Politics, Television

What’s the matter with Minnesota?

What's the matter with Minnesota image

Original publish date:  December 7, 2017

Al Franken resigned this week. The Democratic Senator from Minnesota left office under a cloud of sexual misconduct accusations that surfaced in the autumn of last year. It was the end of a fairytale career by the former Saturday Night Live comedian who first came to Washington DC after a narrow victory in 2008. Narrow might be too tame a word to describe Franken’s surprise win. He won his seat by the scant margin of 312 votes out of nearly three million votes cast. I asked then, and with the news of Franken’s resignation, I will ask again, what’s the matter with Minnesota?

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Minnesota Senator Al Franken.

I am a native Hoosier who has followed politics all my life. I know that, in the arena, Midwestern states follow observational patterns that earn reputations. Indiana is the cradle of Vice-Presidents, Ohio is the home of Presidents, Illinois Governors go to prison and Minnesota elects unconventional candidates. I guess when you are talking about the state that gave us Prince, Bob Dylan, Judy Garland, Charles Schulz, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Roger Maris, Wolfman Jack, Jane Russell, Billy Graham, Charles Lindbergh, Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam, Dr. Demento. Fred Zollner of the Zollner Pistons, unconventional may be the watchword. Don’t forget, Minnesota was also home to Paul Bunyan, the Jolly Green Giant and Rocky and Bullwinkle.
z 1101600201_400To be sure, Minnesota has given us very normal politicians like Lyndon B. Johnson’s Vice-President Hubert H. Humphrey and Jimmy Carter’s Vice-President Walter Mondale and Senator Eugene McCarthy. All 3 men ran for President (Humphrey and McCarthy against each other in 1968) and all 3 men lost. Although mainstream, all 3 were unconventional in their own ways. McCarthy was the grandfatherly looking darling of the Anti-Vietnam War Hippy protesters, most of whom were one third his age. Humphrey was a peace seeking dove who became the hawkish voice of the LBJ administration during the Vietnam War. And Mondale was the first to chose a woman as his running mate (Geraldine Ferraro 1984).
z 1101840618_400You may not realize just how prolific Minnesota has been in baby boomer’s collective national political conversation until you realize that Mondale, McCarthy or Hubert Humphrey were on the Democratic ticket as candidates for President or Vice President in the 1964, 1968, 1972, 1976, 1980, 1984, 1988 and 1992 elections. Minnesota is known for a politically active citizenry, with populism being the driving force among the state’s political parties. Minnesota has consistently high voter turnout, in the 2008 U.S. presidential election, 77.8% of eligible Minnesotans voted – the highest percentage of any U.S. state or territory – versus the national average of 61.7%.
To understand what’s wrong with Minnesota, we must first understand the North Star State’s Democratic party. But, although Humphrey, McCarthy, Mondale and Franken were all elected as Democrats, officially, Minnesota does not have a Democratic Party. In Minnesota, the party goes by a different name: the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, or DFL for short. Formed by a merger of the Minnesota Democratic Party and the social democratic Minnesota Farmer–Labor Party in 1944, Minnesotans claimed that although their state may have space for a thousand lakes, there wasn’t room for two left-of-center political parties. Although the Farmer-Labor Party achieved great success in the state, electing a number of statewide candidates, including the rabble-rousing Gov. Floyd Olsen, Minneapolis mayor Hubert H. Humphrey and Minnesota Attorney General Walter Mondale, the party eventually merged with the Democrats. Today, Minnesota Democrats identify themselves as “DFLers”
z 44830_lgThe history of Minnesota electing non-conventionals goes back to 1876 when the state elected John Pillsbury as their 8th Governor. Name sound familiar? Yes, he was the namesake of the Pillsbury doughboy and served from 1876 to 1882. He died in 1901. Following the food theme, Minesota also elected Frank B. Kellogg tot he Senate in 1916. No, he wasn’t the cereal guy, but he did become Secretary of State, British Ambassador and a Nobel Prize winner in 1929.
z 30520_lgThen came (and came-and came-and came) Harold Stassen, Minnesota Governor (it’s youngest ever) from 1939 to 1943. Stassen was a candidate for the Republican Party nomination for President nine times between 1944 and 1992 (1944, 1948, 1952, 1964, 1968, 1980, 1984, 1988, and 1992). He never won the Republican nomination, much less the presidency; in fact, after 1952, he never even came close, but continued to campaign actively and seriously for President until just a year before his death. When you add Stassen’s name alongside those of McCarthy, Mondale and Humphrey, a Minnesotan was on the ballot for every Presidential election for six decades.
z Jesse_Ventura_FullThen came Jesse Ventura. The former navy seal turned pro wrestler known as “The Body” was born James George Janos in Minneapolis in 1951. In the Minnesota gubernatorial election of 1998 he was elected the 38th Governor of Minnesota and served from 1999 to 2003 but did not seek a second term. Ventura ran as a candidate for the Reform Party of Minnesota. Ventura went on to gain the highest approval rating of any governor in Minnesota history, with some polls ranking his public approval as high as the 73% in 1999. Ventura is widely regarded as one of the first candidates to effectively use the Internet in a national political campaign.
The last name on my list of unconventional Minnesota candidates is the very first name mentioned in this article: Al Franken. Alan Stuart “Al” Franken (born May 21, 1951) first gained notoriety in the 1970s and 1980s as a writer and performer on Saturday Night Live. Franken, along with his stand up partner Tom Davis, was one of the original SNL writers back in 1975. Born in New York City, Franken moved to the Twin Cities after attending Harvard College. Franken received seven Emmy nominations and three awards for his television writing and producing but his most famous character was self-help guru Stuart Smalley.
Franken has acknowledged using cocaine and other illegal drugs while working in television, stating that he stopped after John Belushi died of an overdose in 1982. In 1995, Franken left the show in protest over losing the role of Weekend Update anchor to Norm Macdonald. In 1995, Franken wrote and starred in the film Stuart Saves His Family, based on his SNL Stuart Smalley character. The film was a flop and its aggregate rating of 30% on Rotten Tomatoes is one of the all-time lowest.
z 9780440504702Franken then hosted a nationally syndicated, political radio talk show, The Al Franken Show, and authored six books, four of which are political satires critical of conservative politics. The success of his radio show and books led Franken to run for the U.S. Senate. Franken’s narrow victory was challenged but upheld. The most famous incident that emerged revolved around a ballot that would come to epitomize Franken’s victory. It was a ballot that had been marked twice, once for Franken and once for a write-in candidate known as “Lizard People.” This ballot gained infamy, not only for the absurd nature of a vote being cast for Lizard People but also for whether it should be counted for Franken or for lizard people. Eventually, the ballot was thrown out altogether. Franken was sworn into the Senate on July 7, 2009 (seven months after the congressional session had started) and was re-elected to a second term in office in 2014.
How can this state of 5.5 million people resting closer to Canada than Washington DC be so politically relevant yet so quirkily unconventional? Minnesota is the 12th largest but only the 21st most populated, dontcha know. Minnesota is made up of 13,136,357 acres of total surface water, more area than the size of Hawaii and New Jersey combined, yet they can claim more golfers than any other state in the union. Uff da! The Gopher state’s official bird is a loon, Skol! So, seriously, what is the matter with Minnesota? The world may never know. One thing’s for sure, Minnesota has led the league unorthodox political relevancy for most of our lives. Do I think that reputation will continue in the 21st century? You betcha.

 

Homosexuality, Pop Culture, Television

Harlow Hickenlooper: The end of an era in Indianapolis kid’s television history.

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Harlow Hickenlooper-Curley Myers & Cap’n Star promotional cards given away at public appearances by Indianapolis Channel 6 station back in the 1960s.

Original publish date:  May 9, 2017

Last week, it happened. Hal Fryar died. Hal, better known to generations of Hoosiers as Harlow Hickenlooper, made it to his 90th birthday on June 8th but died peacefully in his sleep a couple weeks later on June 25th. I would like to thank all of you who sent birthday cards to Hal down in Florida. His son Gary informs me that they were the highlight of the party and Hal appreciated each and every one of them. WISH-TV Channel 8 reporter Dick Wolfsie contacted me about filming a tribute to Hal for his July 1st show and I was honored to do it for Hal.
Wolfsie had a long history with Hal and his interview segment filmed back in 2008 remains a classic. Hal’s alter ego Harlow was known as an affable schlemiel whose just compensation was always a pie in the face. Not only did Dick share space with Hal in the TV broadcasting fraternity, Mr. Wolfsie also shares membership with Hal in the pie-in-the-face fraternity. (Okay, there is no such thing but there should be.) Dick Wolfsie was once “pie’d in the face” by non other then the king of the genre, Soupy Sales himself back in 1998.

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Dick Wolfsie and Alan E. Hunter at WISH-TV Channel 8.

Dick felt a proper way to honor his pal Hal was to take a pie in the face himself. That show, which you can find on the WISH-TV website under the Dick Wolfsie / Hal Fryar segment name, went off without a hitch and was a suitable tribute to Hal Fryar. I had the honor of “Pie-ing” Dick in the face just as Hal Fryar himself had showed me at the Irving Theatre so many years ago. As for Mr. Wolfsie, he was such a trooper that he actually took TWO pies in the face. Now that is dedication.

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Dick Wolfsie of WISH-TV Channel 8.

As fate would have it, a few days before appearing on Dick Wolfsie’s segments I attended an antique show and ran across a photo of Hal and his co-stars Curley Myers and Cap’n Star (Jerry Vance, a.k.a. Larry Vincent). These photos, which were actually giveaways from WFBM TV Channel 6 back in the early 1960s, brought back memories. Having grown up in Indy around that time, I clearly remember getting things like this whenever and wherever the TV stars would show up for promos. Store, bank and restaurant openings, live shows and taped segments; the stars would hand these out to their young fans as souvenirs. I found the timing of the card’s discovery ironic because they came into my world just after Hal’s 90th birthday and the day before I had found out he had passed. Life is funny that way.

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Hal Fryar aka Harlow Hickenlooper 1960s Channel 6 TV fan club card.

I realized that I had written several article on Hal Fryar but had never touched on the lives of his cohorts. By now, you know that Hal rose to prominence as Harlow Hickenlooper, the host of The Three Stooges Show on Channel 6 in Indianapolis from 1960 to 1972. Together, Hal, Curley and Cap’n Star sang songs and performed skits for a live studio audience of children. Fryar also hosted several other children’s shows over 43 years in local television. In 1965, Fryar was cast in the Three Stooges movie, The Outlaws Is Coming, playing the part of Johnny Ringo. On October 2, 2008, Fryar was inducted into the Indiana Broadcast Pioneers Hall of Fame. But what became of his costars?

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Curley Myers & Harlow Hickenlooper 1960s Channel 6 TV fan club card,

Gerald L. “Curley” Myers, known by fans as “your ole buckaroo buddy”, was born April 1, 1920 twelve miles east of Lebanon, Indiana. Curley grew up on a farm in Clinton County and attended grade school in Forest and Frankfort, Indiana. From the age of eight he was in love with music and played his bass violin in the school orchestra, at church and fiddled at neighborhood hoedowns on the weekends. He graduated from Frankfort High School in 1938. Somewhere along the way, Curley took up the banjo and guitar, which opened the door to a successful career in show business.
Curley’s list of bands reads like a page out of country music history: Woodside Harmonica Band (19334-36), The Hoosier Ramblers (1936-38)s, the Semi Solid Ramblers (1938-39), Cap’n Stubby and the Buccaneers (1939-45) and the Shady Acres Ranch Cowboys (1949-57). Curley’s Cap’n Stubby years were spent at WLW in Cincinnati performing on the same slate as Doris Day, The Williams Brothers with Andy Williams, Merle Travis, The Girls of the Golden West, Lulu Belle and Scotty, Bradley Kincaid and the Delmore Brothers to name a few.
IMG_6503Early in 1955 WFBM channel 6 began airing the Indiana Hoedown, starring entertainers who had been on WLW in Cincinnati. In addition to working the Hoedown, Curley had Curley’s Cowboy Theater for seven or eight years, then did a Saturday morning kids show with Cap’n Star and Harlow Hickenlooper. Altogether, Curley spent over 15 years there as the “Saturday Morning Cowboy”. In May, 1972 the TV station was sold and the new owners planned a change of programming formats and personalities.
This led to a kind of semi-retirement from the music business for Curley Myers. He went to work for the Culligan Water Conditioning company but continued entertaining on nights and weekends at state fairs, parties and a long standing gig performing Wednesday through Saturday nights at the Best Western. Curley spent well over 60 years pickin’, singin’ and grinnin’ all ovr the midwest. Curley and Hal remained close until Curley’s death on May 19, 2013 at a Retirement home in Mulberry, Indiana.

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Harlow Hickenlooper-Curley Myers & Cap’n Star promotional card given away at public appearances by Indianapolis Channel 6 station back in the 1960s.

Larry Vincent (aka Larry Vance) was born Larry Francis Fitzgerald Vincent on June 14, 1924 in Boston, Massachusetts. Not much is known about Vincent’s early life. He first surfaces in the 1940s as an understudy to Kirk Douglas in the Broadway play “Alice in Arms.” The play ran for only 5 performances at the National Theatre in New York City, but is notable for being Kirk Douglas’ Broadway debut. Vincent teamed up with Don McArt to form a stand-up comedy act that performed in nightclubs all over New York City. Anderson Indiana native Donald Craig McArt had previously appeared in the Walt Disney films “Son of Flubber” and the “Absent Minded Professor.”

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Larry Vincent aka Cap’n Star promotional card given away at public appearances by Indianapolis Channel 6 station back in the 1960s.

Vincent landed in the Circle City in the early 1960s where he created his “Cap’n Star” character for WFBM in Indianapolis. Cap’n Star appeared alongside Harlow and Curley for children’s programming which showcased old Three Stooges shorts. Along with his pet monkey “Davy Jones”, Cap’n Star sang songs and performed skits on the show. Vincent lived in a house at 41st and Graham Avenue on the east side. Local children remember Vincent as a kind neighbor who always had time for kids, often letting them wear his sailor’s cap from the show and play with the show’s mascot monkey Davy Jones.
In 1968 he left Indianapolis to become staff director for KHJ-TV in Los Angeles. From 1969 to 1974 Vincent was the host for a Sammy Terry style Friday night horror show program known as “Fright Night” on KHJ-TV and later Seymour’s Monster Rally on KTLA TV. Vincent’s Seymour horror host presented—and heckled—low-budget horror and science fiction movies on both local Los Angeles stations. He is remembered for his style of criticizing the movies he presented in an offbeat and funny manner, usually appearing in a small window which would pop up in the corner, tossing a quip, then vanishing again. Sometimes he would, using blue-screen, appear in the middle of the movie, apparently interacting with the characters in the movie.

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Larry Vincent aka Cap’n Star promotional card given away at public appearances by Indianapolis Channel 6 station back in the 1960s.

Along with appearing in several episodes of The New Three Stooges during his Indianapolis years, Vincent also had small roles on Get Smart, Mission: Impossible, Mannix, The Flying Nun, and I Dream of Jeannie. Larry Vincent served as Knott’s Berry Farm’s inaugural “Ghost Host,” in 1973 at Knott’s Scary Farm Halloween Haunt. Vincent aka Seymour’s last show came in 1974. Traditionally, Seymour ended the show by saying, “I’d like to thank you… I’d like to, but it’s not my style! Bad Evening!” But on his final telecast, Seymour eschewed his familiar goodbye and said nothing. He merely waved as the stagehands disassembled the set behind him. Mr. Vincent quickly succumbed to stomach cancer and died less than a year later on March 9, 1975. Several years later, Elvira took over Larry’s place as horror-film hostess on Fright Night, which later morphed into her own series, “Elvira’s Movie Macabre.” And the rest, as they say, is history.
Although these men and their genre has left the local TV scene, their legacy is recalled fondly by baby-boomers all over the country. They don’t make men like Harlow, Curley and Cap’n Star anymore. Like Janie Hodge and Bob Glaze (Cowboy Bob) these people were integral parts of Indianapolis schoolkids. They entertained and informed us all by filling the hours after school until our parents came home. Corny, yes, old fashioned, sure but they were our TV friends, We could always count on them to make us feel like they were all talking directly to us, Hal Fryar was really the first of his kind and his reach was a long one. He will be missed.

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Hal Fryar aka Harlow Hickenlooper promotional card given away at public appearances by Indianapolis Channel 6 station back in the 1960s.