The ooh-wah girls.

Kate’s going away for a few days over the weekend, so last night we went to the movies. No action tentpoles this time, but “Twenty Feet From Stardom,” an engaging documentary about a handful of great background singers. Like? Like Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Claudia Lennear (to exhaust the ones I’d heard of), as well as Judith Hill, Lisa Fischer, Tåta Vega and many others (whom I hadn’t heard of).

Most Stones fans know who Clayton was: The voice doing the wailing-woman breaks in “Gimme Shelter.” Whenever I listened to that song, I pictured her as a Tina Turner manqué, but the reality is both funnier and more mundane — rousted at bedtime and told to get down to the studio p.d.q., she showed up in her pj’s, a scarf over her curlers, and was handed a lyric sheet that said, Rape, murder, it’s just a shot away. Mick Jagger wryly observes that sometimes, when you record at 2 a.m., you don’t know something is good until you listen the next day.

The film bogs a bit toward the end, when we examine how these talented women failed to make it as soloists, but it’s a small complaint. I was touched a bit by Lennear, whom we first meet as one of the sexiest Ikettes and later see touring with the Stones. She now teaches Spanish and didn’t look how you say fulfilled by it. It all ends on a certain lamentation for talent, period, in pop music, now that so much can be auto-tuned and fixed in the mix.

Human beings — can’t live without ’em, although some people would sure like to.

So. Unlike many people, I don’t block ads from the news sites I visit, although I do practice some avoidance. Embedded-text links I avoid like potholes, and Mac Keeper can kiss my elderly ass, but I understand ads pay salaries, so I will let them play, most days. (Besides, I’ve found if you allow one to play, you can avoid more later.) However, lately I’ve been thinking about what’s fair, ad-wise. Fifteen seconds, I think. A 15-second ad is fair, but a 30-second ad is not. Most web videos are less than two minutes, and I think asking for 25 percent more in the form of a Toyota ad is an ad too far. What say you?

As for me, I think I’m going to bed. Enjoy the end of the week, but I still have a lot to do.

Posted at 12:30 am in Movies, Same ol' same ol' |

47 responses to “The ooh-wah girls.”

  1. Dexter said on August 8, 2013 at 1:22 am

    I have to go see this movie. I adore Darlene Love, but not as much as I love Ronnie Spector, who wasn’t a back-up singer, but instead headlined on a bill with the Stones. Ronnie let the Stones crash at her place in Harlem way back when. The Beatles held Ronnie up on a pedestal, they absolutely loved her. It’s hard to explain what power she had, that voice, that big hair, the whole package. She had her own backups, of course.
    There was hardly ever a back-up singer as tragic as Flo Ballard of The Supremes. Feeling like she was continually shoved into the background, she gained much weight and drank to serious excess. She tried to have a career after she was let go by Berry Gordy of Motown, but she died at age 32 of coronary thrombosis. 32. Jesus Christ, what a shame.

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  2. Jolene said on August 8, 2013 at 2:12 am

    I second Nancy’s praise of this movie. Very skillful filmmaking in that they did, I thought, a great job of interweaving interviews with the singers, archival footage of them in performance, and brief snippets of interviews with the famous singers they performed with–Mick Jagger, Bruce Springsteen, Sting, David Bowie, and others. Both impressive and engaging.

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  3. Linda said on August 8, 2013 at 6:54 am

    Did anybody read Darlene Love’s autobiography? It was a good, opinionated read, especially her run-ins with Phil Spector, between whom no love is lost. According to her account, Love was the one who narcced him out to Ronnie, telling her that Spector was in fact married when he started courting her.

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  4. alex said on August 8, 2013 at 7:31 am

    I read Ronnie Spector’s autobiography maybe twenty years ago and it was pretty lurid. Needless to say I wasn’t all that surprised to see Phil Spector accused and convicted of murder; he’s been pretty cold-blooded his whole life to hear her tell it. The music business seemed to be filled with abusive men acting like pimps with their little money makers kept on a short leash and feeling helpless. Ronnie formed a deep bond with Cher Bono, who was also trapped in such an abusive marriage, and I think she and Tina Turner may have commiserated also.

    I also read the autobiography of the other Supreme not Flo Ballard who made Diana Ross out to be a conniving skank who stabbed them in the back and fucked her way into becoming a solo act and a superstar. In the press, Ross’ rage-filled dustups with cops when she’d get pulled over for drunk driving seem to bear out much of that book’s character assassination. I’d seen the author interviewed on television and she came off as vindictive. But she told a great story, even if it tarnished the Motown legend a bit.

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  5. brian stouder said on August 8, 2013 at 8:56 am

    Non-sequitur – but I cannot help it!

    Today’s “Ooh-Wah” BOYS..the most compelling thing I’ve read yet, about the Tony Bennett implosion

    In an August email to several Indiana Department of Education staff members, Bennett includes a video of Ritz. “Below is a link to Glenda’s forum in Bloomington…I would ask that people watch this and scrub it for every inaccuracy and utterance of stupidly that comes put of her mouth.”

    State rules prohibit employees from conducting campaign work on state equipment or state time.

    which is worth remembering, because of the rightwing doofus-line about Bennett’s loss is “all them dang teachers politicking on SCHOOL TIME!!”

    the amazing article is followed by several more links, which all look very good

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  6. brian stouder said on August 8, 2013 at 9:14 am

    (sorry about the stuck-bolding thing! But in addition to the altogether pleasing spectacle of Tony Bennett’s public Wicked-Witch-of-the-West meltdown, I love the stupid typos in his emails!

    “…I would ask that people watch this and scrub it for every inaccuracy and utterance of stupidly that comes put of her mouth.”

    Utterances of stupidly – unite!

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  7. Peter said on August 8, 2013 at 9:15 am

    Dexter, I’m too lazy to look this up, but was Flo Ballard the Supreme who had such a booming voice that when they recorded a song, she had to stand in the other corner of the room so her voice wouldn’t overpower the other two?

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  8. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on August 8, 2013 at 10:02 am

    It’s just a shot away, it’s just a shot away . . .

    (Stuck in my head all day, it is.)

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  9. Peter said on August 8, 2013 at 10:19 am

    Brian, not as dumb as “She is very weak! The rest of this week was WORST as she…”

    Ladies and Gentlemen, your Tea Bag Edjukashun Minister!

    What’s with these morons? He sends e-mails out knowing full well ANYONE can file a FOIA and review them. Whatever happened to having a flunky e-mail people back? Or calling?

    That’s what gets me so livid; it’s like they don’t even care if you catch them.

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  10. brian stouder said on August 8, 2013 at 10:49 am

    Our local radio yapper/political power-broker-wannabe* on WOWO (Pat Miller) agrees with callers when they rant about how all the teachers were doing politics ON SCHOOL TIME during the campaign (thus defeating their hero), which is against the law! Dammit!! (etc) –

    but I betcha that Obama-hatin’ tub o’ lard won’t say anything about today’s JG article, and how it proves beyond any doubt that their hero Tony was politicking ON STATE TIME.

    But, see, if you’re against public education altogether, then anything a destroyer like Tony Bennett does, whether while running for the office or after he gets in, is automatically OK…sorta like those much-feared “Islamo-fascists” who think nothing of the regular folks they hurt, in the pursuit of a greater good.

    I think the next school board meeting (Monday!) ought to be a good one!

    * ol’ Pat was BIG into the so-called “Tea Party Patriot” thing, last go-round, often giving airtime to that “God intended for you to be raped and pregnant” candidate for the US Senate, when he wasn’t attending and/or plugging fund-raisers for him…so to that extent, I have no problem with Pat Miller. I think of him as my own “Islamo-fascist” mindless destroyer of his own radical causes!

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  11. Deborah said on August 8, 2013 at 12:12 pm

    Maybe Judy Busy won the Powerball lottery? One of the winners was in Minnesota.

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  12. Jeff Borden said on August 8, 2013 at 12:20 pm

    The right-wingers won’t be satisfied until every function of society is a for-profit operation including our schools. How long, I wonder, before they start looking at a for-profit military? Maybe we can be like the Hessians and the Prussians were to the British in the 18th century? Or have the Blackwaters already filled that niche?

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  13. Deggjr said on August 8, 2013 at 1:20 pm

    The phrase ‘Twenty Feet from Stardom’ makes me think of Bachelor Party (1984) with young Tom Hanks and other recognizable names/faces. Tom Hanks goes on to win multiple best actor Oscars. The others go on … to different paths.

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  14. Prospero said on August 8, 2013 at 1:57 pm

    Bachelor Party was a thoroughly atrocious and odious movie, but it was also nearly 30 years ahead of its time. Half of what is released these days looks like a Bachelor Party clone. Bachelor Party would probably do very well in release these days: crude, rude and lewd. Somewhere in Hollywood, some hacks probably have a remake in the works.

    The Canyons is one movie I’m looking forward to seeing. In my opinion, Paul Schrader is a great director and screenwriter who hasn’t made enough movies in a time when Vince Vaughan movies are what’s popular, and shit like The 40 Year Old Virgin dominate the LCD box office. I also find the universal trashing of Lindsay Lohan as a spectator sport unseemly, cruel and unconscionable. It’s also as American as apple pie, for which the country should feel shame. She is a victim of the combined two worst showbiz parents ever, leaving John Philips out of the equation. I don’t remember Drew Barrymore taking that kind of fragging for behaving at least as badly, and she’s practically America’s sweetheart these days. I root for Lohan to come back and stick all this grief up her critic’s voyeuristic asses. Watch Mean Girls or her Freaky Friday turn with Jamie Lee Curtis (who certainly fucked up more than her fair share in her younger days), or watch the Parent Trap remake to see how talented Lohan is. In the case of Parent Trap, it smashes the Hayley Mills original to smithereens.

    Merry Clayton did a more blistering version of The Acid Queen (Tommy) than Tina Turner’s. As far as wailing female backup vocals are concerned, don’t forget Clare Torry’s wordless bansheeing on Dark Side of the Moon. And ya know, Emmylou was a backup singer for years.

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  15. Prospero said on August 8, 2013 at 2:05 pm

    Merry Clayton’s brother Sam was in Little Feat, conga player extraordinaire. Kinda surprising Lowell George never recruited her, like, for harmony on Sailing Showe. Holy crap that would have been great.

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  16. Brandon said on August 8, 2013 at 3:19 pm

    For Prospero, and everyone else:

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  17. mark said on August 8, 2013 at 3:43 pm

    Lohan is a “victim” of the self-obsession that is part and parcel of being an unrepentant addict/alcoholic. Catch her soon before she does her version of the Winehouse farewell.

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  18. nancy said on August 8, 2013 at 3:48 pm

    OK, Prospero, here’s the throwdown: Paul Schrader is the most overrated “great” director working. He is wildly, crazily uneven, and I have no reason to think “The Canyons” will be any good. Great directors don’t work on self-financed micro-budget productions unless they’re desperate. A guy who loses his gig on the Exorcist prequel to Renny fuckin’ Harlin isn’t playing at the top of his game.

    He’s directed 18 films, according to imdb. Of those, I count four as pretty damn good — “Hardcore,” “Light Sleeper,” “Affliction” and “Autofocus.” The best thing about “Cat People” and “American Gigolo” were the theme songs, “Patty Hearst” was a disappointment and sorry, I didn’t see “Mishima.”

    He’s far, far better as a writer, and that’s where he should be concentrating — “Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull,” “Light Sleeper,” “Bringing Out the Dead,” etc. But like all egomaniacs, he must be in control, and that means you direct. Note that three of the four of the aforementioned films were made with Martin Scorsese. He should find a director who gets him and form a team. They could make a dozen cheap movies, and if two are big hits, he could be back in the game.

    None of the above is influenced by the time I saw him speak in Ann Arbor, and he was bored and dismissive.

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  19. brian stouder said on August 8, 2013 at 3:56 pm

    (cue ominous music; the camera pans around a comfortable living room, and then over the shoulder of an older fellow, hunched over his laptop keyboard. He emits an audible mumble – possibly “MoFoShtnass”…and then…his well-manicured hands begin typing with great passion and fury)….

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  20. Prospero said on August 8, 2013 at 3:59 pm

    That’s interesting Brandon. Thanks for that link. I’m no fan of Brett Easton Ellis (though I liked the cinematic treatment of American Psycho) but I agree with him about creating mood and building a world. That is what my favorite movies always do, even before character development and plot. Blade Runner and Chinatown, my one and two, are perfect examples. Schrader’s best movie, Blue Collar, was heavily character and plot driven, but the intensity of the nervy mood, abetted greatly by the jittery soundtrack written by the director himself, are crucial to the movie’s success. It’s far more interesting than Raging Bull. I believe movies should make it hot for the viewers, as Guy Grand (a grand guy) would say. Nobody but a psychopath could find pleasure in Chinatown, but it is a great movie nonetheless. Puts me in mind of another Polanski masterpiece, Knife in the Water, in which you’d have a hard time making a dent in the tension with a really big knife.

    The Variety comments at Brandon’s link also could have been written about a lot of French New Wave films or the wonderful movies of Nicolas Roeg (Man Who Fell to Earth? Ask Candy Clarke how pleasant that was.) that critics that will bash The Canyons compulsively would insist are landmarks of moviemaking, by the auteur lords of the Cahiers du Cinema. I’m sure this is coming in a wave, and it will be pure hypocrisy when it comes. I’m planning to see the movie, for sure.

    As for Lohan, anybody that has managed a mistake-free life, or could have survived her monstrous parents, can go ahead and throw stones. It’s a disgraceful and kind of subhuman thing to do, and in some part is the proof in Schrader’s pudding.

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  21. brian stouder said on August 8, 2013 at 4:01 pm

    Dang – I hate it when we achieve an

    Anti Climax!

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  22. mark said on August 8, 2013 at 4:04 pm

    Lohan is an out of control addict. Sorry if that is painful for you to hear.

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  23. Jeff Borden said on August 8, 2013 at 4:23 pm

    Whoa! How can you talk about Paul Schrader and not bring up “Blue Collar?” That’s an excellent film with blistering performances by Richard Pryor, Harvey Keitel and Yaphet Kotto.

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  24. Prospero said on August 8, 2013 at 4:52 pm

    I did talk about Blue Collar, Jeff, even the incredibly propulsive score that Schrader wrote for his own movie.

    Mark, it’s not painful to hear you say she’s an out of control addict, except that that sort of judgmental crap bugs the shit out of me. You don’t know anything about her situation except what gets reported on E! and in People Magazine, do you? Didn’t think so. But, given your politics, I wouldn’t be surprised if you thought addicts should be rounded up and incarcerated in a fenced in Manhattan, with Haaliburton guards, or just executed to save money on incarceration. Typical dumbass comment that misses the point. Monitoring bad behavior of Hollywood types is a preoccupation of right wing Pharisees as empty inside as whited sepulchers. Why would it pain me to be told Lidsay Lohan is an addict? What pains me is living in a society so lacking in empathy and intelligence it makes laughing at her and gratuitous criticism of her into some sort of bloodsport entertainment, even to the point of dismissing what may be a considerable achievement. Shrub didn’t get himself straight until well into his 40s, andn he was certainly an out of control addict. Why do anti-Clinton aholes get to make “youthful mistakes” until they reach 50?

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  25. Jeff Borden said on August 8, 2013 at 4:59 pm

    Sorry, Pros. Didn’t see that notation before I posted.

    The interesting thing about “Blue Collar” was that it took no sides: both management and union officials were corrupt bastards, willing to foment racial discontent or anything else that would make the workers more disorganized and compliant.

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  26. mark said on August 8, 2013 at 5:02 pm

    “that sort of judgmental crap bugs the shit out of me.”

    Unless, of course, you’re the one being judgmental. Are you so alcohol fogged that you cannot recognize that you do the very thing you profess to abhor?

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  27. LAMary said on August 8, 2013 at 5:43 pm

    I liked Affliction a lot, but I agree Paul Schrader is a much better writer than director. I think he grew up in Dutch Reformed family and he’s been fighting with that stuff he whole adult life.

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  28. coozledad said on August 8, 2013 at 5:45 pm

    Patrick McHenry looks like a dog shitting razor blades in this clip. Biscuit-fed little cur can’t figure out which foot to stand on, much less give a straight answer.

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  29. Basset said on August 8, 2013 at 6:22 pm

    Pros, “judgmental crap” is just fine if you’re talking about “rednecks” who can’t pronounce wine labels, right?

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  30. MaryRC said on August 8, 2013 at 6:26 pm

    I’ve read that Merry Clayton claimed that the stress of reaching those high notes on “Gimme Shelter” caused her to miscarry, which doesn’t sound possible.

    Lindsay Lohan’s reputation as someone who is out of control is based on her flouting the chances that she was given after breaking the law multiple times — at least 3 DUI or reckless driving charges as well as the theft of a necklace from a store. She was repeatedly given probation and/or a very brief jail sentence (1 day in one case) and just as repeatedly violated the terms of her probation. Then she’d be given more probation on condition that she would attend treatment sessions or rehab, after which she would drop out of rehab, then be given more probation … It became a joke, a sad joke in many ways but still … many young women in her place have not been given the same second, third or fourth chances.

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  31. Prospero said on August 8, 2013 at 6:34 pm

    (What’s new?) Basset, give me a break. You accused me of doing something I didn’t do. Hearing somebody pronounce the name of a wine as pussy struck me as funny and it happened repeatedly. At the same time, I was invariably polite and helpful, since that was how I was earning money.That’s it. It is funny, sorry. And I lived in GA and SC long enough to know a redneck when I see one, and calling them out is not judgmental, since they are generally proud of it. It’s not a slur, it’s a description of a specific type of person. It is hardly anything like dumping on somebody for having an addiction, which is more like laughing at somebody with a disease. Your argument is basically BS, but what the hell.

    Mark, I am indeed judgmental about what elected public officials do. That’s a prerogative of my citizenship.

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  32. ROGirl said on August 8, 2013 at 6:43 pm

    What’s the statute of limitations on feeling bad for Lohan? Yes, she had been exploited and used by family and others, but she has to face adulthood and deal with it. It’s sad, but she’s not Marilyn Monroe.

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  33. MarkH said on August 8, 2013 at 6:45 pm

    MaryRC – wikipedia confirms that Clayton did miscarry shortly after the recording. I had to check because when she appeared on Fresh Air a few weeks ago, she was very detailed about the session and how she got chosen and called. She said she was pregnant, but she made no mention about the miscarriage and Terri Gross didn’t ask.

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  34. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on August 8, 2013 at 6:47 pm

    All I know about Lindsey Lohan is that she was perfect in the wildly uneven “Prairie Home Companion” movie. May she have a third act akin to Robert Downey Jr.’s!

    I think Hollywood, broadly defined, is a mirror, not a motor. Social and cultural trends don’t start there, and I’m not even sure how much momentum they can impart to movements or attitudes . . . even if directors and auteurs like to take credit for them. Horton Foote knew he didn’t create the civil rights movement, but you wouldn’t know that from how some film critics and cultural analysts talk.

    Likewise, Ms. Lohan is, like her colleagues in celebrity the Karkrashians or whatever, getting lots of karma stuck to her over our inability to adequately define what addiction is, let alone recovery. She may be further down the latter road than Britney Spears, but have a less well organized publicist’s office. But I can find you a dozen folks who have “re-offended” after drug court (most of them in the back room of the local UDF filling out employment applications while eating a peach ice cream cone), and they all have stories of bosses and boyfriends who gave them a break, or tripped them up, and explanations for why they can’t quite get clean yet. What I can’t find is the indicator that reliably lets me, or anyone else, know why this one will be stable and secure and satisfied in six months, and the person across the wobbling table, sucking on the end of their pen trying to recall their latest cell number, will be imprisoned or dead that same date. You just can’t tell, and that’s what makes it impossible for me to judge even when they’re clearly doing stupid things right in front of me.

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  35. ROGirl said on August 8, 2013 at 7:07 pm

    The Kardashians aren’t recovery fodder. They’re exploiters of their own exploitation. Maybe they do have better publicists, but they’re not vulnerable, unlike Lohan.

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  36. MarkH said on August 8, 2013 at 7:12 pm

    Jeff(mmo) does it again; perfect. And, yes Prairie Home Companion the movie was irritating, but Lohan was a bit of a revelation. BTW, I bet, aside from Jeff, only Nancy, Kirk and I are the only ones here who know what a UDF is. 🙂

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  37. Sherri said on August 8, 2013 at 7:43 pm

    Lohan is a very talented actress who is also clearly an addict. I pass no judgement on her addiction, nor on her inability (so far) to find recovery, because I’m an alcoholic. I’m happy to be sober, but as the saying goes, there but for the grace of God…

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  38. MarkH said on August 8, 2013 at 7:55 pm

    Who can forget Rayette in Five Easy Pieces? Karen Black is gone. Hard to believe she was 74 and I didn’t know she was battling cancer.

    Enough opther memorable other roles (Easy Rider, Great Gatsby, Nashville) that she can be forgiven for Airport ’75.

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  39. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on August 8, 2013 at 8:35 pm

    Wasn’t she the tawdry affair woman whose name I can’t recall in the Redford “Great Gatsby”?

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  40. Deborah said on August 8, 2013 at 8:46 pm

    Sherri, you are one classy lady.

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  41. Prospero said on August 8, 2013 at 10:28 pm

    I remember seeing Karen Black first in the hilarious Hitchcock movie Family Plot. I have my own copy of it. Way good fun. She was also good in the film version of Come Back to the Five and Dime. She made some ungodly number of movies in her career.

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  42. Dave said on August 8, 2013 at 10:48 pm

    I know what a UDF is but until recently, I didn’t know they’d arrived in Columbus, let alone Pickerington and now Newark. Perhaps they’ve been there for a long time but I knew them from Cincinnati. Yes, you can say it, I’m very cosmopolitan.

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  43. Dexter said on August 8, 2013 at 10:56 pm

    Stunned at the loss of one of my fave actors, Karen Black, at 74. I was always happy to see she was in any movie I was watching.

    Wow, nance, I was surprised to read you ripping Paul Schrader. I loved many of his films in which he had writer’s credentials, but I have not seen even half of his movies. For “Blue Collar” and “Taxi Driver” alone he goes into my hall of fame.

    Here’s a very recent interview he did with Ron Bennington.

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  44. Dexter said on August 8, 2013 at 11:01 pm

    My Facebook friend Pee Wee Herman wrote this today:
    “R.I.P. Karen Black. Maverick, inspiration and amazing actress. At least we have all your fantastic performances in all your films. What a wonderful, one-of-a-kind-in-all-the-best-ways person. You’ll be starring in everything in Heaven, Karen. I love you and will miss you.”

    And all the people said “Amen”….

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  45. Kaye said on August 8, 2013 at 11:42 pm

    Count me as an appreciative UDF customer. It just isn’t summer without a peach cone dripping all over my hand.

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  46. brian stouder said on August 8, 2013 at 11:52 pm

    Friend of NN.c Mark the Shark strikes again (it’s a Shark-nado!)…and a double bonus – he mentions good ol’ South Side High School, a thriving institution that I dearly love

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  47. Brandon said on August 9, 2013 at 2:00 pm

    I pictured her as a Tina Turner manqué….

    When used of a woman, the word is spelled manquée.

    I first knew of Merry Clayton for her role in the 1987 Ally Sheedy comedy Maid to Order.

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