Click here for this blog from five years ago. The time has changed, but the names and facts are the same, as is the result.
Click here for this blog from five years ago. The time has changed, but the names and facts are the same, as is the result.
A figure of Madison media history died last week:
Richard E. “Dick” Flanigan, age 81, passed away on Thursday, Jan. 5, 2017, following a short illness. …
His first job after college was working for WTVO in Rockford, Ill. This is where he met his future wife, Valerie Vinet. They were married a year later, in 1968. The newlyweds made Madison their home and Dick began working at WMTV where he served as the art director. During his career, he hosted Lenny’s Inferno as Mr. Mephisto from 1969-1982.
If you are old enough and you grew up in Madison, you may have watched …
Isthmus interviewed Flanigan several years ago:
Mr. Mephisto. If you are at least 30 years old and lived in Madison between 1966 and 1982, this name is familiar to you — especially if you were a horror-movie buff, insomniac or impressionable boy during those years. Mephisto was the host of Ferdie’s Inferno and, later, Lenny’s Inferno, during its run late Fridays on WMTV.
Indeed. The festival’s focus on frightening independent films synchs well with the inventive low-budget approach taken by the Inferno and the entire phenomenon of late-night horror shows on television. “The whole idea behind doing the Inferno the way we did it was, it was fun,” Flanigan explains. “If it wasn’t fun I don’t think we would have lasted as long as we did.”
Born and raised in Rockford, Illinois, Flanigan came to Madison in 1967 when WMTV hired him as its art director. This was, he says, “like dying and going to heaven.” Ferdie’s Inferno had already been on the air for a couple of years by then, with program manager Jack Crowley as Mephisto. Sponsored by American TV, the show broadcast classic horror movies, vintage episodes of The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits and other frightening fare. Mephisto presided over commercial breaks. Flanigan remembers Crowley as “crazy” but also “a good man.” When he left the station, promotions manager Carl Ames succeeded him in the role of Mephisto. “One of the best on-air talents I ever saw,” Flanigan says of Ames, “and one of the best writers.” When Ames left WMTV circa 1969, Flanigan inherited Mephisto duties. It was, he recalls, “the path of least resistance.”
By then, Ferd Mattioli’s health was in decline, and his brother, Lenny, had come up from Chicago to run American TV. The company sponsored the show through 1982, at which point it went of the air here.
“It was almost all improv,” Flanigan says of the format. “We didn’t have any budget. Which was OK, fine, I understand the business end of it. So I tried to create the format where we had the most flexibility and I could surround myself with people who were more talented than I was. People who were very good at what they do, and they’re crazy.”
A glimpse of this can be seen in a montage of still photos from the show.
Among the most significant of these characters was John Sveum, who filled the role of the voice in the box that sat on Mephisto’s desk. …
“I brought John Sveum in from the beginning and created this idea of just a voice in the box,” Flanigan recalls. “What that did was there’s nothing you can’t do with a box that has a voice, and there’s always the mystery of just exactly is in there.” The interplay between Mephisto and the voice in the box was among the Inferno‘s most memorable dynamics. The voice in the box also freed Sveum up to fill other roles. “Things just happened,” remembers Flanigan, who calls Sveum “really gifted” in his ability to take on different characters who appeared on the show. …
Over the years, Flanigan has learned there are countless people in his sons’ generation who grew up with the show, who stayed up past their bedtimes to watch, and are now adults.
It was a great ride, he allows. “When you have to supply content for 12 years, you go through the gamut,” he observes. “We had serials, we had half-hour shows, hour shows, we had Twilight Zone, we had Outer Limits. I turned thumbs down on Doctor Who. That was the biggest mistake I ever made.”
Maybe so, but this was offset by all the good decisions he made. None were better than lobbying the station and his sponsor for the Universal horror package that included the original Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Wolf Man, Dracula and other vintage classics. These were the movies Flanigan himself had grown up on.
“I remember being in a movie theater and seeing the coming attraction for Frankenstein,” he says. “It was being re-run. I was born in ’35, and this thing was being brought back. In those days, they used to do that, wait seven, eight years and bring it back. And I’d never heard of it. And I’m sitting in the theater and I’m looking at this and it scared the hell out of me. It really did.”
The original King Kong was another classic that scared him. But one of the most effective horror movies of all, he says, was the original Thing from Another World. “I took a stopwatch,” he remembers, “and in an 87-minute movie, that Thing was onscreen for less than three minutes, and yet they created this atmosphere and this tense buildup to confrontation using one of the oldest ploys in the world, a small group of people banded together where they can’t get help, menaced by an overpowering force.
“I remember the first time I saw The Thing,” he continues. “I was a freshman or sophomore in high school, and I went alone in the middle of winter. And I had to walk from a bus stop on an unlit street to get home, and it was edgy, it really was. That movie really got to me. But then you see it again and you like it just as much the second time.”
Growing up on the old classics impressed upon him that the best movies start with good writing. A good director and good cast are also essential to a good movie, in his view. All the CGI in the world can’t make up for any one of those three factors, he contends.
Describing himself as a cinephile with eclectic tastes, he says he is impatient with most contemporary slasher flicks that substitute gore and other fright-for-fright’s-sake conventions instead of a compelling narrative arc. “You can’t kill Mike Myers,” he observes, “so why try? It’s boring. Put the costume on ’em and the story is lousy and there’s no direction, the movie isn’t gonna go anywhere. It’s inept.”
He also tends to dismiss spinoffs, sequels and remakes as inadvisable, with little chance of equaling or surpassing the original movie, though he cites the latest Indiana Jones release as an exception to this rule. He is an admirer of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, as well as Hitchcock. …
He pauses, calling to mind an anecdote from his Inferno days. “Boy, I sure wish I had this Inferno. We did an Inferno with Kentucky Fried Theater when they were just starting out. They came out and they just wanted to be on the show. There were a couple things they did that were hilarious. One of them, he was real thin and he took his shirt off and we had a turntable in the studio big enough for a car, because they used to do car commercials and they’d rotate them on this turntable. Well he went out on that turntable and he did a mime of a piece of bacon frying. And it was hilarious to watch the convolutions he went through, but I said we can add to that, because we had a kitchen set there, so I told our studio manager to start one of the stovetops and put a metal frying pan on that and as he’s doing this pour some water on it and hang a mic over it and it sounded just like bacon frying when that water hit that hot pan. And he could hear it and he’d react to that and it was hilarious.”
That was one of the shows that went unrecorded for the archives. “Who knew?” Flanigan asks. Every week was like that. You never knew what might happen. “We’d get ahold of something that Lenny would give us to destroy because Lenny loved that stuff and we enjoyed doing it. He loved watching pickaxes go through TV sets.” Characters on the show would tear apart various stereo components, set fire to a turntable and cook eggs on them, brandish a big hocking knife, throw things at Mephisto.
Mephisto was an easy target. His face was white. Everything else was black: hair, soul patch, hat, cape. And there was that Mephisto snarl. “The thing about Mephisto that I always thought made people like him was that he treated everybody as if I am god, this is my domain, what I say goes, which was exactly wrong, because he wasn’t,” Flanigan observes. “There are people who throw pies and people that get hit. Mephisto never threw a pie. But he never once thought he wasn’t the boss. And of course he was a doormat. You can’t help but kind of like him. He’s the biggest idiot you ever met in your life and they just abuse him, but he just kind of swings with it.”
“The Inferno” was one of the last late-night shows that TV stations used to carry, in the days before late-night network TV after “The Tonight Show.” That lasted longer than the related trend of TV stations producing their own kids’ shows, such as WISC-TV’s “Circus 3,” or TV stations’ carrying old movies on weekend afternoons and weeknights. All have been replaced by more news programming, more network programming (sports on weekends), syndicated programming and infomercials.
Milwaukee and Green Bay TV stations had their own versions.
David Blaska formerly wrote for Isthmus before Isthmus decided it didn’t want him anymore.
Blaska then wrote for InBusiness before InBusiness (for which I used to write) decided it didn’t want a couple of his columns anymore.
So Blaska decided to do it himself:
Welcome to Stately Blaska Manor. Over the Thanksgiving week and in the dead of night, likely Trump supporters and other insurgents moved the Stately Manor, its Policy Werkes (and Tanning Salon) and the indentured servants (fast asleep) from InBusiness to higher ground. Easier to defend. Free to be and say what needs to be said. In other words, No More Mr. Nice Guy!
Please tell your friends to bookmark me! Now, on with the show!
Blaska started with …
What happens when a campus organization invites a speaker to the University of Wisconsin-Madison to talk about free speech?
Young totalitarians who disagree with the speech — making the usual claims of victimhood — try to shut it down, of course! It happened November 16 when Young Americans for Freedom invited Ben Shapiro, editor of the DailyWire, to speak on the infantilization of our great universities.
As if to prove his point, 20 Black Lives Matter vigilantes disrupted his talk. At one point, the young brownshirts marched to the stage while police permitted the heckler’s veto. Demonstrators interrupted Shapiro several times, barely allowing him to utter a few sentences at a time, WKOW-TV reports.
“So you get to interrupt lectures if you’re the right gender, or the right sexual orientation. You get to do these things without punishment because after all, that’s in the nature of social justice, group justice,” Shapiro said as he looked towards the protesters.
In the lobby of the Social Studies Building, WIBA-AM’s Vicki McKenna was trying to report the story when several of the protestors seemed to menace her. White man with ring in his lips tells her the disruption “needed to happen” because the mere “presence of this event is violence.” The future of America, right there!
University police pushed the diminutive woman away as the protestors sprayed the MF word at her. (That video here.)
Police made no attempt to protect her right to be present in a university building or the invited speaker’s right to be heard.
“If we have any police officers here, this is now absolutely a disruption,” Shapiro pleaded, to no avail. (Source here.)
But remember, there’s no such thing as reverse discrimination. (There’s no such thing, there’s no such thing, there’s no such thing.)
The Policy Werkes demands — a statement from Chancellor Rebecca Blank affirming the right of free speech at the University of Wisconsin’s flagship campus. That includes the right to be heard over the heckler’s veto. The Board of Regents should investigate. Expel students who deprive the rights of free speech — a civil rights issue if ever there was. The State Legislature should convene hearings of top administrators to determine if they have not created a climate of fear and repression on campus by labeling as “hate speech” all political speech. And how about course work on the Constitution of the U.S. be required for graduation for all students — especially sociology majors.
To no one’s surprise, UW–Madison is not the only Madison institution that stifles free speech:
Not to be outdone by UW-Madison, the Sturm und Drang stirred up by the hateful election of Donald Trump has reached the formerly placid shores of bucolic little Lake Wingra here in Madison.
Someone left a hateful Post-it® sticky note on a hallway office window at Edgewood College — surely “an act of cowardly hatred,” as officials there are describing it. And the damn thing is bright fuschia, to boot!
Students at the small liberal arts college were traumatized by the results of November 8 (a date that will live … in INFAMY!). The private Catholic school set up a table in the food commons for students to express their hurt feelings via heartfelt little sticky notes.
“In an act of intimidation and cowardice,” explains Edgewood’s vice president for student development, someone posted a sticky note inside the window of the Office of Student Diversity and Inclusion. (Scholars, take note: consider a career in Inclusion.)
“A great deal of fear, sadness, and anger among students, faculty and staff resulted,” relates college veep Tony Chambers. “The message was hateful and harmful toward members of our community.”
The term “micro-agression” does not begin to describe this assault on all that is decent and holy. Edgewood College responded by convening an emergency meeting. At the table: campus security, the dean of students, human resources, Title IX enforcement, and the diversity and inclusion crowd.
(One pictures the White House situation room as the Navy Seals took down Osama bin Laden.)
“The group determined that the message constituted a hate crime.”
The incident of the hateful sticky note has been reported to Madison police (Mike Koval, chief head cracker). No doubt, the sticky note, a particularly offensive shade of pink, will be introduced as States’ Evidence No. #1. Hand writing analysts will be sworn to tell the whole truth and nothing but. Various victims, selected according to race, creed, and gender identification, will commit their personal suffering to the court transcript.
The college is asking anyone with knowledge of the perp contact Campus Security at 608-663-3285. As the proud parent of an Edgewood alumnus, The Squire takes this merde seriously. (I can vouch for Number #1 Son; we were instilling fear and hate on another campus that day.)
Vice president Chambers vows an Old Testament smiting of the pink sticky noter. (Or is it the stinky pink noter?) “Any attempt to discriminate, instill fear in or intimidate our students, faculty or staff will result in serious and stiff consequences!”
Serious is bad enough, but need we go “stiff”?
Did the note bear a swastika? No, it did not. A burning cross? Negativo!
This should be fun reading as Madison college students continue to cowardly burrow into their safe spaces. Wait until these delicate little flowers enter the real world.
The UW–Madison Daily Communist — I mean, Daily Cardinal — reports:
Republican congressman Sean Duffy is facing criticism for describing Madison as a “communist community” when he attacked the ongoing presidential recount in Wisconsin Wednesday.
In a Fox News interview, Duffy, who represents northwestern Wisconsin, criticized Green Party candidate Jill Stein’s request for a recount of the state’s general election race.
“It’s a sad state of affairs for these Democrats who don’t believe in democracy and freedom and free elections,” Duffy said.
Duffy alleged that election officials in Dane County were stalling in order to miss the Dec. 13 deadline for certifying the vote, even though the county is on track to complete the recount on time.
Duffy’s comments drew a rebuke from numerous Wisconsin politicians.
On Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., called for an apology from Duffy. Pocan represents Wisconsin’s second congressional district, including Dane County.
“His insinuation that my constituents are somehow un-American for exercising their political views is extremely alarming,” Pocan said in a release.
Madison Mayor Paul Soglin also voiced his disapproval over Duffy’s comments, initially calling him a “moron.”
“I apologize to Congressman Duffy for referring to him as a moron. I should have said he is a liar and a charlatan,” Soglin said Thursday.
Duffy defended himself on Twitter, tweeting “The PC crowd is humorless. For those offended by my ‘communist’ comment, I’ll send a therapy dog to your ‘safe place’ of choice in Madison,” and questioned whether Pocan would “accept the results of the election and denounce the frivolous recount.”
In response, Pocan tweeted “Humorless is better than being senseless about Dane County providing 73% of new jobs in WI. Perhaps a $175K salary distorts your views.”
Interesting comment from Pocan, given that his salary is the same as Duffy’s.
I also fail to understand why Comrade Pocan believes economic growth is a good thing, given that Pocan and his ilk believe the only purpose of making money is to give it to Pocan and his ilk.
I’m not sure why a UW–Stevens Point professor felt the need to chime in, but, Wisconsin Public Radio reports …
U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy’s comments that involved calling the Madison “communist” during a Fox News interview earlier this week are “simply irresponsible,” a UW-Stevens Point political science professor said.
“I mean, Duffy, besides being a member of Congress, is also part of the transition team and so, you just don’t say that,” professor Ed Miller said.
Duffy, who represents Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional District, made the comment during an interview about the state’s presidential recount on Tucker Carlson Tonight. …
Duffy went on to say that people working for Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton are taking as much time as possible to contest ballots and “slow-walking” so that votes can’t get certified.
“If that doesn’t happen, to think of the state of Wisconsin who voted for Trump, the first time for a Republican since 1984, that our 10 electors would be disenfranchised for our state, is a sad state of affairs for these Democrats who don’t believe in Democracy and freedom and free elections,” Duffy also said. “They want to use politics to undermine the will of the voter.”
Miller said Duffy is essentially separating people by calling the Madison-area Communist. Miller added that Duffy’s comment is factually inaccurate, Dane County is not the only county hand counting the ballots.
“There’s a number of counties that are hand counting their ballots in Wisconsin,” Miller said. …
“His insinuation that my constituents are somehow un-American for exercising their political views is extremely alarming,” Pocan said in a statement. “At a time when our country stands divided, Congressman Duffy’s ‘Trumpizing’ of Wisconsin is the wrong direction for our state.”
Pocan also said he hopes the Wisconsin delegation will condemn Duffy’s comments.
Other responses to Duffy’s characterization of Wisconsin’s capitol included its mayor, Paul Soglin, who said, “For years I’ve been listening to morons like Representative Duffy, who are resentful of the fact that Madison is Wisconsin’s economic engine,” according to WSAU-TV.
The mayor released a statement Thursday addressing his earlier comments on Duffy.
“I apologize to Congressman Duffy for referring to him as a moron. I should have said he is a liar and a charlatan,” Soglin said.
And that’s a rich comment from Soglin given his being a buddy of the now-room-temperature Fidel Castro.
The Wisconsin State Journal unsurprisingly felt the need to chime in:
Have you no sense of decency, U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy?
Madison is not a “progressive, liberal, communist community,” as you claimed on Fox Newsthe other night.
We’re a progressive, liberal, capitalist community. And our strong free-market economy is creating more private-sector jobs than any other part of the state.
That’s why Madison Mayor Paul Soglin took such offense this week to your commie dig, though most people understood it to be hyperbole (as was the first sentence in this editorial). …
Wisconsin has long struggled with an urban-rural divide. And that unfortunate rift has grown worse in the wake of last month’s election. Rural voters in Wisconsin and elsewhere played a big role in handing the presidency to a bombastic Donald Trump, which shocked many city dwellers.
But the election is now over, and even the big-talking Republican president-elect has toned down his rhetoric.
We all should be on the same side in Wisconsin when it comes to helping each other succeed across regions of the state. When southern Wisconsin does well, that’s good for northern Wisconsin, and vice versa. The insults don’t help.
I don’t know that the State Journal’s last claim is really the case. Certain parts of this state are emptying out as people move east, to, among other places, Madison. What does Southwest Wisconsin, for instance, get when someone from there moves to Madison?
There’s also this bit of historical revisionism:
Soglin gave Cuban dictator Fidel Castro a symbolic key to Madison four decades ago. But the mayor also has worked in the financial industry and at Epic Systems, one of the state’s fastest growing private companies.
Epic Systems is in Verona, not Madison. Soglin and Madison’s intransigence is why Epic is in Verona, not Madison. And Soglin’s private sector experience comes as an attorney who was hired by people to try to navigate the regulatory morass he created in his previous term as mayor.
Is Madison Communist like Cuba or China? Not economically, though perhaps in its lockstep ideology where non-liberal thoughts are not allowed to be expressed, let alone become law. Clearly Duffy was using a pejorative to describe my hometown and the left-wing jerks who live in it, two of which took Duffy’s bait. (Apparently Soglin doesn’t have enough things to do.) And the over-the-top reaction is certainly revealing, isn’t it? It’s like communism is a bad thing or something.
Early in the history of this blog I wrote a popular entry on what Madison media I could remember and find online in my early TV-watching days.
That included this classic photo of WISC-TV’s “Action News” from the 1970s:
The earliest version of this set had neither of the Big Giant 3s; it had up to five anchors sitting in chairs you might find on your screened-in porch, with graphics that would come up in the non-blue checkers behind them. (Which obviously eliminated the old summertime blazer-and-tie-and-shorts for those who report the news behind desks.)
News Checkerboard 2.0 added the 3 table (which obviously also indicated how many people could be seated at the table) and the big blue 3 behind them. (Back when I was on cable TV in Ripon I suggested someone build a big giant R table for programs. It didn’t happen.)
Doing the news on the Big Giant 3 set this night were Tedd O’Connell (center), the so-called “hipster newsman” whose career highlights included visiting Cuba with Mayor Paul Soglin (in the middle); sports director Jim Miller (left); and reporter and weatherman John Digman, who used a ’40s car antenna as his weather map pointer.
(Digman once talked to my high school journalism class. He was hilarious. Sadly, he died at 40 of a heart attack.)
It turns out that WISC-TV’s website has a number of old photos, including O’Connell after “Action News” was replaced by “News 3” and the checkerboard and Big Giant 3s were replaced by something more colorful:
Channel3000.com also has photos of O’Connell’s colleague and replacement John Karcher …
… weekend anchor Rick Roberts …
… Bill Brown (at least I think he is), deep-voiced news anchor who preceded O’Connell back when WISC had one hour of “Eyewitness News” at 6 …
… local TV pioneer Marlene Cummings …
… meteorologist Marv Holewinski, minus his banana-yellow blazer (and Holewinski can still be heard on Wisconsin radio) …
… and former weekend sports anchor Curt Menefee, now host of Fox NFL Sunday:
A web search found another photo of Brown, who is one of the first TV people I remember:
YouTube also has one of the aforementioned Digman’s former coworkers, Rick Fetherston, who later went to WMTV while teaching my UW–Madison broadcasting course. Digman and Fetherston were on-set at WISC while longtime anchor Jerry Deane was doing the news, when suddenly Deane’s dentures flew out of his mouth live on the air. Since apparently this had happened before, Deane calmly caught the dentures in mid-air, put them back in his mouth, and continued as though nothing unusual had just happened. He was the only person acting like this; Digman said Fetherston and he were on the floor laughing off camera.
Also on YouTube is Tom Bier, who worked on- and off-air at WISC for years:
Those with interest in Madison media history can also go to the online Wisconsin Broadcasting Museum, where can be found Wisconsin Broadcasting Hall of Fame members Tom Bolger of WMTV, WISC owner Elizabeth Murphy Burns and general manager David Sanks, WIBA radio founder William T. Evjue (who, yes, also founded The Capital Times; Evjue is probably spinning in his grave over WIBA’s carrying non-lefties Rush Limbaugh and Vicki McKenna), WKOW meteorologist and Weather Central founder Terry Kelly, WISM and Z104’s Jonathan Little, WKOW radio (later WTSO) and TV’s Roger Russell, WKOW sportscaster and “Dairyland Jubilee” host John Schermerhorn, WKOW and WOLX radio owners Terry and Sandy Shockley, former WISM and Magic 98 general manager Bill Vancil, and one of my favorite UW professors, School of Journalism director Jim Hoyt. A number of famous Wisconsin sports announcers can be found there too.
Not in the Hall of Fame is former UW–Madison pharmacy Prof. Phil Mendel, better known as the former public address announcer for Badger hockey games at the Dane County Coliseum, and road-game color commentator for Badger games. Mendel worked with Bob Miller, the first of three Badger hockey announcers who later worked in the NHL, and then when Miller left for the Los Angeles Kings, Paul Braun (announcer of four of six UW NCAA hockey titles) and former UW assistant coach Bill Howard.
As you know, Braun and Howard got to cover one of the more wacky moments in college hockey history, the 1992 North Dakota–Wisconsin Water Bottle Fight.
Mendel always opened games at the Coliseum with “Good evening … hockey fans” which I, uh, pay tribute to by opening every one of my live games with “Good morning/afternoon/evening, [insert sport name here] fans.” The “If you grew up in Madison you remember …” Facebook page contains a thread started by a former UW hockey player, where those who remember Mendel’s ’70s radio and ’80s TV appearances chimed in with such sayings of his as “[insert opposing goalie’s name here] is as useful as a screen door on a submarine!” and “[insert opposing sieve’s name here] is as frustrated as an unmated coon!” You are unlikely to hear the latter on the air anymore, but that’s not the point.
For those who think a 30-minute hockey fight started by a water bottle is strange, consider what Braun, Howard and Mendel got to cover the next year in another UW game against the Boys (Then) Named Sioux. Wisconsin played North Dakota in the 1983 Western Collegiate Hockey Association semifinals, a two-game total-goal series in Grand Forks that, thanks to the first night’s 1–1 tie and second night’s 4–4 score after three periods (only because of a Chris Chelios goal with 12 seconds left in regulation), went to overtime. And then a second overtime. And then a third overtime. And then things got strange.
Ted Pearson scored the game-winning goal in the third overtime, only to have the goal disallowed because Pearson was using an excessively curved stick, which Mendel and his partners dramatically announced upon coming back from commercial after the supposedly game-winning goal. So not only was the game (and series) not over, but the Sioux went on the power play due to the resulting unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty. An overtime penalty usually is a recipe for losing the game, and yet 26 seconds after Pearson went to the penalty box, teammate Paul Houck scored to win the game again, this time officially. (Remarkably, it was the first shorthanded goal North Dakota had given up all season.) The Badgers then beat archrival Minnesota in Minneapolis to win the WCHA playoff, and beat St. Lawrence twice in the quarterfinals, then Providence and Harvard in the Frozen Four in, of all places, Grand Forks (where North Dakota fans improbably wore “This Sioux’s for You” buttons in support of the Badgers) to win the Badgers’ fourth NCAA title and the first of two for coach Jeff Sauer.
Would you believe there is something older from Madison? How about WISM radio from March 4, 1966 (when I was nine months and one day old):
The Chicago Sun–Times writes about a contemporary of mine, Madison native Chris Farley:
Matt Foley the motivational speaker lived in a van down by the river. The real Matt Foley — the one Chris Farley named his iconic “Saturday Night Live” character after — is head pastor at St. James Catholic Church in Arlington Heights and still misses his good friend.
Foley and Farley’s close friendship started more than 30 years ago on the rugby field at Marquette University. It continued with backstage visits to “Saturday Night Live,” phone calls from Mexico to New York, celebrations of Farley’s sobriety dates, and prayers when he fell off the wagon. It ended on a cold Wisconsin day in December 1997 when Foley presided over Farley’s funeral after the 33-year-old actor and comedian died of an overdose.
Foley is one of many friends and family members interviewed for a new documentary called “I Am Chris Farley.” The film is at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago until Thursday and will play on the Spike TV cable channel Aug. 10.
The documentary is executive produced by Farley’s brother Kevin and shows the gentler side of the famous comedian that Foley says is truer to his friend’s spirit than his rowdy legacy.
Foley met Farley on the first day of rugby practice in 1982. Farley was a freshman. Foley was a year older and not sure what to think of the big guy who showed up to practice in nice shorts and a polo shirt with his collar popped.
“He was kind of a prepster. Rugby is a rugged group, and I thought he might have a difficult time. But he fit right in and he was a pretty decent athlete, too,” Foley remembered.
Farley didn’t hesitate to use his size to make others laugh, a skill that he would continue to capitalize on for years to come.
“He was really creative in terms of his physical comedy even back then,” Foley said. After college the two were on the same traveling rugby team. When Foley was in seminary in Mundelein, Farley would come out to visit him, and they’d play basketball or talk about faith.
“He was very religious,” Foley said. Farley attended daily Mass in college and continued to ask Foley for spiritual guidance as he struggled with addiction later in life.
A few years later, Foley was a newly ordained priest working in North Lawndale and Farley was onstage at Second City.
There, he invented an over-the-top but down-on-his-luck motivational speaker character that he based on both his father and his old football coach. If he had a friend in the audience the character that night would take the friend’s name.
“My name is Matt Foley, and I’m a motivational speaker,” Farley began one night when Foley was in the audience. The two went out after the show, and Farley told him he wanted to keep using that name.
When Farley got to “Saturday Night Live,” he intended to bring the Matt Foley character with him.
On May 8, 1993, Foley got a call from his old friend. “Matt Foley is going to be on tonight; you’ve got to watch it,” he said.
Foley turned in and heard his name on national TV for the first, but certainly not the last, time.
“It was a little shocking,” he admitted. “But I thought the skit was hilarious.”
Some consider it the best skit in “SNL” history. In it, Matt Foley yells, spits, breaks tables and throws himself around trying to get the message across to two kids (David Spade and Christina Applegate) that if they don’t get their act together they, too, will have to live in a van down by the river.
In real life, Matt Foley is a mild-spoken priest who has spent his career bringing faith to some of the toughest places in the world. He spent six years at a mission in Mexico and eight years in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood, and he did four tours of duty in Afghanistan as an Army chaplain before he became head pastor of St. James in Arlington Heights in 2013. …
Foley got to New York to see “Saturday Night Live” a few times a year, and Farley always insisted on bringing him backstage to meet his new friends, like Mike Myers and David Spade.
Foley admits he didn’t always keep up with pop culture, which is why he once mistook Spade for Adam Sandler while backstage in Studio 8H.
“I don’t think David Spade was too happy about that,” Foley said.
Foley got a chance to make it up to Spade when he performed the marriage of Farley’s brother Kevin, with Spade standing up as a groomsman.
It was no secret that Farley struggled with addiction through much of his adult life, but his friendship with Foley was a solace from the glare of fame.
“I don’t drink or partake in any substances, so I think I was a good balance for him. It was a safe place for him,” Foley said.
When Farley achieved his first year of sobriety, Foley flew out to New York and attended his AA meeting with him to celebrate. Farley made it to three years sober but then fell off the wagon several times and was reportedly in and out of rehab the last years of his life.
Addiction, said Foley, was a “brutal” thing for Farley. He helped as best he could, acting as a counselor as well as a friend. They bonded over their deep faith and attended Mass together during Foley’s visits.
“He was very much aware of his struggle, but I think he was a good Catholic in practice because he recognized God’s saving grace,” Foley said.
During the summer of 1997, Foley came home to Chicago for a visit from his parish in Mexico. Farley was working on movies then and was back in Chicago living in the Hancock Center. He and Farley had lunch, worked out and spent the day together.
Walking down the street with Farley was always an experience, and this day was no different. People recognized him, and some asked for their favorite impression. Farley was kind to people who stopped him on the street, said Foley, noting there was a deep and sensitive person behind Farley’s public persona, that he was a “real, tender, generous man.” He always asked about Foley’s brother, James, who has Down syndrome.
“That was the last time I saw him alive,” Foley said.
Right before Christmas Foley would fly back to the Midwest again, this time to Madison, Wisconsin, to bury his friend.
While presiding over the funeral Foley could have looked out and seen Dan Aykroyd, Adam Sandler, Lorne Michaels or the sea of other famous faces in the crowd, but all he saw was Farley’s mother and his siblings.
“People think about burying a celebrity, but the reality is you’re burying someone’s brother, someone’s friend, someone’s son. That is very painful,” Foley said. “It was a very sad day.”
After the funeral, Farley’s mother asked Foley not to give any interviews. The media was hungry for details of Farley’s life and death from anyone close to the comedian in his last days. He obliged.
Last year, though, Foley got a call from Mrs. Farley, who asked him to participate in the “I Am Chris Farley” documentary. He agreed and sat for a two-hour interview talking about his friend and reminiscing about old times.
He hasn’t seen the movie yet but will be attending the premiere in Madison with the Farley family on Aug. 8.
Eighteen years have passed since Farley died, but Foley said he will never forget him.
“I think about him a lot. He was a very good friend,” Foley said. “You think about growing old with somebody, but at 33 his life was ended. He’s missed so many good things.”
Foley wishes Farley could have met his own nieces and nephews, been to his brothers’ weddings — which Foley presided over — and finally beat his addiction.
Once a year, Foley visits Farley’s grave and celebrates Mass in the chapel there with his family.
Farley’s grave is in the mausoleum at Resurrection Cemetery in Madison. It is a short walk away from the babies’ section at Resurrection where, among others, my older brother is buried. So when I visit Resurrection I always stop in the mausoleum if it’s open.
As you know because you’ve been reading this blog for more than four years now, Farley was a year ahead of me in the Madison high school world. I think he and I crossed paths at an Edgewood–La Follette football game at Warner Park in Madison, where he would have played offensive and defensive line and I played trumpet.
Before the documentary that premieres Saturday, there was The Chris Farley Show: A Biography in Three Acts, written by Farley’s brother, Tom. It was quite a read, discussing his troubled family life and his career.
If, by the way, “Matt Foley” isn’t the funniest SNL sketch …
… perhaps this is, featuring Farley as, of all things, a Chippendale dancer wannabe opposite Patrick Swayze:
Then ponder this: Farley as Shrek:
After this …
… Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne announced Tuesday he would not charge Madison police officer Matt Kenny for fatally shooting Tony Robinson in the incident captured on police camera.
Ozanne made the correct decision because, among other things, a jury probably would not have convicted Kenny of anything had he been charged and gone to trial. The success rate of prosecutions of police officers shows that juries realize better than politicians and the politically offended that police are indeed the thin blue line between the citizen and the bad guy.
(The Wisconsin State Journal embarrassed itself Tuesday and Wednesday with an absurdly glowing story and editorial about Ozanne and his decision. Ozanne, remember, inserted himself in the Act 10 debate when the Dane County district attorney has no ability or right to intervene in legislative issues. Praising a politician for doing what he should have done is apparently the new State Journal opinion standard.)
To no surprise in Madison, the following happened yesterday, chronicled by WAOW-TV (and thus probably WKOW-TV in Madison, since they have the same owner):
People angry about a prosecutor’s decision not to charge a white Madison police officer for killing an unarmed biracial man have conducted a mock trial of the officer in protest.
About 150 to 200 protesters marched through the streets of Wisconsin’s capital city on Wednesday before gathering outside of the Dane County Courthouse to stage the fake trial.
The crowd cheered when actors said they would charge Officer Matt Kenny in the March killing of 19-year-old Tony Robinson. Members of the Young, Gifted and Black Coalition, which has led protests since the killing, said the demonstration was intended to represent the processes they wished Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne had used.
Because mob justice is apparently superior to the actual criminal justice system in the minds of Young Gifted and Black, defender of a 19-year-old convicted felon who police believed was assaulting people while on hallucinogens. One concludes that had Kenny been killed by Robinson, the protesters would have been fine with that.
And for those who think the protesters were perfectly benign, Media Trackers shows photos the rest of the media didn’t:
The mental illness argument brought up in many police-involved shootings doesn’t hold water. Police will say that mental illness is not adequately dealt with in our society. (Perhaps because government wastes tax money generally; even fiscal non-conservatives should grasp that if government doesn’t spend tax dollars wisely, tax dollars can’t be spent where maybe more spending is needed.)
In the past year I covered the murder of a 79-year-old man killed by someone whose lengthy criminal record was blamed on mental health issues. His victim, however, is as dead as if the murderer was as sane as you or me. Before that there was the man who sexually assaulted his underage neighbor, tried to kill his own family by a bomb, then tried to have killed, then drugs planted in the car of, his soon-to-be ex-wife. His lawyer’s excuse: Depression.
It is possible to support police and question whether we are jailing too many people. To do that requires asking legislators why certain crimes are crimes. (The man shot by New York City police, for instance, apparently committed the crime of selling untaxed cigarettes.) Hillary Clinton is apparently campaigning for president on the issue of undoing her husband’s push to jail people in the 1990s. She needs to explain, however, how letting people out of jail will not increase the crime rate, since it logically appears that the U.S.’ high incarceration rate is linked to decreasing crime rates.
There are two ways to prevent what happened in Madison in March. The first is: Don’t commit crimes. (And regardless of how you feel about taxing cigarettes, theft, armed robbery and beating people are considered crimes by most people.) The dirty little fact about the recent officer-involved shootings in Madison, Ferguson, Mo., and elsewhere is that in every case I’m aware of, the man shot by police had a substantial previous criminal record. That made him a danger not just to the police officer, but to the public at large.
The second is: Get to know your local police. That’s easier to do in small towns than in big cities, but most police departments in large population or geographic areas have regular patrol areas. You’re better off if the police know you from previous contacts that didn’t involve citations or handcuffs.
You might say that David Blaska struck a nerve:
Baltimore has lessons for Madison.
1) First is the value of parenting. Mother of the year goes to the woman who slapped her teenage son silly for throwing rocks at the police. If Barack Obama wants to send a clear message of social responsibility, he should invite the lady to the White House and give her a medal of some sort. Bring the boy along. The young man has a real chance to grow up and be something. Or, at least, to grow up.
“He’s my only son. At the end of the day, I won’t want him to be another Freddie Gray,” she said, in reference to the 25-year-old killed in police custody. (CNN’s video here.) Think about that. Obey the law as a survival strategy.
2) The second lesson stems from the first. The raw fuel for disorders in Baltimore, as in Madison, comes down to teenage boys. The troubles started in Baltimore after the high schools let out Monday. Most of the victims –– whether in Baltimore, Madison, or Ferguson –– have been troubled young males. Boys looking to be men challenge authority –– the father figure. That is part of the initiation rite, no matter the species. The purpose of the adult is to keep order. Didn’t we read about a world ruled by teenaged boys in Lord of the Flies?
A while back, gamekeepers noted young bull elephants were wantonly killing rhinos. They captured and introduced into the rogue band a couple mature elephants from another herd. The rhino killing ceased. In this most violent year of race relations since LBJ, police substitute for the father figures –– the upholders of order –– for so many fatherless young men.
In Madison, the April 13 daylong shutdown of East Washington Avenue was in large part the work of truant high schoolers.
3) The third lesson is to not abdicate that authority just because it is challenged in the name of some bogus altruism. You protest the death of Freddie Gray by burning down a drug store and senior citizen housing? Stealing the Stoly?
The president is correct to call the riots the work of “criminals and thugs.” Baltimore’s mayor said the same, but some of her words were (perhaps understandably) misinterpreted. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said she worked with the police, “to make sure that the protesters were able to exercise their right to free speech. It’s a very delicate balancing act, because, while we tried to make sure that they were protected from the cars and the other things that were going on, we also gave those who wished to destroy space to do that as well.”
At first blush, it sounded that the mayor was giving free rein to the rioters. What she meant was that ordering police to stand back for the purpose of allowing peaceful demonstration gave an unintended opening to lawless instigators.
The indispensible James Taranto, of The Wall Street Journal, writes that Baltimore “failed in the delicate balancing act of safeguarding both free expression and public order. As the latter deteriorated, the former inevitably suffered as well: It’s hard to protest when bricks are flying and buildings are burning.”
Allowing Madison kids to close down a major thoroughfare during rush-hour traffic is that kind of opening.
4) The culture of victimhood teaches people that they are not responsible for their own failings, and that the real problem is they’re not getting enough free stuff from the government. That, if too many black men are being arrested for crime, it is the fault of those who enforce the law and, indeed, of the statute itself.
Madison –– its city hall overrun with tramps and vagrants, its streets shut down by bullhorn-tooting children –– has managed to turn upside-down the expectations of a functional community.
Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal observes, “the first and most important responsibility of any city government is to uphold law and order. When the streets are unsafe and crime is high, everything else –– getting businesses to invest and create jobs ––becomes next to impossible. People start voting with their feet.”
Say hello to Middleton, Fitchburg, and Sun Prairie!
5) Call in the troops sooner rather than later. At some point (this is week five) District Attorney Ismael Ozanne is bound to announce his decision whether to prosecute in the Tony T. Robinson death. (Baltimore cannot give him much solace.) Governor Walker should even now have a contingent of National Guard members assembled and ready to deploy within minutes. Boots on the ground. Do not wait for the mayor to request anything. Yes, the ACLU and The Capital Times will bitch. Send them the bill.
Instead, Baltimore is smoldering. Schools are closed. The Orioles will play baseball before an empty house in beautiful Camden Yards –– no fans permitted. This is how cities die. It’s how Detroit hollowed out in 1968.
Don’t say it can’t happen in Madison. We may lack the minority population but not the young crazies.
How much of a nerve? This comes from Isthmus, which used to run Blaska until it got rid of Blaska’s column (and, for that matter, used to run mine as well):
If you have a job in Madison, your office probably has one. Call them today at 608-204-9655 and tell them to stop delivery immediately. Cite an article by DavidBlaska titled “Madison can smell Baltimore’s smoke.”I won’t link to it because I don’t have the window open anymore and I’m sure you can find it yourself. I recommend reading it to see just how strident and wrong that mag is for running that tripe. They need to hear about it from their readers.
Racism can’t be good for business and reading the comments on that blog, it’s apparent that both IB and Blaska believe that it is.
So how much money can Madison liberals who can’t stand opinions different from theirs, who already subscribe to In Business, save by canceling in a huff? This much:
To qualify for a free subscription to In Business, including the annual Book of Lists (total value of $75) …
Madison is a big believer in diversity, except for intellectual diversity.
Christian Schneider observes how well liberal Madison serves its black residents:
Last November, when a grand jury in Ferguson, Mo. refused to charge police officer Darren Wilson with the shooting of black teenager Michael Brown, Madison Mayor Paul Soglin was ready with a statement. “Here in Madison let us use this moment to reflect and redouble our efforts to create the best community for all Madisonians,” Soglin said. “The time is now to ensure equity in education, employment and housing.”
On Monday of this week, Soglin stood, megaphone in hand, trying to explain to a group of 1,500 largely black protesters why one of his police officers had shot Tony Robinson, an unarmed black teenager. Soglin, a progressive standard-bearer first elected Madison mayor in 1973, pathetically tried to pass the buck to Republicans in state government for cutting state school aids. He was frequently shouted down by protesters yelling, “Murder!”
It was a rare time when a progressive mayor had to face the very type of racial animus he has spent a career fomenting. White liberals often think they have a monopoly on race relations in America, frequently using racial issues to drive wedges in the electorate and bolster their own standing.
Yet by almost any measure, decades of pure, uncut progressivism have done nothing to mend the racial divide in a liberal playground like Madison. It’s good that Soglin thinks the time is “now” to ensure equity in education, employment and housing, because his track record on all the above has been miserable for 42 years.
Nary a conservative exists on the city council or school board, and yet according to one study, African-Americans are eight times as likely as whites to be arrested in Dane County. As I noted last week, 10% of black children in Madison public schools are proficient in reading. In 2011, the unemployment rate in Dane County was 25.2% for blacks compared with just 4.8% for whites, leading one magazine to ask whether Madison was the “most racist city in America.”
And yet by listening to progressives, one would think Republicans are the only party wrangling with a race problem. It is why U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, a Milwaukee Democrat, can charge with a straight face that her home state is the “Selma of the North” because Republicans favor a photo ID requirement to vote — a policy favored by strong majorities of blacks. Of course, Moore’s hyperbolics are merely an attempt to absolve herself of culpability — she was first elected to the state Legislature in 1989, and has yet to pass any successful “let’s make Milwaukee not the Selma of the North” legislation. It’s not like Milwaukee has been governed by Newt Gingrich for the past 50 years, It has been liberals who have overseen the city’s decay.
And yet when Republicans such as U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan try to make inroads to improve the plight of inner city residents, they are quickly swatted down with charges of racism. Earlier this year, when Republicans proposed a slate of reforms to rejuvenate depressed areas of Milwaukee, they were accused of “pimping” the city’s residents.
But in Madison, Soglin remains the clown prince of cluelessness. In a column written shortly after Ferguson, Soglin blamed the city’s racial troubles, in part, on ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft, and laid the city’s devastating income gap at the feet of stores such as Amazon and E-Bay. Former police chief Noble Wray, himself African-American, showed a firmer grasp of the situation when he told blogger David Blaska, “We do have a strong migrating population from Chicago that really does impact this city from a crime standpoint.”
But in Madison, solutions don’t count, only liberal posturing. It is why the school superintendent attended the protest while hundreds of middle and high school students walked out of class on Monday, and then sent buses to pick up the students downtown after the march. Statistically, only 10% of the black students skipping school on Monday can read proficiently, but evidently it was more important for them to protest the shooting of a felon who allegedly attacked a police officer called to prevent Robinson from strangling someone. No Justice…no Math!
That’s not to say that progressives are any more culpable for racial unrest — but we should stop this charade that lays racial divisions at the feet of conservatives. If there were a magic progressive program to hold down violence and keep young black men from being shot at the hands of police, Milwaukee and Madison would have tried it by now. Instead, it remains an intractable problem — for everyone.
Madison schools have the biggest achievement gap between white students and minority students in the state. Milwaukee’s social pathologies are well known, and Madison’s have been revealing themselves since drive-by shootings started in front of my high school a few years after I left Madison for good. Madison hasn’t had a non-liberal mayor (though some have been more liberal than others) since Soglin first took office in 1973. The only remotely less-than-liberal Milwaukee mayor was John Norquist, who was smart enough to realize that Milwaukee students needed better alternatives than the disaster that is Milwaukee Public Schools.
It seems rather racist to suggest that blacks care less about crime than whites. We have not heard the skin color of the victims of Tony Robinson’s armed robbery, nor of the person he was alleged to have battered. But blacks are much more often the victims of crimes committed by blacks than whites are.
The joke was in Sunday’s Wisconsin State Journal:
Today it is easy to see why Wisconsin’s capital city was named for James Madison, father of the U.S. Constitution and our fourth president, who guided the country through its second war for independence. He was a national hero.
But we have the luxury of looking backward through history. Had we lived 200 years ago, as the War of 1812 was unfolding, our view would have been dramatically different. In fact, on Aug. 24, 1814, as British troops laid waste to Washington, D.C., we likely would have been prepared to condemn Madison for causing the death of the United States before it reached its 40th birthday.
What happened next changed U.S. history and Madison’s legacy. Throughout, Madison and his wife, Dolley, displayed the grit and leadership their country needed to rise up from humiliating defeat. Our community, as Madison’s namesake, should learn from the Madisons’ example as we face the challenges of the future. …
In 1814 Britain defeated Napoleon and turned more attention to America. In mid-August a British fleet landed 35 miles from Washington, D.C. Madison left the capital, not to flee but to face the moment head on. He met with his generals in Maryland, where American forces would make their stand. He remained there the next day as the British routed the Americans.
In Washington, Dolley Madison’s evacuation of the Executive Mansion became an iconic tale of bravery and patriotism. Just before leaving, she grabbed a copy of the Declaration of Independence and supervised the rescue of a copy of Gilbert Stuart’s portrait of George Washington, to save them from British hands.
Three days after the British burned most of the government buildings in Washington, the Madisons returned to the capital, moving into a private home. The public rallied behind the first couple, who personified America’s courage.
Whatever his missteps, Madison — though only 5 feet, 4 inches in height — stood tall through perilous times. Then, when it looked as if the war would end in a lopsided British victory, the tide turned. On Sept. 11 American forces defeated the British at Lake Champlain. Two days later a British attack on Baltimore’s Fort McHenry failed, inspiring Francis Scott Key to write the poem that became our national anthem.
The British, still concerned about France, now wanted to end the fighting with the United States. The two sides signed a treaty in Belgium, restoring the pre-war status quo. Neither side won, befitting a war that both should have avoided.
But before news of the treaty reached America, Major General Andrew Jackson defeated an attacking British force at New Orleans. Jackson’s conclusive victory made it appear that the United States won the war. Madison became the president who won the second war for independence.
Leap ahead to 1836. James Doty, a politician and profiteer, was successfully lobbying to have Wisconsin’s territorial capital moved to a city he planned around four lakes. He named the city Madison, after the former president, who died that year. He could hardly have made a better choice.
That editorial prompted this response …
I find this a very inspiring message about pulling victory out of the claws of defeat.
As I look at the massive messes We The People face (many still denied), I can easily get distraught and discouraged.
I see this namesake city of Madison having the potential to birth an inspiring NEW leap in freedom, democracy, and consciousness… whether through a new Declaration of Independence, a new Constitution, or a co-created evolution of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.
… which makes me think that either someone was doing the wacky weed early on Sunday, or has no idea what the Declaration of Independence or Constitution is about. (Both are possible.)
The issue here is not the State Journal’s history. The issue is that there is anything about Madison the People’s Republic that compares to Madison the president, or for that matter any of the Founding Fathers.
To fall prey to every stupid, though popular, left-wing impulse does not demonstrate “grit and leadership.” To rely on government for your economy (which is like turning on a faucet and announcing that you’ve discovered water) isn’t either. And, of course, “bravery and patriotism” describes no one in city government, at least not since about 1973.
Besides that, I thought Madison changed its name to Ho Chi Minh City in 1975. To that slander came this response:
Moscow on the Yahara.
At least one other person gets it. Maybe the State Journal ought to take off the rose-colored glasses and look at Madison as what it really is … grossly overrated.