Friday, December 29, 2017
I first met the wonderful movie and TV actress Heather Menzies on an American Air flight from Toronto to Los Angeles.
I was proceeding to the annual TV Critics convention and she was accompanying her husband actor Bob Urich as he flew down to speak to the TCA on behalf of his latest series Gavilan.
That would be in the summer of 1982 and Urich was his usual suave self before the TV critics.
But Gavilan folded quickly --a mere 10 episodes as I remember.
It became a standing joke with Heather that she'd bump into me as we boarded flights to L.A.
On one return trip around that time she was with Urich and seating was scarce so their little boy sat beside me.
It was in August but he was all excited about going to Toronto and their cottage in Muskoka because the last time he'd been there it was snowing.
So Heather had to patiently exclaim this was not possible in August.
I met the Urichs again in Toronto in 1987 when Bob was co-starring in the miniseries Amerika.
Then he really scored in the series Spenser: For Hire which ran for three seasons
Spenser was revived as a series of TV flicks beginning in 1994--it was shot in Toronto..
I was on the set one day to chat with my friend Wendy Crewson and Urich invited me to stay over and chew the fat at lunch.
Urich was always working while Heather had put her acting career on hold to look after the children.
I think the last time I met her was at 20th Century Fox and she was with Robert Wagner and Lew Ayres in a quickly cancelled series titled Lime Street (1985) --but that series was quickly cancelled and her episode never aired.
The thing is Heather put her career on hold for long periods.
I remember kidding her that she was born in Toronto (in 1949) and Bob was also born in Toronto --Toronto, Ohio.
Her family moved to the U.S. in 1960 when she was 11 and she attended Hollywood High School.
She auditioned for and got the role of Louisa von Trapp in the 1965 classic The Sound Of Music and she dutifully attended all the subsequent reunions.
Then came a change of pace when she romped in the nude in a 1973 Playboy pictorial.
Also in 1973 she was in the trash classic SSssssssss as Strother Martin's daughter.
I was on the set of the 1977 MGM TV series Logan's Run but I have no recollection of meeting her although she was the co-star.
She met Urich when both were making a TV commercial and she appeared in most of his series including Vegas and Spenser For Hire.
When Urich announced in 1996 he had been diagnosed with synovial sarcoma, a rare cancer attacking soft tissue, Menzies stood by him and he was declared cancer free in 1998.
But he succumbed in 2002 and his ashes were buried on the family farm in Prince Edward County, Ontario.
By this time Heather was battling ovarian cancer and she died on Christmas Eve 2017 surrounded by the three Urich children.
I should have kept in better touch in recent years. But I didn't.
Friday, December 22, 2017
When I told a dear neighbor of mine that Ron James was soon coming back in a new New Year's Eve CBC-TV special she clapped her hands.
She's the one who once suggested to me James was the Canadian equivalent of Will Rogers.
And she's right except that James is still alive and growing in stature.
Just check out his new hourlong special on CBC-TV New Year's Eve At 9 p.m.
"It's been a great year for comics," grouses James on the phone. Of course he's kidding. Or is he?
He's talking about the rise of U.S. President Donald Trump whose daily mishaps have given late night TV comics their highest ratings in years.
"His petulance is magnificent," James chuckles but adds :"It has really gone too far. There are gaffes by the hour."
About the difference between President Jimmy Carter and President Trump James tells his audience "One grew nuts instead of the one who is nuts."
That doesn't mean James is any kinder about Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau.
"Justin does 600 selfies a day!" jokes James who also comments on those designer suits Trudeau sports.
And about the new Tory leader Andrew Schneer? "His autobiography should be titled 50 Shades Of Beige."
It's been a rough personal year for James whose dad died in Niova Scotia aged 85.
"My Maritime roots are deep," he tells me. But these days his stage is the whole of Canada.
"I had a great 18-city stop in the west at the beginning of the year,." he chuckles.
He drives himself from venue to venue and finds Canadians everywhere supportive of his comedic talents.
"In the hotel room after the show I'll look for Canadian TV but even the Canadian stations run mostly U.S. programs except for those talk shows in the afternoon where all they do is comment on American entertainment."
After graduation from Acadia University James jumped to Second City in Toronto --his is a craft that has to be learned in front of a demanding audience.,
'Every show is just a little different, James says. "I get to know the audience and I play off them."
After the show they all want to take selfies which takes another hour. It's when they stop asking for selfies that I'll be scared.
These days the legalization of marijuana is one dicey topic.
James snorts Canadians' biggest question these days is "When can we smoke weed legally."
James agrees with me there's a rhythm to his performances. This hour was taped in Guelph before an appreciative audience.
When he had his weekly half hour skit series James says "I had to stay away from political humor because we were taping months in advance. Now it's no holds barred."
Like many would-be stars James drifted down to L.A. and got some work but nothing he couldn't do better back home.
"It's all about me, really," he laughs. "It's what bugs me, what scares me in this life. And brother there's a lot of that pit there. And I find the audience tends to agree with me."
Some of the reasons this hour works so well: executive producers James, Lynn Harvey and Paul Pogue, writers James, Pogue and Scott Montgomery, director Michael Watt,technical director Curt Fuglewicz, lighting designer James Downey.
Too bad we'll have to wait another yerar for the next James special.
RON JAMES: THE HIGH ROAD PREMIERES ON CBC-TV SUNDAY DECEMBER 31 AT 9 P.M.
REPEATS JAN. 2 2018 AT 8 P.M. ON CBC-TV.
MY RATING: ****.
Saturday, December 9, 2017
What's the hottest trend in TV Reality shows these days?
I say it's the slew of series focused on friendly but helpful vets.
It all started with National Geographic's The Incredible Dr. POl which stars a seventysomething vet way out in the Wisconsin countryside.
Then there's the one I like titled Dr. Oakley, Yukon Vet.
And there's one on an Aussie group of vets I've recently been watching on CBC.
And then there's one on a female vet who specializes in exotic a:Dr. K's Exotic Animal ER.
But I'll still have time in my viewing schedule for Dr. Keri: Prairie Vet which premieres Sunday night at 9 on Animal Planet.
This vet is Canadian and she practices out on the lone prairie in Ashern Manitoba.
I talked to her on the phone the other night --she rang in after a typically hectic day and she's not at all sure she wants to be a TV star.
But she has the personality and the way she carefully explains each procedure makes the show highly watchable.
She also seems to care about each and every patient and that's highly important.
These kind of shows can't be set up in advance --we first see Dr. Keri answering the phone at 3:30 a.m. as a distraught farmer says a heiffer is experiencing poroblems in labor.
DR. Keri Hudson travels in a mobile fashion and she's soon at the farm helping induce labor to save the calf and her mother.
Excellent camerawork helps drive the dramatic tension --obviously one can't as the animal participants for a second take.
Dr. Keri mentions she inherited her talents from her dad, also a vet.
And she lives with husband Calvin on a 600-head cattle ranch so she's in the thick of it always.
Her high-tech mobile clinic is shown to advantage in another segment where a gruff little dog has eaten chocolate and seems out of it --she explains what is probably happening and gets to work saving another life.
We get to know the farmers in the area as well as the animals and they all seem taken with her skills.
And as far as Canadian content goes this is right up there with the best of family TV viewing.
Winnipeg's Merit Pictures made this one --another recent Merit production I admired was Beyond The Spectrum: A Family's Year Confronting Autism.
Dr. Keri shows there's room for another Canadian vet on the Canadian landscape.
"I thought of it as an adventure," she says of her newfound TV experience. "I think it rings true because vets are always on call. Ashern is a small community so I have to do a little bit of everything. And there is no down time believe me."
If the series gets a second season pickup Dr. Keri says "I'm looking forward to it. Nothing much was planned --that's the nature of the job you see."
Looks like the Incredible Dr. Pol will have even more TV competition in the future.
DR. KERI PRAIRIE VET PREMIERES ON ANIMAL PLANET SUNDAY AT 9 P.M.
MY RATING: ***1/2.