Monday, April 23, 2007

You Can't Chop Your Papa Up in Massachusetts

When there were all those stories two years ago about Michael Brown, the then-current head of FEMA, for a moment I was confusing him with the Michael Brown who wrote "Lizzie Borden" in New Faces of 1952. As performed by -- at least I think it's him -- Ronny Graham, it was one of the big hits of the show and the 1954 film version.

Graham, who died in 1999, was one of those guys who was really talented at everything and never quite a huge success at anything. As a songwriter, he wrote the lyrics for the Broadway musical Bravo Giovanni (with Cesare Siepi and the young Michele Lee), but the show didn't last long and Graham's contribution was very uneven. As a performer, he was never a huge headliner, and he did guest-starring work on television but didn't have a regular role on a series. And as a writer, he co-wrote some of his friend Mel Brooks's movies (but not his best ones) and spent some time as a staff writer on M*A*S*H (after the show was already a little past its prime). He was an interesting and brilliant guy, always this close to being famous and never quite there.


Anonymous said...

Interestingly, Graham became most familiar to TV viewers in the 1970s as "Mr. Dirt" in ads for Mobil detergent gasoline, which the oil company rolled out in the wake of the first bump-up in gasoline prices after the 1973 OPEC oil embargo. His job on the M*A*S*H writing staff started shortly after Mobil ended the "Mr. Dirt" ad campaign (somewhere I've got an old audio clip of Graham doing a song from the radio version of the Mobil ad campaign, but finding it would be a job and a half right now).

Whit said...

There was a brief period in the early 1970's when Graham was ubiquitous on TV talk shows as a funny and entertaining guest, often performing his novelty songs. Again, it looked like he was poised for a breakthrough which never quite came.