Bud Yorkin, 1926-2015

Bud Yorkin died. He’s most famous for his long partnership with Norman Lear, which brought us All In the Family, The Jeffersons, and other TV series. But he’ll always have a fond space in my heart for when I saw The Thief Who Came to Dinner, which he directed and produced.

I was 11 then, and we lived in Upland, California. The local theater tended to do double-features, and my hazy memory is that Thief was on a bill with The Poseidon Adventure. But the dashing computer nerd, stealing jewelry while sneaking in to use his old employer’s mainframe to tie the local chess columnist in knots (the lead character always left a chess piece and a move, you see), left a deep impression.

It was a heck of a little movie, really. Henry Mancini did the score, and the cast was remarkably deep: Ryan O’Neal, Jacqueline Bisset, Warren Oates, Ned Beatty, Gregory Sierra, Jill Clayburgh, Austin Pendleton, Michael Murphy, John Hillerman.

Lexicon: “The shovel broke.”

NOTE: I originally wrote this in 2010. But Ulrika and I just watched Snowpiercer, and I realized it should be resurrected.

So tonight we were watching Glee S1:D3 from Netflix, and I made an observation about how unlikely this was from choral standards — but, hey, what do I know? I only sang in grade school, high school, and college choirs for 12 years.

And Ulrika said, “I wonder when the shovel will break?”

We both realized there was a lexicon entry — because she got that phrase from me.


There I am living in Harwood Court, a dorm on the Pomona College campus.

I’m talking to Doug Shepherd, class of ’84, and some other folks, and I forget just how this came up, but he says, “Night of the Comet is so bad, the shovel breaks before the opening titles.”

“Oh?” I say. “What do you mean by that, Doug?”

“Well… All fiction is basically the art of throwing shit in your general direction. When you’re in the hands of a master — Tolstoy, say, or Hitchcock — they shovel the shit out of the way so quickly and so cleanly you don’t ever really notice it. Their shovels are made out of a mix of titanium and carbon fiber. But let’s face it — not everyone is that good. So, sooner or later, the shit is just so heavy their shovel breaks. Then the shit the story depends on starts piling up. I mean, it becomes a big pile. Then it starts stinking. You just can’t pay any attention to the story, because this steaming pile of shit is between the story and you, and it keeps growing, because their shovel has broken, and they just can’t get it out of the way.”

Night of the Comet starts with this text prologue on the screen. And this text is so lame, and so ridiculous… I’m telling you, the shovel breaks before the titles show up.”

“So it becomes something of a measure of quality, y’know? Just when does the shovel break in a story?”


This was the thing Doug told me I remember best, and have found most useful in the passage of time. And now I pass it on to you.


EDITED TO ADD: I was wrong. It’s not a crawl of text. Such is the world in which we live I was able to download the movie to look, check, and verify. It opens with John Carpenter-ish synth riffs, and deep, dark narration by Michael Hanks. It was tough to punctuate the following, because many times you’d think a sentence was over, and then it would go on.

Since before recorded time it had swung through the universe in an elliptical orbit so large that its very existence remained a secret of time and space. But now, in the last few years of the twentieth century, the visitor was returning.

Animated comet goes whooshing by.

The citizens of Earth would get an extra Christmas present this year, as their planet orbited through the tail of the comet. Scientists predicted a light show of stellar proportions – something not seen on Earth for 65 million years. Indeed, not since the time that the dinosaurs disappeared virtually overnight.

There were a few who saw this as more than just a coincidence. But, most didn’t.

Lights! Camera!

Getty Images has announced a new method where a blogger can embed an image from their library, without charge, as long as you let them caption it.

So, here… Have a picture of two Goons and a buffoon:

(Since their caption isn’t terribly detailed, from left-to-right that would be Harry Secombe, Spike Milligan, and Charles Mountbatten-Windsor, in 1973.)