Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Stephen J. Cannell Tribute (classic)

[Writer and Producer Stephen J. Cannell received the Paddy Chayevsky Laurel Award for Television at the 2006 Writers Guild of America, West Awards on February 4, in the Hollywood Palladium. Cannell selected our Burt to write this tribute published in the WGA magazine, Written By, and in the event program. -ed]

February 5, 2006 - Stephen J. Cannell is my hero. But it’s not because he has produced more than 1,500 hours of quality television, written over 450 episodes, and created more than 40 shows, including “The Rockford Files,” “The A-Team, “ “Hunter,” “Riptide,” “21 Jump Street,” “Wiseguy,” “The Commish,” “Renegade” and “Silk Stalkings.” Heck, any 10 or 12 guys working day and night could probably have done the same.

He’s surely not my hero because, at an age when most TV writers start bitching about ageism, he managed to change careers and become a best-selling novelist.

He’s also not my hero because, unlike most normal writers who can’t balance a checkbook or even figure out the appropriate tip on a $13 lunch, Cannell is a savvy business tycoon who not only oversaw a billion dollar studio, but continues to own the worldwide distribution rights to over a thousand hours of Cannell-produced series and TV movies.

photo by Chelsea Cannell
He’s not my hero because in a town in which the most popular reality show is “Switching Spouses,” he and Marcia have been married for roughly a kazillion years.

He’s certainly not my hero because he’s won a trophy room full of Emmys and WGA awards in spite of having dyslexia. After all, it’s not like he’s the first person who’s ever suffered from an eating disorder.

He’s certainly not my hero because he’s tall, tan, and looks the way movie stars used to look. And you better believe it’s not because Steve Cannell has more hair on his head than my dog has on its entire body.

No, Stephen Cannell is my hero because? Well, let’s begin more or less at the beginning. Let’s go back to 1988, the year of this guild’s previous strike. There were those in the guild who thought the strike was a bad idea. I wasn’t one of them; Mr. Cannell was. After a meeting held by those of the loyal opposition, Cannell was widely quoted in the media. So was I. It was my honest opinion that while such people as Cannell and Steve Bochco were entitled to their opinion, inasmuch as most of their money came from producing and owning shows, not writing them, they did not share the same concerns as the rest of us working stiffs.

One night, my phone rang. It was Cannell calling, and he was very upset. He insisted that he was, first and foremost, a writer, and he resented what I had said. I pointed out that I was a fan of his work and intended no insult, but that there was no way on earth that a guy with half a dozen shows on the air could possibly be as concerned about foreign residuals and our health plan as the majority of his fellow members were.

For a moment after I spoke, there was nothing but silence. I assumed he had hung up on me. Then he said, “You’re right.” I was so surprised, I actually said, “I am?”

But even the fact that Steve Cannell is probably the only person I have ever convinced of anything isn’t the reason he’s my hero.

For that, we have to jump ten years to 1998. By that time, ageism had hit me so hard that my wife and I had to sell our condo and declare bankruptcy. The only jobs I was able to get were writing celebrity profiles for Emmy magazine. When I got the assignment to write about David Chase, I naturally called Cannell, the man who’d been his boss and mentor at “Rockford Files.”

He supplied me with several quotable anecdotes about the young Chase. He then asked me what I was doing these days. I said, “I’m doing this — the occasional piece for Emmy.” There was another of those long pauses. Then he said, “You’re too good a writer not to be working steady.” It had been several years since anyone but my wife had said such words to me.

Now to put this in proper context, you have to understand that he and I had never really worked together. Once, I was supposed to write an episode of “Rockford,” but a young, over-eager, over-greedy agent cost me the opportunity. Suddenly, I hear him say, “I’m taking my family to Hawaii tomorrow, but I’ll call when I return and we’ll have lunch.”

Frankly, I didn’t expect to hear from him again. But, true to his word, he called back and we met. By this time, he had already turned his back on TV and had become a novelist. But after I told him about my eight bleak years in Hollywood’s equivalent of Siberia, he said he still knew a lot of people who were running shows. He said he’d look through his Rolodex when he got back to his office.

The next day, he called. He began by saying he didn’t know anyone at any of the sit coms, and added that most of the producers he did know seemed to be working on cable sci-fi shows. However, he thought he might have an in for me at “Diagnosis: Murder.” He promised to check it out.

When I didn’t hear anything for several days, I reverted to my usual skepticism where big, good-looking, multi-millionaires are concerned. But, then, one day, the phone rang and it was Cannell. “I didn’t want you to think you’d fallen between the cracks. I have a call in to Chris Abbott over at ‘Diagnosis Murder,’ but she’s still out of town and won’t be back until next week. I just wanted you to know that I hadn’t forgotten about you.”

The thoughtfulness of that phone call, even now, eight years later, is enough to make me cry. Now you know why the man’s my hero.

The next time I heard from him, it was to tell me that Abbott had returned and that she was expecting my call.

That call led to a lucrative two-year gig, and brought me back from the brink of suicide.

In conclusion, I would just like to say that Steve Cannell is more than the sum of his wonderful hyphens, writer-producer, husband-father. He is also the finest guardian angel since Clarence got his wings.

Now let us all stand and raise the roof for Stephen J. Cannell, this year’s winner of the Laurel Award for TV writing excellence.

Related: To Hell And Back: Ageism In Hollywood

Sunday, September 28, 2008

What McCain Should Have Said

by Burt Prelutsky

I didn’t think McCain did badly in the first debate, but I thought he could have done better. For instance, the idea that Obama or any Democrat could be trusted to handle the economy is laughable. When I think about liberals being in charge of America’s wallet, drunken sailors on a binge is the image that comes to mind.

A recent list of the ten U.S. cities with the highest poverty rates shows that these major municipalities have one thing in common. And just what is that one thing that connects them? It’s Democratic leadership, my friends. Cleveland hasn’t had a Republican mayor since 1989, Cincinnati hasn’t had one since 1984, Detroit since 1961, Buffalo since ’54, Philadelphia since ’52 and St. Louis since ‘49. It’s been over a hundred years for Newark and Milwaukee. Miami and El Paso have never elected a Republican mayor. Is it merely an odd coincidence? I don’t think so.

But it’s when Obama tried to blame the current financial crisis on George Bush and the GOP that McCain should have held his feet to the fire. For one thing, it’s the liberals in Congress who forced the banks and mortgage lenders to put prudence and commonsense aside in favor of political pandering by extending home loans to people who never should have received them, not because of race, but because they were bad credit risks. People like Kerry, Pelosi, Reid, Schumer, Boxer, Barney Frank and
Barack Obama, wouldn’t in a million years lend any of those people ten bucks, but they saddled the rest of us with billions in bad loans.

This isn’t to suggest that the lenders were entirely blameless or greedless, but they never would have made sub-prime loans in the first place if the federal government hadn’t forced them to do it. The fact is, when it comes to strong-arm tactics, liberals don’t take a backseat to anyone, including Al Capone and Lucky Luciano.

The other thing that McCain could have brought up is the fact that two of the people who helped get Fannie Mae into its present pickle are a couple of ne’er-do-wells with close ties to Obama; namely, former Fannie Mae CEOs Franklin Delano Raines and James Johnson. Raines has been accused of pocketing over $14 million in bonuses based on fraudulent accounting practices, while Johnson, who was initially named to head up Obama’s V.P. search committee, was forced to step down when it was discovered that he had accepted a tasty little conflict-of-interest home loan from Countrywide, a loan which in less polite circles would be called a bribe.

If I were McCain, I would also have pointed out how similar Johnson’s home loan was to the one the Obamas received through the kindness of convicted Chicago fixer Tony Rezko.

If I had been Sen. McCain, I would have taken the opportunity to remind everyone that Obama, the man who would be commander-in-chief, pooh-poohed Iran as a small country that posed no real danger. It’s one thing, after all, for the MSM to treat Sen. Obama as if he were treated with Teflon and quite another for his opponent to do the same.

Still, I would have closed on a positive note. I would have praised Barack Obama for not suggesting, as Joe Biden did, that George Bush should have dealt with the current financial crisis by going on TV as FDR had in order to reassure the country when the Stock Market crashed..

What is it with these guys? Obama told us there were 57 states and that Kennedy ended the Cuban missile crisis by sitting down across the table from Khrushchev, and Biden is convinced we all had TV sets in the 1929 and that FDR was serving the first of his five terms in the White House! All I can say is that it’s a good thing that these two shmoes can make a living in politics because they sure couldn’t cut it as junior high civics teachers.

Saul Alinsky: The Puppet Master

by Burt Prelutsky

Sometimes I think I may be developing ulcers, and it has nothing to do with the way that the New York Yankees are performing this year or with eating spicy food. It has everything to do with America’s left-wingers. I could probably learn to accept their being on the wrong side of every single issue, but it’s their lies and evasions that get my innards rumbling like an espresso machine.

For instance, the other day I had occasion to send the following letter to my local rag, the L.A. Times: “Dear Editor: On page 10 of the front section, you ran an article sub-headed ‘TV networks and newspapers deny bias claims.’ Obviously, yours was one of the newspapers doing the objecting. However, on the very next page, at the end of an article in which Jon Voight was quoted as saying that he hoped that more of his Hollywood colleagues would come around to the McCain-Palin ticket, your “reporter” couldn’t resist adding, in parentheses: ‘Some people might argue that the Democrats in the entertainment industry have been awakened by the selection of Palin. They’re even more determined in their support of Obama.’

Confirming bias in the media,” I concluded, “is easier than shooting fish in a barrel. Sincerely, Burt Prelutsky.”

Understand, dear readers, this wasn’t an editorial or an op-ed piece. This was supposed to be a news item, and a Times reporter was permitted -- encouraged?-- to tack on a partisan comment, and yet the Times vehemently denies that it or any other member of the left-wing MSM is attempting to pass off political propaganda in the guise of objective reporting.

But there are far more egregious examples. The latest being the way the liberal hounds have jumped all over Sara Palin’s pregnant daughter while giving Obama a pass over his long-time friendship with the unrepentant Weatherman terrorist, William Ayers.

Furthermore, has the MSM once mentioned the influential role that the late Saul Alinsky played in the lives of leading Democrats, and how he helped turned the party so far to the left that if men like Harry Truman and John Kennedy came back to life, they would assume the Soviet Union had won the Cold War?

Saul Alinsky, who died in 1972, at the age of 63, was a Chicago Marxist. Among his many books was one titled “Rules for Radicals,” in which he explained to his acolytes, “The most effective means are whatever will achieve the desired results.” It took Alinsky 11 words to paraphrase Karl Marx’s far more succinct “The ends justify the means.”

Alinsky, by the way, dedicated that particular book to Lucifer, whom he coyly referred to as “the first radical.”

The reason I’m bringing up Alinsky 26 years after he wound up in a place where he could personally autograph his book for Beelzebub is because his disciples are still very much with us. For instance, he just happened to be the subject of Hillary Rodham’s senior honors thesis at Wellesley College. It was such a glowing homage that, in 1968, a most appreciative Alinsky offered her a job in Chicago, but Ms. Rodham, as we all know, had bigger fish to fry. However, when she became America’s First Lady, the White House asked Wellesley to restrict access to the paper, and Wellesley wisely obliged, just as Princeton did when the Obamas requested that Michelle’s racist screed be removed from circulation.

Many people, once they grow up, would be embarrassed if people knew what they were drinking or smoking during their college days, but leftists don’t even want us to know what they were thinking.

But it wasn’t just young Ms. Rodham who had a connection to the late, unlamented Saul Alinsky. Thirteen years after the Chicago radical died, a group of his most devoted disciples hired 24-year-old Barack Obama to be a community organizer in South Chicago.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Letter: Is Frankie Rodriguez Worth It?

TO: Sports@LATimes.com

Dear Editor:

I understand that Frankie Rodriguez wants a multi-year contract that will make him the highest-paid relief pitcher in the major leagues. While it's true that he set the season record for saves, that has far more to do with opportunity than with talent. Inasmuch as he wants to be paid more than Mariano Rivera, it's hard to see how his agent will make the case when Rivera had the far better season. With just a few days left, Rodriguez has 61 saves, but he's blown seven; Rivera is 34 for 35. In 66.1 innings, Rodriguez has given up 53 hits and 34 walks; while Rivera, in 68.1 innings, has given up just 41 hits and 6 walks. Rodriguez has struck out one more batter than Mariano, but his ERA is 2.31, Rivera's is just 1.45. It's true that Rodriguez will only be 27 years old next season, while Rivera will be 38. But as Eric Gagne and so many others have proven, the one sure thing to be said about young relief pitchers is that they have more time in which to blow out their arms.

Burt Prelutsky

A Few More Reasons To Oppose Obama

by Burt Prelutsky

Because there is so much about Barack Obama that I find personally offensive -- things ranging from his friends and religious mentors to his obvious arrogance and his wife -- I have rarely brought up his politics. Partly that’s because his support of leftist policies aren’t all that much different from Hillary Clinton’s or any other liberal in the U.S. Senate, and partly because I tend to think that when electing a president, who must not only serve as head of the executive branch of the federal government but as a living symbol of the country, character and values trumps his position on a handful of current issues.

But that’s not to suggest that issues don’t count. That is particularly true when it comes to such matters as national security, the economy and how best to conduct the war on Islamic terrorists.

In the case of Sen. Obama, there is nothing to suggest that his platform in any way offsets his character deficiencies. For one thing, in spite of history showing us that lowering taxes boosts the nation’s economy, which is only logical, Obama, like every other liberal, wants them raised. Instead of dealing with that salient fact, he promotes class warfare by parroting the Left’s line that lowering taxes only helps the wealthy.

He insists that he was prescient in opposing the invasion of Iraq, but has never said how he would have dealt with Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime. Embargos, perhaps? We all saw how well those worked. But I suppose the oil-for-food scandal and Hussein’s bribing France, Germany, Russia and certain mucky mucks at the U.N. with sweetheart oil deals somehow slipped his mind, just as Jeremiah Wright’s racist screeds did.

I’m sure that President Obama would be very respectful of the United Nations, no doubt following their lead when it came to conducting foreign policy. It truly amazes me when people continue pinning their hopes on that corrupt organization when it did nothing to save lives in Rwanda or Darfur, and recently twiddled its thumbs while tinhorn gangster Robert Mugabe hung on to power in Zimbabwe by killing off the opposition.

Speaking of Africa, when are we going to wean this continent? Are we ever going to get over this nutty notion that we have an obligation to keep pumping money down that particular sewer? It’s bad enough that George Bush is convinced that billions of American tax dollars -- money that could better be spent trying to cure Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and ALS -- should be squandered dealing with AIDS in Africa, but Obama has already endorsed the U.N.-inspired giveaway known as the Global Poverty Act. It’s estimated that filling this particular Christmas stocking would run us $845 billion. Worse yet, most of this largesse would wind up in the pockets or Swiss bank accounts of those various thugs, such as Omar al-Bashir, Teodoro Obiang Mbasogo, Isayas Afeworki and the aforementioned Robert Mugabe, who run Africa the way that Al Capone ran Chicago. In the words of a Mandeville, Louisiana, billboard: A Taxpayer voting for Barack Obama is like a chicken voting for Colonel Sanders.

Finally, it’s no business of mine how much of their millions Mr. And Mrs. Obama send to his relatives in Kenya, but I see no good reason why the Prelutskys should have to shell out a plugged nickel.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Pinocchios Of The Left

by Burt Prelutsky

There are good lies and there are bad lies, and not just on a golf course. Good lies are those that make me laugh. For instance, the NBA recently held its pre-draft camp in Orlando, Florida, and they discovered that the one thing these college prospects had in common, aside of course from a reluctance to play defense, was that a large number of them have been lying about their height. Memphis center Joey Dorsey, Memphis guard Derrick Pose and Duke guard DeMarcus Johnson, weren’t really 6-9, 6-4 and 6-4, as advertised, but were 6-6, 6-1 and 6-1, respectively. UCLA’s Kevin Love wasn’t 6-10, but actually a tad under 6-8. Kansas State’s Michael Beasley was 6-7, not 6-10, and USC’s Davon Jefferson was a full three inches shy of 6-8. Not only wasn’t Tennessee Martin’s Lester Hudson not 6-3, he wasn’t even a six-footer.

All of this is very peculiar for a couple of reasons. One, I find the notion that guys who have to stoop down to clear doorways feel compelled to lie about their height pretty darn amusing. Two, what’s the point? Psychological warfare? If I’m, say, 6-10 and my opponent claims to be my size, but is only 6-7, am I supposed to start wondering if maybe I’m really 7-1? Frankly, I don’t see how that will throw off my game in the least.

But when it comes to lying about things that really matter, you can’t beat those on the left. Back in the bad old days of Joseph Stalin, the Soviet Union built what were called Potemkin Villages. These were show places designed to convince gullible American tourists that the Soviet Union was the workers’ paradise they claimed it to be. But Stalin had a lot of help dispensing his propaganda. He had the New York Times man in Moscow, Walter Duranty, to carry his water. Or in Stalin’s case, make that blood. Even though Duranty knew that Stalin intentionally murdered millions of Ukrainians, starving them to death, he kept quiet about it, instead filing glowing reports about Stalin’s five year economic plans, going so far as to report that Stalin had become a truly great statesman.

My understanding of it is that Duranty wasn’t even a Communist parroting the party line, but simply a reporter who lied because he enjoyed the money he was paid by the Times, the perks that Stalin provided to his favorite parrot and his status as the most famous journalist in the world, all of which would have been lost to him if he had reported the truth about Stalin’s butchery. What’s more, he won a Pulitzer Prize for his despicable lies.

Lest you think that sort of thing couldn’t happen today, I’ll remind you that in order to keep its Baghdad bureau open, CNN never uttered a negative word about Saddam Hussein’s regime. At least in Duranty’s case, the explanation for his moral and journalistic lapses were greed and glory. But what does a so-called news organization gain from having a bureau for 25 years if it hasn’t the slightest intention of reporting the news?

The fact that those on the left lie isn’t so surprising. What boggles the mind is how badly they do it. In the recent past, Jack Kelley of USA Today was caught fabricating stories, as was Stephen Glass of the New Republic, as was Jayson Blair of the New York Times. Janet Cooke cooked up a story about an eight-year-old heroin addict for the Washington Post, and, like Mr. Duranty, won a Pulitzer Prize for her fictional concoction. But at least the Post, unlike the New York Times, had the good grace to return the Prize once the truth leaked out.

Let us not forget CBS’s Dan Rather, who allowed his hatred of George Bush to blind him to the fact that he was going to the mat in defense of obviously forged documents, and that not too long ago, the New Republic, even after the Stephen Glass affair, was so eager to attack the war in Iraq they ran a series of foul and outrageous lies slandering our troops by one Scott Thomas Beauchamp.

The major difference between Burger King and liberals is that liberals don’t offer fries with their whoppers.

The thing about those on the left that I, personally, find so infuriating isn’t just that they lie, but that they’re such hypocrites that they never call one another out. For instance, Al Gore and his Hollywood disciples are constantly exchanging the environmental equivalent of high-fives, and no liberal ever mentions the inconvenient truth that all of these people reside in mansions the size of hotels and fly all over the planet in private jets. Talk about carbon footprints! Dinosaurs didn’t have feet this big or this dirty.

Speaking of movie stars, they all pretend to be populists, just worried sick about the plight of blue collar Americans. Of course they’ll open their homes to raise campaign funds for any huckster with a (D) after his or her name, but have you ever heard about their offering, let us say, a million dollars of their $25 million-a-movie salary to be divided among the crew? The more generous ones pass out wristwatches or autographed photos of themselves at the wrap party, imagining that the various gaffers, gofers and stuntmen, will forever after mention them in their evening prayers.

For that matter, have you ever heard of a Commie college professor, many of whom pull down well over $100,000-a-year, sharing any of his salary with the custodial staff or their own over-worked, under-paid, teaching assistants? No, neither have I.

Talk is cheap, but not nearly as cheap as those lying lefties.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Dissecting Liberals

by Burt Prelutsky

If at times, it is not easy to determine what a liberal is, it’s because during presidential election campaigns, politicians who have been voting like liberals, talking like liberals and boasting about their liberal credentials, suddenly insist that they’re really centrists as they go about trying to garner the votes of gullible Republicans and Independents. It’s rather like Michelle Obama trying to convince us that she’s just another stay-at-home mom who loves America and her kids, and in exactly that order.

Most of us on the right can spot a liberal a mile away, just as easily as experienced bird watchers can identify cuckoos, parrots and pigeons. But just in case you’re not as proficient at recognizing the odd ducks that populate the left, allow me to be your guide through the wilderness.

In America, more than 80% of African-American and Jewish voters can be safely assumed to favor liberals in any and all elections. The reason that poor blacks vote overwhelmingly for Democrats is because they have been told over and over again by plantation owners like Ted Kennedy, John Kerry and Hillary Clinton, that it’s only through the federal government’s largesse that they can manage to survive at all. I suppose even if an able-bodied person is told from childhood on that he lacks the ability to walk, let alone run, he will come to believe he needs a wheelchair or at least a pair of crutches.

Middle-class, church-attending, blacks often owe their unnatural allegiance to the party of George Wallace, Strom Thurmond and Robert Byrd, because they listen to their ministers. Political bribes are usually frowned upon, except when the Democrats act as bagmen for the black clergy. There is a reason, you know, why white politicians get to spend so much time in black churches at election time, in spite of their insistence that “separation of church and state” is writ large somewhere in the Constitution.

When it comes to Jews, the great majority of us are secular when it comes to religion, but religious when it comes to leftist politics. It isn’t a coincidence that Karl Marx, Leon Trotsky started out as Jews, and that 39 of 42 Jews currently serving in the House and Senate are left-wingers who, while disparaging Christian belief in Jesus as the messiah, have no problem whatsoever accepting Barack Obama in that role.

I happen to know a Jewish professor who lives in the Pacific Northwest. While he may not be typical, his mindset isn’t all that different from many of my fellow Jews. When George Bush was running for re-election in 2004, Professor Sandy sent me an e-mail in which he claimed that if Bush won, America would immediately begin building concentration camps for Jews, and he was glad he lived close to Canada and would be able to escape across the border.

Most liberals will tell you that they don’t hate America, they merely hate George Bush. But when you ask them why they hate him so much, they start yammering about the invasion of Iraq, even though all the Democratic bigwigs spent the 1990s calling for regime change, and later voted for the invasion. The left also hates Bush because of the Patriot Act. They insist it’s cost us many of our basic freedoms. But I have yet to ask a liberal to name a single freedom he had under Clinton that he doesn’t have today and received a coherent answer. Yet, even I can come up with one. Thanks to Jimmy Carter, who allowed the Islamic crazies to get a foothold in Iran by turning his back on the Shah, and Bill Clinton, who spared Osama bin Laden’s life on more than one occasion, I no longer have the freedom to arrive at an airport half an hour before boarding and expect to make my flight.

There is a good reason, though, that liberals are liberals. By and large, they are people who never fully mature and who go through life, like sullen teenagers, resenting figures of authority -- be they police officers, members of the military, teachers who believe in discipline and academic standards in the classroom – people, in short, who have rules and values. These folks started out by resenting their parents, assuming their parents were responsible adults and not aging hippies, the sort of parents who set curfews and expected good grades, parents who objected to their offspring boozing, shacking up and using drugs.

For years, we have all heard Hollywood’s most prominent left-wingers vow to leave America if we assorted racists, fascists and evil yokels, managed to elect a Republican president. And although Republicans have won five of the last seven presidential elections, and in spite of my standing offer to drive any and all of them to the airport, in all that time the only movie star who has left America except to make a movie or work on his tan is Johnny Depp, who moved to France. Sean Penn and Robin Williams did the next best thing. They moved to San Francisco.

One of the most annoying things about liberals is that when nightmarish events don’t take place as they predicted -- be they concentration camps for Jews, cataclysmic hurricanes or rising sea levels -- they never admit they were mistaken. They can’t even bring themselves to acknowledge that global warming was a hoax concocted by Al Gore; instead, they merely start squawking like a barnyard full of Chicken Littles about the intentionally vague phenomenon known as climate change.

In the meantime, Nancy Pelosi turns off the lights in the House so that Congress can’t vote for increased oil drilling. Then, to compound matters, she takes time off from her book tour to go on “Meet the Press” with liberal shill Tom Brokaw and explain that her personal financial investment in natural gas exploration was simply a means by which to wean Americans away from our dependence on hydrocarbons. Brokaw, either because he didn’t know or, more likely, had no intention of embarrassing Madame Speaker, neglected to point out that natural gas is a hydrocarbon!

By the way, in keeping with the times, I’m Burt Prelutsky and I approve this message.

Jack’s Wild (classic)

by Burt Prelutsky

I read Jack Elam’s obituary today. Dead at 82, it said. I don’t believe it. Okay, I believe it. But I don’t have to like it.

I got to know Jack back in the 70s when we both played in a Wednesday night poker game. What I remember best was how eerie it was sitting across the table from Jack and that wild left eye of his, trying to figure out if he was looking at me or at three other guys.

A remarkable thing about the man was that he brought a family-sized Thermos bottle to every game. It was filled with bourbon. You could always tell when we were playing our last hand because Jack would just be pouring out the last drop. It wasn’t just in front of the camera that his timing was impeccable. To Jack’s credit, whatever it might have been doing to his liver, the booze never seemed to affect his behavior. Even after five hours, you would have thought he’d been lapping up spring water.

He was a terrific poker player. But he really made his reputation playing liar’s poker on movie and TV sets. He was legendary at the game. To hear his fellow actors describe it, I suspect with some exaggeration, he made more dough that way than by acting. And, best of all, he didn’t have to pay an agent’s commission on his winnings.

The Wednesday game consisted mainly of actors and myself. Regulars included Dick and Vince Van Patten, Don Galloway, Roger Price, Ned Wertimer and Ronny Cox, and, on occasion, Allan Miller, Gene Troobnik and Lee Majors.

The game took place at Wertimer’s Studio City condo. Specifically, it took place on his second story loft. It was in that small space that the poker table was wedged. As a result, only two players had easy access to the stairs if they needed to use the ground floor facilities. If any of the other five players needed to heed the call of nature, two or three players had to get up and move their chairs and themselves. I mention the physical set-up because it played such an essential role in my most cherished memory of the dearly departed.

The year, I believe, was 1974. We had a new guy in the game that evening. His name was Richard Dreyfuss. He had made a few movies already, most notably “The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz” and “American Graffiti.” It happened, luckily for him, that he had one of the two seats with easy access to the stairway, whereas Jack was wedged into one of the corners.

Ours was not a big game, you should understand. In their game, the likes of Steve Martin and Danny Melnick played for thousands. We played for slightly lower stakes. If you had a truly terrible night, you might lose two hundred.

We were about an hour and a half into the game when, suddenly, Mr. Dreyfuss announced, “That’s it, gentlemen.” He thereupon wrote out a check for about sixty dollars, stood up, brushed his hands together like a Vegas dealer going on a break, and skipped down the stairs.

I looked across the table at Jack. He looked like a cartoon character. A very angry cartoon character. I had never seen such disgust and outrage in a face before. Veins were popping out of his neck in places where veins don’t usually exist. His face had gone crimson. I was surprised not to see smoke shooting out of his nose and ears. At the same time, he was moving his mouth, but no actual words were coming out. Only noises and a little bit of spittle.

When we heard the sound of the door being closed downstairs, it seemed to act as a release on Jack. A flood of indescribable profanity came gushing forth. It was as if Vesuvius had erupted, and instead of lava, obscenities flowed out over the countryside.

Although the spirit of the words was clear enough, only some of them were actually intelligible. It seems that Elam and Dreyfuss had the same agent; that Dreyfuss was presently on hiatus from “Jaws” while Steven Spielberg and his associates got the kinks out of their mechanical shark; that Dreyfuss was getting paid $250,000 for the movie; and that he had already signed to star in his next one for a cool million.

The fact that a wealthy young man was leaving a game short-handed because he was losing sixty dollars was an offense to everything Jack held sacred. If it had been a western, Elam would have gunned him down, and the jury would have carried Jack out of the courtroom on their shoulders. But, unfortunately, it was real life. Still, if Richard had had to get by Jack to leave the game, I guarantee he’d never have reached those stairs alive.

Today, I’m sure that somewhere Jack is playing liar’s poker for halos, harps and wings, and that St. Peter is running around in his skivvies, saying, “I was so sure he was bluffing.”

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Letter: Not a Pulitzer candidate

To: letters@latimes.com

Dear Editor:

When a newspaper that is losing space, readers and staff on a daily basis, devotes three days to a single story about someone as inconsequential as Roxanna Brown, one can only assume they're desperately trying to snag a Pulitzer. Sorry, but you'll have to settle for the floral centerpiece.

Burt Prelutsky

Just The Facts, Ma’am (classic)

by Burt Prelutsky

Next to being asked how I came by my dashing good looks, the question most often posed to me is how I managed to break into the business. To the first query, the answer is self-evident; great genes, an exemplary lifestyle, and God’s own beneficence. In short, you can envy me to your heart’s content, but emulation is out of the question.

The second query, as a rule, is proffered by young people anxious to be handed the key to the magic kingdom. Once again they are plain out of luck. What worked for me is not a blueprint that would work for anyone else. Lest you think I am behaving like the legendary dog in the manger, read on.

To set the scene, as it were, by the time opportunity knocked, or in my case, phoned, I was in my late 20s, the century was in its late ’60s. I had been writing a weekly humor column for the L.A. Times for a year or two. Thanks to a friend’s intervention, I had an agent, Jerry. But, like most of his breed, Jerry’s primary role was to skim off 10 per cent of the money if I or any of his other clients managed to score a TV gig. Toward that end, I was constantly writing sketches for variety shows and spec scripts for my favorite sitcoms and mailing them to unsuspecting, unresponsive producers.

The sad fact is that I never heard back from anyone and had finally concluded that my future relationship with the tube would be strictly that of a disgruntled viewer.

Then, one morning, I got a call. Because it woke me up from a sound sleep, when the voice introduced itself as belonging to Jack Webb, I hung up. My assumption was that the caller was my old UCLA crony Harry Shearer, who should have known better than to phone me before 10. I quickly dropped back to sleep, only to have the phone ring again. Once again the voice said, “This is Jack Webb,” adding “I guess we got disconnected.” That woke me up in a hurry. After all, I reasoned, if it had been Harry, the second time around, besides bellyaching about the cost of making phone calls, he’d have been “doing” his old standby, Radioland’s Paul “G-Day” Harvey.

I rubbed the sand out of my eyes while Webb explained he was a fan of my humor column and wanted to know if Id be interested in writing a Dragnet episode. I hadn’t been watching its reincarnation. Webb assured me that wasn’t a problem. He suggested I drive over to his bungalow on the Universal lot, pick up a few sample scripts, and discuss the particular show he had in mind.

Sergeant Joe Friday
Meeting Jack Webb was a strange experience. He looked and sounded just the way I’d remembered Sgt. Friday from a decade or so earlier. What was eerie about it was that over the years, his voice and that distinctive delivery had become the gist for every impressionist in America. As a result, Jack Webb would up sounding like every other guy impersonating Jack Webb, even in the flesh, with the same voice, the same crewcut, the same Dumboesque ears.

The episode he wanted me to write was one in which Friday and his partner, Gannon (a pre-M*A*S*H Harry Morgan) would go on a TV panel show and debate the hell out of a couple of cop-baiting smarty pants. No problem. I wrote the script in a few days, and, happily, Jack loved it. Before I knew it, I was up to my eyeballs in “Dragnet.” The system Jack employed was to have L.A. cops write up a page or two about a case they had worked. They’d submit their pages to Lt. Dan Cook, who was then head of Public Relations for the L.A.P.D. He’d sift through the submissions and send along 40 or 50 of the likeliest candidates to Webb. Jack would then select his favorites and pass the pages out to his writers. We were free to contact the cops on the case to find out if there was anything else usable that hadn’t made it to the page. After that, our first chore, oddly enough, was to disguise the actual facts of the case sufficiently to ward off possible invasion of privacy suits being filed by either the victims or the perps.

For me, the hardest part of writing the show was the page length. After that initial episode, all the others typically dealt with crimes. But as the show was written in the form of a police report) “9:03, arrived at Parker Center. Got the call at 9:14. See the man...”), nothing could be shown that Friday and Gannon didn’t see with their own eyes. It was a crime show in which you never got to dramatize the planning or commission of the crime. As a result, I would turn in 25-page scripts and tell Jack that there was no more material. We would then sit down and add a lot of boring stuff and finally get the darn thing up to a workmanlike 30.

I once asked Jack why he’d approached me, a humorist, in the first place. “Writing is writing,” he explained. “I figured if you could write one thing well, you just might be able to write something else equally well. Besides it was low risk. If your first script had stunk, I would have cut you off at first draft and we wouldn’t be out much money.” (True. In those days, the going rate for a half-hour script was $2,500.) “And I had good luck in the past with newspaper guys. Dick Breen, who wrote most of the scripts when Dragnet was on radio, came out of the newspaper racket.”

After I’d written four or five episodes, I paid a call to my agent, pleading with him to get me a shot with a sitcom. I shall never forget his telling me — me with my humor column with the Times, that, with my track record, that at best he might be able to land me a “Felony Squad.” I pointed out to Jerry that “Felony Squad” wasn’t even as good as “Dragnet.” And besides, I added, “Jack lets me come in on Friday and drink with him and the cops.”

After Hours
Drinking with Jack was definitely a perk of the job and was something for which I didn’t have to tithe my agent. Although there were Saturday mornings when I would gladly have given the goniff 10 per cent of my hangover.

As a rule, late Friday afternoon, the day’s shooting over, Jack would open the door to his office, and whichever police officers were working that week as tech advisors would start regaling us with cop stories. After a few hours, those of us who were still around and awake would adjourn for dinner at either Monty’s in Encino or the China Trader, a restaurant Jack owned in Toluca Lake, where Bobby Troup, the husband of the former Mrs. Webb, Julie London, played piano.

Life could have gone on that way, if not indefinitely, at least for another season or two, but Webb and I reached a rather bizarre impasse. By this time, I had written seven or eight episodes in slightly more than a year. In fact, I had already finished up one Dragnet for the new season and had started discussing yet another case when I received an ominous call. Jack wanted to share some thoughts about my latest script. It wasn’t like him to interrupt the flow of the assembly line, but as I drove over the Universal, mulling over possible problem areas, I confess I never even came close to guessing the truth.

In the script, the perp had a fondness for bowling. For him, it was a pastime that approached a compulsion. The way I had it, he committed a couple of crimes involving bowling alleys, was arrested while trying to pick up a 7-10 spare, and in between there was a lot of Friday-Gannon banter that revolved around bowling.

Suddenly, I found myself seated across the desk from Webb and he’s telling me he wants to change the man’s passion from bowling to — butterflies! Whereas in the past, I hadn’t been able to believe Jack’s ears, this time I couldn’t believe my own. Surely, I recall telling myself, the man was simply making a misguided foray into the land of whimsy. I simply couldn’t accept Jack Webb, Sgt. Joe Friday, seriously suggesting we feature butterflies in one of his shows. Patiently, he explained that in his grandmother’s boarding house, where he’d grown up, one of the boarders had an extensive butterfly collection and had taught young Jack all about them, including the chemical compounds employed in their preservation. “Plus,” he said in concluding his pitch, putting as much enthusiasm into his usual monotone as he could muster, “in color, we’ll get some really beautiful shots.”

I granted the aesthetic appeal of butterflies over bowling balls but wondered why, after approving the earlier drafts he was suddenly requesting major revisions.

After a good deal of harrumphing around, Jack confessed that he didn’t want to go off the Universal lot for a half-day’s shooting at some North Hollywood bowling alley.

Now that I understood the real problem, I was ready with a solution. Through the use of sound effects and a glass counter full of bowling shoes and some score sheets, I advised, we could easily indicate the venue in the earlier scenes. And instead of arresting the perp on the lanes, Friday and Gannon could cuff him at the Coke machine.

But when he furrowed his brow and got that faraway look in his eyes, that wasn’t all he was mulling. It seems he was also envisioning a future that, as Sam Goldwyn might have put it, included Prelutsky out. For in Jack Webb’s world, I had committed the unpardonable sin. The problem wasn’t that I’d come up with the solution to his problem. It was that just prior to solving it, I had told him that I’d done all the work on the script that I was contracted to do, work that he’d already accepted and approved of, and that if he insisted on having my turn our villain into a butterfly collector, it would entail a Page One rewrite. In other words, I would expect to be paid to write that brand-new script he had in mind.

And so concluded my apprenticeship. It also served to set the tone for a TV writing career in which I have gotten the Writers Guild to demand and collect penalty payments from Disney, Universal, and Viacom, when those companies tried to get away with financial shenanigans.

Fortunately, a few months later, I received a phone call one morning. This time I was actually awake. It was Leonard Stern, West Coast head of Talent Associates. He explained that he and his brother-in-law, Budd Schulberg, who rarely agreed about anything, discovered that they both based their movie attendance on my Los Angeles Magazine film reviews. He invited me to have lunch and then, just before signing off, asked if I’d be interested in writing an episode of his Dan Dailey-Julie Sommars sitcom, “The Governor and J.J.”

As diplomatically as I could, I explained that I’d never watched his show.

But that’s another story.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Letter To A Young Relative

Dear Danny:

I am writing to say I think you should re-consider your decision not to join your junior high school’s chess club. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter whether or not you join. But it matters a great deal why you choose to join or not join.

When I was in high school, I was on the tennis team. I’m sure that the guys on the baseball, basketball and football teams looked down their noses at us. Big deal. We liked playing tennis and that’s all that mattered. The bonus is that I’m now 68 years old and I’m still playing tennis every weekend. How many of my classmates do you think are still playing baseball, football and basketball?

The worst thing about being your age is….well, being your age. Adolescence is really tough, even for the so-called cool kids. As confident as they act, down deep they know they’re not that great. No matter how good an athlete they may be, they know that kids just a couple of years older are much better. No matter how tough they act, they know that kids just a bit older than they are can mop up the floor with them. It’s all a big act at your age. Everyone is busy trying to convince everyone else how grown up and how darn blasé they are.

What counts is being true to yourself, having the guts to be an individual. A few years ago, my niece’s son, Charley, who was then 12 or 13, told me that they had a mock presidential election in his class. He reported that of the 30 kids, 27 voted for John Kerry, two voted for Ralph Nader and one voted for George Bush. My niece’s family, which is very liberal, lives in an extremely liberal community north of San Francisco, so I was not surprised by the vote. Even though I knew that Charley had been one of the 27 who voted for Kerry, I told him that I predicted great things for the kid in class who had voted for Bush. He asked me why. I explained that it had nothing to do with politics. If it had been a different school in a different town, the vote could just as easily have been 27 for Bush, two for Nader and one for Kerry, and I would have predicted great things for the kid who voted for Kerry. It just seemed obvious to me that with all the pressure from Charley’s liberal teacher and his liberal classmates, any kid who had the confidence to buck those odds was someone who would go far in life. What’s more, he was someone, I was convinced, you could count on if he were your friend.

When you’re a teenager, as I recall all too well, everything seems like it’s life-or-death. It does no good for adults to tell you that in a very short time everything that seems terribly important, the kids you like as well as those who terrify you, will be as forgettable as what you had for lunch last Tuesday. All that being said, these are the days when you are determining the sort of person you will grow up to be. Will you be a sheep who falls in line behind all the other sheep or will you be one of those people with a backbone and a brain who thinks for himself?

So, you don’t have to join the chess club. That’s entirely up to you. But if you want to join, but decide not to join because some kids have decided it’s not cool to play chess, you may discover when it’s too late that you have fallen into a habit that’s really hard to break.

In my opinion, a wuss isn’t somebody who plays chess; a wuss is someone who doesn’t play chess because he listens to people -- people who aren’t even bright enough to know how a knight moves -- who insist that only wusses play chess.

Good luck.


Uncle Burt

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Second War Between The States

by Burt Prelutsky

Recently, here in California, in the middle of the night, a gang of ecology Nazis tossed Molotov cocktails through the windows of homes occupied by scientists. The arsonists weren’t targeting just any scientists, though, they were after those who used animals in their medical research. It didn’t matter in the least that their findings might lead to finding cures for Alzheimers, AIDs and Parkinson’s, because so far as the members of PETA are concerned, mice, rats and guinea pigs, are every bit as important as your children, your friends and your parents.

The folks who belong to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals are no doubt compassionate and well-meaning. They just happen to be insane. They have gone on record as claiming that chicken ranches are no better than Dachau and Buchenwald, and that, inasmuch as he took many more innocent lives, Colonel Sanders was worse than Adolf Hitler. So far as I can tell, the only notable difference between these self-righteous degenerates and rattlesnakes is that the latter give fair warning before they strike.

Now, I confess I don’t know whether the fanatics who belong to PETA are Republicans or Democrats, but I can’t help thinking they’re mainly liberals. It’s those on the left, after all, who tend to act on their emotions. It’s why they refuse to acknowledge that Barack Obama has any warts. Whereas most Republicans will quickly -- perhaps too quickly -- point out John McCain’s deficiencies, Democrats refer to the junior senator from Illinois with the same reverence that Christians employ when discussing He who could cure the leper and raise the dead.

I would think that even if I were a Democrat, I would think twice about supporting a candidate whose accomplishments are unclear to the naked eye and whose message to America seems to be that we really don’t deserve anyone as wonderful as the great Obama, but that he’ll deign to serve only out of the goodness of his heart.

Not too long ago, a child asked Obama why he’d decided to run for president. He said, “I want America to be what it could be, what it once was.” He went on to say that he didn’t want his daughters to grow up in America the way it is.

The little girl didn’t ask a follow-up question, either because she was so flabbergasted at his reply or because she’s practicing to be a member in good standing of the mainstream media. Therefore, we don’t know what this version of America that Obama longs to recreate is like. Is it, perhaps, the America of poll taxes and separate drinking fountains? Frankly, I would have thought he’d have rather tender feelings for a country that not only paved the way for his wife to attend an Ivy League school and go on to make nearly half a million dollars a year, but that overlooked his own bitter words about white Christians, his history of using illegal drugs, his nefarious friends and associates, his glaring lack of experience and his strong Marxist leanings, and still made it possible for him to become commander-in-chief.

There’s a question that keeps coming to mind; namely, if it’s racist to vote against Obama because he’s half-black, why isn’t it racist to vote for him for the very same reason? Understand, I’m not referring to the November election. It’s perfectly reasonable that black Democrats will, as usual, vote for the less qualified candidate. Unfortunately, that’s a given. Heck, most of them would vote for David Duke if he were the candidate with a (D) after his name. I’m referring to the 90% of the black vote he received in the primaries against Hillary Clinton, whose only apparent liability in their eyes was the color of her skin.

I don’t wish to be thought guilty of only picking on black Democrats. After all, my fellow Jews don’t do much better when it comes to breaking ranks with the party of Pelosi and Reid, Byrd and Murtha. Frankly, I don’t understand how any thinking person can be a liberal. They have to have a sheep’s mentality. They have to be willing to turn on a dime if the party leaders demand it of them. For instance, has everybody noticed how quickly the liberals have quit referring to “global warming” and begun whining about “climate change”? Apparently, even the lefties can’t keep ignoring the fact that the earth has been cooling slightly over the past few years. If I didn’t want to risk being accused of plagiarism, I’d call it an inconvenient truth.

I can’t help but notice that a war is being waged between the states. This time around, it’s not the blue versus the grey, but the blue states against the red. The first war took place between the states that were in favor of slavery and those that were opposed. Today, it’s the liberals who are trying to keep the blacks on the plantation, where in exchange for so-called entitlements, the blacks can be counted on to vote for their masters, while a coterie of house blacks, such as Sharpton, Jackson, Rangel and Waters, tell them not to rock the boat and to be grateful for small favors.

There is clearly a war taking place in America today, and it’s just as important as the one that took place in the 1860s. Still, in spite of all the blood shed in the first one, this one isn’t nearly as civil.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Dear Readers,

Burt and I thank each of you for coming to visit the latest reincarnation of BurtPrelutsky.com. If you click the links below the odometer counter in the column to your right, you'll get an idea of what a diverse group of people you all are. Since BurtPrelutsky.com began, we've had visitors from 97 countries.

There's a feature that lets us see your location by city, state, and country. (It doesn't give us your name or email address, or any other identifying characteristic.) Among the last 100 visitors were readers from Spain, South Africa, Canada, and Denmark.

We are wondering who you folks are, especially those of you who live outside the United States. Would you take a moment to click the link below that says " # comments" and tell us a bit about yourselves? We're curious how you heard about Burt and found this site. Let us know what you think about the change to a blog.

Most of all, Burt is wondering why no one has chosen to leave a comment. It's driving Burt nuts! (Talk about a short trip.)

On behalf of Burt, thanks again for stopping by. - editor

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Singing The Blues In A Blue State

by Burt Prelutsky

I have no idea who decided that liberal states would be called blue and conservative states would be red, but I suspect it was a left-winger because it makes absolutely no sense. Red, after all, has always been the color associated with the far left. Thanks to the flag of the late, unlamented, Soviet Union being the hammer and sickle on a field of red, Communists have always been referred to as reds, except of course when they were referred to, even more appropriately, as morons and imbeciles.

Be that as it may, I live in California, a state that is bluer than the blue Pacific. My state is not only on the left side of the map, it’s to the left of Barack Obama. This is a state that is represented in the U.S. Senate by Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, for crying out loud! Allegedly, we have a Republican governor, but Arnold Schwarzenegger is only slightly more conservative than his wife, the Morticia Addams look-alike, Maria Shriver.

But things are in such a sorry state in my sorry state that the two guys in the wings, eager to replace Schwarzenegger are the pretty boy mayors of Los Angeles and San Francisco, Antonio Villaraigosa and Gavin Newsome. Frankly, I don’t know on what basis the voters will decide between the two of them. Both of these scofflaws, after all, have made their cities sanctuaries for illegal aliens. Both have come out in favor of same sex marriages and, for good measure, both men have had adulterous affairs in the past couple of years -- Villaraigosa with a TV reporter half his age, and Newsome with the wife of his chief aide, who was also allegedly his best friend.

Quite honestly, I haven’t the foggiest notion what makes liberals tick. For instance, why do they so vehemently object to making English our official language? It’s not as if people who speak it badly -- people such as Robert Byrd and the aforementioned Ms. Boxer --would have to relinquish their senate seats. I neither know nor care if other countries print their ballots in more than one language, but it seems obvious to me that if you’re unable to read English, you have no business voting in our elections. I feel the same way about people who don’t pay income taxes. If you’re still getting an allowance from mom and dad, I really object to your vote canceling out mine.

On a related subject, what’s the deal with dual citizenship? How can you simultaneously swear allegiance to two different countries? It sounds to me like a form of bigamy.

Liberals are forever denying that the mainstream media is predominantly left-wing. That’s because the MSM mirrors their own prejudices so closely that everything they read in the New York Times or see on CBS or CNN strikes them as factual and impartial, whereas the rest of us view it as leftist propaganda. But there are times when the truth is so blatant that you’d think that even the most besotted lefty would have to acknowledge that widespread journalistic bias is more than an idle rumor.

For instance, didn’t it seem a little odd that even though the National Enquirer broke the news about John Edwards and his tootsie late in 2007, it wasn’t until about a week after the Enquirer ran a second story about the scuzzy affair eight or nine months later that the MSM deigned to mention it? Does any liberal seriously believe that if it had been, say, Mitt Romney or Mike Huckabee who’d been shacking up with Rielle Hunter that the media would have buried the story for even a single day?

Perhaps it’s time that the New York Times surrender its boastful motto, “All the News That’s Fit to Print,” to the far more responsible National Enquirer. Heck, if the Enquirer got the scoop on John Edwards tom-catting around with Ms. Hunter, just maybe they’ve been right all along, and we actually have been invaded by space aliens and perhaps there really are herds of three-headed cattle roaming the range.

Mainly because I have friends and relatives who are liberals, I dislike making blanket statements about them and their apparent lack of patriotism, intellectual honesty, and intestinal fortitude. But, really, don’t you sometimes get the idea that there’s a huge scientific experiment taking place, with half of us, the left-wingers, being tested with meds whose side effects included galloping gullibility and a loss of nerve and commonsense, while the rest of us are in a control group taking placebos.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Not With My Money, You Don't

by Burt Prelutsky

When Senator Jesse Helms passed away, I wrote a piece in which I praised the man. Because he was a controversial figure, I assumed I would be hearing from some of the folks who disapproved of him. One such fellow, a guy in New York we’ll call Bob, wrote to say, “Helms may have been a nice, polite man on the surface, but let’s face it, he was slightly to the right of Genghis Khan, although I think dear old Genghis was much more tolerant. Helms was a racist schmuck and a rabid homophobe.”

To which I responded: “I don’t approve of calling people racists these days because, usually, the people doing the name-calling are racists themselves. And, yes, I am referring to the likes of Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, the Obamas and their erstwhile spiritual leader, Jeremiah Wright. I also dislike the word ‘homophobe.’ Most people take a live-and-let-live approach to aberrant life styles, but do in fact disapprove of homosexuality, but are simply too timid in these politically correct times to admit it.”

In defense of the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA), which both Sen. Helms and I vehemently opposed, Bob wrote: “It’s true that there are some really shlocky artists out there, but the NEA supports much more than shlocky art, including many first rate artistic endeavors that nobody could object to.

To which I replied, “Plenty of people have objected to Stravinsky’s “The Firebird,” Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn,” Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye” and even, as we both know, to some of my own endeavors. That isn’t the question. The question is: why should artists who can’t support themselves be supported by the nanny state? At least during the Great Depression, you could have made the case that people simply didn’t have the money to spend on non-essentials, but that’s hardly the case today when people are spending $10 to see a movie and $100 to see a show on Broadway or in Vegas, and God knows how much on electronic toys and games.”

Bob replied, “The NEA’s endowment is so tiny compared to what European governments have done to support the arts that what is taken out of each individual taxpayer’s pocket in America amounts to literally pennies.”

“Why,” I asked, “should we care what Europeans do or don’t do? Considering that Europe gave us Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, is rife with anti-Semitism, and is caving in to sharia law in one craven country after another, why on earth would you suggest using them as our role model?”

“I am a classical musician,” Bob explained, “and an advocate for classical music. Because of the lack of support, many professional symphony orchestras are in serious trouble, and a number of them have been forced to go under, while several others are on the verge.”

I replied, “I happen to love classical music, and wish that more school districts would introduce it to our kids who, instead, grow up hearing nothing but Rap, Hip Hop and other similar trash. But I don’t think people should be forced to support through taxation that which they are obviously unwilling to support at the box office.”

“Say what you will about Europe, thanks to government subsidies, orchestras and opera companies over there are able to flourish.”

“Bob, as we both know, governments are notoriously generous with other people’s money. You keep bringing up the Europeans as a way to denigrate America, but you’re not preaching to the choir or even to the string section.”

“Symphony orchestras, opera companies and ballet troupes, are not idle luxuries of the frivolous rich,” Bob insisted. “They improve the quality of life for people all over America and provide employment for many gifted people.”

“I agree that they provide employment for serious musicians, but if people choose not to attend their performances, I fail to see how they improve the quality of life for anyone who doesn’t happen to be drawing a government-subsidized salary. Besides, the quality of music reproduction these days enables millions of us to enjoy classical music in our own homes for a fraction of what it costs to attend a concert. Plus, you don’t have to get all dressed up, drive downtown and pay a king’s ransom for parking.”

Bob, clearly not a man to be swayed by logic and reason, continued: “Abolishing the NEA just because of a few trashy art works makes about as much sense as cutting your whole arm off just to get rid of a hangnail. Also, the NEA does not subsidize artists like Robert Mapplethorpe directly; it funds museums.”

That left me no recourse but to throw a penalty flag. “That’s simply not true. The NEA definitely funded Mr. Mapplethorpe’s attempts to pass off scatology and pornography as art. As a matter of fact, on occasion when artists haven’t received the funding they requested, they have accused the government of censorship -- thus establishing for the record that they are not only hacks, but ignoramuses, as well. Still, while the failure to subsidize bad art in no way constitutes censorship, who, for heaven’s sake, is the government to determine which bad artists should or shouldn’t be encouraged to pursue their muse?

Bob finished up by declaring, “Some people say that businesses and philanthropies should support the arts in America, but they simply can’t or won’t provide nearly enough support to keep symphony orchestras from folding.”

Obviously, Bob is not a bad fellow. I’m convinced that it’s not just his own livelihood he’s fretting about, but the sad state of classical music in America. Still, I had no option but to conclude our exchange by writing: “We don’t happen to live in a Socialist state…at least not entirely, at least not yet. I’ll remind you that Joseph Stalin and Adolph Hitler both supported the arts in a big way. But, I’ll remind you that it wasn’t all beer and skittles.  Dmitri Shostakovich was twice denounced by his Soviet masters, and prevented from having his music performed for years at a time; that Boris Pasternak had to smuggle “Dr. Zhivago” out of the Soviet Union in order to have it first published in Italy, and then forced to reject the Nobel Prize for Literature; and that Alexander Solzhenitsyn was sentenced to the Gulags; while, thanks to the Nazis, Fritz Lang, Thomas Mann and Billy Wilder, all had to run off to America, leaving German culture in the less than capable hands of Leni Riefenstahl and Herman Goering.

“Soccer,” I went on, “has never really caught on in this country, although a great many people love to watch and even play the silly game. Would you have the federal government subsidize professional soccer? In America, a capitalistic state, people are free to support whatever they like, be it football, baseball, basketball, rock concerts, opera, kickboxing or ballet. Even in our somewhat depressed economy, an awful lot of people seem to have come up with enough money to see “Dark Knight” and even pay for a tub of popcorn, so if they decide they don’t want to spend their dough to see classical music performed, I think it’s safe to assume they don’t want Uncle Sam picking their pockets to pay for it.

“Perhaps, unless you happen to be one of those rare soloists who can actually draw a crowd, it’s time that concert music stop pretending to be an actual vocation and, instead, like racquetball, checkers, gin rummy and yodeling, take its rightful place as a harmless pastime.”