The theater community feels a deep loss today, but we who remember Sam Shepard best for his role as test pilot Chuck Yeager in the 1983 film THE RIGHT STUFF do, too.

Yeager was an almost mythical character in that film --- the first real hero of the race for space who, ironically, didn’t get to space at all. Shepard’s interpretation combined a down-to-earth, clear-eyed realism with a powerful, dreamlike aura of astounding bravery that won him a Best Supporting Actor nomination. We who wear our deep respect for the astronauts and test pilots on our sleeves remember Shepard’s portrayal fondly.

He appeared in other films but most of his work was for the Broadway and off-Broadway stage. He wrote 44 plays and won a Pulitzer Prize for one of them.

Apparently, he had been ill with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) for some time. He died at his Kentucky home at the age of 73. Over the years, we’ve seen the actual participants in the race for space pass into history as well. Sen. John Glenn was the last surviving Mercury astronaut when he died in 2016.

This would be a great time to break out THE RIGHT STUFF, celebrate the bravery of those pilots, and watch Sam Shepard in an iconic role.

Get well John McCain!

July 21, 2017

This week, something happened in Washington that seldom happens these days: the partisan attacks and inter- and intra-party bickering and backbiting stopped for a moment, as both sides of the political aisle came together to offer prayers and good wishes for Sen. John McCain, upon the news that he had been diagnosed with brain cancer.

Doctors at the Mayo Clinic who removed the blood clot near his eye also found a tumor of a type known as a glioblastoma. It’s a very aggressive form of cancer, and the typical prognosis with treatment is about 14 months. However, doctors believe they removed all the tumor tissue, and they say McCain is recovering amazingly well, his underlying health is excellent, and he’s in good spirits and optimistic about the effectiveness of future treatments.

He also has the power of prayer on his side, as colleagues from President Trump and Marco Rubio to Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi all voiced their concern and support. We know McCain is a fighter, and another tough fighter who just faced a life-threatening emergency, Rep. Steve Scalise, tweeted that he was praying for his friend McCain, “one of the toughest people I know.”

This link contains the official statement from Sen. McCain’s office, along with some of the reactions…

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And here are more statements from McCain’s colleagues. Both these links include today’s Must-Read story: Meghan McCain’s statement on the news of her father’s illness. I warn you, it may be hard to finish reading through the tears in your eyes.

I’ve always thought that while it’s nice to have politicians and media people seeking your opinions and advice, that pales in significance compared to having the respect and admiration of your own children. When you feel the love and respect shining through Meghan’s words, you know that John McCain is more than a war hero and a respected Senator. He’s also a great dad. I bet that’s the title he’s most proud of.

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Bill Dana RIP

June 22, 2017

We’ve lost another of those familiar TV faces that baby boomers grew up with: Bill Dana passed away last week at his Nashville home at 92. Dana was both a familiar comic character actor and a writer who helped create some of the most beloved comedy bits of the past half-century-plus. He’s best known for a character that became a phenomenon in the ‘60s but could never exist in today’s PC age: Jose Jimenez.

Jose was a nervous Mexican immigrant with a humorously tenuous grasp of English who started every bit by declaring, “My name Jose Jimenez!” While Jose might be considered a dialect humor stereotype now, at the time, Latino groups honored Dana for creating a positive portrayal of a patriotic Mexican immigrant, and he was careful not to do any jokes he thought would seem offensive.

Beginning with his first appearance on the classic Steve Allen show (where Dana was head writer), his catchphrase swept the country. The Mercury 7 astronauts played his records so much that the first words spoken to an American in space came in 1961 when Deke Slayton told Alan Shepherd on blast-off, “Okay, Jose, you’re on your way!” Dana became friends with the astronauts, made a comedy record called “Jose the Astronaut” that was later included in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and the Astronaut Hall of Fame, and he was named the first “honorary astronaut.”

But while Jose Jimenez was his most famous creation, it was only a tiny part of Bill Dana’s career. He played many roles, such as Sophia’s brother Angelo on “Golden Girls,” but stage fright made him prefer writing. He created many classic jokes for “Get Smart” star Don Adams (the “Would you believe?... bit was Dana’s) and wrote the most famous episode ever of “All in the Family,” where Archie Bunker meets Sammy Davis Jr. Surprisingly for someone who made millions laugh for over seven decades, Dana suffered from severe depression, and he wrote a book about the curative powers of laughter.

All this is only scratching the surface of his astonishing career. If you’d like to see an obituary that reads like a crash course in comedy history over the second half of the 20th century, click the link. I guarantee that if you don’t know Bill Dana, after you read about his life and see his face, you’ll say, “Oh, THAT guy! I loved him!”

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Don Rickles RIP

April 7, 2017

Sad news from Hollywood: the king of the insult comics, “Mr. Warmth,” Don Rickles has died at 90 of kidney failure. He deserves a final standing ovation, not only for giving the world 70 years of laughs, but for continuing to entertain audiences right up until the end and never yielding to the PC thugs who’ve terrorized so many comedians into censoring themselves, lest anyone's feeling be hurt by their jokes. Rickles gleefully offended everyone, like a heckler who’d somehow taken over the stage, addressing his fans as “hockey puck,” and playing off of ethnic and gender stereotypes while always making sure the crowd knew that he was a nice guy playing a jerk. He got us to laugh at ourselves and our own absurd prejudices, which we need more of.

It’s no surprise that Rickles wasn’t cowed by the young hothouse flowers of the SJW movement. He was a lifelong pal of Frank Sinatra, and anyone who would do jokes about Sinatra and the mob to his face had no fear. One of his best Sinatra lines is in the obit, but another story he loved to tell isn’t. Rickles recalled that before he met Barbara, his wife of 52 years, he was dating a young woman he wanted to impress. So when he saw Sinatra in the same Vegas restaurant, he begged him to stop by his table, to show his date what a big shot he was that the great Frank Sinatra would come over and say hi to him. Frank agreed. Later, as he was leaving, a smiling Sinatra approached Rickles’ table and said, “Hi, Don!” Rickles angrily snapped back, “Frank, please! We’re tryin’ to eat!”

Luckily for Rickles, Sinatra cracked up laughing.