TERRY DULLUM: The Dullum File — The Empire Turns 20

In a few days, a week of events will mark the first two decades of the Empire Arts Center in Grand Forks. A 20th Anniversary Celebration Concert on April 21 will open the week that will also include an open mic night, a movie night and more and conclude with the Empire’s annual dinner and dance.

The Empire is such a big part of Grand Forks it seems as if it has always “been.” But it hasn’t. It must have been a struggle to open the Empire just a year after the 1997 flood. And it’s taken a lot of dedication, fundraising and just plain hard work to keep the doors open ever since, the front door and the stage door.

It hasn’t always been the Empire Arts Center. The Empire’s original life was that of a movie theater, beginning in 1919.

The last film I can remember seeing there may have been “The Wrecking Crew” in 1968. I was a college kid, home for the summer, when a friend dragged me off the street and drove me against my will — more or less — from Hillsboro, N.D., to Grand Forks to see what must have been one of the last movies in the Matt Helm series, a James Bond-like knockoff vehicle for Dean Martin. My friend was a fan of Dean Martin’s acting. Me, not so much. Let’s just say the movie wouldn’t be an Oscar contender that year.

Flash-forward a good bit and for several years running I would emcee First Night shows at the Empire on New Year’s Eve, introducing acts like the late, great local vocal group Marcoux Corner. We often did “live shots” from the Empire on First Night for WDAZ News.

In the early First Night years, ice sculpture gardens were a big deal near the Empire. I believe it was my idea to ask the ice sculptors to create an ice news desk for us, from which to broadcast live, an idea I would come to regret. Sitting at an ice desk for a half hour in subfreezing weather may look cute, but it’s not exactly pleasant for the anchor boys and girls.

A few years ago, I was asked to narrate “Peter and the Wolf” as part of a Greater Grand Forks Symphony Orchestra children’s concert. I loved it. A few years before that, I “conducted” the symphony, having won its “Make Me a Maestro” fundraising contest.

Never one to play it very straight, for my conducting stint I concocted a “bit” in which I  ordered, had delivered and ate a pizza on the stage after having kicked off the orchestra’s version of “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” Sometimes a person can have too much fun. Or at least, just enough.

Ginny and I have been in the audience for many great shows, including concerts by Leon Russell, Maria Muldaur and John C. Reilly & Friends.

The point is I feel at home at the Empire. On the stage and in the audience. And I’m not the only one. Hundreds of performers and audiences do, too. So congratulations to the Empire staff, board, performers and audience members on its first 20 years. Here’s to 20 more and another 20 more after that.

TERRY DULLUM: The Dullum File — There’s No Business Like (Halftime) Show Business

One thing about the Super Bowl is that if you’re not disappointed by the outcome of the game, you can be disappointed by the halftime show. This year it was Justin Timberlake’s turn to disappoint.

Part of the problem is that we’ve set the bar for the game’s show unreasonably high. Also, everybody is a critic, myself included.

To begin, there was Timberlake’s outfit: a camo suit, a T-shirt with an image of two deer on it, a red kerchief and, earlier, a fringe leather jacket, There’s your wardrobe malfunction, right there! A nod to Minnesota’s hunting season, perhaps?

Then there was the sound. To say the least, muddy. Part of the problem might have been the new stadium’s acoustics, which the Star Tribune calls notoriously “bouncy.”

The show had its moments. The “Suit & Tie” marching band segment was killer. Turning Minneapolis streets into a purple glyph electronically was not.

What JT’s show didn’t have (besides the rumored Prince hologram) was a finish. A fan selfie? Really? That’s it? That’s all you’ve got?

I like Justin Timberlake, I really do. A lot. He’s a great entertainer and very, very funny. But I don’t think he was well-served by the producers of this show. It wasn’t a train wreck. We’ve had enough of those lately. It was just a little disappointing. And like I say, everybody is a critic.

It’s just too bad Prince himself wasn’t around in his hometown to outdo his own 2007 Super Bowl show. He would have, too. That would have been something. There wouldn’t have been anything left of the new stadium once he got through with it.

TERRY DULLUM: The Dullum File — Ben Bradlee

Meryl Streep just picked up another Academy Award nomination this week, her 89th. Something like that.

This time it’s for her role as Washington Post publisher Katherine Graham in The Post. Tom Hanks, who plays the Post’s editor, Ben Bradlee, was snubbed, as they say.

The story revolves around the newspaper’s publication of the Pentagon papers, classified documents detailing U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, embarrassing to the government, to say the least.

I interviewed the real Ben Bradlee for television once. My experience falls under the category of never aspire to meet your heroes. Sometimes that adage applies.

It was 1977, a few years after the Post’s “other” big story, the paper’s coverage of Richard Nixon and the Watergate scandal.

We met just before Bradlee spoke at the University of North Dakota, on the eve of a series of lengthy television interviews the former president would do with British television “presenter” David Frost. It was reported that Nixon was being paid $600,000 to sit down with Frost. (That was a lot of money then.) The whole thing was a much-anticipated and highly hyped event. No one knew if David Frost would get the better of “Tricky Dick” or vice versa.

I asked Bradlee what he thought was going to come of the interviews. “He’s not going to get anything out of Nixon. David Frost is an entertainer.” A few days later, I would see nearly the same words of Bradlee’s in print somewhere.

True, David Frost was an entertainer, but he was also a journalist and a skilled interviewer. The Nixon-Frost interviews would become Nixon’s conversation of record on Watergate. “I gave them a sword” would be the closest the disgraced president would ever come to admitting guilt in Watergate.

Part of Bradlee’s reluctance to even acknowledge that Frost would be successful is that it was a different time. Unlike today, when Washington Post writers and reporters regularly appear on cable news outlets like CNN, print and broadcast journalists then barely acknowledged the others’ existence, much less cooperated on bringing information to the public.

Later, to his credit, shortly after the Nixon-Frost interviews aired, Bradlee changed his tune completely, admitting that, indeed, Frost had done a fine job interviewing the former president.

But sorry to say, that night Bradlee was as dismissive of me and my line of questions as he was at first of David Frost.

TERRY DULLUM: The Dullum File — The Tropicana

For me, a trip to Cuba earlier this month would not have been complete without experiencing the Tropicana nightclub in Havana. Its cabaret show is considered among the top three shows in the world (by people who decide these kinds of things, I guess). After seeing it, I believe it.

For openers, Havana’s Tropicana nightclub shouldn’t be confused with the Tropicana Hotel in Las Vegas. I stayed at the Tropicana on The Strip once. I loved it. What I remember most, in addition to the hotel’s beautiful collection of tropical birds, was the mirrors on the ceiling above the beds. For me, a first. And another story for another time, perhaps.

People still arrive at Havana’s Tropicana in those beautiful vintage cars from the 1950s and ’60s everyone thinks of when they think of Cuba. Also tour buses. But it’s the classic cars that make people feel they’ve just stepped out of a time machine.

You’re handed a (Guantanamera Cristales) cigar at the door, if you’re a man. Women are given flowers. Champagne is poured at the tables (very slowly, for some reason). Later, a bottle of Cuban rum arrives at each table. Still later, cans of Coke. Cuba Libres are mixed by the customers themselves.

The real show is the show. Backed by huge orchestra with conga drums up front and strings to the side, the cast, according to the guide books, features 200 dancers, many of them fully clothed at different points during the evening. Actually, there is no nudity. The Tropicana is now owned by the government. Fidel used to bring his guests here.

Sitting on the aisle, Ginny got to bust one or two of her best moves with one of the dancers who hung around our table long enough for the three of us to take a selfie.

There’s no special scenery in this show. And aside from the lighting, no special effects. But lots of talent. Four or five male and female singers are insanely good!

One production number flows seamlessly into another nearly nonstop for two hours. It is spectacular!  If Desi Arnaz had appeared in a tux and straw hat, I wouldn’t have been surprised. It’s like that.

Supposedly the show changes every 15 days, but as a whole, I doubt that it looks much different than it did back in 1959, when American celebrities (and mobsters) visited the Tropicana. And that’s the fun of it. It is what a nightclub should — and used to be. Exotic, exciting and fun. They don’t really exist like this in very many places anymore. Except here. Not even in Las Vegas.

Entertainers like Liberace and Josephine Baker have been a part of the show over the years. Nat King Cole was so popular he was asked to return the next season. He did, but only on the condition that he be allowed to stay at Havana’s Hotel Nacional de Cuba, something he had been denied during his first visit because of the color of his skin. Just as he and others had done in Las Vegas, he helped break the “color barrier” in Cuba. Today, there is a statue of Nat King Cole in the hotel’s museum which doubles as a bar.

Cuba loves its cabaret shows. I heard someone say there are more than 200 of them throughout the island. But the Tropicana is king, and considered nothing less than a national treasure by the locals. It’s as simple as that.

TERRY DULLUM: The Dullum File — What’s My Line?

Even with hundreds of television channels, HBO and all the rest to watch, and Netflix, Amazon and Hulu to stream, sometimes there just doesn’t seem to be “much” on TV.

So, every once in awhile, Ginny and I like to watch “What’s My Line?” The 1950s and ’60s game show is seen currently in all its glorious black and white-ishness on the Buzzr network.

Many of us watched it originally Sunday nights at 9:30 on CBS as something of a ritual. One last weekend hurrah before another week of school would begin the next morning. Seeing it today reminds me just how much television has changed and how good it once was, even in its simplicity.

The game show was moderated by John Charles Daly. His day job the rest of the week was that of radio and television reporter and anchor. No slouch in that department either, he was the first national correspondent to deliver the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, among many other feathers in his cap.

The panel was anchored by Bennett Cerf, the founder and publisher of Random House, who introduced the world to fine literature by the likes of William Faulkner and works like “Atlas Shrugged.”

Arlene Francis was a New York actress better known perhaps for hosting radio and television programs, at one point becoming “the first lady of television.”

Dorothy Kilgallen was a hugely popular syndicated columnist who wrote about entertainment and politics. Rumors abounded at the time of her untimely death that she had information about the assassination of President John Kennedy. Questions about how she died linger yet today with a recent biography.

A fourth chair was filled with a rotating cast of panelists including Fred Allen, Steve Allen and others.

All of them were smart, urbane and witty. Mostly smart.

“What’s My Line?” was nothing if not classy. It made an effort to be. The men sometimes wore tuxedoes. The women made their “entrances” at the beginning of the show usually wearing evening gowns and often gloves.

Although they were funny, the panel seemed to take the game seriously.

The game itself was simple. After guests would “sign in” at a blackboard, they would whisper their “line” or occupation to Mr. Daly. Then panelists would ask a series of yes or no questions. “Does your work involve a product?” “Would this product be found in most homes?” For each no, guests would get $5.

Occupations were usually off-beat. A female big game hunter. The father of the Fischer quints. A clearly overweight female packager of “reducing” pills. Often the panel would come up with the occupations with just a few questions asked.

For the “mystery guest” segment, blindfolded panelists would try to guess the identities of people the likes of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Jerry Lewis and Colonel Sanders who would try to disguise their famous voices. Often they were movie and television stars “in town” to promote their latest projects. Usually, identifying them wasn’t much of a challenge for the panel, either.

Put all together, “What’s My Line?” was SOMETHING. It had a certain quality that’s hard to define and one that doesn’t exist much in television today. It was popular with people across the board. It was the longest-running game show in prime-time television.

Although several reincarnations of the show were done as late as the mid-1970s, I’d like to see a new version of “What’s My Line?”

My dream panel would include Craig Ferguson, Paula Poundstone (even though she already does the NPR game show “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me”) and, maybe, Salmon Rushdie. Somebody like that. My first choice for moderator would be Peter Jennings. Since he is not available, maybe Charlie Rose.

On second thought, “What’s My Line?” might best be remembered as what it was. Something special.

TERRY DULLUM: The Dullum File — Glen Campbell

After a long struggle with Alzheimers disease, Glen Campbell died this week at the age of 81.

Of all the celebrity interviews I’ve done, the two I did with Glen Campbell are among my very favorite. For openers, it’s always as surprise that a star of his caliber was willing to talk with little, old me.

For some reason, the first interview we did with him took place fairly early in the morning in advance of a show that night in Chester Fritz Auditorium in Grand Forks. Perhaps he wanted to hit the golf course, I don’t know.

After the interview, he invited us to have breakfast with him at the Holiday Inn coffee shop. I headed for a table in the middle of the room. But he said, “Let’s sit over here.” A table in the corner where he sat with his back to the room. I remember thinking that’s what fame is. Avoiding too much attention.

Having breakfast with Glen Campbell is not the worst way to start a day. He was especially proud of the lineup of his show that night, which included John Hartford, who wrote one of his biggest hits “Gentle on My Mind.” Also now gone. And Jim “Spiders & Snakes” Stafford,  another fine entertainer, very much alive in Branson, Mo.

The show was incredible. Did Glen Campbell ever do a bad one?

A couple of weeks later when tour was over, I got a handwritten note thanking me for the interview. Pure class.

Years later, I talked with him live on television when he was appearing at the Spirit Lake Casino near Devils Lake.

MTV had just aired a “warts and all” Behind the Music documentary. The warts included his drug abuse and the very public spectacle that could only be described as his tramping around the country with Tanya Tucker. I had no choice but to ask him what it was like to have that sort of dirty laundry aired so publicly. Now clean and sober for many years, his nearly perfect answer, “I know what I did. It’s between me and my God.” Next question.

I will always admire Glen Campbell’s openness and honesty. His talent and showmanship speaks for itself. A wonderful voice. A tremendous guitarist. A truly great entertainer.

TERRY DULLUM: The Dullum File — The Top 10 Coolest People Alive

A new biography of David Letterman has reminded me just how much I miss those nightly Top 10 lists of his. So much so that I thought it might be fun to put together one. Not the ha-ha, funny kind. But for no particular reason,  a list of the coolest people I could think of.

My cool criteria is simple. It’s based mainly on achievement. To make my list, nominees also have to have displayed at least semblance of empathy and kindness for people other than themselves some time in their lives, not always easy for celebrities.

Honorary mention goes to the likes of Steve Martin, Benedict Cummerbach and Martin Freeman. Lots of others. Sorry, Kanye.

Admittedly, my list is a bit top-heavy with entertainers and more than a little thin on women. I’ll try to do better next time.

Like just about any list, it is more than a little subjective. It’s also subject to change at the drop of a hat by me.

There’s no need to critic the list. Just make one of your own.

Here we go.

10. Lin-Manuel Miranda. Anyone who can bring history to younger people and hip-hop to older people AT THE SAME TIME must be cool. I suspect with his talent and versatility, he is just getting started.

9. Bette Midler. About the biggest thing on Broadway right now, starring in a revival of “Hello Dolly!” At age 71, not too shabby. She’s also been a lifelong activist.

8. Neil Degrasse Tyson. Someone who would be good to have lunch with. The author of the new, best-seller “Astrophysics for People in a Hurry,” a book so popular it sold out on Amazon.com. I know because we had to wait extra days for our copy. Anyone who can make science cool IS cool.

7. Willie Nelson. His choice in herbs may not be to everyone’s liking, but Willie Nelson has written simply some of the best songs of all-time, like “Crazy” and “Funny How Time Slips Away.” His career, creating music and fighting the establishment, has been perfectly consistent for decades. He gets extra credit for Farm Aid.

6. Jimmy Kimmel. Already the most likable of the late night comedians, Jimmy Kimmel’s level of coolness went through the roof for me a few weeks ago. Born with a heart defect, his son’s medical condition was still in jeopardy when Kimmel made an impassioned, televised plea for healthcare for every child. Cool.

5. Prince Harry. Not entirely unscathed by mild scandal as a young man, Prince Harry reached a new level of cool maturity for me recently when he pledged to devote the rest of his life to supporting veterans suffering from psychological injuries.

4. Barack/Michelle Obama. No doubt the most controversial of the list. Politics aside, if that’s even remotely possible these days, while leading the free world, they ran a scandal-free, stylish administration and raised two decent kids at the same time. Like another former resident of the White House who taught his colleagues how life-after-Washington is done, Jimmy Carter, I suspect the Obamas have a lot more to offer.

3. Paul McCartney. Another fine singer-songwriter whose music won’t be going away anytime soon. Think “Yesterday.” Still performing and recording at age 74.   Also, he was one of the Beatles.

2. Al Franken. A really good comedian. A really good writer. A really good public servant.

1. Tony Bennett. This one doesn’t need any explanation. I once heard Tony Bennett described as the coolest man in any room he happens to be in. It’s true. I’ve been in one of those rooms. No one’s life is quite as charmed as it seems from a distance, but his may really be, filled as it is with singing during work hours and painting in his “down” time.

Perhaps a state/local/regional edition sometime.

TERRY DULLUM: The Dullum File — Mr. Warmth

Today is Don Rickles’ birthday. It’s also my mother’s birthday, but that’s another story and another post.

Don Rickles died a month ago. If you’re like me and you always wanted see him live but never did and you feel cheated, the next best thing may be to watch the terrific John Landis documentary “Mr. Warmth.”

Johnny Carson was the first to call him Mr. Warmth. It stuck. The Spanish matador music that signaled his entrance on “The Tonight Show” also meant we were all in for something good. Really good.

Like no one else, Don Rickles could say the most outrageous things to people in his audiences and somehow get away with it. Really, truly outrageous things about race, religion, war. And he kept saying them for almost 60 years. Few took offense. Many regarded a Don Rickles insult as a badge of honor.

He was also a pretty darn good actor, too. He did some good movies like “The Rat Race” with Tony Curtis and some bad (but popular) ones like the “Beach Party” movies.

He attracted friends of all ages, from Bob Newhart to Jimmy Kimmel.

He never stopped working, even at age 90.

It’s all in the documentary. Netflix it. Trust me on this one.

RUSS HONS: Photo Gallery — Tigirlily With Jozy Bernadette

Hazen, N.D.’s Tigirlily performed Thursday night in the Brick and Barley Bar and Restaurant in downtown Grand Forks. They had a guest appearance by Jozy Bernadette (Grand Forks native) who recently was a contestant on the NBC’s “The Voice.” (Bernadette is the daughter of Bridgie and Glenn Hanson of Grand Forks.) (Check out more photos from Russ Hons here.)

 

 

TERRY DULLUM: The Dullum File — Meet Me At The Bates Motel

“Bates Motel” has been one of my very favorite guilty television pleasures for the past couple of years. The A&E series is a prequel, of course, to arguably Alfred Hitchcock’s most popular film, “Psycho.”

I saw “Psycho” back in the 1960s, when I was way too young. Apparently, they didn’t check IDs back then. Anyway, I was too young to have an ID.

Suffice it to say, after seeing the movie I was scared sleepless, maybe for more than one night. I wasn’t the only one, either. Grown women — and men —  stopped taking showers, presumably switching to baths, especially in motels and hotels after “Psycho” came out.

The A&E series has been a lot of fun. We learn a great deal about what brought Norman to his current state. Not without his problems, Norman has been in and out of a mental institution, for instance. And his relationship with his mother has been “complicated.”

It was a little disappointing to learn that, unlike the classic film, “Bates Motel” wasn’t shot on the Universal Studios lot in Hollywood, but rather the Bates Motel and the Psycho house were recreated outside Vancouver, B.C., where the series was shot. It’s cheaper that way, I guess.

In fact, with production of the show’s fifth and final season ended, the motel and house have already been taken down. So have another house and motel at Universal Orlando where several “Psycho sequels” were filmed years ago. The orginals remain as one of the most interesting parts of the Universal Studios Tour, however. The “Jaws” shark and the parting of “The 10 Commandments” sea are just not all that exciting from the tour’s tram.

Any who, the current series is hotting up, what with Marion Crane, no less, being introduced in the latest episode. Just in case you don’t know, Marion Crane is the Janet Leigh character who’s life is cut short, so to speak, in the original movie.

Pop star Rihanna plays Marion (beautifully), now a notary public in somewhat questionable, modern-day Seattle real estate firm.

If he weren’t dead himself, Hitch probably wouldn’t approve of the casting. He preferred to torment blondes like Janet and Tippi Hedren.

Unable to get a promotion or even a raise, Marion decides to walk away with a briefcase filled with $400,000 in cash — up from $40,000 in “Psycho” — that just happens to be floating around the office. She really needs the money, too, to pay for her very expensive business suits and the Mazda Miata convertible she drives.

We just know she’s headed for the Bates Motel. She makes it there, too. We know this because in the teaser for next week’s episode, we see her having a nice cup of tea with Norman in the motel office.

My advice, Marion, after you’ve finished your tea, go straight to bed. Skip the shower.