Friday, July 26, 2013

The Celebrity Game (CBS-TV, 1965)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2013 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

After last night’s documentary on TCM, Excavating the 2000-Year-Old Man, I was eager to play the album Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner at the Cannes Film Festival — the only one of the series I actually had a copy of (though I understand all the Reiner-Brooks albums have been reissued as a CD boxed set — which would probably be hilarious!) — so the day before I had dubbed it to my computer and last night I burned a CD and played it for Charles. It’s a brilliantly funny album containing two 10-minute sketches — one a spoof of the Cannes Film Festival with “Adolph Hartler” of the “Narzi Film Company” (even that early, six years before The Producers, Mel Brooks was doing Hitler gags — though there’s a bit of “first-itis” in the American Film Institute tribute to Brooks in saying he was the first comedian to take on Hitler — do the names “Charlie Chaplin” and “The Great Dictator” mean anything to these people?), Greek-Italian director “Federico Fettucini” and British angry-young-man director “Tippy Skittles” (the best parts were when Fettucini explained why all his films feature rape — “it’s about man’s inhumanity to man” — and then Skittles came in and said he’d give up his own directorial career to appear in a Fettucini film because “I want to be in all those orgies and rapes!”) and one a 2000-Year-Old Man routine in which the 2000-Year-Old Man explains that he has a birth certificate but never carries it around because “it’s a boulder,” and in the bit I remembered best from when I first got this album he recalls Rembrandt as someone who didn’t each much because “he spent all his money on paint — paint, paint, paint, a few girls maybe, and then paint! And then for a while it was all girls.” It also had shorter sketches — an interview with Dr. Felix Wheird (who insisted his interviewer pronounce the “h” in “Wheird” because “otherwise people will think I’m just a kook!”), author of the diet book Hey, Fatso!; and a routine about the L.M.N.O.P. advertising agency. (The funniest part of the ad agency sketch was a comment at the very end, when Brooks as the agency head explains that their latest client is cholesterol. “We want to get cholesterol into the American heart,” he says — a gag that’s funnier now than it was then!)

After we heard this brilliantly funny album I ran Charles a 25-minute TV show that had come up when I searched for Carl Reiner on The Celebrity Game,  1965 quiz show Reiner hosted that was unspeakably boring when it wasn’t offensively sexist (this show came from a time when putting up with sexual harassment was considered one of the prices a woman had to pay if she wanted a professional career). The gimmick was to get nine celebrities or semi-celebrities — mostly “B”-listers of the time (people like Connie Stevens, Suzy Parker and Louis Nye) with a few stars of the future (like Lee Marvin, probably wishing someone would put a machine gun in his hand so he could blow all these boring people away) and some stars of the past (Mickey Rooney, Gypsy Rose Lee, Oscar Levant — Levant was his usual acerbic self but the format didn’t give him much of a chance to shine) — and three ordinary panelists, then ask the celebrities a question and see if the ordinary panelists could guess how the celebrities would answer it. The questions were all about (straight) dating and marriages — one was whether it would be a good idea to give American couples a tax credit per child the way they do in France (by 8 to 1 the celebrities answered no, an indication that even in the era of the Great Society there were strong limits on just how much help from the government Americans thought their fellow countrymen should get); another was whether wives idolizing movie stars gets in the way of their marriages; and one was whether a woman should marry a man 10 years younger than herself. (Then the celebrities split 5 to 4 against; today it would be more likely unanimous or near-unanimous that she should if she were genuinely attracted to and in love with the man — I guess we’ve made some progress.) The boredom of the show’s format was matched by the sexism of the questions (Dr. Joyce Brothers, of all people, was the show’s consultant on drafting the questions) and the responses — it’s indicative of how different an era this was that the panelists could explain their answers with the most appalling judgments of how women are fundamentally different from men (though given the debate at the meeting I’d just attended, which was all about men, women and sexual harassment in the workplace, I was probably more highly sensitized to sexism than I would have been watching this some other time) and get away with it. There’s only one episode of this show on and I suspect that this may be the only one that was ever shot — there’s a sponsor tag for Lipton tea (though no actual commercials) and a CBS end credit but I suspect, given how dull this turned out to be, that what we were watching was a pilot that was not turned into a series episode.