Saturday, 27 May 2017

The 60th Anniversary of "That'll Be the Day" by The Crickets

It was 60 years ago today that the Brunswick label released the very first single by The Crickets, "That'll Be the Day". Not only was the single significant as The Crickets' first single, but it was also significant as Buddy Holly's first major hit. "That'll Be the Day" hit no. 1 on the Billboard singles chart and no. 1 on the Billboard R&B chart. It would also reach no. 1 on the British singles chart.

The origins of the song "That'll Be the Day" can be traced back to the movie The Searchers (1956), in which John Wayne's character Ethan Edwards uses the line. The song was written by Buddy Holly and Jerry Allison, The Crickets' drummer. Here it must be kept in mind that "That'll Be the Day" was not the first single released by Buddy Holly. In 1956 Buddy Holly had two singles released on the Decca label: "Love Me" and "Modern Day Don Juan". Unfortunately, neither of these singles charted. The fact that Buddy Holly was still signed to Decca was the reason Buddy Holly, Jerry Allison, and Joe B. Mauldin recorded as The Crickets. Buddy Holly had actually recorded a version of "That'll Be the Day' at Decca in 1956, but Decca did not initially release it due to the poor performance of his previous singles. After "That'll Be the Day" became a hit, Decca would release the original version of the song in September 1957.

Regardless, "That'll Be the Day" would give Buddy Holly and The Crickets' their first success. The Crickets would prove to be very influential, providing the blueprint for many classic rock bands to come (guitarists, a bassist,and a drummer). Buddy Holly himself would also prove extremely influential. He would see even more success in the United Kingdom than he would in the United States, and would prove to be an influence on such British bands as The Beatles, The Kinks, and The Hollies. In having an impact on many of the British bands, it was his music that essentially led to the creation of the rock subgenre known as "power pop". That having been said, such diverse rock music subgenres as heavy metal and punk have felt the impact of Buddy Holly.

Without further ado, here is "That'll be the Day" by The Crickets.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Hootsuite Implements Limits on Scheduled Posts for Free Accounts

Many of you might be familiar with Hootsuite, a platform for managing such social media sites as Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and Instagram. Since it was founded in 2008 it has proven popular with users, particularly Twitter users who prefer its interface to that of the Twitter site itself. Unfortunately last night Hootsuite made a bit of misstep. Quite simply they implemented limits on the number of scheduled posts that can be made at once by free accounts. At the moment the limits have been rolled out to only a few free account users to gauge feedback. It also seems as if the limits currently vary from user to user. Last night when scheduling posts on Hootsuite I was stopped at 10 scheduled tweets (I had to do the rest on Buffer), but then I have seen tweets from other users that they were allowed 20 scheduled tweets.

Regardless, I think that implementing limits on scheduled posts on Hootsuite is a very bad idea. It is true that other social media management platforms have limits. For example, Buffer only allows users 10 scheduled posts at once. That having been said, just because many other platforms are doing it does not mean it is a good idea.

Indeed, the fact that Hootsuite allowed its users with free accounts gave Hootsuite an advantage over its competitors. Why use Buffer when one is only allowed to schedule 10 posts at once when one could use Hootsuite and schedule several more at once? As it is now, I suspect the limit will drive many Hootsuite users to other platforms. While Buffer and several other platforms have limits on the number of scheduled posts one can make at once, there are free alternatives out there. Indeed, one can schedule tweets using Tweetdeck without concerns about a limit.

As to why Hootsuite would implement limits on scheduled tweets for free accounts, the official reason is to make sure the number of posts one can schedule reflects the volume of social networks available to users according to Hootsuite's payment plans. That having been said, I have to suspect the primary reason for implementing limits on scheduled posts is simply to make money. Quite simply, Hootsuite is hoping that users with free accounts will buy a plan in order to have access to unlimited scheduling. If this is the case, then I think Hootsuite is being extremely unrealistic. The base plan for Hootsuite costs $19 a month. That comes out to $228 a year. Many users don't have that kind of money to spend simply to have unlimited scheduling, and those who do may not want to use that money for something like Hootsuite. Indeed, to give you an idea of just how expensive Hootsuite is, it costs more to pay for Hootsuite a month than it does to get the basic subscriptions to both Hulu and Netflix each month!

Given the cost of Hootsuite's basic paid plan, I rather suspect most users with free accounts will simply opt to use a different platform. Some might do what I did last night. Schedule their ten posts and then switch to a different platform to finish their posts. Yet others might well switch to a different platform entirely.  Tweetdeck, Edgar, and Social Oomph both allow unlimited scheduling. Other services don't allow unlimited scheduling for free accounts, but are cheaper. Twuffer only costs $5.99 a month. Twittimer only costs $6.99 a month and allows for 500 scheduled posts a month. Hootsuite users who are unhappy with the limits on scheduled posts then have a variety of platforms to choose from, and I suspect that they will simply use one of them instead of Hootsuite. Indeed, today I saw a tweet from Hootsuite user saying that she guessed she would have to start using Tweetdeck to schedule posts.

Ultimately I  think it would be a mistake for Hootsuite to go forward with limits on scheduled posts for free accounts. Hootsuite has always allowed its users with free accounts unlimited scheduling, and that has given them a big advantage over their competitors. To do away with unlimited scheduling for users with free accounts will most likely drive them to other platforms. Even if Hootsuite does decide to go forward with the limits on scheduled posts, they should be much greater than 10. Most Hootsuite users I know use it for Twitter, a social media site where individuals make many more posts than on Facebook or Instagram. Ten scheduled tweets is then overly restrictive. I personally think 20 would be a good limit, but I saw several tweets complaining about that as being too restrictive. I have to wonder if they go forward with limits on scheduled posts at all that it shouldn't be well over 25 at once. Regardless, I think in imposing limits on scheduled posts Hootsuite has made a significant error, one that could seriously damage the company if they are not careful.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Star Wars: A Somewhat Personal Remembrance

It was 40 years ago today that Star Wars (1977), later retitled Star Wars: Episode IV--A New Hope, was released. The film would prove to be an utter phenomenon. It earned $461 million in the United States alone. It also spawned a franchise that includes seven movies (and counting), numerous books, numerous comic books, two TV shows, a huge amount of merchandise, and much more. Star Wars would prove to be one of the most successful franchises of all time. Indeed, the original movie is still the second highest grossing film of all time when adjusted for inflation, surpassed only by Gone With the Wind (1939).

Of course, at the time no one expected Star Wars to be so successful. 20th Century Fox did not have particularly high expectations for the film, and did little in the way of marketing beyond a few T-shirts and posters. Lucasfilm's marketing director, Charles Lippincott, was the one responsible for the many marketing deals regarding the film, including a Marvel Comics adaptation, the Del-Rey novelisation, and so on. While today we regard Star Wars as a merchandising bonanza, before the films' release it was sometimes difficult to convince various companies it would be. Mego, then the top maker of action figures in the United States, turned the licence for Star Wars down. It then went to Kenner Products. While Star Wars would prove to be a merchandising bonanza, until the film proved itself to be a mega-hit, not that many companies were rushing to fill store shelves with Star Wars merchandise.

And at the time there was little reason for them to do so. Although called a "blockbuster" today (and it would indeed turn out to be one), Star Wars cost only $11 million to make. That was less than many other films from 1977, including The Spy Who Loved Me (with a budget of $14 million),  Close Encounters of the Third Kind (with a budget of $20 million), and A Bridge Too Far (with a budget of $25 million). Many in Hollywood probably expected Star Wars to simply be a science fiction film that would do moderately well at the box office before disappearing, not unlike 1976's Logan's Run. When Star Wars debuted on May 25 1977, it was only in 32 theatres. It would expand to eight more theatres over the next two days. 20th Century Fox actually thought The Other Side of Midnight would be their big hit of the summer.

Of course, we now know that Star Wars would turn out not only to be the blockbuster of the summer of 1977, but one of the highest grossing and most successful films of all time. Indeed, it proved to be something of a sensation. As of its second week of release, Star Wars was only playing at 43 theatres, and yet it grossed a staggering $47,968. As Star Wars opened at more and more theatres around the country this phenomenon would occur again and again. People often had to stand in long lines to see Star Wars, and it broke attendance records at quite a few theatres.

I had just turned 14 when Star Wars came out. And I have to admit that I would have no idea that it would be the highest grossing film of 1977, let alone the 2nd highest grossing film of all time when adjusted for inflation. I certainly did not expect that it would become the phenomenon that it has become. What is more, I didn't particularly care if it did become a success. I was simply looking forward to the movie. At 14 I was arguably at the perfect age for one's first experience of Star Wars, and I was already predisposed to liking it anyway. I was already a huge fan of science fiction and fantasy. I had watched Star Trek in reruns from an early age. I read a tonne of science fiction and fantasy novels. I had already had my first experience of the works of J. R. R. Tolkien. As a young sci-fi and fantasy geek, there was little way I was not going to like Star Wars. Indeed, I had already read the novelisation before seeing the movie. It had been published in 1976, nearly six months before the movie came out.

As it was, Star Wars turned out to  be almost the perfect movie for my 14 year old self. Although Star Wars is often described as "science fiction", it is perhaps more accurately termed "science fantasy". It is a deft blend of tropes from both the science fiction and fantasy genres. Like such space operas as Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon before it, Star Wars was filled with spaceships, ray guns, strange aliens, and unusual planets. Like such fantasy works as Lord of the Rings it had a princess (Leia, of course), knights (the Jedi), swordplay (in the form of light sabres), and even magic (in the form of the Force).  Common to both genres were an evil Empire and a bad ass villain (in the form of Darth Vader). It helped that Star Wars also had stars of whom I was already a fan. I knew Sir Alec Guinness from The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) and Lawrence of Arabia (1962), and Peter Cushing from various Hammer films.

When I first saw Star Wars in the summer of 1977 like many others I had to stand in line. What is more, it took some time before I reached the ticket booth of the theatre. Fortunately there were several people there I knew, including my older friend Al and his wife Amy (Al would be responsible for making me even more of a sci-fi geek than I already was).  Regardless, I did not mind waiting in line at all. I was finally getting to see Star Wars. And ultimately I decided Star Wars was worth the wait in line. While my experience of seeing films in theatres was somewhat limited at the time, I thought it was the best movie I'd ever seen in a cinema. In the end I would be one of the vast number of fans who eagerly bought the various comic books, novels, posters, and other merchandise that came out in the film's wake. I would also be one of a number who would eagerly await every new Star Wars movie to come out.

Indeed, Star Wars proved to be such a hit that in the months following its release there was simply not enough merchandise out there for fans. Ben Cooper, the top maker of Halloween costumes at the time, could not produce enough Star Wars costumes to keep up with demand. Kenner was unable to produce enough Star Wars action figures for Christmas in 1977, and had to resort to selling certificates that could be sent to Kenner in exchange for an action figure. Marvel's initial comic book adaptation of the film went through several printings, and is actually credited with saving Marvel Comics financially. Eventually more and more companies would jump on the Star Wars band wagon, so that entire sections of stores could theoretically be filled with nothing but Star Wars merchandise.

While 20th Century Fox had little in the way of expectations for Star Wars, it ultimately became one of the most successful films of all time and a merchandising bonanza. I know in the late Seventies and early Eighties I bought a good deal of Star Wars merchandise, including posters, books, and t-shirts (I was already too old for action figures when the first film came out). And I certainly was not alone. Star Wars would develop one of the biggest fandoms of any movie, TV show, or other media product. Star Wars merchandise has grown ever since. That is certainly not bad for a film that debuted in only 32 theatres.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Godspeed Dina Merrill

Dina Merrill, the heiress who made a career as an actress appearing in such films as Operation Petticoat (1959) and BUtterfield 8 (1960) and such TV shows as Batman and The Virginian, died on May 22 2017 at the age of 93.

Dina Merrill was born Nedenia Marjorie Hutton on December 29 1924 to stock broker E. F. Hutton and Post Cereals heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post. Her maternal grandfather was Post Cereals founder C. W. Post. Her father had wanted her to become a lawyer and to later run for Congress, but Dina Merrill's heart was set on acting. She attended George Washington University, but dropped out after a year to enrol in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City. While training for acting she made her living modelling clothes for Vogue. In a 1979 interview she explained, "It never occurred to me to ask my father or mother to pay for something they didn’t believe in. My ambitions were my own—not exactly the ones they had for me." Miss Merrill took her stage name from Charles E. Merrill, co-founder of Merrill Lynch. She made her debut on Broadway in 1945 in The Mermaids Singing.

In 1946 she married Colgate-Palmolive heir Stanley M. Rumbough, Jr., and she spent much of the next ten years raising her children. When she made her television debut in 1955 in an episode of Four Star Playhouse, she was 32 years old. While Dina Merrill started her acting career relatively late, she found success fairly swiftly. In the late Fifties she guest starred on Playwrights '56, The Phil Silvers Show, Climax!, Playhouse 90, Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse, and The DuPont Show of the Month. She made her film debut in Desk Set in 1957. She appeared in the films A Nice Little Bank That Should Be Robbed (1958), A Nice Little Bank That Should Be Robbed (1958), Don't Give Up the Ship (1959), Operation Petticoat (1959), BUtterfield 8 (1960), and The Sundowners (1960).

The Sixties saw Dina Merrill make frequent guest appearances on television. She played Shame's accomplice Calamity Jan in three episodes of Batman. She also guest starred on such shows as Dr. Kildare, The Dick Poweel Theatre, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Burke's Law, Rawhide, The Rogues, Daniel Boone, Daktari, Bonanza, Run for Your Life, and Mission: Impossible. She continued to appear in films, including such movies as The Young Savages (1961), Twenty Plus Two (1961), The Courtship of Eddie's Father (1963), I'll Take Sweden (1965), and Aru heishi no kake (1970).

In the Seventies Miss Merrill appeared in the films Running Wild (1973), Throw Out the Anchor! (1974), The Meal (1975), The Greatest (1977), A Wedding (1978), and Just Tell Me What You Want (1980). She continued to work a good deal in television, appearing on such shows as The Virginian, Medical Centre, The F.B.I., Night Gallery, Cannon, Marcus Welby, M.D., Ellery Queen, Hawaii Five-O, Quincy M.E., and The Love Boat. She appeared on Broadway in Angel Street.

In the Eighties she appeared in the films Anna to the Infinite Power (1983), Twisted (1986), Caddyshack II (1988), and Caddyshack II (1988). She guest starred on the shows Tales of the Unexpected and Hotel. She was a regular on the short-lived show Hot Pursuit. She appeared on Broadway in
On Your Toes.

In the Nineties Dina Merrill guest starred on the shows Murder, She Wrote; The Nanny; Roseanne; and Vengeance Unlimited. She appeared in the films True Colours (1991), The Player (1992), Suture (1993), Open Season (1995), Milk & Money (1996), Mighty Joe Young (1998), and Meeting Genevieve (2000). In the Naughts she guest starred on the TV show 100 Centre Street. She appeared in the films Shade (2003) and Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (2009).

In addition to acting, Dina Merrill also did a good deal of humanitarian work. She worked for the New York City Mission Society. She was also one of the founders of the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation. She was a  founding trustee of the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Centre and she served as one of the early directors of the Paley Centre for Media.

Dina Merrill was both a remarkable woman and a great actress. Heir to two of the biggest fortunes in the United States, she made her own way as an actress. And while she was born to wealth, she also gave a good deal back to society. As an actress she was very talented. It was certainly true that many of her roles were quite similar to her in real life. She played many beautiful, sophisticated, high society women throughout her career. That having been said, she could play a number of other roles. In Desk Set she played Sylvia Blair, a mere reference desk clerk. In Operation Petticoat she played one of her more famous roles, that of Army nurse Second Lieutenant Barbara Duran. Of course, for whole generations of Baby Boomers and Gen Xers she might be best remembered as Calamity Jan on Batman. A rough and tumble cowgirl, Calamity Jan was as far from a socialite as one could get. What is more, Miss Merrill played her with real zest. Of course, she was very good at playing high society types. One of her more famous roles was that of Emily Liggett, wife of executive Weston Liggett, in BUtterfield 8. In The Courtship of Eddie's Father she played rich socialite Rita Behrens, one of the women vying for Eddie's father. Dina Merrill had an enormous amount of talent that allowed her to play roles close to her real life (rich, high society types) or roles far from her real life (Calamity Jan).

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

The Late, Great, Famous Sir Roger Moore

There are those actors who had such an impact on our childhoods that they seem as if they must be immortal. Sir Roger Moore was one of those actors. Many may have first encountered him as Sir Wilfred of Ivanhoe on the TV show Ivanhoe, while others may have first encountered him as Silky Harris on the TV show The Alaskans. Yet more people probably first encountered him as Beau Maverick on Maverick. Even more people may have first encountered him as Simon Templar on The Saint, and an argument can be made that it was his signature role. As many people first saw Sir Roger Moore as Simon Templar, even more may have first seen him as James Bond, a role he played in seven movies. Sadly, Sir Roger Moore died
today at age 89 after a short battle with cancer.

Sir Roger Moore was born on October 12 1927 in Stockwell, London. His father was George Moore, a London policeman who also took part in amateur theatre. His mother was the former Lily Pope. Young Roger Moore attended  Battersea Grammar School until he was evacuated to Holsworthy, Devon during World War II. He attended Launceston College in Launceston, Cornwall, and then Dr Challoner's Grammar School in Amersham, Buckinghamshire. He went to the College of the Venerable Bede at the University of Durham, although he did not graduate.

When he was very young he had an interest in becoming a commercial artist and as a teenager he even worked at an animation company. Sir Roger Moore found employment as an extra in movies, and appeared in that capacity in such films as Perfect Strangers (1945), Caesar and Cleopatra (1945), Gaiety George (1946), Piccadilly Incident (1946), Paper Orchid (1949), Trottie True (1949), and The Interrupted Journey (1949). It was Brian Desmond Hunt, the director of Trottie True, who encouraged Sir Roger Moore to go into acting, even going so far as to pay for his tuition at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Among his classmates was Lois Maxwell, who appeared opposite Sir Roger Moore in two episodes of The Saint and as Miss Moneypenny in the James Bond movies.

During the final year of World War II Sir Roger Moore was drafted into the British Army. He served as a a second lieutenant in the Royal Army Service Corps and eventually rose to the rank of captain. Following the war he acted on stage and appeared in bit parts in various movies. He made his television debut in 1949 in the BBC production The Governess.

In the Fifties Sir Roger Moore found work in the United States. He made his American television debut on the Hallmark Hall of Fame episode "Black Chiffon". He appeared in Hallmark Hall of Fame presentations such as "Julius Caesar" and 'The Clay of Kings". In 1954 he signed with MGM, but saw little success at the studio. Later in the decade he signed with Warner Bros. The films he made there did not perform much better. In the Fifties he appeared in such films as The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954), Interrupted Melody (1955), The King's Thief (1955), Diane (1956), and The Miracle (1959). He found more success on television. He starred in the single season show Ivanhoe as the title character. And while the films he made at Warner Bros. did not find success, he did find success in Warner Bros. television shows. He played Silky Harris on the short-lived Warner Bros. adventure series The Alaskans before appearing as Beauregarde "Beau" Maverick in a single season of the classic show Maverick. He also worked in shows produced by studios other than Warner Bros. In the Fifties he guest starred on such shows as Robert Montgomery Presents, The Motorola Television Hour, Goodyear Playhouse, Lux Video Theatre, The Third Man, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. He appeared on Broadway in A Pin to See the Peepshow.

The Sixties would see Sir Roger Moore cast in what may have been his most famous role short of James Bond, that of Simon Templar on the TV show The Saint. Arguably the role was perfect for Mr. Moore. According to some reports he had even tried to buy the rights to "The Saint" books in the Fifties. Regardless, The Saint proved successful on both sides of the Pond, running for six series and 118 episodes. Two of the two-part episodes of The Saint, The Fiction Makers (1968) and Vendetta for The Saint (1969), were released as feature films to theatres in various places. In addition to starring on The Saint, Sir Roger Moore also guest starred on 77 Sunset Strip (playing himself) and The Trials of O'Brien. In addition to The Fiction Makers and Vendetta for The Saint, he also appeared in the films The Sins of Rachel Cade (1961), Gold of the Seven Saints (1961), Romulus and the Sabines (1961), No Man's Land (1962), Crossplot (1969), and The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970).

Sir Roger Moore began the decade of the Seventies playing Lord Brett Sinclair in the short-lived cult series The Persuaders!. He guest starred on The Muppet Show. He also played Sherlock Holmes in the TV movie Sherlock Holmes in New York (1976).  During the Seventies, Sir Roger Moore would have little time for television, however, as he was cast in the role of James Bond.  He first played 007 in Live and Let Die (1972) and would appear in six more James Bond movies: The Man with the Golden Gun (1974), The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), Moonraker (1979), For Your Eyes Only (1981), Octopussy (1983), and A View to a Kill (1985). He also appeared in the films Gold (1974). That Lucky Touch (1975), Street People (1976), Shout at the Devil (1976), Street People (1976), Escape to Athena (1979), North Sea Hijack (1980), The Sea Wolves (1980), and Sunday Lovers (1980).

In the Eighties Sir Roger Moore continued to appear in the James Bond movies, eventually relinquishing the role to Timothy Dalton. His final movie as 007 was A View to a Kill (1985). Aside from the Bond movies, he appeared in the films The Cannonball Run (1981), Curse of the Pink Panther (1983), The Naked Face (1984), Fire, Ice & Dynamite (1990), and Bullseye! (1990). He provided the voice of  Lumi Ukko in the animated special The Magic Snowman (1987).

In the Nineties Sir Roger Moore was a regular on the short-lived TV series The Dream Team. He appeared in the TV movie The Man Who Wouldn't Die (1994). He appeared in the films Bed & Breakfast (1991), The Quest (1996),  and Spice World (1997). In the Naughts he appeared in the films The Enemy (2001), On Our Own Vesna (2002) and Boat Trip (2002). He provided voices for De vilde svaner (2009) and Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore (2010). He guest starred on the TV shows Alias and Tarot. In the Teens Mr. Moore appeared in the TV movies A Princess for Christmas (2011) and The Saint (2016). He appeared in the films Incompatibles (2013) and The Carer (2016). He provided a voice for The Lighter (2011).

Sir Roger Moore was friends with Audrey Hepburn and it was through her that he became involved with UNICEF. He became a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in 1991. He also provided the voice of Father Christmas for the 2004 UNICEF special The Fly Who Loved Me. He was also an animal rights activist and opposed the production of foie gras. His efforts would result in the famous department store Selfridges removing foie gras from their shelves. He was knighted in 2003 for his services to charity.

Sir Roger Moore was best known for playing charming, debonair characters with a self-deprecating wit. It was the sort of role he played as Beau Maverick on Maverick and one that he refined as Simon Templar on The Saint. Indeed, his portrayal of James Bond seems to owe more to Simon Templar than either the James Bond of Ian Fleming's novels and short stories or Sean Connery's portrayal of the character. While there will always be debate as to who was the best Bond, there is very little debate as to who played Simon Templar the best. While a few might cling to George Sanders as the ideal Saint, for a majority of people it will always be Roger Moore who is the one, the only, the famous Simon Templar.

Of course, while Sir Roger Moore was arguably at his best playing charming debonair characters, he did play other sorts of roles in his long career. In the film North Sea Hijack (known as ffolkes outside the UK), he played Rufus Excalibur ffolkes, an eccentric, curmudgeonly counter-terrorism consultant who loves cats and doesn't particularly like women. In The Man Who Haunted Himself he played the head of a marine technology business who, following a serious accident, is either slowly going insane or somehow picked up a doppelgänger. In Sherlock Holmes in New York he gave a somewhat faithful portrayal of Holmes as the detective has appeared in most movies and TV shows over the years.

That having been said, arguably Sir Roger Moore was at his best playing charming, debonair characters. It was little wonder that he did so well in such parts, as they were much as he was in real life. He was dapper, charismatic, and a possessed a wonderfully self-deprecating sense of humour. None ever heard a bad word said about Mr. Moore. His co-stars have said that he was among the kindest, most generous people one could ever know. Others, from fans to managers of the various hotels at which he stayed, have echoed his sentiments, often stating that he was a total gentleman and not at all a typical celebrity. While he had a long career, Mr. Moore was proudest of his humanitarian work. He once said, "The knighthood for my humanitarian work meant more than if it had been for my acting." On screen Sir Roger Moore often played heroes such as Simon Templar and James Bond, but it would seem that he was one in real life as well.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

A Pictorial Tribute for Raymond Burr's Centennial

It was 100 years ago today that Raymond Burr was born in New Westminster, British Columbia. Today he is best known as criminal defence lawyer Perry Mason from the TV show of the same name, but his career not only included other TV shows, but many movies as well. Curiously, before he was cast as Perry Mason, Raymond Burr more often than not played villains. In fact, his most famous role besides Perry Mason may well be that of suspected killer  Lars Thorwald in Rear Window (1954). Here is a look back at his career in pictures.

Raymond Burr's first significant role was that of Jeff Torrance in the 1946 film San Quentin. Here he is with Lawrence Tierney and Carol Forman.

Today we tend to think of Raymond Burr as starring in crime thrillers, film noirs, and a few sci-fi B-movies, but he did make other sorts of pictures. Here he is with Errol Flynn in The Adventures of Don Juan (1948)

While he generally played bad guys, Raymond Burr did play good guys sometimes early in his career. He even played a lawyer before Perry Mason. In A Place in the Sun (1951) he played District Attorney  R. Frank Marlowe. Here he is with Montgomery Clift. 

 In The Blue Gardenia (1953) Raymond Burr played womanising artist Harry Prebble. Here he is with Anne Baxter.

Possibly Raymond Burr's most famous role besides Perry Mason, that of the menacing Lars Thorwald in Rear Window

One of Raymond Burr's earliest good guy roles, that of American reporter Steve Martin in Godzilla, King of the Monsters (1956). Godzilla, King of the Monsters was essentially the Japanese film Gojira (1954) re-edited for American audiences. In addition to eliminating many scenes (and thus changing the tone of the whole movie), new footage was made with Raymond Burr. This was done for essentially two reasons. First, reporter Steve Martin could explain what was happening for American audiences, allowing for less dubbing in the film. Second, it would add an American star who would be somewhat familiar to audiences in the United States. Raymond Burr would reprise the role nearly 30 years later in Godzilla 1985

It was in 1957 that Raymond Burr began a nine year run in his most famous role, that of defence attorney Perry Mason in the TV show Perry Mason. The character of Perry Mason had begun life in novels by Erle Stanley Gardner. By the time the TV show had debuted, the character had already appeared in six feature films and a radio show that ran for 12 years on CBS. Although Raymond Burr is now the actor most identified with Perry Mason, he was not the only actor considered for the part.  Richard Carlson, Mike Connors, Richard Egan, William Holden, and Efrem Zimbalist Jr., were all considered, and even Fred MacMurray was reportedly in negotiations with CBS for the role. While producer Gail Patrick had been impressed with Raymond Burr's performance as the district attorney in A Place in the Sun (1951), there were concerns about his weight. Raymond Burr went on a diet and did a second screen test for the role. In the end, he was chosen out of around 50 other actors trying for the part. 

Raymond Burr followed Perry Mason with another successful TV show, Ironside. Ironside featured Mr. Burr as Robert T. Ironside, a former San Francisco Chief of Detectives who became a consultant for the police department after he was paralysed from the waist down. Ironside proved quite successful, running for eight seasons.

Following Ironside, Raymond Burr appeared in such films as Out of the Blue (1980), Airplane II: The Sequel (1982), and Godzilla 1985. He reprised his role as Perry Mason in the TV reunion Perry Mason Returns in 1985. It was followed by 25 more TV movies starring Raymond Burr as Perry Mason. Perhaps fittingly, Perry Mason would be the final role he ever played. He last appeared in the TV movie Perry Mason: The Case of the Killer Kiss (1993). Having died on September 12 1993, it aired over two months after his death, on November 29 1993.

Friday, 19 May 2017

The Late Great Chris Cornell

Chris Cornell, founding member, lead vocalist, chief songwriter, and rhythm guitarist of Soundgarden, died on May 17 2016 at the age of 52. The cause was suicide.

Chris Cornell was born Christopher Boyle on July 20 1964 in Seattle, Washington. His parents were pharmacist  Ed Boyle and accountant Karen Cornell. He took to music at a young age, having discovered an abandoned collection of Beatles records in a neighbour's basement when he was 9 years old. Mr. Cornell had a somewhat troubled childhood. He struggled with loneliness and depression. In an interview with Rolling Stone in 1994 he admitted to having been a "...daily drug user at 13.” After his parents divorced he dropped out of school when he was only 14. He worked various jobs to help support his mother, including working at a seafood wholesaler and as a sous-chef. Music became an outlet for him and he learned to play drums when he was 16. His first band was the Jones Street Band, in which he was both the drummer and lead singer.

It was in 1984 that Chris Cornell, bassist Hiro Yamamoto, and guitarist Kim Thayil formed Soundgarden. The band took its name from an artwork located at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, "A Sound Garden". Originally Chris Cornell served as both Soundgarden's drummer and lead vocalist, but in 1985  the band hired Scott Sundquist as its drummer so Chris Cornell could concentrate on singing.

Soundgarden signed with Seattle record label Sub-Pop and their first single, "Hunted Down", was released in 1987. Their EP Screaming Life was released on the label that same year, followed by the EP Fopp in 1988. The two EPs were combined and released as the album Screaming Life/Fopp  in 1990. It was in 1988 that Soundgarden signed with independent label SST Records. Their debut album, Ultramega OK, was released in October 1988.  Ultramega OK received a Grammy nomination for Best Metal Performance. SST Records followed Ultramega OK with the EP Flower, released in 1989.

Following a tour to support Ultramega OK, Soundgarden signed with A&M Records. Their second album, Louder Than Love, was released in September 1989. Louder Than Love became Soundgarden's first album to reach the Billboard Top 200 album chart, peaking at 108. An EP containing outtakes from Louder Than Love as well as other material, Loudest Love, was released in October 1990.

While still working with Soundgarden, Chris Cornell teamed up with former Mother Love Bone members Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament, Soundgarden's drummer Matt Cameron, Mike McCready, and Eddie Vedder to record as Temple of the Dog. Messrs. Gossard, Ament, McCready, and Vedder would soon become famous as Pearl Jam. The supergroup's lone album, Temple of the Dog, was released in April 1991.

It was in October 1991 that Soundgarden's third studio album Badmotorfinger was released. It was the first to feature bassist Ben Shepherd. It proved to be their most successful album up to that time, peaking at no. 39 on the Billboard Top 200 album chart. It received a Grammy nomination for Best Metal Performance. In June 1992 a special edition of Badmotorfinger was released that included the EP Satanoscillatemymetallicsonatas. Satanoscillatemymetallicsonatas included covers of Black Sabbath's "Into the Void", Devo's "Girl U Want", and The Stray Cats' "Stray Cat Strut", as well as other material.

Soundgarden's fourth album, Superunknown, proved to be their most successful album ever. It debuted on the Billboard Top 200 at no. 1 and sold 310,000 copies in its first week alone. The single "Spoonman" won the Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance, while the single "Black Hole Sun" won the Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance and was nominated for the award for Best Rock Song. Superunknown was released on March 8,1994. Superunknown was followed by the EP Songs from the Superunknown and the CD-Rom  Alive in the Superunknown. Both were released on November 21 1995.

Soundgarden's fifth album, Down on the Upside, was released on May 21 1996. The album debuted at no. 2 on the Billboard Top 200 albums chart, which was also its peak. Unfortunately tensions rose among the group during its recording. Chris Cornell had wanted to move away from the heavy guitar that had become associated with Soundgarden, something that Kim Thayil disagreed with. The tensions within the band only increased during the worldwide tour to support the album. It was on April 9 1997 that Soundgarden announced that they were disbanding.

In the wake up of Soundgarden's break-up, Chris Cornell began work on his first solo album. Euphoria Morning was released in September 1999. The album peaked at no.18 on the Billboard Top 200 album chart and was well received by critics.

Chris Cornell afterwards joined former Rage Against the Machine members Tom Morello, Tim Commerford, and Brad Wilk to form the band Audioslave. After Rage Against the Machine vocalist  lead vocalist Zack de la Rocha left Rage Against the Machine, the other members decided to remain together and find a new vocalist. It was producer Rick Rubin who suggested they seek out Chris Cornell.

Audioslave's self-titled debut album was released in November 2002. The album peaked at no. 7 on the Billboard Top 200, although it received mixed reviews from critics. Their second album, Out of Exile, was released in May 2005. The album performed even better than Audioslave, reaching no. 1 on the Billboard Top 200. The single "Be Yourself" even reached the top forty of the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at no. 32.

Audioslave only released one more album. Revelations was released in September 2006. It did very well, peaking at no. 2 on the Billboard Top 200 album chart. Despite this, the album received mixed reviews. Audioslave were on a break while Chris Cornell co-wrote and recorded "You Know My Name", the theme song to the James Bond movie Casino Royale (2006). At the same time Audioslave guitarist Tom Morello went to work on his solo project, The Nightwatchman. As it turned out Chris Cornell would never return to Audioslave. In July 2006 he announced that he was leaving the band.

It was then in 2007 that Chris Cornell released his second solo album. Carry On peaked at no. 17 on the Billboard Top 200, but received mixed reviews. It was followed by Scream, which was released in March 2009. The album marked a shift in Mr. Cornell's musical style, with less guitar and more electronic music. Scream peaked at no. 10 on the Billboard Top 200, but receive mostly negative reviews. It was followed by the acoustic live album Songbook in 2011. Songbook featured a mix of Soundgarden songs, Audioslave songs, and his own solo work.

It was on January 1 2010 that Chris Cornell announced that Soundgarden was reuniting. It was in February 2011 that it was announced that they would be recording a new album. Soudgarden toured for the first time in years in 2011. They also recorded a new song, "Live to Rise", that was featured in Marvel's The Avengers (2012).  Their new album, King Animal,was released on November 13 2012. It peaked at no. 5 on the Billboard Top 200, and received positive reviews over all.

Soundgarden continued to tour in 2014. Chris Cornell released his final solo album, Higher Truth, in September 2015. The album peaked at no. 19 on the Billboard Top 200 and received generally good reviews. It was in January 2016 that it was confirmed that Soundgarden had returned to the studio to record a new album. At the moment it is not clear how Soundgarden will proceed in the wake of Chris Cornell's death.

Chris Cornell's last solo work was the  single "The Promise", which appeared in the film The Promise (2017).

The soundtrack of my life in the Nineties was largely comprised of The Posies, Monster Magnet, The Gin Blossoms, and Soundgarden. Chris Cornell's work then spoke to me in a way that the work of Kurt Cobain, Jerry Cantrell, or Eddie Vedder never did. The lyrics of his songs were often deep, sometimes humorous, sometimes dark. Even when the lyrics of a particular Soundgarden, Audioslave, or Chris Cornell song were dark, there was still a glimmer of hope behind them. Soundgarden's songs were not about necessarily how hard life can be, but the will to survive that hard live. Even when things were at their worst, I could be guaranteed that a Soundgarden song would help me feel better.

Of course, even beyond Chris Cornell's lyrics there was a musical complexity to his songs that was sometimes lacking in his contemporaries' music. He often used non-standard chord progressions, and the melodies were often unusual as well. It was not unusual for his music to use only major chord changes. Chris Cornell also utilised a variety of different styles of music throughout his career. Soundgarden alone ranged in style from the proto-punk of MC5 and The Stooges to melodic variations on heavy metal to psychedelia. Soundgarden was often counted as part of the grunge movement, but I have never thought they really should have been. While I love grunge, Soundgarden worked on a much broader canvas, to the point that they should perhaps be considered simply "hard rock" or "heavy metal", rather than simply "grunge".

Regardless, there can be no doubt that Chris Cornell was one of the greatest rock vocalists of all time. He was a baritone, but his voice could span several octaves. In addition to the lower register baritone of he could sing fairly high in the ranges of tenor. His voice also packed a good deal of power, so that I have to think he would not have had to use a microphone to be heard several yards away. Chris Cornell was extremely versatile as a singer, so that he could do everything from a gentle falsetto to harsh screams. When combined with his talent for songwriting, this ultimately made Chris Cornell one of the greatest front men in the history of rock 'n' roll.

George Stroumboulopoulos on CBC Radio said of Chris Cornell that ""He was the voice of an entire generation's youth." I really cannot argue with that. With a few possible exceptions (Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow of The Posies, for example), Chris Cornell spoke to me more than any other rock star my age. The music of Soundgarden helped me navigate my late twenties and early thirties. It is then for that reason that I am very sad I am gone.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Godspeed Stan Weston, Godfather of Action Figures

Stan Weston, the licensing agent who was one of the creators of the action figure G.I. Joe, and who also created such action figures as Captain Action and "The World's Greatest Super Heroes", died on May 1 2017 at the age of 84. The cause was complications from surgery.

Stan Weston was born Stanley Weinstein in Brooklyn, New York on April 1 1933. He was only five years old when Superman first appeared in Action Comics no. 1 (June 1938) and he became a huge comic book fan. He was particularly a fan of the companies that would one day become the modern day DC Comics. He even rented comic books to other children in his neighbourhood from a makeshift stand on his front stoop. He attended  New York University and received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Advertising and Journalism. He served in the United States Army and afterwards he returned to New York University and earned a Master of Business Administration degree. He took the surname "Weston" in order to avoid anti-Semitism.

Stan Weston went into advertising at the agency McCann Erickson. It was while he was at McCann Erickson that he met Allan Stone, whose brother Martin Stone was a producer on The Howdy Doody Show. Allan Stone founded Stone Merchandising Associates, which licensed movie and television properties. In 1959 Stan Weston went to work at Stone Merchandising Associates. He worked there only for a year before founding his own company, Weston Merchandising, in 1960. It was in 1962 that Weston Merchandising merged with the company Trans-Beacon. Stan Weston remained with Trans-Beacon for three years. As a licensing agent he was rather successful, and represented the TV series Dr. Kildare, The Kingston Trio, and comedian Soupy Sales, among many others.

It was in 1963 that Stan Weston would become involved in his most famous creation, the action figure G.I. Joe. Stories vary as to the origins of the famous action figure. According to one story, Stan Weston received inspiration for G.I. Joe from Elliot Handler, founder of Mattel. Mr. Handler, who was one of Mr. Weston's mentors, told him, “Stan, you’ve got to sell them the razor, then you can sell them a lot of blades." Of course, Mattel had seen great success in not only selling the Barbie doll, but in selling numerous outfits and accessories to go with the doll as well. Stan Weston looked through the Encyclopaedia Britannica seeking an idea for a toy that would also include numerous accessories, and fell upon the idea of a military themed toy. By making a military themed toy there could then also be several different uniforms, weapons, and other accessories sold to go along with it. 

According to another story it was  Larry Reiner, who was an executive at Ideal Toy Company, who came up with the initial idea for G.I. Joe. Mr. Reiner thought of an idea for a soldier toy and tried to interest Ideal in it, only to be told that boys would never play with a "doll". It was after the 1963 Toy Fair that Larry Reiner met Stan Weston, who liked his idea for a military toy. Mr. Weston then went to work on finding someone to buy the concept. Yet another origin story is that G.I. Joe began as a possible tie-in to the short-lived TV show The Lieutenant. Quite simply, Stan Weston approached Hasbro with the idea of a soldier toy based on the show. Regardless, Stan Weston always credited Larry Reiner with having come up with the idea that the soldier toy should have articulated joints.

Whoever initially came up with the idea of G.I. Joe first, Stan Weston and Larry Reiner approached Don Levine, then Creative Director at Hasbro with their concept for a movable soldier toy. It was Don Levine, a veteran of the Korean War, who ultimately came up with the name "G.I. Joe," remembering the movie The Story of G.I. Joe (1945). Because of fears that boys would not play with a "doll", Hasbro came up with the term "action figure", which has been used ever since for movable figures made for boys. G.I. Joe hit stores on  February 2 1964 and proved to be a huge hit.

The success of G.I. Joe saw the emergence of several more action figures in the mid-Sixties, among them another created by Stan Weston. He developed an idea for an action figure to be called "Captain Magic", a character who could transform into different superheroes. Mr. Weston pitched it to Larry Reiner, still an executive at Ideal Toy Company. Larry Reiner was not initially fond of the idea, and thought that children wouldn't be interested in an action figure that lacked its own identity. Larry Reiner eventually capitulated to Stan Weston, although the action figure was renamed "Captain Action". Introduced in 1966, the basic Captain Action figure came with a costume, a hat, boots, a belt, a gun, and a sword. In the first year outfits for The Lone Ranger, Batman, Superman, Sgt. Fury, Aquaman, Captain America, Steve Canyon, The Phantom, and Flash Gordon were sold separately.

In 1967 outfits for Spider-Man, Buck Rogers, The Green Hornet, and Tonto were added to the Captain Action line. Also added were new action figures. Captain Action was given a sidekick in the form of Action Boy, for whom outfits for Superboy, Aqualad, and Robin were made. Captain Action was also given an archenemy in the form of Dr. Evil (not to be confused with the villain from the "Austin Powers' movies). Unlike Captain Action and Action Boy, Dr. Evil could not change into different villains.  Captain Action would not repeat the success of G. I. Joe. Ideal ceased production on the line in 1968, after only about two years on the market.

In 1970 Stan Weston founded Leisure Concepts with Mike Germakian.  The company would have such licences as The Lone Ranger, Farrah Fawcett, James Bond, Charlie Chan, Marvel Comics, Star Wars, and many others. In 1995 the company changed its name to 4kids Entertainment Inc. In 2012 it became 4Licensing Corporation.

It was in the early Seventies that Stan Weston conceived an idea for a series of action figures called "The Worlds' Greatest Super Heroes". At the time Leisure Concepts had the licences for Marvel Comics' characters. Mr. Weston approached Jay Emmett, head of Licensing Corporation of America, which handled the licences for DC Comics' characters and struck a deal on a handshake to use their characters. Unfortunately, Stan Weston found "The World's Greatest Super Heroes" difficult to sell. Mattel, Hasbro, Kenner, Gabriel, and Ideal all turned the idea down. He then took the idea to Mego Corporation, a small toy company then manufacturing an action figure called "Action Jackson". Marty Abrams, the head of Mego, liked the idea. Leisure Concepts then set about getting the necessary rights from DC Comics, Marvel Comics, and the Edgar Rice Burroughs estate in order to proceed.

It was during the Christmas shopping season that the first action figures in "The World's Greatest Super Heroes" line were introduced in tests in the New York area. The first batch of characters were Superman, Batman, Robin, and Aquaman. In the autumn of 1973 the characters of Spiderman, Captain America, and Tarzan were added. "The World's Greatest Super Heroes" proved enormously successful, so that yet more characters were added to the line. In the end "The World's Greatest Super Heroes" line included over 30 different heroes and villains. "The World's Greatest Super Heroes" continued to be manufactured until 1983. Production on the line ended not because the action figures had declined in popularity, but instead because Mego Corporation had gone bankrupt after several bad business decisions.

Stan Weston would also do some work in the film industry. He was an executive producer on the films Vision Quest (1985) and Gardens of Stone (1987), and a co-executive producer on The Shadow (1994). He also appeared in front of the camera. As an actor he appeared in the films The Power (1984), Torment (1986), and The Book (2010). 

There can be no doubt that Stan Weston revolutionised the toy industry. Arguably, articulated figures meant for boys existed before G. I. Joe. In 1932 there was a wooden Popeye figure and in 1939 Ideal manufactured a wooden Superman figure complete with a cloth cape. That having been said, G.I. Joe was the first to be called an "action figure" and the one that created the demand for action figures that has persisted to this day. Stan Weston's "World's Greatest Super Heroes" line would transform Mego Corporation from a rather small company to the biggest manufacturer of action figures in the Seventies, with licences for Star Trek and Planet of the Apes action figures, among others. While Captain Action would only be manufactured briefly, the action figure developed a cult following that has persisted to this day. While action figures have certainly changed over the years (today's action figures are generally much smaller than the original 12-inch G.I. Joe), it seems that they might not have been possible without Stan Weston.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

The Late Great Powers Boothe

Powers Boothe died June 1 2017 at the age of 68. He appeared in such films as The Emerald Forest (1985), Tombstone (1993), Nixon (1995), and Sin City (2005), and on such TV shows as Philip Marlowe Private Eye, Deadwood, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Powers Boothe was born on a cotton farm near Snyder, Texas. In high school he played football and took part in school plays. He surprised many when, in his senior year, he quit football to concentrate on acting. He attended Southwest Texas State University where he received a bachelor degree and then received a masters degree at Southern Methodist University.

After graduating from Southwest Texas State University, Powers Boothe joined the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's repertory company. He played roles in  Henry V, Othello, and Troilus & Cressida. In 1974 he appeared in Richard III at the Lincoln Centre in New York City. In 1977 he made his film debut as part of the cast of Richard III in the film The Goodbye Girl. In 1979 he appeared on Broadway in Lone Star & Pvt. Wars.  He appeared in the films The Cold Eye (My Darling, Be Careful) (1980) and Cruising (1980). On television he had a recurring role on the TV show Skag and played Jim Jones in the TV movie Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones (1980).

The Eighties saw Powers Boothe's film career take off. He was one of the leads in Walter Hill's Southern Comfort (1981) and the lead in John Boorman's The Emerald Forest (1985). He also appeared in the films A Breed Apart (1984), Red Dawn (1984), Extreme Prejudice (1987), Sapphire Man (1988), Voyager: The Grand Tour (1990), and Stalingrad (1990). On television he played the title role in the HBO TV series Philip Marlowe, Private Eye. He also starred in the two part TV movie Family of Spies (1990).

In the Nineties Powers Boothe appeared in such films as Rapid Fire (1992), Tombstone (1993), Sudden Death (1995), Nixon (1995), U Turn (1997), and Men of Honour (2000). On television he appeared in the mini-series Joan of Arc and the two part TV movie Attila.

In the Naughts Mr. Boothe was a regular on the TV shows Deadwood and 24. He was the voice of Gorilla Grodd on the animated series Justice League and Justice League Unlimited, as well as the voice of Lex Luthor in the straight-to-video animated film Superman: Brainiac Attacks. He appeared in the films Frailty (2001), Sin City (2005), The Final Season (2007), and MacGruber (2010).

In the Teens Powers Boothe appeared in the mini-series Hatfields & McCoys and To Appomattox, and had recurring roles on the TV shows Nashville and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. He guest starred on the TV show Moonbeam City and was a guest voice on the animated series Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated and The Looney Tunes Show. He appeared in the films Tattoo (2011),  Marvel's The Avengers (2012), Straight A's (2013), and Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014).

During his career Mr. Boothe also provided voices for several video games, including Area 51, Turok, Ben 10 Ultimate Alien: Cosmic Destruction, and Hitman: Absolution.

Powers Boothe was an incredibly talented actor. Indeed, while various news outlets have noted the many villains he played in his career, I remember him best for his heroic roles. He was the cynical Texan Corporal Hardin in Southern Comfort; Bill Markham, the father seeking his son in the Amazonian Rainforest in The Emerald Forest; and, of course, Philip Marlowe in the HBO series of the Eighties. That having been said, Powers Boothe made for a very good villain in several films and TV shows. Perhaps no politician on film was as evil as Senator Roark in Sin City and Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. As Cy Tolliver on Deadwood, Powers Boothe played a formidable rival to the show's primary villain Al Swearengen. On Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  He played Gideon Malick, one of the leaders of the criminal organisation Hydra. Such was Powers Boothe's talent that he played historical figures convincingly. He played Alexander Haig in Nixon, Curly Bill Brocius in Tombstone, Jacques d'Arc on Joan of Arc, and Jim Jones in Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones. Powers Boothe was convincing in almost any role offered him, whether he was playing a hero, a villain, or something in between.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Five Stars

Today is the 3rd annual National Classic Movie Day in the United States. To honour that day, Rick of The Classic Film and TV Cafe is holding the "Five Stars Blogathon" in which bloggers list their five favourite stars and why they are their five favourites. I did not learn about the blogathon until today, but I decided it would be a good way to honour National Classic Movie Day.

Here I must say that while I can name my five favourite movies of all time with ease, I have always had some difficulty limiting my favourite stars to even ten, much less five. For that reason this list should be taken with a grain of salt. On any other day I might have chosen a completely different set of five actors. I will say that I restricted my choices to stars who were best known for their appearances in films rather than on television. It is for that reason that Patrick Macnee and Dame Diana Rigg are missing from the list (they are both best known for The Avengers, my all time favourite TV show). Regardless, here are my five favourite stars (at least for today). I listed them in alphabetical order as there is no way I could decide which one was my absolute favourite.

Sir Dirk Bogarde: I'm not sure where I first saw Sir Dirk Bogarde. It might have been in the 1958 version of A Tale of Two Cities or perhaps Darling (1965). Regardless, he has long been one of my favourite actors for the simple reason that he was just so versatile. Throughout his career he played a truly wide variety of characters, from the somewhat nervous Dr. Simon Sparrow in the "Doctor" series to the heroic yet tragic Sidney Carton in A Tale of Two Cities to the sinister valet Hugo Barrett in The Servant (1963) to the evil industrialist Friedrich Bruckmann in The Damned (1969). Sir Dirk Bogarde was something of a chameleon, able to play nearly any role offered to him.

Audrey Hepburn; Audrey Hepburn could be considered my first classic film crush, although when I first saw her in My Fair Lady the film was only about ten years old (I was eleven at the time). Having been released in 1964, I then don't think it was old enough to be considered a classic when I first saw it. Regardless, my father had to talk me into watching the movie (like many little boys I was not particularly a fan of musicals) and to this day I am glad he did. I fell in love with Audrey Hepburn that night and so I looked forward to her movies whenever they were on television. Of course, as I grew older I learned that she was not only a beautiful and graceful woman, but also a very talented actress. She gave impressive performances in everything from Sabrina (1954) to Wait Until Dark (1967).  I think my crush on her grew even greater when I learned that she wasn't just a great actress, but a fine human being too. She did a great deal of work for UNICEF.

Sir Christopher Lee:  Bela Lugosi fans might disagree with me, but for me Sir Christopher Lee will always be the quintessential Dracula. To me no other actor quite captured the character so well. Indeed, to this day Dracula remains his best known role. That having been said, Sir Christopher Lee played a vast array of roles over the years, and not all of them were monsters or villains. In The Devil Rides Out (1968) he played the hero of the film, Duc de Richleau, who finds himself combatting devil worshippers. He also played Sherlock Holmes in the TV movies Sherlock Holmes and the Leading Lady (1991) and Sherlock Holmes: Incident at Victoria Falls (1992). Often times the characters he played were neither hero nor villain, as in the case of  Lord Summerisle in The Wicker Man (1973).  While he could play heroes and other characters, arguably he was at his best playing villains, and he played some of the best ever villains on film, including Doctor Pierre Gerrard in The Man Who Could Cheat Death (1959),  Scaramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun (1974),  Saruman in The Lord of the Rings, and Count Dooku in the Star Wars prequel trilogy.

Jack Lemmon: Having been born in the mid-Sixties and growing up in the Seventies, Jack Lemmon was probably one of the first stars I was ever aware of. He appeared in a number of films I loved even as a child: Mister Roberts (1955), Some Like It Hot (1959), The Apartment (1960), How to Murder Your Wife (1965), The Great Race (1965), and yet others. While he appeared in a wide variety of roles throughout his career (even playing villains, such as Professor Fate in The Great Race), I think the appeal of Jack Lemmon for me was that no one played average guys as well as he did. Whether as Ensign Pulver in Mister Roberts (1955), or C. C. Baxter in The Apartment (my second favourite movie of all time), Felix Ungar in The Odd Couple (1968), to me no actor was ever as convincing playing ordinary guys as Jack Lemmon.

Vivien Leigh: It was a couple of years after I fell in love with Audrey Hepburn that I finally encountered a rival for her affections. NBC aired Gone With the Wind (1939) and I fell in love with Vivien Leigh. Okay, I am aware that Scarlett O'Hara was not a very nice person, but as a boy in his Tweens having only recently discovered girls I was willing to overlook that. At the time I thought she was must have been the most beautiful woman ever. Of course, in time I would realise that she was a very talented actress who was much more than a pretty face and Scarlett O'Hara. While she made only a few films in her career when compared to other actors, she was very impressive in most of them, whether as Emma Lady Hamilton in Lady Hamilton (1941) or Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951).

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Children of Paradise/Les Enfants du Paradis (1945)

(This post is part of the "No, YOU"RE Crying Blogathon hosted by Moon in Gemini

When it comes to romances, not many are as epic or as tragic as Children of Paradise (the literal translation of its original French title, Les Enfants du Paradis). Set in the Parisian theatres of the 1820s and 1830s, Children of Paradise centres around the courtesan Garance (played by Arletty). In the movie she is pursued by four men, although arguably it is her relationship with mime Baptiste Deburau that takes centre stage. It has been described as France's answer to Gone With the Win (1939), and the comparison is an apt one. The film's plot spans literally years. It was released in two parts, and its running time was ultimately 190 minutes.

Children of Paradise was made during the German occupation of France, so it should come as no surprise that it had difficulty getting to the screen. Worse yet, the weather was not always cooperative with regards to shooting the film. During the occupation film stock was rationed, so camera crews might find themselves without film. It was also not unusual for the set builders to experience shortages in supplies. The Nazi regime itself would also cause problems for the production. They banned producer  André Paulvé from working on the film because he had some Jewish ancestry. Ultimately production had to be suspended for three months. Fortunately French production company Pathé took over production of the film. Both set designer Alexandre Trauner and composer Joseph Kosma were Jewish, and had to work on the film in secret.

Unfortunately that would not be the end of problems for Children of Paradise, as the weather would sometimes interfere with its production. The primary set in the film, the Boulevard du Temple, was damaged in a storm and had to almost entirely be rebuilt. Naturally, this delayed shooting even longer.

Shooting would again be delayed following the Allied invasion of Normandy on June 6 1944, although it seems possible that production was delayed so that the film could be finished once France was free. Regardless, Children of Paradise would not begin production again until after Paris was liberated in August 1944. Even once France was free of the Nazis, however, Children of Paradise would experience problems in production. Actor Robert Le Vigan, who had been cast as used clothes salesman Jericho, had supported the Nazis. Once France was liberated, he fled and the role was recast with Pierre Renoir, film director Jean Renoir's brother. As to Robert Le Vigan, he was eventually caught and sentenced to ten years hard labour in 1946.

Because Vichy France forbade any films longer than 90 minutes, Children of Paradise was released in two parts. In the end it would be the most expensive film made in France up to that time, costing about fifty eight million francs. Fortunately given the difficulties it faced in being made and the amount of money it cost, Children of Paradise proved to be a success. It was the third most successful film in France for 1945. The film would also prove successful elsewhere and is now considered one of the greatest films ever made.

Children of Paradise had its roots in history. In fact, set in the theatres of Paris in the 1820s and 1830s, it takes it title from the term "paradis" (literally "paradise" in English), which had once been used of the upper balcony of the theatre where seats were cheap enough that the poor could afford them. Some of the film's characters were actual historical personages. Jean-Gaspard Debureau was a famous mime who performed at the Theatre des Funambules.  Frederick Lemaitre was a popular actor of the time. Pierre-Francois Lacenaire was a well known criminal of the time and would provide the basis for the character Rodion Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

While Children of Paradise is unabashedly a romance, it is also a very sophisticated film. Nearly every class in Paris of the 1820s and 1830s is portrayed in the film, and class plays a large role in the film. Lacenaire's origins are strictly bourgeoisie, while the Count Edouard de Montray is from the nobility. Some have even seen Children of Paradise as a metaphor for the French Resistance, with Garance representing Occupied France. Indeed, many of the film's extras were agents of the Resistance, who used their work on the film as a cover.

That having been said, it seems likely that most viewers will enjoy the film primarily as an epic romance. And it is indeed a romance for the ages. Garance is pursued by three very different men (Baptiste Deburau,  Frédérick Lemaître, Pierre-François Lacenaire, and the Count Edouard de Montray), and it is her choice of one over the others that would ultimately lead to dire consequences. Children of Paradise is ultimately a tragedy, and one has to suspect that even those who do not cry at movies might shed some tears before it is over.

As mentioned earlier, Children of Paradise has been counted among the greatest films ever made. Cahiers du cinéma regularly ranked it among the greatest films ever made, despite the fact that magazine had never exactly supported the films of Marcel Carné. In 1995 a poll of 600 film professionals voted Children of Paradise the best film ever. In 2005 Time included it among their list of the All-Time100 greatest films made since 1923. Children of Paradise is then not only one of the all time great romances, but one of the greatest movies ever made.

Friday, 12 May 2017

The 50th Anniversary of The Jimi Hendrix Experience's Are You Experienced

It was fifty years ago today that the debut album of The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Are You Experienced, was released in the United Kingdom. It proved to be a smash hit upon its release. It entered the British album chart at no. 27 and spent 33 weeks total on the chart. Are You Experienced peaked at no. 2 on the chart, kept out of the no. 1 spot by another legendary album, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles. Are You Experienced would be released later in the United States on August 23 1967, featuring a different track listing than the British version.

Are You Experienced has since been considered one of the greatest debut albums of all time. The original British version of the album featured some of The Jimi Hendrix Experience's best known songs, including "Foxy Lady", "Manic Depression", "May This Be Love", and "Are You Experienced?".  It has also since been considered one of the most influential albums of all time. While psychedelia had existed prior to the release of Are You Experienced, the album's release was certainly a pivotal moment in the genre's history. It would also lay the groundwork for heavy metal, with many, if not most, metal guitarists emulating Jimi Hendrix's work. It has often been included in lists of the greatest rock albums of all time. In 2005 Are You Experienced was added by the Library of Congress to to the National Recording Registry for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

Without further ado, here is the title track, "Are You Experienced?"

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

The Late, Great Michael Parks

Michael Parks, the star of cult TV show Then Came Bronson, died yesterday, May 9 2017, at the age of 77.  Mr. Parks appeared on TV shows from Perry Mason to Twin Peaks, and in movies from The Happening (1967) to Kill Bill Volume 1 (2003) and Kill Bill Volume 2 (2004).

Michael Parks was born on April 24 1940 in Corona in Riverside County, California. He worked a variety of jobs when he was very young, including fruit picking, ditch digging, and fighting forest fires. He eventually found his way into acting and made his television debut in an episode of Zane Grey Theatre in 1960. The Sixties saw Michael Parks guest star on several different TV shows, including such programmes as The Untouchables, The Asphalt Jungle, The Detectives, The Dick Powell Theatre, The Real McCoys, Gunsmoke, Perry Mason (on which he played opposite Bette Davis), 77 Sunset Strip, Ben Casey, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Wagon Train, Route 66, and The Young Lawyers. It was from 1969 to 1970 that he starred in the cult TV series Then Came Bronson. On the show he played former newspaperman Jim Bronson, who travels around the country on his motorcycle in an effort to find himself. Although the series is often assumed to have drawn upon the film Easy Rider (1969) for inspiration, in reality it was in development wel before the premiere of that film. In fact, the pilot aired before Easy Rider was even released. Then Came Bronson only lasted one season, although even during its original run it developed a cult following that it maintains to this day.

During the Sixties Michael Parks also appeared in several feature films. He made his film debut in the title role in Bus Riley's Back in Town in 1965. In the Sixties Mr. Parks appeared in the films Wild Seed (1965), The Idol (1966), The Bible: In the Beginning... (1966), and The Happening (1967).

In the Seventies Michael Parks guest starred on such shows as Owen Marshall, Counsellor at Law, Medical Centre, Ironside, Movin' On, McCloud, Get Christie Love!, Baretta, The Streets of San Francisco, Ellery Queen, Police Woman, and Fantasy Island. He appeared in the films Between Friends (1973), The Last Hard Men (1976), Sidewinder 1 (1977), Love and the Midnight Auto Supply (1977), The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover (1977), Breakthrough (1979), The Evictors (1979), and ffolkes (1980).

In the Eighties Michael Parks played Phillip Colby on the TV series The Colbys and gunrunner Jean Renault on Twin Peaks. He guest starred on such shows as The Equaliser; Murder, She Wrote; and War of the Worlds. He appeared in the films Hard Country (1981), Savannah Smiles (1982), The Return of Josey Wales (1986), Club Life (1986), French Quarter Undercover (1986), Spiker (1986), Arizona Heat (1988), Prime Suspect (1989), Nightmare Beach (1989), and Caged Fury (1990).

In the Nineties Mr. Parks appeared in the films The Hitman (1991), Over the Line (1992), Storyville (1992), Death Wish V: The Face of Death (1994), Sorceress (1995), Niagara, Niagara (1997), Deceiver (1997), Julian Po (1997), Wicked (1998), and Bullfighter (2000). He played Texas Ranger Earl McGraw for the first time in the movie From Dusk Till Dawn (1996). He guest starred on the shows Shades of L.A.; SeaQuest 2032; and Walker, Texas Ranger.

In the Naughts Michael Parks reprised his role as Earl McGraw in the films Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003), Kill Bill: Volume 2 (2004), and both segments of Grindhouse (2007), Planet Terror and Death Proof. He appeared in such films as Big Bad Love (2001), The Librarians (2003), Miracle at Sage Creek (2005), One Night with You (2006), Fighting Words (2007), The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007), Noble Things (2008), Satisfaction (2009), and Street Poet (2010).

In the Naughts Michael Parks appeared in such films as Red State (2011), Argo (2012), Django Unchained (2012), We Are What We Are (2013), Tusk (2014), Blood Father (2016), and Greater (2016).

Although he never achieved major stardom, Michael Parks was one of the great acting talents of the late 20th Century.  Early in his career he was often cast in roles associated with the counterculture. In the Perry Mason episode "The Case of Constant Doyle" he played troubled young man Cal Leonard and more than held his own with Constant Doyle as played by Bette Davis. In the movie Bus Riley's Back in Town he played a young man trying to adjust to life after several years in the Navy. In The Happening Mr. Parks played Sureshot, one of a group of hippies who "kidnap" gangster Roc Delmonico. Of course, what may be Michael Parks's most famous role was linked to the counterculture, that of wanderer Jim Bronson in Then Came Bronson.

While Michael Parks played a number of countercultural roles in the Sixties, the Seventies saw him beginning to play authority figures. He played a doctor in an episode of Medical Centre, Sheriff Noel Nye in The Last Hard Men, and Sgt. Anderson in Breakthrough (1979).  Michael Parks was capable of playing a wide variety of roles. The character of Texas Ranger Earl McGraw he played in multiple films was largely comedy relief. He not only played Texas Ranger Earl McGraw in Kill Bill Volume 1, but in Kill Bill Volume 2 he played retired pimp Esteban Vihaio as well.  It seems likely many viewers did not realise that both roles were played by the same man. Michael Parks even played villains quite well. Jean Renault on Twin Peaks was among the most ruthless of characters on a show that did not lack for villainous types. Michael Parks might never have become a leading man, but he will always be remembered as an excellent character actor who played a diverse number of roles throughout his career.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Quinn O'Hara Passes On

Quinn O'Hara, who guest starred on such TV shows as Dragnet, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and The Saint, and starred in The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (1966), died on May 5 2017 at the age of 76.

Quinn O'Hara was born Alice Jones in Edinburgh, Scotland on January 3 1941 to a Welsh father and Scottish-Irish mother. She attended a convent boarding school in Cardiff, Wales as a child. When she was 14 she and her mother moved to Quebec. Three years later they moved to Long Beach, California. She attended Long Beach College. She wanted to compete in the Miss Lakewood beauty pageant, but was disqualified as she was a Scottish citizen. The Royal Order of Scotland named her "Miss Scotland". While she did not actually get to compete in the Miss Universe pageant, she did receive a participation award.

Quinn O'Hara made her television debut in an episode of Dragnet in 1956. She made her film debut in a bit part in the Jerry Lewis movie The Errand Boy in 1961. In the Sixties she was a regular on the summer replacement series The Lively Ones. She guest starred on such shows as General Electric Theatre, The Real McCoys, Channing, The Red Skelton Hour, The Beverly Hillbillies, The Rogues, Burke's Law, Run for Your Life, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., My Three Sons, The Saint, and Dragnet 1968. She appeared in the films The Caretakers (1963), Who's Minding the Store? (1963), The Patsy (1964), Good Neighbour Sam (1964), A Swingin' Summer (1965), The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (1966), Cry of the Banshee (1970), and Rubia's Jungle (1970).

In the Seventies Miss O'Hara guest starred on To Rome With Love, Dan August, The Smith Family, Ironside, UFO, The Streets of San Francisco, One Day at a Time, CHiPs, and Fantasy Island. She appeared in the films Foursome (1971) and The Teacher (1974).

In the Eighties Quinn O'Hara had a recurring role on Trapper John M.D. and Dallas. She guest starred on such shows as Quincy M.E., Vega$, The Fall Guy, T. J. Hooker, and Matlock. Quinn O'Hara later went into nursing, although she still made occasional appearances in TV shows. She guest starred on Acapulco H.E.A.T., Diagnosis Murder, Baywatch, N.Y.P.D. Blue, and Las Vegas.

Quinn O'Hara may have been best known for her red hair and her good looks, although she was talented as an actress. She did particularly well with comedy, as demonstrated by A Swingin' Summer and The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini, as well as a number of her television appearances. And while she played sex kittens often, they were generally a bit left of centre. In The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini she played one of the villains, Sinistra. In Cry of the Banshee she played a serving wench who was also a witch. Quinn O'Hara may have been best known for her looks, but she did have a good deal of talent.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Daliah Lavi R.I.P.

Daliah Lavi, the Israeli actress who appeared in such films as Lord Jim (1965), Ten Little Indians (1965), The Silencers (1966), and Casino Royale (1967), died on May 3 2017 at the age of 74.

Daliah Lavi was born Daliah Levinbuck on October 12 1942 in Haifa, British Palestine. She was only ten years old when she met actor Kirk Douglas, and told him that she wanted to become a dancer. Mr. Douglas encouraged her parents to send her to Stockholm, Sweden to learn dance when she was 12 years old. Her father died when she was 16, at which point she returned to Israel to become a swimsuit model.

Miss Lavi made her film debut when she was only about 13, appearing in the Swedish film Hemsöborna (1955).  In the late Fifties she appeared in the films Brennender Sand (1960) and Candide ou l'optimisme au XXe siècle (1960).  She spent the early Sixties appearing in various European films, including Un soir sur la plage (1961), La fête espagnole (1961), Im Stahlnetz des Dr. Mabuse (1961),  Das schwarz-weiß-rote Himmelbett (1962),  La frusta e il corpo (1963), Das große Liebesspiel (1963), Old Shatterhand (1964), and Cyrano et d'Artagnan (1964). 

She made her debut in an American film in Two Weeks in Another Town in 1962. She played the Girl in Lord Jim (1965). Based on Joseph Conrad's novel and directed by Richard Brooks, unfortunately the film received bad reviews and did poorly at the box office. Lord Jim did nothing to hurt Daliah Lavi's career in English language films. In the late Sixties she appeared in such films as Ten Little Indians (1965), The Silencers (1966), Casino Royale (1967), Jules Verne's Rocket to the Moon (1967), Nobody Runs Forever (1968), and Some Girls Do (1969).

Miss Lavi's last American film was Catlow (1971). She began a successful singing career in Germany, and appeared frequently on European television in the Seventies and Eighties in that capacity.

In the English speaking world Daliah Lavi is probably best known for her roles as an often scantily clad object of lust in various American and British spy spoofs. Given her looks there can be no doubt that she was well suited to such roles. That having been said, she was fluent in multiple languages, so that she made films in Israel, Italy, France, and Germany, and often these films were a far cry from the light-hearted spy spoofs she made in English. Outside of the Anglopshere she made several dramas and films in other genres, where she more than held her own. Ultimately she was much more than a pretty face.