Big Bird From Sesame Street

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On the way back to Cleveland where we lived at the time from New York, where I had just been to my Dad’s retirement party, I sat down on the plane next to a very nice man and his wife. They also seemed to be traveling with a gentleman a row ahead of us. The two men were exchanging all kinds of funny lines back and forth which finally led me to ask if he was a comedian. He answered very shyly “I”m Big Bird”! I didn’t really know Sesame Street that well at the time-I only had Kate who was 6 months old. In the end, he invited my family with extra tickets to bring another family(our best friends) to come to Blossom Music Center-he was going there to conduct the Cleveland Orchestra for Father’s Day. He told me all about his role as Big Bird-he had been in every major parade,been to literally almost all countries, been on Hollywood Squares repeatedly,met millions of movie stars and yet could travel like he was as a “normal” person, as he called it. That friend who we invited to go to Blossom and see him sent me this article that recently came out. Thank you, Nancy! Here is a picture of Kate,Tom Johnson and me with Big Bird in June 1984:

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from the Los Angeles Times-May 6,2015 by Patrick Kevin Day

“There aren’t many octogenarian entertainers who have managed to stay relevant in the ever-changing cultural zeitgeist, but then there haven’t been many people who have played Big Bird. Caroll Spinney helped create the big yellow bird for PBS’ “Sesame Street” in 1969, and he’s been playing the character ever since-for 45 years.

And if that isn’t impressive enough, he’s also played Oscar the Grouch for the same number of years. Although Big Bird is an international star, Spinney, 81, has mostly remained hidden behind the feathers. But an Oscar season parody of the film “Birdman” titled “Big Birdman Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Orange Pants),” which went viral, and the new documentary “I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story” (opening May 15) are finally giving the veteran puppeteer his due. And as “Sesame Street” heads into its 46th season, he has no plans to retire.”

Q-“Watching “I Am Big Bird” is a very emotional experience for someone who is just a fan. How was it for you to watch?”

A-“It was something else, because I don’t like to make it a big deal that I’m on TV. I just have a wonderful job. I’m used to seeing characters I play on movies and things but not to see myself. [My wife] Debra and I didn’t realize it was going to be a romantic movie about our love affair. Well, it’s not an affair — we’ve been together for 42 years come June. It’s a joyous 42 years, let me tell you, the way we get along. If everyone in the world got along the way we get along, divorce would be almost unknown.”

Q-“The film makes extensive use of your home movies. Are you constantly shooting them?”

A-“That’s probably only 1% of everything we have. It took them 4 and a half years to go through everything to put [the documentary] together. We gave them boxes and boxes of stuff. We had 8mm films and even some 16mm. I used to be an animator, and they used some of that here and there in the show. They came in three separate cars to our house, and their back seats and trunks were completely filled with boxes of films and videotapes and photographs. They put it all on DVD for us, which is great, even though I keep a VHS player in the house so we can put in a videotape now and then.”

A-“Yes, definitely. It was the second time I was in the White House performing for a bunch of U.N. children from different countries in the costumes of their land. I’m trying to walk out of the scene — we were performing in the East Wing — and I stepped on one child’s lap. I heard this sound, and I thought it was a squeaky toy it was so small. I didn’t hurt the child, thankfully. I can’t see down, and there’s no way to see out. The only connection to the outer world is through the little, tiny TV set I’m wearing on my chest.”

A-“It was a joke I told when we first worked together three years before we went to China. In 1976, I was invited to be on “The Bob Hope Special.” They wanted Kermit the Frog, but Jim [Henson] was too busy, so he said, “You can have the bird.” One of the writers said they could make some jokes for the bird, but when I got there, they were all Col. Sanders fried chicken jokes. I thought he could do better.”

So I was in the bird [suit] when he walked onto the stage in front of 300 people. It was the warmup period before they start the tape. Big Bird looks at him — he was known for his swoopy nose — and says, [Big Bird voice] “Boy, I thought I had a funny-looking beak.” Here he is, one of the greatest comedians in the world and he laughed so hard he almost hit the floor. He laughed so hard, he had to put his hand down to catch himself. That was satisfying. It won him over, and it got me all the way to China.”

Q-“Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch are two of the most popular “Sesame Street” characters, but since you do both, are they never able to meet?”

A-“I was asked to be on “The Colbert Report” last year as Big Bird and Oscar. But when we got there, we discovered they wanted both characters on at the same time. Stephen Colbert didn’t know one man plays them both. We called Joey Mazzarino, our head writer, who’s a very good puppeteer as well. He agreed to zip over and do Oscar. I pre-recorded Oscar’s words, so it sounded right.”

Q-“You’ve gotten to meet and work with so many people through Big Bird. Your wife, Debra, says in the documentary that you still haven’t met Paul McCartney. Has that changed?”

A-“Not yet, but I’m determined. One time, we heard when he was a guest on some show, he said he would love to do a children’s show that had rock ‘n’ roll in it. I said, “I want to be with him on that special.” I told our cameraman, Dave Driscoll, who’s also a cameraman for him when he plays big arenas, to mention it to him. He comes back from tour and I say, “Did you see him? Did you tell him?”

He says, “Yeah, I said, ‘Paul, Big Bird wants to do something with you.'” Paul says, “Doesn’t he know I’m married?” That’s not what I’m talking about! I’m a happily married dude!”

 

One Of My Favorite Things and it is 49, Going On 50…

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Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, photographed in New York City.
Photograph by Annie Leibovitz.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of The Sound of Music, which first captivated audiences in 1965. Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer reflect on the making of the classic, their decades-long friendship, as well as the mountains they’ve climbed since then.

On a late afternoon last winter she and Christopher Plummer met me at the Loews Regency Hotel, in Manhattan, to talk about the 50th anniversary of the movie version of The Sound of Music, which is being re-released in theaters in April. For anyone who saw it originally, in 1965, it hardly seems possible that so much time has passed. Now that Plummer is 85 and Andrews is 79, you can imagine how they feel.

It was during the filming of The Sound of Music that Andrews and Plummer began a friendship, which, half a century later, is still going strong. Andrews’s husband, Blake Edwards, directed Plummer in The Return of the Pink Pantherin 1975, and they remained friendly until the director’s death, in 2010. (Edwards and Andrews had been married for 41 years; Plummer has been married to his wife, Elaine, since 1970.) In 2001, Andrews and Plummer co-starred in a live television production of On Golden Pond, and in 2002 they toured the U.S. and Canada together in a stage extravaganza called A Royal Christmas. By now, they have perfected the well-worn patter of an old married couple themselves.

Once Andrews’s kettle was pressed into service and the tea was brewed and poured, the two of them settled onto the couch in a suite to talk. They had just returned from a photo shoot. I asked how it went, and Andrews leapt in: “Well, I was dressed in black. He was dressed in black. We were against some white, I think. I had a great pair of earrings, and my hair was really exciting. It was done up rather wildly.”

“You didn’t notice me at all, did you?” Plummer asked wanly.

“No, I didn’t,” she answered vigorously.

He pouted. “I haven’t eaten anything for days,” he announced.

She responded on cue. “Oh, honeybun, that’s terrible!”

Heartened, he continued, “There was a charity dinner last night, and the food was so awful nobody ate anything.” She fumbled through her bags. He looked on hopefully, but she landed on a bottle of Advil. “I have to have these—I’m sorry,” she said, shaking out a few pills, which dropped onto the carpet. She picked them up and swallowed them anyway. “There were just so many stairs today,” she said, continuing to dig until she unearthed a Kashi peanut-butter granola bar. “I brought half a peanut-butter cookie with me,” she told him cajolingly.

He eyed it shrewdly. “Not half,” he said. “A quarter.”

O.K., guys. Part of the reason we’re here today is to talk about your 50-year friendship.

“What do you mean, friendship?” Andrews asked.

“Exactly,” Plummer said.

Through the decades, Plummer has remained unabashedly ornery about playing Captain von Trapp. He was, even in the early 1960s, a celebrated stage actor and chose to do the film primarily as training for playing Cyrano de Bergerac in a Broadway musical (a role that would not materialize until 1973). Instead, at 34, with gray highlights in his hair, he found himself shipwrecked aboard what he considered the Good Ship Lollipop as an unwitting party to seven chipper children, a warbling nun, and a bosun’s whistle. Indeed, whenThe Sound of Music was released, the reviews were awful. Pauline Kael trounced it as “mechanically engineered” to transform the audience into “emotional and aesthetic imbeciles when we hear ourselves humming the sickly, goody-goody songs.” In The New York Times, Bosley Crowther allowed that Andrews “goes at it happily and bravely” while noting that the other adult actors “are fairly horrendous, especially Christopher Plummer as Captain von Trapp.”

Whether Plummer likes it or not, the legacy of The Sound of Music feeds his currency. The incurably handsome, subtly grieving, widowered Captain von Trapp was always the heartthrob in the movie, never Rolf, the twerpy teenage messenger boy. The fact that it took a guitar-playing nun with bad clothes and good values to trump the elegant yet shallow Baroness is pure Hollywood justice. Off-screen, the well-born Plummer (his great-grandfather Sir John Abbott was prime minister of Canada) spent his life compensating as a notorious bad boy—drinking and carousing, skewering himself with self-deprecating humor as he happily trashed the conceited or self-important along the way. His 2008 memoir, In Spite of Myself, is a show-business tour de force.

Andrews is a different animal altogether. The Sound of Music followed Mary Poppins by six months; they were preceded by her Broadway triumph as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady. Jack Warner famously rejected her for the movie version of My Fair Lady, hiring Audrey Hepburn instead (and dubbing her singing voice). During the 1965 Golden Globe awards, when Andrews won best actress in a musical or comedy for Mary Poppins, she made it a point to thank Warner in her acceptance speech.

She has been a movie star ever since. Although frozen in the minds of millions as an improbable hybrid of nanny and nun, Andrews is much more, obviously; her triumph both on-screen and onstage in her husband’s Victor/Victoria is an example of her range, along with her critically acclaimed dramatic turn in the film version of Duet for One. Besides her preternatural singing voice, what has always defined her is plain hard work. During rehearsals for My Fair Lady, her co-star, Rex Harrison, was disdainful of her dramatic abilities and wanted her replaced. The director, Moss Hart, dismissed the cast to spend 48 hours working solely with Andrews to improve her performance. As she tells it in her memoir, Home, when Hart finished, his wife, Kitty Carlisle Hart, asked how it went. “Oh, she’ll be fine,” Moss replied wearily. “She has that terrible British strength that makes you wonder how they ever lost India.”

 

-excerpts from Vanity Fair Hollywood

 

Massachusetts Groundhog??!

So if it is not enough that we have now won the Super Bowl with the Patriots,we also now have our own groundhog  to predict the weather for the next six weeks! This is the story:

Ms. G’s Campaign for Massachusetts’s State Groundhog!

Longtime Boston TV Meteorologist Mish Michaels led the campaign to make Ms. G the State Groundhog for the Commonwealth. Ms. G’s official duties now include posting a forecast on February 2nd, Groundhog Day! Mish was joined on the campaign trail by her 8-year old daughter and her daughter’s classmates in Wellesley at the Hunnewell Elementary School.

Mish first met Ms. G, a resident of Drumlin Farm in Lincoln, back in 2007 while working with Mass Audubon on stories for WBZ related to the environment, weather, and climate change. Mish encouraged the Mass Audubon to host an annual Groundhog Day event featuring Ms. G. In 2008, Ms. G posted her first forecast on February 2nd. A star was born! In fact, Ms. G has had better local forecast accuracy with her “shadow/no shadow” forecast than Punxsutawney Phil way down in PA. It is Ms. G’s local weather expertise that inspired Mish to take on the role as Ms. G’s campaign manager.

In early 2013, Mish met with Wellesley Representative Alice Peisch to discuss the road ahead for Ms. G. The goal—not only to have a groundhog with local forecast expertise, but to encourage students to study weather by making Ms. G the official State Groundhog. Representative Peisch crafted language for the proposed bill, H.2864.

The Ms. G Bill was debated by the Senate on Thursday, July 17, 2014 and was overwhelmingly passed. First grade students from Hunnewell Elementary who helped lead the campaign were on the floor of the Senate to be part of this historic vote. Once the bill was passed, the students were treated to a standing ovation and many “high fives” by Senators.

On Monday, July 21, 2014, the Ms. G Bill passed both final House and Senate votes and on Thursday, July 31, 2014, Governor Deval Patrick signed H.2864, making Ms G the Official Massachusetts State Groundhog. Congratulations to the second graders at the Hunnewell School in Wellesley for their successful legislative campaign which started when they were in kindergarten!

You can buy Mish’s book on Amazon.com.

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Working on Downton

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The only thing that is good about this terrible period of time with no  new Downton is that more is coming in January 2015 and that they are working on the scenes as we speak….

When last we left Downton Abbey, the Crawley family was teaming up to rescue the Prince of Wales from a royal scandal, while Paul Giamatti was making his first appearance as Cara’s boorish brother.

From the looks of it, the British drama is about to enter its P.G. Wodehouse years, with the ornate finery of the pre-war era giving way to a more casual definition of elegance. (That means tweed. Lots and lots of tweed.)

To pass the time without smartphones, the cast relies on classic English parlor games to pass the time, just like the aristocracy of yore.

“Playing Wink Wink Murder – that helps at dining room table scenes,” revealed Michelle Dockery who plays Lady Mary.

Dockery was also keen to dispel reports that, as her TV husband Dan Stevens did, she’s about to leave Downton.

“I’m here ’till the end,” she told the magazine, “whenever that may be.”

Downtown Abbey‘s fifth season will premiere in America in January 2015, according to PBS Creator Julian Fellowes has said he hopes the show will be broadcast simultaneously in the U.S. and the U.K.

“It’s mind-boggling to me that now we have 16 million viewers in China,”  says Joanne Froggatt (who plays the maid Anna) at a panel discussion on the Paramount lot hosted by the TV Academy in May.

Among their fans you can count Julia Roberts, who hugged Julian Fellowes at a party (“it’s the highlight of my life so far,” he joked); Mick Jagger, who told Laura Carmichael he loves the show, per Robert James-Collier (under-butler Thomas Barrow); and Jon Hamm, who thrilled Phyllis Logan (housekeeper Mrs. Hughes) by giving her a kiss.

Among the common folk, Fellowes related how a woman followed him at a Barnes and Noble and begged, “please make Lady Edith happy.”

-excerpts from Variety and The Hollywood Reporter

 

Cokie Roberts and Founding Mothers

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We were lucky enough to have Cokie Roberts speak to us in Concord tonight about the role of women in the Revolutionary War. At the Concord Museum we currently have an exhibit entitled “The Shot Heard Round the World:April 19,1775″” so this tied into the exhibit perfectly. She was both humorous and extremely interesting as she led us through her investigation of the role women played behind the scenes. Cokie is the author of several books on this topic-“Founding Mothers-The Women Who Raised Our Nation” which looks at the patriotic and passionate women whose tireless pursuits on behalf of their families-and their country-proved just as crucial to the forging of the new nation as the rebellion that established it. “We Are Our Mother’s Daughters” examines the nature of woman’s roles throughout history as well.

Cokie Roberts is a very familiar voice to anyone who’s listened to NPR over the past three and a half decades. She worked as NPR’s congressional correspondent for ten years before she moved into TV and became co-anchor with Sam Donaldson of  ABC’s “This Week”.

Currently she is a political commentator for NPR’s Morning Edition and ABC News. In addition, in her latest book that is for children and came out earlier this year, Cokie examines how the wives, mothers and sisters of America’s founding fathers helped forge the nation.

It tells the story of some of America’s first first ladies, including Martha Washington, Abigail Adams and Dolly Madison, as well as patriots like Deborah Sampson, who disguised herself as a man and fought in the revolution. This children’s book is based on Founding Mothers based  but this is an illustrated children’s version. It’s called “Founding Mothers: Remembering the Ladies.”

-excerpts from Radio Boston

 

Beautiful

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I went to NYC this past weekend and while there saw “Beautiful” which tells the story of Carole King from her early days as a Brooklyn teenager (named Carol Klein) struggling to enter the record business to her years spent as a chart-topping music legend.

It also touches on the friendship and competition between Gerry Goffin and Carole King(who were married) with Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil to create the best hits of that time period in the 60’s.

Much to our surprise the REAL Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil were there at the performance we went to! They raffled off the original sheet music to “On Broadway” and “You’ve Lost That Lovin’Feeling” (which they wrote) at the end of the performance.

With the music and the choreography which showed the songwriters busy at work( and then suddenly “The Drifters” or “The Shirelles” would appear and sing the song as we all know it), it really brought back a lot of great memories and I highly recommend seeing it. Jessie Mueller is absolutely fabulous as Carole King-you can feel her confidence growing as her singing gets stronger and stronger.And of course, the rest is history once “Tapestry” was produced.

 

Thank Heaven for GPS!

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If there was ever a justification needed for space technology, it’s that it keeps people like me from constantly being lost. These days, my car GPS and iphone are much better than me at getting around thanks to a fleet of satellites that tells them where they are at all times.

Though not a particularly romantic anniversary, last month marks 25 years since the first satellite in the U.S. Global Positioning System launched from Cape Canaveral, beginning the set up for one of the wonders of the modern world. In the two and a half decades since then, GPS has become inextricably embedded into just about everything we own, finding use in cartography, smart phone apps, geotagging and geocaching, disaster relief, and hundreds of other applications, while simultaneously raising privacy concerns.

GPS relies on at least 24 satellites flying 20,000 kilometers overhead in one of six different orbital paths, tracing out what looks like a toy model of an atom. With their solar panels extended, each of these 1-ton satellites is about the same size as a giraffe. At any given moment, each satellite beams out a signal identifying itself and giving its time and location.

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A model showing the 24 original GPS satellites in orbit and a point on the Earth rotating. Animation: El pak/Wikimedia

Your GPS-enabled phone or car captures that signal and compares the time it was received to the time it was transmitted. A quick calculation involving the speed of light allows the device to figure out the distance to that satellite. If you have your distance to two or three satellites, you can triangulate your position on the Earth. When all the GPS satellites are working, a user always has at least four in view, allowing them to determine things like altitude, speed, and direction.

In September of 1973, the top brass met at the Pentagon and came up with what would eventually become known as the Navigation System Using Timing and Ranging program, called Navstar-GPS, which was later shortened to just GPS. Between 1978 and 1985, the military launched 11 satellites (10 of which worked) to test the new GPS system.

After Korean Air Lines  flight 007 was shot down in 1983 for wandering into prohibited U.S.S.R. airspace, President Reagan promised that GPS would be opened up for civilian use on passenger aircraft once it was completed. The first GPS satellite in the modern fleet launched on Feb. 14, 1989. The Air Force had planned to use the space shuttle for this launch in 1986 but was delayed by the Challenger disaster and eventually used a Delta II rocket. The full GPS fleet was completed in 1994 and now at least 32 satellites are in orbit to provide redundancy. During the same time, the Russians developed and launched GLONASS, which works on principles similar to GPS, and is currently the only alternative location-finding system in the world.

At its beginning, the U.S. military feared that GPS technology would be used by enemies, and purposely degraded civilian information so that it could only provide accurate location information to within 100 meters. In 2000, President Clinton had this feature turned off and now civilian devices are usually accurate to within 5 to 10 meters. The European Union and China are currently building their own global navigation systems, known as Galileo and Beidou, respectively, that will serve as further alternatives to GPS in the coming decade. It seems likely that folks in the future will never have to worry about being lost again.

excerpts from Wikepedia and Adam Mann in Map Lab article