Ed McMahon? He was a very talented pitchman. But I preferred the hilarious send-up of McMahon, in the guise of “Hank Kingsley,” on “The Larry Sanders Show.” Actor Jeffrey Tambor’s signature Kingsleyism, “HEY, now!” is probably quoted more often than McMahon’s “HEY-OHHH!”
Farrah Fawcett? I never bought that famous poster. She wasn’t my type. I didn’t like “Charlie’s Angels,” and my least favorite of the trio was Ms. Fawcett. Never did care for that “feathered” hairstyle she inspired, either. To tell the truth, I didn’t watch a lot of TV in the mid-1970s. I was too busy disco dancing. But if I had been watching, I probably would have preferred “The Bionic Woman” to “Charlie’s Angels.” I’d forgotten about the bionic Lindsay Wagner until just recently, when she started doing commercials for the Sleep Number mattress company. She look pretty good at age 60, and a bit sleepy, too — just right for the ads!
Ah, but what about Michael Jackson? McMahon had talent, and Fawcett had looks. But Michael Jackson was pure genius — the finest overall entertainer since Sammy Davis, Jr. For about a decade, he singlehandedly rescued the recording industry.
Yet, throughout Michael Jackson’s career, I just never quite got the adulation. In the late 1960s, the Jackson 5 had a string of number-one Motown hits, and they were great to listen to on my AM car radio. But I much preferred Sly & the Family Stone. When Michael launched his solo career in the late 70s, I liked him more. But as a singer and songwriter, in my opinion, he was no match for Marvin Gaye or Bill Withers.
By the time Michael Jackson became a superstar, I’d mostly lost interest in “pop” music. Not the artsier rock of the 1980s — a lot of that stuff was pretty good, and its influence on popular music today remains strong. But the big, arena-filling popular musical acts, whether delivered by heavy metal bands, or R&B sirens Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey, or the two biggest acts of that decade — Michael Jackson and Madonna — left me cold. And while Michael Jackson’s dance moves were incredible to behold, I found Prince’s choreography far more intriguing.
Perhaps that makes me strange? However, speaking of strange, I have to hand it to Michael Jackson. He was a weird pleasure to caricature! The skin whitening procedures to obscure his vitiligo, the odd experiments in plastic surgery, the bandito face kerchiefs, the sequined glove and epaulets — all made Michael Jackson an enduring subject for caricature. In fact, in terms of rendering, Jackson made the caricaturist’s job easy. Over time, he reduced himself to a stark black-and-white image. The white, mime-like face, the sharp cut of his reconstructed nose, the dyed black hair hanging like tendrils, the eyeliner and false eyelashes…all of these provided great tools for the caricaturist.
Sunday night, Michael Jackson was honored and memorialized at the BET Awards. Actor Jamie Foxx declared on Michael’s behalf: “We want to celebrate this black man.” As though the audience needed to be reminded that Michael Jackson was indeed an African-American. However, from a caricaturist’s odd point of view, Jackson had personally transcended race. He wasn’t of mixed-race, of course, like President Obama. Whether on the illustrated page or in photographs, Michael Jackson was, literally, both black and white.
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…By the way, a question for you dance experts out there: Since Michael Jackson rarely, if ever, danced with a partner, unlike Astaire or Baryshnikov, couldn’t he best have been described as a “hoofer?”