Moderately Interesting Morning Fact Jan. 21: Clap For The Wolfman Edition

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Robert Weston Smith first signed on to the frequencies of planet Earth on this day in 1938. Smith was better known by his alter ego, Wolfman Jack, the outlaw radio DJ of the Mexican deserts. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Wolfman blasted rock ‘n’ roll tunes at top volume from a 250,000-watt station in Ciudad Acuna, Mexico. Smith morphed his moniker from the hipster use of the word Jack, as in “Hit the road, Jack” and his love of horror movies, particularly the Wolfman. The Mexican station was so powerful it could be heard from New York to Los Angeles and made the Wolfman’s growls and howls a subculture phenomenon. It was the Catholics who ended Wolfman’s invasion of American airspace. Mexican, predominately Catholic, grew weary of American evangelists who filled the daytime airwaves while the Wolfman slumbered in his cave. With the big church money gone, the station let Wolfman go, but he returned, selling tapes of his old broadcast as the first syndicated rock and roll radio show. Wolfman let loose his final howl in 1995 when he died of a heart attack in his driveway at age 57.

Moderately Interesting Morning Fact Jan. 20: The Doctor is In Edition

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Thomas Stewart “Tom” Baker made his first appearance on plant Earth on this day in 1934. Baker is best-known as the fourth incarnation of the time-traveling adventurer known as the Doctor in “Doctor Who.” As the Doctor, Tom Baker made me believe there was a right, just and moral force in the universe who stood up against armies of bullies and tyrants. He made me believe there was always a way to do the right thing, always a way to save the day and always a good idea to have good friends at your side. He made me believe that there was a whole universe of possibilities through the most unassuming of doors and you could see it all with your own style, panache and humor. Of all the actors, musicians and entertainers I’ve admired, Tom Baker is the one I would most like to meet, if only to thank him for making me believe.

Moderately Interesting Morning Fact Jan. 19: Good Golly, Ms. Dolly Edition

Dolly Parton in the 1970s

Dolly Parton in the 1970s

Place 67 candles atop the birthday cake for country music star Dolly Parton, one of the truly great voices in entertainment. There’s nothing I can type here that will really do Dolly justice. Just go find yourself a copy of “Jolene.” Put it on your media player of choice. Get comfortable. Let Dolly do the rest. It will be the best 36 minutes of your day. I promise. It is made of awesome. Just like Dolly. P.S. Erase any memory of Whitney Houston’s cover of Dolly’s magnificent “I Will Always Love You.” Listen to the original version on “Jolene.” Then you’ll know how that song is supposed to sound.

 

Moderately Interesting Morning Fact Jan. 18: Bobby’s Rally Edition

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Happy 52nd birthday to Bobby Hansen, the former West Des Moines Dowling Catholic standout who went on to lead the Maroons to the 1979 state Class 4A championship. Hansen had a successful career at the University of Iowa, a member of the Lute Olson-coached 1980 Final Four team his freshman year and team MVP of the 1982-83 squad that reached the Sweet 16. Hansen played 575 NBA games in nine seasons for the Utah Jazz, Sacramento Kings and Chicago Bulls. He helped spark the Bulls’ Game 6 comeback against the Portland Trailblazers in the 1992 NBA Finals. The Bulls trailed by 15 points. Coach Phil Jackson sent Hansen in for Michael Jordan. Hansen immediately hit a 3-pointer and grabbed a steal. Scottie Pippen led the Bulls on a 14-2 run and Chicago sealed its second championship in as many seasons, becoming the first team to ever come back from a 15-point deficit to win a deciding championship game.

Moderately Interesting Morning Fact Jan. 17: All About Benjamins and Virgins Edition

History creates strange juxtapositions, especially if you look at it in the terminally jangled view provided by General Tso’s Revenge. Take today, for example, which is the 206th birthday of Benjamin Franklin, publisher, inventor, patriot and Founding Father of the U.S. Franklin was the son of printer James Franklin, who created the first truly independent newspaper in the colonies. Throughout his life, Franklin took up the cause of free speech in the fledgling nation. Franklin was a bit of a kinky nut, with a fondness for skinny dipping and “air baths,” that is, running around a cold room naked. There is, then, probably some karmic justice that on this day in 1985, Franklin’s 179th birthday, a cheeky Michigan native by the name of Madonna Louise Veronica Chiccone took advantage of that free speech old Ben helped forge to reach No. 1 on the pop charts with a catchy, though slightly ironic, ditty “Like A Virgin,” which featured less-than-subtle allusions to a very different kind of skinny dipping.

Moderately Interesting Morning Fact Jan. 16: Dizzy and Red Quotes Edition

Birth begins life. Death ends it. In between, if you’re lucky, there are great one-liners. Today, General Tso’s Revenge celebrates two men who authored a couple real zingers in their day. St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Jay Hannah “Dizzy” Dean, who was born this day in 1910, once bet he could strike out Vince DiMaggio, the elder brother of New York Yankees great Joe DiMaggio, four times in a single game. The story goes that Dean fanned DiMaggio three times. In DiMaggio’s fourth at bat, he popped the ball up behind the plate. Dean yelled at the catcher to drop the ball. The catcher obliged. Dean struck DiMaggio out on the next pitch. After the game, he told sports writers, “It ain’t braggin’ if ya can back it up.” One of those sports writers might well have been Green Bay, Wis., native Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith, the first sports writer to win a Pulitzer Prize. Smith gained his greatest fame at the New York Herald Tribune, where he wrote one of the most widely read syndicated columns in the country. Smith, who died this day in 1982, was asked if writing a column was a trying experience. He is alleged to have said, “Why, no. You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.”

Moderately Interesting Morning Fact Jan. 15: Farewell, Minnesota Fats Edition

MinnesotaFatsRudolf Wanderone, better known as pool shark “Minnesota Fats” died on this day in 1996. Wanderone was one of the most widely-known pockets billiard players in history, though he never won a tournament. Wanderone took the name “Minnesota Fats” from the 1961 film “The Hustler.” Wanderone said the character played by Jackie Gleason was based on him. Wanderone also went by the nicknames New York Fats, Broadway Fats, Chicago Fats, Double-Smart Fats and Triple-Smart Fats. Wanderone was a renowned teller of tall tales that during an appearance with Muhammad Ali on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” Ali said Wanderone was a greater boaster.

Moderatly Interesting Morning Fact Jan. 14: Monroe DiMaggion Fan Club

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Happy anniversary to actress Marilyn Monroe and baseball star Joe DiMaggio. They were married this day in 1954. There is no need to send a card. They marriage lasted just nine months. Also, they’re both dead. Monroe died of a drug overdose in 1962. DiMaggio died in 1999 of lung cancer. DiMaggio, a Hall of Fame center fielder for the New York Yankees, was accused of domestic abuse during the stormy union. However, there apparently was real affection between the two. After Monroe’s marriage to playwright Arthur Miller broke up, she appeared alongside DiMaggio several times at Oakland Athletics’ spring training events in the winter of 1962. Rumors were they were to remarry. She died that August. DiMaggio took control of her funeral arrangements and keep all but 31 close friends away from the service. He had a dozen fresh roses delivered to her grave site one a week for 20 years after her death.

5-sentence review of ‘Gangster Squad’

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5. The price of admission to “Gangster Squad” is earned just by watching Emma Stone glide across the screen in a red vintage 1940s gown and seduce Ryan Gosling’s boozing detective with a sultry voice and sexy banter.

4. The film goes much like that scene: “Gangster Squad” is a lot of very pretty people moving quickly, sometimes doing very violent things, but generally being entertaining if seldom surprising.

3. Josh Brolin is good in the lead role as John O’Mara, a brawling L.A. cop assigned to break up gangster Mickey Cohen’s (Sean Penn) operation in the city.

2. O’Mara assembles a group of outcasts and characters, each with a unique set of skills — you know, just like every movie since “The Dirty Dozen” — and declares war on Cohen.

1. Penn is a little too over-the-top as Cohen and there’s some slow-motion photography in the final gunfight that’s unnecessarily showy, but for a rollicking shoot-em-up gangster flick, “Gangster Squad” is a good time.

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GANGSTER SQUAD

Rated R

Time: 1 hour, 53 minutes

Director: Ruben Fleischer

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, Robert Patrick, Michael Peña, Giovanni Ribisi, Anthony Mackie, Nick Nolte, Wade Williams, Mireille Enos, Sullivan Stapleton and Frank Grillo.

Grade: B-

5-sentence review of ‘Jack Reacher’

5. “Jack Reacher” is a very good movie, maybe not a great movie, but certainly one that entertains from beginning to end and does not rely upon fancy camera work or special effects to be a terrific action movie.

4. Tom Cruise stars as Reacher, a former U.S. Army military policeman who turns drifter by choice — more on that in a second — who comes to Pittsburgh to keep a promise to a homicidal former sniper.

3. The lovely Rosamund Pike plays Helen Rodin, the attorney who takes up defense in the sniper case, which appears to be a lock for the death penalty pushed by the district attorney (Richard Jenkins), who also happens to be her father.

2. “Jack Reacher’ reminds me vaguely of “Bullit,” though cruise’s Reacher is not as taciturn as Steve McQueen’s Bullit, he is nonetheless a hero who acts with purpose, speed and skill and the film offers some terrific car chases with a classic 1970 Chevelle SS motor roaring a soundtrack that is a gearhead’s lullaby.

1. The most impressive and powerful scene of “Jack Reacher” is a quiet bit of monologue when Reacher explains to Helen why he chooses to live off the grid — no driver’s license, no fixed abode, no cell phone or email — and gestures to cubicle dwellers languishing over computers late in the evening and asks how many of them, if given the choice, would live like he does now.

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JACK REACHER

Rated PG-13

Time: 2 hours, 10 minutes

Director: Christopher McQuarrie

Cast: Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, David Oyelowo, Richard Jenkins, Alexia Fast, Werner Herzog and Robert Duvall.

Grade: A

Moderately Interesting Morning Fact Jan. 13: Wyatt Earp the Farmer Edition

Wyatt Earp, legendary lawman of the Old West and former Iowan, died this day in 1929 at age 80. Before he was involved in the notorious gunfight at the OK Corral, Earp tended 160 acres of Iowa farmland north of Pella. Earp’s family settled there in 1849 and stayed, with one a short departure back to their native Illinois, through 1864. Wyatt Earp’s older brothers, Newton, James and Virgil joined the Union Army when the Civil War broke out in 1861. Wyatt Earp was just 13 at the time and though he tried to enlist in the army multiple times, he was caught and returned to his father. His job was to tend 80 acres of corn in Jasper County. After the war ended, the Earp family headed west to California and the legend of the lawman began.

One other Iowa-related tidbit about Earp: His second wife Mattie Blaylock was also an Iowan, from Johnson County near Fairfax. She and her sister ran away from Iowa to avoid work on the farm. She ended up with a decidedly dirtier job: prostitute. That’s how she came int contact with Wyatt Earp, believed to be in about 1871. Earp left her for another woman in the 1882, after his infamous manhunt for the Cowboys gang which murdered his younger brother Morgan and maimed Virgil. She died of an opium and alcohol overdose in 1888 at age 38. Farm work looks a lot better in comparison.

Moderately Interesting Morning Fact Jan. 12: Onomatopoeia Edition

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Batman and Robin, as portrayed thespians Adam West and Burt Ward, first answered the Batsignal on ABC-TV’s “Batman” on this day in 1966. The satirical classic was a breakout hit for its three seasons on air. It also taught a generation of Americans the meaning of the word onomatopoeia, which is words that are sounds, with large onscreen balloons of words such as Biff!, Bang! and Kapow!, another send up of the comic book origins of the Caped Crusaders.

Moderately Interesting Morning Fact Jan. 11: Most Expensive Asprin Ever

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Wally Pipp, who died today in 1965 at age 71, was a first baseman for the New York Yankees in the 1910s and 1920s. A good player who hit for acceptable average and some power in the post-dead ball era of baseball. A headache hobbled Pipp on June 2, 1925. He asked the trainer for a pair of aspirin. Yankees manager Miller Huggins overheard the request and told Pipp to take the day off. He wanted to try out the youngster from Columbia University — a fellow that Pipp himself had recommended Huggins sign. The player’s name was Lou Gehrig. That day began a streak of 2,130 consecutive starts for Gehrig at first base for the Yankees. Pipp would be dealt to the Cincinnati Reds in 1926. Gehrig would go on to be a Hall of Fame career, but his life would be cut short by ALS. Pipp lived longer and was one of the first writers hired by the fledgling magazine “Sports Illustrated.”

5-sentence review of ‘The Big Bang Theory,’ Season 6, Episode 13

The Bakersfield Expedition

“The Bakersfield Expedition”

Original air date: Jan. 10, 2012

5. Now that is more like it!

4. This is “The Big Bang Theory” I fell in love with during reruns on TBS — nerdy guys doing nerdy things because that’s who they are.

3. The boys go to a comic book convention in Bakersfield, Calif., and the girls decide to try to read comics to better understand their lovers.

2. There’s a thought, ladies: Instead of nagging a boyfriend about their personality, perhaps seek to understand and accept him — even if his hobbies and interests are different than what interests you.

1. “The Bakersfield Expedition” was easily the best episode of the anemic season and a rare treat in a show that felt as if it were in free fall for much of the past two seasons and here’s hoping this is the beginning of a new renaissance.

5-sentence review of ‘Two and a Half Men’ Season 10, Episodes 12 and 13

Grab a Feather and Get in Line

“Welcome to Alancrest”

Original air date: Jan. 3, 2013

“Grab A Feather And Get In Line”

Original air date: Jan. 10, 2013

5. “Two and a Half Men” caught me off guard with two strong back-to-back episodes to start 2013.

4. “Grab A Feather And Get In Line” must surely have set a record for the number of times the word “douche” was said in a half-hour comedy — and certainly the number of times it was sung with the preceding adjective “fizzy.”

3. Walden (Ashton Kutcher) gives up his double life and comes clean with his aspiring fashion designer girlfriend (Brooke D’Orsay) and, of course, she dumps him because though he bankrolled her fashion design career, he lied about who he was and didn’t trust her and all that romantic comedy bullshit that you would expect to come in a story this tired.

2. Still, Jon Cryer distinguished himself as Alan in this arc, easily shifting between sniveling, conniving and money-grubbing to supportive, if selfish, friend who brings Walden out of his funk.

1. And credit to Kutcher, who led the musical number in “Grab A Feather And Get In Line” with confidence, was equally funny gaining weight eating junk food while enduring the stresses of the poor (such as “banging scared”)  and managed to be moderately amusing in a show that is still consistently entertaining.