By Jack Sparacino
It seems as if I overlooked a few topics when I wrote recently about the entertainment field. This list ought to cover every possible thing I missed, except for maybe sword swallowing and dancing bears.
1. High school and college plays and musicals. These represent some of my fondest school memories. I don’t think one can overestimate the educational value or goodwill reinforced in audiences that see these productions.
2. Harry Houdini. Born in 1874 in Budapest, Hungary, with the less cool name of Erich Weisz, Houdini is still the first person many of us think of when we contemplate magicians and escape artists. This entertainment icon performed up to his death in 1926. Talk about a man made for the Roaring Twenties. It’s just too bad that he couldn’t get out of them alive.
3. Beauty pageants. These seem to have been around practically forever, but the trend toward organizing events for younger and younger participants is, can I say, curious. Hopefully we’re not headed toward prenatal competition, though sonograms could be scrutinized by tiny judges at some point, perhaps.
4. The Little Rascals. Weren’t they fun to watch, those scruffy kids who were always getting into mischief, with great names like Spanky, Froggie, Stymie, Farina, Alfalfa, Buckwheat, and Wheezer? What a shame that so many of them ran into such difficulty in real life after their acting days were over.
5. Circuses. Who doesn’t love a good old (or new) fashioned circus? The number of circuses traveling on rails reached its high point in 1911, when 32 shows traveled the U.S. Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus toured with a staggering 100 cars in 1923. They carried big top tents that could hold more than 10,000 customers. It’s interesting how in 2006 the Depression-era circus book “Water for Elephants” stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for 12 weeks. To the end of his adult life, my amazing father loved to take his grandchildren to the circus, probably because he never really got to go much as a kid growing up in the 30’s.
6. Elvis impersonators. Well, Mr. Presley wasn’t the King of Rock and Roll for nothing. His show business descendants span our landscape like an incandescent highway system of scarves glimmering with sequins.
7. Infomercials. These may qualify as a guilty pleasure if you watch just for the entertainment value with no particular intention of buying anything they’re selling. I’m guessing that more than a few people do just that, maybe when no one else is around and they’re balancing their checkbook or petting the cat, for example. Ron Popeil was really on to something when he began his sales career many years ago. How can you not love the guy who brought us such essential household products as Chop-O-Matic, the Popeil Pocket Fisherman, Inside-The-Shell Egg Scrambler, and the Electric Food Dehydrator? “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m going to show you the greatest kitchen appliance ever made … All your onions chopped to perfection without shedding a single tear.” ALL of them? Wow.
8. Best female pop singer EVER. This one may get me in hot water with some people, but here goes: Linda Ronstadt. Smash hits in rock and roll, dreamy crooner classics from the 1950’s, brilliance on the opera stage, you name it. She’s been great in many venues and has few, if any, peers who’ve been as versatile.
9. Willie Nelson. How can this man still be traveling so much and going so strong as a performer? He was born in 1933, the year that work began on the Golden Gate Bridge. (And, oh by the way, gasoline was 10 cents a gallon, a loaf of bread cost 7 cents, and the average cost of a new house was … $5,750.) I’ve written some things over the years that I’m pretty proud of, but would give my eye teeth to have written any of his great hits, such as “Crazy,” “Night Life” or “On The Road Again.”
10. “Pawn Stars.” Oh my goodness. This top-rated reality show on The History Channel provides a simply fascinating look into the intricacies of how people come to value and price special merchandise. The setting is the family owned Gold and Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas. The show’s stars include Rick Harrison, an engaging, eternally curious fellow; his father, Richard (“The Old Man”); and his son, Corey (“Big Hoss”). Watching them interact with an amazing series of customers looking to sell anything from antiques and museum pieces to ancient toys, cars, weapons and curiosities is just plain fun and educational. And if there ever was an infectious laugh, it’s Rick’s.
11. Pantomime artists. Despite the talent involved, it got to be a running joke that hardly anyone wants to sit still and watch a mime at work. Well, it’s certainly better than watching paint dry. Grease paint.
12. YouTube. How did we ever live without this website and the ability to find practically any recording with a few clicks of the mouse? Talk about the ability to get entertained, educated, or just lost in the weeds. Fascinating weeds at that.
13. Hibachi chefs in Japanese restaurants. These guys can simply mesmerize you, not necessarily a good state of mind to be in around flashing knives. Anyone for a volcanic onion? Now THAT’S entertainment.
Well, whew, that should about do it. Bring on those dancing bears!
By Jack Sparacino