The Year of the Mask

I’ve got masks on the brain.  Actually my mask is technically on my face when I’m out in public. But surely the 2020 will come to be known as The Year of the Mask.

It’s been interesting to witness the rise of mask usage go from some people, to half the people to all the people I see on my daily trip to the grocery store.

A rapidly climbing death toll of 140,000 souls has a way of getting certain people’s attention. By certain people I mean everyone. Masks are now our way of life.  The new normal as some folks call it.  But it’s true.  The big question is for how long.  Forever?  Maybe?

With nowhere to go and nothing to do under quarrantine  I’ve been thinking a lot about where and when masks have intersected with my life.

 I have a black and white photo of me and my little sister Patty on Halloween.  I was around ten years old.  She’s dressed as Little Red Riding Hood.  I was Belfry the Bat in a plastic mask.  It was a kind of scary, but not really. It was a cheap, costume my mom bought at Zayres or Uncle Bill’s. I remember not being able to breathe real well in that thing and having a sweaty face.  That might have been my first mask.

My next encounter with a mask was with the television show “Zorro.”  The Disney-produced show ran from 1957 to 1959 and starred Guy Williams.  He played Don Diego, the foppish son of a wealthy Spanish California landowner.  By night he became the black clad, caped Zorro (Spanish for “fox”) an accomplished swordsman who left the letter Z with his rapier on anyone who oppressed the poor or downtrodden.

 They filmed 78 episodes of that show and I might have seen everyone twice in reruns. Some critics say Zorro was the inspiration for Batman and the similarities are there.  It was comical that his mask was so slight and still nobody could figure out who he was. That’s the magic of show biz.

Then in 1972 Rock Hall inductee Leon Russell wrote and recorded the song “This Masquerade” on his album “Carny”.  But in 1976 jazz guitarist and vocalist George Benson included it on his album “Breezin’” and it went through the roof becoming a top ten hit on the pop and R&B charts.  He won a Grammy that year that launched his career.

Cher’s movie career was relaunched in 1985 when she starred in movie called “Mask”. It was a biopic about a single mother and son played by Eric Stoltz, who had an Elephant Man-like deformity called lionites. It won her a Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Fest. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 93% rating today.

Jim Carrey starred in a movie in 1994 called “The Mask” that solidified his comedy career.  It’s about a mild-mannered banker who is transformed into a crazy, quasi super hero when he dons a strange mask.  It’s a hyperbolic, special effects laden romantic comedy.  It was also Cameron Diaz’s first film.  It’s completely nuts. But funny.

In the early 80’s I stumbled into my only experience with live comedy when visiting my cousin Johnny Lamb in Los Angeles. We picked up a three week gig at a place called The Masquers Club.  The Masquers Club was founded in 1925 by New York actors who had moved out West to be in movies. Their motto is “We laugh to win.”

Cousin John’s roommate at the time was hosting a weekly comedy show at the Masquers Club.  So John and I and his friend Phillip Combs put together some comedy sketches which we then performed on Monday nights for three weeks.

Our big hit was a bit about the Elephant Man John Merrick, hot off the success of his movie, auditioning for the role of James Bond.  Phillip had a pillowcase over his head with a peephole in it through with he would read the lines of his script.

“My name is Bond, James Bond,” Phillip would say with his egregious Elephant Man lisp.  It killed. The audience went crazy.  By the third week Kevin Nealon was opening for us.

A pillow case is kind of like a mask? Right?

Good times. Still laughing to win.

Stay safe.  See you next month.  Maybe without a mask.

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Volume 11, Issue 8, Posted 6:26 PM, 08.10.2020