Monthly Archive: January 2009

Confusable Names

TV star Vanessa Minnillo and TV star Alyssa Milano.

Which Is the Best Best Picture Ever?

Newsday is holding a vote. First they’re weeding it down decade by decade — then those winners, plus a few wildcards, go head to head for the title of Best Best Picture of All Time.Here were my votes:

Some (Presidents) Like It Hot

“He’s from Hawaii, O.K.? He likes it warm. You could grow orchids in there.”Obama advisor David Axelrod on his boss’s Oval Office habits.

Photo from 'The Chronicles of John Updike'

The Chronicles of John Updike

Author John Updike has died at age 76. (Of lung cancer, in a hospice in Massachusetts.)Obituary lede writers agree: Updike was all about the chronicles.

Who Should Play Rod Blagojevich?

In a TV movie, that is. The NY Daily News has suggestions.(Javier Bardem seems like a stretch.)Read our profile onRod Blagojevich for more details.

Photo from 'Doll Trouble at the White House'

Doll Trouble at the White House

First Lady Michelle Obama is not fond of the weird new dolls loosely based on first daughters Sasha and M

How Tall is Tom Cruise Really?

“At this premier Katie is wearing 2/2.5 heels. So if she is 5’9 as listed puts her over 5’11. Tom standing at 5’9.5 or a tad under. I think these shoes are giving him at most 2 inches, more likely 1.5, consistent with 5’8 and the barefoot pic with Katie.”That’s courtesy of, where footwear and photo angles are dissected with Zapruder-style intensity.

An Inside Peek at Air Force One

National Geographic does the honors.No photos, but still a cool look at the plane. Who knew the president’s suite was in the nose?

Broadcasting Benedict

“He may not be in with the local Emo cult, and you’re unlikely to see him hanging out at a skateboard park. But the Holy Father moved one step closer to cool today when he launched the Vatican’s own YouTube site on Google.” The Pope is on YouTube.

Playmobil Security Checkpoint for Kids

Yup, it’s a real product. The user comments really are priceless.Thank you Playmobil for allowing me to teach my 5-year-old the importance of recognizing what a failing bureaucracy in a ever growing fascist state looks like.This toy would be a lot more realistic with about 350 people standing in line for an average of an hour. I heard this also comes with tiny sets of latex gloves for the security guards!

Oscar Ennui for ABC?

Dark Knight wasn’t nominated. But…”Yes! The highbrow Holocaust film with lukewarm reviews is in the game!”Mark Caro says the Oscar nominees are bad news for the broadcaster.

The Oscar Revenge of Benjamin Button

Make fun of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button all you want, but it pulled down thirteen nominations in the 2009 Oscar race.Including best picture, best actor (Brad Pitt), best director (David Fincher), best phony old-guy makeup, etc, etc.The ceremony is February 22nd. The other best picture nominees: Frost/Nixon, The Reader, Milk, and (our early favorite) Slumdog Millionaire.

Hugs and Squirrels

Take your choice: January 21st is National Hugging Day and Squirrel Appreciation Day.

President Obama Begins His Day With Darth Vader

What is Barack Obama’s calendar for his first full day in office?Here’s a basic schedule. He starts with a 10 am worship service at National Cathedral — the one with the Darth Vader gargoyle.Then Obama hosts an open house at the White House while also meeting with military leaders, economic experts, etc, etc.

The New White House Website

Barack Obama has been sworn in as the 44th president of the United States.And the White House website has formally been flipped to the new administration.

Bush Leaves a Note for Obama

During his last moments at the White House, former President Ronald Reagan scribbled a note for his successor on a notepad with a turkey insignia that said, “Don’t let the turkeys get you down.”Thus starting a tradition that George W. Bush apparently carried on today, leaving a note for Barack Obama. No word on whether it included a sketch of a turkey.

The Order of Business

The step-by-step schedule for Barack Obama’s inaugural ceremony.

The Improbability of Obama

“The essence of Barack Obama has been his capacity to avert life’s roadblocks and disappointments during his journey. The first could have been his unusual family biography, with the challenges it presented in terms of stability and psychology. The second could have been the sociology of race in America, with its likelihood of rejection and cynicism. And the final was the geography of elective politics, with all the variables of ideology and luck.

Roger Vadim Says He Invented the Word ‘Discotheque’

“It was I who coined the term ‘discotheque.'”So says Roger Vadim in his 1986 memoir Bardot, Deneuve, Fonda. The year was 1949 or so, and Vadim was living in post-war Paris. (He leads in by saying, “It was people like me and Christian Marquand, the avante-garde director Michel de Ré, Juliette Greco and the singer Annabel… who created a new style and launched the idea of basement clubs.”)

Bob May, “Lost In Space” Robot, Has Died

“He was a smoker. From time to time (when he was on a break), we’d see smoke coming out of the robot. That always amused us.”Actress June Lockhart remembers Bob May, The Robot from Lost In Space. May died Sunday at age 69.As with Kenny Baker and R2-D2, May didn’t voice the character. But he’s the guy who wore the suit day in and day out.

Joaquin Phoenix Is Now a Hairy Belafonte

Here’s a story we missed in October: Oscar nominee Joaquin Phoenix told reporters he was giving up acting. His new love? Music.

Andrew Wyeth, American Artist, Dead at 91

“Almost like a painting he composed his life… His painting was his life. Knowing him, I always thought from the beginning that if the day ever came he could not paint he would die.”Andrew Wyeth, painter of handsome and melancholy American scenes, has died in his sleep at age 91.

Anatomy of a Near-Disaster

A helpful map of flight 1549’s trip around Manhattan — Sully’s wild ride — complete with geese.

“He Looked Like David Niven in an Airplane Uniform”

The reviews are in for Chesley B. Sullenberger III, the improbably-named pilot who landed his 169,000-pound airplane in the Hudson River on Thursday, then strolled the aisle to check for stragglers before stepping off himself.

Bush’s Last Days

He’s off to Camp David for the weekend. The West Wing will be a “ghost town.” And then…

Happy 80th Birthday, Martin Luther King Jr.

Born on this day in 1929.Others born in 1929: Four-minute-miler Roger Bannister, jazz man Bill Evans, and actress Audrey Hepburn.Distinguished company. But even in that crowd, MLK stands out.

Ricardo Montalban Pitches the Cordoba

Nobody uttered “Cordoba” quite like Ricardo Montalban. “Great comfort at a most pleasant price,” indeed.

Jobs’s Health Problem “More Complex” Than He Thought

Unfortunately, the curiosity over my personal health continues to be a distraction not only for me and my family, but everyone else at Apple as well. In addition, during the past week I have learned that my health-related issues are more complex than I originally thought.

Patrick McGoohan, “The Prisoner,” Has Died

The actor was 80, says the BBC.McGoohan was chiefly associated with cult ITV drama The Prisoner, writing some of the episodes himself under a different name.McGoohan played the character Six in the surreal 1960s show, filmed in the north Wales village of Portmeirion.His character spent the entire time attempting to escape from The Village and finding out the identity of his captor, the elusive Number One.

A Bela Lugosi Burial Tidbit

Odd, but true: Bela Lugosi, a pioneer in American film and a legend of classic horror roles, died at the age of 73 in the summer of 1956, and was buried most fittingly in one of his “Dracula” capes.Ironic, then, that Dracula was buried in a cemetery named Holy Cross.

Dr. King’s Premonition

Last year The Atlanta Journal-Constitution ran a 40th anniversary feature on the death of Martin Luther King. It’s well worth a visit on this week of Dr. King’s 80th birthday. The feature is packed full of photos, story archives, links, and videos like the one below, with his friends talking about the days before he died.

Arne Duncan, the Hoop-Shooting Secretary of Education

Here’s a great 10-minute interview with Arne Duncan, the new Secretary of Education-to-be. (Courtesy of the education site Edutopia.)Duncan’s a fascinating guy. His basketball history has gotten quite a bit of coverage, and rightfully so: After starring at Harvard, he went to Australia and played pro ball from 1987-91.

Greatest Inaugural Story Lede So Far

“Thank God that Doris Kearns Goodwin didn’t write a profile of Montezuma’s cabinet. Otherwise they’d be eating human flesh at Barack Obama’s inauguration!”Political Machine chuckling about the Lincoln-oriented menu for Inauguration Day.

Brady Proposes to Bundchen for Record Seventh Time

People swears that it’s not like last time. This time it’s absolutely, positively for certain: Tom Brady is marrying Gisele Bündchen.”The couple is discussing a huge fashionista event in the spring or a more intimate and quicker ceremony in Costa Rica, where Gisele has a home.”

Telly Savalas Was Born in 1922, Not 1924

We had 1924 as the birth year for Telly Savalas, but our friends at asked us to double-check the date.We did, by writing to CMG Worldwide, the management company that runs the official Telly Savalas website and manages his image for his estate. Their reply:Hello, thank you for your inquiry on Telly Savalas. I have confirmed his birthdate was Jan. 21, 1922. Thank you for you time and concern. Regards,Matt Graves

“My Fellow Americans, God Bless America”

That was the complete six-word inaugural address of the Barack Obama stand-in at today’s practice inauguration.Obama was played by an Army staff sergeant wearing a sign reading “Pres.-Elect Obama”; Michelle Obama’s stand-in was a Navy yeoman.Stars and Stripes has photos.

A Salute to the American Presidency Project

While researching our new profile of CIA nominee Leon Panetta, we came across this great resource from UC Santa Barbara: The American Presidency ProjectIt’s a monster collection of public papers of the presidents, plus assorted proclamations, remarks, press briefings, election notes, audio and video. (Want to hear Herbert Hoover address the Puerto Rican legislature?


“Will the highways on the Internet become more few?””It would be a mistake for the United States Senate to allow any kind of human cloning to come out of that chamber.””They misunderestimated me.”The BBC lines ’em up.

Hentoff’s Last Riff

“I used to say, ‘I’ve been at the Voice since the Civil War.’ But now I’m off to other combats.”Nat Hentoff, expert columnist on law, politics and jazz, moves on after 50 years at The Village Voice.

Obama’s New Limo is an Armored “Cocoon”

Made by Cadillac.”One news agency, noting its 8-inch-thick doors, says the limo can withstand a ‘direct hit from an asteroid.’ But GM spokeswoman Joanne K. Krell laughed off the comments. ‘And it will fix you a latte if you ask,’ she jokes.”A $25 billion latte, if you include the cost of the GM buyout.

Nicolas Cage is Only 45 Years Old Today

Doesn’t he seem older?Born in 1964. His first big role was in Valley Girl in 1983. (A year earlier he played “Brad’s Bud” in Fast Times at Ridgemont High.)That’s 26 years on the big screen. Others born the same year as Cage: Sarah Palin, Keanu Reeves, and Willy Wonka.

Hilda Solis is Class of ’79, Not Class of ’80

Secretary of Labor nominee Hilda Solis graduated from Cal Poly Pomona in 1979, in case there was any question.There’s a bit of confusion about the date online; a few sources say 1980. The Cal Poly website itself said 1980, which led Who2 editor Hans Holznagel to write them for clarification.

Bobby Fischer’s First Big Match

“On Bobby’s scorecard that day, it all looked so simple, so preordained. When it was over, in his typically illegible hand, he scrawled ‘Mate’ (it looked like ‘Mute’) — and then put on his jacket and left with his mom.”Remembering the 1956 match of chess prodigy Bobby Fischer and Donald Byrne.

Reports: Jett Travolta Died of a Seizure

The death certificate of Jett Travolta, the son of actors John Travolta and Kelly Preston, says he died of a seizure. So reports ABC News.Reportedly there was no sign of trauma to his head. Earlier reports had suggested he died after hitting his head on a bathtub.

Photo from 'Pat Hingle: The Forgotten Oscar Madison'

Pat Hingle: The Forgotten Oscar Madison

Who knew? Character actor Pat Hingle, who died on Saturday, actually played slobby sportswriter Oscar Madison in the original Broadway run of The Odd Couple.He wasn’t the first Oscar, mind you. Walter Matthau originated the role in 1965. He was replaced after eight months by Jack Klugman, who played Oscar for three months or so before Hingle took over.

“India,” First Cat, Dies at White House

It’s been quite a month for White House pet news.First the hubbub about a new dog for the Obama family.Then the poor health of Socks, the former First Cat favored by Chelsea Clinton.

Bill Richardson Out as Commerce Secretary

Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico has withdrawn his name as nominee for Secretary of Commerce, says NBC News.NBC says Richardson cited “a pending investigation into a company that has done business with his state” as the reason. The network also says that president-elect Barack Obama accepted the withdrawal with “deep regret.”

Obama Arrives for Haunted Honeymoon

The Obamas are now staying at the historic Hay-Adams Hotel. Supposedly it’s haunted:”Staff housekeepers have reported someone unseen calling their names and the sensation of invisible arms around them.

Yikes! Jett Travolta Dead at Age 16

The son of actors John Travolta and Kelly Preston died after having a seizure in The Bahamas, says CNN.

Mumbai 2009 vs. London 1859

“One of Dickens’ biggest influences was the growth of London as a Victorian city, and the extremes being created as it expanded. The poverty and enormous wealth — it felt like a city in fast-forward, and that’s what Mumbai felt like when I was working there.”Still more from Slumdog Millionaire director Danny Boyle.

Danny Boyle on Slumdog Millionaire

“The way you make the best decisions is not when you get to the end of the script. At the end of the script it’s a terrible place to decide, because then all the other questions come in like: who can we cast? What’s with the money? Who can we do the deal with?

Art Bell Joins the Radio Hall of Fame

A story we missed in 2008: Eerie radio host Art Bell was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame.It happened in November. Here’s his show card from the HOF, plus a bonus photo of Bell signing his poster next to a large dish of mixed nuts.