Monday, 18 September 2017

Battlestar Galactica: The Odyssey of Richard Hatch

Richard Hatch as Apollo on the original "Battlestar Galactica"
Starting out as a show that looked as if it was just trying to capitalize on the “Star Wars” craze, it would turn out to have its own lasting impact into the next year, and even the next century.

“Battlestar Galactica” was something that started out as a theatrical release that became a TV series, a second TV series then, after a long hiatus, was resurrected as one of the best TV dramas of the first decade of the 21st Century.

There was one person who was part of virtually all of that, and earlier this year Richard Hatch passed away, finally ending his long association with “Battlestar Galactica”.

It’s a sequel, no it’s not
The first time I saw a commercial for “Battlestar Galactica” in 1978, I honestly assumed it was the much-anticipated sequel to “Star Wars”. I soon found out that it really was not. Instead, it was the story of a race of humans who barely escaped annihilation at the hands of their robotic enemies the Cylons by taking off into deep space aboard a rag-tag fugitive fleet seeking a lonely planet known as Earth.

The story is set on that last remaining battlestar, called Galactica. It only survived because Adama, its commander, was not sold on the peace initiative with the Cylons. He suspected a double cross, and he was right, narrowly saving his ship from destruction. His son Apollo was a pilot in the fleet of vipers that protected the planets.

Apollo was played by Richard Hatch.

An actual sequel
“Battlestar Galactica” was cancelled after one season, just 24 episodes into its run, but was not finished yet though. Echoing “Star Trek” in this fashion, a letter-writing campaign brought the series back as “Galactica 1980”. Set 30 years later, the Galactica has finally found Earth. The main characters are Colonial Warriors Troy and Dillon. At one point Troy talks about his father, also a Colonial Warrior who has died. He picks up a picture of his father and it is – Apollo. That photo is the only appearance of Richard Hatch in the series. It would last 10 episodes and suffer the same fate as its predecessor.

Watching Battlestar Galactica
Unlike “Star Trek”, which disappeared from the peasant vision airwaves for a long time, I had a long association with “Battlestar Galactica”.

We did go see it in the theatre, and it was really good. I liked it, and once it started, I did not even compare it to Star Wars once. A few months later, “Battlestar Galactica” was on television. It was a Sunday night, and we were visiting my uncle and aunt who just lived up the road on a neighbouring farm. So, we started watching it there. Suddenly, it stopped. It was interrupted for a live news feed of Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat signing the Camp David Peace Accords with U.S. President Jimmy Carter watching. “How long is this going to take?” I thought. Normally, if they pre-empted something, they would just re-join it in progress. We took the opportunity to go home, which was like a five-minute drive. When we got home, the movie still had not re-started. When it did, they picked up right where they left off I think.

To my surprise, in school I discovered “Battlestar Galactica” was being made into a series too. One of my buddies saw the commercials. He had cable. I discovered it was on peasant vision too, Channel 13, every Sunday night. I looked forward to it every week, at 9 p.m. if memory serves, and I didn’t miss an episode.

Then it was gone – cancelled after one season.

Just as quickly as it was gone, “Battlestar Galactica” was back in its familiar Sunday night time slot. This time as “Galactica 1980”, I anxiously caught the first part of the pilot which, like so much TV in the 1980s, was a cliffhanging two-parter. Sadly, I missed the second part because we went to Calgary to visit family. I had to find out how it ended on the school bus from my neighbour Mike. I didn’t miss a single episode after that.

Again, as quickly as it came, it was gone too – cancelled after 10 episodes.

Yet, that was not the end of watching the show. In the early 1980s, CTV would air episodes Saturday mornings after cartoons, so I caught most of them again. Then, when I was in university, my friend Sean Drake told me he had all 24 episodes on tape. The Science Fiction Channel had aired a “Galactithon”, and a friend of Sean’s had taped it. He could get six episodes on a tape, so every six hours he woke up, changed tapes and went back to sleep. Over the summer of 1994, we watched all the episodes again.

Finally, with the dawn of DVD box sets, I bought “Galactica 1980”. I was visiting my friend Jeremy Stemo in Edmonton in 2012 and his partner Melanie, hearing my love for the 1980s and “Battlestar Galactica”, mailed me a set of DVDs with all the episodes she made shortly after my visit. Finally, I saw the actual box set at HMV in Lethbridge and picked it up on sale. My collection was now complete.

Body of work
Richard Hatch was on the rise in the late 1970s. Although I never saw him play the role, he took over for the departing Michael Douglas in the police drama, “The Streets of San Francisco” opposite Karl Malden for its last season. I only found that out playing a trivia game a couple years later.

I did see him in a pretty touching and inspiring TV movie called “Deadman’s Curve” in 1978, about the music duo Jan and Dean. Hatch played Jan Berry opposite Bruce Davison who played Dean Torrence. Jan suffers a terrible accident and it seems their performing days are over. But Jan mounts a stirring comeback, learning to walk, talk, and sing again. Hatch was excellent in that movie. I distinctly remember Jan’s labouring to sing again.

He made another good TV movie in 1980 called “The Hustler at Muscle Beach”. It was set in the world of bodybuilding and featured Hatch as a promoter who finds a young man with some special needs who wants to compete as a bodybuilder. The movie also introduced me to real-life bodybuilders Franco Columbu and Frank Zane. I still remember that clearly.

Beyond these performances, Hatch would go on to the usual guest starring spots in the 1980s in shows such as “Fantasy Island”, “Murder, She Wrote”, “Love Boat”, “T.J. Hooker”, “Hotel”, “MacGyver”, and a turn on “Dynasty”. He was also in episodes of lesser known, short-lived shows “Masquerade”, “Blacke’s Magic”, and “Cover Up”, which are all mentioned elsewhere in this blog.

Never give up
The Richard Hatch story does not end there however.

He kept on writing, and working, trying to revive “Battlestar Galactica”. He even mortgaged his house to pay for a trailer. Seemingly though, it was just not to be.

Then, in 2003, another project was launched. Neither a sequel nor a continuation, “Battlestar Galactica” was one of the first of a new genre of TV called a re-imagining. It used the original series as source material, but completely changed the arc of the series. In this case, the male characters of Starbuck and Boomer were female in the re-imagined world, and the enemy robotic Cylons now also had models in human form. It was written and produced by Ron Moore, who had made a name for himself on the various re-booted “Star Trek” series.

Richard Hatch as Tom Zarek in the re-imagined "Battlestar Galactica"
At first Richard Hatch was highly critical of the new “Battlestar Galactica”. In a brilliant casting move, he took on the role of Tom Zarek, a terrorist and prisoner who becomes a member of the elected council, and a thorn in the side of the president and colonial fleet.

Richard Hatch had come home.

Parting thoughts
Richard Hatch died on February 7, 2017, oddly the birthday of my old friend Mike who filled me in on the school bus of the details of episodes of “Battlestar Galactica” I had missed.

It just reminded me of a simpler time, where we would talk about the previous night’s episode on the school bus, then chase each other around as Colonial Warriors at recess using pens as weapons and our desks as Vipers.

Richard Hatch’s story also serves as a testament to determination and perseverance. He believed in Battlestar Galactica when seemingly no one else did. He kept that dream alive in the darkest hours when it only had a glimmer of hope. Then, when a new show was made, instead of snubbing or ignoring it, he became an important part of it, although he stuck to his principles and was critical of the new show.

The re-imagined Battlestar Galactica is some of the best TV of the past 15 years, that is for sure. Adding Richard Hatch to the cast was the crowning touch to pay tribute to the show’s past.

And Richard Hatch had seen his dream come true, in part at least, even if it was not what he had envisioned.

The odyssey of Richard Hatch was now complete.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Jason Priestley: Setting the stage

Jason Priestley in a guest role in "Quantum Leap"
2016 Canada Walk of Fame
Jason Priestley: Setting the stage

He was just getting started at the end of the 1980s, but exploded into the public consciousness in the 1990s with his role as Brandon Walsh on "Beverly Hills 90210".

Jason Priestley got his start in bit parts in TV and that would lead to much more.

Taking the leap
He first came on the scene as a teenage thug in an episode of “Quantum Leap” in 1989. The show began in the spring, as a mid-season replacement, featuring a scientist named Sam Beckett who got caught in a science experiment that kept leaping him to different points in time within his own lifespan.

I caught the first couple episodes when I was home on the farm for spring break. That first season was only a handful of episodes, but one had Sam leap into the body of a teenage drag racer who was dealing with the issues of being a teenager, including being harassed by the cool kids.

One of those cool kids was a young Jason Priestley.

Years later, I bought season one of “Quantum Leap” on DVD and one of the special features had Scott Bakula, who played Sam Beckett, talking about various young actors who first appeared on “Quantum Leap” and went on to success on TV. One was Teri Hatcher, and another was Jason Priestley.

Bakula said, even in that small guest role, you could see Jason Priestley was something special.

It was also the only time I ever saw Jason Priestly in the 1980s.

Other roles
According to Wikipedia and Internet Movie Data Base, Priestley had also had guest-starring roles in “Airwolf”, “21 Jump Street”, “Danger Bay”, “McGyver”, and a sitcom called, “Sister Kate.”

Jason Priestley in his iconic role as
Brandon Walsh on Beverly Hills 90210
The years after
Priestley would go on to eight years on "Beverly Hills 90210", then appear on a variety of TV series over the next few years, such as ­“Love Monkey” with fellow Canadian Tom Cavanaugh, and “Call Me Fitz”. He currently is in the middle of his second season on the Canadian-made comedy-drama “Private Eyes”.

Parting thoughts
Jason Priestley is one of those rare Canadian actors who has been able to make a name for himself on both sides of the border. He has become a director, producer, and writer as well as a dramatic and comedic actor. His resumé is packed with credits in all these different parts of film and TV production, and it seems there is no end in sight.

And it all started in the 1980s.

The Canadian Walk of Fame recently inducted a number of outstanding individuals and Robvogt80s will be honouring those people in a series. 

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Corey Hart: Canadian heartthrob

2016 Canada Walk of Fame
Corey Hart: Canadian heartthrob

He was not only handsome and charismatic, but Corey Hart was prolific, producing an album a year through the middle of the 1980s, experiencing unprecedented popularity and success in Canada – and translating that to the elusive American market.

Corey Hart's debut album "First Offence"
First Offence
Corey Hart kind of snuck up on me in high school. He released his debut album, “First Offence” in 1983, but it did not pick up steam in Canada until 1984. Oddly, it gained traction in the United States first, which led to a breakthrough in his native Canada.

It began with “Sunglasses at Night”, showcasing that signature Cory Hart sound, going all the way to number seven on the Billboard Hot 100 in the States, and number 24 in Canada. It became a single synonymous with the decade. However it was obvious that, inexplicably, Hart had made a bigger impact Stateside then at home.

That changed.

His next single was “It Ain’t Enough”. By now Canada had taken notice, as the song went to number four in Canada and number 17 on Billboard. There would be two more singles, “She Got the Radio” and “Lamp at Midnite” that reached the top 40 in Canada, but were not hits.

He would go on to be nominated for a Grammy for best new artist, losing out to Cyndi Lauper.

Corey Hart had arrived and he was just getting started.

Corey Hart's most successful album,
and second effort, "Boy in the Box"
Boy in the Box
I really started getting into music in the fall of 1985. That Christmas, I got my first ever ghetto blaster, and began to listen to music regularly, even taping it off the radio. The main station I listened to was LA-107 FM, based in Lethbridge. It was an album-oriented station, where the announcers played more singles off an album then just the current release.

By the time Corey Hart had released his follow-up album, “Boy in the Box”, I was listening to a lot of music on the radio.

The first single was “Never Surrender”, and it was being played everywhere.

Staying power
“Boy in the Box” stayed on the charts for almost two years, churning out single after single. By the time it had run its course, the album earned Hart a number of Juno nominations including album of the year.

“Never Surrender” went to number one in Canada and number three on the Billboard Hot 100 in the States. It would go on to win a Juno for best selling single in 1985, as well as nominations for composer of the year and best video.

The title track, “Boy in the Box”, followed going to number four in Canada and number 26 on Billboard. It was a passable track, but did not have the impact or connection “Never Surrender” did.

“Everything in my Heart” was next, returning Hart to the number one spot in Canada, but topping out at number 30 on Billboard. That was a surprise to me, because “Everything in My Heart” got the same air play as “Never Surrender” in Canada. It was a powerful ballad that showed Corey Hart could be a crooner. It would also earn Hart a Juno nomination for best selling single.

“Eurasian Eyes” was a single I heard first on LA-107 when they were always playing additional tracks on their album countdown. I had also seen the video on “Good Rockin’ Tonite” which showed Hart bundled up for winter and walking with that patented pouty look, as steam came out of his mouth while he sang.

The most notable part of “Eurasian Eyes” was that it also made an appearance in the sensual, much-talked-about movie, “9 ½ Weeks”.

It would peak at number 29 in Canada and not even chart in the U.S.

“Komrade Kiev” and “Sunny Places – Shady People”, were two other songs I recall hearing on LA-107 that came from “Boy in the Box”, but they were never released or promoted as singles.

“Boy in the Box” had run its course.

Poster boy
The album featured one other thing that made it stand out.

Included in each record was a poster of Corey Hart, a blown-up version of the album cover art.

The last time I saw one of those posters was when I was working at Lakeland College in Vermilion in 1997. One of my co-workers was planning an '80s-themed activity and bought some used records on a trip to Value Village in Edmonton. Sure enough, she was stoked to see that poster still in the copy of “Boy in the Box” she bought used, and more than a decade old.

That’s staying power.

Corey Hart's third album, "Fields of Fire"
Fields of Fire
It was like Corey Hart had not missed a beat. Once “Boy in the Box” had run its course, Hart fans did not have to wait long for another album.

In the fall of 1986, Corey Hart was back on the airwaves with another crooning ballad, “I am by Your Side.” It went all the way to number six in Canada and to number 19 on the Billboard Hot 100.

My best friend Chris Vining also told me the video was shot in and around Drumheller, where Vining had lived a few years earlier. That was pretty cool.

For his next single, Hart reached into the past to cover another in what was becoming a growing list of ballads. “Can’t Help Falling in Love With You,” made popular by Elvis Presley, went to number one in Canada and number 24 in the U.S. It was a song, partly because of its rich history, that had staying power.

There would be three more singles that kept Corey Hart top of mind through the rest of 1986 and into 1987 – “Angry Young Man” which peaked at 29 in Canada and did not chart in the U.S.; “Dancin’ with my Mirror,” which peaked at 16 in Canada and 88 in the U.S.; and “Take My Heart,” which peaked at 23 in Canada and again did not chart south of the border.

The truth is Corey Hart was likely aided with these last three singles by Canadian content regulations which mandated radio stations play a lot of Canadian artists. None of these songs resonated with me, and seemingly few in the United States.

Still, “Fields of Fire” earned Hart Juno nominations for best male vocalist and single of the year for, “Can’t Help Falling in Love.”

Young Man Running
It was the summer of 1988, and I was home after my first year of university when I heard my last Corey Hart single for a decade.

“In Your Soul” was a catchy tune, unlike his other stuff, that went to number two in Canada and number 38 on Billboard.

There were other singles, but my life got busy, and they did not seem to do well. The other four singles that were released did not crack the top 20 in Canada or chart at all in the U.S.

It would be a decade before I heard from Corey Hart again.

In addition
Corey Hart was also involved in some other projects in the decade.

In 1985, he was part of "Northern Lights", a group of Canadian performers who banded together to record, "Tears Are Not Enough", to raise funds for famine relief in Ethiopia. It was classic Corey Hart again – brooding, pouty and powerful.

In that same year, 1985, he performed, "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" during a concert at Landsdowne Park in Ottawa. It also became the "B"-side for "Everything in My Heart" when it was released as a single

Not a Christmas will pass without some radio station playing Corey Hart's rendition of "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer".

The years after
He would continue to write, record and release music all through the 1990s. “Black Cloud Rain” hit number two in Canada in 1996, followed by “Tell Me” at 14; and “Third of June” at 17.

Perhaps my favourite of his later songs came out two years later. It was called, “So Visible (Easy to Miss)”, and it was the song playing on the radio when I was leaving Edmonton for the last time when I moved from there in November of 1998.

Parting thoughts
Some of my reading revealed that in July of 1987, at the age of 25, Corey Hart collapsed backstage from exhaustion and had to take a break.

That just illustrates how prolific Corey Hart was in the 1980s. He literally put out an album a year, and went on a major tour to promote each one for a good chunk of the entire decade.
His music is part of the soundtrack of the 1980s for anyone who grew up in Canada in that period. It is interesting to see his music evolved over time as he matured as a singer and songwriter.

The music also carried an uplifting message, with positive songs such as, “Never Surrender” and “I am by Your Side”. Corey Hart was on a talk show I saw right after I returned to Lethbridge in 1998, and one of the audience members pointed out that same thing – that his songs helped her out during low times in her life.

He may have been a teen heartthrob, but some of his songs dug deeper than racing cars and being cool. That’s why, more than 30 years later, people are still listening to him, and why he has a place on the Canadian Walk of Fame.

The Canadian Walk of Fame recently unveiled the stars of a number of outstanding individuals on June 7 and Robvogt80s will be honouring those people in a series starting now.

Friday, 15 September 2017

Jeanne Beker: Bringing a passion for fashion to TV

Long-time Fashion Television host Jeanne Beker on the set of the show that really mae her famous
2016 Canada Walk of Fame
Jeanne Beker: Bringing a passion for fashion to TV

She did more than anyone else in Canada to bring fashion to television – and she is still doing it. Starting back in the 1980s and continuing on to today on The Shopping Channel, Jeanne Beker has become the epitome of style.

City Television
Back in the 1980s, there were just two national television networks – CBC and CTV. The third channel on the rural cable network was Channel 7, which was part of a loose affiliation of TV stations across Canada. That’s why periodically, we would see Global News, and anchors such as Peter Kent, out of Toronto.

Channel 7 also broadcast various shows produced by Moses Znaimer and his City Television. There was a news magazine called, “That’s Life” hosted by Ann Rohmer and Peter Feniak, and “The NewMusic”, hosted by J.D. Roberts and – Jeanne Beker.

Znaimer would go on to pioneer Muchmusic and the whole City-TV network that still exists.

Roberts would move to Muchmusic, then become John Roberts and become a TV news anchor in the United States.

Jeanne Beker, who hosted “The NewMusic” from 1979 to 1985, would move on to pursue her passion for fashion and be the heart, the soul, and the face of Fashion Television, often called FTV.

Fashion Television
According to, “Fashion Television began when Moses Znaimer, CITY-TV’s head honcho, wanted to make use of the fashion videos being created by big designers. What was originally to be simply a half-hour special was expanded to seven one-hour segments (under the title FTV and later FT-Fashion Television), and then to a weekly half-hour show beginning in September, 1986.”

To be honest, I do not have a lot of memories of Fashion Television, but it always seemed to be on Channel 7 on Saturday afternoons, when I was flipping channels.

My overriding memories are of how glamorous and beautiful Beker was, and that thundering theme music. It was the intro of “Obsession” by Animotion they used in the opening of Fashion Television, which was eventually shortened to FTV.

Fashion Television would have immense staying power, staying on the air in syndication until Beker announced in 2012, via social media, the show was ending.

Parting thoughts
Some times there are just uniquely Canadian personalities who carve out a special niche in pop culture, people who become synonymous with their subject matter.

This is the best way to describe Jeanne Beker, who really was the last word on fashion in Canada, and a leading commentator all over the world. Her clear voice and signature style made her one of a kind.

It is only appropriate she would eventually take the leap and start her own fashion line. That was the last time I saw her – not commenting on fashion, but describing her own designs being modelled live in studio on The Shopping Channel.

It is the fitting next step in the long and distinguished career of Jeanne Beker.

The Canadian Walk of Fame recently unveiled the stars of a number of outstanding individuals on June 7 and Robvogt80s will be honouring those people in a series.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Darryl Sittler: Battling icon

Darryl Sittler in his hey day as
captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs
2016 Canada Walk of Fame
Darryl Sittler: Battling icon

He was a hockey icon who battled management as much as any opponent on the ice. Although by the 1980s, Darryl Sittler was no longer a Toronto Maple Leaf, he will be remembered as one of the greatest Leafs to never win a Stanley Cup. His best years may have been in the 1970s as a Leaf, but in the 1980s he still made his mark. Through it all, Sittler stuck up for his teammates off the ice as much as on it.

Super star
When I started watching hockey in the late 1970s, the only games we ever saw were Montreal Canadien or Toronto Maple Leaf games Saturday nights on Hockey Night In Canada. Leading the Toronto Maple Leafs, with a shock of curly brown hair was their captain and unquestioned leader, Darryl Sittler.

He was a playmaker and a scorer who made an impact whenever he was on the ice. Although it was before I started watching hockey, he set the single-game scoring record with 10 points against my beloved Boston Bruins. That six-goal, four-assist performance, is still an NHL single-game record.

He also suited up for Team Canada, scoring the winning goal in overtime to lead his team to the first ever Canada Cup in 1976. I have that goal, and the entire series, on DVD.

His best years were in the 1970s, and by the time the 1980s rolled around I remember Sittler just as much for the battles he had with Leaf general manager Punch Imlach and team owner Harold Ballard.

Unquestioned loyalty
When I started watching hockey, the Leafs regularly made the playoffs. Two years in a row they were eliminated by the Canadiens, in the semi-finals in 1978, and in the quarter-finals the next year in 1979. The team had a cavalcade of stars – Sittler; Lanny McDonald; Ian Turnbull; Mike Palmateer; Dave “Tiger” Williams and more.

Ballard slowly whittled away that core of great players by trading them. Palmateer was sent to Washington, Williams to Vancouver, and Turnbull to Los Angeles.

Once Imlach joined the Leafs as general manager, he believed Sittler had too much power with the players. Trading Sittler would have been too costly and complicated. Instead, they shipped McDonald to Colorado right at the end of the decade, on Dec. 29, 1979. He was Sittler’s best friend, and it was definitely a power play on management’s part to exert his authority.

I will never forget Sittler’s response. On Hockey Night In Canada on national television, the camera panned across the Leafs standing on the blue line for the national anthem. As the camera passed by Sittler, there was nothing but threads where his captain’s “C” once stood. The announcers did not say too much about it. What happened was Sittler had ripped the “C” from his chest in protest over McDonald’s trade.

It would be another two years or so, when Sittler himself was dispatched out of town.

Darryl Sittler with the Philadelphia Flyers
Sittler in the 1980s
At the start of the decade, Darryl Sittler was still a Leaf, and would wear the “C” again, but soon matters deteriorated again with management.

Finally, on Jan. 20, 1982, Darryl Sittler, who had become synonymous with the Toronto Maple Leafs, was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers. It just seemed so foreign, like watching Ray Bourque in a Colorado Avalanche sweater, or Wayne Gretzky in a St. Louis Blues jersey. He had also donned a helmet, covering that shock of curly hair that made him stand out on the ice almost as much as his play did.

Sittler had recorded 18 goals and 20 assists for 38 points in 38 games with the Leafs. He would play 35 games with the Flyers to close out the 1981-1982 season, notching 14 goals and 18 assists, giving him season totals of 32 goals and 38 assists for 70 points.

Darryl Sittler in his time with the Detroit Red Wings
His first full season with the Flyers was 1982-1983, where he played 80 games, scoring 43 goals and adding 40 assists for 83 points, and his fourth all-star selection. The following year, 1983-1984 he played 76 games, scoring 27 goals and 36 assists for 63 points.

Before the 1984-1985 season, Sittler was traded to the Detroit Red Wings, where he had his worst year since his rookie season, scoring just 11 goals and 16 assists for 27 points in 61 games.

Detroit bought out the rest of his contract and Darryl Sittler retired.

Parting thoughts
Time seems to heal all wounds – or at least many of them. The last time I saw Darryl Sittler was recently at the Heritage Classic alumni game between retired members of the Leafs and Red Wings. There he was alongside McDonald and Palmateer, proudly wearing the Maple Leaf. With the deaths of his nemesis, Punch Imlach and Harold Ballard, Sittler has been a proud leader of Leafs Nation once again. Even current Leafs, who would do interviews with him on television, would themselves ask for his autograph once the cameras were off.

It is fitting that he has mended fences with the Leafs, because Darryl Sittler was the face, and the beating heart, of the franchise at the dawn of the 1980s. He was a leader, role model, goal scorer, and play maker, who deserved much better from the franchise than the treatment he received at the end of his tenure in Toronto.

Instead of riding off into the sunset, as is befitting of a franchise player, Sittler was shuffled out of town in mid-season with no chance to say goodbye. Worse, he was never brought back to say a proper goodbye to the fans who supported him.

However, now Darryl Sittler is getting the last laugh on his old adversaries, proudly wearing the Maple Leaf on his chest once again, and representing what the franchise had been. In the end, the Leafs did the right thing – but it took new owners and management.

It is good to see you back where you belong Darryl.

The Canadian Walk of Fame recently unveiled the stars of a number of outstanding individuals on June 7 and Robvogt80s will be honouring those people in a series. 

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Al Waxman: King of Canadian television

2016 Canada Walk of Fame
Al Waxman: King of Canadian television

Al Waxman in his iconic role as
Larry King on "The King of Kensington"
He may have been best known as “The King of Kensington” gracing the airwaves of the CBC Monday nights for four years, but iconic Canadian actor Al Waxman had a storied career that took him from the streets of New York to the turmoil of the Holocaust.

King of Kensington
“When he walks down the street, he smiles at everyone, everyone that he meets, calls him King of Kensington.”

These words opened every episode of “King of Kensington”, accompanied by a picture of Larry King, played by Al Waxman, walking down the street eating from a bag of peanuts or popcorn, wearing a burgundy hockey jacket, and smiling, waving and saying hello to people as he walked.

Larry King owned a variety store that was the centre of his neighbourhood, where friends like Duke, the cab driver, and Nestor, the postman would stop in. He lived upstairs with his mother, played by Helene Winston, and his wife, played by Fiona Reid. Each week featured the every day trials and tribulations in the life of Larry King.
After the third season, Reid moved on. She was written out of the show by having her and Larry get a divorce. He would also take a young teen, Guido played by David Eisner, under his wing. In one memorable episode, he coached Guido‘s hockey team against an exchange team from Quebec, with comedic results.

The show was very Canadian in everything from the items sold at King’s store, to the frosty winters, and the allusions to hockey. It was a cornerstone of viewing in the three-channel rural cable network of the 1980s.

Back in time
What really made me sit up and take notice of Al Waxman as an actor though, was a television production I saw on a snowy Sunday afternoon. There was not a lot to watch on peasant vision on Sunday afternoons. CBC had a lot of cultural and somewhat religious stuff, nothing that really appealed to me as a boy.

Then, to celebrate I think it was its 50th anniversary, the CBC created this retrospective show, hosted by Alex Barris. He would introduce some old shows, and they would air them in their entirety. This one Sunday afternoon, I was making dollhouse furniture out of old popsicle sticks, and I just left the TV on as background noise. Alex Barris described the shows that were going to be played that week, and nothing really caught my attention.

One of the shows was “Sun in my Eyes”, and it starred a young Al Waxman, those were Barris’ words. It struck me, because it was the only name I recognized. It was buried in the middle of some other shows, but when it came on, I started to watch. It was about a Jewish family during the Holocaust, and one of my outstanding memories was that Waxman played a man named Moisha, kind of a joker, who actually traded identities with another man to save a boy’s life from the Nazis. It was in black and white, but that Star of David Waxman was forced to wear as a Jew, was still very colourful. It was a fantastic show that really stuck with me.

It showed what kind of an actor Al Waxman could be, and how versatile he was.

Al Waxman in his role as tough New York
police sergeant Bert Samuels
The mean streets of New York
It was groundbreaking for its day, and cutting edge television. "Cagney and Lacey" detailed the lives and relationship of Chris Cagney and Mary Beth Lacey, two female detectives with the New York Police Department. It began as a TV movie with Loretta Switt, on a hiatus from her role as “Hot Lips” Houlihan on "M*A*S*H", playing Cagney, and Tyne Daly playing Lacey. The show was popular enough to go to series where, as a mid-season replacement, Meg Foster played Cagney and Daly continued her role as Lacey.

The show was renewed as a full-fledged part of CBS’ fall line-up, and now Sharon Gless, fresh off her stint in “House Calls” opposite Wayne Rogers, played Cagney, while Lacey was still played by Daly.

CBS would try to cancel “Cagney and Lacey” several times, but fan support and stubbornly fair ratings, kept it on the air for eight seasons.

Through all that time, Cagney and Lacey reported to their crusty sergeant Bert Samuels, a tough New Yorker, played by Al Waaxman. He was tough on the outside, but sensitive and caring on the inside. A whole new generation of viewers, south of the border, came to appreciate the talents of Al Waxman.

The years after
Al Waxman would continue to work virtually until he died in 2001. Two memorable roles he would play in the 1990s both revolved around hockey. In 1995, he played Jack Adams, the real-life coach and general manager of the Detroit Red Wings in the 1950s, in “Net Worth”. It was an amazing movie that focused on the efforts of Red Wing Ted Lindsey to unionize the National Hockey League. Adams was deceptive in all his dealings with players, trying to prevent them from unionizing, and Waxman played the villain perfectly.

Two years later, he was back behind the bench in the pilot of “Power Play”, playing Lou Gorman, coach of the fictitious Hamilton Steelheads. He was fired by brand new general manager Brett Parker in the season premiere, then brought back to finish out the season. It was a role in stark contrast to the unlikeable Jack Adams. Gorman was kind of inspiring.

Waxman would also play an angel in the series “Twice in a Lifetime”, and many other roles.

He passed away at the age of 65 in 2001.

Parting thoughts
“The King of Kensington” is part of the tapestry of Canadian culture in the 1970s and 1980s. The mere mention of the name, or the singing of a few bars of the theme song, evokes memories for most people who grew up in that era.

It was as uniquely Canadian as it gets. Interestingly, the CBC is trying to mine the same setting 40 years later with “Kim’s Convenience Store”.

Al Waxman had the gift of comedic timing. He portrayed this likable community leader who seemed to keep his head when everyone around him was losing theirs. He always knew what to do.

What made me realize he was much more than that, was that role in “Sun in My Eyes”. Tragic and foreboding, the story talked about a dark period in history. Waxman brought a humanity to his character that was at times jovial, at times serious, and at times dark, just like life was in that time.

When I tuned in to my first episode of “Cagney and Lacey”, I was surprised to see Al Waxman in the opening credits, poised to play Bert Samuels. It was the same man but, instead of a kindly, 40ish storekeeper, there was a graying, gruff police sergeant. At first, I did not believe what I saw, because in my mind Canadian actors on Canadian TV never made it to U.S. network television. It was rare then, so you can add trailblazer to Waxman’s list of accomplishments too.

You add all these things together, and Al Waxman leaves behind a body of work that shines a light on so many aspects of what it means to be Canadian: the legacy of the Holocaust; the convenience store as the centre of community life; and the passion for hockey. He also symbolizes another aspect of Canadian culture: the view among many that a performer has only really made it if they do well in the U.S. market.

Well, any way you measure it, Al Waxman made it, and we are all the better for it.

The Canadian Walk of Fame recently unveiled the stars of a number of outstanding individuals on June 7 and Robvogt80s will be honouring those people in a series starting now. 

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Robert Vaughn: The Epitome of suave and debonair

No one typified suave and sophisticated quite like him. He had made his mark as globe-trotting spy Napoleon Solo in the 1960s and 1970s, then continued that on into the ‘80s with a variety of roles, including one last turn as Agent Solo.

Robert Vaughn passed away at the end of last year, but not before he left behind a legacy of debonair characters, with tongue still planted firmly in cheek for a bit of comic relief.

Robert Vaughn at right with David McCallum reprising their
roles as Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakin in "Return
of the Man from U*N*C*L*E: The Fifteen Years Later Affair" 
Man from U*N*C*L*E
Robert Vaughn really was the Man from U*N*C*L*E, saving the world on a weekly basis and ridding it of those pesky, nefarious agents from T*H*R*U*S*H. However, his time as an international globetrotter came to an end in 1968.

After that, he would take guest starring roles in ensemble shows such as “The Love Boat”, “Hotel” and “Trapper John, M.D.”.

Then, in 1983, the impossible happened. Well not really, because television has always had a way of making these reunion movies. But Man from U*N*C*L*E was having a reunion of its own, fittingly subtitled “The Fifteen Years Later Affair”.

Robert Vaughn returned to the role he was most famous for. So did David McCallum, reprising his role as Solo’s sidekick Russian operative Ilya Kuryakin.

It was a great movie, with a hint it might go to series, but never did. Still, Solo and Kuryakin saved the world one last time together.

Soap sensation
The 1980s was littered with night-time dramas, that is soap operas, that attempted to capitalize on the success of “Dallas”, “Dynasty”, “Knot’s Landing”, and “Falcon Crest”. Another feature of these shows was their use of old movie stars and notable names to supplement their casts. Jane Wyman and Lana Turner were on “Falcon Crest”; Bette Davis and Anne Baxter on “Hotel”; and Elizabeth Taylor on “General Hospital” and “Dynasty” were just some examples.

Robert Vaughn filled this bill, making an appearance in “Emerald Point NAS” a star-studded night-time drama featuring Dennis Weaver, Maud Adams, Patrick O’Neal, Sela Ward, Jill St. John, Susan Dey, Richard Dean Anderson, Andrew Stevens, Robert Loggia and many others. It was set on a naval air base but, like “The Yellow Rose”; “Glitter”; “Paper Dolls”; and “Berenger’s”, it just never attracted an audience and lasted less than a season.

Vaughn played Harlan Adams, described as a scheming industrialist who was yet another suave and debonair character. In this case, Vaughn actually took over the role of Harlan Adams from Patrick O’Neal, who had tired of travelling from his home in New York to do the series which filmed in California.

Robert Vaughn, at right, with fellow bad guy Richard Pryor in "Superman III"
Playing the bad guy
Vaughn was back in 1983, this time on the big screen, in the third installment of the “Superman” movies. He played Ross Webster, an evil millionaire out to kill Superman, enlisting the help of a seductress, played by Pamela Stephenson, and a warped petty criminal and computer whiz played by Richard Pryor.

It was the first time I ever saw Robert Vaughn play a bad guy, and he was really good. Still suave and sophisticated but, because of his nefarious motives, made him look cold and calculating. It was just the other side of the same coin, really.

Robert Vaughn as Gelt in "Battle Beyond the Stars"
Taking to space
Although I saw it after “Superman III”, Robert Vaughn had another role in science fiction in a made-for-TV movie called “Battle Beyond the Stars” made in 1980 by "B" movie king Roger Corman.

The movie starred Richard Thomas as Shad, essentially a farm boy in space, whose planet is threatened by Sador, played by John Saxon, who was as bad a guy as there was. He suffered some kind of debilitating illness so, to survive, he would graft the amputated parts of aliens he would capture onto his own body. He just epitomized sinister.

Shad manages to round up a strange group of aliens including the “Space Cowboy” played by George Peppard, and a symbiotic race called the Nestor who all moved in unison, to fight Sador. He also recruited Gelt, played by Robert Vaughn, a wealthy assassin who is just looking to hide out.

It was a really good movie for 1980, and one I would watch again. I love the idea of a battle against the odds where the underdogs have to gather together a gang to battle the seemingly overpowering enemy.

“Battle Beyond the Stars” was another one of those movies I had read about in TV Guide years before seeing it on Channel 13 on peasant vision.

Robert Vaughn in "The A-Team"
Sunset on the “A-Team”
Another show that starts out with a team being recruited to go on adventures was the “A-Team”.  It was already in eclipse, some even describing it as “jumping the shark”, when Robert Vaughn joined the cast for the show’s fifth and final season. The “A-Team” had been captured by the army and forced to work with them now, under the command of General Hunt Stockwell played by Vaughn.

This was in 1986-1987, my Grade 12 year, so by now I was not watching as much TV as I had been, and I never saw one episode of that final season or Robert Vaughn in it.

That was probably a good thing.

Vaughn also had the perfect voice for narration. What I remember most was an episode of “The Late Show with David Letterman” in 1987 where Vaughn came out and read from the Bangor, Maine phone directory. It was so funny, capitalizing on Vaughn’s voice, which was perfect for narration. Letterman had done something similar when he had James Earl Jones read out figure skating scores with that unique “This is CNN” voice of his own.

The years before and after
Robert Vaughn would continue on acting in various roles in television and movies until the year he died. He had a distinguished career that included an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor in 1959 for “The Young Philadelphians”; an Emmy for best supporting actor in 1977’s “Washington: Behind Closed Doors”; and an Emmy nomination in the same category in 1979 for  “Backstairs at the White House”

Parting thoughts
It’s funny. When I watched the remake of “The Man from U*N*C*L*E” last year, Henry Cavill did a good job as Napoleon Solo, but there was something missing. Sure, he was sophisticated and had tongue planted firmly in cheek but he really was – just not Robert Vaughn.

No matter what role he played, even reading names from the Bangor, Maine phone directory, Robert Vaughn was the epitome of class and sophistication, with not a hint of arrogance, because he just never took himself too seriously.

That is what made Robert Vaughn unique, and he will be missed.