Ron Palillo, a.k.a. Horshack on Welcome Back, Kotter, has died

Ron Palillo, who played Horshack on the 70s (1975-1979) hit sitcom, Welcome Back, Kotter, (season 1 is on order), died unexpectedly today at his West Palm Beach, Florida home.

Palillo's goofy character, Arnold Horshack, whose snorty horse-laugh masked his academic incliniations, was one of The Sweathogs, four rambunctious, lovable students in a remedial Brooklyn High School class taught by the wry Mr. Kotter (himself a former Sweathog), played by Gabe Kaplan. The other three Sweathogs were:

Vincent "Vinnie" Barbarino, the requisite heartthrob, played by John Travolta whose career took off with this role.

Freddie "Boom Boom" Percy Washington, brought to life by Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, was musical and athletic and somewhat of a peacemaker.

Rounding out the quartet was Epstein (Juan Luis Pedro Felipo de Huevos Epstein, the short, tough guy Puerto Rican Jew, forever immortalized by Robert Hegyes.

Palillo, who was 63, died of a massive heart attack.

David Rakoff, beloved NPR humorist and author, has died

David Rakoff, whose special, sweet gift for humor and sympathy, died last night at home in Manhattan.

A Canadian by birth, great friends with Amy and David Sedaris, Rakoff stole the hearts of This American Life fans on NPR / Public Radio International with his hilarious contributions, told with a calm charm that delighted.

Rakoff wrote just three collections of essays. In his first, Fraud (2001), he wrote of his first battle with cancer. His third book, Half Empty (2010), won the 2011 Thurber Prize for American Humor.

When his cancer returned, Rakoff did not go gentle into that good night. In a powerful New York Times Magazine piece published in April of 2011, Rakoff wrote about the diagnosis that his cancer was terminal: "It leaves you exposed, like grabbing onto the trunk of a tree for support in a storm only to find the wood soaked through and punky and coming apart in your hands."

The announcement on Twitter today of Mr. Rakoff's passing, saw a flood of sorrowful tweets that brought him to the top of the Trending list. He was only 47.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #344 - The Highly Irregular Irregulars

Hey folks, meet Harry and Buck.

Harry Lipkin, Private Eye * (by first-time novelist Barry Fantoni) 87 yr.-old Miami PI takes on cases the police have no interest in, like trying to catch the household help who has been stealing heirlooms and gems from a wealthy widow. With a weakness for blintzes and lemon tea, and can't stay awake on a crucial stake-out, Harry still gets the job done. The final scene when Harry gathers all the suspects in a typical country-house caper fashion is as startling to Harry as it is to the reader. But never mind that! This "slim semicozy" with Harry's splendid first-person observations about south Florida folks is sure to please.

Harry's twin separated at birth (just kidding) is Buck (Baruch) Schatz. In Don't Ever Get Old * * * * by Daniel Friedman, this 87 yr.-old retired Memphis cop when summoned to the death bed of a fellow WWII POW, is shocked and dismayed to find out that a vicious Jew-hating Nazi guard is alive and enjoying a stolen fortune in gold, right here in America.

Chain-smoking, abrasive, and forgetful - with a cop's watchfulness and his .375 Magnum still intact, Buck goes on a quest with his well-meaning chatterbox of a grandson in tow, but not counting on a murderous crew coming out of the woodwork, all with claims on a piece of the fortune. "With all the finesse of a garbage truck at a flower party, Buck is pure pleasure to watch."

"Short chapters, crackling dialog, and memorable characters make this a standout debut."

They might be old but it would be a big mistake to count them out.

* = starred review

* * * * = starred reviews

Nora Ephron, screenwriter, author, director, and funnywoman, has died

Nora Ephron, known for her sweetly funny romantic comedies and wryly humorous essays about issues that didn't used to be amusing, died last night in Manhattan.

Ms. Ephron came from a family of writers. Her parents were both screenwriters. All three sisters -- Delia, Amy, and Hallie -- are authors. She took her familial destiny and ran with it, to the delight of her fans, friends, and loved ones.

Ironically, her first script to bring her fame was the serious film, Silkwood (1983), a devastating look at the life and death of Karen Silkwood. The film starred Meryl Streep and Kurt Russell.

That same year, Ms. Ephron turned the agony of the adultery of her second husband, Carl Bernstein into Heartburn, a very successful, very funny book and, three years later, movie.

In 1989, America couldn't get enough of Ephron's hilarious romcom, When Harry Met Sally, in which Meg Ryan's public display of noisy fake bliss is forever immortalized in the line delivered by director Rob Reiner's mother, Estelle Reiner, who muttered, "I'll have what she's having."

Two more romcoms were huge box office successes. Sleepless in Seattle (1993) and You've Got Mail (1998) both starred Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks.

Women of a certain age hailed Ms. Ephron's chuckly outing of formerly tabboo topics -- wrinkles, small cup size, memory all received the Ephron treatment, especially in I Feel Bad about My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman.

The online blog Huffington Post paid enormous tribute to Ms. Ephron, who was one of their top-tier bloggers.

Ms. Ephron, who was 71, died of acute myelodysplastic syndrome, a blood disorder which can be an offshoot of chemotherapy. MDS entered the public awareness a few weeks ago when Robin Roberts, beloved co-host of Good Morning America, went public with her diagnosis of this disease. According to Be the Match, THE place to go to register to be a bone marrow donor, registrations have more than doubled since Ms. Roberts' announcement.

AADL Talks to Delia Ephron

If you missed Delia Ephron's program here at the AADL on a recent sunny Sunday afternoon, here is a chance to meet her as she sat down with us before the program for a lively discussion.

Her parents Henry and Phoebe Ephron were both Hollywood screenwriters. We asked her about growing up in Beverly Hills in the shadow of the film industry, and how her parents might have influenced her as a writer. She also talked about coming East for college, living in the Village and getting published.

We asked how she came up with the topic for her first published work (under the name Delia Ephron) How to Eat Like a Child and Other Lessons in Not Being a Grown-up? and how different it is writing teen and adult fiction.

Then we went on to the very important topic of wardrobe (not fashion but wardrobe!)

Her play Love, Loss and What I Wore which she co-wrote with sister Nora, based on a book by Ilene Beckerman is about women's relationships and wardrobes. The off-Broadway production won several very important awards. Speaking of jeans, she shared the secrets of her favorite brand, and when we posed the Desert Island question - she was happy to comply.

Don't miss our conversation with Delia. It was open, warm and full of humor. And if you haven't read her latest novel, out this spring The Lion is In ,like the author, it is a real treat.

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AADL_Talks_To-Delia_Ephron.mp3 28.2 MB

"Lamb," an Unusual Gospel

I am currently on my second copy of Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal. My first copy of Christopher Moore's novel was read, re-read, and loaned out so often by myself and others that it eventually fell apart.

Jesus' pal Biff is brought back from the dead to fill in the missing thirty-year "gap" in the Gospels by writing his account of growing up with the Messiah. Moore writes with a sense of humor and sarcasm that some may find crude or offensive, but others may find themselves laughing out loud every few pages. This "gospel" is nothing like what you would expect; it's full of all the taboo topics: religion, politics, sex, drugs, and rock (just rock, you know...stonemason stuff?). Since Moore pokes fun not only at Christianity, but also at Buddhism, Hinduism, and just about every other major religion, this is a book for those who don't take religion or life too seriously. I find myself picking up Lamb any time I need a good dose of wit and sarcasm or a good reminder to step back and laugh.

The IT Crowd, on DVD

The hilarious British sitcom The IT Crowd is set at the fictional Reynholm Industries. The show revolves around three IT department staff members who dwell in the dank basement of the office. The department consists of a geeky genius named Moss, the lazy, girl-chasing Roy, and their boss Jen, who knows absolutely nothing about computers. Together they get the job done while not getting the job done, as they get themselves into and out of one wacky situation after the other. This is the kind of team who emails the fire department when a fire breaks out, then makes the small fire look like a screen saver in order to disguise the outbreak from the big boss.

You might like The IT Crowd if you’re into offbeat British comedies like The Office or Absolutely Fabulous. The show spanned four seasons, and seasons one and two are currently available at AADL.

Children's Book Week: Magic Carpet Theatre

Thursday May 10, 2012: 7:00 pm to 8:00 pm -- Downtown Library: Multi-Purpose Room

Celebrate Children's Book Week with a theatrical performance featuring humor and audience participation with Michigan's Magic Carpet Theatre. They encourage children to use their imaginations to become better readers by combining literature and performance.

Magic Carpet Theatre brings top-quality literature to life and engages children in a live theatre experience that is interactive, creative, and educational. Their performance includes favorites like "Where the Wild Things Are," "The Fisherman and His Wife," and the "Sneetches." This event is for grades K - 5.

Blasts From The Past, on DVD

The library not only features new, hot TV shows, it also has plenty of chestnuts in the collection for you to borrow. How about some 80s and 90s comedy to get you started?

In Square Pegs, teenage friends Patty and Lauren are trying to get by in an American high school and become less awkward and fit in among their peers. The television sitcom aired for just one season from 1982-1983. At the time, the series was acclaimed for its realistic portrayal of high school life. It also features Sarah Jessica Parker in all her big hair, pre-Sex and the City glory.

The sketch comedy show In Living Color aired on Fox from 1990-1994 and blurred the lines of race and political correctness with its obtuse humor. Created and written by the Wayans Brothers, the show launched careers of Jim Carrey, Jamie Foxx, and David Alan Grier. In addition to its regular skits and recurring characters, the popular weekly show also featured acclaimed live music performances and the dance troupe The Fly Girls. To be introduced or reacquainted, check out seasons 1-3 at AADL.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #326

Absolutely, you won't get an argument from me that Unholy Night is not the first novel by Seth Grahame-Smith, but it is his first departure from zombies and vampires. Good enough reason for me.

Alright, it is another one of his "evolution in dark historical revisionism" but what fun. And thanks to that "brilliant and twisted mind", you will never look at The Nativity the same way again.

Did you ever wonder about the "Three Wise Men"? Who were they? Why the strange gifts? What happened to them? In Grahame-Smith's telling, they were infamous thieves dressed in borrowed finery, led by the charming, elusive and murderous Balthazar as they stumbled upon the Holy family in the famous manger after a daring escape from Herod's prison. Before they could make off with the gifts, Herod's men began to slaughter the first born in Judea, and they cast themselves, reluctantly at best, as the Holy Family's escort in their flight into Egypt. Thus began a heart-stopping, swashbuckling adventure.

The action, danger, intrigue, and humor is palpable but what impressed me most are the ingenious, unexpectedly poignant back stories he has created for the biblical figures - from the young, ambitious and secretly decent Pontius Pilate; Mary, the mouthy, sassy 15 year-old who is tough and surprisingly maternal; to the cruel, mad and diseased King Herod.

Film rights for Unholy sold ($2 million) to Warner Bros. before its publication. Seth Grahame-Smith wrote Tim Burton's film Dark Shadows (being released May 2012) and the screenplay for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, a previous novel, in theaters June 2012.

Readalike: Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon ; illustrated by Gary Gianni.

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