Thursday, 17 August 2017

The Great Movie Ride Closes

After 28 years in operation, the Great Movie Ride at Disney's Hollywood Studios in Florida has closed. It opened on May 1 1989. For those unfamiliar with the ride, it used a combination of animatronics, projections, sets, and live actors to recreate scenes from classic movies. It was in 2014 that Turner Classic Movies became a sponsor of the Great Movie Ride. After this there would be a pre-show introduction, narration, and a post-show featuring the legendary Robert Osborne. Sadly, the Great Movie Ride closed on August 13 2017 to make way for a new ride, Mickey & Minnie's Runaway Railway.

I must admit that I am saddened by the closing of the Great Movie Ride. I have never been to any of Disney's theme parks and it was the one ride I really wanted to experience. Over the years I have known several people who have gone on the ride and all of them loved it. I have even known a few people whose love of classic films was spurred by the Classic Movie Ride. I am honestly disappointed that now it looks like I will never experience the ride unless they somehow bring it back. I can' see being nearly as enthusiastic about Mickey & Minnie's Runaway Railway....

Regardless, the Great Movie Ride provided some fond memories for many people I know and inspired yet others to become classic film buffs. It is sad to see it go. 

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Lionel Barrymore in Key Largo (1948)

Key Largo (1948) numbers among Lionel Barrymore's most famous films. In it he played the role of crotchety but spirited hotel owner James Temple. Mr.Temple is a man with such backbone that he is even willing to stand up to the brutal gangster Johnny Rocco (played by Edward G. Robinson).

Key Largo was very loosely based on the play of the same name by Maxwell Anderson. In fact, the film owed very little to the play, The names of the characters and even their backgrounds were changed for the movie, as well as the setting, to the point that the movie is very nearly an entirely original creation. Regardless, Key Largo received largely positive reviews. It also did very well at the box office. Claire Trevor won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Gaye Dawn, Rocco's moll. The film was also nominated for the Writers Guild of America's award for Best Written American Drama.

As in nearly of all of Mr. Barrymore's made after 1938, he plays nearly all of Key Largo in a wheelchair. His arthritis has often been given as the reason that he was confined to a wheelchair for the last part of his career, but in fact it would appear to be two accidents he had in the Thirties. The first occurred in 1936 when a drawing table fell on him, breaking his hip. The second occurred in 1937 when he tripped over a cable, again breaking his hip. In 1951 Lionel Barrymore said that it was twice breaking his hip that confined him to a wheelchair. Quite simply, it made walking very difficult.

The fact that Lionel Barrymore had difficulty walking makes one scene in Key Largo particularly dramatic and demonstrates just how great an actor Mr. Barrymore was. In one scene Mr. Barrymore gets up from his wheelchair in an attempt to punch at Rocco's henchman Toots (played by Harry Lewis), falling in doing so. Given Lionel Barrymore's condition at the time, there can be no doubt that this was a difficult scene for him to shoot.

That having been said, the scene also sums up the character of James Temple. James Temple is cantankerous and a bit rowdy, but for the most part lovable. Indeed, he is so respected by everyone that he has more influence with the local Seminoles than the sheriff's department does. That having been said, he would also seem to have a will of iron.  In addition to taking a swing at Totos, James Temple also issues a stream of insults towards Rocco not long after the gangster's arrival, full well knowing Rocco could simply shoot him.

In many respects, James Temple was a variation on the sorts of roles Lionel Barrymore primarily played throughout his career, that of lovable but irascible characters. He was Grandpa Martin Vanderhof in You Can't Take It With You (1938), Dr. Gillespie in the "Dr. Kildare" movies,and he originated the role of Judge Hardy in A Family Affair (1937), the film that sparked the "Andy Hardy" series (in the series the role would be played by Lewis Stone). In some ways James Temple is Grandpa Vanderhof or Dr. Gillespie if they came face to face with gangsters in their own homes. One can rather picture any of these characters shouting insults at the gangsters and even taking a swing at them!

Lionel Barrymore was part of an incredible cast that included Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, Lauren Bacall, and Claire Trevor. And like the rest of the cast, Lionel Barrymore gave a great performance in Key Largo. There should be little wonder it remains among his most famous films.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

My First Smart Phone

For most of the past eleven years I only ever owned one mobile phone. It was a Nokia 6230i. Unfortunately it was a few weeks ago that I noticed that its battery was running down faster and faster. I concluded that it was about time I got a new phone. Unfortunately, I liked none of the standard mobile phones that my carrier sells. It seemed as if they were all cheap looking flip phones. Indeed, my sister had bought one for $89 and it didn't even have a camera. I then decided I would have to get a smart phone. I went ahead and got a Samsung Galaxy J3. It has sufficient memory and storage for my purposes. More importantly it was affordable.

Despite being one of the more inexpensive Samsung Galaxy phones, I have to say that I am impressed with the J3. It is much faster than my Amazon Kindle Fire (which sometimes seems to move as slow as molasses). It also came with some useful apps. Gallery is exactly what it sounds like. It is a photo viewing app with some capacity for editing. Optimize is an app that shuts down unnecessary apps that are running. It also came with Accuweather, which is my weather app of choice on my Amazon Fire.  It came with several Google apps, although I can say with some certainty I will never use Google Photos or Duo. I would have rather had Google+ and Hangouts instead.  Of course, I installed Google+ and Instagram right away, as well as some of my other favourite apps. I installed Facebook so I could easily upload photos taken with the phone, but not Messenger (I don't even have Messenger installed on my Amazon Kindle Fire).  Here I must note that Facebook has never been one of my favourite apps.

One cool thing about this new phone is that since both my TV and my phone are Samsungs, I can mirror things from my phone to the TV. This could come in useful if I ever want to stream anything to the television set or if I want to look at photos on the phone on a bigger screen.

I have to say that I am impressed with the Samsung Galaxy J3's camera. It is not necessarily anything incredible. It does have some trouble in low light as many digital cameras do, but it is superior to my old Nokia's camera and the Kindle Fire's as well. I can take photos much faster than with the two older devices. And it has a flash, which is something I have had on none of my other devices other than the digital camera. At any rate, the photos I have taken with it look much better than the photos I took with the old phone or the Kindle.

Of course, I do have one complaint about the Samsung Galaxy J3. There seems to be no way to turn off badge notifications for specific apps. Many apps, such as Twitter, allow you to turn them off. Unfortunately, Facebook does not. I am hoping either Facebook will do an update where they will allow one to shut down badge notifications or that there will be an Android update that allows one to do so.

Anyway, so far I have primarily used my new phone for phone calls, texting, and Instagram. I have played around with some other apps (such as Gallery and Prisma). I don't think I'll ever be one of those people addicted to his smart phone, but I must admit it is mice to have one.

Monday, 14 August 2017

American Patriotic Superheroes of the Forties

On September 1 1939 Nazi Germany invaded Poland. It was on September 3 1939, after Nazi Germany ignored a demand from the United Kingdom to withdraw troops from Poland, that the United Kingdom, France, and Australia declared war on Nazi Germany. In the United States the majority of Americans opposed the nation entering the war. It would not be until December 8 1941, after Japan's attack on Pearl Harbour the previous day, that the United States would enter World War II. They would declare war on Nazi Germany a few days later, on December 11 1941.

While the United States would not enter World War II until 1941, a majority of Americans were hostile towards Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. And while a majority of Americans still favoured a course of non-interventionism, there were those who thought the United States should enter the war against Nazi Germany. It should then come as no surprised that patriotically themed superheroes began appearing in American comic books well before the U.S. entered World War II or that there would be a plethora of them following the nation's entry into the war. Strangely enough, the most popular patriotic superheroes with the most longevity all appeared before the United States entered the war.

Indeed, the first patriotically themed superhero appeared nearly two years before the attack on Pearl Harbour. The Shield was the creation of writer Harry Shorten and artist Irv Novick. He first appeared in Pep Comics #1 (January 1940), published by MLJ Comics (the company that would later become Archie Comics). The Shield was chemistry student Joe Higgins, the son of Lieutenant Tom Higgins, who was working on a formula that would give people super-strength for the United States military. Unfortunately, the Nazis wanted the formula and killed Tom in an act of sabotage. Joe continued to develop the formula on his own and, once completed, used it on himself. He then took to fighting crime and the enemies of America as The Shield, dressed in a suitably patriotic costume.

The Shield proved to be MLJ's most popular superhero. He was featured on the cover of Pep Comics for several years. With Pep Comics #15 May 1941 he received his own fan club, the Shield G-Man Club. From summer 1940 to winter 1944 he also shared his own title with another superhero, The Wizard: Shield-Wizard Comics. Unfortunately for The Shield, the popularity of teen humour character Archie was such that Archie eventually forced The Shield entirely off the covers of Pep Comics with issue #51 (December 1944). The Shield would continue for another four years in the pages of Pep Comics before ending his original run in 1948.

The Shield would not remain the only patriotically themed superhero for long. As a national personification of the United States, Uncle Sam has existed since around 1810. It was legendary comic book artist and writer Will Eisner who took Uncle Sam and turned him into a superhero. Uncle Sam first appeared in National Comics #1 (July 1940), published by Quality Comics. Uncle Sam was the spirit of a slain Revolutionary War soldier who returned any time his country was in need of him. He proved to be a fairly popular character and received his own magazine, Uncle Sam Quarterly in September 1941. Uncle Sam would continue to appear in the pages of National Comics until #45 1944. His own magazine, Uncle Sam Quarterly, continued for 8 issues until September 1943, after which it was renamed Blackhawk and given over to another wartime hero.

While the superhero Uncle Sam has largely been forgotten by all but comic books fans, Captain America would become the second most famous and second most popular patriotic superhero after Wonder Woman. Created by the legendary team of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, the character would appear to owe a little bit to the original patriotic superhero, The Shield. Captain America was Steve Rogers, a tall, frail, young man born to a poor family on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Disturbed by the rise of Nazi Germany, he tried to enlist in the United States Army but was rejected as being too thin. Steve then volunteered as a test subject for a top secret project that would transform him into a super-soldier. Injected with a special serum, Steve Rogers found he had super-strenghth and enhanced reflexes. He then became Captain America, fighting the Axis powers in a red, white, and blue costume. He was equipped with a bullet-proof shield.

Captain America's original shield would create a bit of conflict with John Goldwater of MLJ Comics, who thought the shield bore too close a resemblance to their character The Shield's breastplate on his costume. Martin Goodman, publisher of the company that would evolve into the modern day Marvel Comics, then had Joe Simon and Jack Kirby redesign Cap's shield. The end result was the circular shield used by Captain America today.

Captain America was introduced in his very own title, Captain America Comics #1 (March 1941). That same issue marked the first appearance of his archenemy, The Red Skull. Originally The Red Skull was an American Nazi sympathiser, George Maxon, owner of Maxon Aircraft Company. In Captain America Comics #7 (October 1941), however, it was revealed that Maxon was merely a pawn of the real Red Skull, a Nazi agent named Johann Schmidt.

Captain America proved phenomenally popular, but the character also proved to be a source of controversy. At the time Captain America first appeared the United States was several months away from declaring war on Nazi Germany. The cover of the first issue featured Captain America punching Adolph Hitler. While they were a minority at the time, there were Nazi sympathisers in the United States in 1941 and they were angry about this new patriotic superhero. The offices of Timely Comics were inundated with angry letters and hateful phone calls. Eventually suspicious, threatening-looking men were seen outside their offices, to the point that employees were afraid to go out for lunch. The threats were reported to the NYPD and soon the offices of Timely were being patrolled by New York City cops. It was not long after the police guard had arrived that Timely Comics received a call from Mayor Fiorello La Guardia himself. He spoke on the phone to Joe Simon, telling him, "You boys over there are doing a good job. The City of New York will see that no harm will come to you."

Captain America proved to be Timely Comics' most popular character and one of the most popular characters of the Golden Age. Although it drew little from the comic book, there was even a 1944 Republic serial. Captain America would end his original run in 1948. After an unsuccessful revival attempt in 1954, Captain America was brought back in 1964 and has remained around ever since.

Although never as popular as Captain America, The Star-Spangled Kid and Stripsey would see a good deal of success in the Golden Age. The Star-Spangled Kid was Sylvester Pemberton, a young man of some wealth. One night he went to the cinema where Nazi sympathisers were so upset by a film's patriotic theme that they started a riot. Sylvester Pemberton, along with mechanic Pat Dugan, helped stop the riot. The two of them eventually decided to fight such threats to America as The Star Spangled Kid and Stripesy, with Pat Duggan going to work as Sylvester's family's chauffeur. The two relied on superb martial arts skills and a few gadgets, as well as their specially made limousine the Star Rocket Racer, to battle the forces of evil. They were unique in being a teenage hero with an adult sidekick.

The Star-Spangled Kid and Stripesy first appeared in Action Comics #40 (September 1941) before regularly appearing in Star-Spangled Comics on a regular basis. The characters were created by writer Jerry Siegel (most famous as co-creator of Superman) and artist Hal Sherman. The Star-Spangled Kid and Stripesy were featured on the covers of Star-Spangled Comics until #7 (April 1942), when the Newsboy Legion (created by Jack Simon and Jack Kirby) took over. That having been said, they continued to appear in the pages of Star-Spangled Comics until #86 (November 1948).  The two of them joined the Seven Soldiers of Victory, the second superhero team published by one of the companies that would become DC Comics (the first being the first ever superhero team, the Justice Society of America). They first appeared with the Seven Soldiers of Victory in Leading Comics #1 (December 1941) and continued to appear until Leading Comics #14 (March 1945), after which the title switched to a funny animal format.

The Fighting Yank also made his first appearance in a comic book with a cover date of September 1941. He first appeared in Startling Comics #10, published by Nedor. He was created by writer Richard E. Hughes and artist Jon L. Blummer. The Fighting Yank was Bruce Carter III, who was visited by the ghost of his ancestor Bruce Carter I, a veteran of the Revolutionary War. Bruce Carter I directed him to a magic cloak that gave the wearer super-strength and invulnerability. Bruce Cabot III then became The Fighting Yank, outfitted in a Revolutionary War inspired costume, complete with a tri-corner hat. The Fighting Yank proved fairly successful. He received his own title with Fighting Yank #1 (September 1942). He continued to appear in various Nedor titles until 1949.

By far the most popular patriotic superhero of all time made her first appearance only a little over a month before the attack on Pearl Harbour.  Wonder Woman first appeared in a back-up story in All-Star Comics #8 (December 1941). Wonder Woman was Diana, Princess of the Amazons.  Steve Trevor of U.S. Army Intelligence crashed on Paradise Island, home of the Amazons. Nursing Steve back to health, Diana fell in love with him. Having learned of the threat of Nazism, Queen Hippolyta  of the Amazons decreed that an Amazon should accompany Steve Trevor back to the United States to help fight the Nazis. Unfortunately, Hippolyta also forbade her daughter, Diana, to participate in the tournament that would decide who should go back to the U.S. with Steve Trevor. Diana then donned a mask in order to take part in the tournament. Winning the tournament, Diana then won the right to accompany Steve Trevor back to the United States. She was then given her patriotic costume and the name "Wonder Woman".

While Wonder Woman has since drifted away from her patriotic roots (in the Eighties the eagle that originally formed part of her costume would be replaced by a stylised "WW"), during World War II she was very much a patriotic character. Among her opponents in the Golden Age were Nazi spy and saboteur Baroness Paula von Gunther. In addition to supervillains, it was not unusual for Wonder Woman to tackle spies and saboteurs during World War II.

Regardless, Wonder Woman would prove phenomenally popular during the Golden Age. In fact, she became one of the only superheroes besides Superman and Batman to be published continuously since the Golden Age. She would be adapted to television, animated cartoons, and, most recently, a feature film. Although not tied to patriotism as closely as she once was, Wonder Woman would appear to be the most successful patriotically themed superhero of all time.

These aren't the only patriotically themed superheroes to appear during the Golden Age of  Comic Books. There were a few others who appeared before the United States had entered the war and several others who appeared after the U.S. had entered World War II. In fact, comic books cover dated August 1941 produced several  patriotic superheroes, including Miss America (Quality), Miss Victory (Holyoke), U.S. Jones (Fox), and American Crusader (Nedor). Among the other well-known patriotic heroes of the Golden Age were Minute-Man (Fawcett), Captain Battle (Lev Gleason), Mr. America (DC Comics), Captain Flag (MLJ), Liberator (Nedor), and Liberty Belle (DC Comics). There were yet others, some of whose lifespans were measured in months.

Patriotically themed superheroes served an important purpose during World War II. Like many films from the era, they served to boost morale, both at home and in the various theatres of the war. Even superheroes without a patriotic theme often found themselves battling Nazis or the Japanese during the war, including such big names as Batman and Superman. During what was perhaps the bloodiest struggle in the history of humanity, superheroes did their part.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

"Unchained Melody"

"Unchained Melody" is one of the most recorded songs of all time. In fact, there have been over 1500 recordings of the song. The Righteous Brothers' version went to no. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and remains so popular that many people probably think the song originated with them. What is often forgotten is that "Unchained Melody" originated with a movie.

"Unchained Melody" was written by composer Alex Noth and lyricist Hy Zaret for the film Unchained (1955). Unchained was a somewhat forgettable prison film most notable for featuring Barbara Hale (later of Perry Mason) and Jerry Paris (later of The Dick Van Dyke Show). The fact that "Unchained Melody" originated with the film not only explains its rather unusual title, but also its lyrics. The lyrics are sung from the point of view of someone who is separated from the one he loves (quite simply, he is in prison).

While Unchained was somewhat forgettable, "Unchained Melody" certainly was not. In the film it was sung by Todd Duncan. In 1955, the year Unchained was released, three different versions of the song reached the top ten of the Billboard singles chart (ones by Lex Baxter, Roy Hamilton, and Al Hibbler). Lex Baxter's version hit number one on the Billboard singles chart. Given the song's popularity, it should come as no surprise that "Unchained Melody" was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song. It might come as a surprise that it actually lost the award, but then it must be considered that it lost to another well known standard, "Love is a Many Splendoured Thing" (from the film of the same name).

For those who have never heard it, here is the very original version, sung by Todd Duncan, in a scene from Unchained.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Rural Variety Shows of the Late Sixties

In the late Sixties American television saw a cycle of variety shows on the networks that appealed primarily to a rural audience. Of course, this was nothing new.  Country music variety shows appeared on American television fairly early in its history, These included Midwestern Hayride on NBC, The Windy City Jamboree and The Old American Barn Dance on DuMont, and Ozark Jubileee on ABC.  As the Fifties progressed two of country music's biggest stars had successful variety shows. The Ford Show, Starring Tennessee Ernie Ford ran from 1956 to 1961. Country music singer Jimmy Dean was the host of three different national variety shows. The first aired on CBS as a summer replacement show in 1957. The second aired  in the daytime from 1958 to 1959. A third Jimmy Dean Show aired on ABC from 1963 to 1966 (it would be notable for featuring Rowlf the Dog, making him the first Muppet to have a regular spot on a network TV series).  Of course, not all variety shows that appealed to rural audiences were necessarily centred on country music. Comedian Red Skelton, whose variety show ran from 1951 to 1971, appealed primarily to country folk.

While rural sitcoms dominated most of the decade, for the most part rural variety shows were not to be found on the networks in the Sixties with the exception of The Jimmy Dean Show. All of this would change as the decade was nearing its close, when all three networks would debut several rural variety shows in a little over a two year period. Sadly for fans of these shows, they would disappear from the airwaves even more quickly.

Given that many of the shows were either summer replacement series or began life as such, the show that started the cycle was a summer replacement series. The Summer Brothers Smothers Show debuted on June 23 1968 as a summer replacement for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour on CBS. It was hosted by Glen Campbell, then an up and coming country singer who was experiencing his first taste of success with such singles as "Gentle on My Mind" and "By the Time I Get to Phoenix". For its guests the show featured a mix of country singers and more mainstream artists. Among the country artists who appeared on the show were Johnny Cash, Lee Hazlewood, and Bobbie Gentry. Among the more mainstream artists were Judy Collins, Cream, Lulu, and Nancy Sinatra.

The Summers Brothers Smothers Show proved extremely popular, so that it led to Glen Campbell receiving his own variety show. The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour debuted as a mid-season replacement on January 29 1969. It proved very popular, ranking no. 15 in its first season. Like The Summer Brothers Smothers Show, it featured a mix of country singers and more mainstream artists. An example of the eclectic mix of artists that appeared on The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour is the show's second edition, on which both country singer Jeannie C. Riley and rock group The Monkees appeared. During its run it featured such musical artists as Stevie Wonder, Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Roy Rogers, and Dale Evans, Liza Minnelli, The 5th Dimension, and Tom Jones. The promotional clips for The Beatles' songs "Get Back" and "Don't Let Me Down" aired on the show on April 30 1969.

It was a mark of the popularity of The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour with younger viewers that it was one of the very few shows with rural appeal to survive the Rural Purge of 1971. Unfortunately, its ratings would drop in its later seasons. After four seasons The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour ended its run on June 13 1972.

In the wake of the success of The Summer Brothers Smothers Hour no less than two variety shows with appeal for rural audiences debuted in the 1969. The first starred one of the most legendary American singers of the 20th Century, Johnny Cash and his wife June Carter. The Johnny Cash Show debuted on June 7 1969 on ABC. Like The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, The Johnny Cash Show featured both country artists and more mainstream music artists. During the run of the show such acts as Cass Elliot, Pete Seeger, Dusty Springfield, Roy Orbison, Roger Miller, Chet Atkins, Lulu, The Monkees, Joni Mitchell, and Bob Dylan appeared on the show. The Johnny Cash Show was popular enough to receive a berth in ABC's fall schedule and it would run for a second season. Unfortunately, it would also be one of the many victims of the Rural Purge in 1971. Its last original edition aired on March 31 1971.

The second rural variety show to debut in the summer of 1969 may well be the most successful country music show of all time. Hee Haw debuted on CBS on June 15 1969. It was essentially a countrified version of Laugh-In, with an ensemble casts, two hosts (Buck Owens and Roy Clark), and comedy sketches. It parted ways with Laugh-In in that it also had musical guests. What is more, it differed from both The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour and The Johnny Cash Show in that music artists appearing on the show were exclusively country artists.

Hee Haw proved immensely popular as a summer replacement show, so much so that it earned place on CBS's 1969 fall schedule. For its second season it ranked no. 20 out of all the shows on the air. For its third season it performed even better, coming in at no. 16 for the year. Unfortunately it would not be enough to save Hee Haw from the Rural Purge. It was cancelled during the 1970-1971 season, becoming one of the highest rated shows ever to be cancelled. This would not mean the end for Hee Haw, as it entered first run syndication in the fall of 1971 where it remained for an additional 21 years.

Most of the rural variety shows of the late Sixties were hosted by country singers. This was not the case with the next rural variety show to debut. The Jim Nabors Hour debuted on CBS on September 26 1969. It was hosted by Jim Nabors, an actor and singer then best known for his portrayal of the character of Gomer Pyle on both The Andy Griffith Show and Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C. Indeed, both Frank Sutton and  Ronnie Schnell from Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C. were part of the show's cast. As a show starring an actor best known for a character from two rural sitcoms, The Jim Nabors Hour would obviously appeal to country folk. It should then come as no surprise that the show featured its share of country artists, including Bobbie Gentry, Glen Campbell, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Johnny Cash, Eddy Arnold, and Roger Miller. The Jim Nabors Hour proved fairly popular. For its first season it ranked no. 12. Its ratings dropped in its second season, but it still ranked a very respectable no. 29 for the year. Unfortunately, this was not enough to save it from cancellation in the wake of the Rural Purge.

The Jim Nabors Hour would be the last major rural variety show to debut in the cycle. The next two to debut would be summer replacement shows.  The Ray Stevens Show debuted on June 20 1970 on NBC. It was hosted by country and novelty singer Ray Stevens. Among its regulars were pop singers Lulu and Cass Elliot. Perhaps because Ray Stevens was then known primarily as a novelty singer rather than a country singer, it had a considerable emphasis on comedy. Curiously, Johnny Cash was the only country music artist to be a guest on the show.

The Everly Brothers Show was a summer replacement series for The Johnny Cash Show hosted by the Everly Brothers. It featured a wide variety of music artists in its short run, including country singers (Marty Robbins, The Statler Brothers, Doug Kershaw, and so on) and mainstream artists (Arlo Guthrie, Neil Diamond, Bobby Sherman, and so on). It debuted on ABC on July 8 1970 and ended its run on September 9 1970.

The Everly Brothers Show would be the last rural variety show to debut in the cycle. As it was the days of any show that appealed to the a rural audience in any genre were numbered. The 1970-1971 season saw the Rural Purge, essentially a mass cancellation of any shows that appealed to rural or older audiences. It is a myth that the networks only discovered demographics in the late Sixties, but by the 1970-1971 they came to dominate the television industry in a way that they never had before. In particular, CBS, who had aired so many shows with rural appeal that it was nicknamed "the Country Broadcasting System", wanted to rid itself of as many rural shows as possible.

In the wake of the Rural Purge, the networks would spend much of the Seventies pursuing young, urban audiences much more than they had in the past. Only a few rural variety shows would air after the Rural Purge. In 1973 the summer replacement for The Dean Martin Show was Dean Martin Presents Music Country, a country music programme. From 1974 to 1976 country singer Mac Davis had his own show on NBC, The Mac Davis Show. In 1980 the variety Show Barbara Mandrell and the Madrell Sisters, hosted by country singer Barbara Mandrell and her two sisters, debuted on NBC. It proved a success and ran until 1982. Among other reasons it ended its run because, with her busy schedule, Barbara Mandrell was suffering from vocal strain.

Of course, while rural variety shows were rare in the Seventies, variety shows of any sort went into decline during the decade. At the start of the 1970-1971 season around 15 different variety shows were on the air. At the start of the 1980-1981 season there were only two. Eventually variety shows would disappear entirely from networks schedules. When Dolly, starring Dolly Parton, debuted in September 1987 on ABC it was not simply the first rural variety show in some time, it was the first variety show of any kind in some time. It lasted only a single season. It seems unlikely that there ever will be another time like the late Sixties when several rural variety shows debuted in a short space of time.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Godspeed Glen Campbell

Singer and actor Glen Campbell died yesterday, August 8 2017, at the age 81. The cause was Alzheimer's disease.

Glen Campbell was born on April 22 1936 in Billstown, Arkansas. His parents were share croppers and he was the seventh of twelve children. He started playing guitar when he was four years old after his uncle gave him a five dollar Sears guitar as a present. He was only six years old when he started playing on local radio stations. He dropped out of school when he was only 14 to work in Houston with his brothers. He installed installation and later worked at a gas station. He started playing guitar at church picnics and various fairs before playing at local radio stations. He was 17 years old when he joined his uncle's band, Dick Bills and the Sandia Mountain Boys, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He played on his uncle's radio show and also on the children's show K Circle B Time on the TV station KOB. It was in 1958 that he formed his own band, The Western Wranglers.

It was in 1960 that Glen Campbell moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career as a session musician. It was in October of that year that he joined the rock band The Champs. He remained part of the band's line-up for about a year. In 1961 he went to work for music publishing company American Music, where he wrote songs and recorded demos. It was these demos that would lead to Glen Campbell becoming part of the legendary group of session musicians that would later become known as the Wrecking Crew.

Glen Campbell would remain a part of the Wrecking Crew for the next several years. As part of the group he played guitar on literally hundreds of songs, including 'Hello Mary Lou" by Ricky Nelson, "Surf City" by Jan & Dean, "I Get Around" by The Beach Boys, "Dang Me" by Roger Miller, "You've Lost That Loving Feeeling" by The Righteous Brothers, "Strangers in the Night" by Frank Sinatra, and "Mary Mary" by The Monkees.

It was in 1961 that Glen Campbell was signed as a solo artist to Crest Records. His first single, "Turn Around, Look at Me", was released that same year. The following year he signed with Capitol Records. His first single for Capitol was "Too Late to Worry, Too Blue to Cry". Over the next few years he would meet with some success on the country music charts. His single "Kentucky Means Paradise" reached no. 20 on the chart in 1962, while "Burning Bridges" reached no. 18 in 1966. He had a minor crossover hit with his version of "Universal Soldier", which peaked at no. 45 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1965.

It was in 1967 that Mr. Campbell had his first major hit, "By the Time I Get to Phoenix". It peaked at no. 2 on the country chart and no. 26 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1967. In 1968 he had a bigger hit with "Wichita Lineman", which went to no. 1 on the country chart and no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. In 1969 he had another major hit with "Galveston", which went to no. 1 on the country chart and no. 4 on the Billboardi Hot 100. From 1969 to 1972 Mr. Campbell would have several more hits, some of which not only did well on the country chart, but the Billboard Hot 100 as well.

Glen Campbell's career would go into a slight decline in 1972, but would be revitalised in 1975 with the song "Rhinestone Cowboy", which went to no. 1 on both the country chart and the Billboard Hot 100. It would be followed by several more crossover hits, one of which, "Southern Nights", also went to no. 1 on both the country chart and the Billboard Hot 100. Afterwards Glen Campbell did well on the country charts, with a few singles occasionally crossing over to the Billboard Hot 100.

Following his Alzheimer's diagnosis, Glen Campbell went on a final farewell tour that ended in 2012. The tour was documented in the documentary Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me. His last single, "Adios", was released just this year. Throughout his career he released around 60 albums.

Glen Campbell also had a career on film and in television. He made his film debut in an uncredited role as a member of a band in Baby the Rain Must Fall (1965). He went onto appear in the films The Cool Ones (1967), True Grit (1969), Norwood (1970), Any Which Way You Can (1980), and Uphill All the Way (1986). He was the voice of Chanticleer in the animated film Rock-A-Doodle (1991). 

He made his television debut on the show Shindig in 1964. As a singer he made frequent appearances on various music, variety, and talk shows through the years, including Hollywood a Go Go, The Dick Cavett Show, The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, The Mike Douglas Show, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, The Hollywood Palace, The Joey Bishop Show, The Merv Griffin Show, The Jim Nabors Hour, The Dean Martin Show, and Hee Haw. From 1969 to 1972 he was the host of his own variety show, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, on CBS. It is notable as one of the few rural shows to survive the Rural Purge of 1971. He also hosted a syndicated variety show, The Glen Campbell Music Show, which aired during the 1982-1983 season. Glen Campbell also acted on television. In 1967 he guest starred in an episode of The F.B.I. He appeared in the TV movie Strange Homecoming (1974) and the special Christmas in Disneyland (1976).  In 1997 he guest starred on an episode of Players.

Not being a country music fan, I can't say I have ever been a huge fan of Glen Campbell's songs (although I have always liked "Wichita Lineman"). That having been said, I do recognise that he was a major talent in music. He was among the most popular country singers of the last decades of the 20th Century, and he was a bit of a phenomenon in the late Sixties. Beyond being a legendary country singer, he was also an extremely talented guitarist. His skill is readily recognisable on the many songs he recorded as part of the Wrecking Crew. He had been playing guitar since childhood and it showed.

While his acting career was somewhat limited, I also have to say that Glen Campbell was a fairly good actor. His best known role is most likely that of Texas Ranger  La Boeuf in True Grit (1969). He did a fine job in the part, and he remains one of my favourite actors to play opposite John Wayne. As a musician Glen Campbell was the consummate performer, and that translated quite well to acting. Glen Campbell was one of the most popular entertainers in the late 20th Century, and given his talent that should come as no surprise.