Not Robert Culp!

Robert Culp, who died yesterday at 79, was one of my favorite minor actors. I was already a fan thanks to his distinctive delivery as Bill Maxwell in The Greatest American Hero when I discovered reruns of I Spy in college, and just in time too. I had soured on the juvenile humor and the self-parody in most of the James Bond films and was looking for someone new to teach me how to be cool. Culp’s Kelly Robinson was just the one.

I could go on and on, but the blogosphere is already full of encomiums about his wit, wisdom, and talent. I do want to mention, though, that among his many other achievements and memorable performances, he has the distinction of having given the best reading of the line “Oh shit!” in film history.

In Turk 182!, he plays fictional New York City mayor John Tyler, who is touting his “Polish the Big Apple” program for eliminating graffiti. Timothy Hutton plays a kid with a private grievance against the mayor that he takes public by defacing city property in increasingly daring and entertaining ways. Here’s what happens when the mayor tries to unveil one of his administration’s new “graffiti-proof” subway trains.

Greatest hits: Movies for kids

Many months ago, on the internal “parents” mailing list at work, someone asked for “movies that a 3 year old could watch that are also fun for the parents.” I wrote the following, which elicited from one list member the gratifying response, “This has to be the coolest kids’ movies list I’ve ever seen.”

Some recommendations in addition to the usual Disney/Pixar/HBO-Family stuff:

Animals Are Beautiful People
Remember the narrated documentary bits from The Gods Must Be Crazy about flora, fauna, and tribal life in the Kalahari desert? This is a whole movie of just that (by the same narrator and filmmakers), humorous in many places and a minimum of nature-red-in-tooth-and-claw.
Apollo 13
If you skip the preliminaries and go straight to the blast-off, and keep your child informed about what’s happening in the story and that it all happened in real life, it’s great.
Batman (1966)
A ton of fun, if you don’t mind your 3-year-old watching cartoonish fistfights.
Some small kids will be frightened by the peril of the (spoiler) kidnaped children, but you can assure them that (spoiler) it all turns out OK.
Chicken Run
From the Wallace and Gromit folks.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
Clearly some of the filmmakers behind Mary Poppins were trying to reproduce that film’s success, and missed — but not by too much.
The Court Jester
Plenty of great Danny Kaye silliness if you don’t mind the (cartoonish) sword-fighting and jousting.
Curious George (the Ron Howard movie)
Much maligned by Curious George purists, but we love it.
A Hard Day’s Night
You can’t start ’em on Beatles fandom too early.
The Muppet Movie
When your kids O.D. on typical inane children’s programming, show them this as an antidote.
The Music Man
Teach your kids to lithp along with little Ronnie Howard — fun! Then tell them he grew up to make two of the other movies in this list and blow their minds.
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure
Apart from its numerous other charms, it includes a play on the word but/butt. Three-year-old gold.
A Pocketful of Miracles
Actually most of this one will probably bore your three-year-old, but it’s a Christmas tradition at our house and my kids seem to tolerate it well enough.
School of Rock
Like all other parents, I’m hoping to get a couple of musicians out of the deal.
Silent Movie
You’ll have to read the title cards for them, and (if you’re like me) edit out the running “Fags!” gag.
Singin’ in the Rain
If your kid isn’t red-faced with laughter after “Make ’em Laugh,” consult your pediatrician.
Star Trek: the animated series
Not-half-bad kid-oriented sci-fi stories from the 70’s with the original cast doing voices and plenty of respect for science, alien races, etc.
What’s Up, Doc?
Very young kids will of course get a lot less out of this than older ones, but they still get plenty. This one’s in frequent rotation at Casa Glickstein.
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
Pure magic. And for the record, I love Johnny Depp, but he can’t hold a candle to Gene Wilder.
Yellow Submarine
The Blue Meanie invasion of Pepperland is a little much, especially if you’re a gun-averse parent. But see “can’t start ’em on Beatles fandom too early” above.

Please please you

Some time ago I was talking with a friend who was having woman trouble. “I can’t figure out how to make her happy,” he said. Immediately he added the disclaimer, “I know, I know, ‘everyone’s responsible for their own happiness.’”

That’s a bit of pop psychology from the Me generation that has passed into conventional wisdom, but I think it’s wrong. It’s just one step from there to “Greed is good,” and you know how I feel about that one.

So I said, “That’s bullshit. When I married Andrea, I made her happiness my job.” Not that she didn’t bear some of the responsibility herself, of course; nor was I abandoning my happiness for hers. But I’ll be damned if our marriage doesn’t mean that she gets my help being happy when she needs it, and vice versa. My friend’s palpable gratitude at hearing someone explode the old chestnut told me I was onto something.

Not to get too crunchy-granola, but how would the world be different if the conventional wisdom said, instead, “Everyone is responsible for each other’s happiness”?