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Cultural Passages: Fidrych, Kalas, Chambers

By admin Published: April 14, 2009

Monday's news included the deaths of pitcher Mark Fidrych, sportscaster Harry Kalas and porn star Marilyn Chambers. Notes after the jump.

Fidrych, pictured above, was praised in many discussions for bringing a sense of fun to baseball; it made sense to focus on that since his career was pretty brief. In my mind, he mingles with Boston's Bill "Spaceman" Lee; Fidrych's career overlapped Lee's, and both had an iconoclastic quality, though Fidrych's was a matter of style where Lee's was philosophical. Still, there were part of what now feels like a bygone period in baseball, a bridge between the stolid, corporate-machine years of the '50s and '60s and the zillionaire's game of today. Lee and Fidrych came across as guys you could just have a conversation with, or see as your neighbors. But they were different from the mainstream in ways that defined what used to be called "real characters," a description that doesn't fit as well today, when those characters are so well paid that their eccentricities come across as arrogant and unrealistic. Put it another way: Manny Ramirez.

Harry Kalas, meanwhile, was an icon in Philadelphia, so I didn't know his work as a sportscaster as much as I knew his voice from NFL Films and commercials. As a story in the Philadelphia Inquirer noted:

Kalas had a long list of commercial credits, too. He used to joke about the Campbell's Soup commercials with the baseball beat writers. "Ca-ching, ca-ching," he'd say with a wry smile, comically explaining how each commercial meant more money in the Kalas bank account.

He also did commercials for Coors Light, General Motors, and countless other products over his career. He had done recent work for the Animal Planet Network on something called the Puppy Bowl. He also did narrative voice-overs at the Philadelphia mint and the Gateway Arch in St. Louis.

But the story also recalls his long association with NFL Films, a real bastion of Philadelphians. John Facenda, whom I remember watching as a Philly newscaster when I was in college, was indeed the voice of God in those NFL productions. The company's Steve Sabol explained the difference to the Inquirer this way:

Facenda was the voice of God. Harry Kalas was the voice of the people. Harry wasn't a class act because there was no act with Harry. He could sell anything with that voice, and he did. em>

Then there's Chambers, and a rather sad tale. Yes, she became a pop-culture name thanks to her appearance in "Behind the Green Door," and its juxtaposition with her having modeled for Ivory Snow. Her girl-next-door allure -- reminiscent of Cybill Shepherd -- was unusual in porn, and it suggested that adult films could be designed for mainstream audiences. But whatever you think of the erotic content, "Green Door" had a repellent underpinning in its abduction/rape fantasy.

To be sure, Chambers was an impressive presence, and she tried to take advantage of her time in the pop-culture spotlight. Still, however much she may have longed for more mainstream roles, she also proved to be a so-so actress at best. Her hold on the spotlight was based on an ever-more distant moment. ("Green Door" is now more than 35 years old.) In 1977, she told columnist Marilyn Beck she was done with hardcore movies. Three years later, she was in another one. In the '80s, her sources of income included strip-club appearances in Cleveland.

She commanded $15 a ticket for a half-hour show in 1980. A couple of Beacon Journal reporters made pilgrimages to her shows and wrote about them. But she was still stripping. She may have what one observed dubbed "porno immortality," and that may be fine for some performers. Chambers appeared to want something more, and her choice of career path didn't take her there.

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