October 10, 2014

Jan Hooks, 1957-2014

Jan Hooks played first ladies Nancy Reagan and Hillary Clinton, martyred wives Tammy Faye Bakker and Ivana Trump, sexy icons Ann-Margret and Sally Kellerman, along with Sinead O’Connor, Kathie Lee Gifford, Jessica Hahn, Bette Davis, Diane Sawyer and Tammy Wynette during her five seasons on Saturday Night Live (1986-91).

A virtuoso impressionist and the ultimate utility player, Hooks disappeared into characters on a show built around men and superstars like Dana Carvey and Mike Myers. She was the glue girl. Only the absence of a breakout character separated Hooks from greater fame. The closest she came was Candy Sweeney, one half of the lounge singing Sweeney Sisters.

Jan Hooks died yesterday from an undisclosed illness. She was 57.

Hooks joined the cast of SNL during the 1986-87 season with Carvey, Phil Hartman, Kevin Nealon, Nora Dunn and Victoria Jackson. Jon Lovitz and Dennis Miller were holdovers from the previous season. That group revived the iconic series, which was on the verge of cancellation.

“That show changed my life,” Hooks said in the book Live from New York, an oral history of the show.

In the same book, Jackson said: “In my audition, when Lorne [Michaels] said I think you’re weak in characters, I said, ‘Oh, well, you know who’s the greatest female character in America? Jan Hooks.’ She would just go into these people and I thought she was, like, great. … I thought she was, like, a genius, so I told Lorne.”

Hooks was such a genius and so underrated that it is worth wondering what her work on SNL might have looked like in the 21st century, when the series has been dominated by women. Tina Fey was one of the show’s head writers from 1999 to 2006, an era that featured Molly Shannon, Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph. Kristen Wiig was the unquestioned star of her tenure (2005-12). The current cast includes Vanessa Bayer, Cecily Strong and Kate McKinnon, the kind of do-everything performer reminiscent of Hooks.
— Kevin Brewer

October 5, 2014

National League awards [2014]

Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw beat the Diamondbacks on Opening Day in Australia, threw a no-hitter against the Rockies and pitched 41 consecutive scoreless innings. Josh Beckett, Tim Lincecum and Jordan Zimmermann also threw no-hitters.

Babe Ruth Award | Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers. 21-3, 1.77 ERA, 239 strikeouts and 31 walks in 198.1 innings.

2. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
3. Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins
4. Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers
5. Buster Posey, Giants

Walter Johnson Award | Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers. 21-3, 1.77 ERA, 239 strikeouts and 31 walks in 198.1 innings.

Jackie Robinson Award | Jacob deGrom, Mets. 9-6, 2.69 ERA, 144 strikeouts and 43 walks in 140.1 innings.

Connie Mack Award | Matt Williams, Nationals. 96-66 [.593]

2. Don Mattingly, Dodgers
3. Bruce Bochy, Giants

Catcher | Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers. 13 home runs, 69 RBIs, .301 batting average, .373 on-base percentage, .465 slugging percentage, 53 doubles. Best hitter | Buster Posey, Giants. Best fielder | Yadier Molina, Cardinals.

2. Buster Posey, Giants
3. Devin Mesoraco, Reds

First base | Anthony Rizzo, Cubs. 32 home runs, 78 RBIs, .286 batting average, .386 on-base percentage, .527 slugging percentage, 15 HBPs. Best fielder | Adrian Gonzalez, Dodgers.

Second base | Chase Utley, Phillies. 11 home runs, 78 RBIs, .270 batting average, .339 on-base percentage, .407 slugging percentage, 13 HBPs. Best fielder | DJ LeMahieu, Rockies.

Third base | Anthony Rendon, Nationals. 21 home runs, 83 RBIs, .287 batting average, .351 on-base percentage, .473 slugging percentage, 111 runs. Best fielder | Rendon.

Shortstop | Jhonny Peralta, Cardinals. 21 home runs, 75 RBIs, .263 batting average, .336 on-base percentage, .443 slugging percentage. Best hitter | Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies. Best fielder | Andrelton Simmons, Atlanta.

Left field | Matt Holliday, Cardinals. 20 home runs, 90 RBIs, .272 batting average, .370 on-base percentage, .441 slugging percentage, 17 HBPs.

Center field | Andrew McCutchen, Pirates. 25 HRs, 83 RBIs, .314/.410/.542, 10 HBPs. Best fielder | Juan Lagares, Mets

2. Carlos Gomez, Brewers

Right field | Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins. 37 home runs, 105 RBIs, .288 batting average, .395 on-base percentage, .555 slugging percentage. Best fielder | Jason Heyward, Atlanta.

2. Jason Heyward, Atlanta

Starting rotation |

1. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers.
21-3, 1.77 ERA, 239 strikeouts and 31 walks in 198.1 innings.

2. Johnny Cueto, Reds. 20-9, 2.25 ERA, 242 strikeouts and 65 walks in 243.2 innings, 15 HBPs.

3. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals. 20-9, 2.38 ERA, 179 strikeouts and 50 walks in 227 innings.

4. Cole Hamels, Phillies. 9-9, 2.46 ERA, 198 strikeouts and 59 walks in 204.2 innings.

5. Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals. 14-5, 2.66 ERA, 182 strikeouts and 29 walks in 199.2 innings.

6. Tanner Roark, Nationals
7. Madison Bumgarner, Giants

Closer | Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta. 0-3, 1.61 ERA, 47 saves, 95 strikeouts and 26 walks in 61.2 innings.

2. Mark Melancon, Pirates
3. Jonathan Papelbon, Phillies

Goodbye | The Greatest Hitter of All Time [1960-2014]

— Kevin Brewer

October 3, 2014

American League awards [2014]

Albert Pujols hit his 500th home run against the Nationals. Edwin Encarnacion hit 16 home runs in May. Rangers manager Ron Washington resigned. Derek Jeter had a walk-off single in his final at-bat at Yankee Stadium.

Babe Ruth Award | Mike Trout, Angels. 36 home runs, 111 RBIs, .287 batting average, .377 on-base percentage, .561 slugging percentage, 115 runs.

2. Robinson Cano, Mariners
3. Michael Brantley, Cleveland
4. Josh Donaldson, Athletics
5. Jose Altuve, Astros

Walter Johnson Award | Corey Kluber, Cleveland. 18-9, 2.44 ERA, 269 strikeouts and 51 walks in 235.21 innings.

Jackie Robinson Award | Jose Abreu, White Sox. 36 home runs, 107 RBIs, .317 batting average, .383 on-base percentage, .581 slugging percentage.

Pee Wee Reese Award | Ian Kinsler, Tigers. 17 home runs, 92 RBIs, .275 batting average, .307 on-base percentage, .420 slugging percentage, 100 runs, 40 doubles.

Connie Mack Award | Mike Scioscia, Angels. 98-64 [.605]

2. Buck Showalter, Orioles
3. Lloyd McClendon, Mariners

Catcher | Yan Gomes, Cleveland. 21 home runs, 74 RBIs, .278 batting average, .313 on-base percentage, .472 slugging percentage. Best fielder | Salvador Perez, Royals.

First base | Jose Abreu, White Sox. 36 home runs, 107 RBIs, .317 batting average, .383 on-base percentage, .581 slugging percentage. Best fielder | Chris Davis, Orioles.

2. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers.

Second base | Robinson Cano, Mariners. 14 home runs, 82 RBIs, .314 batting average, .382 on-base percentage, .454 slugging percentage. Best hitter | Jose Altuve, Astros. Best fielder | Ian Kinsler, Tigers.

2. Jose Altuve, Astros
3. Howie Kendrick, Angels
4. Ian Kinsler, Tigers

Third base | Josh Donaldson, Athletics. 29 home runs, 98 RBIs, .255 batting average, .342 on-base percentage, .456 slugging percentage. Best hitter | Adrian Beltre, Rangers. Best fielder | Donaldson.

2. Adrian Beltre, Rangers
3. Kyle Seager, Mariners

Shortstop | Erick Aybar, Angels. 7 home runs, 68 RBIs, .278 batting average, .321 on-base percentage, .379 slugging percentage. Best fielder | J.J. Hardy, Orioles.

Left field | Michael Brantley, Cleveland. 20 home runs, 97 RBIs, .327 batting average, .385 on-base percentage, .506 slugging percentage, 200 hits, 45 doubles. Best fielder | Alex Gordon, Royals.

2. Alex Gordon, Royals

Center field | Mike Trout, Angels. 36 home runs, 111 RBIs, .287 batting average, .377 on-base percentage, .561 slugging percentage, 115 runs. Best fielder | Lorenzo Cain, Royals.

2. Adam Jones, Orioles

Right field | Jose Bautista, Blue Jays. 35 home runs, 103 RBIs, .286 batting average, .403 on-base percentage, .524 slugging percentage, 101 runs, 104 walks. Best fielder | Josh Reddick, Athletics.

Designated hitter | Victor Martinez, Tigers. 32 home runs, 103 RBIs, .335 batting average, .409 on-base percentage, .565 slugging percentage.

Starting rotation |

1. Corey Kluber, Cleveland.
18-9, 2.44 ERA, 269 strikeouts and 51 walks in 235.21 innings.

2. Felix Hernandez, Mariners. 15-6, 2.14 ERA, 248 strikeouts and 46 walks in 236 innings, 18 wild pitches.

3. Chris Sale, White Sox. 12-4, 2.17 ERA, 208 strikeouts and 39 walks in 174 innings, 11 HBPs.

4. Max Scherzer, Tigers. 18-5, 3.15 ERA, 252 strikeouts and 63 walks in 220.1 innings, 10 wild pitches.

5. Jon Lester, Red Sox-Athletics. 16-11, 2.46 ERA, 220 strikeouts and 48 walks in 219.2 innings.

6. David Price, Rays-Tigers
7. Dallas Keuchel, Astros

Setup man | Wade Davis, Royals. 9-2, 1.00 ERA, 3 saves, 109 strikeouts and 23 walks in 72.0 innings.

2. Dellin Betances, Yankees.

Closer | Zach Britton, Orioles. 3-2, 1.65 ERA, 37 saves, 62 strikeouts and 23 walks in 76.1 innings.

2. Greg Holland, Royals.

Best Picture | The Battered Bastards of Baseball

— Kevin Brewer

September 5, 2014

Joan Rivers, 1933-2014

Joan Rivers was as relentless as her comedy.

“I’ll show you fear,” Rivers says in the 2010 documentary A Piece of Work as she points at an empty date book. “That’s fear. If my book ever looked like this, it would mean nobody wants me, that everything I ever tried to do in life didn’t work, nobody cared, and I’ve been totally forgotten.”

That never happened, because she never stopped working. Rivers hosted the long-running E! network’s Fashion Police and an online talk show In Bed with Joan, starred in the reality series Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best? with her daughter and wrote Diary of a Mad Diva, which she promoted on more than a dozen talk shows — and that was this year alone. Her upcoming stand-up tour was to be called “Before They Close the Lid.” More than 20 dates were scheduled

The indefatigable Rivers died Thursday. She was 81 years old.

On Feb. 17, 1965, when Rivers was 31 years old, she made her first appearance on The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson. She wore a black Jax dress, a string of pearls and a pink boa. She told jokes about being single and problems with her car. “God, you’re funny,” Carson said on the air. “You’re going to be a star.”

A month later, Rivers was the lead guest on the show and quickly became one of Carson’s favorites, making more than 50 appearances. In 1983, she became the first permanent guest host of The Tonight Show. Three years later, she signed a five-year, $15 million contract with the new Fox network to host her own show.

“The first person I called was Johnny Carson,” Rivers said in A Piece of Work. “He slammed the phone down. I called him again, and he slammed it down again and never spoke to me again — ever.”

Rivers told this story so often and with such conviction that it became accepted as truth, mostly because Carson never spoke of Rivers publicly, except for a few veiled references in his monologue, and partly because Rivers outlived him by nine years.

But Carson already knew of Rivers’ impending move when she made the call, according to King of the Night by Laurence Leamer. Her mistake, Carson felt, was in not telling him sooner. If she had, Carson might have wished her well on the air, as he had done with David Brenner and Alan Thicke and later with Pat Sajak and Arsenio Hall when they began their competing shows.

“I’m not taking her call,” Carson said. “It was a little late in arriving … about three months late.”

In the following months, Rivers tried to hire away some of Carson’s top personnel, including longtime producer Peter Lassally and a highly regarded talent coordinator. Carson gave them more money to stay.

The Late Show starring Joan Rivers premiered on Oct. 9, 1986 at 11 p.m., a half-hour before Carson. Her guests were David Lee Roth, Pee-wee Herman, Elton John and Cher. John, Cher and Rivers sang “The Bitch is Back.” Rivers beat Carson in the ratings in New York and San Francisco.

“The Fox show, even before we went on the air, was a nightmare,” Rivers said. Her husband, manager and executive producer, Edgar Rosenberg, constantly fought with Fox executives Rupert Murdoch and Barry Diller. When Rivers refused to fire her husband, Fox fired both of them. Her last show was on May 15, 1987.

Three months later, Rosenberg committed suicide. “He left me with no career and a lot of debt,” said Rivers, who became depressed and bulimic and contemplated suicide herself.

Then Rivers worked. She was the center square on Hollywood Squares (1987-89) and hosted a daytime talk show (1989-93) for which she won an Emmy. In 1994, she was nominated for a Tony Award for playing Lenny Bruce’s mother in Sally Marr … and Her Escorts. She wrote 12 books, including one about her many plastic surgeries. She peddled her own line of jewelry and clothing on QVC, selling more than $1 billion in merchandise. She was omnipresent on the red carpet of awards shows for E! and later the TV Guide Channel. She won Celebrity Apprentice.

On Jimmy Fallon’s first night as host of The Tonight Show in February, a series of celebrities made cameos, handing him $100 to settle a bet — Robert De Niro, Tina Fey, Seth Rogen, Stephen Colbert … and on and on. Among them was Rivers, making her first Tonight Show appearance since 1986.

A month later, she returned, making jokes about the Holocaust and vagina rings. Fallon held up a black and white photo of Carson and Rivers from that first appearance in 1965. “He said you’re going to be a star,” said Rivers, pointing at Carson in the photo. “It changed my life.”

August 11, 2014

Robin Williams, 1951-2014

When I was 5 years old, “Mork & Mindy” was my favorite television show. I had Mork suspenders. I had a “Shazbot” T-shirt. I had the Mork action figure, which included the egg-shaped spacecraft.

Robin Williams was Mork, an alien from planet Ork. He was silly and manic. He zoomed around the room like a whirlwind. He sat on his face. He drank with his finger. The show’s writers left room in the scripts for his improvisational doodles and impressions. He was my Jerry Lewis.

Williams died Monday of an apparent suicide. He was 63.

The stand-up comedian and actor was addicted to cocaine during Mork & Mindy (1978-82) and later to alcohol. In his final months, he suffered from “severe depression,” according to his publicist.

Williams was a master of dark comedy, mining his psyche for many characters in and around the world of mental illness — a psychologist to Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting for which he won an Academy Award, an unhinged salesman in Seize the Day, a neurologist to Robert De Niro in Awakenings, a disgraced psychiatrist in Dead Again, a mentally ill homeless man in The Fisher King, a mental patient turned doctor in Patch Adams, a lonely photo technician in One Hour Photo and the father of an accidental suicide in World’s Greatest Dad.

In Dead Poets Society, Williams is an English teacher at a private school in New England. He inspires his students to rip pages out of their textbooks, stand on their desks to see the world in a different way and (if they feel daring) call him “O Captain, My Captain.”

Robert Sean Leonard, who plays one of the students, accepts a role in a school play against his father’s will. When the father tells Leonard’s character that he is sending him to military school as punishment, the boy commits suicide.

In the final scene, when Williams is forced out of the school, most of his students stand on their desks, stand up for their captain. He had moved his students, but he couldn’t save one’s troubled life.

Last year, I made a pilgrimage to New York, to watch my first taping of “Late Show with David Letterman.” By coincidence, Williams was the lead guest.

Williams was one of the great talk show guests — an incredibly verbal, stream of consciousness comedian who barely needed questions from the host, who could barely remain in his seat.

He was on the penultimate Tonight Show with Johnny Carson on May 21, 1992, a couple weeks after the Los Angeles riots.

“I was going to bring you a VCR, but the stores had none,” he told Carson.

On Letterman, Williams was promoting his new series, The Crazy Ones. He played an advertising genius, “an idea man ... with multiple marriages and rehab,” he said. “I’ve done the research.”

When Letterman asked about his stand-up comedy, Williams confessed his neurosis.

“It’s cheaper than therapy a lot of times. … The last HBO special kind of got into interesting aspects about the relapse. … I went to rehab in wine country just to keep my options open.”

It was one of his last television appearances.
— Kevin Brewer

April 30, 2014

Age [20] All-Star team

Forward | LeBron James [Cavaliers] 27.2 points, 7.4 rebounds, 7.2 assists, 49.9 2-point shooting, 35.1 3-point shooting, 75.0 free throw shooting, 2.2 steals. [2004-05]

Forward | Anthony Davis [Pelicans] 20.8 points, 10.0 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 52.2 2-point shooting, 79.1 free throw shooting, 2.8 blocks. [2013-14]

Center | Spencer Haywood [Rockets | ABA] 30.0 points, 19.5 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 49.6 2-point shooting, 77.6 free throw shooting. [1969-70]

Point guard | Magic Johnson [Lakers] 18.0 points, 7.7 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 54.0 2-point shooting, 81.0 free throw shooting, 2.4 steals. [1979-80]

Point guard | Chris Paul [Hornets] 16.1 points, 5.1 rebounds, 7.8 assists, 46.4 2-point shooting, 84.7 free throw shooting, 2.2 steals. [2005-06]


Forward | Chris Webber [Warriors] 17.5 points, 9.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 55.9 2-point shooting, 53.2 free throw shooting, 2.2 blocks. [1993-94]

Forward | Kevin Durant [Thunder] 25.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 48.6 2-point shooting, 42.2 3-point shooting, 86.3 free throw shooting. [2008-09]

Center | Shaquille O’Neal [Magic] 23.4 points, 13.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 56.3 2-point shooting, 59.2 free throw shooting, 3.5 blocks. [1992-93]

Guard | Kobe Bryant [Lakers] 19.9 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 49.4 2-point shooting, 83.9 free throw shooting. [1998-99]

Point guard | Kyrie Irving [Cavaliers] 22.5 points, 3.7 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 47.4 2-point shooting, 39.1 3-point shooting, 85.5 free throw shooting. | 59 games [2012-13]

Honorable mention | Andre Drummond [2013-14] Adrian Dantley [1976-77] Dwight Howard [2005-06] Elton Brand [1999-2000] Kevin Garnett [1996-97]

Rookies of the Year | Spencer Haywood [1970] Adrian Dantley [1977] Shaquille O’Neal [1993] Chris Webber [1994] Elton Brand [2000] Mike Miller [2001] Amare Stoudemire [2003] Chris Paul [2006] Derrick Rose [2009] Tyreke Evans [2010]

NBA Finals MVP | Magic Johnson [1980]
— Kevin Brewer