Diary of an old cheeser

Hi there! Like other blogs, this is my chance to wax lyrical (some might say talk utter cr*p) about a) what's happening in my life b) all of my pet obsessions in particular music, tv, movies, books and other generally connected things, quite often of the retro, old and "cheesy" variety. Hence the title of my blog. Feel free to leave a comment if the mood takes you. There's nothing like a good chinwag about one's favourite topics and besides I love to meet new people! Cheers, Simon

Monday, February 12, 2007

I'm gonna learn how to fly...HIGH!!

Over the last few weeks I have been mostly watching…Fame! Yes my hubbie and I have been treating ourselves to regular doses of the old 1980s TV show, the first series of which is now out on DVD and which I couldn't resist purchasing. Whilst not quite as fabulous as I remember it (the memory often plays tricks) it is nevertheless a lovely blast from the past and good fun to watch.

Even the most off-the-radar person will know the theme tune to “Fame” (“Remember my name – Fame!! I’m gonna live forever! I’m gonna learn how to fly – high!!) which still gets played in cheesy discos and features on most 1980s compilations. It all started with the movie in 1980, directed by Alan Parker, relating the stories of the students and staff at the New York High School for the Performing Arts.
The TV series followed shortly in 1982, with exactly the same emphasis and ran for five years. With it’s mix of drama, comedy, music and choreography, it was a big hit and appealed to the wannabe performers, thespians and divas amongst us all…

So who was who at the New York School for the Arts…? Here’s a refresher for y’all…


Lydia Grant – no nonsense, sh*t-kicking dance teacher who frequently sends her students into an aerobic frenzy. “Alright everybody? Callisthenics!” She’s the queen of the dance studio. Probably the most famous lines of all are delivered by Lydia during the programme’s opening theme/titles: “You’ve got big dreams? You want Fame? Well fame costs! And right here is where you start paying…in sweat!” Cue banging of dance stick on floor. Ooer missus. Debbie Allen, who played Lydia, is a dancer and choreographer in real life (she organised a lot of the routines in the show) and now runs the Debbie Allen Dance Academy. I wonder if she says the same thing to her students there?

Elizabeth Sherwood – seemingly starchy but really rather caring English teacher. Has a lovely bouffant hairstyle but thankfully all resemblance to Margaret Thatcher therewith ends. She and student Leroy Johnson have a tempestuous relationship, however, in one episode she finds out about his home background and makes an effort to help out. If only all teachers were so nice and supportive.

Benjamin Shorofsky – elderly music teacher of German descent. White hair and beard. Slightly fuddy duddy and traditional, especially with regard to his ideas on music. In one episode student Bruno performs a hilarious synthesiser p*sstake-tribute to the Professor, “Sho-sho-sho-Shorofosky”, much to the Prof’s chagrin.


Leroy Johnson – lithe black dancer with a bit of an attituuuuude. Often clashes with Miss Sherwood as he isn’t the most literate of students and hates academia. His real strengths lie in dancing and it has to be conceded he is an amazing mover. Became famous for his tight, high cut shorts which he sometimes wore OVER his tracksuit trousers, a la Superman (ex Radio Two DJ Terry Wogan often used to comment on this). Oddly enough I was recently chatting to an Italian friend of mine who told me that Gene Anthony Ray, the actor who played Leroy, ended up living in Italy and became addicted to drink and drugs. He died only a few years back from an AIDS-related illness. A sad end to a genuine talent.

Julie Miller – hippy, dippy cellist who arrives at the School of Performing Arts in the first episode. She has a long distance relationship with her boyfriend in Grand Rapids and wears a chain round her neck which he gave her as a gift. The other students mock her for this which upsets her. Has problems fitting in at first but after some straight talking from Coco, toughens up more and learns to adjust. Often wears sensible slacks and body warmers. Groovy. Lori Singer, who played her, was one of the few actors from the show that went on to achieve any kind of post-Fame success – she was in “Footloose” for instance. Mind you, even that was over 20 years ago.

Coco Hernandez – like Leroy, a gifted dancer and protégé of Lydia Grant. She and Leroy are close pals although they have a rather heated relationship. She and Julie don’t always see eye to eye and Coco is a bit of a meanie toward poor old Jules, but eventually they resolve their differences. Coco is very driven and determined to make it (to heaven? To light up the sky like a flame?) She can be a rather stubborn girlie at times too. Also sings the main theme tune (originally performed by disco diva Irene Cara).

Bruno Martelli – talented keyboard player and perm head (is he related to Leo Sayer?) of Italian-American origin. Has a big love of naff '80s synthesisers, which are often utilised during the show’s musical numbers e.g. Hi Fidelity, Sho-Sho-Shorofosky. Bruno and the Prof also have differing opinions about music, Bruno taking a more “modern” approach over the Prof’s more “classical” preferences – it’s a generational thing you know. Bruno’s taxi-playing dad Angelo often turns up during proceedings and even buys him a brand new keyboard in one episode when he blows the previous one up. Gee, what a swell pop he is.

Doris Schwartz – perm-headed and slightly dumpy – okay let’s say “curvaceous” instead, it’s nicer – female student. Doris is the “bubbly” character and also a little bit whacky but basically very sweet. She’s also the wise-cracking one – as with fellow student Danny, she has ambitions to become a female comic. Has a very nice singing voice too. I love her “Making her voice so craaaazy!!” bit on “Desdemona”.

Danny Amatullo – what is it with all these characters with Italian names? Boasts one of those wonderfully '80s long-but-layered-hair-dos, slightly reminiscent of Princess Diana. Like Doris wants to make it as a comedian, the problem is, some of his jokes are distinctly unfunny. Gets a job as a busboy in a restaurant just so he can talk to a well-known comedian but gets the brush-off. Awww. A little bit cocky, a little bit street, a little bit “watcha-lookin’-aaaat, Schwaaaaartz?”

Montgomery MacNeil – of all the characters, probably the most boring and non-descript. In the original film version he was gay but his sexuality has been completely neutered in the TV adaptation. A ginga (that’s ginger) to boot, he does a horrible treacly smile in the title sequence. I honestly can’t remember much else about him than that. Doesn't say much, does it?

So that's the Fame posse. The original cast in fact, as some of this lot left over the years. But as you might have gathered they're quite an interesting bunch. And as well as the characters, there were other elements to the show itself which made it legendary:

1. The 1980s fashions. Often laughed at, even at the time. Leg-warmers were a prominent feature, not to mention an abundance of leotards, bright colours and big hair. And Leroy's shorts over his sweat pants.

2. The songs and dance routines – each episode would feature at least 2-3 of these, with some of the lead characters singing a "toon" of their own (usually related to whatever this week's episode was about). Most incredible of all was how characters would launch into perfect renditions of songs completely unrehearsed or start performing complicated dance routines in the most conspicuous of places e.g. the middle of the street, the school canteen. It must have been hard to eat your lunch in peace without some cart-wheeling dancer landing their trainers on your plate. The episode I watched last night featured Bruno and Doris visiting a music store where Mr Martelli has taken his son to buy a new synthesiser. Ostensibly trying out one of the keyboards, Bruno then breaks into a note-perfect rendition of "Hi Fidelity" with Doris on vocals. For no apparent reason, other than providing some necessary musical accompaniment, the remaining customers in the shop then decide to join in, with someone playing guitar, someone on drums, and so forth. How nice. Who would have guessed there was so much talent around?

3. A moral or a message. Yes, you can't get away from it in American shows. Each week the characters would go through some kind of dilemma/problem and by the end of the episode have learnt something new about themselves or a situation. For example in one instalment, Coco and Lydia both (unbeknownst to each other) audition for the same role in a play. To make matters worse, the director of the play is Lydia's ex-boyfriend. When the ladies find out they're both competing with each other for the same part, tension breaks out and Coco is furious that Lydia's ex is involved. But the role ends up going to another actress. However Lydia and Coco resolve their problems in the final reel, realising that in spite of losing out, friendship is what matters most and that they both still have lots of talent. Which leads nicely into their resolution-dance at the end, "I Still Believe In Me", in which they perform a perfectly synchronised routine in the school dance studio. All a bit schmaltzy and nicey-nicey, although the sopster in me admits to quite liking it too. We usually got this kind of thing every week.

Of course most recently "Fame" has been re-launched as a musical. I haven't seen it but I have a feeling it isn't that great. Apparently most of the characters and songs are totally different. Call me a nostalgic, call me an old cheeser, but you can't beat the original TV show. Especially for those of us with "big dreams". There's a lot of us out there ya know.

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  • At 3:59 pm , Blogger Steve said...

    Oh my God. Fame! It's all coming back to me. Embarrassing as it is to admit now, I have to fess up and say that I had a huge crush on the Julie Miller character. I guess it was the quiet, hippy-esque persona... I recall being quite disappointed by her "sluttier" persona in Footloose. How dare she dance with Kevin Bacon! The only thing she's allowed to have between her legs is a cello, goddamit!

    Nice bow work though.

  • At 1:19 am , Blogger TimeWarden said...

    There’s an interesting connection between your “Fame” and “Dreamgirls” posts, Simon. Gene Anthony Ray, who played Leroy, was actually in “Austin Powers: Goldmember”, though uncredited, as one of the dancers! Sadly, he died in the States from the complications of a stroke and was HIV-positive.

    On a lighter note, I bought the “Hi Fidelity” single! And did you know Valerie Landsburg beat Madonna for the role of Doris Schwartz in “Fame” at the final auditions.

    Last time I saw Daryl Hannah look-alike Lori Singer in anything, was about ten years ago in a short-lived SF series, “VR.5”, which ran on BBC2 and co-starred our very own Tony Head, pre-“Buffy”, with “Man from U.N.C.L.E.” and “Sapphire and Steel” actor David McCallum playing her Dad!

  • At 6:05 am , Blogger matty said...

    I so loved the film version when it came out!

    I sing the body electric!

    This was interesting to read. I don't think I ever saw the TV show version.

  • At 10:41 am , Blogger Old Cheeser said...

    Steve - Ha ha ha!! Julie Miller eh. I too quite liked her at the time. Coco was too brash and "in your face" for me. Doris was a sweetie too. Of course this was years before I realised my true sexuality. I may have peeked at Leroy in his shorts without quite realising why.

    Did you know Lori Singer was a cellist in real life?

    Tim - Once again you have done your research! I might have to rent out "Goldmember" and see if I spot Gene. Yes he came to a sad end.

    Can you imagine what would have happened if Madonna had played the Doris role? History as we know it would have been re-written! Given Madge's highly provocative, not to mention sexually-oriented persona I couldn't quite see her as Ms Schwartz. I think she would have had to downplay things considerably. Probably a very difficult task for her.

    And yes Ms Singer seems to have disappeared off the radar of late.

    Matty - !! You live in the States and you NEVER saw the TV series of Fame?! Whaaaat? Were you hiding under a rock? I did hear that after two series the ratings started to slide and they only continued making it cos of the huge fanbase in the UK. Nevertheless I can't belieeeeve you missed it!

    Or maybe you had better things to do...

  • At 2:56 pm , Blogger matty said...

    Well, sadly, much of the 80's is a bit of a blur. And, I was quite busy slutting about in the early part of the 90's and had no TV reception.

    I saw a lot of TV from 1994 to 2002 when I was in full throtle married life. ...then I stopped hanging out at home so much till we officially ended.

    I know movies, tho!

    And, many British sitcoms!


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