Saturday, March 09, 2019

Belaboring in Obscurity.

Why do some people, such as myself, adore the obscure? In my case, I may not have a choice. I just retain certain things, but in particular, the names of character actors and bit-part players seem to stick. Many of the names I've "collected" are because I was a credits-reader going way back. I remember my brother, not long after we got HBO in the summer of '81, commenting that all the movie credits ought to be cut off in order to get to another flick more quickly. I was like, edit out the credits, are you nuts? (Actually, he said this as we happened to catch the end of Honeysuckle Rose, which has a band performing during the credits. "I guess they could leave this in," he generously conceded.) Without credits, how else would I find out that the lady who was in a million commercials, often playing moms desperate to defeat waxy build-up, was the improbably named Cloyce Morrow? (I believe her identity was gleaned from the closing crawl for The Gong Show Movie.)
I still have audio cassette tapes of my friend Jeff and me, recorded during sleep-overs when we were about twelve years old. They consisted of extemporaneous skits and shows designed to mock our classmates, teachers and whatever caught our attention on TV (which was just about everything). In one of these bits, a character that I would play regularly afterward was introduced as "Louie." Jeff (who was derisively impersonating one of our fellow Catholic school students) asked me my last name, and I again replied "Louie." Clearly anticipating a trend, Jeff then asked my middle name. Conjuring the strangest name I could retrieve, I answered "Ogden."

You might suspect that I was referencing Ogden Nash, the whimsical poet, but no. While I was familiar with Nash at the time (and frankly not much of a fan), I was thinking specifically of Ogden Talbot. He appeared in a half-dozen Odd Couple episodes, usually as a disheveled, unshaven type with just a line or two, most notably the Christmas ep called "Scrooge Gets an Oscar." He's the singing message-boy who tells Oscar Madison that his alimony is due (to the tune of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen"). He even got a punchline in that one: "What tip? I came to collect!"
Anyway, that's how the deathless character of Louie Ogden Louie was born. As I recall, due to the limits of my improv skills, his defining trait was just being a real asshole.

(If I may take a side road here, what was the deal with that Odd Couple plot? These five poker buddies, middle-aged men, are putting on a production of "A Christmas Carol" for children? I think it's mentioned that it's for charity, but when they go to rehearse there's no one else there. You'd expect other performers and crew members to be milling around, but it's just four dudes hoping Oscar will show up, and one of them is reading a dirty book. Odd is the word alright.)

Anyway, in addition to being a credits idiot savant (really, I prefer "bozo savant"), I am of course a word nerd.  I enjoy regular and cryptic crosswords, and the kind of puzzles known as Code Words. It's a crossword-type grid, with each square numbered, each number representing a letter, and all 26 letters are in the puzzle. (The book I'm working through gives you three letters off the bat, but usually it's up to you to find a pattern as a starting point.) When the grid is completed, you're left with a filled-in answer key that's thirteen pairs of letters. I use the key as an extra component of the game: coming up with known (I hesitate to say "famous") names for those initials.
Yup, there's Ogden Talbot in the second position. Naturally I prefer to invoke esoteric names, but sometimes you just have to use whatever will come to mind. I don't especially enjoy thinking about Michael Vick, but it was the only MV my skull-jelly could electrically produce. Dara Gottfried is the executive producer of my favorite podcast (and wife of its host, Gilbert Gottfried), a weekly show which contemplates many arcane--and often profane--showbiz subjects. Albert Whitlock created matte special effects, like this scene from The Blues Brothers, which Jeff and I watched about a dozen times during that first HBO summer.
With some names I'm not quite 100%. I think Carrie Henn was the kid in Aliens, and I think Frank Edwards wrote paperback books about UFO's. Right? I find that the older I get, the more I have to question if I actually know what I think I know, regardless of how readily it's recalled. Self-doubt is a curse--albeit one that really ought to befall more people.

Some combinations are utterly hopeless, such as when the X turns up in the second spot. If it's preceded by an M, you've got Malcolm X, but that's about it. Even when the X is in the first spot, your choices are limited. If it's followed by a C, that's Xavier Cugat, the bandleader.
If it's followed by an H, that's Xaviera Hollander (who didn't just play a happy hooker--she played THE Happy Hooker).
I've searched my DirecTV guide for X names, but it feels like cheating if I just memorize some unfamiliar name for the sake of having another pair covered. Besides, if I did discover any X names when I looked for them, it seems they haven't stuck anyway. (Perhaps I've stopped making new memories, which might explain the NEVER ANSWER THE PHONE tattoo I recently found on my shaven thigh.)
V names and Y names can be a problem, which is one of the reasons I appreciate MSNBC's early morning anchor Yasmin Vossoughian. I sometimes aim to enter as many names as I can that are as short or shorter than mine (eight letters). In the puzzles above, I called up Ed Ames, Sal Mineo, Will Geer, and Sid Luft (?!?), among others. And yes, before you bust my balls about it, I mistakenly put an S in Joey Forman's name.
There are a few I couldn't place, so feel free to take a crack at it. QO? UE? Beats me, but goddamn it, I gotta have an LQ rattling around up there somewhere...

(I'll stop here, but I think I originally had a larger point to this rambly foofaraw. As it stands, it kind of makes a good lead-in to the upcoming piece involving "time-travel" that I teased a post or two ago. I'll further tickle your ass with a feather by telling you it involves the Newsday TV Guides I own from 1979, with the first being from the week of my tenth birthday later this month. If you've managed to make it this far, do check back...)


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