SopranosCon!

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I went to the first SopranosCon! Fittingly held in The Meadowlands, where so many mob victims fertilize the polluted muck, it exceeded all expectations. I met Dominic Chianese (Uncle Junior), Vincent Pastore (Big Pussy), Burt Young (Paulie from Rocky, and also Bobby Baccala’s father), Kathrinne Narducci (Charmaine Bucco, and Mrs Bufalino in The Irishman), and so many smaller players. Over 50 actors were there, including Drea De Matteo (Adriana) who I only saw on stage, and Tony Sirico, who was too ill to make it on Sunday. Paulie Walnuts, get well soon! Here are some photos from the event. As you can see, they made it look like an Italian festival, with the banners. And of course, they had fresh zeppole for sale.

SopranosCon banner
just like it’s the Feast of San Gennaro….

I also met critics Matthew Zoller Seitz and Alan Sepinwall, who co-wrote The Sopranos Sessions, the invaluable episode by episode dissection of the show. We talked for a while about the show, crime stories, and how great it was to see everyone together again.

Me and Alan Sepinwall and Matt Zoller Seitz
Three Writing Goons

Everyone there was happy! Who would have thought that a show about a killer seeing a psychiatrist would have such a positive vibe? Dominic Chianese sang Italian songs on stage, Tony Darrow did stand-up comedy, Bada Bing dancer Diana Lynn was in a family-friendly costume… The organizers did a great job. It looked professional (and was). Great local food in the food court, with a replica of the Holsten’s booth and a Tony impersonator if you wanted an onion ring. The entry looked like a Turnpike tollbooth:

SopranosCon TollBooth

They made a maze to look like the Pine Barrens, full of quotes and photos of Christopher and Paulie as they searched for the Russian, in the most famous episode. There was even a van, with an empty Nathan’s hotdogs bag, and some packets of relish and ketchup, scattered in the fake snow! It was brilliant.

SopranosCon Maze
“he’s a fuckin’ interior decorator” … “really? his place looked like shit!”
SopranosCon Van
“mix the ketchup with the relish, it’s better!”
me and Burt Young
“I put one kid through college, I put the other through a wall”
me and Vincent Pastore
Big Pussy and Bigger Pussy
me and Dominic Chianese
Uncle Junior
The SopranosCon gang on stage
Sofia Milos speaks, Johnny Sack and others….

They are organizing a “MobMovieCon” in Atlantic City next year, if you are interested. I might go, depending on the guests. It’s refreshing, now that ComiCons have gotten overly huge, that smaller, focused cons like this can flourish. I was just talking with a friend who lamented that Chiller Theater, a New Jersey institution, seems empty now that the cosplayers and stars go to New York ComiCon instead.

This was a great time. I hope they throw another one soon!

Hap and Leonard, and Joe schooling me

I’ll be reviewing the new Sundance series based on Joe Lansdale’s books, Hap & Leonard, for Criminal Element. The first episode gets the tone and the characters just right. Hop on over to Criminal Element for my full review. I’ve been a fan of the disastrous duo since Savage Season, all the way to Vanilla Ride. I have some catching up to do, there’s a new one called Honky Tonk Samurai that just hit the stores.

Here’s Joe putting me in a fingerlock at Bouchercon in Albany, 2013.

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Lillian Randolph: Erased from Tom and Jerry

Many of us grew up watching Tom & Jerry on the tube, but if you’re old enough you remember the day Tom’s owner changed from a snarky black woman to a strident Irishwoman. Tom’s owner was never named, but she was called “Mammy Two Shoes” by some viewers. Some called her “the maid” when it was obvious that Tom lived in her home. Later, MGM had her legs whitened and her voice re-dubbed by June Foray as an Irish stereotype. The original voice, by black actress Lillian Randolph, was rarely heard again. Randolph was a blues singer who had roles in radio and in It’s a Wonderful Life.

One of my faves- Fraidy Cat, where Tom mistakes her for a ghost

As a child, I remember seeing some of the cartoons before the axe fell. I never thought she was a maid, and there are very few shorts that put her in a maid outfit- she’s usually in a slipper and housecoat, like a single woman reclining after a long day. In fact, in Mouse Cleaning, you can see her dressed up to go to church. That’s one of the few shorts where you get a glimpse of her face, albeit from a steep angle and her hefty bosom blocks most of it. The other banned cartoon, Casanova Cat, is the only one I recall her being in a maid outfit- it’s a fantasy short where Tom goes to call on his white cat beau, who lives in a penthouse.

Rarely seen- Tom’s owner’s face

She does have a caricatured manner of speech, as when she tells Tom, “if you is a mouse catcher, then I am Lana Turner! Which I ain’t.” The NAACP complained about the stereotypical portrayal and MGM removed her entirely in 1949. Lillian Randolph went back to being a blues singer.

Mouse Cleaning

She’s an offensive caricature, no more so than the ubiquitous blackface gags that other cartoons of the time had. Anyone can see why she became the subject of complaints, once you start noticing the shabbiness of the house, and her mannerisms.

whitewashed version :

The Tom & Jerry shorts won more Academy Awards than Disney’s or Warner Brothers’, but I feel they jumped the shark when Chuck Jones came along and reworked the characters. I like Chuck- Hell, I have a tattoo of Pepe le Pew in an undisclosed location– but his Tom & Jerry are way too much like a mute Sylvester and Tweety. They lack the great character of the originals, where Jerry was a tiny Chaplin tramp and Tom was lazy and only chased Jerry when his owner threatened him with sleeping outside. My favorite of all time is perhaps Heavenly Puss, where Tom loses his 9th life and is going to Cat Hell unless Jerry signs an affadavit forgiving him for all his trespasses. It deservingly won the Oscar that year.

You can find many of the original cartoons on youtube, and MGM has released most of them in original form in the Tom & Jerry Spotlight Collection DVD sets. The third set omits two cartoons- Mouse Cleaning and Casanova Cat- and several are edited. They finally released some of the originals and we can all see Tom’s owner as she originally was. If you love the old cartoons, I recommend looking up the originals on YouTube or DVD to see the lost performances of Lillian Randolph.