanctuary Cam on my laptop.  The voice that rose from Julie’s image was lush and lovely, but what moved me most was the effortlessness of her moonwalk. Why don’t cantors do that anymore? I have no doubt that Jews would return to the flock by the thousands if visual signs of devotion like James Brown-style knee drops were restored to the cantor’s repertoire.

When the service ended, I decompressed by working my way through my Netflix queue, this time watching a movie called “The Boy In The Striped Pajamas.”  It was thoroughly mind-blowing, the rare Holocaust themed movie that understates it all and maybe because of that, hits with more emotional power.

English: High priest offering a sacrifice of a...

That night, I dreamt feverishly.  Vivid images of the temple’s website flashed against the inside of my skull.  Rather than a view of the chapel, the sanctuary cam showed a promotional video for the temple.  A dozen Nazi soldiers from “The Boy In The Striped Pajamas” did a skillfully choreographed motorcycle dance to the music of Regina Spector.    I swear.

Your demagoguery is more demagogic than my demagoguery

“The first man who hurled an insult instead of a rock founded civilization.”                                                                                                                                                                               –Sigmund Freud

 “Say that one more time and I’ll bury my foot up your ass.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                      –You

Last Thanksgiving, during one of those philosophical chats for which you never give thanks, I kidded my mother about her absolute devotion to the pro-choice cause.  Within seconds, she phoned her gynecologist and had me removed from her condo with a forceps.

On the other side of the political divide, folks are just as humorless.  When I suggested that God, like any good creator, agonizes over his handiwork and thinks the theory of intelligent design is a load of crap, some Christians prayed for my demise.

What’s my point? We’re becoming a bunch of extremists.  By “we,” I mean you.  And by “you,” I mean your political selves–a unique form of frenzied personality disorder–and not necessarily your actual selves.

So, dear extremist, I couldn’t help but notice that your guiding philosophy, whether left or right, is Resentment.

Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Obs...

The great fear growing in the conservative breast, is the coming day when the government makes you share a bedroom with an LGBT caucus member.  And watch out for a world where you liberals need Rush Limbaugh’s permission to untangle the ultrasound from your thongs.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t disagree with your political opponents.  Have at it.  Change the channel when you see Bill Maher or Aaron Sorkin or Patricia Heaton or Sean Hannity.    Jesus, if I made my viewing choices based on who I agreed with philosophically, I’d be reduced to watching the steam-driven colonics channel.

Have fun with all the pre-election hyperbole but–whether you’re a Wall Street apologist or an Entitlement pimp–just restrain your impulse to silence the other guy.  Remember, it was only a few months ago when liberals with digital pitchforks tried to have Rush Limbaugh thrown off the air.  Conservatives play the game just as shamelessly by creating Kafka-esque bureaucracies to exclude minority voters.

Maybe this is the time to remind you that we’re having an election, not a bar fight.  Let’s not turn into Rwanda or Pakistan–though I’m sure both places are  chock full of wonderfulness.

So when the returns come in and your bet pays off, will you meet your opponent in the parking lot, shake hands and collect your winnings with grace?  Or  force him into the trunk of his car and make him disappear?