Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Life and Times of Tammy Faye

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By now I'm sure you all have heard - Tammy Faye Bakker Messner has passed on... The news saddens me and makes me think back on this remarkable woman. I won't get into the whole PTL Scandal - We all could debate that for days. No, at this time I would like to introduce you to the Tammy Faye that I knew.

I grew up familiar with religious TV - I wouldn't call me a fan - but when I would visit my grandmother in Chicago in the summers - it was always on. My Grandmother was a very pious woman and she was also well rounded when it came to her religion. She watched them all - didn't agree with them all, but watched them... And sticking out in the mix was the one that caught my eye - The PTL Club (A.K.A The Jim & Tammy Show) - it was amazing to see - they held nothing back... If they were having a fight - it was right there on TV, if Tammy was depressed - you could see a shopping bag or two peeking out from her hiding places on the set - oh yeah the set - think Johnny Carson with a touch of a Mexican hacienda. Oh, but that over-made-up, full of life character that cried when she was touched (yep - not just when she was sad, or even happy - but just when the emotions were strong - the tears would flow) - I was transfixed...

Later in life I served as the call screener for the very popular Chicago radio program "Sex Talk" & "The Phyllis Levy Show" - I was working the night one listener called in to let us know Tammy Faye had had a break down in an airplane flying to get help from a medical clinic on the west coast... I was fascinated - what was going on... As we all now know - that was the beginning of the PTL Scandal... I followed the whole event - bought every grocery store tabloid that had anything about any of the characters in it - you could say obsessed... I had a viewing party at my apartment the night they aired "Fall From Grace: The Jim & Tammy Faye Bakker story" - I lined the hall way to my apartment door with the clippings from those tabloids.

Eventually - while doing my annual Christmas specials on my radio show "CROSSTALK" - I came up with the bright idea to have Tammy Faye read the story of Baby Jesus - she was not popular at this point - actually she was even keeping a low public profile... She had recently divorced Jim and had just married Roe Messner. I made contact through a lawyer of theirs and Tammy agreed to record the piece for us - under once condition - I send her the script! (the Chicago Sun Times wrote of this incident, "Hint to Tammy, it's in the bible!") Tammy did the message (and did it wonderfully) and faxed me a note afterwards telling me it was the best version she had ever read (I like to think of it as "The Gospel According to Ernie"...) Around that time - I even ran into Tammy on the Michigan Avenue in Chicago - I was walking down the street, and coming toward me was this well dressed couple, I noticed a woman and then looked to the man - he looked familiar, and after a split second I realized it was Roe Messner (who's face was familiar to me from his and Tammy's wedding picture that hung over my desk - clipped from "The Globe Magazine") - so I quickly looked back at the woman he was with - starting at the feet an panning up - high heeled black leather boots, black skirt hanging a touch below a plush black fur coat, and as my gaze continued upward I encountered that face! And even though Tammy had told me on numerous occasions, "My make up really doesn't look that heavy in real life" it was unmistakably the heavily made up face of Tammy Faye - the eyes sparkled, the lips parted in an easy relaxed smile - I had to stop them and say hello - pleasant as could be!

Over the years she would appear via phone on my radio programs - one time, from the hospital the day after her first cancer surgery, "Tammy, we could reschedule at another time"
"Don't be silly, I promised you I would do this today - and anyway, where else am I going to go?"

She was always a joy to talk with - and always so upfront an honest in answering any inquiry...
"Did you watch the TV movie 'Fall From Grace'?"
"Oh you had to be curious"
"I said I didn't watch it - I didn't say I didn't tell all my friends to watch it and report back to me on how it was!" she said with her signature laughter

Years later in Houston, I was asked to fill in on a morning radio show when the host Dayna Steele was going to be on vacation. I asked Tammy to co-host that morning with me (again via phone) - she was with us the whole two hours - of course, every time she would be interviewed PTL would come up - and every time she would answer to help those just hearing the story for the first time understand it as she did. She never got angry about having to answer about it again - she understood.

One time the conversation held this nugget...
"Ernie, we should do a new TV show together"
"I love the idea - the Tammy Faye and Ernie Show"
"No honey, the Ernie & Tammy Faye Show"
"But Tammy - you are the famous one..."
"Nope, you are the man - your name goes first!"
I guess you could say she was old fashion!

When her most recent book ("I Will Survive") came out, we were going to have her on my show InnerVIEWS, but two days before the taping we got a call from her agent telling us she was now going to have to be in LA that day and we would have to reschedule. That important appointment in LA turned out to be the start of the series "The Surreal Life" so I didn't mind.

Well, that rescheduled interview never came to pass - Tammy never made it back in to Houston for the interview. But, like in the past - I followed all her moves, watched her on TV, and visited her web site.

The one question you might still be asking yourself is why? What was it about this tiny, larger then life character that captivate me for so long? All I can say to that is this...

She lived her life for real! And she lived what she preached! Now you might not have always agreed with her beliefs, but she did and she stood by them - and when she was wrong, she said it and owned up to it - and when she thought she hadn't, she defended what she believed. She never turned her back on God or her beloved Jesus Christ no matter how hard it all got - and when she asked for something, it wasn't for her, but for her children, or others she knew. She suffered the insults and jokes thrown at her, and publicly laughed right along with us. She embraced those who were outcasts of society and truly practiced the teaching of her savior.

Yes, she might have been at the heart of one of the biggest religious money scandals of our time - but when she walked forth from that event, she didn't just walk the walk and talk the talk - she honestly lived it and shared it with all of those she met.

None of us are perfect - but few of us have worked as hard as Tammy Faye to spread love and forgiveness to everyone she encountered and to anyone who could hear her voice!

Tammy Faye - you will be missed!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Hairspray, Italian Beef, & Late Night Catechism

Where do I begin...

One year ago I visited Chicago - I came home with 50lbs of Chicago foods for friends and family - yep - Pizza, Candy, Potato Chips, and Italian Beef!!! Italian beef, for those of you who don't know what they are - think thinner sliced French Dip with hot peppers - and they are Yummy!!!

Well imagine my surprise, on the way back from the airport, I passed a new restaurant storefront at 1777 Airline Drive - called..."Chicago Italian Beef!!!" - I was so excited - but they were not open yet... so I waited... and waited... and waited - month after month - the promise of Italian beef so close... but they seemed to never open... It got close a few times - the sign would be lit up around midnight - but nope - they were just working...

A month ago - I was promised they would open "any day now" - I waited... some more... Today they opened - One Year Later!!!

I would have made a couple changes to the sandwich - I would skip the grilled onions and peppers and replace them with just the giardiniera, a spicy pickled mix of chopped vegetables (which they have available on the self serve island). But all that said - it was great! And it came with fries at no extra cost! So if ya wanna enjoy a little taste of "The Windy City" in Houston this summer visit:

Chicago Italian Beef
1777 Airline Dr.


Another Chicago Import is invading Houston this summer - the original comedy from Live Bait Theatre. I saw the show YEARS ago when it was first playing - it was a hit, but I was less then impressed - everyone said it was a blast, but I was far from entertained... An actress dressed as a nun sitting at a big wooden desk at the front of the small theater instructing us in catechism lessons - I was BORED and not amused...

Now STAGES Theatre in Houston has decided to produce the show for their summer offering - so again I was less then thrilled to return to see this show... But, since lately I have missed so many of the offerings from this fine local theatre, I made sure to see this show - and guess what... It was a BLAST!

The biggest difference I can remember is the fact that this time the Sister moves around and the audience seemed much more involved... The result - the show WAS fun and funny!

It was more of a stand up/improve show than I remembered it and I laughed continuously from start to finish - and due to the nature of the show - each performance will be somewhat different, so I'll go back!

I guess that says a whole lot about this production - it is hard enough to present a comedy to an audience that isn't familiar with it, and get them to enjoy it - but if you can take a show that someone doesn't like, and then make them enjoy it so much they would come back - that is truly an accomplishment - and STAGES pulls it off...

So get a group of friends together and enjoy a cool night at a red hot show

3201 Allen Parkway
Through September 30, 2007

And one more warm surprise - the film "Hairspray"

I liked the original John Waters movie (I preferred "Cry Baby" - but that is another story), but I loved the musical - I have seen it a bunch of times - mostly 'cause I love the show, but also 'cause a friend of mine (Dale Calandra) understudied the role of Edna... So I went into the film worried they would loose all the frantic joy of the stage show - which greatly improved on the story of the original film, and added fun songs and more dancing, plus heart and at the same time sweetness...

The TV ads have scared me - the colors were just too bold, the performers just seems... stiff maybe? Well again - I was wrong!

This is just the feel good film of the summer - every chubby girl will wanna go, every gay boy will too, actually anyone who has ever felt different, an outcast, all alone... I guess I should say EVERYONE will want to see this film - the message is wonderful, all about acceptance and equality - and the musical numbers feel real and fresh - not at all forced. The only weak spot would be John Travolta, and mostly for the strange accent the actor choose to use - no one else has an accent in the film - it just was an odd choice to me, and slowed down his ability to spit out his comic lines with he speed needed to make them work best.

But other than that - the film was just a joy and by the end, I even started to be OK with Travolta's Edna...

So take the family and have a blast of "HAIRSPRAY"

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Circus of Dreams?

Ringling Brothers is back in town - this time with the circus re-imagined (or so the ads tell us) - it is now "The Circus of Dreams" - and all I can say is, if this is a dream WAKE ME UP!

I love the circus - yep - I am one of those folks who just can't get enough of it... My Dad always took us to "that side of town" when the old "Clyde Beatty/Cole Brothers Circus" came to Binghamton, NY (where I grew up). There was the "Parade of the Elephants" to the field to set up the big Red and White tent. There of course was the freaky side show with the electric man and the bed of nails and the tattooed Lady, World's Smallest and World's Tallest Men, on and on... And then the show in the big top - the spectacle, the flash, the pretty woman dressed in feathers and sequins perched high above - it was magical!!!

Years later we continued to go - be it Ringling Bros in our local arena, or Circus Vargas behind downtown, or any number of traveling shows that were chased closely behind by PETA... But the magic of the circus lived within me - My brother and I even had our own traveling show (from the basement to the backyard mind you) - "Manouse & Manouse brothers Circus" - oh we had some amazing acts: "Professor Glasses," "Swami the Lami," and my brother on the "Low Wire"(a tight wire act done on the dog's rope laid across the ground), even a clown - we always had to have a clown...

Why just last year, I got up at 5:30am on a Saturday, loaded up the car with coffee and donuts and drove to Clear Lake to watch Carson & Barnes Circus set up their tent - with the help of an elephant!!! The show was great fun and the day will be a memory I will cherish - I mean really - how many more opportunities will I have to see a Circus tent erected with the help of an elephant - a dying art I tell you - dying!

So when our good friend Kathy asked if we wanted to go see the new Ringling Bros "Circus of Dreams" on opening day here in Houston (also her birthday), how could I say NO! But, maybe I should have!

Some things need to just stay as they are - respect tradition - a cat is a cat, trying to make it more like a dog doesn't make it a dog, but now it is no longer a great cat either. With the on slot of Cirque du Soleil redefining Circus, Ringling is trying everything (well actually Kenneth Feld) to keep this traveling show fresh and "modern" - but I think he has lost a lot of what I so loved about the show... and don't think I am just jaded - the 6 year old boy sitting next to me turned, tapped me on my arm and said "This is the most boring circus I have ever seen" - and I would have to agree...

Gone were the three rings, gone was the spectacle, gone was the excitement, as each act seemed more like they were trying out for "America's Got Talent" then being showcased at "The Greatest Show on Earth!"

And not all of the fault is on Feld, a lot has to go to the fall of the soviet empire - the endless suppliers of classic circus acts - now we still have Mexico and South America, and of course Asia to supply us with aerialists and tumblers - but I think something is being lost in this old world art as our new world spreads cross the globe.

I'm not sure how much the tickets actually are - but I can tell you this - they are too much! Save your money on this edition of RB&BB Circus and go find a smaller, more amazing traveling show - and wait for the next "re-invention" of "The Greatest Show on Earth" - and maybe next time they will just let a cat be a cat, and it will be the best, most talent cat we have ever seen!

Monday, July 2, 2007

Friends of Ernie Newsletter - July 2007

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It's summer time, and that means the Houston Museum of Natural Science is hosting "Mixers, Elixirs & Imax" every Friday night (for more info... - so the gang suited up for our night at the museum...

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A lot of folks turn out - Friday when we were there attendance was just over 900... And even thought it is a cash bar - you do get to see a free IMAX film and the best part you get to dance under the dinos to live music... and I think, just maybe the stuffed animals on the second floor come alive during the party... here's the proof..

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Toddicus taking flight with the birds...

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...and about to be bit on his hinney

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Paul and a lion fighting over a Zebra leg

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Jordan wondering the Serengeti at dusk

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Toddicus, Paul and a Zebra running from a Lion

And here is one for those of you who don't believe in Evolution...
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I think we have made our point!

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...oohps, Paul farted!

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Jackson shares his cocktail with another friendly Zebra

All in all it was a fun night - why even Paul and Jordan had a little too much to drink...
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(Staged photo - they were sober the whole time...)

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Long Time - No Post - Hope this helps...

Howdy everyone...

Sorry it has been so long - so much going on - this will be a mostly picture blog - with more detail and thoughts to come later - but let me simply say - life has continued at a rapid pace and shows little sign of slowing down anytime soon... But I will let the pictures lead me this time... Now where did we leave off...

WOW - I haven't really chatted with you all since early May... Got the part in the animated series "Le Chevalier D'Eon"
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I do the english voice of "Guercy"
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He is the
French ambassador to England, who is a bit of a drunkard, and his loyalty appears to go to whomever is the highest bidder at the time. I am in episodes 13, 14, & 15 (to be released) - wish I could have found a better picture - but looking at this pic, I'm sure you can figure out how they picked me - LOL - one big ol mouth that can get one into trouble - but he is too smart for that... ;-)

In between all the work we have been doing on my new Doc "The Last 24" (read my producer's blog here), I have been out and about... also had some camera troubles - but I'm back in operation...

There was Kenneth Gayle's concert at Unity Church... He was wonderful as always!
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A going away party for a dear friend Todd (here with Jackson and I)
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We will miss you Todd!

I got a new crew of interns - and they are just wonderful - I love these kids... Here are a few of them (I have 6 in total this summer)
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Read more about them and everything going on in the "World of Ernie" at the new web site they have just set up for me at

Then there was the Southwest Houston Rotary Dinner I was asked to MC
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(Nan Wagoner and me at the Podium)
The event was held at Houston's Magic Castle - I had a blast!!!

And what would June be without PRIDE...
This year in - in addition to MCing the parade, I was asked to be one of the Judge's for PRIDE IDOL
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I got to be the Simon of the group - LOL - I even got booed!

Houston's DIVA Drag Queen Kofi even performed at the final competition on Parade Day at the Festival
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I made some great friends and had a blast - and all before the parade even began! He we are after the festival waiting for the Parade to begin (in Houston our Parade is a night time event - and the rain cleared up giving me my 9th year as MC a dry weather evening - thank you!!!)
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(L to R - Fellow Idol Judge - Joey (Houston Chronicle Music Critic), Me, Jim (NBC Anchor Man from Beaumont, TX), Kelly (Graphic Artist from Dallas), Jackson & his son Paul, Toddicus (Idol MC and popular Host at Houston's Guava Lamp)

THEN the parade hit the street! 107 entries, over 2 hours...
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(sorry the pic is so bad - but I was busy MCing - LOL)

So this is just a little taste of what has been going on... More to come - but Now I need to go to bed!

'till next time...