Saturday, 22 April 2017

TCM To Cease Printing the Now Playing Guide

Since January 1997 Turner Classic Movies has published Now Playing,  the channel's programming guide and magazine devoted to classic film. Over the past twenty years Now Playing has offered its readers articles, behind-the-scene looks at TCM, rarely seen photos of classic movie stars, and much more. Sadly, TCM  is ceasing printing Now Playing. Its last print issue will be August 2017. Subscribers will receive a pro-rated refund based on the remaining balance of their subscriptions starting in July.

The print version of Now Playing is going to be replaced by a digital version of the magazine that one can receive through email. The good news about the digital version is that it will be entirely, totally free. The digital version of Now Playing will include a printable schedule, articles, photos, and so on. If you wish to subscribe to the digital version of Now Playing, you can do so here.

As sad as it may be, in some respects it is understandable why Turner Classic Movies is bringing the printed version of the Now Playing guide to an end. The past twenty years have not been kind to print media. Since the Nineties several major magazines have ceased publication, including Amazing Stories, Cinefantastique, Ladies Home Journal, McCall's, and The National Lampoon, among many others. Even given the enthusiasm of TCM fans for anything related to Turner Classic Movies, it seems possible that Now Playing fell victim to the same falling sales as many other print magazines.

While the end of the print version of Now Playing is certainly the end of an era, at least there will be a digital version to take its place. Many of us might well prefer a print version, but at least we will still have something to look forward to and read each month.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Clifton James Passes On

Clifton James, who played Sheriff J. W. Pepper in the James Bond movies Live and Let Die (1973) and The Man With the Golden Gun (1974), died on April 15 2017 at the age of 96. He also appeared in such films as Cool Hand Luke (1967) and Will Penny (1967).

Clifton James was born on May 29 1920 in Spokane, Washington. At the start of the Great Depression his family movie to Gladstone, Oregon. In the Thirties he worked in the Civilian Conservation Corps. During World War II he served in the United States Army. He earned the Silver Star, Bronze Star, and two Purple Hearts. Following the war he took classes at the University of Oregon, where he acted in plays. He then moved to New York to pursue a career in acting.

Mr. James made his television debut on the soap opera The Secret Storm in 1954. He made his Broadway debut in The Time of Your Life in 1955. In 1957 he made his film debut in The Strange One. In the Fifties Clifton James guest starred on such shows as The Phil Silvers Show, Kraft Theatre, Decoy, and Naked City. He appeared in the film The Last Mile (1959). On Broadway he appeared in The Cave Dwellers, J.B., and The Long Dream.

During the Sixties he appeared in such films as Something Wild (1961), Experiment in Terror (1962), David and Lisa (1962), Black Like Me (1964), Invitation to a Gunfighter (1964), The Chase (1966), The Happening (1967), Cool Hand Luke (1967), Will Penny (1967), The Reivers (1969), and WUSA (1969). He guest starred on such TV shows as Naked City, Route 66, East Side/West Side, The Virginian, Mannix, Ironside, Gunsmoke, and Bonanza. He appeared on Broadway in All the Way Home, Great Day in the Morning, Andorra, And Things That Go Bump in the Night, and The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald.

In the Seventies Clifton James appeared in such films as The Biscuit Eater (1972), The New Centurions (1972), Live and Let Die (1973), The Iceman Cometh (1973), Bank Shot (1974), The Man with the Golden Gun (1974), Rancho Deluxe (1975), Silver Streak (1976), and Superman II (1980). He guest starred on such shows as The Six Million Dollar Man, City of Angels, Hart To Hart, Young Maverick, Quincy M.E., and Another World. He appeared on Broadway in The Shadow Box.

In the Eighties Mr. James was a regular on the TV show Texas and Lewis & Clark. He guest starred on such shows as The Fall Guy; Trapper John M.D.; The A-Team; Murder, She Wrote; Dallas; and Night Court. He appeared in such films as Talk to Me (1984), Stiffs (1985), The Untouchables (1987), Eight Men Out (1988), and The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990). He appeared on Broadway in Total Abandon.

In the Nineties and Naughts, Clifton James guest starred on such shows as Monsters, Gabriel's Fire, and All My Children. He appeared in the films Lone Star (1996), Interstate 84 (2000), Sunshine State (2002), and Raising Flagg (2006).

Clifton James was very good at playing Southern caricatures. Sheriff J. W. Pepper remains one of the high points of Live and Let Die, even getting one of the movie's best lines. That having been said, it would be a mistake to think that he could only play caricatures of Southerners. In Eight Man Out he played Charles Comiskey, the owner of the scandal-ridden Boston Red Sox. He also played the prosecuting attorney who handles the Al Capone case in The Untouchables. He also had a highly successful career on Broadway, where he played wide variety of parts. Although best known for playing Southerners, he played many other sorts of roles during his career. 

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Happy Easter 2017

For those of you who celebrate the holiday I want to wish you a very happy Easter! And as usual here at A Shroud of Thoughts, holidays mean vintage pin ups. Without further ado, then, here they are!

First up is Felicia Farr, who is painting eggs!

Next Ina Mae Spivey (later Mrs. Gene Autry), who is also painting eggs.
 Vera Ellen is receiving eggs from the Easter Bunny!

Jean Arthur is painting an Easter sign.

Mitzi Gaynor is hatching from an egg!

And last, but not least is Ann Miller with an Easter Bunny!

Happy Easter!

Friday, 14 April 2017

Tim Pigott-Smith Passes On

Tim Piggot-Smith, who appeared in such British series as The Jewel in the Crown and The Chief, died on April 7 2017 at the age of 70.

Tim Piggot-Smith was born on May 13 1946 in Rugby, Warwickshire. He attended Wyggeston Boys' School, Leicester and King Edward VI School, Stratford-upon-Avon. It was while he was at Wyggeston Boys’ School, Leicester that he developed an interest in theatre. He received a Bachelor of Arts in Drama at Bristol University. He studied acting at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School.

Mr. Pigott-Smith made his television debut in 1971 in an adaptation of Boswell's Life of Johnson.  In the Seventies he guest starred on such television series as The Regiment, North & South, The Glittering Prizes, Doctor Who, Wings, Play for Today, Danger UXB, and ITV Playhouse. He made his film debut in Aces High in 1976. He appeared in the films Joseph Andrews (1977)  and Richard's Things (1980).

In the Eighties he starred in the TV series Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years, Fame Is the Spur, I Remember Nelson, Struggle, The Jewel in the Crown, and The Chief. He appeared in the films Clash of the Titans (1981), Victory (1981), and A State of Emergency (1986).

In the Nineties Tim Piggot-Smith appeared in the films The Remains of the Day (1993), He continued to star on the TV show The Chief, and guest starred on the series Screen One and Ghosts. He guest starred on Spooks and Midsomer Murders. In the Naughts he starred on the TV series The Vice, North & South, and Holby Blue. He appeared in such films as Laissez-passer (2002), Bloody Sunday (2002), The Four Feathers (2002), Gangs of New York (2002), Johnny English (2003), Alexander (2004), Conflict (2005), V for Vendetta (2005), Flyboys (2006), Quantum of Solace (2008), and Alice in Wonderland (2010).

In the Teens he appeared in such TV programmes as The Hour, Downton Abbey, Silent Witness, The Bletchley Circle, 37 Days, and Inspector Lewis. He starred in the TV film Wodehouse in Exile.

Tim Piggot-Smith was an extremely talented and versatile actor. Many audiences might be most familiar with him as Peter Creedy, the sadistic head of the secret police in V for Vendetta. While Mr. Piggot-Smith could play excellent villains, he was also quite capable in other roles. He played author P. G. Wodehouse in Wodehouse in Exile, and Hotspur in a 1979 television adaptation of Henry IV Part I. And while he played the ruthless Ronald Merrick in The Jewel in the Crown, he also played the kindly Mr. Hale in North & South. Tim Piggot-Smith could play a wide array of roles and be convincing in all of them.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Movies I Would Like to See at the Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival

I have never attended the Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival (often abbreviated as TCMFF), although I have always wanted to. My primary reason for doing so is to meet the many fellow classic movie fans I have made as friends online over the years. That having been said, TCMFF also represents the chance to see classic movies one has never seen on the big screen before. Over the years I have often given thought to what films I would like to see if I ever got to attend the Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival. These are six of the many movies I would like to see at the festival. Some of these may well have been shown at the festival already, but I certainly was not there to see them!

Without further ado, here are six films I would like to see at TCMFF.

The Crowd (1928): The Crowd is one of my all time favourite silent movies and, as far as I am concerned, it is King Vidor's masterpiece. The film follows the life of an everyday man, and does so in an extremely naturalistic fashion. Much of the film shot on location on the streets of New York City, and it was very innovative as far as moving camera cinematography goes, among other things. Indeed, it offers a sharp contrast to the sometimes static early Talkies that followed it! It was one of the first 25 movies ever selected for preservation by the Library of Congress in the United States National Film Registry as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant", and with good reason.

42nd Street (1933): 42nd Street is both one of my favourite pre-Code movies and one of my favourite musicals. Today the plot might seem somewhat cliched to some, but then it has to be considered this was the movie that invented many of those cliches. What is more, it is done with a pre-Code naughtiness and panache that many of its later imitators lack. Of course, the two big attractions for me with regards to 42nd Street are a great cast (including Warner Baxter, Bebe Daniels, Una Merkel, Ginger Rogers, and many others) and the incredible choreography of Busby Berkeley.

Out of the Past (1947): Film noir is one of my all time favourite genres. Out of the Past is one of my favourite films noirs of all time, if not my all time favourite. It has all the proper ingredients for a great film noir: a cynical shamus; a femme fatale; a complex storyline; smart, crisp dialogue; and dark cinematography courtesy of Nicholas Musuraca.  It is very nearly a hardboiled novel come to life on the screen (and it was indeed based on a book, Build My Gallows High by James M. Cain). I won't necessarily say it is the greatest film noir of all time, but if it isn't then it comes very close.

Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter (1957):  I've always been a huge fan of Tony Randall. He was a character actor who could easily play the lead when he was called upon to do so. Of the movies in which he played the lead, this is arguably the best. Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? is one of the funniest movies of the Fifties, right down to its opening credits. It was also in many respects a pioneering film, presaging the satires of the Sixties. The satire of  Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? cuts a wide swathe through Fifties popular culture, including Hollywood, movie fans, advertising, and television.

Help! (1965):  In 2014, on the occasion of its 50th anniversary, A Hard Day's Night was shown at the Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival. I hoped that in 2015 Help! would then be shown at TCMFF in honour of its 50th anniversary. Sadly, that did not happen. Help! may not have the reputation that A Hard Day's Night does, but it really should. While A Hard Day's Night was a surreal portrayal of The Beatles' trip to London for a television appearance, Help! was a surreal parody of the then popular James Bond films blended with influences from The Marx Brothers' Duck Soup and the classic radio show The Goon Show. And just as A Hard Day's Night would prove influential, so too would Help!. In many respects Help! was a precursor to the camp, pop culture sensibilities of the classic TV show Batman, while  the classic TV show The Monkees actually owes much more to Help! than it does A Hard Day's Night.

Phantom of the Paradise (1974): Every TCMFF has to have some sort of midnight movie, and Phantom of the Paradise is the genuine article. Upon its initial release in 1974 it bombed at the box office. Fortunately it found new life as a midnight movie and eventually developed a cult following. Written by Brian De Palma, the inspiration for Phantom of the Paradise was drawn primarily from Gaston Leroux's novel  Phantom of the Opera and the "Faust" legend, as well as Oscar Wilde's novel The Picture of Dorian Gray. The film is essentially a blend of horror, comedy, and rock musical. Although perhaps not as bizarre as some midnight screenings at past Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festivals (certainly not Zardoz...), it is certainly outré enough to satisfy any lover of midnight movies.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Godspeed J. Geils

J. Geils, lead guitarist and leader of the J. Geils Band, died yesterday at the age of 71, apparently of natural causes.

J. Geils was born John Warren Geils Jr. in New York City on February 20 1946. He grew up  in Morris Plains, New Jersey. His father was a devoted jazz fan and from an early age J. Geils was exposed to the works of Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and Benny Goodman. While he was still a boy, J. Geils's father took him to a Louis Armstrong concert. J. Geils learned the trumpet, learning to play many of Miles Davis's tunes. He was also a fan of such blues guitarists as Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters.

After graduating high school he attended Northeastern University in Boston, where he played the trumpet in the marching band. He later transferred to Worcester Polytechnic Institute, where he studied mechanical engineering. It was at Worcester that J Geils formed an acoustic blues trio consisting of himself as guitarist,  bassist Danny Klein, and  harmonica player Richard Salwitz (who later adopted the stage name Magic Dick). Initially called Snoopy and the Sopwith Camels, the band would eventually switch to electric guitar and bass. They also recruited two new members, drummer Stephen Bladd and vocalist Peter Wolf. Later that same year they would be joined by keyboardist Seth Justman. Initially they called themselves the J. Geils Blues Band, eventually dropping "Blues" from their name.

It was in 1970 that the J. Geils Band was signed to Atlantic Records. Their self-titled debut album was released in November of that year. Their first single, a cover of The Contours' "First I Look at the Purse", received some FM radio airplay. Their second album, The Morning After, was released in 1971. It contained the song "Cry One More Time", which was later covered by Gram Parsons. Their cover of The Valentinos' ""Looking for a Love" proved to be their first top forty hit in the United States, peaking at no. 39 on the Billboard Hot 100.

The J. Geils Band's third album, Bloodshot, would prove to be their breakthrough record. It peaked at no. 10 on the Billboard album chart. It also produced the hit single "Give It to Me", which peaked at no. 30 on the Billboard Hot 100. Their next two albums, Ladies Invited and Nightmares...and Other Tales from the Vinyl Jungle, peaked at no. 51 and no. 23 respectively, although the latter produced one of the J. Geils Band's greatest hits, "Must of Got Lost", which peaked at no. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100.

The J. Geils Band's next three albums (Hotline, Monkey Island, and Sanctuary) each did respectively well with Hotline peaking at no. 36 and Sanctuary peaking at no. 49. Their following album would prove to be one of their most memorable, if not absolutely their most memorable album. While Love Stinks was not their highest charting album (it peaked at no. 18), it produced what might be their most memorable song. "Love Stinks" only peaked at no. 38 on the Billboard Hot 100, but has since been used in so many films, TV shows, and commercials that it is probably the J. Geils Band's best known song. The album also produced two other singles that entered the Billboard Hot 100: "Come Back" (which peaked at no. 32) and "Just Can't Wait" (which peaked at no. 78).

The J. Geils Band would reach the peak of their success with the album Freeze Frame. The album went all the way to no. 1 on the Billboard album chart. The single "Centrefold" from the album also went to no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. The single "Freeze-Frame" peaked at no. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100. A third single, "Angel in Blue", peaked at no. 40. A live album, Showtime, followed Freeze Frame and went to no. 23 on the Billboard album chart. Unfortunately, success was not to last.

Peter Wolf left the band in 1983 over disagreements about the direction the band was taking. Seth Justman then took over lead vocals. The J. Geils Band released one last album, You're Gettin' Even While I'm Gettin' Odd, which peaked at only no. 80 on the Billboard album chart, making it the lowest charting J. Geils Band album since their debut album. The band recorded the song "Fright Night" for the 1985 movie of the same name before breaking up.

Following the break-up of the J. Geils Band, J. Geils devoted himself to auto racing and automobile restoration. He founded KTR Motorsports, a shop for vintage Ferraris, Maseratis, and various other Italian cars. He returned to music in 1992 when he formed Bluestime with Magic Dick. He later released a solo album in 2005. J. Geils also joined various reunions of the J. Geils Band in later years.

I have often thought that J. Geils was one of the most underrated guitarists in rock music. He brought to his playing a variety of influences, including jazz, blues, R&B, reggae, and old time rock 'n' roll. Mr. Geils was comfortable with a number of different musical styles and often incorporated them into his guitar work. What is more, he was incredibly precise in his guitar playing, all the while making it look effortless. J. Geils was something of an introvert, so he never shared the spotlight with Peter Wolf or Seth Justman, but he was as necessary to the band that bore his name as they were. Quite simply, it was J. Geils's guitar work that held the J. Geils Band's music together.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival Coverage Across the Blogosphere

If you are like me, then you did not get to attend this year's Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival (TCMFF, for short). Fortunately there was no shortage of coverage of the event. Turner Classic Movies covered much of the festival on the air, and also made a number of posts about it on their various social media accounts. It should come as no surprise that many of the classic film bloggers who attended TCMF posted a good deal about it. Many TCM fans like myself were unable to attend the festival, but fortunately we were able to experience it vicariously through the many blog posts about it!

Below are a list of blog posts on the 2017 Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival. I have no doubt that there will be many more blog posts about it in the coming weeks, so I will updating this list from time to time! If you have a blog post about TCMFF and it isn't listed, by all means get a hold of me via Twitter or email and I will add it. I want to thank everyone who made blog posts about the festival, allowing those of us who could not attend to experience it from afar.

A Classic Movie Blog

"TCM Classic Film Festival 2017: The Carl Reiner and Rob Reiner Hand and Footprint Ceremony at the Chinese Theatre"
"TCM Classic Film Festival 2017: The Stars"
"TCM Classic Film Festival 2017--The Films Part One: Nitrate and the Newly Restored Egyptian Theatre"

Backlots

"Backlots at the TCM Classic Film Festival 2017"
"TCM Classic Film Festival Schedule Released–How We Pick Movies and Where I’ll Be"
 "TCM Classic Film Festival Day 1: 7 Seconds of Bette Davis in JEZEBEL (1938)"
"Live From the TCM Classic Film Festival Day 2: Watching Old Favorites With a Community"
"Live From the TCM Classic Film Festival Days 3 and 4–The Nitrate Prints: LAURA (1944) and BLACK NARCISSUS (1947)"
"TCM Classic Film Festival Wrap-Up, 2017"

Lady Eve's Reel Life

"The Nitrate Experience, BLACK NARCISSUS at TCMFF 2017"

Laura's Miscellaneous Musings

"The 2017 TCM Classic Film Festival in Review"

Out of the Past

"My Top Picks for the 2017 TCM Classic Film Festival"
 "TCM Classic Film Festival 2017: Day 1 Recap Alive and Kicking (2016)"
 "TCM Classic Film Festival 2017: Day 2 Recap"
"TCM Classic Film Festival 2017: Day 3 Recap"
"TCM Classic Film Festival 2017: Day 4 Recap"
"My Thoughts on the 2017 TCM Classic Film Festival"
"Carl and Rob Reiner Hand and Footprint Ceremony #TCMFF"

 Silents and Talkies

"My 2017 TCMFF Schedule"

Speakeasy

"TCM Film Festival 2017- More Canadian Trivia"


Spellbound

"TCMFF 2017 Diary: Pre-Fest Day One"


The Retro Set
 
"TCM Film Fest Special : Line Up with Raquel Stecher"


Friday, 7 April 2017

The Late Great Don Rickles

Don Rickles, the famous insult comic who appeared in such films as  Run Silent, Run Deep (1958) , various entries in the "Beach Party" series, and Kelly's Heroes (1970), died yesterday at the age of 90. The cause was kidney failure.

Don Rickles was born on May 8 1926 in Queens, New York. He grew up in Jackson Heights, New York. During World War II he served in the United States Navy. After he was honourably discharged in 1946, he followed his father into the insurance business. Meeting with little success in the insurance industry, he decided to go into acting. He studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City. Finding it difficult to get acting jobs, he took up stand up comedy. He performed in the Catskills and at nightclubs in New York City, Los Angeles, and Miami. He became an insult comedian as a response to hecklers.

Don Rickles made his television debut as an announcer on an episode of Stage 7 in 1955. He also appeared as an announcer on episodes of Four Star Playhouse and Chevron Hall of Stars. As a comic he appeared on The Eddie Fisher Show. As an actor he appeared in an episode of The Thin Man. He made his film debut in Run Silent, Run Deep in 1958 and then appeared in the films The Rabbit Trap (1959) and The Rat Race (1960).

It was during the Sixties that Don Rickles's career really began to take off. He guest starred on such shows as The Twilight Zone, Wagon Train, Hennessey, The Addams Family, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Burke's Law, The Munsters, The Beverly Hillbillies, Gilligan's Island, Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C., F Troop, The Wild Wild West, The Lucy Show, I Spy, and Get Smart. He frequently appeared on variety shows and talk shows doing his insult routine, including such shows as The Tonight Show Starring Jack Paar, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, The Joey Bishop Show, The Hollywood Palace, The Ed Sullivan Show, and The Carol Burnett Show. During the 1968-1969 season he had his own variety show, The Don Rickles Show.

During the Sixties Don Rickles also had a thriving movie career. He appeared in several entries in the "Beach Party" series, as well as related films, including Muscle Beach Party (1964), Bikini Beach (1964), Pyjama Party (1964), and Beach Blanket Bingo (1965). He also appeared in the films X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (1963), Enter Laughing (1967), The Money Jungle (1967), Where It's At (1969), and Kelly's Heroes (1970).

In the Seventies Don Rickles had a short-lived sitcom, The Don Rickles Show, that ran during the 1971-1972 season. He saw more success with CPO Sharkey, a service comedy centred around the Naval noncom of the same name, that ran for two seasons from 1976 to 1978. He guest starred on the shows Sanford and Son and Medical Centre. He continued to appear on such talk shows as The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, Dinah!, and The Mike Douglas Show.He had a small role in the film The Love Machine (1971) as an announcer.

In the Eighties Don Rickles guest starred on Archie Bunker's Place, Gimme a Break!, George Burns Comedy Week, Newhart, and Tales from the Crypt. He appeared in the film Keaton's Cop (1990).

In the Nineties Don Rickles starred in the short-lived sitcom Daddy Dearest. He guest starred on the shows Hunter, The Larry Sanders Show, The Single Guy, and Murphy Brown. He appeared in the films Innocent Blood (1992), Casino (1995), and Dirty Work (1998). He was the voice of Mr. Potato Head in the films Toy Story (1995) and Toy Story 2 (1999). He was also a voice in the film Quest for Camelot (1998).

In the Naughts Don Rickles guest starred on The Bernie Mac Show and The Unit. He reprised the voice of Mr. Potato Head in Toy Story 3 (2010). In the Teens he guest starred on Hot in Cleveland. He was the voice of frog in the film Zookeeper (2011).

I cannot say that I was a huge fan of Don Rickles's routine, but there can be no doubt that it was groundbreaking. There were insult comics before Don Rickles (Jack E. Leonard being the prime example of such), but he was the one that popularised the form. As a comedian he was hugely popular in the Sixties and Seventies, and he remained popular in the Eighties and Nineties and into the 21st Century.

While I was not necessarily a big fan of Don Rickles's comedy routine, I loved him as an actor. Indeed, I cannot think of the "Beach Party" movies without thinking of Don Rickles. In most of the films his characters were called "Big (fill in the blank), whether he was playing a Martian ("Big Bang" in Bikini Beach) or the operator of a skydiving business ("Big Drop" in Beach Blanket Bingo). While one would expect the characters he played to be a bit prickly, he actually played a wide variety of different characters. On Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. he played one of Sgt. Carter's old war buddies, who credited Carter as being a war hero even as Carter credited him. On The Addams Family he played one of a pair of hold-up men who has the misfortune of meeting the Addamses on what is their favourite holiday. In Casino he played Billy Sherbert, a casino manager. During his acting career Don Rickles played everything from con men to a ventriloquist to a vacuum cleaner salesman. And he did all of them fairly well.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Underdog Character Designer Joe Harris Passes On

Joe Harris, who served as the character designer and storyboard artist at television animation studio Total Television (better known simply as TTV), died on March 26 at the age of 89. TTV produced such classic animated series as King Leonardo and His Short Subjects, Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales, Underdog, and The Beagles. Wile at advertising agency Dancer Fitzgerald Sample Mr. Harris also created Trix cereal's advertising mascot the Trix Rabbit.

Joseph Benjamin Harris III was born on January 5 1928 in Jersey City, New Jersey. He served in both the United States Navy and the United States Marines. He attended the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and after graduation joined Dancer Fitzgerald Sample as an illustrator. He worked on accounts ranging from Bounty paper towels to General Mills cereal.

It was in the late Fifties that Joe Harris created the Trix Rabbit to sell Trix cereal. He not only drew the storyboard for the animated commercial, but also created the cereal's tagline that would last for decades: "Silly rabbit! Trix are for kids!" The Trix Rabbit was introduced in television commercials in 1959.

It was also in 1959 that Dancer Fitzgerald Sample employees W. Watts Bigger, Account Supervisor on General Mills and Corn Products/Best Foods accounts, Chet Stover, copy supervisor on the General Mills account, and Joe Harris, who was then supervisor of animation for the General Mills account, were approached by a superior who told them that General Mills wanted to sponsor a television programme for children. The three men, along with Treadwell Covington (who worked at a direct mail agency) then founded Total Television, known simply as TTV for short.

Joe Harris would serve as the character designer, a storyboard artist, and a producer on all of TTV's programmes. TTV entered the production of animated cartoons with King Leonardo and His Short Subjects. Debuting on NBC on October 15 1960, it was only the network's second Saturday morning cartoon (after Hanna-Barbera's The Ruff & Reddy Show). It was followed in 1963 by Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales and then in 1964 by TTV's most successful cartoon Underdog. Underdog proved to be a phenomenal success. It ran for nine seasons on NBC and CBS and went onto a very successful syndication run. In 1965 an Underdog balloon was introduced to the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, where it was flown annually for literally years. A good deal of Underdog merchandise has been produced to this day, including a lunch box, games, comic books, Little Golden Books, and much more.

TTV's final cartoon would be The Beagles, which was centred around a rock band made up of two anthropomorphic dogs. Sadly, it would prove less successful than TTV's previous efforts. The Beagles lasted for only a single season on Saturday morning, from 1965 to 1966. It was in 1969 that General Mills dropped its sponsorship of TTV. Without the money from General Mills, TTV closed up shop.

After TTV closed down, Joe Harris returned to the advertising industry. Still later he illustrated and wrote the children's book, The Belly Book.

Joe Harris certainly made lasting contributions to American pop culture. The Trix Rabbit is not only still featured prominently on boxes of Trix, but he still appears in commercials to this day. The characters he designed at TTV may have had an even more lasting impact on popular culture. Klondike Kat, Tennessee Tuxedo, Commander McBragg, and, particularly, Underdog would all figure prominently in the childhoods of multiple generations of Americans. To this day Tennessee Tuxedo and Underdog remain two of the most famous characters to emerge from American broadcast network Saturday morning cartoons. As character designer and storyboard artist at TTV, Joe Harris had a good deal to do with their success.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

My Picks for the 2017 Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival

It is a sad fact of my life that I have never gotten the chance to attend the Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival. What is more, I will not be attending TCMFF this year either. That having been said, I always look forward to it every year. I know that I can see plenty of photos and blog posts from my many TCM fan friends, and Turner Classic Movies always offers a good deal of coverage of the event. Of course, like many fans who are unable to attend I also like to play armchair quarterback and decide what I would go see if I could attend. Here then are my choices of what I would watch if I were attending this years Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival.

Thursday, April 5
12:30 PM At the Chinese Multiplex House 1 Remembering Robert Osborne: As I am sure all of you already know, Robert Osborne died earlier this year. For that reason this year's TCMFF is dedicated to his memory. It is then that they will be celebrating Robert's life at the Festival. I am sure that this is the one event that every single TCM fan will want to attend. Robert Osborne was pivotal to the success of TCM, and important to all of us. This is one of the primary reasons I really wish I could have made it to the festival this year.

7:00 PM Poolside Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory: This is one of those instances where it was hard to make a choice. Some Like It Hot is at 6:00 PM, while In the Heat of the Night is at 6:30 PM. That having been said, I have seen Some Like It Hot and In the Heat of the Night on the big screen. I have never seen Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory any place but on television. An added bonus is that cast members Julie Dawn Cole (Veruca Salt herself), Rusty Goffe (the head Oompa Loompa), and Paris Themmen (Mike Tee Vee himself) will be attendance, as well at the illustrious Illeana Douglas (actress, director, author, and the granddaughter of screen legend Melvyn Douglas).

9:30 at the Egyptian Theatre The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934): I have no idea how far apart the various venues are, so I don't know if I could make it from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory to The Man Who Knew Too Much, but I would certainly try! This is one of my favourite Hitchcock films and I much prefer it to the Fifties remake. It is opposite Harold and Maude, but in the end I cannot resist a classic Hitchcock film made while he was still in England!

Friday, April 7
10:30 AM at the Chinese Theatre IMAX Hand and Footprint Ceremony--Carl and Rob Reiner: Okay, I would hate missing The Maltese Falcon and It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, but I am a huge fan of Carl Reiner, as well as his son Rob. If I were at TCMFF there is almost no way that I would miss this.

2:00 PM at the Chinese Theatre IMAX The Princess Bride: As far as recent films go, The Princess Bride is one of my favourites. What is more, Rob Reiner is going to be in attendance.

7:30 PM Poolside What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is the film that introduced to me to Bette Davis and Joan Crawford (and for those who are wondering, I am #TeamBette). I have seen it many times over the years, but I have never seen it on the big screen. Sadly, it would mean I would miss Laura and Twentieth Century. A long time ago I concluded that conflicts in what one wants to see are par for the course at TCMFF!

Saturday, April 8
9:00 AM at the Chinese Theatre IMAX The Court Jester:  Okay, this was a hard choice. The Court Jester is showing opposite another one of my favourite films, Arsenic and Old Lace. That having been said, I have seen Arsenic and Old Lace on the big screen, while I have never seen The Court Jester in a theatre. I must also point out that Illeana Douglas and Fred Willard, two of my favourite people, will be at the showing of The Court Jester.

12:30 PM at the Egyptian Theatre Rear Window: This is showing opposite The Great Dictator, but for me Hitchcock trumps Chaplin (I know many of you will disagree with me on that). And Rear Window is one of my favourite films that Alfred Hitchcock ever made.

2:45 PM at the Chinese Theatre IMAX The Jerk: For me this comes down to one name: Carl Reiner. I have been a huge fan of Mr. Reiner since childhood, so there is no way I would miss a showing of The Jerk with him in attendance!

7:30 PM Poolside Planet of the Apes: This is another instance where I will miss another movie I would really like to see, Theodora Goes Wild. That having been said, I have been a fan of Planet of the Apes since childhood and I have never seen it on the big screen. I really wish they had shown Planet of the Apes at midnight instead so I could go ahead and see Theodora Goes Wild!

9:30 PM at the Chinese Theatre IMAX The Graduate: This is the one movie I would have to see at TCMFF. The Graduate is one of my all time favourite films and, what is more, Buck Henry will be in attendance. I really would not want to miss it.

Sunday, April 9:
9:00 AM at the Chinese Theatre Multiplex House 1 Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb: Dr. Strangelove is one of my all time favourite movies. In fact, it is in my top ten. I have seen it on the big screen, but I really would not want to miss it at TCMFF.

12:30 PM at Club TCM at the Hotel Roosevelt Ask Leonard Maltin: Leonard Maltin is one of my favourite critics and film historians and I would really love to see him in person. I also have a lot of questions about classic animation I would like to ask him (he's one of the world's foremost experts in the field)!

1:30 PM at the Chinese Theatre IMAX The Palm Beach Story: I don't know if I could make it in time from the Leonard Maltin Q&A, but I would certainly try! The Palm Beach Story is my all time favourite Preston Sturges movie and it stars local girl Mary Astor!  I've never seen it on the big screen. I would really hate to miss it.

4:30  PM at the Chinese Theatre IMAX Singin' in the Rain: Have I ever mentioned I  have had a crush on Ruta Lee since childhood? Even if Singin' in the Rain wasn't my third favourite musical (after The Wizard of Oz and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers), Miss Lee's presence would guarantee I would show up! Of course, Todd Fisher will also be there, so it would be a treat to hear him talk about his mother's memories in making the film (Debbie Reynolds, another one of my childhood crushes).

Of course, more than seeing any films or even people I admire, for me the Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival would be a chance for me to meet my many classic film buddies, most of whom I have known for literally years, but whom I have never met in person. I am closer to many of my fellow classic film buffs than I am people I do know in person, and I consider many of them dear friends. I have no doubt that much of my time would be spent visiting with them.

Anyway, I am looking forward to the various photos and blog posts that emerge from this year's festival!

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Jack Lemmon in The Apartment

 (This post is part of the Jack Lemmon Blogathon hosted by Crítica Retrô and Wide Screen World)

I would guess every Jack Lemmon fan has their favourite role that he played, the one that comes to mind when he or she thinks of Jack Lemmon. For some it might be Jerry/"Daphne" in Some Like It Hot (1959). For others it might be Felix in The Odd Couple (1968). For yet others it might be Professor Fate in The Great Race (1965). For me it will always be C. C. Baxter in The Apartment (1960). It is not simply a case that The Apartment is my favourite movie starring Jack Lemmon. It's also that it is the sort of role that I think Jack Lemmon was best suited to play.

The Apartment was the second film Jack Lemmon made with director Billy Wilder. The initial concept for The Apartment emerged when Billy Wilder first saw Brief Encounter (1945). In the film Laura Jesson (played by Celia Johnson) meets with Alec Harvey (played Trevor Howard) in the apartment of a friend in the course of their affair (here it must be noted that they are both married). Billy Wilder was much more fascinated by the idea of the friend who let the two lovers use his apartment (and who is never actually seen in the movie) than the two people having the affair themselves. Another possible source for The Apartment was the real life affair between agent Jennings Lang and actress Joan Bennett, who at the time was married to producer Walter Wanger. Mr. Lang and Miss Bennett's affair was largely conducted in the apartment of one of Mr. Lang's underlings. When Walter Wanger found out about the affair, he promptly shot Mr. Lang (this being a PG rated blog, I won't say where). Walter Wanger plead insanity and served only four months in prison. Jennings Lang went on to marry songbird Monica Lewis, to whom he was married for forty years and with whom he had three sons. According to Billy Wilder's writing partner I. A. L. Diamond, another source of inspiration for The Apartment was a real life incident in which a woman committed suicide in a man's apartment after their affair had gone sour.

For those who have never seen The Apartment, the film centres on C. C. Baxter, who has a rather unique problem. Working for a large, national insurance company, the rather unassuming accountant has found himself in the position of having to loan his apartment to four different managers to use for their various affairs. As the movie progresses, this already complicated situation grows even more complicated. Making matter worse is the fact that Baxter has long carried a torch for elevator girl Fran Kubelik (played by Shirley MacLaine), who has her own share of personal problems.

In casting The Apartment, Billy Wilder and I. A. L. Diamond only had one actor in mind for the role of C. C. Baxter--Jack Lemmon. After Some Like It Hot, Messrs. Wilder and Diamond both wanted to work with Mr. Lemmon again, and no other actor was even considered for the role. Character actor Paul Douglas was originally cast in the role of the oily insurance company president Mr. Sheldrake. Sadly, Paul Douglas died on September 11 1959 from a heart attack. He was only 52. Fred MacMurray was then cast as Sheldrake.

While the entire cast of The Apartment were perfect for their parts, it is easy to see why Billy Wilder and I. A. L. Diamond wanted Jack Lemmon as C. C. Baxter. In my humble opinion, Jack Lemmon was born to play the role. For me Mr. Lemmon was at his best playing the average guy, the sort of well meaning fellow who is always trying to get ahead in life. This made Jack Lemmon rather singular as an actor, as in the Thirties and Forties there weren't too many actors who could play "average guys". Clark Gable was too handsome to be believable in the role. Cary Grant was too charming to play such parts. Perhaps the actor from the Golden Age of Hollywood to come closest to Jack Lemmon would be Jimmy Stewart, who could play average guys quite well. That having been said, many of the "average guys" played by Jimmy Stewart weren't quite so "average". Very few of us would be appointed to a Senate seat the way Jefferson Smith was, and not many of us would be as self-sacrificing as George Bailey was. The average guys Jack Lemmon played truly were average.

And there was perhaps no average guy as average as C. C. Baxter. Baxter only takes home $94.70 a week from his job (that would be about $792.76 in 2017). He lives in an apartment just west of Central Park, in the West Sixties. He pays $84 for his rather small, rundown apartment. Baxter works long, hard days at the insurance, often slightly longer than he has to because his apartment is being used by someone else. Jack Lemmon described Baxter as "...ambitious; a nice guy but gullible, easily intimidated, and fast to excuse his behaviour."

Jack Lemmon's description of C. C. Baxter is entirely accurate, particularly about him being "a nice guy". For the most part Baxter is a gentleman. Miss Kubelik notes that he is the only one who consistently takes off his hat in the elevator. He is polite to his neighbours, Dr. and Mrs. Dreyfuss (who think he is a bit of a rake), as well as his superiors at the insurance company (who run roughshod over him with regards to the apartment). While Jack Lemmon is basically a nice guy, he is not perfect. As Jack Lemmon said of Baxter, he is "easily intimidated." In letting them use his apartment, Baxter is essentially enabling his superiors to commit adultery, perhaps not the most morally upstanding thing to do. That this helps Baxter get ahead at the insurance company perhaps only encourages Baxter to continue doing so.

Of course, the average guy can identify with C. C. Baxter in one other respect. Quite simply, he is carrying a torch for Fran Kubelik. I am guessing every average guy has had a crush on a much better looking girl before, one who seems to be out of one's league. While on the surface Baxter would seem to have no chance with the lovely and lovable Miss Kubelik, I have to suspect that she has some feeling for him at the start of the movie. Miss Kubelik not only treats Baxter with respect (as opposed to the various managers at the insurance company), but when he goes to meet with Sheldrake she pins a flower to his lapel. When Baxter lets her know that he actually looked up her file, Miss Kubelik is not alarmed as most women would be, but does not seem to mind in the least. I suspect Miss Kubelik had a bit of a crush on Baxter from the beginning, but never acted on it for various reasons.

Jack Lemmon played other sorts of roles than everymen. He even played villains from time to time (Professor Fate in The Great Race being a notable example). That having been said, I don't think any actor played everymen as well as Jack Lemmon did. Whether as Ensign Pulver in Mister Roberts (1955), Harry Hinkle in The Fortune Cooke (1966), or Felix Ungar in The Odd Couple, no one played average guys as well as Jack Lemmon. And of all the average guy Jack Lemmon ever played, it was perhaps C. C. Baxter that he played the best. If The Apartment continues to be one of the most popular of Billy Wilder's movies, it is perhaps because many of its male fans can identify with Baxter all too well. I seriously doubt any other actor could have done as well in the part. Jack Lemmon may have been great at playing ordinary guys, but he was an extraordinary actor.


Thursday, 30 March 2017

The Late Great Colin Dexter

Colin Dexter, the mystery writer best known for creating Inspector Morse, died on March 21 2017 at the age of 86.

Colin Dexter was born on September 29 1930 in Stamford, Lincolnshire. His father, Alfred Dexter, ran a garage in Scotgate, Stamford, while his mother, Dorothy, worked in a butcher shop. Colin Dexter attended St. John's Infants School and Bluecoat Junior School. He won a scholarship to the prestigious Stamford School. Mr. Dexter fulfilled his national service by serving in the Royal Corps of Signals. He received a bachelor's degree in classics from  Christ's College, Cambridge in 1953.

He taught classics at Wyggeston Grammar School in Leicester and earned a master's degree from Cambridge in 1958. Afterwards he taught classics at Corby Grammar School in Northamptonshire until retiring in 1966 because of deafness. He then took a position as senior assistant secretary at the Oxford Delegacy of Local Examinations. He held this job until he retired in 1988.

It while on vacation with his family in Wales in the early Seventies that Colin Dexter, out of boredom more than anything else, began work on the very first Inspector Morse novel. Last Bus to Woodstock was published in 1975 and was followed by twelve more Inspector Morse novels. Mr. Dexter also wrote two novellas and several short stories as well as the book Cracking Cryptic Crosswords: A Guide to Solving Cryptic Crossword.

Inspector Morse proved very successful, inspiring the ITV television show Inspector Morse, that ran from 1987 to 2000, as well as the sequel Lewis and the prequel Endeavour.

There can be little doubt that Colin Dexter was one of the great mystery writers of the late 20th Century. His Inspector Morse novels are mysteries in the Holmesian mould, with complex cases that often included plenty of false leads and false clues. Colin Dexter had a gift for colourful characters, none more so than Morse himself. Inspector Morse loved classical music and poetry, and a weakness for pretty women.  Between his talent for creating complex mysteries and a gift for well-developed characters, there should be little wonder that Colin Dexter was often counted alongside the likes of Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Godspeed Lola Albright

Lola Albright, who played Edie Hart on Peter Gunn and appeared in such films as Kid Galahad (1962) and Lord Love a Duck (1966), died on March 23 2017 at the age of 92.

Lola Albright was born on July 20 1924 in Akron, Ohio. Her parents, John Paul and Marion Albright were gospel singers, so that she was exposed to music throughout her childhood. She studied piano from an early age, for a total of about 20 years. Miss Albright attended King Grammar School and West High School in Akron. When she was 15 she started work as a  receptionist at radio station WAKR in Akron. She moved to Cleveland when she was 18 and worked as a stenographer at  radio station WTAM. It was in Cleveland that she first performed as a singer on the radio, making her debut on radio station WJW. She married an announcer at the station and moved to Chicago where she became a model. It was a photographer who suggested that she should try working as a movie actress.

Lola Albright made her film debut in a small, uncredited role in The Unfinished Dance in 1947. She appeared in similarly small, uncredited roles in The Pirate (1948), Easter Parade (1948), and Julia Misbehaves (1948). She had somewhat substantial roles in Champion (1949) and Tulsa (1949).  With Bodyhold (1949) she played her first, female lead role. She finished out the Forties appearing in The Good Humor Man (1950), Beauty on Parade (1950), When You're Smiling (1950), The Killer That Stalked New York (1950), and Sierra Passage (1950).

In the Fifties Lola Albright's career shifted towards television. She made her television debut in 1941 in an episode of Armstrong Circle Theatre. She guest starred on such shows as Lux Video Theatre, Four Star Revue, Tales of Tomorrow, Racket Squad, Duffy's Tavern, It's a Great Life, Gunsmoke, The Red Skelton Show, The Thin Man, and Michael Shayne.  From 1955 to 1957 she had a recurring role on The Bob Cummings Show. It was in 1958 that she began playing the role of Edie Hart on the detective show Peter Gunn. Edie was a singer at the nightclub Mother's, as well as Peter Gunn's girlfriend. She was nominated in 1959 for the Emmy for Best Supporting Actress in a Dramatic Series. She continued to appear in movies, including such films as Arctic Flight (1952), The Silver Whip (1953), Treasure of Ruby Hills (1955), The Tender Trap (1955), Pawnee (1957), The Monolith Monsters (1957), and Seven Guns to Mesa (1958).

In the Sixties, Lola Albright continued to appear in both films and television. She played the lead role in the film A Cold Wind in August (1961). She also appeared in the films Kid Galahad (1962), Les félins (1964), Lord Love a Duck (1966), The Way West (1967), The Money Jungle (1967), Where Were You When the Lights Went Out? (1968), and The Impossible Years (1968). On television she had a recurring role on Peyton Place during the 1965-1966 season. She guest starred on such shows as The Detectives, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, My Three Sons, The Beverly Hillbillies, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Dr. Kildare, Wagon Train, Burke's Law, Rawhide, Laredo, Bonanza, and The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

From the Seventies into the Eighties, Miss Albright guest starred on such shows as Kojak, Medical Centre, McMillan & Wife, Columbo, The Incredible Hulk, Quincy M.E., and Airwolf.

In the wake of her success on Peter Gunn,  Lola Albright recorded two albums, Lola Wants You in 1957 and Dreamsville in 1959.

Chances are very good Lola Albright will always be remembered best as Edie on Peter Gunn. Beautiful, sultry and gifted with a mellifluous voice, she was certainly perfect for the role. While she may be best remembered as Edie, however, Lola Albright could play a variety of roles. In A Cold Wind in August she played an unbalanced stripper who seduced a teenager. In the classic boxing drama Champion she played a married woman who pursued boxer Midge Kelly (played by Kirk Douglas). In The Monolith Monsters she played teacher Cathy Barrett, the girlfriend of geologist and the film's hero Dave Miller (played by Grant Williams). In Les Félins she played a widow and a femme fatale with murderous intentions. Lola Albright was not just a pretty face with a sultry voice. She was a versatile actress who play roles from relatively ordinary women (although still extraordinarily beautiful by virtue of being played by Lola Albright) to washed-up strippers to femmes fatales.

Monday, 27 March 2017

Thank You for a Successful Blogathon!



The 3rd Annual Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon wrapped up yesterday. I wanted to thank everyone who participated in this year's blogathon! We had a rather wide array of television shows covered this year, from situation comedies to Sixties spy shows. Not only were the United States and United Kingdom represented, but so too was Canada for the first time. If there was a dominant theme this year, it seemed to be Westerns. A plurality of the posts this year dealt with episodes from Western TV shows. As a fan of Westerns I won't complain about that at all! Regardless, there will be a 4th Annual Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon next March. For those of you who would like to read this year's posts, you can find the list here.

Again, thank you to all who participated!

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Maverick: "Gun-Shy"

 (This blog post is part of the Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon hosted by A Shroud of Thoughts)

Bret Maverick has another unfortunate encounter
with Marshal Mort Dooley
It was in the 1955-1956 season that three adult Western television shows debuted on American television: The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, Gunsmoke, and Cheyenne. All three shows proved highly successful, so much so that they inevitably led to many, many more Western TV shows on the broadcast networks. In most cases the heroes of these Westerns were either brave, stalwart lawmen or brave, stalwart drifters (who often differed from lawmen simply in that they weren't professionals). It was in 1957 that a show debuted that would break the mould of television Westerns at the time. Maverick centred on the Maverick brothers, Brett (played by James Garner) and Bart (played by Jack Kelly). The Mavericks were gamblers by profession and preferred to get out of situations using their wits rather than guns or fists. In fact, they generally avoided fighting entirely when it was possible. While they were honest for the most part, they were not below using deception against those who were not particularly honest themselves. The Mavericks were a sharp contrast to the many lawmen, gunfighters, and drifters that populated most Westerns on American television at the time.

Given the Maverick brothers were a near total inversion of the archetypal Western hero, it should come as no surprise that the show was often humorous in tone. It was not unusual for the show to send up various Western conventions and even cliches from other genres in its episodes (for example, "A Cure for Johnny Rain" spoofed popular police procedural Dragnet, right down to its narration). It was then perhaps inevitable that Maverick would parody one of the oldest and arguably the most popular Westerns then on television: Gunsmoke. "Gun-Shy" was an absolutely merciless parody of Gunsmoke, poking fun at the various formulas the show had already developed by 1959. It was written by Marion Hargrove, who contributed several scripts to Maverick over the years. He had begun his career as a novelist, his bestselling  See Here, Private Hargrove having been published in 1944. He had a knack for comedy, and would later write the screenplay for The Music Man (1962) and co-write Boys' Night Out (1962).

"Gun-Shy" finds Bret Maverick in Elwood, Kansas, where he is trying to find a hidden Confederate treasure. Unfortunately, while the local marshal will tolerate visiting cowboys who get drunk ("..that's what the town's here for"), he has absolutely no use for "thieves and criminals". Sadly for Bret, the marshal lumps professional gamblers in with "thieves and criminals". Bret must then try to find the treasure, all the while avoiding the watchful eye of the marshal.

In the process we are presented with an at times brutal send-up of Gunsmoke. None of the regular characters are spared. Mort Dooley (played by Ben Gage) is the marshal in town, who owns "37.5 percent of the Weeping Willow saloon". Not only is he known for his skill with a gun, but he is more than willing to use it. Clyde Diefendorfer (played by Walker Edmiston) is Mort's none too bright deputy who talks with a hick accent and talks rather often. Doc Stucke is the town's undertaker. Miss Amy (played by Kathleen O'Malley) runs the Weeping Willow saloon and is often admonishing Mort to "be careful". Anyone who has seen even a few episodes of Gunsmoke will readily recognise the characters as somewhat exaggerated parodies of Marshal Matt Dillon, Chester, Doc Adams, and Miss Kitty.

"Gun-Shy" doesn't simply take aim at the lead characters of Gunsmoke, but the show's conventions themselves. Just as many early Gunsmoke episodes began with Matt Dillon delivering narration from Boot Hill, so too does "Gun-Shy" feature Mort Dooley delivering narration from Boot Hill, although in Mort's case he appears to have just buried one of the many men he has shot. The famous opening of Gunsmoke in which Matt Dillon faces down a gunfighter on the streets of Dodge is also spoofed. At one point, when Mort Dooley decides he has had more than enough of Bret Maverick, he decides to shoot him in a scene that copies the opening of Gunsmoke almost exactly, except for the fact that Bret Maverick is fortunately out of range of Mort's six shooter. In another scene Mort and Doc discuss things that have absolutely no bearing on the episode, something that occurred from time to time on Gunsmoke. "Gun-Shy" even takes a poke at another popular Western that aired on CBS. In one scene Doc mentions to Mort "...that gunfighter who came into town passing out business cards to everybody," a clear reference to the popular Western Have Gun--Will Travel.

While "Gun-Shy" is an extremely effective parody of Gunsmoke, one does not have to be familiar with Gunsmoke to enjoy the episode. In fact, the parodies of the Gunsmoke characters are actually peripheral to the story of Bret trying to find buried Confederate treasure. Much to Bret's chagrin he is not the only one who is trying to find the treasure, as a pair of colourful, if somewhat dodgy characters named Freddie Hawkins and Kenneth P. Badger are also trying to find it. Hawkins was played by the legendary Reginald Owen, then as now perhaps best known for playing Scrooge in MGM's A Christmas Carol. Badger was played by Gage Clarke, who had played Superintendent of Schools Mr. Bascomb on the classic sitcom Mister Peepers. The two are responsible for many of the laughs during the episode.

"Gun-Shy" would not be the last time Maverick spoofed another TV show. As mentioned earlier, "A Cure for Johnny Rain" lampooned Dragnet. Later Maverick would parody Bonanza in the episode "Three Queens Full". Nor would "Gun-Shy" be the last time that Maverick took pokes at one of CBS's Westerns. In the episode "Hadley's Hunters", a bartender offers a weaponless Bart a sawed-off shotgun called "a  Mule's Foot or something like that" left behind by a bounty hunter, a clear reference to the CBS Western Wanted: Dead or Alive (on the show bounty hunter Josh Randall, played by Steve McQueen, used a rifle with a shortened barrel called a "Mare's Leg"). "Hadley's Hunters" also featured cameos from the lead characters of every Warner Bros. Western TV show, and even Edd Byrnes from 77 Sunset Strip (I always thought he must have been Kookie's grandfather...).

"Gun-Shy" is not necessarily the best episode of Maverick (that would probably be "Shady Deal at Sunny Acres"), but it certainly numbers among the very best of a show that was well known for the quality of its episodes.While it is most effective as a wicked lampoon of the TV show Gunsmoke, even those unfamiliar with that show will appreciate the episode for its humour and a rather interesting plot. Quite simply, "Gun-Shy" is a prime example of why Maverick was one of the best television shows ever aired.

Friday, 24 March 2017

The 3rd Annual Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon

It's here! The 3rd Annual Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon has arrived. This year we have a very good line up, with entries covering episodes of TV shows from the Fifties to the Nineties.

For those of you who are participating in the blogathon, I ask that you link to this page. I will updating this page with links to the various blog posts that are part of this blogathon throughout the weekend. If you want a graphic for your post, I have several on the announcement page here.

Anyhow, without further ado, here are the blog posts!

Love Letters to Old Hollywood: Get Smart: "The Impossible Mission"

Old Hollywood Films: Bette Davis in The Jailer Episode of Gunsmoke 

Caftan Woman: Wagon Train "Little Girl Lost"

John V's Eclectic Avenue: The Robinsons Encounter Some Strange "Invaders From The Fifth Dimension"

The Midnite Drive-In: Time is of the Essence 

The Horn Section: Television Review: HONDO: "Hondo and the Gladiators" (1967) 

Kyle Robert Shultz: The Virginian "Ryker"  

Crítica Retrô : “A Gata e o Rato” e a paródia de Casablanca / Moonlighting and the Casablanca parody 

Realweegiemidget Reviews: Reviewing" Conundrum", the last double bill episode of Dallas (1991)

Coffee, Classics, & Craziness: Wanted: Dead or Alive episode Review/Analysis – “Secret Ballot”

The Movie Rat: Favorite TV Show Episode Blogathon: You Can’t Do That on Television, "Adoption" (S08 E02)

The Hitless Wonder Blog: Favorite TV Show Episode Blogathon--"Return Of The Cybernauts"

Trekking Through Hobbit Holes: Television Review: T.J. Hooker: Vengeance is Mine”

Elisabeth Grace Foley: Favorite TV Episode Blogathon: The Waltons, “The Book”

Silver Scenes: "Dead Man's Treasure" - The Avengers ( 1967 ) 

portraitsbyjenni: 3rd Annual Favorite TV Show Episode Blogathon: Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea

WhimsicallyClassic: I Love Lucy, Ep. 79 “The Million Dollar Idea” January 11, 1954

Moon in Gemini: Favourite TV Episode Blogathon: Blackadder – “Head”

A Shroud of Thoughts: Maverick: "Gun-Shy" 

Bewitched With Classic TV: Favorite TV Show Episode Blogathon: The Mary Tyler Moore Show 3:23 

In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood: Alf: Favourite TV Episode Blogathon

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Bette Davis in Now, Voyager

 (This post is part of the Bette Davis Blogathon hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood)

If one were to ask most people to name a Bette Davis movie, chances are good that they might name Now Voyager (1942). It not only remains one of her most famous films, but it also contains what could be the most iconic moment in a Bette Davis movie--the scene in which Paul Henreid's character (Jeremiah Duvaux Durrance) lights cigarettes for both himself and Bette Davis's character (Charlotte Vale). Ultimately Now, Voyager would be Bette Davis's most successful film of the Forties.

Now, Voyager was based on the 1941 novel of the same name by Olive Higgins Prouty. Both the book and the film centred on Charlotte Vale, an unmarried, plain, insecure woman dominated by her overbearing mother (played by Gladys Cooper in the film), who had married into the wealthy, respected Vale family. It is once Charlotte gets away from her mother that she blossoms, and even has a romance with a married man Jeremiah "Jerry" Duvaux Durrance. The novel was the third in a series of novels centred on the Vale family by Olive Higgins Prouty.

Hal Wallis, who had been head of production at Warner Bros., made a deal with the studio to produce his own films. For his first film under the deal he bought the rights to the novel Now, Voyager.  Amazingly enough, he only paid $40,000 for the film rights to the book. Initially, Mr. Wallis wanted Edmund Goulding to direct the film, but he dropped out due to illness. He then brought Michael Curtiz onto the project.

Though it might seem hard to believe today, Bette Davis was not the first actress considered for the role. Taking into account her success in Love Affair (1939), Hal Wallis had initially wanted to cast Irene Dunne as Charlotte Vale. As it turned out, Norma Shearer was also interested in the role. Unfortunately for Hal Wallis, Irene Dunne and Norma Shearer would eventually become involved in other projects. Mr. Wallis then considered Ginger Rogers, who was fresh from winning an Oscar for Kitty Foyle (1940).

It was Bette Davis's friend, director Irving Rapper, who told her about Hal Wallis's planned adaptation of the novel Now, Voyager. Bette Davis then began actively campaigning for the role of Charlotte Vale. Bette Davis argued that a native Bostonian, as she was, would better grasp what the role entailed than an actress who was not from Boston. Studio head Jack Warner worried that Bette Davis was not attractive enough to be convincing once Charlotte transformed into a glamorous woman. Bette Davis argued that the average woman would not identify with a more conventionally beautiful actress in the role. Hal Wallis agreed with Bette Davis and was eventually able to convince Jack Warner to let her have the part.

The casting of Bette Davis would mean that Now, Voyager would have a new director. Miss Davis was not particularly eager to work with Michael Curtiz again, so he was removed from the film. She successfully lobbied Hal Wallis to hire Irving Rapper to direct the movie. As strange as it might seem now, Paul Henreid was not the original choice for Jerry. Initially Bette Davis thought Ronald Reagan would be good in the role, having been impressed by his performance in King's Row (1942). Jack Warner, Hal Wallis, and Irving Rapper convinced her otherwise, arguing that Ronald Reagan would not be able to hold his own with her.

Paul Henreid was given a screen test for the role, although initially Bette Davis was not enthusiastic about him. In his screen test Warner Bros. had slicked down his hair and clothed him in a silk smoking jacket. When the two actors met, Paul Henreid told Bette Davis that he really disliked that screen test. Bette Davis then campaigned for him to have another screen test with a more natural look. This screen test pleased both Miss Davis and Warner Bros., and he was cast in the role of Jerry.

For the role of Charlotte's mother Hal Wallis had wanted to cast  Dame May Whitty. It was Bette Davis who insisted on Gladys Cooper for the part. For the role of Charlotte's psychiatrist Dr. Jaquith, Hal Wallis initially considered both Raymond Massey and Charles Coburn before deciding on Claude Rains. Claude Rains rejected the role until his part was expanded and he received $4000 a week. Bette Davis was very happy to have Claude Rains on the film, as he was one of her favourite people with whom to work.

Now, Voyager premiered on  October 22, 1942 in New York City. It went into wide release on October 31, 1942. The film received mixed to positive reviews, but did very well at the box office. It ultimately earned $2.2 million, making it the most successful of Bette Davis's films so far. When it came to the Academy Awards, Now, Voyager was largely overlooked. Bette Davis was nominated for Best Actress, but lost to Greer Garson for Mrs. Miniver (1942). Gladys Cooper was nominated for Best Supporting Actress, but lost to Teresa Wright for Mrs. Miniver. It did win an Oscar for the third category in which it was nominated--Max Steiner won the award for Best Dramatic Score for the film.

While Now, Voyager received only three Academy Award nominations and won only one, today it remains one of the best remembered films from 1942, as well as one of Bette Davis's best remembered films. Much of this is due to her performance as Charlotte Vale. Bette Davis did what would have been difficult for many actresses in Hollywood, she took Charlotte from being a insecure spinster to a more worldly, confident woman in the course of the film. Other actresses might not have been quite so convincing in the part.

Beyond Bette Davis's performance, Now, Voyager largely succeeded because it appealed to women during World War II. Just as Charlotte became more independent during the course of the film, there were many women finding that they had to provide for their families while their husbands were serving in the war. Many women, now working in jobs generally reserved for men, could probably identify with Charlotte. While Now, Voyager is generally thought of as a "women's picture", it also had an appeal for both sexes in one respect. Bette Davis received letters from both women and men who had been dominated by their mothers.

While Bette Davis made many more films for Warner Bros., as well as many more films with Irving Rapper, Now Voyager would remain her biggest success during the Forties. Indeed, today it still remains one of her most famous films.


Wednesday, 22 March 2017

The Late Great Bernie Wrightson

Bernie Wrightson, the legendary comic book artist known for his work on various horror titles and for co-creating Swamp Thing with writer Len Wein, died on March 18 2017 at the age of 68 after a long battle with brain cancer.

Bernie Wrightson was born on October 27 1948 in Dundalk, Maryland. He took an interest in art and comic books while very young. He was a fan of E.C. Comics. He studied art through correspondence courses from he Famous Artists School. In 1965 he had fan art published in Warren Publishing's  Creepy #9 (June 1965). It was a drawing of a tombstone inscribed n "Berni Wrightson, Dec. 15, 1965." In 1966 he went to work for the Baltimore Sun as an illustrator.

Bernie Wrightson's first professional work in comic books appeared in DC Comics' House of Mystery #179 (March/April 1969) in the story "The Man Who Murdered Himself" and in The Spectre (March/April 1969) in the story "You Have Failed, Spectre". For the remainder of 1969 Mr. Wrightson did a good deal of freelance work for DC Comics, with stories published in such titles as Showcase, The Witching Hour, House of Mystery, and The Unexpected. He continued to do a good deal of work for DC Comics in 1970, while at the same time publishing work in Major Publications' Web of Horror, Marvel Comics' Chamber of Darkness and Tower of Shadows.

In 1971 Bernie Wrightson continued to do a lot of work for both DC Comics and Marvel Comics, as well as work on such titles as Imagination (published by Imagination Publishing). In House of Secrets No. 92 (July 1971) saw the first appearance of Swamp Thing in the story "Swamp Thing" written by Len Wein and drawn by Bernie Wrightson. Set in the Victorian Era, the story centred around a scientist who is transformed into a monster made of muck and vegetable matter. The story proved so successful that Swamp Thing was given his own title, although it was updated to modern times. Bernie Wrightson drew the first ten issues of Swamp Thing. It ran for 24 issues from 1972 to 1974. In 1972 he published the single issue anthology Badtime Stories.

From 1972 to 1974 Bernie Wrightson did most of his work for DC Comics. In addition to Swamp Thing, he worked on such titles as House of Secrets, Batman, House of Mystery, Weird Western Tales, Weird Mystery Tales, Weird Worlds, Sword of Sorcery, Plop!, Superman, and The Shadow. In 1974 he began working for Warren Publishing. He worked on their titles Creepy, Vampirella, and Eerie. In the late Seventies, while continuing to work for Warren Publishing, he did work for both DC Comics (House of Mystery, Batman, Jonah Hex) and Marvel (Kull and the Barbarians, The Incredible Hulk, Tomb of Dracula). He also contributed work to the magazine Heavy Metal, including stories featuring Captain Sternn, who would later appear in the feature film Heavy Metal (1981).  In 1975 he, Jeffrey Catherine Jones, Michael Kaluta, and Barry Windsor-Smith formed The Studio, in which they sought commercial work beyond comic books. Mr. Wrightson also did work for posters, calendars, prints, and so on.

The Eighties saw Bernie Wrightson continue to work for Warren Publishing, as well as contributing to Heavy Metal. He also continued to provide work for DC Comics and Marvel Comics. He illustrated editions of Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and provided work for the graphic anthology      
Stephen King's Creepshow. He provided artwork for the magazine 1984.

In the Nineties Bernie Wrightson continued to provide work for both DC Comics and Marvel Comics, as well as work for Apple Comics' Big Bad Blood of Dracula and programme books for various conventions. The Naughts saw Mr. Wrightson continue providing work for DC Comics, as well as providing work for Dark Horse Comics, IDW Publishing, and TwoMorrows Publishing. He continued to provide work for IDW Publishing in the Teens, as well as some work for DC Comics. He retired in January 2017.

Bernie Wrighston also did work for various motion pictures in his career.  He was a creature design consultant on Ghostbusters (1984). He did design work on such films as Thir13en Ghosts (2001), The Mist (2007), and Riding the Bullet (2004).

I have been a fan of Bernie Wrightson for nearly my whole life. As a lad I read a number of DC Comics' mystery titles (a euphemism for horror comic books in the days of the Comics Code), including House of Mystery, House of Secrets, and House of Mystery. When I was older I was exposed to his work with Warren Publishing and Heavy Metal. What struck me about Bernie Wrightson's style is that, not only was it very realistic, but it was also very detailed. His Swamp Thing was a sinewy mass of vines, vegetable matter, and muck. His artwork was intricate, and no one matched his line work. He excelled in the horror genre. If anyone was born to illustrate Edgar Allan Poe's stories, it was Bernie Wrightson.

Of course, Bernie Wrightson was also versatile. He not only co-created Swamp Thing, but Captain Sternn. While his work for Swamp Thing was fairly realistic, his work on Captain Sternn owed more to Warner Bros. cartoons and caricatures. If one did not know better, he or she would have a hard time believing that the same artist did both. Bernie Wrightson was one of the best comic book artists to emerge from the Seventies, combining an attention to detail with versatility.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Roll Over Beethoven: Chuck Berry Passes On

Rock 'n' roll legend Chuck Berry died on March 18 2017 at the age of 90.

Chuck Berry was born on October 18 1926 in St. Louis. He grew up in The Ville, a historic and largely middle-class neighbourhood in the north of the city. He took an interest in music while still young, and gave his first public performance when he was about 15 and still in high school. He served time at the Intermediate Reformatory for Young Men at  the Algoa Correctional Centre near Jefferson City for a series of car thefts and armed robbery. He was released after three years on his 21st birthday.

After marrying  Themetta "Toddy" Suggs in 1948, Chuck Berry trained as a hair stylist at the Poro College of Cosmetology in St. Louis. He worked for a time as a beautician. By the early Fifties he was playing with various bands in St. Louis. It was in 1953 that he joined pianist Johnnie Johnson's Sir John Trio. Chuck Berry not only added vocals to the group, but also incorporated country songs into their repertoire of ballads and blues. He even reworked Western Swing musician Bob Willis's version of "Ida Red' for the group. Chuck Berry and the Sir John Trio proved very popular at St. Louis's Cosmopolitan Club, playing to audiences that included people of European American as well as African American descent.

It was in May 1955 that Chuck Berry travelled to Chicago. It was there that he asked the legendary Muddy Waters about recording. Muddy Waters directed him to Leonard Chess and his label Chess Records. Chuck Berry thought Mr. Chess would be most interested in his various blues songs, but instead he was drawn to Chuck Berry's version of the traditional country tune "Ida Red". It was then on May 21 1955 that Chuck Berry recorded a variant of "Ida Red" under the title of "Maybellene". Johnnie Johnson played piano on the track, while Willie Dixon played bass. "Maybellene" proved to be a hit, reaching number one on the Billboard rhythm and blues chart and number five on the Billboard singles chart.

Chuck Berry's next two singles, "Thirty Days (To Come Back Home)" and "No Money Down", reached the top ten of the Billboard rhythm and blues chart. His fourth single, "Roll Over Beethoven", not only reached number 2 on the Billboard rhythm and blues chart, but peaked at number 28 on the Billboard singles chart. It has since become a rock music standard, covered by bands ranging from The Beatles to the Electric Light Orchestra. His next crossover hit, "School Day (Ring! Ring! Goes the Bell)", would do even better on the charts. It reached no. 1 on the Billboard rhythm and blues chart and no. 3 on the Billboard singles chart.

It was with "Rock and Roll Music" that Chuck Berry released a string of singles that were hits on both the Billboard rhythm and blues chart and the Billboard singles chart.  "Sweet Little Sixteen" and "Johnny B. Goode" would prove to be huge hits. "Sweet Little Sixteen" reached no. 1 on the Billboard rhythm and blues chart and number 2 on the Billboard singles chart. "Johnny B. Goode" reached no. 2 on the Billboard rhythm and blues chart and no. 8 on the Billboard singles chart.

Unfortunately "Johnny B. Goode" would be his last huge hit for some time. While the songs Chuck Berry released in the latter part of 1958 and the early part of 1959 did well on the Billboard rhythm and blues chart, they performed poorly on the Billboard Hot 100. A scandal involving a 14 year old waitress eventually resulted in his arrest for violating the Mann Act after several trials, and he spent one and  a half years in prison from February 1962 to October 1963. Perhaps because of the scandal, many of his songs from late 1959 to 1961 did not even chart.

It would be 1964 that would see a comeback for Chuck Berry. His single "Nadine" peaked at no. 7 on the Billboard rhythm and blues chart and no. 23 on the Billboard Hot 100. His single "No Particular Place to Go" performed even better, peaking at no. 10 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and the Billboard rhythm and blues charts. His single "You Never Can Tell" peaked at no. 14 on the Billboard Hot 100. Chuck Berry's other singles released in 1964 also did relatively well.

Unfortunately Chuck Berry's comeback would be short lived. While he continued to do well playing concerts, he had no more hits for the remainder of the Sixties. In fact, it would not be until 1972 that he would have another hit. "My Ding-a-Ling" became his only record to reach no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was followed by "Reelin' and Rockin'", which peaked at no. 27 on the chart and was his very last hit.

Chuck Berry released several albums throughout his career. His first album, After School Session, was released in 1957. He continued to release albums throughout the Sixties and the Seventies. His album Rock It, released in 1979, would be his final album until his last album Chuck, is released later this year.

On May 31 1961 Chuck Berry opened his own amusement park, Berryland, outside St. Louis. It would close later that year. In the 1980s Chuck Berry bought the restaurant The Southern Air in Wentzville, Missouri. The restaurant would close not long after controversy erupted following claims that Chuck Berry had installed a camera in the women's restroom. Chuck Berry elected to settle a class action suit consisting of 59 women, although his guilt in the case was never proven in a court of law.

Chuck Berry continued to tour throughout the Seventies, Eighties, and Nineties. From 1996 to 2014 he performed one Wednesday a month at Blueberry Hill,  a restaurant in University City, Missouri.

Regardless of whatever Chuck Berry might or might not have done in his personal life, there can be no doubt that he had a huge impact on rock music. In fact, a strong argument can be made that Chuck Berry was one of the inventors of rock 'n' roll. Growing up in St. Louis where he was exposed to the blues, rhythm and blues, country, and Western music, he blended them together to create a whole new sound. The roots of Chuck Berry's rock 'n' roll can be traced back to such diverse artists as Muddy Waters, Nat King Cole, T-Bone Walker, Bob Willis, and Bill Monroe.

Beyond blending various music genre into rock 'n' roll, it is because of Chuck Berry that the guitar would become the primary instrument of rock music. Guitars solos were a central feature of Chuck Berry's songs and would continue to be characteristic of rock music forever afterwards. What is more, Chuck Berry utilised a clearer electric guitar sound than earlier rock 'n' roll artists. He often utilised electronic effects in his songs.

Chuck Berry would even shape the subject matter of rock 'n' roll for years to come. Mr. Berry's songs were directed towards teenagers, with references to school, dances, fast cars, good times, and, of course, rock 'n' roll. What is more, his songs were always done with a sly sense of humour, so that one did not have to be a teenager to appreciate them. Indeed, many of his songs were essentially stories. Chuck Berry not only provided much of the subject matter of early rock 'n' roll, but he also introduced a new level of showmanship to the fledgeling genre as well. With his swagger and trademark duck walk, Chuck Berry influenced rock performances for decades to come.

In the end it would be difficult to find an artist who influenced rock music more than Chuck Berry. Indeed, it would be difficult to find an artist or band that did not feel Chuck Berry's impact. Bob Dylan, The Beach Boys, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and many others were influenced by Chuck Berry. His influence can be seen in entire subgenres of rock music, from power pop to punk. While Elvis Presley might have been rock 'n' roll's first superstar, arguably it would be the Brown Eyed Handsome Man who would have the bigger influence on rock music. Ultimately, rock music might simply not have been possible without Chuck Berry.