Whenever I've directed someone to the blog by Mark Evanier, they've come back with two reactions: 1) thanking me profusely for the pleasure it brought them, and 2), berating me because of all the time they now spend reading it.
The reason Mark Evanier has the Internet's fourth best blog, "News from ME" (those are his initials, of course) is not just because he's such a great, involving, entertaining writer (among a great many things, he's written every episode of the Garfield TV series) and so insightful and profoundly fair-minded and funny -- but also because you get two-for-one: his blog links from his main website, POVonline, which is a collection of tales and personal profiles that is so rich and enthralling that it's like getting sucked into a Black Hole where you enter a new, joyful universe in which time doesn't exist.
For what it's worth, I don't know what the three blogs are that are better. I'm just playing it safe.
But hold the blog a moment. First, POVonline, whose homepage choices are the Internet equivalent of a Las Vegas buffet: sections devoted to fabled people Mark has worked with, tales from his vast expertise of pop culture, little- known personalities who may be the most fascinating, and more. Though POVonline is about entertainment on the surface, everything is told with a perspective that gives it substantive meaning. Even if you don't have a clue about what any of this is or why you should care, entering the Church of Evanier will make you a convert. If you do know, you'll feel like you're re-discovering long-lost best friends.
That homepage has topics ranging from Laurel and Hardy, Charles Schultz and Peanuts, the movie "It's a Mad, Mad,, Mad, Mad World" (of which Evanier is one of the world experts -- as he is, literally, on many of the topics here...), the legendary Stan Freberg, the Dick Van Dyke Show and far more.
"One day, I met Dick Van Dyke," Evanier writes, "and said to him, 'Forgive me for being the 800th person to say this but I became a comedy writer...' and Mr. Van Dyke finished the sentence, '...because you thought you'd sleep with women who looked like Mary Tyler Moore, and it's more like 80,000...but thanks.' But at least, he said it with a chuckle."
Wandering off into the Comedy section inundates you with remarkable tales of Evanier's first-hand encounters -- from Groucho Marx, Red Skelton, Gwen Verdon and Henny Youngman, to Sam Kinison and even Senor Wences. There's a riveting multi-part, series on Allan Sherman, of "My Son, the Folksinger" fame, filled with audio links of rare material.
Clicking on "TV and Movies" takes you to a section overloaded with stories on Soupy Sales, a multi-part series on the history of The Tonight Show and an achingly heartwarming dinner with Jimmy Stewart.
"He clasped the stranger's hand, and made an honest effort to get up and to ask them their name, and he'd say, 'Why now, isn't that nice of you to say that?' As if no one had ever said that before, as if the person five minutes earlier had not spoken the exact same words," Evanier remembers, following the twelfth intrusion. "He made each of them feel like they had done him the favor by coming over and expressing their love for him and his work. I was fascinated. I remember thinking that somewhere, within that aspect of his personality and manner, was some direct connection to his believability on the screen."
It's worth pausing here to point out that Mark Evanier is not some crusty, old-timey Hollywood veteran from the Golden Age. He's in the midst of his active career, simply someone who grew up in Los Angeles and has filled his life (and museum-like home) with pop culture. In addition to writing all episodes of Garfield and Friends (and currently its new return to TV), Evanier wrote for Cheers, Welcome Back, Kotter, and even the infamous, disastrous variety show, Pink Lady. Evanier, who's a friend, just published a biography of renowned cartoonist Jack Kirby, "Kirby, King of Comics." And he teaches comedy at USC. And co-created and writes the comic book, Groo the Wanderer.
Indeed, it's the field of comic books and cartoon shows where Mark Evanier is now most celebrated -- a regular guest and panel host at comic book conventions around the world. It's just another area where he's a leading expert. And his POVonline homepage has links that prove it -- articles on voice artists Mel Blanc, June Foray (Rocket J. Squirrel) and Daws Butler (Huckleberry Hound), on Beany and Cecil, Scooby Doo and too much more.
But it's his many stories about Las Vegas that is cultural writing at its best. Read them all - most notably a revealing encounter with Sammy Davis Jr. But if you only read his hilarious comedy-of-errors adventure, A Las Vegas Story, you'll be as fully satisfied as can be. It's my second-favorite Evanier piece. (I'll tell the my favorite in a moment.) Just read it.
Believe me, I've only touched the surface of what's on POVonline. The Archives section is filled with a warehouse of past treasures that will remind you of the final scene in "Raiders of the Lost Ark." Fascinating pieces about John Cleese, Jay Leno, M*A*S*H, Harold Lloyd, Jon Stewart, Pogo, Jerry Lewis, "Yogi Bear" and on and on. And -
And I haven't even gotten into the diamond center that started this whole praise, his wondrous blog, "News from ME."
Mark Evanier's "News from ME" blog is what blogs are supposed to be. The numerous daily entries range from couple sentences to lengthy essays. (Many of the articles mentioned above began life as blog entries.) They're beautifully written, hilarious, perceptive -- even when about the most mundane of daily events, like last week's multi-layered piece about buying a shirt -- personal, self-effacing ("I resemble an acrobat about as much as I resemble a grilled cheese sandwich") and much more than just entertainment, they cover politics, social issues, food, literature and everyday life. Always honest and opinionated, always decent, objective and generously fair.
Standing out may be his reminiscences of those who have passed away. With deep appreciation, he puts in perspective what made them memorable in the first place, but often with honest criticisms to remind us that we're dealing with full-rounded humans. Some are famous, but many are people you may not know -- but Mark feels you should... and makes clear why.
The blog is influential, too, in (of course) a pop culture way. One example. A couple months ago, the sitcom, The Big Bang Theory, had an offbeat reference to the Creamy Tomato Soup that Souplantation serves only a few times a year. That line was the result of one of the show's writers who reads "News from ME" religiously and was taken by Mark's repeated adorations of the soup and his daily updates of his trips to the restaurant.
Beyond his tales, what makes the "News from ME" blog so involving is that it also features the most wonderful collection of video links. Often old, lost commercials. Or footage from classic, little-known TV shows. Or animals (Mark looooves animals). Or unaired TV pilots. Or foreign-language versions of Garfield and Friends. Or...well, you get the idea. It's multimedia heaven.
But what brought all of this to mind right now is my favorite piece that Mark Evanier wrote several years ago. I think of it often -- and re-read it often (it's that good) -- but especially this time of year, because it's about Christmas.
Mark lives near L.A.'s famous Farmers Market, and one day during the holidays he wandered over -- only to see singer Mel Torme eating outdoors. Mr. Torme also wrote the beloved "Christmas Song" (You know, "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire...") A troupe of carolers happened to be passing by. What occurred was a tremendous story. And the way Mark Evanier tells it is as superb as a master storytelling gets. It just will grab you, hug you and endear itself to you. Do yourself a huge favor for the holidays -- click here and read the story.
And then do yourself a favor and bookmark the "News from ME" website. You will thank me profusely for the pleasure it brings you. And berate me because of all the time you now spend reading it.
UPDATE: I had the title of "The Big Bang Theory" wrong, and have now corrected it. And some bad links are now working. By the way, after posting this, I subsequently learned that this very day is the 8th anniversary of Mark Evanier starting his blog. On occasion, impeccable timing just falls mystically in place.
Follow Robert J. Elisberg on Twitter: www.twitter.com/relisberg