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Location: Portland, Oregon

Otium cum Dignitatae

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Six Degrees of Chuck

Wow. Mitch Mitchell, the little tiny degenerate-looking drummer from The Jimi Hendrix Experience, has chosen a room in the Benson Hotel in Portland as the place to die. He was here as part of what is called the Experience Hendrix Tour, I believe: a show lots of folks were looking forward to working/seeing, but I didn't get called to.

His drumming on the song 'Fire' was the first time I ever consciously noticed that there was something more to rhythm than good ol' boom-chick. Imagine if they ever played 'Manic Depression' on classic rock radio.
And he was the last member of the Experience to die. I note, via a quick check on that Noel Redding died, quite without my notice, five years ago.

This follows closely on the heels of Miriam Makeba and Yma Sumac dying, of course. I am not sure what the Law of Threes would say on this one, since those two would seem to paired with Studs Terkel -who was not a musician- and Mitch Mitchell who didn't sing. Perhaps Levi Stubbs (of The Temptations) was an early number one of three, and the cycle is over.

But Yma Sumac, I learned from the New York Times crossword puzzle, was in a movie called "Secret of the Incas" with Charlton Heston. I can sort of imagine it (well, the movie isn't obtainable on DVD, so I have to imagine it): Chuck looking like Indiana Jones, replete with whip, stumbles into a clearing high in the mountains of Peru, only to find Yma Sumac, no doubt fronting a sizable band, already deep into the mambo.

Actually, what IMDB has to say about it is that Heston's character, an adventurer named Harry Steele,
"...teams up with Elena Antonescu (Nicole Maurey), an Iron Curtain refugee fleeing from the MKVD. Is there a chance they will end up in a bickering love-hate relationship?...Is there a chance that Yma Sumac (billed third on the posters and ads and special billed in the film), who can't act but can sing, will sing a few songs?...Is there a chance that these trite-sounding questions will develop into a film that is far from trite and vastly entertaining? Dang right, there is."

The fact that Chuck's character is named a short, simple, blunt & decisive homophone for 'hairy steel' is no accident. He seems to have spent his entire career inhabiting characters similarly named. Indeed, his first film, a 1941 adaptation of "Peer Gynt" had him in the lead role. And after that we have him as:
Boake Tackman in "Ruby Gentry" (1952)
The same year, he appears as Brad Braden (someone was working overtime on that one), circus manager extraordinaire, in "The Greatest Show on Earth", which was an Oscar winner for best picture and best writing. It's still a fucking hilarious movie in all the ways that were not intended. Any time Chuck opens his mouth, it's funny, in the same way that Walter Brennan, Andy Devine and Gabby Hayes always are, except they never told themselves they were Great Actors, I suspect.
(Oh, and every stagehand should see this, if only for the extensive rigging-with-nothin'-but-lotsa-ropes sequences.)

Ed Bannon in "Arrowhead" (1953)

In the Netflix description for "The Naked Jungle" (1954), he isn't named, but is described as 'a rugged, self-made man'. The title is hilarious because I believe it to be a conflation of both "The Naked City" and "The Asphalt Jungle", which had both done pretty well right before this.

Capt. Colt Saunders in the imaginatively named "Three Violent People" (1957)
Steve Leech in "The Big Country" (1958)
Hank O'Hara in "Skyjacked" (1972)
Detective Robert Thorn in "Soylent Green" (1973)
Alan Murdock in "Airport 1975" (1974)
Sam Burgard in "The Last Hard Men" (1976)
Lee Cahill in "The Nairobi Affair" (1984)
and 'Good Actor' in "Wayne's World Two" (1993).

At various points in his life, Chuck got to portray Moses, God, Andrew Jackson, Marc Antony (on at least two occasions), Sir Thomas More, Henry VIII, Michealangelo, John the Baptist, Thomas Jefferson (on several occasions), El Cid, Lt. William Clark (of, you know, 'Lewis and...' fame), Buffalo Bill Cody, and MacBeth (on television, as is the case with most of these roles).

So he was already known as one of the biggest scenery-chewers in the bizness, and yet continued falling higher and higher (from Moses in "The Ten Commandments" to God in "The Greatest Story Ever Told"?). He was not a good actor at all, but I could watch the guy read a phone book. Of course, it figures that he'd spend his golden years making weird religious documentaries.

Among these are "Mysterious Origins of Man" (1999), which Netflix describes thusly: "Among its more provocative assertions is that humans actually lived with dinosaurs, a conclusion based on evidence recovered from Peruvian grave robbers and other evidence that has long been locked away in museum storage."
Um, so after Indiana Jones leaves Yma Sumac mambo-ing high atop Macchu Picchu, he enters into more or less open war with those damn bureaucrats and ivory tower pointy-headed intellectuals who want to take our guns and hide all the evidence of...Several different crackpot theories coming strangely together?
The synopsis also notes "The program originally aired on NBC amid a considerable cloud of controversy in 1996." NBC? Really? The Liberal Media?

After that, he tackles the hard facts on "The Garden of Eden" (2003), "Jonah and the Whale" (also 2003), "Samson and Delilah" (these are all from 2003), "Sodom and Gomorrah", "David and Goliath", "Joshua and the Battle of Jericho", "Joseph and the Coat of Many Colors", "Daniel and the Lion's Den" and "The Last Supper, Crucifixion and Resurrection". These are all described as "colorfully animated", although by the time we get to the crucifixion, it is demoted to "in an animated fashion (emphasis mine)".
So yeah; they're all for kids. Although I believe I've seen live-action Chuck in the Holy Land, explaining the Bible times, too. After this, he records a salute to Ed Sullivan and moves on to something called "America Home of the Brave" (2004), in which
"An all-star lineup of Hollywood celebrities -- including Charlton Heston, Chuck Norris and Tom Selleck -- pay tribute to the patriotic past of the United States with musings about the Old West, the Civil War and a trove of national treasures. Other stars of epic films... weigh in on the importance of honoring America's history."

Well, that sounds great...His last project was a Vietnam retrospective, which I've not seen...
Really though, there are just those people who on some level deep down -against all evidence to the contrary- you suspect will never die. Chuck Heston was one of them, as he seemed to spring from the Earth Itself, and was carved out of solid oak. Or granite. Mike Granite! Self made, grizzled, determined man!

And a full-on jackass, in so many ways. Another one of the many examples of how professional pains-in-the-ass just keep on keepin' on, largely because the rest of us believe that if we humor them long enough, maybe they'll go away. They never do, and ultimately leave the stage only when God (as portrayed by Charlton Heston?) commands them to do so.

So we bid farewell to Yma Sumac, who had a five-octave range, went out of her way to obscure her origins (including the strong possibility that she was really a nice Jewish girl from Brooklyn named Amy Camus, not a Peruvian priestess at all), and seems to have lived by her own terms, which I think we'd all like.
Farewell also to Mitch Mitchell, a really good drummer who thrived, despite being only three feet tall. Nah, but really though: all the great ones are leaving the stage, as is the case, of course, with us all. It's just strange to note it.

Actually, that wasn't my point; I just wanted to write something about Charlton Heston because he amused me so much.



Blogger Aunty Christ said...

We have to get "Mysterious Origins of Man." I can't believe I missed its network airing. We could watch it after that DVD about the evil Muslims and have a theme night of Stupid.

5:47 PM  
Blogger Aunty Christ said...

Oh my god. It's online. I won't watch it now, in case you want to watch it with me. This is the best thing that's happened to me in months.

Also, your word-verification word right now is "spins," which I find oddly relevant.

5:59 PM  
Blogger rich bachelor said...

And you'll note that I completely forgot the Andrew Wyeth documentary he hosted:

"Hi folks, I'm...Charlton Heston. You know, as an actor, I care a lot about painting..."

11:25 AM  
Blogger disco boy said...

mitch mitchell meets maker.

yeah, i liked that guy. chuck heston, not so much. in celebrity math terms, i formulated: palance+shatner= heston. but mitch, as you noted, was an excellent drummer, especially for being able to sleep in a drawer. you saved a lot of money touring with mitch.

3:09 PM  
Blogger rich bachelor said...

And you, my friend, might be pleased to hear that Satan is posting on his blog again. Hail Satan.

An oblique comment on celebrity? Hardly!

6:35 PM  
Blogger Bryce Digdug said...

I saw "Secret of the Incas" at the Castro Theater. I think Yma's only line was "More iodine".

9:03 PM  

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