Movies & TV / Columns

Ask 411 Movies for 12.24.12: Shake Hands with Santa Claus!

December 24, 2012 | Posted by Leonard Hayhurst

A merry Christmas to all my dear readers. Your Christmas present to me, send in questions. Mine back to you, my favorite Christmas song from the incomparable Louis Prima.

On a more somber note, Turner Classic Movies has put out its always tasteful and emotional tribute to the movie greats lost in the past year.

Obscure Television Series of the Week
Title: Hello, Larry
Air Dates: Jan. 26, 1979, to April 30, 1980
Network: NBC
Cast: McLean Stevenson as Larry Alder, Donna Wilkes and later Krista Erickson as Diane Alder, Kim Richards as Ruthie Elder, Joanna Gleason as Morgan Winslow, George Memmoli as Earl, Meadowlark Lemon as himself, John Femia as Tommy Roscini, Fred Stuthman as Henry Alder and Ruth Brown as Leona Wilson
Premise: Before Frasier, there was Hello, Larry. Radio talk show host Larry Alder moved from Los Angeles to Portland, Ore., after his divorce to get a fresh start. Morgan was his show producer and Earl was the show’s engineer. Larry had custody of his two daughters, Ruthie, 13, and Diane, 16. In the show’s second season, it’s first full one, Larry’s father, Henry, and John, a neighbor boy, were added to the mix. As was former Harlem Globetrotter star Meadowlark Lemon, playing himself as a sporting goods store owner. Ratings were never good, even though the series aired after Diff’rent Strokes and were made by the same production company. Due to this, Phillip Drummond and Larry were revealed to be old army buddies and Drummond’s company owned the station Larry worked at, but the crossovers didn’t help.

Q: Hey, Leonard. Christmas Vacation is a true Christmas tradition for my family, but it raises some questions:

Can you please just explain National Lampoon? I know it was a magazine, but I’ve never seen a copy and never heard of anyone who knows anything about it as a magazine. How did they move from the magazine to promoting movies (especially financially), and who decides what movies get the “National Lampoon’s” tag? I.E., does NL itself come up with the movie ideas, or do they just lend their brand to ones they like?

A: “The Harvard Lampoon” is an undergraduate humor magazine at Harvard University that has been in publication since 1876. In 1969, graduates Doug Kenney, Henry Beard and Robert Hoffman started the spinoff publication “National Lampoon.” The magazine became hugely popular in the early 1970s for its parodies, satires, off kilter humor and memorable covers. Many notables wrote for the magazine, including P.J. O’Rourke and John Hughes. The stage show and radio show, which grew out of the magazine, had even more legendary names such as John Belushi, Harold Ramis, Gilda Radner, Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, Brian Doyle Murray and Richard Belzer.

The original company made seven movies under the National Lampoon banner from 1978 to 1989. Most of these featured Lampoon creative staff, either from the magazine or other creative endeavors, in the cast or crew. These were Animal House, Class Reunion, Movie Madness, Vacation, Joy of Sex, European Vacation and Christmas Vacation.

Many of these movies were based on stories that were published in the magazine. Vacation was based on “Vacation ’58” by Hughes and Animal House came from stories by Chris Miller about his college days at Dartmouth. Ramis, Kenney and producer Ivan Reitman also chipped in on the script with their college experiences. The movie was made for $2.7 million and grossed more than $140 million, including VHS and DVD sales. Characters Larry Kroger, Mandy Pepperidge and Vernon Wormer first appeared in 1975’s “National Lampoon’s High School Yearbook,” a high school yearbook spoof.

As time went on, the movies had less input from the “National Lampoon” creative staff because the name could be licensed out for one time use on a movie for a fee. Because of the success of Animal House and the Vacation films, more movies began buying rights to the name as a hopeful boost to ticket sales in the 1990s. This was through J2 Communications. These movies included Loaded Weapon 1, Senior Trip, Vegas Vacation, Golf Punks, Van Wilder, Repli-Kate, Blackball and Jake’s Booty Call.

A complete overhaul of the magazine occurred in 1985 when Matty Simmons, who had been working on the business end of the publication, became editor in chief. He made his two sons editors with Peter Kleinman as creative director and Larry “Ratso” Sloman as executive editor. The quality and sales of the magazine declined. In 1989, Tim Matheson, who played Otter in Animal House took over the company in a hostile takeover. However, impending bankruptcy forced him to sell to J2 Communications in 1991. Publication went down from monthly, to bi-monthly, to sporadically until only one issue a year was published in the last three years of the magazine’s existence. In 1998, the last issue was published. J2 was prohibited from publishing any new issues by contract, but could still use the name for other media ventures.

In 2002, National Lampoon, Inc., was formed and bought the rights to the name from J2. This company reprinted and redistributed old material while also licensing the name out for new material. In 2007, CEO Dan Laikin said National Lampoon had pretty much just been a licensing firm and they wanted to get more into producing their own independent films, or buying the rights to independent films and then distributing those themselves under the National Lampoon name. However, these plans have been derailed by Laikin being prosecuted for stock manipulation in 2008. His replacement, Tim Durham, was charged with running a ponzi scheme in 2009.

Movies in this era are Dorm Daze, Gold Diggers, Barely Legal, Going the Distance, The Almost Guys, Adam & Eve, Cattle Call, Electric Apricot: The Quest for Festeroo, Pucked, Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj, Totally Baked: A Potumentary, The Beach Party at the Threshold of Hell, TV: The Movie, Homo Erectus, Bag Boy, RoboDoc, The Legend of Awesomest Maximus, Ratko: The Dictator’s Son, Transylmania, Dirty Movie, Cheerleaders Must Die, Frat Chance, Snatched, but not the one you’re thinking of, and One, Two, Many.

So, to sum up, National Lampoon was once a cutting edge humor magazine that proved so popular it was able to branch out into other media. After initial success, a changing of the guard and a decrease in sales caused the magazine to be in a shambles. This in turn caused the name to be bought for use by anyone who wanted it. As the name changed hands between different companies, it’s to the point today where the brand has pretty much lost its reputation and influence as only Z-grade comedies seem to use the name now.

Q: I have kind of an odd question this week. Is Degrassi: TNG the only tv show to have a teen pregnancy actually end with an abortion? Pretty much all the other ones I could think of either ended with adoption or parenthood(with one stillbirth).

A: The first character on television to have an abortion was actually a middle-aged woman. Bea Arthur on Maude in 1972 found out she was pregnant at 47. After discussing the situation with her husband and daughter, Maude decided to abort the pregnancy.

In the years since, most series that dealt with abortion ended with the character deciding to keep the baby. This includes Melrose Place, Beverly Hills 90210, Felicity, Sex and the City and Dawson’s Creek. However, a few shows have had the teen mom abort the baby.

The original Degrassi High had a similar plot line to the new series you mention above in 1989. After having sex with her first serious boyfriend, Erica becomes pregnant and decide to have an abortion. Her sister takes her to the clinic as they go through a line of protestors. In the American broadcast of the Canadian series, the protestors are edited out and it’s ambiguous whether Erica had the procedure.

In May 2003, Kate, 18, on Everwood decided to end her two month pregnancy. The same month, Claire, 17, on Six Feet Under also has an abortion. She gets a visit from a fetus in a dream sequence. In 2010, high school sophomore Becky on Friday Night Lights decides to have an abortion after consulting with her school counselor, reading literature on the subject and finding out all her options. The counselor, played by Connie Britton, is ultimately fired for her advice to Becky.

Q: I seem to remember watching when I was a little kid, movies about this guy who was a fat, bald, bearded detective. If I remember correctly, he wore a ponytail, ala Paul Heyman. These were, of course, B-movies that I used to sneak into the living room to watch, because they were showing them way past my bedtime. Do you know who was the actor, or the names of the movies? Thanks in advance.
-Axel Foley Chulo

A: The few detectives that are coming to mind don’t exactly fit the description you provide. The two classic detectives I thought of were Hercule Poirot and Nero Wolfe. Poirot has had many film appearances over the years. The most famous is the ITV series starring David Suchet. These started in 1989 and look to finish up over the next couple of years in adapting every Poirot short story and novel.

Nero Wolfe has also had many film and television appearances over the years. The A&E original film The Golden Spiders: A Nero Wolfe Mystery in 2000 led to a series of 20 episodes the following year. They starred Maury Chaykin as Wolfe with Timothy Hutton as his leg man, Archie Goodwin.

Another short-lived Wolfe series came out in 1981 on NBC with William Conrad in the title role and Lee Horsley as Goodwin.

Conrad was known for playing another fat detective in the 1970s in Cannon and would play another on Jake and the Fatman from 1987 to 1992.

Q: Hey Mr. H,
Now that he expendables 3 has been announced why not bring in a guy who many of the younger kids don’t remember as being an action star, Burt Reynolds.  I believe those two Gator Movies, Sharky’s Machine and Malone would qualify him for atleast a cameo.

A: Burt Reynolds would be great for a cameo in the next Expendables movie. I’m not sure how he could be used, but a sort of a wink and a nudge to his former characters and iconic status like with Chuck Norris in part two could work.

While Reynolds is known today for his good old boy comedies and his comeback role in Boogie Nights, at one point he made his bread and butter with action pictures and cop flicks. A good combination of his personas were White Lightning in 1973 and its sequel Gator in 1976. Reynolds starred as Gator McClusky, an ex-con forced to help the law. In the first movie he goes after a moonshine ring and in the second it’s a corrupt politician.

Cop movies to check out from him include Fuzz, Shamus, Hustle, Sharky’s Machine, Heat, Malone, Physical Evidence and City Heat with Clint Eastwood.

Don’t die.
“If any of you are looking for any last-minute gift ideas for me, I have one. I’d like Frank Shirley, my boss, right here tonight. I want him brought from his happy holiday slumber over there on Melody Lane with all the other rich people and I want him brought right here, with a big ribbon on his head, and I want to look him straight in the eye and I want to tell him what a cheap, lying, no-good, rotten, four-flushing, low-life, snake-licking, dirt-eating, inbred, overstuffed, ignorant, blood-sucking, dog-kissing, brainless, dickless, hopeless, heartless, fat-ass, bug-eyed, stiff-legged, spotty-lipped, worm-headed sack of monkey shit he is! Hallelujah! Holy shit! Where’s the Tylenol?”


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Leonard Hayhurst

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