Sunday, November 20, 2011

Today in Pop Culture History

20 November 1959: The payola scandal that hit American broadcasting in the late 50s claimed its biggest victim, Cleveland DJ Alan "Moondoggie" Freed. Freed, who famously coined the phrase "rock and roll," lost his show for accepting cash payments from record companies to play certain songs. It was even worse because Freed had co-written some of those songs, so playing them a lot also increased his royalties. Very slick . . . until he got caught. Payola was outlawed in 1960, and Freed was convicted of bribery the next year. Pop culture connections: Freed is a character in Stephen King's Nightmares and Dreamscapes, who announces dead rock 'n' roll stars for an upcoming concert. Of course he does. Also, the Cleveland Cavaliers' mascot is named "Moondog" in Freed's honor. And I'm pretty sure I'm the only person who saw Telling Lies in America, a 1997 semi-autobiographical drama written by Joe Eszterhas starring Kevin Bacon and Brad Renfro, but it was also about the payola scandal, and really wasn't half bad.

20 November 1966: Cabaret opened for the first of its 1100-plus performances on Broadway. It's based on Goodbye to Berlin by novelist Christopher Isherwood (who also wrote A Single Man, adapted into a film starring Colin Firth in 2009). The play focuses on the seedy underbelly of Berlin nightlife at the Kit Kat Klub, where Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli made the role famous) is a young dancer in a relationship with an American writer. The spectre of the coming second World War hangs over the play, mainly through the ominously oily Emcee character, played by Joel Grey in the original production. Various revivals have attracted stars like Judi Dench, Natasha Richardson, John Stamos, Neil Patrick Harris, Molly Ringwald, Michael C. Hall, and Debbie Gibson. Yeah, that one. Here's perpetual Broadway crush Alan Cumming as the Emcee singing one of Cabaret's signature songs at the Tonys:

20 November 1971: Isaac Hayes, from my hometown of Memphis, Tennessee, got his first number-one hit with the "Theme from Shaft." A chill way to start your Sunday:

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