Late Night Lists

It’s been quite the (traumatic) year for those of us who enjoy the late night talk shows, what with the recent departures of Jon Stewart from The Daily Show and David Letterman from The Late Show.  Earlier, Craig Ferguson from The Late Late Show. And earlier still, Jay Leno from The Tonight Show.

It seemed like a good time to pick up a copy of Jon Macks’ new book Monologue. Besides, it’s summer and who can focus on anything? Macks survived all twenty-two years of Jay Leno’s Tonight Show reign as one of the comedian’s top writers.

monologueHe quotes the Center for Media and Public Affairs’ list of Leno’s top political topics during his twenty-two Tonight Show years. Here are the top five followed by the number of jokes done of the show on each subject.

  1. Bill Clinton:  4,607
  2. George W. Bush:  3,239
  3. Al Gore:  1,026
  4. Barack Obama: 1,011
  5. Hillary Clinton:  939

Also the center’s list of Mr. Leno’s top pop culture figures. (This is what they do at the center, I guess.)

  1. O.J. Simpson:  795
  2. Michael Jackson: 505
  3. Martha Stewart: 208
  4. Paris Hilton: 153
  5. Lindsay Lohan: 153

What can we learn from this? I’ll get back to you.

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Lynn Anderson

lynn andersonCountry music star Lynn Anderson left us this week, much too soon. She died at the age of 67.

“(I Never Promised You A) Rose Garden” became a gigantic cross-over hit in the early 1970’s. In her career, she had a dozen number one hits. She won a Grammy and seven Grammy nominations. Twice she was named the Country Music Association’s Female Vocalist of the Year and Billboard’s Female Artist of the Decade (1970 – 1980). Not bad.

Her songwriting parents, Casey and Liz Anderson, were Nashville royalty themselves. Although her own life wasn’t always a rose garden, there’s no doubt that Lynn Anderson’s success helped create a first wave of popularity for country music’s “Nashville sound.”

Once I spent part of an evening talking with the Grand Forks native in the green room of the Chester Fritz Auditorium. She told me wonderful show business stories (some in confidence). One about fellow North Dakotan Lawrence Welk inviting her “to come and sing on “da show.” At one time those weekly appearances were the only country music heard regularly on network television.

There is a beautiful rose garden on the grounds of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville. Guess who paid for it. RIP, Lynn.

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Peg Lynch


I thought I knew everything. But until I read Mike Sacks’ terrific new book about comedy writing called Poking a Dead Frog, I had never heard the name Peg Lynch.  Even though in her day she was a huge star.

She was a comedy performer on radio and later television in the 1940’s and 1950’s. But her even larger talent was as a writer. She claimed to have singled-handed written more than twenty thousand scripts for her enormously popular series Ethel and Albert. That’s not a typo. Twenty thousand.

At one point she was writing two 15-minute shows everyday. (I got anxious just writing that last sentence.) Apparently her bosses didn’t know the meaning of the word re-run.

A Minnesota native, Peg Lynch died Friday. She was still writing comedy at the age of 98.

Lynch graduated from the University of Minnesota, then worked for a local radio station in Rochester where she interviewing celebrities like Knute Rockne and Ernest Hemingway who came through the Mayo Clinic where her mother worked as a head nurse. Peg wrote commercial copy and farm news and eventually entertainment programs.

In 1937, long before Seinfeld, she too began writing a “show about nothing,” Ethel and Albert. Long on conversation between a married couple, but with less in the way of “action,” over the years it would be heard on ABC, CBS and NBC radio and, for a time, seen on television.

Unheard of today, of course, she wrote every word of every script herself. Peg Lynch was one of the first women to write, star in and own her own comedy series. It goes without saying, I guess, but she was something.

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Kim Holmes

Grand Forks does things a little differently sometimes. For example, instead of buildings, it names “lift stations” after people like Marilyn Hagerty and Dave Barry.

A new tradition now, perhaps. Last night the alley that runs behind Sanders 1907 restaurant was renamed “Kim Holmes Alley of Love.”

To me it seems like just yesterday that Kim rolled into town on his chopper and established Sanders. In fact, it was 1985.

It quickly became the place to go for special occasions like anniversaries and birthdays. But Kim once told me he also wanted it to be a comfortable spot where people could go to relax and have fun.

Kim, who favored Zubaz at work, retired from the nightly grind a few months ago, kept it lively. I always called him He Who Wears Crazy Pants (behind his back, of course.)

Over the years Kim has always been my “go to” guy when I wanted to illustrate just about anything food-related on television.  National Pizza Day? Call Kim.  They’re going to be serving chocolate-covered bacon on a stick at the Minnesota State Fair this year? Call Kim.  To date, that last one, a chocolate-covered Dullum File segment has gotten 25,769 hits on YouTube.

Sanders restaurant, in three–soon to be four Grand Forks different locations–has been enormously successful. What fewer people know is how generous Kim has been in donating his services to charities and causes around town.

One little example. A few years back I emceed an Oscar viewing party at the Empire Arts Center. The event’s organizing committee decided it needed some appetizers. Call Kim. I thought some cocktail weenies in a nice sauce, perhaps. Kim showed up (on his Sunday night off) with a table of food that I’m sure would rivaled Wolfgang Puck’s that year at the Oscars. No kidding.

Kim has become a booster for all things Grand Forks, and a good one. He richly deserves the alley that now bears his name. Thanks for everything, pal.


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Go Set A Watchman

watchmanLike a couple of million other people who have pre-ordered the “new” Harper Lee novel Go Set A Watchman, I’ve been eagerly awaiting the book’s publication date next week. A couple million is no exaggeration, by the way. It is the biggest pre-order ever for HarperCollins. It’s being hyped as the biggest publishing event in several years.

Go Set a Watchman is just the second book to be published by the author of To Kill a Mockingbird which won the Pulitzer Prize and is generally considered to be an American classic.

Of course there has to be controversy to go along its the publication of Go Set A Watchman, this being America. There are questions about how the book’s manuscript was discovered and when, among others. How keen the elderly and intensely private author was to have her earlier work published. And whether Go Set a Watchman, which takes place about twenty years later, was a “first draft” of To Kill a Mockingbird.

The reclusive Lee hasn’t given an interview since the mid-1960’s. All of which adds to the mystery and, for me, the fun.

Earlier this summer I re-read To Kill a Mockingbird which was first published in 1960. I’m glad I did. The story of race and racism set in a fictional Southern town is at least as good as I remembered it. Maybe better. In fact, it brought tears to my eyes more than once. I don’t recall if that was the case the first time around.

The last time I read it I was in the 9th or 10th grade at Hillsboro High School. It was assigned for our entire class as part of our English curriculum. It was an eye-opener for kids growing up in North Dakota, me anyway. Race and rape are not easy subjects for high schoolers to absorb. At least they weren’t for me fifty years ago. But the book is also warm and appealing.

Maybe we’ll see starting next week if Watchman will be anything of an eye-opener for this generation of 9th graders.

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Once there were a ton of them, television variety shows.  Shows like The Dean Martin Show and the Andy Williams Show with big names and big production numbers. Then suddenly, they were gone. It was almost as if television executives had all gotten together to set the price of gasoline or something.

Much is riding on a new television variety show coming to NBC this fall called Best Time Ever starring Neil Patrick Harris.  If anyone can revive variety on television NPH can. He certainly can do everything else.

Believe it or not, I’m (just barely) old enough to remember a time when live variety shows used to tour the region. We’re talking the fifties and sixties here, boys and girls. But the shows were really something.

The biggest I ever saw was one starring singing cowboy Gene Autry at the North Dakota Agriculture College (now NDSU) fieldhouse in Fargo. It’s hard to underestimate what a big star the future owner of what would become the California Angels was at the time. The movies and television had made him famous. He came onstage to thunderous applause on his horse Champion. But not before sidekick and opening act Pat Buttram warmed up the audience.

In a joke I’ve remembered for more than six decade and which I have stolen and actually use to this day when I emcee events, Mr. Buttram said something this. “There’s a woman here tonight. She’s in the lobby.  Her name is Helen Hunt and she has found a set of car keys. Naturally, she would like to see them returned to their owner.  So, if you have lost a set of car keys, go to Helen Hunt for ’em.”

Except for that joke and Gene’s entrance, I don’t remember much about the rest of the show. But for six decades now I’ve heard stories about the infamous after party connected to it. The story certainly has legs.  Supposedly, it was a the party that went on for days! But that’s another story for another blog.

I remember being lifted on my dad’s shoulders to get a better look at the variety acts that were part of what I remember as a “home builder’s show” somewhere in the area.  Crookston, maybe. The audience was standing. There was no seating.

It featured the dancer Clayton “Peg Leg” Bates who had indeed lost a leg in a cotton gin accident at the age of twelve. Famous in his day for his 22 appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show, he closed his well-received act that day by saying something like, “If I’d known you were going to like me this much, I would have cut off the other leg.”

The show starred the wonderful folksinger Burl Ives.  At least I think it did.  Years later, I interviewed Mr. Ives for a television news story. I asked him if he remembered the show.  He said he didn’t, but he did remember Bates’ act.  If it wasn’t Ives that I saw, someone had ripped off virtually his entire act, because he came out carrying a guitar and a stool, sat down center stage and sang “Scarlet Ribbons” and “Jimmy Crack Corn.”

I have a very, very vague memory of seeing what could only be called a minstrel show, yes, a minstrel show in the Hillsboro High School Gym. Even then I thought it was strange.  Perhaps a dozen or so performers, apparently in black face, were seated in a row. Heavy on banjos and tambourines, after each performer did a turn, he (I don’t remember any females in the show) and the rest of the cast would move down a seat from stage left to stage right.

A lot of jokes were told. I don’t remember any of them.  It’s probably just as well. In the new book Huck Finn’s America, Andrew Levy writes that even though Mark Twain, among others, was a big fan early in his life, minstrel shows were flat out racist. Young as I was, I remember thinking even at the time, what an odd piece of work this is!

Even WDAY radio and television personalities toured with a stage show decades ago. Again, I saw it in the high school gym. A young Lee Stewart, who in real life sold advertising for the stations, sang big band arrangements, wonderfully. Program Director Ken Kennedy emceed the show and closed it with a stand-up routine, in character as Ole Anderson.

Just like on television, there was music, comedy and even magic. I remember all of it and I remember it as being good. Really good.

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Meat and Read

gumptionNot only is Nick Offerman one of my favorite actors and television talk show guests. Now it turns out he has become one of my favorite humorists. Some people are just good at everything. (Oh, how I hate people who are good at everything.)

His latest book, Gumption: Relighting the Torch of Freedom with America’s Gutsiest Troublemakers, is part of my personal remedial summer reading program.

As its subtitle suggests, it is a collection of twenty-one short essays about bad asses, past and present, who Mr. Offerman considers to have moved the country in a positive direction with their lives and work, from George Washington to Conan O’Brien.

Another is Theodore Roosevelt, who North Dakota has adopted over the years as something of its historical father figure. With that in mind, I thought you might be interested, gentle reader, in what Mr. Offerman has to say about some of his summer plans this year, which include a trip to Medora.

     Among the many tributes to him in present-day North Dakota, including Theodore Roosevelt National Park, perhaps the most appropriate august recognition is to be found at the Pitchfork Steak Fondue, gleefully pointed out to me by that extremely well-traveled woman of letters, Sarah Vowell. Every evening’ ’round suppertime, the cowboy chefs load several raw steaks onto a pitchfork and fondue ’em, cowboy-style. This, of course, means they dip them in a barrel of hot cooking oil. Imagine my shame to have been caught unaware of this repast of glory sizzling in our midst. By the time you are reading this, I fully intend to have severally sampled this barrel-0fried beef in the town of Medora, North Dakota, especially after glimpsing this tantalizing morsel in a review on the computer web: “The Fondue is served before the musical.” Tickets booked.

Gumption is wildly funny, mildly profane and absolutely perfect for just about anyone’s summer remedial reading.

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19 Kids

pederWith all the attention being heaped on the now infamous Duggar clan and their “19 Kids and Counting” television series these days, it’s interesting to recall that large families were not always as uncommon as they are now.

Above is a picture of my father’s family that proudly hangs on our wall at home. I’ll save you the trouble of counting. My grandfather Petter (or Peder) Dullum and his wife Bertina had eighteen kids! Actually they had nineteen, but one child died as an infant. It must have been something of a miracle in those days that nearly all of the kids reached adulthood.

The family never had a reality show and they never had an abuse scandal. I’m pretty sure they never had much money either, but it would be hard to prove looking at the way they are all dressed in the photograph.

I never knew my grandparents. I was born too late. But I did know my aunts and uncles pretty well. Most of them, at least. All of them are gone now.

I once had a conversation with the Forum writer Dorothy Abrams. She told me, “I knew the Dullums. They had wonderful baseball games on their farm Sunday afternoons. They had enough kids for BOTH teams.”



jimbollmanThis has been a terribly sad week in Grand Forks, made all the sadder by the passing of Jim Bollman.

If you never got to hear Jim’s morning program on KNOX radio, I feel badly for you.  You missed something.

I know I’m dating myself when I say Jim’s work always reminded me of the legendary broadcaster and entertainer Arthur Godfrey’s.  Google him. Especially on radio, Arthur Godfrey always sounded as if he was talking to you, and you alone.  Jim had that exact same quality.  If it seems like it would be an easy thing to do, please believe me when I say, it is not.

Everyone seems to have a favorite Jim Bollman story.  Mine goes back to 1972.  I had just gotten out of the army and was looking for a job in radio. I went to see Jim who, I believe, was KNOX’s program director then.

He was very gracious with his time and after listening to my audition tape he told me I had an “adequate” voice for radio.

He didn’t give me a job, probably for good reason.  But over the years I never let him forget it.

Jim treated everybody the same.  He was friendly, funny and kind. The word classy comes to mind. I never heard him say an unkind word about anybody. Ever. And this is the gossipy world of broadcasting we’re talking about.

Jim’s contributions to the mornings of so many of us over the decades would certainly be enough to have earned him the status of icon, but he also worked tirelessly and cheerfully for his community, the Park District and his church.

The Jim Bollmans of the world are rare.

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Summer Reading

My buddy Rose Brunsvold and I once agreed that for us going to prison wouldn’t be the worst thing.  At least we’d be able to catch up on our reading.

In that regard, it seems to me that summer is the next best thing to prison, a good time to read.

With the unofficial, official start of summer this weekend, here’s some of what’s on my list this year.  Yours?

go setlusitanialet himlincolnbookwrights

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