I also have a DVR which allows me to automatically tape the shows I like even if they are on at weird times. I also recognize that it has become popular for my son Andrew's generation to “binge watch” every show in a given series, in sequence…but I prefer to see my old favs, one at a time, a couple of times a week...in no particular order.
ME-TV has reintroduced me to the “HONEYMOONERS.” After a twenty-year absence, I still know all the lines and laugh out loud, (even when I’m alone). I also have been reunited with the “ODD COUPLE” and “PERRY MASON” as well as ten or so of my go-to gems from the past.
Unfortunately, the network is always tweaking their schedule and three of my comfort-zone shows have already been discontinued like, “COMBAT!,” “HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL” and “KOJAK.”
I was comparing disappointments over the discontinued shows with Billy from Filly (BFF) and our conversation veered slightly off course to the star of Kojak, Telly Savalas.
|ARISTOTELIS "TELLY" SAVALAS (1922-1994) WAS A GIANT IN TV AND MOVIE ACTING. WHILE HE MIGHT HAVE BEEN TYPECAST AS A VLLAIN OR FLAWED HERO, HE WAS EQUALLY AT HOME IN SENSITIVE, COMEDIC AND/OR LESS DANGEROUS ROLES.|
In the 1950’s and '60’s, Telly Savalas did over fifty guest appearances on many of my favorite classic TV shows like, "NAKED CITY,” “THE UNTOUCHABLES,” “COMBAT!,” “THE FUGITIVE,” “BONANZA,” “THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.” and “THE F.B.I.” He also had a recurring role in, “77 SUNSET STRIP” as Brother Hendricksen. But BFF and I agreed that his most memorable early TV role was in the 1963, “TWILIGHT ZONE,” episode called, “LIVING DOLL.”
BFF was surprised when I said that I haven’t seen “Living Doll” in about thirty years. He was crushed when I said, “Most ‘Twilight Zones' are so dated, they are unwatchable.” He said, “But you can just look ahead and tape the ones you want to see.” “Yes that's true,” I said, “But like fine wine, the longer you wait between having it, the better it tastes.” He said, “Yeah but…” I cut him off, “If I ate buckwheat pancakes for breakfast and clams everyday for lunch and dinner…in a short time, they wouldn’t be special.” He said, “You accidentally said clams for lunch AND dinner.” I said, “It was no accident, I really love clams.”
Telly Savalas made many movies too. The ones I recall include 1962’s, “THE BIRDMAN OF ALACATRAZ” and “CAPE FEAR.”
|SAVALAS (left) AS CONVICT FETO GOMEZ, A SADISIC KILLER TURNED SYMPATHETIC BIRD LOVER, (HE WAS IN THE NEXT CELL FROM HEADLINER, BURT LANCASTER).|
I also remember Savalas from 1965’s, “THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD."
|AS PONTIUS PILATE IN "THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD," SAVALAS DECIDED (AFTERWARDS), TO KEEP HIS HEAD PERMANENTLY SHAVED. THIS DECISION PROVIDED HIM AN ENDURING, TRADEMARK LOOK.|
Savalas profited by the abundance of World War II movies at that time.
|IN 1965's, "BATTLE OF THE BULGE," HE SHOWED HIS RANGE AS AN UNLIKELY LADY'S MAN, SERGEANT GUFFY, (A HEROIC, SHELL-SHOCKED TANK COMMANDER WITH A TALENT FOR BEING A BLACK-MARKETEER).|
In 1967, he made audiences cringe with his portrayal of psychotic Archer Maggot in, “THE DIRTY DOZEN.” Then in 1970 he showed his comedic side in, “KELLY’S HEROES.”
|"KELLY'S HEROES," WAS A WWII FARCE. IN IT, SAVALAS CONTRIVES WITH CLINT EASTWOOD (left) AND A SMALL BAND OF GONIFFS, TO STEAL GOLD FROM A HEAVILY GUARDED NAZI BANK.|
Into the early 1970's, despite Savalas’ impressive screen credits, he was far from the international superstar that he would soon become. The key to his eventual success was landing the starring role in a 1973, CBS made for TV movie called, “THE MARCUS NELSON MURDERS.” In it, he played hard-boiled police detective Theo Kojack, (the spelling of his surname would soon change to the one we are familiar with after this movie became the pilot episode of “KOJAK.")
Telly Savalas as “KOJAK” would become a pop culture icon. The show enjoyed a five-season run that included 118 episodes. Soon his shaved head made bald sexy, (a decade before anyone ever heard of Michael Jordan). Plus, his signature statement lollipop as well as catchphrases like, “Who loves ya, baby?,” helped earn him an Emmy, a Golden Globe and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 1996, TV GUIDE named Savalas, #33 on their All-Time Greatest TV Actors list.
A couple of days after my chat with BFF, I told him that I was researching a blog about Savalas. He said, “When I dealt craps at the Tropicana Casino, I saw him playing blackjack...but heard he was high-maintainence and a stiff.” I shrugged, “Yeah it sucks when celebrities are shitty tippers." Then I added, “I never saw Savalas or heard anything about him in casinos...but now that I think about it, I have an odd-ball story that indirectly deals with Savalas…as Kojak."
In August 1978, to pay my New York School of Gambling tuition, I became a cab driver for a car service in my hometown. Once the "glamor" of seeing the ground through gaps in the floorboards wore thin or thinking it was cool to drag my tailpipe or having car parts fall off the heap that I used as a taxi, I realized I was driving a death trap. Even worse, many of the other cabbies were ex-criminals and/or major druggies and still worse, the company’s shady managers included rather organized, characters too. All that negativity was compounded by regular horror stories about my fellow drivers getting robbed and threatened. If that wasn't enough, a friend was nearly victimized by a passenger who tried to push him out of the speeding taxi, on the Belt Parkway.
In early October, a friend (another driver) was propositioned by management to fly to North Carolina and drive a van back to Connecticut. When my buddy said, “What’s in the van?” The boss called him, “A fuckin’ wise guy” and fired him.
Two days later, I didn't ask questions when I was sent on a wild goose chase to pick up a package at 12:30AM. My ordeal (without proper directions) continued till 3:00AM, on a bombed-out looking street, in the industrial district, (bordering Newark Airport). The grand finale of my stressful escapade, (I'll use the full story for another blog) included me knocking on a warehouse door and saying, "Joe Fruit sent me." Then without the door opening, I received a light (in weight) packet from a faceless hand through a speakeasy-type peep hole. This experience and the nonsense I had to put up with along the way was so harrowing that I quit the next day.
A month earlier, at about 7:00PM, (in broad daylight), the stage was set for me to see that this, "making my way through casino dealer school job," wasn't for me. That's when I picked up a fare in Canarsie’s east 80’s. These two girls, around twenty, were very pretty. I found out that they spoke broken English when they got in. The blond said, “We go Madison Square Garden.” When I asked where they were from the brunette said, “I’m from Yugoslavia, she’s a Czech.” A block and a half later, I made a left onto Flatlands Avenue and coasted to a red light diagonally across from Bildersee Junior High School.
In the opposite direction, a man about my age in a Mercedes Benz stopped at the light. Suddenly, a late-model maroon Chevy Impala, swerved around him and stopped while blocking his path. Two goons rushed out and started arguing with the first guy. When the driver of the Impala punched the Mercedes driver, the bloodied man threw his car in reverse, shifted gears and floored it going forward. While he sped away, the goons pulled concealed pistols from the front of their pants and fired three or four shots each (apparently missing their target). They jumped in their car, burnt rubber making a wild U-Turn right in front of me and frantically made their get-away.
The two girls were screaming hysterically. I didn’t know what to do. Instinctively, I turned to face them and calmly said, “It’s for TV…It’s ‘Kojak.’” The girls relaxed and smiled as they nodded in unison, “Kojak.” They resumed a quiet conversation in a language I couldn’t understand for the rest of the hour-long trip.
BFF said, “I don’t believe you.” I said, “You should. I even pulled over right away and called my dispatcher from a pay phone…and he said, “Fuhgeddaboudit!”
I told you I was lucky, lucky I quit driving a cab before the shit really hit the fan.