In 1995 I joined the ranks of Bay
Area Classic Learning, an Elderhostel
franchise held by David
and Pat Kleinberg
of San Francisco.
Elderhostel is a Boston-based
enterprise that offers travel opportunities for those 55 years
or older. Those who sign up months in advance for specific programs
fly or drive to the hotel location, where they stay for the next
five nights. Sometimes the groups are for three nights. During
that time meals and rooms are provided as part of the package,
and three different instructors appear three times each during
the week. Subjects are designed to be "educational"
but many are entertaining as well as informative. Most of the
groups number 50. On the other hand, I have had some as small
as 18 people and as many as 75.
David Kleinberg, with whom
I had worked at the San Francisco
Chronicle for more than 30 years, asked
me if I would develop classes designed to reveal insider's information
about the entertainment world. Since I had interviewed many of
the stars of movies and television during my 33 years as an entertainment
writer at the Chronicle, I was able to develop a large number
of courses with my exclusive material. I try to give a brief overview
of the 20th Century world of entertainment in the United States,
and then focus in on specific topics or celebrities.
Since doing my first appearance
nearly 14 years ago, I have made more than 1,000 appearances before
the seniors of America, what I sometimes refer to as the World
War II generation. They are the greatest and most appreciative
audience one could ask to face. They grew up experiencing a newfangled
thing called pop culture: motion pictures, vaudeville, popular
music, radio, TV. If I describe myself as a teacher I do not think
of myself as one. I feel that I entertain my audiences first,
and inform them second. No doubt this came from my experience
as a TV host for six years at KTVU
Channel 2 in Oakland. Called CREATURE
FEATURES, it was one of the most popular
shows in the San Francisco-Bay Area with quality ratings. To maintain
that rating, I learned the tricks of the trade about holding an
For Elderhostel my attitude is informal and light, although underneath
I try to be as prepared as possible, and pace my "lectures"
so there is plenty of supplemental material, such as bites from
movies and TV shows, and audio tracks. I've even brought in some
human beings I sometimes use for show and tell.
These are the courses that
I continue to present to current attendees:
THE GOLDEN CLASSICS OF
THE SILVER SCREEN: This covers motion
pictures from the coming of sound through the early 1950s. I deal
with several genres, such as Westerns, Horror Films, Cliffhanger
Serials, Musicals and the Propaganda Films of World War II. One
of the highlights of this presentation is the development of John
Wayne as an icon with clips from STAGECOACH,
RED RIVER, THE QUIET MAN and HONDO. SHTICKS & STEINS: THE
JEWISH CONTRIBUTION TO COMEDY.
My exclusive interviews with JACK
BENNY, GEORGE BURNS, SHELLEY BERMAN, MILTON BERLE, RODNEY DANGERFIELD
and SID CAESAR highlight this very
popular class - perhaps the most popular of them all. I also show
a rare TV clip of MYRON COHEN,
the dialect comedian. Others touched on are MARTIN
& LEWIS, SMITH & DALE, LOU JACOBI, VICTOR BORGE, JACKIE
MASON. I also have some fun with Yiddish
expressions: "From this John Stanley makes a living?"
is one of them. I love doing this course.
THE FRANK SINATRA SAGA:
I leap in feet first and show both sides to the Sinatra persona:
the happy face and the dark face. Chronologically I trace his
history from his early days in New Jersey where his hard-edged
mother taught him about power and influence, and his first meetings
with the Underworld when he was Harry James' singer. Clips from
his early films include THE HOUSE
I LIVE IN and REVEILLE WITH BEVERLY.
I especially focus in on Sinatra's involvement with the Kennedy
family and how the singer was responsible for getting JFK
into the White House - by whatever means called for. Plenty of
cutaways to his classic songs, TV shows and best motion pictures.
By presenting a fully rounded person, I think this class pleases
those who like and/or dislike Sinatra. They leave feeling differently
about the man.
ON THE ROAD AGAIN WITH
HOPE AND CROSBY. This one includes
my exclusive one-on-one interviews with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby
and traces their individual histories as movie, TV and recording
stars. But I also focus on their work together in the Road pictures,
and other things (like golf and baseball) that brought them together.
I especially spend a lot of time on the dark side of Crosby -
the problems with the children and wife of his first marriage.
Also included are my exclusive stories about Kathryn
Grant Crosby, whom I had also interviewed
for the Chronicle. She had her share of problems too but came
out of it better. Tons of clips, radio show bites, etc. My coverage
of Bob Hope doing USO shows for the military always draws a few
tears from some of the old veterans.
FUNNY MOMENTS AT THE
MOVIES. This was a tough one to put
together because of so many different kinds of film comedy, but
I probe outside the box and think I've come up with some unusual
takes. Especially unusual is a Tex
Avery cartoon, SYMPHONY
OF SLANG, and my take on Neil
Simon comedy in such films as THE
ODD COUPLE and THE
SUNSHINE BOYS. More traditional: THE
THREE STOOGES (I have some exclusive Moe Howard material for this
one), THE MARX BROTHERS, CHARLIE CHAPLIN, FRANK CAPRA, etc.
This is a 5-hour study of the Borscht
Belt, the Jewish Alps - that tourist
attraction in upper state New York that once was the training
ground for such great comedians as BUDDY
HACKETT, SID CAESAR and even GENE
BARRY, who started out doing comedy
long before doing "Bat Masterson." Plenty of classic
film bites and behind-the-scenes stories of how some of our greatest
comedians got started. Including Caesar in his lost musical, TARS
AND SPARS. I have many other courses
but most of them have been dropped from the schedules, and what
I have listed here is current.
To get a broader view of
Elderhostel and Bay Area Classic Learning go to www.bacl.com.