Monday, May 18, 2015

University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg Children’s Literature Conference 2015

On 5/1/15, I was one of two keynote speakers at the 19th annual University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg Children’s Literature Conference.

 
 
The other was Ben Sapp, a dapper chap whose path I’ve crossed before.



I was happy to discover that attendees appreciated the conference as I did, as this feedback on my presentation indicates:

  • “Would love to hear more from this guy!”
  • “So good! Glad I heard his story! Can’t wait to read it!”
  • “I thoroughly enjoyed this session and would love to see him again.”
  • “I enjoyed his laid back approach to teaching. I can bring back several ideas to the library.”
  • “I love this guy! He inspires me to do more research.”
  • “I got many program ideas for our public library. He was an engaging speaker and very entertaining.”
  • “I would take a workshop that he was teaching again.”
  • “Outstanding presentation. Had to buy two of his books.”
  • “Funny, engaging, and interesting. Great study of the genre.”
  • “Great ideas to use with student writing!”
  • “What a great and entertaining speaker. His talk was so interesting.”
  • “Fantastic inspirational speaker.”
  • “I’ve become a Bill Finger advocate!”
  • “Great speaker and author. Will be back to hear more outstanding speakers like Marc Tyler Nobleman.”

Friday, May 15, 2015

Bundle books for library checkout

Bethesda Library in Bethesda, MD hit upon a brilliant idea.

They’ve created five-book bundles for checkout.



It’s an all-or-nothing proposition—even if you are interested in only one of the titles in a bundle, you’ve got to take them all. The idea is perhaps you are interested in more than one, but you’d never know unless you had no choice but take a closer look.

Even without knowing how effective these bundles are, I still encourage other libraries (public and school) to try it. Nothing to lose and plenty to gain.

Super ‘70s and ‘80s: “Legends of the Superheroes”—Howard Murphy (Green Lantern)

In 2011, I posted the first-ever interviews with the men who portrayed the Flash (easy to find), Hawkman (hard to find), and Captain Marvel (batpoop-crazy hard to find) in the 1979 live-action, two-episode TV special Legends of the Superheroes.

In that same series, I asked the citizens of the Internet to help me find the people who played Green Lantern and Black Canary. Sources suggest that BC may be off the radar for good—by design, not by death—but I have bright news about GL: I found him. Rather, he found me. (If only I had known his name is not really Howard Murphy...)



“In brightest day, in blackest night, no actor shall escape my sight!”

So, unexpectedly, four years later, here is his interview…

How old were you when you appeared in LOTS?

I was 29.

What was your background before appearing in LOTS?

I had a bachelor’s and was going for my master’s in theater at University of Southern California.

How did you hear about the audition?

It was all over town—Variety, Hollywood Reporter.


Hollywood Reporter 8/8/78

What was the audition like?

The audition was held at Hanna-Barbera, in their parking lot. It was a cattle call. Back then cattle calls were a waste of time. So I passed on it. Finally my new manager called and said she set up a private audition for me with them. I didn’t realize at the time that my best friend’s sister was the assistant casting director.

So I went in and read and it was very interesting how they had us read. The sides [pieces of paper with dialogue on them] I was given to read were from The Carol Burnett Show. But it was helpful to me because I knew what they were looking for—very over the top. They called me back and said I got the role. I said “What role?” They said they’d let me know—they just wanted to see how we handled comedy. This was very early on in my career. Then they said “You’re going to be the Green Lantern.”

What was your reaction?

I went to comic book stores and bought every Green Lantern comic I could find. I’d read them as a child but didn’t remember. When we did the shoots, I was actually mimicking the comic book pages. When he shoots the ring, I’d arch my back and aim forwards.

How did you feel dressing like a superhero?

It was fun. It was like an adult going out on Halloween.

Were you already a fan of Green Lantern?

I always liked the Green Lantern but I was a fan of all of them. I had a comic book collection that filled two drawers in my bedroom. I wish I had them now. When I went to college, my mother threw them in the trash.

What was the filming like?

The thing was shot in about two weeks. It was intense. [But overall] it was a very easy shoot, a wonderful experience for everyone. Oh boy, did we have girls [meaning attractive actresses, not groupies] on that show! (laughs)

We had a meeting beforehand where [producer Bill] Carruthers and [producer Chris] Darling called us all in so the guys playing the heroes could meet the standup comics playing the villains. It was fun. We all got along. Sometimes you get egos—not so on this show. This show was a dream.

The costumes were very uncomfortable—not so much the leotards but the dance belts (worn so we didn’t show any sexuality, like putting a flattener on a woman—which they didn’t do in this thing). Under the masks none of the guys had to do makeup.

Any funny stories from the shoot?

We used the Batcave from [the ‘60s TV show] Batman, which was in Griffith Park. One night I was coming home late from Palm Springs and realized I couldn’t go home because I wouldn’t make it back [to the shoot on time] the next day. I think they wanted us there at six in the morning. So I just parked my car outside the area where the cave was and slept in my car so I would make it to the shoot the next morning. I called the production company and said “Go look for my car. I’m in the back seat.” And they did.

[The Green Lantern oath starts] “brightest day, blackest night.” [But the script had it as] “darkest night” and no one caught it. I said it only because the script said it and later realized it was wrong. [Only one] person on the Internet caught that.

We were all miked on stage during “The Challenge.” (If you look closely at the footage, you’ll see the battery pack over the top of my butt.) [Riddler Frank] Gorshin was back behind the drop with Giganta [A’leshia Brevard] and all of a sudden, someone put this over the loudspeaker. You hear Gorshin saying to her, “You’re a big girl. I like big girls.” This happened very fast before they caught it and switched it off. (laughs)

Did any onlookers call out to/interact with you in costume while shooting on location?

Not when we were on location. But “The Roast” did have a small live audience.

So that was filmed like a play, with no retakes?

I don’t recall any retakes. We just had to sit there and laugh. Not much of it was rehearsed. We just did it naturally. I think one of the reasons they hired all of us was we just did it. I think the only time we rehearsed was with Charlie Callas when he was Sinestro in drag [in the first of the two shows].

Were any of your stunts hard?

Most of the hard stuff we created for ourselves. In one scene, they said I was going to be in a rowboat on the water. I said that’s boring and suggested I stand [in the boat] like George Washington and they said do that.



The only one who had a problem was the Flash—I think he was in a kayak and it tipped over. We had no backup costume. But they got the shot.

What did you think of the storylines of the shows?

It was very corny. I think that’s probably why it still has a charm to it. We finished doing the shoot and it aired on NBC. I watched it. I called my manager and said “This thing really stinks.” I said I’ll never work again. That wasn’t the case but my manager changed my name from Howard Murphy to Howard Huston. That’s probably why you had such a hard time finding me.

[Incidentally,] I started out in this business under my real name, Reese Larson. My managers were the Hurkos, Peter and Stephanie—Peter was the foremost psychic of the era, worked on the Boston Strangler case. His wife was the manager but he ran the business. He said “Reese Larson, the name is not memorable.” I thought it was! (laughs) He said he saw two Hs. He said “Howard Murphy!” I said that’s not two Hs. So we changed it to Howard Huston. Should’ve kept Howard Murphy.

They never reran it. The only people who saw it were kids.

Were you starstruck by any of your fellow performers?

Not really. The one person I really liked was Adam West. Shortly after I did LOTS, I did a film called Young Lady Chatterley II and Adam was on the shoot. I don’t know if he had anything to do with it, but the minute I walked on the set, he said “Greenie, how you doing?”

What do you remember about your fellow performers?

Charlie Callas (Sinestro) was an okay sort of guy but we were playing nemeses so there was a friction between us. After the fortune-telling scene, he took off his dress and mooned me. I didn’t know how to take that, but he was cool. Gabe Dell (Mordru) was a very nice guy. Rod Haase, we became friends for a few years afterward. I liked Garrett [Craig, Captain Marvel]—really cool. Hawkman [Bill Nuckols] was a lovely fellow. He had a very good physique. Sometimes we were all in the changing room changing into our tights and I thought “Why am I cast in this thing?” The girls were fabulous. Barbara Joyce [Huntress] didn’t talk much. Danuta [Black Canary] was cool.

I couldn’t find Danuta.

I don’t think that’s her real name.

Do you remember any other name she used?

We all referred to each other by the stage name.

Was there any romance among actors that you know of?

No. [After shooting,] we all just wanted to go home.

What did you get paid for appearing in LOTS?

Not much more than $1,000 a week. I’m sure Adam and the others got more.

Did you think the concept would get picked up as a series?

That’s what they wanted. Charlie Callas said if this is picked up, they’re going to have to pay him a salary. I didn’t think it was going to be. It was expensive to do that show at the time. It might not look it. Only one studio in town had the green screen. That’s where they did Captain Marvel flying, which I think was the most elaborate sequence of the whole thing. I think the glow around me was done later, in the lab.

What did you do professionally after the shows?

I worked on Dallas; Dynasty; Murder, She Wrote. In that period there wasn’t a major show that I wasn’t on. They tried to use you twice a year, you were passed around—like the studio system used to do. We’d audition once and they’d have you do four or five shows. I actually made good money back then. Nowadays, I feel so sorry for the kids doing it.

I didn’t think I was going to be a big movie star. I did a lot of stage. I did commercials like crazy. I was singing in a Burger King commercial that aired during LOTS! I probably made more off the commercial! You could make about $10,000 a year off a good commercial.

Was it in that post-LOTS period when you being credited as Howard Huston?

I don’t know. I’d have to look at IMDB. They don’t have all my credits. If they could merge Howard Murphy and Howard Huston, that would be nice. Most of my residuals from the period, I never got.

Have you looked into that?

It’s rather difficult to get an answer from the union. They did put out a residual for the DVD, but I didn’t get it.

When did you stop acting?

I always had a day job. My USC degree was in lighting and set design and costume design. That pays as much as being an actor. I worked on Melrose Avenue for antique stores. I have a photographic memory and could remember an entire inventory. They’d call me up when there was a robbery and ask if I remembered what was in a certain cabinet. This was all in the eighties and partially into the nineties.

[Then I became unwell.] That’s why I’m no longer in the business.

Did you stay in touch with any of the other stars after the show?

Not besides Rod. [For a while after the show,] Rod would come over to talk.

What memorabilia, if any, did you save from LOTS?

I’ve got a whole file full of stuff. I’d like you to have the script.

I’d be thrilled! Have you ever heard from writers (before me) about the shows?

No. First of all they’d have to find me.

What was your reaction when you heard I had found you and wanted to interview you?

Someone sent me one of your blogs that said you’re looking for me. But my computer wasn’t working so I couldn’t email. So for a while I said this isn’t going to work. Then I talked to my brother. He said let my wife and I try. They found you.

Did you know what a cult following the show has today?

I had no idea.

Where do you live now?

Los Angeles.

Do you have a family—wife, children?

All that’s left is my mother, my brother and his wife. [I believe this means he has no wife and kids, not that he did but they’ve passed away. You got that.]

If a comic book/pop culture convention paid your way, would you attend and sign autographs for fans?

That’s difficult. [Due to my health,] I’d need to hire an attendant to get me on the plane and pay for his room. It’d probably not be possible.

What if it’s in LA?

Let’s take that one step at a time. I have an open mind about it.

How do you look back at your experience on this show?

It was a highlight. I loved it.

Do you have a favorite memory about the LOTS shows?

Lots of the stuff we did, we were just left to ad-lib. I mean action—we all stuck to the script. I think the only one who didn’t always stick to the script was Adam, but that was okay because he’s very quick, very good.

Anything else you’d like to add?

At that point, at the age I was at, it was a standard shooting job. I did enjoy doing that corny comedy. You could do over-the-top double takes. I think my best double take was with Howard Morris [Dr. Sivana]. He worked with Sid Caesar for years so he was used to it.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Rock star schools in Frisco, TX

On 5/5-6/15, I was in chupacabra country—one part of it, anyway. The rapidly-growing district of Frisco, TX has 37 elementary schools and I was fortunate to speak at four of them: Spears, Pink, Smith, and Newman.

Notice anything else those names have in common?






Yes, all are also names of well-known rock/pop singers: Britney Spears, Pink, Sam (or Robert) Smith, and Randy Newman.

Two other schools in the district also fit the category: Sparks (Jordin Sparks) and Taylor (either James Taylor or Taylor Swift).

And it’s not just this fun coincidence that makes Frisco a rock star district—and this is coming from a guy who thinks the “anything cool can be called ‘rock star’” trend is long past its expiration date. Both students and librarians at each school stood out.

Both Spears and Smith both created this dynamic display:
 


Pink blew me away with this rendition of Batman made entirely of Post-it notes:


Adding to the fun: librarian Jamie Jensen challenged the students to guess the number of notes in the display (899!). Winners get prizes.

Pink is also running a battle-of-books tournament. Boys of Steel is about strength but even Superman may not be powerful enough to defeat the juggernaut that is Crayons.




Thank you, Jan Pelias at Smith for taking the initiative to bring me in, and thank you Jamie, Anne Guerrero at Spears, and Pattie Pearson at Newman for taking the chance on me. I hope to see you again—and meet the rest of your district—soon!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Sea World superheroes ski again!

Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman is based on a true story that took place in Cleveland, OH, and through the book, I developed a connection to Carol and John’s Comic Book Shop, also in Cleveland.

In March 2015, the “John” of the shop name—John Dudas—kindly notified me that for Free Comic Book Day (this year, May 2), an art collective named the Rust Belt Monsters would be at the shop from noon till 7 p.m. painting a 12-foot mural. The subject?

None other than the Sea World superheroes water ski show that ran in Ohio from 1976-79, and which John saw as a kid.





John reported
I even had all six artists in the collective read over all the data you collected, to inspire them. Just so you know that the work you did still has positive ramifications. So thanks to you, man. It will be hanging proudly in our shop if youre ever in town.

For the record, the [Sea World superheroes water ski show] is my first memory.

On 5/5/15 (National Cartoonists Day), the mural was hung in the shop.



Thanks to John for sharing these photos, and for organizing this fun effort in the first place.

Friday, May 1, 2015

My picture book pantheon

Picture books are scattered across this blog as plentifully as ketchup splatters on a preschooler’s shirt.

There was the time I analyzed the visual language of picture books. The time I challenged you to guess the picture book based on only one page from it. The time I reminisced about books (picture and otherwise) that were special (one way or another) in my life. Even a grand proclamation about biographies.

What I have not done is a simple list of my favorite picture books. Until now.

Notes:


  • My list isn’t ranked.
  • This is fiction only. Nonfiction list possibly to come.
  • The stars indicate the first 10 that came to mind, even though those didn’t align exactly with my eventual top 10.
  • These are not only the picture books that became favorites in childhood. These are my all-time faves.

My ten:


Dear Mr. Blueberry by Simon James (1991)—Deftly and sweetly captures the logic of a child; the ending still chokes me up after many reads. *


Duck, Death, and the Tulip by Wolf Erlbruch (2007)—A tender look at life’s biggest transition. *


Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak (1963)—For lyrical prose, for “less is more,” for trusting your audience…still the gold standard. *


Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst and Ray Cruz (1972)—Tied for funniest.


I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen (2011)—Tied for funniest. *


The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss (1957)—Reading it aloud never gets tedious. * 


Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans (1939)—Tied with The Cat and the Hat for most fun to read aloud; it’s dancing for your mouth. *


Starring Mirette and Bellini by Emily Arnold McCully (1997)—From political imprisonment to a daring child-hero rescue, this is sophisticated stuff…and could be a movie; second in a series of three highly recommended, girl-centered historical adventures.


The Milkman by Carol Foskett Cordsen and Douglas B. Jones (2005)—The subject is bold in its retro-ness and the rhymes ooze charm. *


The Blizzard by Betty Ren Wright and Ronald Himler (2003)—An unofficial reboot of the 1976 Little House on the Prairie episode “Blizzard,” this wholesome childhood fantasy makes the cold and the coziness palpable, also throwing in a healthy dose of urgency.


Decade tallies:

1930s—1
1940s—0
1950s—1
1960s—1
1970s—1
1980s—0
1990s—2
2000s—3
2010s—1

Honorable mentions:


Harry and the Terrible Whatzit by Dick Gackenbach (1977)—Despite what I feel is a significant narrative flaw, this invitingly illustrated book makes overcoming a common childhood fear seem attainable. *


The Snowman by Raymond Briggs (1978)—Haunting, heartbreaking, and a precursor to (or inspiration for) the graphic novel.


The Enemy by Davide Cali and Serge Bloch (2009)—Sensitively lays out the folly of war with appealing art that seems both 1940s throwback and timeless at once. 


Three Little Ghosties by Pippa Goodhart and AnnaLaura Cantone (2007)—The story is no great shakes (or shivers) but the wordplay is joyfully inventive. *


Moose by Michael Foreman (1971)—Hard to find today, it’s the most sentimental choice here; the story is not pioneering but it did stay with me since my wee days. *


The Bravest of Us All by Marsha Diane Arnold and Brad Sneed (2000)—Though the twist of the ending is not a huge surprise, the book is winning due to its folksy writing and superb if subtle use of the back cover to fill in a gap from the story. 


When I Am Old With You by Angela Johnson and David Soman (1990)—The premise alone is a tearjerker.


Decade tallies:

1930s—0
1940s—0
1950s—0
1960s—0
1970s—3
1980s—0
1990s—1
2000s—3
2010s—0

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Bill Finger cover story: “Miami New Times” 1/22-28/15

In 2014, Bill Finger made news by making the cover of a Batman comic book (of any comic book) for the first time.

This year, he made another cover, but this time, it was not for a story by him but rather a story about him. (Another first.) It ran in January in the Miami New Times.



One reason this Miami publication became the first to do a cover story on Bill is because his granddaughter Athena lives in Florida. Another is because BILL FINGER.

Monday, April 27, 2015

School libraries: start a Student Picks shelf!

Bookstores promote Staff Picks.


I would love to see school libraries promote Student Picks. Rotate students’ choices weekly to give as many kids as possible a slot in the spotlight.

This is a reading catalyst in several ways:

  • it uses peer pressure for good!
  • it incentivizes students to read more so they’ll have new recommendations
  • it motivates students whose recs are on display to take friends to the library to show off their special status, and anything that gets more people into a library is worthwhile

Come to think of it, the student picks’ shelf need not be in the library. How about putting it at the main entrance of the school? That would turn a Big Statement into an Even Bigger Statement: the value of reading is too strong to confine to any one room! (Students would simply take whichever book they wanted to the library to check it out.)

If you know a school that is already showcasing books that students recommend, please let me know!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

A VA, TN, NJ, RI, and MD state of mind

March and April 2015 have flung me up and down the Eastern Seaboard. A snapshot:

Virginia 3/13/15: Virginia State Reading Association Conference

I gave three talks and met many kind librarians. This was the teaser I set up outside my presentation room:



Virginia 3/20/15: Walker Upper Elementary School, Charlottesville

The school hamster tweeted me in advance for a carrot. I know better than to disobey a rodent:



(with librarian Rebecca Flowers, who co-founded Books on Bikes, a noble program in which she and others deliver—by bicycle—books to underprivileged neighborhoods)

Tennessee 3/30/15: Spring Hill Middle School, Spring Hill



John Travolta created my nametag:


(In reality, it was a scanning misread.)

Tennessee 3/30/15: Woodland Middle School, Brentwood

With my friend Lindsey Anderson, the librarian who brought me in and who is a champion of author visit planning:



Tennessee 3/31/15: Ruby Major Elementary, Hermitage


My second time at this sweet school.

Librarian Melanie Clark implemented a clever system for the signed books of authors who have visited the school. She makes a special packet and students are allowed to take it out for only one night.



That urgency probably results in the books being read more often—no time to stall!

New Jersey 4/2/15: Y.A.L.E. School, Cherry Hill

A welcome display echoes the wording of the flyer I send schools to promote my upcoming visit:



The school challenged its students to design a logo for anti-bullying:


Rhode Island 4/8/15: Narragansett High School (where I spoke to middle schoolers)

I loved seeing this hanging in the hallway:



Rhode Island 4/10/15: School Librarians of Rhode Island Conference

I was the only author representing my gender on the only author panel/event of the conference. I joined longtime friend Meghan McCarthy, Sarah Albee, Erin Dionne, Melissa Stewart, and Sarah Brannen. We were moderated by the tireless Susannah Richards.



Did you spot the goof?

Maryland 4/13/15: Ducketts Lane Elementary School, Elkridge

I was honored to meet legendary librarian Matthew Winner (who is aptly named). He didn’t sound taller than me when I did his popular podcast



Bookish views from around the school:




Maryland 4/13/15: Howard County Young Authors’ Contest, Ellicott City


Matthew is not the only winner I’ve mentioned here. Thank you to all my hosts!

I’ll be closing out the school year with stops in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Texas, New Jersey, Washington DC, and Virginia.
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