Saturday, February 24, 2007

More Than My Quota of Quotes

Well, cool.

The new Quote of the Day feature here at WeinWords seems to be functioning perfectly. Coincidently, today's quote from Lord Chesterfield: "Whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing well" reminds me of one of my own quotes from the book, Science Fictionisms, compiled by my late and dearly beloved friend, Bill Rotsler. Therein, under the section labeled Lifeisms, I said: Never be embarrassed by the things you cannot do. Be embarrassed by the things you can do and don't do well. I'm quoted on the same page as Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. and Aldous Huxley. Now what could possibly be more humbling than that?

Arguably my most famous quote appeared in Reader's Digest a number of years ago, again thanks to Bill. The quote is: A true friend is someone who is there for you, when they would rather be anywhere else. If you ever bother to Google me (which really should include dinner and drinks first), you'll find that almost a third of the absurdly large number of links there will connect you to that quote, rather than any of the serious writing I've done over the years. I find that both curious and fascinating.

Just for the heck of it, I decided to Google myself earlier (I'm hoping I'll actually call me later as I promised) and was amazed to discover a site that contains literally dozens of quotes from me, culled from various interviews I've given over the years. If you're interested and have absolutely nothing better to do, you can check them out here at Many of them concern the art of writing, so I suppose they do have some value.

Let me know what you think.

Friday, February 23, 2007

I See, Quoth He...

Okay, as you've all probably noticed -- and as my wife keeps vociferously complaining -- I'm not blogging here nearly as often as she, you, or even I, for that matter, would like me to be. Thus, in a perhaps vain effort to have you all drop by on a more regular basis, I've just added a spanking new feature to this here blog. You'll find it to the right and just below my profile. It's a Quote of the Day and, hopefully, we'll all learn a little something from it as time goes by. Who knows? Maybe they'll even get around to using one of my quotes here eventually.

Hey, don't laugh. Anything is possible.

Oh, and a quick claws up to the first person who can tell me where the title of this post originally comes from.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

I'll Take "Stuff Len Created" For $1000, Alex

In case I've never mentioned it, my wife Christine is somewhat Catholic and I'm peripherally Jewish. This might be a cause for friction in some households, but not in ours. That's because my wife and I share the same faith. You see, we watch Jeopardy! Religiously. When we're home, we watch it over dinner. When we're out, we Tivo it and watch it when we get home. If we're out for some prolonged period of time, away at a convention, for example, we Tivo it, then prop our eyelids open with toothpicks when we get home, and watch an Alex Trebeck marathon.

We are so committed to the show that, a number of years ago, when I was stuck in an airport, waiting to board what becoming a long-delayed flight, and Christine was still living in Cleveland, attending law school, I called her at home when I knew the show was about to begin, and she relayed the entire episode to me, answers and all, over the phone. Hey, stop looking at me like that. I know what that sounds like. But it is, as I've said, our religion.

We each have our own strengths and weaknesses in the game, of course. I tend to excel in categories relating to the Arts and Media, anything involving TV, Film, Literature, Poetry, People and Places in the News, and any of the trick categories, things like Before & After, Rhyme Time, Stupid Answers and the like. My single worst category, bar none, is Colleges and Universities. For Christine, on the other hand, C&U is arguably her best category, and she's terrific at Geography, History, Math, and anything that requires an actual education.

For years, Chris has been pushing me to take the test and try out for the game. I decline vigorously, telling her that the night I actually got to be on the show, the categories would inevitably include things like Famous Left-handed Plumbers, The History of Lint, Nuns' Shoe Sizes, Native Cheeses of Saskatoon, Things Len Has Never Even Heard Of and, of course, Colleges and Universities. Never one to be put off by my cowardice, Chris tried out for the show and is now on a waiting list to actually appear on the air. And yet, she still keeps pushing me to try as well.

I thought the problem was solved for good and all last year when I was one of the recurring panelists on the Live On Stage revival of the classic TV game show What's My Line? I promise a discussion of that as a separate blog post real soon. Even on nights when I wasn't on the panel, I'd be in the audience of the show. On the evening in question, we had a quartet of contestants, three men and a woman, whose line turned out to be that they were the question writers for Jeopardy! After the show, our dear friend, the lovely and talented Lisa Jane Persky, of whom I've spoken here before, brought me over to meet one of the writers. The moment we were introduced, the guy freaked. He started shouting to his friends, "Quick. Come over here. You've got to meet this man. You'll never believe who he is." Turns out the three guys, at least, were all fans of mine. We shook hands, exchanged pleasantries, and I figured that was it. I was finally off the hook. There was no way they would ever let me be a contestant on the show if I personally knew the people who write the questions! I figured that was as involved as I would ever get with the show and I breathed a great sigh of relief.

Thus it is, with no small scintilla of pride but with an overwhelming amount of astonishment, that I'm here tonight to suggest you all Tivo, tape, or otherwise record this Wednesday's episode of Jeopardy! That's Wednesday, February 21st. Check your local listings for the correct time and channel. Why, you may ask? Lemme tell you.

According to a super-secret inside Hollywood source-type person, the names of all the categories for Double Jeopardy are the names of some of our favorite mutants. I know for certain that two of the categories are Wolverine and Storm. I can't wait to discover what the others are. "Night"Crawler, perhaps? At the end, after listing all the category but one, I expect Alex will say something along the lines of, "And what do all these categories have in common?" at which point, he'll reveal the final category: The X-Men.

Now keep in mind that none of the earlier categories will actually be about the X-Men. Storm, I expect, will be about hurricanes and typhoons and their ilk, Wolverine will probably be about the Mighigan sports team, and the same sort of thinking goes for the other categories. Only the X-Men category is likely to actually be about the X-Men. Still, I've somehow managed to avoid being a contestant on Jeopardy! and gone straight to being a topic. Frankly, I couldn't be more proud.

So tune in on Wednesday and let me know what you think of the show, okay? I promise to be sitting right there next to you in spirit.

And, hey, will you please stop hogging the remote?

Monday, February 12, 2007

And the State of the Art

As I think I mentioned to you when we start started chatting like this, I absolutely adore Musical Theater. When I was back in New York City last April for the first time in five years, I managed to see eight shows in seven days. From Norbert Leo Butz's Tony-winning turn in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels to the heartwarming retro-musical The Drowsy Chaperone to The 25th Annnual Putnam County Spelling Bee (where I was fortunate enough to be chosen as one of the Spellers) to the surprisingly entertaining Hairspray to the catastrophically awful Elton John tuner LeStat to the wonderfully reimagined Sweeney Todd (and, hey, you haven't experienced Broadway until you've watched the incredible Patti LuPone as a tuba-playing Mrs. Lovett) to the ingeniously twisted Avenue Q to Wallace Shawn's off-Broadway opus The Music Teacher (a terrible show improved immensely by the wonderful performance of my niece Kristina Valada-Viers, not that I'm prejudiced or anything), there wasn't one night when my butt wasn't sitting in an aisle seat somewhere in town, happily transported.

The problem with living in the Los Angeles area is that there are far fewer large theaters to house the big shows. After the Pantages and the Ahmansen, the number drops off precipitously. Oh, there are dozens of much smaller theaters, many of them 99-seaters, so shows do get produced, but generally on a far smaller scale. But, joy of joys, somewhere right in the middle, there is Reprise!

The program began a decade ago, calling itself Reprise: Broadway in Concert. The premise was simple. Three times a year, for about two weeks at a time, a talented cast would revive a classic or little-seen Broadway musical. The costumes and sets were almost non-existent, the cast was working on book, which meant they were carrying their scripts with them on stage, but the entertainment value was terrific. The first production was Promises, Promises, based on the film The Apartment, and starring Jason Alexander of Seinfeld fame. The other shows that season were Finian's Rainbow and Wonderful Town. The second season's shows included The Pajama Game, The Three Penny Opera and Of Thee I Sing. And with each new production, Reprise took another step forward. By the start of the third season and their production of Bells Are Ringing, the scripts in hand were completely gone, there were costumes aplenty and even some pretty inventive if still minimal sets. My lovely wife Christine and I became season subscribers with that third season and we've literally been sitting front row center ever since. I won't mention all the other shows we've seen at Reprise, which, by the way, operates out of the Freud Playhouse on the campus of UCLA. You can find that out yourself in you're interested by clicking on the link above.

All of this is by way of prelude to last Friday, when Christine and I went to see the second of this season's Reprise productions, Steven Sondheim's Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece, Sunday in the Park with George. Now I'll admit right up front that I'm a Sondhead. With the single exception of Passion, which I've just never been able to wrap my heart around, there isn't a Sondheim work I'm not crazy about. Company may just be my all-time favorite musical, and I've seen God knows how many different productions of the show, just as I have with Sweeney Todd, Assassins, Into the Woods, Follies, Merrily We Roll Along, Pacific Overtures, and all the rest. Still, while Company is my favorite Sondheim show, Sunday... comes in a close second. The first act is the fictionalized version of artist George Seurat's efforts to paint his pointillist masterpiece, A Sunday on the Island of La Grande Jatte, while the second act focuses on Seurat's neo-artist great-grandson's efforts to bring his own work before the public and how little the business of art has really changed in the past 100 years. If you're a writer, a poet, a painter, an artist of any stripe, it's almost impossible not to know what these men are going through and thus share their pain.

This production was directed by Jason Alexander, coming full circle from his involvement in Reprise's first production, and starred Manoel Felciano (who, coincidentally, I'd seen last April playing Toby in Sweeney Todd) and the lovely Kelli O'Hara (Tony-nominated last year for her role in the Broadway revival of The Pajama Game) in the roles of George and Dot, first assayed on the Great White Way by the astonishing team of Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters. And that, in many ways, was the big problem I had with this production, and I will admit it was a personal one. Once you've seen the characters played by Patinkin and Peters, it's almost impossible to imagine them played by anyone else. Both Felciano and O'Hara have wonderful voices and did commendable jobs, but they lacked the commitment, the heartbreaking passion, the originals brought to the roles.

My wife, who had never seen the original production, enjoyed this one quite a bit, but I'll have to give the show six claws up out of a possible ten.

In May, we see the final Reprise production of the season, Richard Rogers' little-seen No Strings. Expect another report from the aisle then.

Friday, February 9, 2007

I've Figured It Out

A female Astronaut wearing diapers and carrying Maxwell's Silver Hammer travels almost a thousand miles to attempt the murder of her "rival" for the affections of a man who barely even knows her.

The entire city of Boston, Massachusetts goes into Red Alert Terrorist Lockdown when they think they're being invaded by hundreds of LiteBrite images of a crimefighting Milk Shake.

Celebrity footnote Anna Nicole Smith hasn't even had time to start spinning in her grave when yet another man, the prepaid-Prince husband of fellow footnote, 90-year-old Zsa Zsa Gabor -- the husband of ZSA ZSA FREAKIN' GABOR, fer Chri'sake -- steps forward to join the DMV-sized line of those claiming paternity of Smith's maybe-heiress infant daughter.

And that's all just in the past week.

It's obvious, isn't it? David Lynch is currently writing reality -- and we're all living in Twin Peaks.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Halfway Into the Valley of Death Rode the 300

Well, we just got back from an early screening of Frank Miller's 300 and I'm pleased to say it's just about everything we hoped it would be. Visually, it captures the look of Frank's graphic novel splendidly. It's a wonder to behold. The story is one of history's great tales of heroism and sacrifice and this film definitely does it justice. The acting is nothing spectacular, but utterly servicable. Good solid performances all around.

One word of caution, though: this film is as graphically violent as any I've seen. Blood sprays across the screen in great crimson geysers, limbs are whacked off with gay abandon (as well as with swords and spears), heads are stuck on pikes, bodies are quite literally stacked like cordwood. You know, basically your average weekend in Compton.

Still, as I sat there watching a battlefield strewn with thousands of bodies, all I could think was, "Wow, they've killed almost as many people here as Jack Bauer does in a typical 24 hours."

Go see it and let me know what you think.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

No Room at the Holiday Inn

Well, rooms for the 38th Annual San Diego Comic Con officially went on sale at 9 AM Pacific Time this morning and it took less than a half hour for every hotel room in Southern California to be completely filled. I tried constantly phoning and rephoning the housing number for reservations even as I went to the website to try for rooms that way, but I never got anything other than a busy signal on the phone and every time it looked like I'd managed to book something through the website, it would kick me off when I hit confirm, and by the time I got back in again, whatever room I thought I had was long gone. It was, frankly, one of the most frustrating and infuriating mornings of my life. By the third or fourth time I was kicked out of the system, I found myself screaming and pounding on my desk in a blind rage.

At the end of the hour, when I realized the closest rooms I would be able to find at the con rates would be at my own house a good two hour drive from San Diego, I decided to change tactics and I started going to the hotels' own websites to look for reservations instead. I managed to find what I was later told was the last remaining room at one of the major hotels for a rate that was slightly more than DOUBLE what I would have paid through the con. After the reservation was confirmed, I called the hotel and spoke to a very helpful clerk who managed to knock a hundred bucks off the room rates for each of my first two nights. The remaining two nights remain the same. Since I've got five months between now and the con, I intend to call the hotel periodically to see if I can keep whittling away at the thousand dollar difference between the cheaper rate and what I'm paying now. I'll let you know if I wind up being able to afford anything to eat at the con, or if you'll all need to bring me sandwiches.

Every year the con gets bigger and the available room space gets smaller. To paraphrase a Dolly Parton quote I've used on this blog before, it's like trying to stuff every potato in the state of Idaho into a ten pound bag. Some serious rethinking needs to be done on the part of the Con Committee and it needs to be done soon. Otherwise, I envision the San Diego Convention Center eventually starting to look like Hong Kong harbor, with thousands of people living on the water nearby in makeshift boats.

Still, there was one positive aspect of this morning's madness. At least now we know why Joseph and Mary ended up sleeping in that stable on that fateful night. Apparently, there was a Comic Con going on in Bethlehem that weekend.

A Little Con-fusion

In response to my recent review of my trip to Phoenix, Arizona for Cactus Comicon, curious reader Rick asks:
I'm not a con-goer, so can I ask a silly question? Why do you go? Do they pay you? Do you have something to sell at your table? I understand that con sketches can be lucrative for illustrators, but I'm not sure why the writers give up their weekends. ("C'mon, please? Just a little character sketch? Y'know, just 300 words?" "Oh, all right. 'Robin held his breath as he gaped at the mysterious costumed figure. It reminded him of the first time he had encountered...'")
Actually, there are a lot of reasons I go to conventions. As a rule, I only go when my expenses, travel, hotel, and the like, are being paid for by the con. When they give me a table to sit behind between panels, I usually bring along copies of some of my old scripts to sell for pocket money. Autographs I do for free. Unless, of course, as has sometimes been the case, somebody comes up with literally hundreds of my books they expect me to sign. At that point, after a certain number of free autographs, I charge for the rest. But I really don't go to conventions to make money. I go to connect with my audience, to get feedback from the folks who actually buy my books, to get a feel for what's going on out there in Comic Book Reader Land.

I go to conventions because that's where I belong, that's where I came from.

Back in 1964, just weeks out of my mother's womb, I helped organize the very first comic book convention alongside fellow fans Ron Fradkin and Bernie Bubnis. I am in fact, he humbly states, the guy who coined the word ComiCon.

The convention was held in downtown New York City, at (I think) the Workman's Circle Center, a building long since carried away piece by piece by the cockroaches who overran the place. The first membership was sold to my old friend and now bestselling fantasy author George R.R. Martin. The invited guests included Lone Ranger newspaper strip artist Tom Gill, Stan Lee's personal secretary, Fabulous Flo Steinberg, and some artist guy named Steve Ditko. For reasons I honestly no longer even remember, I was excluded from the committee a few weeks before the con, though I showed up and elbowed my way in anyway. Nothing was going to stop me from seeing what my efforts had wrought. The entire convention was one day long, but it was clearly an idea whose time had come.

The following year, the con was organized by Dave Kaler, then John Benson, then the late Phil Seuling chaired it for a number of years. I have been to Lord alone knows how many other comic book conventions around the country since. I went to every NY convention while I lived there, and I haven't missed a San Diego Comic Con since the third or fourth. I just love the excitement, the energy, and the overwhelming sense of community I get at conventions.

I go to conventions because they're fun, Rick, and because it's always nice to come home again.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Bowled Over

It will come as a shock to absolutely none of you that I am not particularly athletically inclined nor, for that matter, am I especially athletically interested. In my salad days at DC and Marvel, I will admit to playing more than my fair share of volleyball and softball. In fact, on my office wall, I still humbly display the framed certificate given me by the 1976 Marvel Softball Team that proudly proclaims me "Best Spectator".

Now, granted, I did once see a Lakers basketball game live, thanks to the generosity of my old buddy Ted Elliott, and I do still try to take in a baseball game at least once a season with some friends, but that's more for the shared experience and the opportunity to scarf down Dodger Dogs and salted peanuts for five times what it would cost me if I purchased the same items at my local supermarket than for any deep, abiding love of the game. I've never attended a soccer match, a hockey game, a golf tournament, or a tiddlywinks championship.

Which makes it all the more bizarre that, every year, come rain or shine, I religiously watch the Super Bowl.

Okay, you can pick your chins up off the floor now, while I explain. You see, in his last years, before the much too early death of my beloved father, he kept attempting to explain the game of football to me. To this end, for several seasons running, we would watch the Super Bowl together and he would carefully explain the rules and subtleties of the sport to me, almost all of which went immediately and utterly over my head. I still can't tell a right guard from any other brand of deodorant and, to me, a center will always be the chewy middle of a Tootsie Roll Pop. But I loved my father more than I can ever hope to be loved, so I sat and I listened and I adored the man all the more for his infinite patience and his support. When my father passed, I decided to carry on our tradition, so every year, I invite a handful of good friends over to the house to eat pizza and chips and nachos and share the day with me and the spirit of my dad.

Since I don't really follow football during the regular season, I usually decide which team to root for during the game based on which side has the coolest uniforms, but this year the decision was particularly easy. Since I'm noted for the stuffed Teddies I used the collect (thus proving the old warning never to display two of anything in your home, lest your friends assume you collect them), I opted for the Chicago Bears, while my equestrian wife chose the Denver Broncos. Unfortunately, the Broncos weren't playing this year, so she changed her vote to the Indianapolis Colts.

The game started off like Gangbusters, with the Bears' Devin Hester returning the kickoff ball 92 yards for a touchdown in the first 14 seconds of the first quarter. This was followed by several quick turnovers (my favorites are the frosted raspberry ones), and it was starting to look like this was going to be the Super Bowl to end of all Super Bowls. We should, of course, have known better. The second half of the game provided the usual embarrassing rout the Super Bowl always turns into, and the Colts walked away the winners.

But let's be honest, people, we really don't watch the Super Bowl for the game, or for the Halftime show (am I the only one who half-expected Prince to get electrocuted right in the middle of his set?), or for the spiffy uniforms. We watch for the commercials, don't we? C'mon, you know you do.

So which ones were your favorites this year? For me, it was the Blockbuster spot with the poor mouse, almost all of the Budweiser ads, and that totally surreal pitch for Emerald Nuts that explains how Robert Goulet sneaks into your office every afternoon at Three to mess things up. Oh, and let's not forget the Snickers ad. I'll be having nightmares from that one for years to come. So how about you? Which ads tickled your fancy the most? I'm more than willing to be convinced I'm wrong.

In the meanwhile, thanks, Dad. I'm already holding your seat for next year.