Category Archives: Screen Gems

A few pointers on playing quarterback

One of the best things about this commercial is that, right up to the end, it looks like an instructional video on How To Take The Center Snap. Our demonstrator is Roman Gabriel, the Pro Bowl quarterback for the Rams and Eagles in the ’60s and ’70s.

That same year (1969), Gabriel appeared in John Wayne movie, The Undefeated, set in the period just after the Civil War. He played a Native American named Blue Boy. (Was he a Native American? Well, no. But his father was Filipino, which accounted for Roman’s dark complexion. That’s show biz, folks.) You also get a glimpse here of Merlin Olsen, the Rams’ Hall of Fame defensive tackle, who went on to a much more substantial acting career (Father Murphy, Little House on the Prairie).

How great is it that an NFL quarterback got to be in a film in which The Duke delivered this line?

Orson Welles and the NFL

One night in the ’30s, Shipwreck Kelly, the Brooklyn Dodgers’ owner/running back/party animal, was at the El Morocco with a group of friends. In walked a big fellow with a beard — at a time when such adornments were confined mostly to sheepherders.

“Do you know who that guy is?” the nightclub’s owner asked Shipwreck.

Shipwreck didn’t have a clue.

“It’s Orson Welles, the actor.”

The owner brought The Actor over to the The Football Player’s table for introductions, Shipwreck recalled in Richard Whittingham’s oral history of the NFL’s early years, What a Game They Played.

I tried to be a smart aleck, like I did a lot of times in those days. I said, “Gee, Mr. Welles, it’s nice meeting someone like you.” He didn’t know who I was or that I played football or anything about me. But he was very pleasant. Then I said something like, “Why do you cultivate something on your face that grows wild on your ass?”

“Mr. Kelly,” he said, “you are fresh in New York, and if I were you I wouldn’t tell my friends how much you know about my ass.”

It was one of the rare occasions Shipwreck was out-wiseguyed.

Fast forward to 1979.  Jets legend Joe Namath — who, like Kelly, enjoyed the nightlife — is serving as the victim for one of Dean Martin’s Celebrity Roasts. Who should take the podium to add to the merriment but Welles, still sporting a beard but now built like a nose tackle.

What followed was the five cleverest minutes in NFL Films history (which is saying a lot). Watch:

Fred Williamson carries a crippled guy around in “Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon”

Don’t ask me why this scene stuck with me. I’m pretty sure Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon (1970), a Liza Minnelli vehicle, was the second half of a double feature one night at the drive-in. Anyway, Fred “The Hammer” Williamson, the Chiefs’ mouthy cornerback from Super Bowl I, was in it and spent a fair amount of time carrying this wheelchair-bound character around. Like so:

Joe Theismann beating Jim Taylor in “The Superstars” tennis finals, 1979

Tennis doesn’t get any better than this, folks. I’m talking about tennis, of course, between a 29-year-old active NFL quarterback and a 43-year-old retired NFL fullback. Kudos to Packers Hall of Famer Jim Taylor for upsetting high-jumper Dwight Stones in the semis and reaching the finals of the 1979 “Superstars” against the Redskins’ Joe Theismann, who junked his way to . . . well, you’ll find out.

Speaking of junk, sports programming didn’t get much trashier in those days than “The Superstars,” an ABC production in which (mostly) athletes from a wide variety of sports competed in 10 events for money and vanity. (I say “(mostly) athletes” because actor Robert Duvall placed sixth in 1976 — and first in bowling. Who knew Tom Hagen was the Dick Weber of the Corleone household?)

Frank Gifford provides the tennis play-by-play in this clip and, being Frank, tries to breathe life into a match that, as anyone can see, was dead on arrival. What a pro. FYI: Theismann finished third in the standings that year and fourth the next before “retiring” from the “Superstars” grind to devote his full attention to winning the Super Bowl (though he did take part, victoriously, in a “Superteams” competition in 1983 with some other Redskins).

Joe Namath gets a massage from Flip Wilson

Only Joe Namath would go on “The Flip Wilson Show” and allow himself to be massaged by a man dressed as a woman. This is from the early ’70s, with Flip doing his Geraldine thing and the Jets quarterback trying unsuccessfully not to laugh:

Later in the segment, Geraldine speaks for all of us when she’s asked about Joe’s acting ability:

Alex Karras punches a horse in “Blazing Saddles”

Some people, me among them, think Alex Karras belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The late Lions defensive tackle definitely belongs in some kind of Hall for giving us this memorable scene — as the inimitable Mongo — in Blazing Saddles (1974):

You also might enjoy this clip, from the same movie, of Alex at his thespian best. My guess is that he’s reenacting for the townsfolk what he and his defensive mates did to the Packers offensive line when they sacked Bart Starr 11 times in the ’62 Thanksgiving Day game:

Mike Reid’s biggest hit, on or off the field

Bonnie Raitt never played in the NFL (though she knocked ’em dead at Super Bowl 37), so you’re probably wondering why I’m bringing her up. Answer: Because a guy who did play in the NFL — Mike Reid, the Pro Bowl defensive tackle for the Bengals in the ’70s — co-wrote, with Allen Shamblin, perhaps her best-known song.

I Can’t Make You Love Me “has become something of a modern standard,” according to the Los Angeles Times’ Mikael Wood, “a go-to source of grown-up melancholy for established stars as well as the young hopefuls on televised singing shows “American Idol” and “The Voice.” It became a hit for Raitt on her 1991 Grammy-winning album, “Luck of the Draw,” and has been covered over the years by the likes of Prince, George Michael and, most recently, Katy Perry and Kacey Musgraves for their new “Crossroads” series on CMT.

Wood asked Raitt about the song and got this response:

I knew immediately when Mike Reid sent me the song that it was absolutely one of the most honest and original heartache songs I had ever heard. It was a point of view that I had been on both sides of, and it struck me deeply; I knew immediately I wanted to sing it.

There’s just something so soulful about the combination of the keyboard part and the lyrics and the melody. It’s a marriage that comes together once in a while, where the music really sounds like what the person’s singing. Part of it for me is Bruce [Hornsby]’s beginning. The way Bruce plays — he calls it Bill Evans meets the hymnal — he’s one of those piano players where there’s just so much intrinsic soul in the way they play. And it’s the simplicity of the arrangement that we wanted to do when [producer] Don [Was] and I were talking about it. It just didn’t need any gussying up, you know? The song is best naked.

The following rendition — with Hornsby on the lead keyboards — might be closest to perfect. Bonnie just seems to hit every note right. As you’re listening, keep reminding yourself: an NFL defensive tackle wrote this.

Bubba Smith in “Police Academy”

Bubba Smith was such a beast on the football field that Baltimore Colts fan Ogden Nash was moved to write:

He’s like a hoodoo, like a hex, 
He’s like Tyrannosaurus Rex.

He also appeared in six Police Academy movies, Bubba did, as Cadet/Sergeant/Captain Moses Hightower.  (How could anyone deny a 6-7, 265-pound, quarterback-munching defensive end a promotion?) One memorable scene:

Jim Brown smooches Raquel Welch in “100 Rifles”

I would have preferred to post a clip here from The Dirty Dozen (1967), at the end of which — spoiler alert — NFL legend Jim Brown gallantly gives his life to wipe out a bunch of Nazi officers during World War II. Alas, I couldn’t find one. Must be the ol’ Copyright Thing.

Still, I loved Nora Ephron’s tribute to the scene in Sleepless in Seattle (1993):

The following “Best of Jim Brown” will have to do. Somewhere, sometime I read that this was the first interracial kiss in Hollywood history. (Who can say for sure?) As if that weren’t enough, the recipient was one of the hottest females on the planet, Raquel Welch. Nice goin’, Jim. From 100 Rifles (1969):

I stopped it there because my screen was starting to fog up.