Category: Celebrities

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #079: “Dear Dwayne”

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #079: “Dear Dwayne”

Dear Dwayne,

I know you prefer to be called by your full moniker,  Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, but I want to speak to the person behind that particular mask. Put the eyebrow down. Send your posse on a 20 minute break. Place your phone on airplane mode, and place it face down on the table in front of us. It’s just you, me, and the millions (AND MILLIONS) of my fans reading this. Cool? Cool. 

You need to stop it. Seriously. C’mon, man. You know what I’m talking about. Really? You’re going to make me say it out loud? Fine.

“You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”

We loved when you dabbled your toe into acting. That turn as your own father in That 70’s Show? Great. Playing an alien version of yourself in Star Trek: Voyager? Uhhh… let’s come back to that.. And hey… your first trip to Saturday Night Live? Pitch perfect. Seriously. Better than any “sports stars” they featured prior. You then took the summers off in 2000 so you could become the Scorpion King (which, I assume was why you were on SNL). Like many fans… I actually went to the theater to catch your first starring role. Because it would either be good, or we’d have something to replace that one flick where Hulk Hogan made a dude crap himself.

And hey. It was fine. 20 something years later? I can’t recall a single scene, line of dialogue, or action sequence. But I do recall you fighting the late Michael Clark Duncan, and thinking it was cool. 

After that? I really want to commend you. You started taking interesting roles. Get Shorty. The Rundown. Walking Tall. Southland Tales. Were you “generic badass tough guy” in most of them? Sure. But the scripts were smart. And because of it, you looked smart. Not just catchphrases and stuntman body slams. Versus previous wrestler-turned-actors — Hulk Hogan, Roddy Piper, and Jesse Venture — you seemed to have more depth, better comedic timing, and pathos (when called for).  Continue reading “So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #079: “Dear Dwayne””

Spotlight Squadcast Interview with Michael Nathanson

Spotlight Squadcast Interview with Michael Nathanson

We are roaring back into the new year with more exclusive Pop Culture Squadcast interviews. This latest episode was recorded last month while we were at LA Comic Con. The folks there were able to connect us with this opportunity for an exclusive one-on-one interview.

Actor Michael Nathanson has recently launched a unique and interesting podcast called Playing Dead, and he was gracious enough to spend some time with us talking about the project. We discussed the origins of the concept and some of the interesting things he learned through the process.

The concept for this podcast is that Nathanson, who played Sam Stein in Marvel’s The Punisher on Netflix, spends time talking to actors and other film professionals about the experience and mechanics of dying on-screen. It is a great concept, and the interviews are extremely well crafted and executed.

Nathanson is a very talented actor who has been in dozens of roles in TV and Film. In addition to his main cast role on Season 1 of The Punisher, he was also a major part of the Cinemax series The Knick as Dr. Levi Zinberg. He has appeared in films such as Young Adult, Side Effects, and The Wolf of Wall Street.

Our conversation, while focusing on Playing Dead, also veered into the realm of Geekdom. Nathanson grew up reading comic books and loving sci-fi. We nerded out a little bit, and I hope you enjoy the conversation. Continue reading “Spotlight Squadcast Interview with Michael Nathanson”

With Further Ado #202: Greg Hildebrandt Part 3 – Rita, Bettie, Shannon and a Pin-Up Calendar

With Further Ado #202: Greg Hildebrandt Part 3 – Rita, Bettie, Shannon and a Pin-Up Calendar

In the third part of our With Further Ado conversation with Greg Hildebrandt, we (finally) get to discussing his two new calendars, and start with why this famous fantasy artist has a new Pin-up Calendar coming out.

Please enjoy Part 3 of my interview with Greg Hildebrandt:

Ed Catto: That’s fantastic! And let’s shift – I want to be mindful of the time – let’s shift to the Pin-Up calendar. You’ve been inspired by pinups and it looks like it’s going to be beautiful.

Greg Hildebrandt: Well, I was born in 1939. So, I was aware of these things. You became aware of these things, even before you got to puberty. I was a little kid, and my grandfather had all the calendars. My father’s father. We’d go over to Grandma and Grandpa’s, and back in the day, they were very “old worldly” almost, even though my grandfather was born here, his wife was born in Austria. He had all these calendars in the basement, but basically, they were all Gil Elvgren‘s! (i.e., Pin-Up Calendars)

And I remember them lined all up. And going down (to the basement). Tim and me would go down and study them. Aside from once you were interested in girls, aside from that aspect. and we would go down and study them. We were just blown away by the painting of them, especially the style – that broad painterly look that he did. That was my first really focus for knowledge, or information. about Pin-Up art.

And then, of course, a man would always have the magazines. You would look at the magazines. With the photography that would never match the art. It would never match the art in those men’s magazines. They just didn’t have it.

EC: Yeah, the Vargas painting would be better than the photography.

GH: Absolutely. Absolutely! It’s like they’re trying for some perfection thing, or idealization. You know, I know, it’s dangerous to talk about this stuff these days, but there was a certain standard that they were after.

For a lot of them, their women start to look alike, and then there’s almost too much of a kind of a similarity. When I started my series, I wanted to have very individualistic people.

My approach was for each to be individual, and in each of these are I’m trying to tell a little story.

EC: There is so much story in each image!

Editor’s Note: There is more art from the calendar past the jump.

Continue reading “With Further Ado #202: Greg Hildebrandt Part 3 – Rita, Bettie, Shannon and a Pin-Up Calendar”

With Further Ado #201: Greg Hildebrandt Part 2 – Warm Light, Cool Shadows

With Further Ado #201: Greg Hildebrandt Part 2 – Warm Light, Cool Shadows

In last week’s With Further Ado (the 200th Smash Issue), in the first part of my interview with the talented Greg Hildebrandt, we focused on that famous Star Wars poster. In part two of our conversation, Greg and I talk about color theory, art school, classic movies and how these all inspire his approach to art (and specifically his creation of a Tolkien work-in-progress). This candid conversation offers a fantastic way to learn more about what makes this incredible artist tick.

* * *

Ed Catto: I will ask you about these two amazing 2023 calendars on sales soon. But one of the things I love about work, and your collaborations with your brother in the old days, is that you always have such a sense of warmth; warm ‘glowy’ colors and that sense of cool colors.

Greg Hildebrandt: Yep! That’s a big, huge thing for Tim and me, I know that our awareness starts with Technicolor movies. Hollywood Technicolor movies. I can remember those biblical Epics. Where you’d have the set. They would be outside. They have beautiful blue lights coming in through the window, torch lights – tungsten 25 kelvin type lighting…and then the cool light! That was like – waugh! I remember, there was one movie: Forever Amber. (Note: a 1946 Linda Darnell movie) I haven’t seen it in about ten years, but the incredible lighting! The tints! Warm and cool, warm and cool. Hollywood was huge.

Then when we discovered Howard Pyle and N.C. Wyeth. He became our “main man”, as far as American illustrators go. Wyeth, you know Treasure island…

And we kind of grew up on them. My parents had those books. I remember growing up on that stuff as a kid. And Technicolor movies! Lighting was always an issue. It wasn’t always only the lighting in Technicolor films, but the black and white movies. You take Gregg TolandCitizen Kane – the lighting; that was a key thing for Tim and me, is to grasp it. It’s still there. It’s one of the main devices that I am still focused on. Continue reading “With Further Ado #201: Greg Hildebrandt Part 2 – Warm Light, Cool Shadows”

R.I.P. Comics Legend Neal Adams 1941 – 2022

R.I.P. Comics Legend Neal Adams 1941 – 2022

Photo by Gage Skidmore at 2019 Phoenix Fan Fusion

The comic book industry has lost another giant. Neal Adams passed away yesterday on April 28. 2022. He was 80 years old and passed after complications from sepsis. Adams’s work as a penciller and storyteller left a massive impact on the medium, and his efforts in creator rights advocacy led to policies that have benefited untold numbers of creators that followed him.

Adams worked in commercial advertising art at the beginning of his career and also worked for Archie Comics in the early 1960’s. He later worked for both Marvel and DC Comics, but his work on Batman and Green Lantern / Green Arrow in the 1970’s is where he began to leave his lasting legacy. The work he did with Denny O’Neil on those books was transformative in comic book storytelling. He also published creator-owned independent works with Pacific Comics and Continuity Comics among others.

He was also an activist for creator rights and is credited with helping to push for the credit for creating Superman that Jerry Seigel and Joe Shuster were long denied. The practice of returning original art to creators is another innovation that he fought for along with various attempts to create creative community collective bargaining units. In his later years, he lent his art to several projects intended to highlight resistance to Nazi aggression during the Holocaust.

Neal Adams was a legend in his time. He was inducted into every Hall of Fame in the comics industry that you can think of and was responsible for helping to nurture the career of young creators. His legacy is immeasurable, and he will be missed.

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #073: Time for My Annual Existential Crisis

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #073: Time for My Annual Existential Crisis

This past week, I was beckoned to the throne of my day job, seated firmly near Knoxville, Tennessee. As I volunteered to make the trek by land instead of air — due in part to carrying some precious cargo (art for our building) — I had the benefit of a 9 hour journey to and fro with which to collect my thoughts.

On the way down, I was asked to give a listen to “The Oz Principle”. For those uninitiated, it’s a decades-old business book about the importance of accountability. To say that I was able to listen to it and not careen my Dodge Grand Caravan into the bluegrass hills of Kentucky whilst hearing the 1,983,957th passage about how we must stay above the line in order never drop below the line, always keeping in mind that we must always see it, own it, know it, and lastly do it… well, it’s a g-d-miracle. Business books are always a mélange of vague musings written by boring white people trying their best to suppress their inner racist / conservative id that clearly wants to just shout “WHY CAN’T YOU JUST PULL YOURSELF UP BY YER BOOTSTRAPS, WILLY?!”. Maybe I’m the biased one. But I digress. Continue reading “So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #073: Time for My Annual Existential Crisis”

Brainiac On Banjo #109: What Jessica Walter Means To Me

Brainiac On Banjo #109: What Jessica Walter Means To Me

Don’t you ever miss your house in the country, and your hot little mamma too? Don’t you better get a shot from the doctor, for what the Road Ladies do to you? – Frank Zappa, Road Ladies, 1970

I was just 21¼ years old. Old enough to know better. And, well, I did know better.

I had started on the radio about two years earlier, doing freeform “underground” shows overnights on Chicago FM stations. Back in those days, FM wasn’t on most car radios and station owners bought them just so that their competitors could not. At that time, nobody made money on overnight FM except for those slots that were purchased — brokered — by churches, far-right-wing political howlers, and foreign-language shows. That is, nobody made money until we came along.

In short order, my peers warned the 19-year-old me that, from time to time, women would call the studio in the middle of the night and make it clear that a personal appearance need not involve guitars and amplifiers. Remember, this was during that hallowed time between the invention of the birth control pill and the onset of HIV, and it was a wonderful period to be a 19 year old with Y chromosomes that screamed louder than a pack of shock-jocks.

My peers pointed out that these ladies had never seen me, and that I had never seen them. All they knew was I was on radio which, admittedly, can be an intimate experience at 3 in the morning. According to my instructors, other than an hour’s pleasure nothing good could come out of such parlances… and quite often there’s a world of hurt around the corner.

Yeah. Right. I was pushing 20 and I was full of three things… one of which being myself.

I had just started at a station in Evanston, Chicago’s northern neighbor and their studio was along the Chicago River about two miles from the fabled “L” trains. As is wont to happen, one night my car broke down in their parking lot and I had to choose between a long walk or an even longer wait for repair. I was three hours into my five-hour shift and I knew that walk would be annoying. I mentioned my situation on the air. At three in the morning. Sadly, my “Uh-Oh Sense” declined to stop me. Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo #109: What Jessica Walter Means To Me”

With Further Ado #134: Believing the Truth – A Look at the New Stan Lee Bio

With Further Ado #134: Believing the Truth – A Look at the New Stan Lee Bio

Maybe it is all about the marketing. I’ve been very surprised by the vehement reaction of many fans to Abraham Reisman’s new Stan Lee bio True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee. The cover, designed by Barbara M. Bachman, showcases a less than flattering photo of Stan*.  The whole look, in fact, seems to evoke the feeling of dread that fills us when we realize there is an exposé of a beloved figure, designed to shock us with all the awful disclosures.

In fact, the pre-publication reactions I’ve seen to this book in some online fan groups have resulted in online cat fights. Some fans say they have no need to ever read that trash, while other collectors and fans, who may already think of ill of Stan Lee, are eager for more fuel for their ire.  I interjected a few times with posts like, “I’m reading it now. That’s not really what it’s about”.  But when a person is in the heat of an argument, they don’t want to listen to that sort of thing.

I’ve read it and enjoyed it quite a bit.  Like 99.9% percent of people of who have walked the earth, Stan was a guy who did some good things and did some less-than good things.  And while I will say this book isn’t a tell all, it does provide a frame of reference to better understand motivations at different stages of his life. If anything, I would say that the book shines a new and harsh light on many of Stan’s family members and business associates.

I’ve recently reviewed a few other books in the rapidly growing “Stan Lee Book Category”. Danny Fingeroth’s A Marvelous Life: The Amazing Story of Stan Lee was an exceptional and balanced read. John Morrow’s Kirby & Stan: Stuff Said was exceedingly well-researched and presented a detailed crazy-quilt of the public statements by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby as a way to better understand who did what and why they said all the (often-contradictory) things they said.

Riesman’s True Believer takes a deep dive into Stan’s Marvel years, the time that most fans, I imagine, want to know more about.  It’s clear he’s engaged in exhaustive research. He’s also a clever writer. But to me, the most fascinating parts of Riesman’s book are the details about Stan’s later years. This was “new information” to me. Riesman paints a picture of a man struggling on many fronts and seemingly, to an outside observer, making so many bad decisions and engaging in (so many) unfortunate relationships.

I remember when Leonard Nimoy died, and his frequent co-star Bill Shatner didn’t make it to his funeral.  To casual fans, this was unthinkable!  Their onscreen characters would have done anything for the other in the name of friendship. In reality, Shatner and Nimoy, were at a stage in their relationship where they were again feuding.  It probably wouldn’t have been appropriate for Shatner to attend the funeral. I believe he sent his daughters, which was deemed the right thing to do for those who really know about these things.

Likewise, with a man like Stan, it’s often difficult for fans to reconcile his humanity with the overwhelming goodness, sense of justice and heroic decisiveness that many of the characters he created and co-created embody.  But for those of us who are eager to learn more, who want to know what made our favorites tick, and who aren’t afraid to better understand their failures, shortfalls and humanity, True Believer is a must read.

***

*I kept thinking about what my favorite book designer, Chip Kidd, would’ve done with a cover like this.

With Further Ado #122: I Love A Parade

With Further Ado #122: I Love A Parade

It’s a big deal to have a balloon in the Macy’s Day Parade. When I was in brand management at Unilever, we worked to get Snuggle, the cuddy teddy bear mascot for Snuggle Fabric Softener, included in this wonderful event.  It made for a few special Macy Day Parades.

There have been a bunch of corporate mascots included over the years (I’m looking at you, Poppin’ Fresh, you Pillsbury Doughboy!) This annual event generally has been very inclusive to comic characters too.

In fact, you could “Look! Up in the Sky” many times over the years to see the “first” superhero: Superman.

The last of son of Krypton actually had three incarnations with the Macy’s Day Parade. The first Superman balloon took to the skies in 1939.  Superman’s first’s appearance was, of course, in April of 1938. It’s incredible to us today that a character could debut one year and become a giant balloon in one of the famous parades the very next year. Surprisingly, this balloon even preceded  The Adventures of Superman radio show.

And as Superman was so new, it’s understandable that he looked a little “off-model”, a term that didn’t even exist all those Thanksgivings ago. Continue reading “With Further Ado #122: I Love A Parade”

Brainiac On Banjo #99: A Master Leaves The Stage

Brainiac On Banjo #99: A Master Leaves The Stage

If Sean Connery had never made Dr. No, he would still be remembered as one of our most impressive actors. Except…

… Except if Sean Connery had never made Dr. No, it’s very doubtful that he ever would have been given the chance to make such movies as The Man Who Would Be King, Time Bandits, Robin and Marian, and The Wind and the Lion. Great actors are like great guitar players: for every Eric Clapton or Buddy Guy on stage, there are a thousand equally gifted musicians who never get out of the garage. It takes commitment, determination, and a very thick skin in combination with off-the-scale talent that brings about the possibility of success. Even then, the odds are against you.

Well, that’s show biz. Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo #99: A Master Leaves The Stage”