Sunday, July 21, 2013

That Borgnine Guy

I just realized that it has been a little over a year since classic Hollywood actor Ernest Borgnine passed away. For me it was one of the sadder celebrity deaths of the past decade. Sure, he was 95 but it weirdly felt like he left too soon. From all appearances he was still pretty sharp and he was still working regularly (perhaps there was some validity to his personal "secret" to staying young). I just assumed that he would always be around, just popping up in random roles on TV, usually playing a lovable, smiling, old guy.

In addition to being one of my all time favorite actors, Borgnine's guest cameo on the Simpsons' 5th season classic, "Boy-Scoutz 'n the Hood" is in my top tier of Simpsons guest cameos. In fact, his first appearance in the episode is my all time favorite introductory scene of any guest star on the show.

The mere 20 seconds from when Ned addresses poor Warren to when the children cheer the arrival Mr. Borgnine contains at least six points of humor:
  • First there's the initial reveal that Warren's father can't make it to the father/son Junior Campers rafting trip because he's in prison. 
  • At the announcement of a special celebrity dad being assigned, Warren tries to offer his older brother as a substitute; which Flanders promptly writes off. 
  • It's revealed that the "celebrity" is Ernest Borgnine; a choice that's equal parts random and brilliant. 
  • Borgnine then makes his big entrance out of the adjacent bathroom, indicating that he's been in there the whole time. I also love the additional detail of him still wiping his hands and then just balling up the paper towel and casually tossing it aside. 
  • Borgnine then mentions how he assumes this room full of 8 year olds would know him best for his early role as Sgt. "Fatso" Judson from the 1953 Best Picture winner "From Here to Eternity" (in reality a contemporary room full of 8 year old would probably know him best from his voice work as Mermaid Man on "SpongeBob SquarePants"). On a personal note, for years I could have sworn he said "the lovable Sgt. 'Fatso' Judson" which would have been extra ridiculous considering the character is a sadistic villain in the film.
  • After Borgnine makes his introduction, the scene ends with all the kids (with the notable exception of Bart and Warren who wonderfully maintain their respective expressions of bewilderment and unhappiness throughout the whole scene) inexplicably bursting into cheers.
The whole brief sequence is a fantastic example of the amazing attention to detail and density of jokes that made the "classic era" of the show so acclaimed and memorable. Killer stretches like this were just routinely being throw out by the show week after week for most of that first decade and it was all the more sweeter that the great Ernest Borgnine got to be a small part of it.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Double Threats

Those of you who follow the Billboard Hot 100 every week (and of course who doesn't?) will have no doubt noticed that quirky little hit that just won't quit "Cups (Pitch Perfect's When I'm Gone)" by Anna Kendrick from the movie "Pitch Perfect" has made it all the way to an astounding #10 on the charts. Now those of you who follow this blog (and of course who doesn't?) will recall that I posted about my strange fascination with the song in April back when it was at #59 on the charts; which I had thought at the time was equally unbelievable. Despite the movie having been released in September of last year, this unusual tune just keeps on steadily climbing up the charts for one reason or another. Apparently this latest surge was due to the premiere of the film on HBO. Also, I'm sure Billboard's recent move towards counting Youtube views didn't hurt them either.

That being said, I started to wonder if there were any other cases of an Academy Award nominated actor/actress (from the four major acting categories) with a top ten hit in the modern Billboard era to their credit. So I spent the better part of the end of work last Friday thinking up and checking out possible nominees.There were a bunch of nominees/winner that came to mind who were originally successful musical artists (I think they've all had at least a #1 hit) that also successfully dabbled in acting: Frank Sinatra, Bobby Darin, Diana Ross, Bette Midler, Barbara Streisand, Cher, and Will Smith (who I guess is now primarily an actor at this point). I didn't count them.

Then there were a few notable borderlines cases. Best actress winner Gwyneth Paltrow had an Adult Contemporary #1 with her cover of "Crusin" with Huey Lewis in 2000 and just missed when the Glee Cast's "Forget You",which she was a featured artist, topped out at #11 on the Hot 100 in 2010. Dan Aykroyd (would you believe he got a best supporting actor nomination for "Driving Miss Daisy"?) was technically part of charity super group USA for Africa of the chart topping "We Are The World" fame, but I don't think it's fair to count charity singles (this also disqualifies Oscar winner Jeff Bridges who was part of Artists for Haiti which took "We Are The World 25 for Haiti" to #2 in 2010. I assume the lack of Dan Aykroyd this time around caused it to stall at #2). To his credit Aykroyd did have a #1 album with the Blues Brothers and their cover of "Soul Man" was a #14 hit. UK #1's also don't count for Oscar winner Nicole Kidman who had one with a duet of "Somethin' Stupid" with Robbie Williams in 2001 and nominee Telly Savales whose insane, Shatner-esque spoken word cover of Bread's "If" somehow was a chart topper in 1975.

This leaves five actors that I believe fit my requirements. Two time nominee John Travolta had a #10 hit with "Let Her In" in 1976 and of course "You're the One That I Want" with Olivia Newton-John from Grease was a #1 in 1978. Best actor winner Jamie Foxx probably has the most successful music career for someone that is primarily an actor. He as two featured #1's ("Gold Digger" with Kanye West in 2005 and "Slow Jamz" with Twista featuring Kanye West in 2005) in addition to two top 10 hits of his own ("Unpredictable" at #8 in 2005 and "Blame It" at #2 in 2009). Eddie Murphy's lone top 10 hit "Party All the Time" in 1985 came 22 years before his Oscar nomination for "Dream Girls" in 2007. Then you get to two personal favorites of mine. Two time nominee, the late Richard Harris and his gloriously ridiculous #2 hit from 1968 "MacArthur Park". And then there's legendary character actor Walter Brennan who won a record three Best Supporting Actor Oscars between 1936 to 1940, including the first one ever given, whose single "Old Rivers", an old timey mostly spoken word story song, bafflingly reached #5 in 1962.

Kudos to you Anna Kendrick, you're in some distinguish, and strange, company.