Monday, September 8, 2014

Simon on Celebrity Bowling!

A quick post to announce that MeTV has brought back the Simon episode of Celebrity Bowling! Each week they put up new videos to watch, so this is only available until next Monday. I'm not sure if it's only available to people in the U.S., so I apologize in advance if anyone has trouble playing the video.

Simon is wonderful, as always, and is very good-natured and cheerful. He doesn't say a whole lot, but from what I've read in interviews, that is probably typical of him. He didn't seem to be interviewed often and he had a quiet, humble nature.

~Lucky Ladybug

Friday, August 29, 2014

In Memoriam, 2014

Time and tide wait for no one, and, once again, the wheels of time have moved forward, bringing us 31 years since we lost an amazing and talented actor.  It’s sadly ironic that, two years ago, in 2012, I was composing a memorial post for Simon while still reeling from two additional celebrity deaths that year---Davy Jones and Richard Dawson, and now, in 2014, once again, two additional celebrity deaths are in my immediate consciousness.  Ladybug already spoke about James Garner, who Simon acted alongside in The Rockford Files; she’s already discussed that very eloquently.  The two recently passed I am referring to are Casey Kasem and Robin Williams, both of whom had prominent roles in my childhood---a sentiment which, I am sure, many others can relate to.  Both deaths led to a massive outpouring of love and support and tears from fans; everything from fanarts and fanfics of the characters they brought to life to just general appreciation posts filled the internet---exactly what Ladybug and I have been doing for Simon since we realized just how much he meant to both of us.

A celebrity’s passing can be jarring; if an actor’s role reaches you in a way that you never forget, of course, you’ll feel sad at losing them.  But what if they were gone before you even heard of them---before you were even born?  There’s no shock moment, save for the moment you check their biography and realize, “Oh… they’re gone.”

Ladybug and I had that moment with Simon of course, with each of us discovering this wonderful character actor, only to be followed with disappointment that he had passed before either of us had been born.  It is disappointing, no doubt about that---disappointing that we can’t send him fan mail to let him know that his “trick” (as he called it) of creating multifaceted characters worked, and that we can’t help but marvel at them all---from the despicable Mel Barnes, to the unearthly Empyrian, to the loveable Tony Vincenzo.

Those characters intrigued us, and made us feel things.  We wanted to see Mel Barnes get his comeuppance.  We wanted to believe Jim Nation was telling the truth, and we cheered when he proved his character.  And we wanted to see Tony’s reaction to Carl’s latest monster story.  And that certainly says something about an actor who is able to make people feel things even 31 years after his death.  I have no doubt in saying that Simon’s characters will continue to live on, just as Casey and Robin’s are sure to, as well.

That “Oh… they’re gone” feeling is a terrible one, no doubt.  But what helps in dealing with it is that while the actors are gone, their characters are not.  And when those characters live on---when they still find a way to reach us---it means that an actor has, in a sense, achieved immortality.  Even 31 years later, Simon’s trick of giving characters hidden depths is still working---Ladybug and I noticed, and it’s not even just us.  Just yesterday, TVLand aired “The Clarion” episode of Bonanza, the third of Simon’s guest appearances on that show (purely a coincidence that they happened to air it on Simon’s birthday, but a great coincidence, indeed), earlier this week, Encore Western aired the “Miguel’s Daughter” episode of Gunsmoke, and TCM always seems to have at least one of Simon’s movies listed in their “Upcoming Titles” if you go to his TCM profile---all of which serve as a testimony to the longevity of his many and varied characters.  They’re still relevant.  They still make us feel things.  And no matter how enamored I get with other fandoms and actors, and no matter how hard Patrick Troughton tries to run off with my heart, there’ll always be one heartstring that leads back to Simon’s hand, ready to give a little tug to remind me.

The wheels of time will continue to turn, but the name of Simon Oakland will never be forgotten.

~Crystal Rose

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Happy Birthday, Simon!

And so we now approach another end of August and another year of tribute to an amazing character actor. If Simon were alive today, he would be 99 years old. It’s so strange to think of how long ago it was that he came to this world, and so sad that he left it so soon.

It has been getting difficult to find available things with Simon that we haven’t seen before. So many of his performances are sadly scarce. But I have managed to turn up a few things: two of his Adventures in Paradise episodes and his Stoney Burke episode, Image of Glory.

The two Paradise episodes both feature him as the villain. In one, he does his usual trick of making the character seem human and not just an out-and-out evildoer. In the other, he plays the more rare cold-blooded killer. He has only played a handful of those, of which I’m glad, as I don’t like to see him play characters that terrible. On the other hand, however, I find those performances very impressive, just as I do all of his performances. Bonanza’s Mel Barnes, as repulsive as he is, remains a character whose episode I like to rewatch.

The Stoney Burke character, Sam Hagen, is a good guy, a father dreaming of his son being a rodeo star and unknowingly putting pressure on him to succeed. The son even tries to go into a rodeo event with a badly hurt leg because of not wanting to disappoint his father. Stoney Burke is aware of the leg problem due to encountering the son at the doctor’s office, and he tries to tell Sam what’s going on when it becomes obvious the boy is seriously endangering his health. Although at first Sam doesn’t believe it, he becomes horrified and panicked when he hears the boy going into the ring. He rushes to stop him. Unfortunately, it’s a bit too late and the boy is injured. We don’t know his final fate, but Stoney says that with his family rallying around him, he should be just fine.

Simon delivers a beautiful, heartfelt performance. The character is so believable and never over-the-top in his dreams of his son’s success and his sadness over his own failures. His love for his son shines through at all times and the climatic scene where he rushes to stop the boy is so poignant and powerful. He definitely ranks with my favorite of Simon’s characters.

I’ve also been reviewing some of my other favorite performances of his, most notably Frank Epstein from the Hawaii 5-O episode The Reunion. I remember Crystal spoke about that one at length, but I don’t recall if either of us came onboard to announce that we finally had learned that there was a bit more to the episode than what Netflix’s Streaming was willing to show us. (I really hope they fixed that preposterous error!) The Streaming episode cut off right when Epstein was gripping the gun and forced to make a choice between killing the man who had made him and his friends suffer 25 years ago and had devised a scheme to make them suffer anew in the present, or letting him live.

When the episode finally came on MeTV and I recorded it, I saw the minute or so that had been left out. Frank finally made the choice to let the man live. As Steve McGarrett put it, “He couldn’t break you 25 years ago. Are you going to let him break you now?” Frank lowered the gun and his wretched enemy said to him and Steve, “I have misjudged you. I have misjudged both of you.” Steve looked to Frank, who gave a nod, and turned to limp away on his prosthetic legs. It’s an extremely powerful scene and I am very upset that Netflix Streaming wasn’t showing it! It wasn’t just an error on my computer, since Crystal encountered the same thing when she watched it later.

While watching that episode with my mom the other night, she commented that Simon should have won an award for his performance in that episode. I thoroughly agree.

Sadly, as far as I know, Simon never did win an award for any performance. (If anyone knows otherwise, please let us know!) It is definitely a grave oversight for such an amazing, talented man. But considering Simon’s humility and how he often kept to himself, perhaps in some way it isn’t surprising. It would have been wonderful to see his talents recognized with an Oscar, Emmy, or Tony, but perhaps he was perfectly happy with his talents being recognized and appreciated just by the fans who watched him nearly every week.

As always, I am happy to count myself among those fans and look forward to experiencing more Simon performances, both ones I’ve seen and ones that are new to me.

And I am anxiously waiting for the premiere of Baa Baa Black Sheep on MeTV September 7th! It’s so exciting that on this, the 99th anniversary of Simon’s birth, one of the series featuring him in a starring role will be airing anew on television. And MeTV reaches such a high number of the homes across America that thousands of others will be able to experience this right along with me.

Also as always, the great Simon Oakland lives on, in his performances and in the hearts of those who love him.

Happy Birthday, Simon.

~Lucky Ladybug

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Jim Rockford and Vern St. Cloud

So it’s been a little over a week since the sad passing of James Garner. I suddenly realized that the Simon blog is a perfect place for a tribute, as Simon and James had some wonderful interaction. Really, it wouldn’t be at all right not to do a tribute here.

It was because of Simon that I first tried The Rockford Files. And while it took a long time for me to warm up to the show itself, I was instantly fond of Simon’s hilarious character from three of his four guest-spots. And eventually I was also fond of the priceless interaction between Simon and James Garner.

I found myself wanting to write a story where they try to solve another case together. I wrote up a scene for it, but I could never figure out a plot to go with it. So there it sat for a couple of years, waiting for the perfect plot.

Last summer, thanks to two more of my favorite guest-stars and one of their episodes, I finally had a plot. I wrote a story involving those characters, Ginger Townsend and Lou Trevino from The Queen of Peru, and made that the mystery that Jim and Vern have to solve. While I’ve fleshed out Ginger and Lou a bit differently now than in this story, and I forgot that the fourth jewel thief was caught off-screen in The Queen of Peru episode, overall I’m very proud of my effort. It was so much fun writing this story every step of the way, including Jim and Vern’s interaction. And with a few tweaks, I was able to use that scene I wrote so long ago.

The Rockford Files was definitely an acquired taste for me, but even back then, I liked James Garner as a person. I heard how kind he was to people on the set and I appreciated that. Hearing about how important his family was to him, and that he was married to the same woman all through the years, also added a lot to my respect for him.

I still prefer other shows over The Rockford Files, but gradually, gradually, the more episodes I saw, I began to like and appreciate The Rockford Files for what it was and what it had to offer. It’s certainly one of the most unique private-eye shows ever created! (Meanwhile, I fell in love with the original Maverick instantly, even though I wasn’t that fond of the sequel.)

One of my favorite things about The Rockford Files, which is also one of my mom’s favorite things, is the family element. It’s not usual to find a series about a private detective that shows his family. Frank Cannon’s family was killed. Joe Mannix’s mother is dead and he has a sometimes-rocky relationship with his father (albeit it thankfully improves later). But Jim Rockford’s father is alive and they have a beautiful relationship that is one of the cores of the series.

Character interaction is important on The Rockford Files, whether it concerns cast regulars or guest-stars. And certainly Simon’s Vern St. Cloud is one of the most colorful and unique of the guest-stars! Jim Rockford has never quite known what to make of him. They are two such different people who can never seem to stop clashing.

The first episode, Sticks and Stones, sets it up with both of them being a bit responsible for their problems. Vern is loud and brash and Jim doesn’t like that, nor does Vern like Jim’s easy-going manner or sarcasm. They struggle to solve the case nevertheless, arguing and occasionally getting along on the way.

When Jim exclaims that he doesn’t like what the Waterbury agency is doing to his friends, Vern retorts, “Oh yeah? Am I your friend?” and Jim gives him one of those classic stares as only Jim can and can’t even muster up a verbal reply. Of course, words are not needed; the look says it all. It’s a fun little scene that shows both that Jim really doesn’t like Vern and that Vern is quite aware of that fact. Vern scoffs at the idea that Jim would consider him a friend, and Jim can’t quite seem to wrap his mind around the concept, either.

Interestingly, by the end of the episode, they both seem to feel a little better about each other. Jim acts genuinely friendly, and while Vern can’t quite let go of his pride enough to thank him for helping, he gives a gruffly adorable farewell in the form of instructing, “Don’t take any wooden nickels.” There’s a definite fondness there that was never really brought out again.

It puzzles me how by The House on Willis Avenue there seems to be a complete rift between them, after that lovely epilogue in Sticks and Stones. Vern acts friendly towards Jim, although perhaps it’s falsely so. Jim, meanwhile, comes across as very antagonistic and disliking of Vern, in contrast to his friendliness at the end of Sticks and Stones. He tries to avoid meeting up near the beginning.

In Jim’s defense, the later discovery of Vern in Richie Brockelman’s office is certainly an unpleasant surprise. Vern shouldn’t have broken in there, the rascal. And he has the gall to try to blame Richie for taking a dead P.I.’s caseload, when that’s what Vern himself wanted! But since Jim was displeased to run into Vern long before that scene happened, it couldn’t fully account for Jim’s attitude.

In their final episode together, Nice Guys Finish Dead, the antagonism is fully on both sides, with Jim and Vern equally bitter about each other and their encounters. Either we’ve been having a case of bad writing for their interaction since The House on Willis Avenue or something definitely happened between the characters, off-screen, before that episode. Or else Vern recovering his license made him a much less likable character, since he was returning to the hardboiled world of the private eye and the personality he had cultivated to keep himself alive through the years.

I’ve speculated before that Vern may also hold some level of bitterness or jealousy towards Jim Rockford, who often would prefer fishing but always gets plenty of cases, while Vern is desperate for a case and often doesn’t have one. Vern has been in the “dog-eat-dog” business so much longer than Jim and often has so much bad luck. And especially in The House on Willis Avenue, he seems rather spineless. The bad guys even tell him that when he has his surgery, to make sure the doctors don’t leave out any of his guts; he can’t spare any!

However, Vern’s been a P.I. for over twenty-five years. As I mused before, he must be a lot more competent at the job than he appears to be and Jim thinks he is. No one could survive in that line of work for that many years just on dumb luck. It would have been nice to have seen a little more of Vern’s case-solving, instead of just using him as a sort of idiot comic relief in the latter two episodes and particularly in The House on Willis Avenue. He’s a more well-rounded character in Sticks and Stones. The writers must have decided they liked it better when he didn’t show quite as much depth to his character.

But in any case, bad writing or not, the interaction between the two is always amusing and fun to watch. Their characters clash so beautifully, so perfectly, that I still long for what Wikipedia said to be true, about them solving cases together and snarking at each other along the way. That really only happens in Sticks and Stones, and it’s definitely a missed opportunity that it didn’t continue in the other two episodes. Still, I’m grateful for every bit of interaction that does exist. Any time they’re on screen together, it’s a gem.

It’s a shame the writers couldn’t work in any scenes for them together in Simon’s final episode, Just a Coupla Guys. But these two actors do have one more wonderful bit of screentime together, in James Garner’s short-lived sequel to his other most memorable series. In the Bret Maverick episode A Horse of Yet Another Color, as I recall, Simon plays a shifty character trying to get hold of the titular creature. Unfortunately, it’s been so long since I’ve seen it that I can’t bring up the details. Warner Brothers has finally released the series on DVD, although the price is far too much for one season, especially one that had less episodes than some! But I have been longing to see that episode again for Simon, and for the interaction between him and James Garner. Perhaps someday I shall.

And perhaps meanwhile, these two greats will find some opportunities to perform again together up in Heaven. I sincerely hope so. It would be a treat for everyone up there.

Rest in peace, Mr. Garner. You will be missed by many.

~Lucky Ladybug

Friday, July 25, 2014

Baa Baa Black Sheep returning to television

As usual, we have quite a few things we've seen with Simon piling up that we need to make posts and talk about. But while perhaps by now most readers are aware of this exciting news, I wanted to make sure to sign in and let everyone know, even though by now it's a few days late.

MeTV, one of the retro television channels, perhaps the most widely available one in the United States, has put up teaser trailers of shows they're bringing in the Fall. One of them is unmistakably Baa Baa Black Sheep/Black Sheep Squadron! The teaser features World War II planes in the sky while a snippet of the theme music plays.

This is very exciting news. I'm not sure how often this series has been available in the rerun market, but being on MeTV will certainly give it widespread availability. And with season 2 still not on DVD, here's our chance to pick up all the episodes of this wonderful series with Simon for keeps!

More good news is that MeTV, unlike fellow retro television channel Cozi, tries to make sure that their programs are uncut. I believe only three or four suffer from cut scenes, and that's likely because those were the only prints MeTV was able to get. There's a very good chance Baa Baa Black Sheep will be aired uncut.

As of right now, there are no details such as schedule days and times. My guess is that since there are only around 37 episodes, they will air it once a week. It may air in the early morning on Saturday, booting either Combat! or Twelve O'Clock High. Personally, I hope they will rearrange the schedule so that both of those shows will stay, too.

In any case, let us rejoice in this exciting move by MeTV! Below is the post from their blog featuring the teaser trailers. While you're at it, have a look at the other incoming programs too. There's some great stuff, as always, and some shows that feature guest-spots by Simon.

~Lucky Ladybug