Bay Weekly Profile: Bill Cosby
Laugh with the Master as Calvert Marine Museum Gets Funny
by Margaret Tearman
Funny. Entertaining. Lovable. Brilliant. Controversial. Elitist. Generous. Bill Cosby - the man - has been called all these things, and more. Whatever your opinion of the man, there is little doubt that Bill Cosby - the entertainer - is one funny guy.
When Cosby brings his special brand of stand-up comedy to the Calvert Marine Museum's Waterside Concert Series on July 2, those lucky enough to snag tickets will meet Cosby the entertainer up close and personal.
The Making of a Funny Man
Born into a poor Philadelphia neighborhood on July 12, 1937, William H. Cosby Jr. has made a career of representing the ordinary. His humor involves trials and tribulations of everyday life - relationships, marriage and children. "He is Everyman and also his own man," Mel Gussow wrote in The New York Times. "A witty American humorist in complete touch with the source of his material: himself."
Cosby's father, a Navy mess steward, was largely absent from his daily life. Cosby's mother was the major influence and his first audience. He practiced his routines to her constant encouragement. As the oldest of four children, Cosby found plentiful material for comedy in his family.
"Because of my father, I thought my name was Jesus Christ," Cosby says in one of his well-known routines. "My brother Russell thought that his name was Damn It."
His grade-school classmates included pals Fat Albert, Old Weird Harold, Dumb Donald and Weasel, characters later immortalized in his comedy routines and the children's Saturday morning cartoon, Fat Albert.
Cosby didn't finish school, instead joining the Navy during 10th grade, earning his high school diploma via correspondence school while in the service. After his discharge, Cosby enrolled in Philadelphia's Temple University, planning to become a physical education instructor. To pay the bills, he worked by night as a bartender, finding his first audience for his comedic gift.
As word of his talent spread, he quit his job and left school to perform in New York City comedy clubs. His first stage appearance - for which he earned five dollars - was in a small room named The Cellar in the nightclub The Underground. There was no stage, so Cosby placed a chair on a table, climbed up and began his routine. In 1963, when Cosby landed a coveted guest spot on The Tonight Show, his journey into stardom had begun.
In 1965, the popular series I Spy introduced Cosby to television audiences as an actor. Debuting during the height of the civil rights movement, the series served as "balm for the jangled American psyche of the time," The New York Times reported. I Spy brought Cosby three Emmys and established his place in Hollywood.
TV's Greatest Dad
Over the next 15 years, Cosby made feature films, including Uptown Saturday Night, Mother, Jugs & Speed and California Suite. But it was his role as Dr. Cliff Huxtable on the hit TV sitcom The Cosby Show that made Cosby a household name. Portraying a strict yet loving father to a white-collar, upper-class family, Cosby broke through television racial stereotypes. In its June 20, 2004, issue, TV Guide ranked Cosby's character Dr. Huxtable Number One on its list of the 50 Greatest TV Dads of All Time.
From 1985 to 1987, the show broke viewing records. At its peak, The Cosby Show logged an estimated 70 million viewers. Its finale in 1992 was one of the highest rated shows of the season, featuring Cosby asking for peace in riot-torn Los Angeles following the Rodney King trial.
Cosby was busy, too, in his personal life. He married the former Camille Hanks on January 25, 1964, while she was a student at the University of Maryland. Together, they've raised five children. When speaking of Camille, Cosby has revised the saying Behind every good man, there's a good woman to Three miles ahead of every good man, there's a good woman. Totally involved in her husband's career, Camille has produced one of his albums and two concerts.
The success of The Cosby Show, two best-selling books, Fatherhood and Time Flies, and his role as the Jello-O spokesman established Cosby as a cultural icon. His lifelong contributions to American culture were recognized with a Kennedy Center Honor in 1998 and in July, 2002, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian honor.
Alongside professional triumphs, the Cosby's have endured personal tragedy. On January 16, 1997, their son, Ennis was killed while fixing a flat tire on the side of a Los Angeles Freeway. Only 27 years old, Ennis' violent death shocked the nation.
On the Serious Side
Bill and Camille Cosby are well known for their philanthropy, most notably with gifts in support of education and civil rights organizations. The value Cosby places on education is well known. He earned both master's and doctorate degrees in education from the University of Massachusetts. But his very public views on education and parental and personal responsibility have earned him both cheers and jeers.
On May 17, 2004, in a speech in D.C.'s Constitution Hall to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, Cosby's remarks startled some of his fans and sparked controversy. Speaking of the African-Americans who, in his opinion, don't take enough personal responsibility, Cosby said "Ladies and gentlemen, the lower economic people are not holding up their end in this deal. These people are not parenting. They are buying things for kids, $500 sneakers for what, and won't spend $200 for Hooked on Phonics. They're standing on the corner and they can't speak English. I can't even talk the way these people talk: 'Why you ain't,' 'Where you is.' ... And I blamed the kid until I heard the mother talk. And then I heard the father talk. ... Everybody knows it's important to speak English except these knuckleheads. ... You can't be a doctor with that kind of crap coming out of your mouth!"
In spite of criticism, Cosby is not backing down. "This is about little children and people not giving them better choices," he told CNN's Paula Zahn. "Talking. Parenting. Correctly parenting. That's what it's about."
In this role, he sounds like his TV character Cliff Huxtable, who told his TV son Theo, "I brought you into this world, and I can take you out of it." Nor does it seem that the real-life Cosby is about to change his tone, even if it costs him some of his popularity.
As he told Zahn, "Maya Angelou said, 'You know Bill, you're a very nice man, but you have a big mouth.'"
Cosby's response. "So I just want to be the big mouth and make them work, make them think."
Comedy Up Close and Personal
Fans coming to Calvert Marine Museum hoping to hear vintage Bill Cosby will not be disappointed. His comedy continues to define our roles as parents, children, family members, without resort to gimmickry or lowbrow humor.
"I feel that in-person contact with people is the most important thing in comedy," says Cosby in his biography. "While I'm up on stage, I can actually put myself into the audience and adjust my pace and timing to them. I can get into their heads through their ears and through their eyes. Only through this total communication can I really achieve what I'm trying to do."
There will be no opening act. Instead, he has asked the museum to play music from the CD, Hello, Friend: To Ennis With Love produced by Cosby as a tribute to his murdered son. Artists performing on the CD include jazz greats Lester Bowie and Philip Harper (trumpet), Bobby Watson (alto sax), Craig Handy (tenor sax), Peter Washington (bass) and Cedar Walton (piano).
Cosby's appearance is a departure from the usual musical performances featured by the Waterside Summer Series.
"We have wanted to bring comedy to our venue and feel there is no better way to kick off this expansion than by featuring the comedic genius of Bill Cosby" says the museum's Vanessa Gill.
As any fan will attest, much of Cosby's humor is in his facial expressions. So Calvert Marine Museum is making sure nobody misses an arched eyebrow or a pursed lip.
"For the first time," says Gill, "we will have two large-screen projection televisions and a live camera crew so that all seats will have a closeup view of Mr. Cosby."
The fun will begin even before Cosby steps on to the stage. Calvert Marine Museum shows its guests a good time at the Waterside Festival concerts. Local restaurants and chefs prepare and sell affordable entrees from pit beef tosushi, pizza to pastries. To quench your thirst, there's water, soda, wine or cold beer.
Come early, have a bite to eat, sip a cold one while mingling with friends and neighbors, and settle in for an evening of laughter on the waterfront.
Gates open 6pm; showtime 7:30pm. @ Calvert Marine Museum, Solomons. $55: 800-787-9454.
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Check out 174 libraries with Maryland's new 'lenticular' library card
by Erica Naone
Joao Santa-Rita plans to hit the beach this summer in Ocean City, and he's taking his Anne Arundel County library card with him. The card will flash ahead of him anywhere in Maryland. At the touch of the summer sun, the card's 'lenticular' technology transforms its Anne Arundel library logo to a scene of wide-open potential. "My Maryland Public Libraries know no boundaries," proclaims the card's red MPOWER logo, emblazoned over a shot of boats about to journey over Maryland water.
The card's bold words stand for high access and heavy-duty borrowing power. Every public library in Maryland honors it, and the card's dock and water scene cry out for adventuring bookworms who will sail into all 174 libraries.
Reading Without Boundaries
Photo caption: photo by Wendy Naone
Joao Santa-Rita's new MPOWER card allows him to check out - or return - books at any of 174 libraries across Maryland.
Santa-Rita, who moved to Annapolis in May and will start at St. John's College this fall, might be a match for the card. This surfing enthusiast has caught waves in places as far away as Portugal's Ribeira Díllhas. In Maryland, he plans to begin his explorations at the library, as well as at the beach.
"I'm definitely going to look for local maps, as well as books about Maryland's wildlife," he said. "I want to get books about the fish and birds I'll be seeing here."
Santa-Rita likes the flexibility of his new card on both ends. "It's nice to have the freedom to take something with me on a trip, finish it at my leisure, and drop it off there."
Mark Thomas, director of the Worcester County Public Library system, home to the Ocean City Library, says his system is "geared up" for the summer's flow of travelers like Santa-Rita. Of the million statewide cards already empowering readers, Thomas said, "We expect that, particularly in the summertime, we'll see way more presented in our system than we will ever issue.
"The thing I like about the new card is it makes it real obvious that it's statewide," Thomas said. "It makes a statement that we are a state that takes library use seriously, and we want to make it as easy as possible."
This sentiment is older than the two-month-old statewide card. Irene Padilla, assistant state superintendent for libraries, said statewide borrowing has been in place in Maryland for more than 25 years. The new cards, she said, were brought in with the help of the Maryland Department of Education to bolster awareness. The redesigned cards are part of a campaign to let people know they can borrow books (and more) from any library in Maryland, then return what they've borrowed to any library in Maryland.
With 3.2 million library card holders in the state, the statewide cards need to appeal to more than ocean lovers like Santa-Rita. The library system hired Metropolitan Group, a design firm with an office in Washington, D.C., to design seven different images for the card, so there could be images to appeal to people all over the state.
Six images showcase the natural beauty of Maryland. There is a harbor, a waterfront, a roadway, a farm, mountains and fall trees. The seventh choice is the Maryland flag. Santa-Rita's card is the harbor scene, an image only Anne Arundel County chose to use. Calvert and Somerset counties both chose the waterfront with pier, a choice they shared with Caroline, Kent, Wicomico and Worcester counties. The Maryland flag was the most popular image, chosen by six counties - Baltimore, Cecil, Charles, Prince George's, Queen Anne's and St. Mary's - as well as Baltimore city's Enoch Pratt Library.
Allegany, Garrett, Montgomery, Talbot and Washington counties chose the mountains. Carroll, Frederick and Harford counties chose the farm. Howard County was alone in choosing the image of a winding roadway, and Dorchester was unique in choosing the image of fall trees.
The cards are lenticular, which means they display two images when held up to the light. One is the statewide MPOWER image, the logo with one of the seven designs. The other is the logo for the county system that issued the card.
"The virtue of the lenticular card is it creates a cute look for the MPOWER card and at the same time allows the local jurisdictions to maintain their identity," said Karen Saverino-Donnelly, vice president of Metropolitan Group.
Maybe this helps people keep their bearings in the midst of all the traveling they're doing with the popular new cards. The first million cards have been going so fast since they became available in April that Padilla said Maryland Public Libraries is ordering another million.
For Santa-Rita, the MPOWER card will take him places even after summer trips to Ocean City have passed into fall trips to classes and lectures. He plans to visit the Annapolis library for movies and fun reading once the school year starts. The card may be a traveling companion through all of Maryland, but, like all library cards, the main journey it makes possible is into the imagination.
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