Thursday, August 1, 2019

Playboy After Dark: Capturing a Moment in Time

by G. Jack Urso
From the Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube channel

Playboy After Dark was a syndicated TV series hosted by Hugh Hefner and which aired from 1969 to 1970 for a total of 52 one-hour episodes over two seasons. Recorded at CBS Television City in Los Angeles, it featured some of the most popular artists in TV, film, music, and even comedy. This was Hefner’s second weekly series. His earlier effort, Playboy’s Penthouse, which aired from 1959 to 1960, was produced in Chicago, then the headquarters of the magazine’s offices, which limited the celebrities available for taping. The move to LA not only expanded the number and variety of guest stars, but also took advantage of LA’s prominence as the nexus of the entertainment industry in America. Following the end of the series, Hefner himself moved his base of operations from Chicago to LA in 1971. A compilation of some of the best musical performances is available above from the Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube channel. The guest and song list is below at the end of this article.

As soon as one hears the smooth jazz opening theme music and the flashing lights of the CBS television broadcasting studio, it’s hard not to feel a lot cooler and suave than one actually is in real life.

Both programs centered on the now iconic cocktail party, with well-dressed men and women schmoozing, drinking, smoking, and flirting with each other while discussing the latest social and political topics. More notably satirized as a sketch in Laugh-In, the Playboy cocktail party was the fantasy that populated the minds of many young people of the era as the Holy Grail of single adulthood.

Few people and publications have so embodied the zeitgeist of its times like Hugh Hefner and Playboy magazine. To be sure, Playboy didn’t invent pornography. In fact, during its reign as the leading publication of nude female photography, it was generally regarded as the tamest of such magazines. Instead, Playboy’s influence is rather as a men’s lifestyle magazine. Building upon the traditional American rugged individualist, Playboy promoted a literate, worldly man, informed on contemporary art, fashion, film, literature, politics, sports, and, of course, sex. The old joke about Playboy, “I only read it for the articles,” contains a grain of truth in that the articles actually were worth reading. As a young teen, I found myself unaccountably detracted by the articles, interviews, and jokes — honestly!

As noted in the expansive retro entertainment website TV Party, the set for Playboy After Dark was constructed at a cost of $35,000 (approximately, $244,278 in 2019) and Hefner had no problem attracting top stars and models to populate his parties. While the exposure succeeded in showing Hefner had more to him than just a purveyor of pornography, the show was still a difficult sell in the more conservative Midwest and Deep South where the Playboy name made widespread national syndication of the series somewhat challenging. In fact, it was so problematic that at least in one city, Charlotte, NC, the show was listed under the title “Hugh Hefner.”

At its height, the Playboy Empire included not just the magazine, but also books, merchandise, and a nationwide chain of high-end clubs. The clubs went out of business in 1991, but the brand was resurrected in 2006 and a handful still exists. In 1986, I almost made my way into the Buffalo club on a double date, ironically at the insistence of the girls we were with. While I was wearing a tie, the other guy wasn’t, so we didn’t get past the lobby. Yes, they had a dress code.

In a way, the magazines, the clubs, and the shows promoted a common male culture one step forward of the two-fisted drinkers of their father’s generation. The ideal “Playboy” man would be able to converse informatively at parties on a wide range of topics, tell jokes, and mix the latest drinks. Still, though, with a few exceptions for the especially talented female celebrity, women were typically treated as little more than accessories rather than as equal participants in the sexual revolution.
I am disinclined to attribute the entirety of responsibility for the sexual revolution of the 1960s solely to Playboy; however, the magazine rode the forefront of the social movement and was influential in spreading the idea that sex and the female body was not a dirty secret to be hidden, but rather celebrated. While Playboy was a relatively more modest publication than its competitors, the magazine could still push the limits of what was acceptable in terms of female nudity until  hardcore pornography became more widely distributed. I am reminded of a scene in Billy Hayes’s autobiography Midnight Express, where, after escaping prison in 1975 following five years behind bars, he picks up a copy of Playboy and is immediately shocked at how much more nudity was displayed compared to 1970.

That Playboy’s Penthouse and Playboy After Dark both lasted just two seasons each is not really indicative of a failure. The point of both programs was to raise the profile of the publication, and to that end, it succeeded. Additionally, both programs capture a moment in time and Hefner had an instinct for knowing when the moment had passed, and, like every good host, he knew when the party was over.
The musical guests performing in the video compilation above include:

·         Buddy Rich & Hal Frasier, “A Lot of Livin’ to Do”

·         Eddie Kendricks,"By the Time I Get to Phoenix”

·         Roger McGuinn & The Byrds, “You Ain’t Going Nowhere”
      and “If Memory Serves”

·         James Brown, “Georgia”

·         Leslie Gore, “This Time” and “Hello Young Lovers”

·         Fleetwood Mac, “Rocking Horse”

·         Grateful Dead, “Mountains of the Moon”

·         Noel Harrison, “Saint Stephen”

·         Steppenwolf, “Don’t Cry”

·         Sonny & Cher, “Too Good to be True” and “For Once in
      My Life”

·         Canned Heat, “Future Blues”

·         Cher, “Take Me for a Little While”

·         Linda Ronstadt, “Walkin Down the Line”

·         Joe Cocker, “Hitchcock Railway”

·         Deep Purple, “Hush”

·         Brenton Wood, “Just Gimmie Some Kind of Sign”

·         Ike & Tina Turner, “Take You Higher”

·         Grand Funk Railroad, “Mr. Limousine Driver”

·         Oliver, “Where is Love?”

·         The Grass Roots, “Walkin Through the Country” and 
      “Dancin in the Streets”
Also Featuring:

·         Barbi Benton

·         Jackie DeShannon

·         Marty Engels

·         Lindsay Wagner

·         Barry White


Monday, July 29, 2019

How to Speak Hip (1959)

by G. Jack Urso

Front cover
How to Speak Hip is a satirical comedy album first released in 1959 on Mercury Records, and then rereleased in 1969 and 2009. Comedians Del Close and John Brent play, respectively, the unnamed “Instructor” and the “Hipster” Geets Romo. Both Close and Brent were part of Chicago’s famed Second City Comedy Troup, which may explain why the album was reportedly a favorite of Second City and SNL alumnus John Belushi. 

Following the publication of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road in 1957, the Beat Generation was ripe for satirization by 1959. Yet, while poking fun at the pop cultural phenomenon, as many other satires did, How to Speak Hip, slowly turns the table on its square audience by poking fun at the very same people who derided the Beats.   

The dialogue between the Instructor and the Hipster begins as a faux foreign language learning record, complete with starting tones, and morphs into an interview between a Square and a Beat. The first track featured here (and the second track on the album), is “Basic Hip.” Here the word in question is “Dig,” as when one says, “I dig that” as an indication of approval. However, the word itself and the context of its use can have a myriad pf meanings and shades and while this track pokes fun at its use. This track actually provides a spot-on overview on how the word was actually used at the time, and should be appreciated by any linguistic anthropologist investigating the era.

The next two pieces (tracks 8 and 9 on the album), “Cool” and “Uncool” explore in minute detail the essence of Beat hipsterdom being cool. The Instructor points out to Geets that the rules for social inclusion among the Beats is as rigid as “Square” society and no more evident in what it means to be cool or, obversely, uncool. Geets points out, however, that if you break Beat social conventions all one faces is ridicule, whereas the Squares “put you away.”  As with the word “dig,” being “cool” has different meanings depending on its use. By way of analogy, Geets uses a story on how to maintains one’s cool and avoid the cops while high and satisfying the munchies with raspberry Jell-O.

“Uncool” is defined by Geets mainly, and solely, within the context of scoring drugs, or not scoring drugs, or talking about how you just scored drugs and from whom.

Back cover
As a comedy album from two Second City performers, who were also part of the Beat Generation to some extent, “How to Speak Hip” succeeds on many levels. First, we can see the trail of humor that influenced the first generation of Saturday Night Live’s Not Ready for Prime Time players. It also pokes fun at both sides of generation gap while at the same time providing pretty accurate definitions of hipster slang. While “cool” and “dig” may be antiquated relics of youth slang, one can easily find analogs with any generation. Phat, word, lit, tope, Gucci, any many more for which I have no idea what they mean, would all find a home with our friend Geets on “How to Speak Hip.”  

Note: All clips hosted on the Aeolus 13 Umbra Prime YouTube channel.


Friday, July 26, 2019

Why I Am a Teacher

by G. Jack Urso 

Occasionally, I have transcendent experiences that remind me why I am a teacher.

I hosed down my lawn mower last week and this week it wouldn't start. Did I get water in the gas line? In the gas tank? I look in the manual. I read a line that says check the oil.

Wait, this thing requires oil? I don't ever recall putting oil in it. I see a can of two-stroke small engine oil in the garage, but did I get that for the gas-powered snow blower I got rid of six years ago? I'm not sure.

Whatever. I fill the oil tank up, and the gas tank, but it still won't start.

It must need a new spark plug. I see the tag on the handle bar from when I bought it  2010. I've had it for nine years and never changed the spark plug. I don't want to think about the last time I put in oil.

Ok, let's start with a new spark plug. My buddy Steve says that's real simple.

Famous. Last. Words.

I can't get the damn thing off. I go online. One website suggests spraying it with a lot of WD-40 and use a spark plug wrench.

There's a something actually called a spark plug wrench? This thing is so complicated that it needs its own special wrench?

I run up to Pep Boys and tell them I need a spark plug wrench.

The clerk says, "Certainly sir. What size?"


I go home and measure it  5/8 in.

I go back and buy a 5/8 in. spark plug wrench. I go home.

It's too small. I measure it again. It says 5/8s! WTF!

This time, I go to Home Depot instead (Home Depot and Pepboys are both about a mile from my house, so it's not a long trip) but cannot find a spark plug wrench. I ask the clerk and he points me back to the aisle I just spent 10 minutes in looking for one.

Frustrated, I go home and jump online. Home Depot does in fact carry a cheap 3-size combo spark plug wrench and AT THE STORE I WAS JUST AT! So I order one and an hour later it's ready to pick up.

I pick it up, go home and, after wrestling trying to get the frickin' wrenches free from being stuck one inside the other, I pop it on the old spark plug and it comes off.

Then I go back to Pepboys and get the right spark plug.

I get home, put on the spark plug. and the lawn mower starts right up! Success! I begin mowing immediately, but it begins to spit out a lot of oil. I must have put in too much (way too much I discover).

I get a pan to drain the oil in. Start it up . . . still sputters. I drain some more oil out, but begin spilling it onto the grass because I'm a bit anxious to get this done. I had to do this several times until the engine stopped spitting out oil.

I get back to mowing. It’s a hot day. The engine is hot. There's oil that has been spit out on the lawn by the engine in addition to me spilling it when draining. After I start mowing, I notice that the grass is smoking. I think I'm setting my lawn on fire. I hose the lawn down.

I finish mowing. I have the world's smallest lawn and it usually takes me about 15 minutes to mow. Today, however, it has taken me about five hours. I am covered in sweat, blood, water, oil, gas, and grass. It took me three visits to Pepboys and two to Home Depot to get the correct size spark plug wrench and spark plug. I ruined my new Docksiders. I almost set the lawn on fire. 

And that's why I am a teacher.


Thursday, July 4, 2019

You Don't Have to Live like a Refugee

by G. Jack Urso

Images from the current American Refugee/Immigrant Crisis I set to Tom Petty’s  "Refugee," from the Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube channel:

Refugee, by Tom Petty
We got somethin', we both know it, we don't talk too much about it
Ain't no real big secret, all the same, somehow we get around it
Listen, it don't really matter to me baby
You believe what you want to believe, you see

You don't have to live like a refugee
(Don't have to live like a refugee)

Somewhere, somehow, somebody must have kicked you around some
Tell me why you want to lay there, revel in your abandon
Honey, it don't make no difference to me, baby
Everybody's had to fight to be free, you see

You don't have to live like a refugee
(Don't have to live like a refugee)
No baby you don't have to live like a refugee
(Don't have to live like a refugee)

Baby we ain't the first
I'm sure a lot of other lovers been burned
Right now this seems real to you, but it's
One of those things you gotta feel to be true

Somewhere, somehow, somebody must have kicked you around some
Who knows maybe you were kidnapped, tied up
Taken away and held for ransom
Honey, it don't really matter to me, baby
Everybody's had to fight to be free, you see

Don't have to live like a refugee
(Don't have to live like a refugee)
No you don't have to live like a refugee
(Don't have to live like a refugee)
You don't have to live like a refugee
(Don't have to live like a refugee)


Saturday, June 15, 2019

And Now, a Word from Our Sponsors . . . : The Moral Dilemma of Sponsored Content for the Media

by G. Jack Urso

Anyone who visits a news website will notice the “Sponsored Content” section that runs on nearly every page. Usually, these appear on the bottom, or mixed in with links promoting real news stories, so the difference between the two is often unclear. As a former reporter and still a freelance editor, I find these ads particular offensive. For about a year now I have been tracking sponsored content on such platforms as FoxNews, the NY Post, the Microsoft News Feed, — which gets picked up by other media platforms — and many others (CNN’s sponsored content focuses more on lifestyle- or business-related items and typically avoids the clickbait trap). The same ads also turn up on the websites of local newspapers, such as my local newspaper, The (Albany) Times Union. Though, honestly, I haven’t had much use for the latter since the bird died.

Shake and Bait

Also known as “clickbait,” sponsored content stories usually feature people in the headline photo who, as often as not, are not actually discussed in the item. Additionally, 500- to 1000-word articles are often spread across 10-20 pages, or more, ergo the name clickbait. These articles engage in such errors from bad grammar and incorrect birth dates, to a curious trend in no longer referring to a celebrity’s spouse as their wife or husband, regardless of their sexual orientation. As we can see in this first example with The Big Bang’s Jim Parsons who has a husband, but one will be hard-pressed to find a single click bait ad that will refer to his spouse as such. One can surmise that they do this to avoid offending the tender sensibilities of the homophobic; however, they also curiously do with same with straight couples, such as Troy Aikman and Wesley Snipes and their wives, also redesignated as “partners.” Twelve of the most glaring examples are posted throughout this story (pithy comments by yours truly).
The problem with this is that while the media claims the moral high-ground in regards to reporting the truth, sponsored content revenue contributes a significant portion of the ad revenues. According to a Oct. 4, 2017, Politifact report, producing these ads can generate for their creators anywhere from $1,000 to upwards of $40,000 a month. Real news publishers will pay sponsored content publishers for the code to post these “articles” on their websites, which in turn keep their readers on their websites, increase the publications’ hits, and so allow them to base their advertising rates on the those numbers. The more people who read, the more money they can charges for the ads. 

The Times Union relies on such sponsored content, and indeed was recently seen displaying two of the most egregious examples on their website (see belows). Without this paid advertiser content, The Times Union would very likely have a much smaller staff, and it has already seen significant cuts as the readership of the printed edition has dropped precipitously in the past two decades.
The issue of sponsored content and boycotts of media outlets, such as various shows on the FoxNews network, are intertwined. Tucker Carlson’s and Laura Ingraham’s shows on Fox have endured the loss of a lot of advertisers based on their content which often veers towards hate speech. While on one hand, the news outlets will lay claim to a moral and ethical directive to truth, they will also buy sponsored content and all its lies to generate hits to their websites, and consequently increased advertiser rates. So, while media publishers can opposed boycotts even of content the personally oppose, they are increasingly opposed to advertiser boycotts for one simple reason: It hurts their bottom line. No opinion is so egregious that a publication should be boycotted and lose revenue, particularly in an age of rapidly dropping profits. After all, why buy the NY Post or The Times Union when we can read the stories online?

For what shall it profit a man . . . ?

WAMC Northeast Public Radio’s The Media Project Show, show #1436, Dec. 23, 2018, capsulizes this conundrum and reveals the desperation and fear publishers have of boycotts. WAMC’s CEO Alan Chartock moderates a panel of commentators consisting of Albany Times Union Editor Rex Smith Barbara Lombardo, Journalism Professor at the University at Albany, and former Executive Editor of The Saratogian and The (Troy) Record and Daily Freeman Publisher Emeritus Ira Fusfeld tackle the topic of advertiser boycotts of Tucker Carlson’s show following negative comments about immigration. Smith and Fusfeld particularly are outraged, not at Carlson’s comments, but rather that advertisers had the temerity to exercise their First Amendment rights in not lending their financial support to an odious cretin like Carlson. Indeed, throughout the entire conversation they do not discuss a single disagreeable thing Carlson said, presumably because they did not find what he said as disagreeable than with businesses displaying a social conscience.

Fusfeld’s surprising response, retelling what he would tell his salespeople when businesses refused to advertise in his paper based on the content they ran, is: “You don’t advertise in our paper because we’re nice guys. You advertise in our paper because we will bring business to your door because, at that time, we were the most highly circulated paper in the area and advertising in our paper works.” Fusfeld’s proposition here is that high reader numbers mitigate any ethical dilemma a business might have with in their ads supporting ideas to which they are opposed. The publications or editorialists can be as morally repugnant as possible, but as long as they bring in the readers/viewers then their advertising support is justified.

By extension, this also justifies advertising on such media platforms as InfoWars while Alex Jones drummed up death threats to the parents of the Sandy Hook school massacre after suggesting they are “crisis actors” and the incident never took place. This may seem like an extreme example, but if the principle applies to The (Troy) Record and Daily Freeman then it must also apply to InfoWars. Fusfeld can’t have it both ways. Personally, I find it an ethically dubious position, but it is the standard line trotted out by the media today as they try to shore up lost revenue, so Fusfeld is only expressing what most publishers, most editors, and virtually all ad people are saying.
Barbara Lombardo, the professor, is the only one of the three commentators to acknowledge the moral right of businesses not to advertise, but also notes that papers no longer have the revenue to absorb the loss of an advertiser, which leads us back to Fusfeld’s dubious ethical position on the matter.

The Albany Times Union’s editor Rex Smith is clear in his opposition to boycotts. “I don’t like the idea of advertiser boycotts based upon on content.” Lombardo quickly notes, “But that is the only way to make your voice heard” and asserts such a move is not censorship.

Smith concedes that is the only way an advertiser can influence a media platform, but applies this standard only to Fox and attempts to separate The Times Union from outlets like FoxNews. Smith then tries to minimize the impact and value of such boycotts, neatly forgetting how it buried Bill O’Reilly. Boycotts have most certainly cut into Tucker Carlson’s and Laura Ingraham’s ad revenue. Tucker lost at least 34 advertisers and Ingraham 27 advertisers, making Fox’s profit margin on those shrink significantly, if not quite permanently. So, to sustain those programs as a matter of political principle, funding must be shifted from other areas to cover the losses on these shows. That being said, both programs get a lot of viewers, and, as Fusfeld and Smith acknowledge, the number of readers/viewers is the real priority.

Smith echoes Fusfeld’s position that when faced with content the public disagrees with the strategy is to convince advertisers they shouldn’t engage in a boycott due to the platform’s content. Well, a nice argument if we are only talking about reporting a popular local politician’s corruption to the offense of his/her supporters, but what if the newspaper’s website promotes a editorialist who gets a large audience, but nonetheless is a demagogue who engages in racism, sexism, xenophobia, and hate speech?

Fusfeld follows up by recounting when confronted by politicians who called for a boycott against his paper based on something they disliked, Fusfeld says he told them, “You need to understand that the people who you are hurting financially here are people who pay taxes and live in this community.” The point Fusfeld makes is that in order for the businesses to make money they must support opinions they find morally repulsive; elsewise, the paper’s employees will suffer financially. Frankly, it’s a line of reasoning that can only be described as psychological blackmail. 
With The Times Union specifically there seems to be a real disconnect between its editor Rex Smith and its advertisers. When the Fuccillo Auto Group, once a large Times Union advertiser, pulled its ads, Smith notes, how he wasn’t even aware of it until his publisher, the Hearst Corporation, informed him. In fact, he sounds almost proud he had to be told about it. How out-of-touch must an editor be that he doesn’t even notice the absence of one of his largest advertisers until someone from the corporate office tells him about it?

Money, Money, Money, Money . . . Money

All this ties into the topic of sponsored content because as you will see that some of the ads posted with this article appeared on the Times Union’s website. On one hand, Rex Smith, who is atypical of editors and publishers, decries attempts to paint the media as promoting “fake news” and preaches about his commitment to “reporting the truth” while also having his hand out to take the money of sponsored content advertisers whose “stories” are misleading at best, and outright lies at worst. The Times Union does no fact-checking. They take the money, post the ads, and at the same time tell us that advertiser boycotts based on content are ethically wrong. Well, whatever helps you sleep at night. 
As for Aeolus 13 Umbra, there is no danger of an advertiser boycott. Neither this blog nor my various YouTube channels are monetized. What you get is passion, not profit — a lesson that the news media is increasingly forgetting.


Saturday, May 4, 2019

Jesus Drives Stick

by G. Jack Urso

In the 1980s, I attended a small evangelical Christian college near Buffalo, NY. There was an older student, a guy about 40, who only recently had his "Come to Jesus" moment. He kept going on about how rich he was, but that money didn't mean anything to him anymore. I mean, he went on and on about it. Ok, got it chief. We had separate bills for lunch that day, but he's rich and don't care. Check.

To underscore a point he had already beaten a dead horse with, he directed us to his white Mazda RX-7, a really nice sports car back then, and said how he used to take better care of his car than his wife, who he wouldn't even let drive it before he was "saved," but now he didn't care who drove it because — you guessed it — he didn't care about money anymore.

"You'd let anyone drive it?" I challenged.

"Yep," he said with his keys in his hand.

"Even me?"


So I grabbed the keys from his hand and turned to the cute girl next to me and said "Let's go!”

Rich guy asks me if I ever drove standard before. I assured him I was very experienced, having spent the previous summer driving a 1938 Ford Ferguson tractor. [For those of you who don't know, this is like taking a Saturn V rocket out for a spin when you previously only drove a 1938 Ford Ferguson tractor.]

I drove around, stalled it out nearly a half dozen times, and grinded about a pound of coffee changing gears. Cute girl and I got some milk shakes and we enjoyed a warm fall day cruising around in a car probably neither of us could ever afford — well, me at any rate.

We returned 30 minutes later to where rich guy stood at the edge of the parking lot nervously pacing around with both the men's and women's resident assistants hanging close by.

"Hey man, nice ride," I said, tossing the keys back to him.

"Keep the faith," I added. 


Sunday, April 21, 2019

True-Life Prison Stories

by G. Jack Urso

For more Prison Chronicles stories visit Introduction: The Prison Chronicles.
A Crack in Your Argument:

One student was complaining about how crack cocaine was all a CIA scam meant to destroy the African-American community. Another student called him out and said, “Bro, you are HERE for selling crack!”

So, I asked the first student what he was charged with.


“Of what?”

“300 vials of crack.”

“Did you buy it from a white guy or a black guy?”

No response.

“Did you sell it to black people?”

No response.

“Are you on crack right now?”

“No, man. What do you think I am?”

“Well, right now I think you may work for the CIA.”


Rats Are First to Abandon a Sinking Ship:

A student in a county jail was complaining about how the cops were corrupt for arresting him on an accessory to murder charge. He kept loudly complaining about that it was total bullshit, he had nothing to do with any murder, and he was only here because the DA was squeezing him to rat on his friend and he, “Don’t rat for no one.” 

Aside from the double negative prophetically suggesting the obverse of that statement, I was tired of him disrupting class. Since he wanted to take up my teaching time, I thought we could use it as a little exercise in values clarification. 

 “What’s the deal with your case?” I asked. 

The student explained that a friend of his thought his girlfriend was cheating on him and needed a gun to “set things straight,” thinking he meant to threaten the guy she was cheating on. Instead, he killed her. 

“And how did your friend get a gun? 

The student explained that he knew a guy who sold drugs and kept a gun under his couch. So many people went in and out of the guy’s apartment that my student figured he could steal the gun and sell it to his friend and the dealer be none the wiser as to who stole it. 

“How much money did you get?” 

“100 dollars and a half ounce of weed.”  

“Was this the first time your friend ever got popped [arrested] before?” 

“Naw, he got some drug charges and a domestic violence.” 

“For hitting the same woman he later killed?” 


“So, you stole a gun from a guy you bought drugs from, sold it to a friend who you knew was arrested for beating his girlfriend who then used it to kill his girlfriend and all you got was $100 and a half ounce of weed?” 


“Well, you should have at least gotten a full ounce because they are going to send your ass to prison.” 

[Classroom erupts in laughter. Also, Einstein just told me and the entire class what he did.] 

Two weeks later, the student rats out his friend, cops to lesser changes, and is released on time served. 

Eventually, everyone rats in prison. E V E R Y O N E.


Sometimes, They Are:

In prison education programs, some students are there just to front for the courts. You know, show them they’re serious about their “rehabilitation.” In county jails, most are there serving short sentences of under a year or waiting for trial. One time, I had one very big, very angry inmate student up on attempted murder charges who was just pissed about everything, challenging me on every assignment I gave him, and questioning my competency. I kept telling him to keep his attitude to himself, be quiet, and do his work. I had to do this in several classes. Instead, he kept bitching and moaning about his charges, bullying other students, and trying to intimidate me. I told him he needed to behave himself or I would toss him out of the program.

“Why you treating me like a child!”

“Because you are ACTING like a child.”

Keep in mind, I’m locked alone in a room with this big angry man up on attempted murder charges and about a dozen other students. The only thing keeping him from beating me to death for challenging him like this in front of others is his common sense. It was a constant battle with him, but he had some intelligence and I needed some students to actually pass the GED that term. Nevertheless, he hated my guts.

As it turned out, he did get that GED and guess what? The DA exonerated him of the charges. He was innocent after all.


Sometimes, You Feel Like a Nut:

Mental illness is rife in prison, and even then we sometimes have students who have serious mental conditions who should be in a secured mental unit and not out in general population. One such student was David. He was prone to talking to himself and sort of lived in his own world. I don’t remember what he was in for, but something related to his behavior when he was off his meds. I made him my inmate clerk so he could get out of the block a little more often than the others. 

The teacher's office was adjacent to a classroom I worked in and had a long horizontal observation window installed so the officers could see in the classroom. These were situated about half way up the wall. Between modules one day, I say down to relax. Now, keep in mind, the observational windows are installed about halfway up the wall, and I’m pretty short, so when I sit down on a chair against the wall, no one can see me in the office. 

Another teacher just started that day. She was a veteran teacher who had been out on sick leave for the better part of a year receiving cancer treatments and, given the turnover in a county jail, the students did not know who she was. Also, she is a tall, bald woman with a loud personality. Frustrated with the changes in the program since she left, and the inmates’ behavior, she enters, shouting loudly and gesticulating with her arms in a wild manner. The glass muted the sound, but one could easily tell how agitated she was. 

We had the afternoon class and when it was over David waited for the other teacher to go into the office and then he approached me. He said he saw the other teacher widely failing her arms about and loudly talking to herself between modules today. David pulled me in closer to him and whispered: “Tell her it’s ok to talk to herself. Everyone gets a little crazy now and then.” 

I was touched by what David said. His empathy showed he was sensitive to the hurt of others. Here was someone incarcerated, alone, living with a mental illness, reaching out to show his concern for someone who was not in prison, but someone he thought was suffering like he was suffering. 

I didn't have the heart to tell him I was in the office all along, she was actually talking to me, and that he just couldn’t see me, so I never told him and let him think that my co-teacher was crazy.  


Sunday, March 31, 2019

Arthur of the Britons: The Complete Series

by G. Jack Urso 

Arthur of the Britons is a short-lived 24-episode British historical drama produced by Harlech Television (HTV) (now ITV Wales and West) in 1972 and 1973 and syndicated to the United States in the mid-1970s. The series departed from previous versions of the Arthurian legend on screen and placed events in the 6th Century, not long after the Romans left Britain. Previously reviewed media associated with Arthur of the Britons on Aeolus 13 Umbra include the 1975 film compilation of several key episodes, King Arthur, the Young Warlord and Arthur of the Britons: Original Soundtrack Recording (see separate articles on Aeolus 13 Umbra). In the U.K., it originally aired on Wednesdays at 4:50 p.m. and repeated Sundays at noon. The complete series is available below at the end of this article from a dedicated Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube channel.


The series features Oliver Tobias as Arthur, not as a king, but rather as a local Celtic chieftain, one of many, who are disunited in the face of a Saxon invasion.  Michael Gothard plays Kai, a Saxon orphan raised as a brother to Arthur by Llud (Jack Watson), a fearless one-handed warrior (his missing hand replaced by a silver one) who adopted both Arthur and Kai. The overall plot involves Arthur trying to unite the Celtic tribes, including his cousin the vigorous Mark of Cornwall (Brian Blessed), against the Saxons, led by Cerdig (Rupert Davies). Along the way, he forms fragile alliances with other tribes, such as the Jutes and their chief, Yorath (Georg Marischka) and his daughter Rowena (Gila von Weitershausen).

Set in 6th Century Britain, there are no mailed and armored knights jousting for the hand of some fair maiden in distress. Indeed, reflecting the women’s movement of the time, the “maidens” are often fiercely independent, such as Rowena. Characters retained from the Arthurian legend include Arthur, his adopted brother Kai (analogous to Sir Kay), and Mark of Cornwall, who in the Arthurian legends is the uncle of Tristan and husband of Iseult (Isolde). Nevertheless, there are notable differences. The sword in the stone is actually a sword under the stone placed there by Arthur himself. There is no Guinevere, no Lancelot, no magical or supernatural elements, and, significantly, no Merlin. Maurice Evans, Dr. Zaius in Planet of the Apes (1968), was slated to play the mystical mentor of Arthur, reported TV Today in an article dated June 15, 1972, but producer Paul Dromgoole dropped the idea as being out of step with the more "realistic theme" of the series.

While there was no actual King Arthur, the folk lore surrounding the tales could have its origin with several Romano-British or early British military commanders/war chiefs whose exploits melded together over time to form the basis of the Arthurian myth. Putting the Arthurian Legend into its historical context provides a matrix for audiences to gain an appreciation of a little-known period of time in the guise of an action-adventure drama.
(Left to Right) Jack Watson (Llud), Oliver Tobias (Arthur), and Michael Gothard (Kai).
Producing  History

Paul Dromgoole, executive producer for Arthur of the Britons, in his introduction to the book, Arthur of the Britons, by Terence Feely (adaptations of five episodes) acknowledges the Arthur of legend is “a fantasy.”

We do not pretend these television stories are based upon fact. They are as fictitious as all other Arthurian myths. They differ only in that they stay firmly within the bounds of historical possibility.

Upon first look at the series, one notices no castles or stonework ramparts, no fluttering banners, and no Round Table. It is a world of iron and wood and mud. This is the dirty Dark Ages, and one can almost smell it. In some respects, Arthur of the Britons takes its cue from the 1969 film Alfred the Great, starring David Hemmings, which took pains to provide a more realistic look at the clothes and dwellings of the inhabitants. This stands in direct contrast to the musical Camelot (1967), starring Richard Harris as Arthur and Hemmings as Mordred, whose fantasy of knights in shining armor, jousts, and immense castles more typify the classic Arthurian look. 
The gate to Arthur’s village. Not exactly Camelot.
According to the liner notes for Arthur of the Britons: Original Soundtrack Recording, released in 2013 by ITV Global Media, to effect the look of a Dark Age settlement, producers constructed ”two complete palisaded villages of thatched wooden huts and halls, cattle and livestock and rare breeds.” Appropriate for the period, little in the way of armor is seen and no more than a dozen mounted men are typically on screen at any one time, which no doubt helped to save money on the underfunded production.

This more modest version of the Arthurian legend also fit the small budget the series had to work with. There are seldom more than a dozen mounted knights on screen at any one time, and far less in some episodes. Given the fashion of the times, many actors, such as Tobias and Gothard, wear their own, long carefully coiffed hair. The women also often have long, naturally-styled hair not much different from then-contemporary styles, though the exception is with the short-haired Rowena. The clothes have a raw, organic, almost unfinished look appropriate for a people living after the collapse of the Roman Empire, the loss of the trade goods that came with it, and were almost wholly dependent on local resources for their sustainment.

Arthur of the Britons had much to draw on in its recreation of Dark Age Anglo-Saxon villages as post-World War II archeological efforts provided a great deal more insight into how ordinary people lived and worked during those times. Today, recreations of the villages and living history demonstrations, much like Colonial Williamsburg in the United States, take place in such sites as The British Danelaw Centre for Living History at The Yorkshire Museum and West Stow Anglo-Saxon Village. The set design for Alfred the Great and Arthur of the Britons reflect this increasing awareness.

As discussed in the liner notes to the soundtrack, all 24 episodes of the series were produced for GBP500,000 in 1972, which equals approximately GBP6,480,746.79 (US$8,343,223) in 2019. This turns out to be just approximately US$347,634 per episode, far less than the estimated US$785,596 budgeted per episode for the notoriously cheap 1972-1973 Canadian sci-fi series, The Starlost (in approximate 2019 dollars).
Period news clippings.
Casting Notes

The performers are, with a few exceptions, generally little-known outside the United Kingdom and Commonwealth countries. Oliver Tobias (Arthur) has had a long career in film and TV in Britain, Germany, and Switzerland which continues to this day. Michael Gothard enjoyed a successful post Arthur of the Britons career with roles in such films as The Three Musketeers (1973), For Your Eyes Only (1981), Lifeforce (1985), and Jack the Ripper (TV mini-series, 1985, starring Michael Caine). Unfortunately Gothard, suffering from depression, committed suicide in 1992.

Brian Blessed.
American Fans of British comedy, drama, mystery, and sci-fi may recognize some of the other faces. Most familiar likely is Brian Blessed (Mark of Cornwall), whose appearances in such films and TV shows as Space: 1999 (two episodes), I, Claudius (TV mini-series, 1976) including Flash Gordon (1980), The Black Adder (1983), Henry V (1989), and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991) have made him one of the most well-respected genre actors on both sides of the pond.

Jack Watson (Llud) is  much less familiar to American audiences, but Brit TV fans may recognize him from appearances in such shows as The Avengers (1965 & 1967), Upstairs Downstairs (1977), and All Creatures Great and Small (1978, 1988, & 1990). He also turned in memorable performances as the noble Cpl. Peacock in the 1968 film The Devil’s Brigade and as R.M.S. Young in The Wild Geese (1978), starring former King Arthur Richard Harris.

Guest stars include Tom Baker (Dr. Who, The Black Adder, Monarch of the Glen, and many more) in a dual role as Brandreth/Gavron in the episode “Go Warily,” which  also features future Darth Vader David Prowse as Brosk (Prowse also turns up in “The Slave”).  Peter Bowles (I, Claudius, To the Manor Born, Rumpole of the Bailey) stars as Hecla in “Rowena,” Michael Gambone (Dumbledore, Harry Potter series) appears as Roland in “The Prisoner,” and the lovely Catherine Schell (Space: 1999, The Return of the Pink Panther) plays Benedicta in,The Girl from Rome.” 
(Left to Right) Llud, Arthur, and Kai. Mounted and ready for battle.
Concluding Thoughts

My recollection of the series dates back to about 1975, probably during its first syndicated run in the U.S. on PBS stations. My brother, a dedicated Arthurian scholar even then, made the family watch it every week, and I was immediately taken with the series, the action, and the revolutionary approach in putting Arthur within the historical context of the time from which the legend sprang. It was some four decades later before I saw the series again and, to my surprise, I was pleased to see I had remembered the final episode,The Girl from Rome.”

While definitely a fringe genre series, fan interest remained sufficient enough for the release of the four-disc series compilation Region 2 DVD box set in 2008 and the Arthur of the Britons: Original Soundtrack Recording in 2013, featuring the epic, rousing opening theme by Elmer Bernstein. That’s pretty good for a series nearly five decades old.  

Arthur of the Britons: The Complete Series
Descriptions by G. Jack Urso. Click on the links below to view the episodes 
on the Aeolus 13 Umbra Arthur of the Britons YouTube channel!

Opening theme.

Series 1 (1972–1973)

Episode 1: Arthur is Dead | Original Airdate December 6 1972
Arthur fakes his death in order to unite the various Celtic factions against the Saxon invaders led by recurring antagonist Cerdig (Rupert Davies), the Saxon chieftain.

Episode 2: The Gift of Life | Original Airdate December 13, 1972
Kai must return two orphaned Saxon girls to their village, but trouble erupts when the girls reveal Kai’s identity to the villagers.

Episode 3: The Challenge | Original Airdate December 13, 1972
Two cousins fight over their inheritance, leaving their village open to a Saxon attack.

Episode 4: The Penitent Invader | Original Airdate December 20, 1972  
Rolf, newly converted to Christianity, continues his violent ways. Llud tries to convince him to change.

Episode 5: People of the Plough| Original Airdate January 3, 1973
Kai, on his way to acquire weapons, encounters a Saxon woman whose husband was captured by a man who turns out to be the weaponsmith Kai is looking for.

Episode 6: The Duel | Original Airdate January 10, 1973
As the Celts ready for battle against the Saxons, Llud accidentally kills Mark of Cornwell’s second-in-command. Arthur must deal with the fallout and keep the Celts united.
Ready for the charge in “The Duel.”
Episode 7: The Pupil | Original Airdate January 17, 1973
Arthur is approach by a young man (Peter Firth) seeking to be trained as a warrior supposedly to protect his village, but really to take revenge against the man who killed his father, only to later learn Arthur is the killer.

Episode 8: Rolf the Preacher | Original Airdate January 24, 1973
Rolf, once a fierce warrior, returns in this episode now taking his conversion to Christianity seriously and preaching a doctrine of pacifism, which soon robs Arthur of fighting men needed for his army.

Episode 9: Enemies and Lovers | Original Airdate January 31, 1973
Arthur and Kai visit a village whose residents question whether they are really Saxon spies. The situation becomes more complicated when Kai gets involved with a former lover and the two plan marriage.

Episode 10: The Slave | Original Airdate February 7, 1973
With all the men of a village enslaved by the Saxons, Arthur, Kai, and Llud instigate a daring plot with the help of a Saxon girl to free captured Celts.

Episode 11: The Wood People | Original Airdate February 14, 1973
A former Saxon gladiator captures two children of the Wood People to trade for Arthur. Arthur’s men unite with the Wood People to save the children and bring yet another tribe into alliance with Arthur.

Episode 12: The Prize | Original Airdate February 21, 1973
Arthur, Mark of Cornwall, and a select group of men disguised as Saxons plunge deep into Saxon lands purportedly in search of treasure, but Arthur’s real prize is the lives of the captured Kai and Llud.  

Series 2 (1973)

Episode 1: The Swordsman | Original Airdate September 12, 1973
Defending Kai from a false accusation of murder, Arthur must face a great swordsman in a duel to the death.

Episode 2: Rowena | Original Airdate September 19, 1973
In exchange for new horses from Yorath the Jute, Arthur must escort his Yorath’s reluctant daughter Rowena to her betrothed, the Celt Hecla (guest star Peter Bowles).

Episode 3: The Prisoner | Original Airdate September 26, 1973
Mark of Cornwall hunts a Saxon who injured him in battle and who turns out to be a childhood friend of Kai. Guest Star Michael Gambone as Roland.

Episode 4: Some Saxon Women | Original Airdate October 3, 1973
Yorath the Jute must turn five Saxon women over to a Greek trader in exchange for wine. Rowena seeks Arthur’s help to stop the deal. Arthur must find a way to help the women without damaging his alliance with Yorath.

Episode 5: Go Warily | Original Airdate October 10, 1973
Two twin Celt brothers disagree over whether to join with Arthur’s alliance. Llud has a dream which may be key to resolving the conflict. Guest stars Tom Baker as Brandreth /Gavron and David Prowse as Brosk (as Dave Prowse).

Episode 6: The Marriage Feast | Original Airdate October 17, 1973
Mark of Cornwall plans to marry Rowena in order to get her father Yorath’s land. Yorath agrees to fight the Saxons for Arthur if Arthur can prevent the marriage from happening.
Rowena (Gila von Weitershausen).
Episode 7: In Common Cause | Original Airdate October 24, 1973
When the Saxons’ livestock begin to die off due to disease, a monk who claims to have the cure forces the Celts and Saxons to work together. A wary Cerdig, the Saxon chieftain, demands a hostage from Arthur before he agrees to cooperate.

Episode 8: Six Measures of Silver | Original Airdate October 31, 1973
Kurk, a friend of Llud, sells three head of cattle to Rowena, but trouble erupts when the man form whom Kurk stole the cattle from wants them back — at any cost.

Episode 9: Daughter of the King | Original Airdate November 7, 1973
Eithna, the daughter of Chief Bavick finds herself captured by Arthur’s men. Arthur wants to use her to compel her father to enter into alliance with him, but the fiercely independent Eithna has other plans.

Episode 10: The Games | Original Airdate November 14, 1973
Mark of Cornwall tries to use the annual Celtic Games to maneuver out of his alliance with Arthur.

Episode 11: The Treaty | Original Airdate November 21, 1973
Scots invaders lead Arthur to try and convince Cerdig the Saxon and Yorath the Jute into alliance with Arthur’s Celts

Episode 12: The Girl from Rome | Original Airdate November 21, 1973
Despite protests from Kai and Llud, Arthur finds himself falling in love with Benedicta (Catherine Schell), an imperious Roman aristocrat shipwrecked in his territory.
Benedicta (Catherine Schell).

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