Wednesday, June 10, 2020

The Entertainer

Make ‘em Laugh

“Let me entertain you, let me make you smile…” Sondheim wrote that lyric for a Broadway musical about a strip-tease artist and I think it should generally be the goal of this fully clothed blogger as well. Still… nearly a hundred years earlier, W.S. Gilbert’s poetic advice to a court jester: “there are one or two rules, that all family fools, must observe if they love their profession,” seems to hold true now more than ever. How to keep it light…how to make them smile, in times like these, indeed.

It’s not as if there is a scarcity of stories… like Jimmy Durante before me, “I gotta million of ‘em.” And I am not limited to Cagney & Lacey, The Trials of Rosie O’Neill or Daniel Boone. I have yarns about my tenure on Charlie’s Angels, other adventures from other shows, the world’s best Network meeting, and a few of the world’s worst. I literally have a book load of material to dribble out, in the unlikely event there’s a week where I can think of nothing to say.

For those of you who have forgotten, the book is called Cagney & Lacey… and me and I commend it to you via  if you want it personally autographed, or get it through the iTunes guys, or Amazon, if you want your purchase to be less sociable. Or, you could just be patient and read excerpts one blog at a time on this site. You may miss some of the flow of the original, but (hey) cheap is cheap… you want to read the book without paying, you gotta take it the way it’s doled out.

I’ve got stories about pitching an opera... an OPERA… honest to God… to a Network exec no less. I know, I know. There’s a reason they call it A-B-C. Or I could write about my grandmother, Fanny, who could be a laugh riot (when she wasn’t undergoing shock therapy). My days at USC were better than most, and the early days of my career, starting at MGM as an office boy and meeting Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Marlon Brando, Shirley MacLaine, Elizabeth Taylor, and John Wayne (when I wasn’t following Cyd Charisse, who looked absolutely fabulous in heels, a glen plaid double breasted jacket and a straight shirt that clung to her incredible body….)

But I digress.

There were some drinking bouts with Paul Newman, stories about Olympic champions I have known, and being on the set with such giants as John Ford, Martin Ritt, Tony Richardson (yuck), William Wyler, Patty Chayefsky, Vincente Minelli, seeing Barbra Streisand for the first time on Broadway. There is an entire other memoir in my head titled Cagney & Lacey…before and after, not to mention Notes from a Warm Island chronicling my 25 years on the Florida Island named for Carl Fisher.

The point is, there is no dearth of material. I’ve got plenty of stories to tell. The problem is how to be entertaining considering all that is going on in America today. Do I take the tack that things are so tough everyone deserves a break and a laugh? Tell that to my granddaughters. They are on the barricades, and they want old gramps at their side.

I can’t blame them. They have been hearing me rail about the system for all their lives. I think they believe, it is time for me to put up or shut up. Yet here I sit, at my desk on Fisher Island… the ultimate gated community, attempting to shame multi-millionaires to not have the Island’s Club apply for financial assistance from the government. That is the sum total of my contribution.

I know I should be out there on the balustrades. I know that black lives matter. I know how cruel white America can be to anyone of color, be they native Americans, black, Latino or Asian. I know that the stock market is not really a valid indicator for what kind of economy we really have, let alone what kind of a country this truly is.

Hey, kids… I am 82. Give me a break. I was ready to move, in protest, to Canada, but people my age need a warm climate and, frankly, I just cannot deal with the stress of trying to order an avocado salad in Greek…. or Italian.

I am also enjoying building up this column… happy to be communicating with so many friendly people long distance. (God forbid any of them were to show up at my door… which comes under the general heading of “scratch a liberal and you’ll find a monarchist.”) I don’t want to offend by lecturing people in this forum as to what they ought to be doing.

Okay… here is what they ought to be doing: first thing they should recognize is that what Americans have really gotten good at in the last fifty years or so is how to evade and avoid taxation. C’mon folks. This country was put together for one main reason: to provide for the common defense. It’s in Article 1 of the Constitution. Everyone agrees on that. Some want to build a wall to make that happen, or build bigger bombs; some want to pull up the bridge over the moat and not let anyone come in, and some realize that the common defense we should be focusing on is not only foreign invasion or domestic crazies. We also need to defend against disease and ignorance and so we need a country with a health care system that actually works… for everyone, an educational system that uplifts instead of perpetuates the status quo, and a judicial system that functions for everyone, not just the rich and the white.

There should be zero deductions on the income tax form.  After the first $50K (which would be tax free) all other income would be taxed at a flat rate of 50%.  One half is for you and the other half is for the society in which you live… a society that would then be able to end discrimination, create opportunity for it citizens, have great health care for everyone, a brilliant educational system for children and adults, a new electrical grid, a place that would be safe to live in, with decent roads and bridges and modern airports and the latest in non-polluting train and automated travel.
The world has past the time of the rugged individualist. No one wants to hear any more about how you built… “all by yourself” …your mail order fortune from nothing. You live in a country with a post office and a transportation system that made your business possible, and there is enough security throughout the land so that you can be reasonably assured it is unnecessary to hire a private platoon of armed guards to protect your ever growing stash.

And what about the relentless capitalist who is first in line for government bailouts when things get tough? Not sure what you call someone who is a capitalist on the upswing and a socialist on the down, but “self-made” does not resonate.

The same goes for those who pay sub-standard wages and rely on the generosity of customers to provide tips that are so low their employees need food stamps. There is no fairness in a world where McDonalds gets richer while we as taxpayers subsidize their work force.

The minimum wage should be $25 per hour. If you cannot afford to pay that, do the work yourself or fold your company. If your business is so bad that it cannot pay a living wage to its employees, it should not exist.

Remember, Americans are supposed to get as their birth right “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Try to do that in the 21st century without a flushing toilet, clean water or a smart phone.

The disparity between rich and the working poor has reached the point of eruption. Revolution is in the air and it could get nasty. Better to give up half of your lucre in taxes then have it all taken away at the guillotine.

And all you folks in Palm Beach, who represent two or three generations of no work while living in your inherited mansions, get ready for the inheritance taxes that after the first $10 mil should be taxed at a rate of 100%. America was not designed for an aristocracy of mortals living off the accomplishments of their ancestors. Especially when the ancestors got rich by paying sub-standard wages (or none at all) to the people who actually did the work. That’s the old world. This is supposed to be the new.

And that’s my spiel. I hope my grandkids are happy now… just a little bit. I hope I haven’t lost too many readers in the process, and now Hailey, Greer and Zoey, may I please go back to my shtick of song and dance…

Let me entertain you, let me make you smile….

Next time. I promise.

Barney Rosenzweig

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