What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
This movie is not on my list of essential films.
NOTE: This installment of Sports Analogies Hidden In Classic Movies was supposed to be done as part of something called the Second Disaster Blog-A-Thon being hosted by Pale Writer and yours truly here at Dubsism. Disaster films are all about how many ways to die, and many of them make for solid entertainment!
That was the concept behind Pale Writer and Dubsism teaming up to celebrate the “Disaster” movie in such a way as to allow you to be part of the action. The timing was intended to coincide with the birthday of the disaster movie king Irwin Allen, which happened on June 12th, 1916. The problem…as alluded to in my hiatus announcement…is that in the middle of this event, I overdid it by trying to find my own way to die.
Despite that, I still felt that making a serious attempt to shake off this mortal coil was no excuse not to complete a contribution to my own freakin’ event. The old saying is “better late than never,” and I’m going to do my level best to stick to that…at least until I’m the late J-Dub.
As for the aforementioned hiatus, that’s still in effect. If things go according to schedule, I’m planning to return in time for the college football gambling season. In the meantime, look forward to posts from some of our guest columnists.
But for today, you can see all the contributors to this blog-a-thon here:
When it comes to spoofs of disaster movies, 1980’s Airplane! is considered to be the “graddaddy of them all.” It was also the perfect capper to the 1970s, which was a decade obsessed with the big-budget, big-cast disaster flick. I was a kid then, and nothing grabbed the attention of a 10-year-old quite like this genre, which probably explains my fascination.
But there’s another “disaster” gem from the 1970s which gets overshadowed by Airplane!…and that’s a disaster in it’s own right. I’m guessing most of you have seen Airplane!, and likely have not seen The Big Bus.
You need to fix that.
When you do, you’re going to notice the makers of Airplane! saw this film, and were inspired by it. It starts with the quasi-sophomoric humor which is nevertheless pee-your-pants funny. I don’t care how old you are, “fart” jokes are never “not funny.” Surely you’ll see the artful use of “running gags” (and don’t call me Shirley). You also might just find the main characters a tad familiar.
There’s down-on-his-luck bus driver Dan Torrance (played by Joseph Bologna) who is struggling with his checkered past. That doesn’t sound like Ted Striker from Airplane! at all. Oh, part of Dan’s “checkered past” is a failed romance with Kitty Baxter (played by Stockard Channing). Kitty may not be a flight attendant, but she smacks of Elaine Dickinson.
Like all great “send-ups,” The Big Bus is a never-ending series of set-ups for loaded one-liners. My personal favorite comes from the fight scene in the bus driver’s bar; “Eat one lousy foot and they call you a cannibal!”
There’s almost no better scene as a straight -up homage to “disaster” movies than the moment the bus drivers Dan and “Shoulders” O’Brien (played by John Beck) pump thousands of gallons of soda into the rear galley as a weight-shift to keep the bus from plummeting off a cliff…and nearly drown Kitty in the process.
Last but certainly not least in terms of elements, you simply cannot have a “disaster” flicks without a huge cast of potential victims. Likewise, you can’t spoof a “disaster” movie without making those characters hilarious. The Big Bus carries quite the load in this department. The passenger list ranges from the Cranes, a couple waiting for their divorce to become final who are constantly at each throats (played by Sally Kellerman and Richard Mulligan), Dr. Kurtz the disgraced veterinarian (played by Bob Dishy), Emery Bush (played by Richard B. Shull) who is checking off “bucket list” items as he only has a few months to live, the priest in the process of losing his faith Father Kudos (played by René Auberjonois…whose character feels a lot like his “Father Mulcahy” from M*A*S*H). the embittered and razor-tongued fashion designer Camille Levy (played by Lynn Redgrave… whose character feels like like Gloria Swanson from Airport 1975…and whose father died in the “Mount Diablo” incident – keep that in mind as that’s really important in a bit). Starring in the luxurious piano bar is Tommy Joyce (played by Murphy Dunne, who will be immediately recognized by fans of The Blues Brothers).
Now, the one thing every “disaster” movie needs is a plot to get us to the actual disaster. The Big Bus centers on the Coyote Bus Lines company, and it’s ground-breaking Cyclops…a cutting-edge-of-technology, nuclear-powered “super bus” intended to achieve a first in bus history…non-stop service between New York City and Denver. However, there are those who do not want Cyclops to succeed.
As Cyclops is being readied for her maiden voyage, a saboteur’s bomb takes out both the drivers and critically injures the project’s chief scientist Professor Baxter (played by Harold Gould). The “super bus” itself is undamaged, but now Cyclops has no drivers.
As the professor’s daughter and Cyclops’ designer, Kitty has little choice but to turn to the only man thought to be able to handle the “super bus” with no time for training…the disgraced driver and former flame Dan Torrance. Dan was a “rock star” amongst bus drivers, but after a crash on the snow-bound Mount Diablo, he was accused of saving his own life by eating his passengers.
During a confrontation in a bus driver’s bar, Dan refutes the allegation by saying he did what the manual taught; he ate the floor mats, the seats and the luggage. He blamed his co-driver for the cannibalism; “that guy was eating people left and right!” Torrance admits to having eaten part of a foot, saying he was unaware of it’s presence in a stew made by his co-driver (hence my aforementioned favorite one-liner). Led by “Goldie” (played by Vic Tayback), Dan’s fellow bus driver’s reject his story and proceed to start a brawl. Not liking to see a guy be out-numbered, “Shoulders” O’Brien comes to Dan’s aid. The two become friends, and as one would expect, Dan and “Shoulders” become partners driving the maiden voyage of Cyclops.
Now, we need to go back to the people who want Cyclops to fail. This is a group of oil sheikhs led by an evil tycoon known only as “Ironman” (played by José Ferrer). The moniker comes from the most-prevalent “sight gag” in the film; he’s encased in an old-school iron lung. Despite that, he directs his brother and henchman Alex (played by Stuart Margolin) that Cyclops be destroyed with a bomb. However, Alex has a “pet project” to use a man-made earthquake, but “Ironman” does not believe that will completely destroy (and more importantly discredit) Cyclops.
Everything starts out according to plan. The passengers are enjoying Cyclops’ accoutrements, such as the bowling alley, the swimming pool, and the dining room. Dan and “Shoulders” put Cyclops through her paces, testing such functions as the automatic tire-changer, the self-washing system, and the overall performance of the “super bus” itself.
Dan declares “We’re breaking wind at 90!” when Cyclops punches through the 90-mile an hour barrier (don’t say you weren’t warned about “fart jokes”). But just as all looks to be a success, Dan discovers another bomb while he is checking on a mechanical issue. Dan diffuses the bomb, but as he’s doing so, an explosion rips through Cyclops.
They soon discover the “super bus” now has no braking ability. Despite that, Dan is determined to meet Cyclops’s historic goal to complete non-stop run to Denver. However, that means negotiating a windy mountain road where his father died. Don’t forget, Cyclops has no brakes. But as Dan figures out ways to slow the “super bus” and nearly succeeds navigating the treacherous road, a pick-up truck slams into Cyclops’ windshield (which I’m convinced is another homage to Airport 1975). The collision knocks the bus off the road, and Cyclops ends up teetering over a cliff. This leads to the aforementioned “Soda-Pumping” scene where Dan and “Shoulders” save Cyclops.
Realizing they are running out of time to destroy Cyclops, “Ironman” finally relents and lets Alex try his artificial earthquake. But being the boob he is, Alex mistakenly sets the coordinates for “Ironman’s” house. Now with all the threats seeming behind them, Dan, Kitty, “Shoulders,” and the passengers set out for the last 25 miles to Denver.
Do they make it? You’ll have to find out for yourself when you finally “fix” the fact you haven’t seen The Big Bus.
The Hidden Sports Analogy:
Americans love sports. That’s not really a secret. We love them so much, we simply can’t get enough of them. Maybe that’s why we invented something I like to call “sport-o-tainment.” That’s easiest way I can describe today’s hidden sports analogy. In an odd way, true “sport-o-tainment” shares a lot with parodies like The Big Bus; the most important being the ability to generate laughter that doesn’t come at somebody’s expense.
Think about what a balancing act that is. A movie like The Big Bus has to get you to laugh at the idea of people teetering on the brink of death. “Sport-o-tainment” involves people “playing” a sport not competitively, but for purposes of entertaining, all while sharing the playing field with competitors who are still trying to win.
The example which will immediately spring to the mind of most is the Harlem Globetrotters. If you’re my age, you remember them from their heyday on Wide World of Sports back in the 1970s. If that’s true, you also know their traditional opponents the Washington Generals are a team of honest-to-goodness basketball players who simultaneously must provide on-the-court competition and play “straight man” to the comedic stylings of the Globetrotters. If you are regular follower of this blog, you know to the competitive end, the Generals don’t always lose.
But what you may not know is there was another great example of “sport-o-tainment.” I’ve already detailed the themes shared by Airplane! and The Big Bus; in the same manner there’s a similarity between the Harlem Globetrotters and “The King and His Court.”
Just like nobody remembers The Big Bus, “King” Eddie Feigner and His Court are a forgotten piece of “sport-o-tainment” history, despite their clear comparisons to the Harlem Globetrotters.
Eddie “The King” Feigner spent the majority of his youth playing softball before serving in United States Marine Corps during the Second World War. Following his discharge in 1946, Feigner returned to his boyhood home in Walla Walla, Washington where he assembled his first four-man softball team. Even then, this team was known as the “The King and His Court.” This team began barnstorming the Pacific Northwest taking on all comers; traditional 9 and 10-man teams facing Feigner’s four.
At first, Feigner’s four was just Feigner himself. This was because he was such a dominating pitcher originally he was told nobody could hit his stuff, so to make it “fair” he was supposed to take on teams by himself. It didn’t take long to realize that a pitcher without a catcher doesn’t really work. Then two became three; a fielder was added for the occasional opponent who could make contact with Feigner’s fastball (which by some accounts was reported to be around 114 miles per hour, 10 miles per hour faster than Baseball Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan who notched 5,714 in his career – a record that likely will never be touched). It was the offensive side of the ball that necessitated turning the trio into a quartet; they realized if all three of the “King’s” men were on base, no one was left to bat.
As a foursome, “The King and His Court” consisted of a catcher, a first baseman, a shortstop, and Feigner firing the ball past anybody who was willing to step into the batter’s box. In no time, tales of the softball stylings of Feigner’s crew grew beyond the Pacific Northwest. By the end of the 1940s, “The King and His Court” were touring across the United States and Canada and rapidly becoming the largest attraction in the softball world.
Not only did the “The King and His Court” usually win by comfortable margins, but they quickly became known for performing “Globetrotter”-like tricks for softball. Crowds would pack softball diamonds across North America to see Feigner be unhittable, then continue to mow down all opponents pitching behind his back, chucking strikes from second base or the outfield, or while blindfolded. Despite the trickery, Feigner always insisted the intention was to entertain the crowds, never to embarrass opponents. He was often quoted as saying “when a man steps up to the plate, we have nothing but respect for him.”
One of Feigner’s most notable accomplishments came on February 18, 1967. In a celebrity charity softball game, Feigner faced a line-up including many Major League Baseball players stars of the time. “The King” reigned; Feigner struck out Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Brooks Robinson, Roberto Clemente, Harmon Killebrew, and Maury Wills. By the way, all of those guys are in the Baseball Hall of Fame…except Maury Wills…and he should be.
As a veteran of the U.S. Marines, Feigner often scheduled games against teams consisting of military personnel. To entertain the troops, these games took place on US. military bases all around the world; they even played on the decks of aircraft carriers. “The King and His Court” also were well-known for their support of military-related causes; they donated untold sums of money to charities. After Operation Desert Storm, they put supporting the military and their families as the primary cause to which they donated.
All tolled, “The King and His Court” played over 14,000 games in over 100 countries from 1946 through 2011. Feigner kept detailed records of all their games; they claim 9,743 pitching victories for “The King,” 141,517 strikeouts, 930 no-hitters, and 238 perfect games. The Washington Post described him as “the greatest softball pitcher who ever lived.”
“The King” was forced into retirement from the field in 2000 after suffering a stroke, but he still toured with the team, serving as master of ceremonies and storyteller/narrator during games until his death in 2007. After his passing, “The Court” continued touring, but it soon became clear that “The King” was the star of the show, and without him the crowds began to dwindle. They played their last game on August 27th, 2011, thus bringing to a close one of the great stories in the history of “sport-o-tainment.”
Feigner was inducted into the Baseball Reliquary’s Shrine of the Eternals in 2013. But in the most fitting tribute considering this discussion of parodies, “The King and His Court” were included in a 2006 episode of the animated Fox comedy King of the Hill entitled “You Gotta Believe (In Moderation).”
Thinly disguised as “The Ace of Diamonds and His Jewels,” this four-man softball team toured the country “Harlem Globetrotters”-style and featured softball stunts like “Ace” pitching blindfolded or from the outfield, and the team donates their share of the gate to charity.
It was just another way to show “The King and His Court” really were kings of the hill.
The Moral of the Story:
There’s no denying the intersection of sports and entertainment. Why do you think this blog exists?
P.S. While The Big Bus has a fully-loaded cast, keep an eye open for Larry “Anthony Nelson / J.R. Ewing” Hagman as one of the funniest characters in the film; “Parking Lot Doctor.”
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