Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Deborah Watling R.I.P.

Deborah Watling, an actress perhaps best known for playing The Doctor's companion Victoria Waterfield on Doctor Who, died on July 21 2017 at the age of 69. The cause was lung cancer.

Deborah Watling was born on January 2 1948 in London. Her parents were actors Jack Wilding and Patricia Hicks. Her half-sister Dilys, her brother Giles, and her sister Nicky also went into acting. Deborah Watling grew up in Epping, Essex until the family moved to Alderton Hall in Loughton, Essex. She attended various schools and considered becoming a dentist until she found out how many exams would be required to do so. She then enrolled at the Italia Conti stage school.

Miss Watling made her television debut in 1958 as a regular on the TV show The Invisible Man. She played Sally Wilson, the niece of Peter Brady (the invisible man of the title). She was also a regular on the comedy A Life of Bliss. She guest starred on the TV shows William Tell and The Wednesday Play.

It was in 1967 that she began playing Victoria Waterfield, one of the companions of the Second Doctor (played by Patrick Troughton) on Doctor Who. Deborah Watling appeared in 40 episodes of the series, and left the show in 1968. Sadly, because of BBC's policy wiping programmes at the time,  "The Tomb of the Cybermen" and "The Enemy of the World" are the only serials in which she appeared that have survived. Miss Watling was later a regular on the drama The Newcomers alongside her father Jack Watling. She guest starred on the shows The Power Game, This Man Craig, Out of the Unknown, Horizon, and No Hiding Place.

In the Seventies Miss Waterfield had a recurring role on Danger UXB. She guest starred on such shows as Crimes of Passion, ITV Sunday Night Drama, Doctor in Charge, Arthur of the Britons, Rising Damp, and Lillie. She appeared in the films That'll Be the Day (1973) and Take Me High (1973).

In the Eighties she had a recurring role on The Jim Davidson Show. She later reprised her role as Victoria in Dimensions in Time (a charity crossover between Doctor Who and EastEnders), Downtime, a direct-to-video spinoff of Doctor Who, and various Doctor Who audio dramas. She appeared as herself in the Doctor Who 50th anniversary homage and spoof The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot.

Even though only two of the serials survive in which she appeared, it seems likely that Deborah Watling will always be remembered as Victoria on Doctor Who. Victoria was a somewhat naive, young orphan taken in by The Doctor. It was not unusual for her to scream when frightened, something which proved to be of use in the last serial in which she appeared. In Fury from the Deep, the sentient and malevolent seaweed can only be repulsed by loud, shrill noises, including Victoria's screams. Of course, Deborah Watling was much more than Victoria. On Danger UXB she played a character very far removed from the innocent Victoria--the nymphomaniac Norma. In Take Me High she actually got to perform a duet with Sir Cliff Richard in his final film. Deborah Watling may always be remembered as Victoria, she appeared on several other TV shows and in films. 

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Ava Gardner: A Life in Movies by Kendra Bean & Anthony Uzarowski

I was fourteen years old when The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972) made its television debut on the CBS Sunday Night Movie. The film starred Paul Newman as real life Western character Roy Bean, who worshipped legendary actress Lillie Langtry from afar. At the end of the film Miss Langtry visited the self-appointed judge's hometown of Langtry, Texas. I was immediately taken by the actress who played Lillie Langtry. The sequence only lasted a few minutes at most, but Lillie Langtry in The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean made an impression on me. The actress playing Miss Langtry was none other than legendary screen goddess Ava Gardner, and I was far from the only teenage boy who had become smitten with her. At the time I would have been shocked to have learned that when the movie was released, Miss Gardner was less than a week shy of her 50th birthday.  In a career spanning around forty years, Ava Gardner became one of the most recognisable names in film. Unfortunately, she was more often recognised for her beauty or her tumultuous personal life than she was her talent as an actress.

Kendra Bean & Anthony Uzarowski have written a biography, Ava Gardner: A Life in Movies, that goes a long way to correcting the view of Miss Gardner as little more than a pretty face who married three times and had several affairs throughout her life. While previous biographies of Ava Gardner focused almost exclusively on her personal life (in particular, her marriages to Mickey Rooney, Artie Shaw, and Frank Sinatra), Kendra Bean & Anthony Uzarowski devote a very large part of the book to Miss Gardner's career. The end result is that those who may be unfamiliar with her work will learn that Ava Gardner was not simply a sex symbol--she was a talented actress who gave quite a few great performances in her career.

That is not to say that Kendra Bean & Anthony Uzarowski do not deal with Ava Gardner's personal life, but they go well beyond her marriages and her problems with drinking that have been the focus of earlier biographies. In reading Ava Gardner: A Life in Movies one gets a real sense of who Ava Gardner was. She was a beautiful woman who was well liked by nearly everyone who knew her, even as various scandals dominated newspaper headlines during certain periods of her life. Ava Gardner: A Life in Movies is a very sympathetic look at Ava Gardner's life and career, all the while insuring the reader knows that Miss Gardner was a flesh and blood human being who even had her own doubts about herself (particularly her acting talent).

Kendra Bean & Anthony Uzarowski's text is complimented by what may be the largest collection of photographs of Ava Gardner in any single book. The photographs range from studio publicity photos to photos taken behind the scenes of her movies to photos from her personal life. I had thought I had seen nearly every single photograph of Ava Gardner ever taken, but Ava Gardner: A Life in Movies featured many that I had never seen before. Here I must point out that Running Press did a wonderful job with Ava Gardner: A Life in Movies. It is an absolutely beautiful book, from its layout to its typography. The look of Ava Gardner: A Life in Movies compliments both its subject and Kendra Bean & Anthony Uzarowski's text perfectly.

Kendra Bean & Anthony Uzarowski did meticulous research in writing Ava Gardner: A Life in Movies and it shows. This not only included interviews with those who knew and worked with Miss Gardner, but also examining her personal papers and correspondence. Ava Gardner: A Life in Movies looks like a coffee table book, but it is actually one of the most in-depth biographies of a legendary star that I have ever read. If one is already a fan of Miss Gardner, Ava Gardner: A Life in Movies will be a most enjoyable read. If one is unfamiliar with Miss Gardner and wants to learn more about the actress and her career, I can say with some certainty that Ava Gardner: A Life in Movies is one of the first places one should start.

(Those who enjoy Ava Gardner: A Life in Movies might want to check out Kendra Bean's earlier book on Vivien Leigh, Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait)

(I want to thank Running Press for giving me the opportunity to review this book.)

Friday, 21 July 2017

Les Diaboliques (Diabolique to We English Speakers)

(This blog post is part of the 'Til Death Do Us Part Blogathon hosted by Cinemaven's Essays from the Couch)

When people think of influential horror thrillers directed by a master filmmaker, they are usually inclined to think of Alfred Hitchcock's classic Psycho (1960). Those who are a bit more knowledgeable about film history might also think of Michael Powell's classic Peeping Tom (1960). While both Psycho and Peeping Tom were very influential, however, years before either movie was released there was a French horror thriller directed by a master filmmaker that would be as influential as either of them. Les Diaboliques (1955) was directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot, who had earlier directed such classics as Manon (1949) and Le salaire de la peur (1953--in English The Wages of Fear). The film was released in English speaking countries as Diabolique. Not only would it prove to be a hit throughout the English speaking world, but it would have an impact that is still felt to this day.

At the centre of Diabolique is a love triangle, although one that is certainly atypical. Michel Delassalle (played by Paul Meurisse) is a schoolmaster of a school outside Paris that is owned by his wife Christina (played by Véra Clouzot). Deslassalle is abusive towards Christina, even to the point of physical violence. Delassale is carrying on an affair with a teacher at the school, Nicole Horner (played by Simone Signoret), to whom he is also abusive. Rather than being jealous of each other, Delassalle's wife Christina and his mistress Nicole bond over their mutual hatred of Delassalle. It is not long before the two of them hatch a plot to kill him. From there on out I really cannot reveal anything without spoiling the movie for those who have not seen it. Indeed, Diabolique has twists that make the twist in Psycho look small in comparison. Because of this the closing credits included a title card that read, "Don't be devils! Don't ruin the interest your friends could take in this film. Don't tell them what you saw. Thank you, for them."

Diabolique was based on the novel Celle qui n'était plus by Boileau-Narcejac. Henri-Georges Clouzot claimed that none other than Alfred Hitchcock himself tried optioning Celle qui n'était, but was beat out by Mr. Couzot by a mere matter of hours. Whether true or not, Diabolique would certainly have a influence on Alfred Hitchcock, as well as other English language filmmakers (as will be addressed below). 

It was planned that Diabolique would be shot in only eight weeks. Ultimately it would take sixteen weeks. Things were not always pleasant on the set. Henri-Georges Clouzot and Simone Signoret were constantly at odds with each other. Véra Clouzot alternately found herself either arbitrating Mr. Clouzot and Miss Singoret's fights in an attempt to get them to make peace or egging both of them on. To make matters worse, Simone Signoret began rehearsals for a production of The Crucible twelve weeks into the shooting of Diabolique. She had to go straight from shooting Diabolique to rehearsing The Crucible and as a result got little sleep over the next four weeks. By the time Diabolique wrapped up production, Henri-Georges Clouzot, Simone Signoret, and Véra Clouzot were no longer speaking to each other. Strangely enough, Paul Meurisse, who played the villainous Michel, was the only actor who remained on good terms with both the director and his two leading ladies!

Les Diaboliques was released in France on January 29 1955. The film proved to be a major hit in France.  What is more remarkable is that it also proved to be a hit in the English speaking world, where foreign language films often do not do particularly well. When it was released in the United Kingdom it was often part of a double bill with a Hammer film, X the Unknown (1956). When it was released in the United States it was often part of a double bill with another Hammer film, The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), the film that would start a string of Hammer Gothic horror movies that would last for nearly 20 years. 

Diabolique not only made a good deal of money in the United Kingdom and the United States, but it also received a good deal of critical acclaim. It won the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Foreign Film. It also won a special Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Foreign Film. Curiously, despite its critical acclaim in the English speaking world, Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard of the influential publication Cahiers du cinema disliked the film and regarded such older filmmakers as Henri-Georges Clouzot as playing it safe. What they failed to realise is that in making Diabolique in many ways Mr. Clouzot produced something as risky, if not more so, than the films they would make. 

The success of Diabolique would not be lost on other filmmakers. It was the success of French thriller Diabolique in the United States that inspired William Castle to produce his own low budget horror movie. That movie would be Macabre (1958), the first of Mr. Castle's many horror movies produced on shoestring budgets. Jimmy Sangster, both a screenwriter and director for Hammer Films, referred to Diabolique as one of his favourite films of all time. It should then come as no surprise that Hammer's psychological thrillers often owe more to Diabolique than they do Psycho. This is particularly true of Hemmer's first psychological thriller Taste of Fear (1961). Unlike Hammer's Gothic horror movies, Hammer's psychological thrillers were shot in black and white and often on low budgets. Their plots often resembled Diabolique more so than some better known, English language thrillers.Some have even seen the influence of Diabolique on Alfred Hitchcock himself. This is certainly true of Psycho, down to the film's director asking its audiences not to reveal its twist ending, but some have even seen the influence of Diabolique on Vertigo. Precisely how I can't reveal because, well, of spoilers.

As to the reason for Diabolique's success, there can be little doubt that it was a unique film at the time of its release. Very few films before Diabolique had ever blended the horror and thriller genres the way it did. And while spouses killing spouses was a common trope even in 1955 (indeed, it would be the theme of many episodes of a show that debuted that year, Alfred Hitchcock Presents), Diabolique played with the trope in a way that no other film ever had before.  Quite simply, Diabolique took a common trope (spouses murdering spouses) and did in a such a way that was downright shocking at the time.

Ultimately the influence of Diabolique is still felt today. From Silence of the Lambs (1991) to Seven (1995), it is no longer unusual for movies to blend elements of horror movies and psychological thrillers. Diabolique was the film that started it all. 

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Mad Men Yourself

Yesterday marked ten years since the debut of Mad Men. Of course, no history of Mad Men would be complete without mentioning "Mad Men Yourself". For those of you who might not be familiar with "Mad Men Yourself", it was essentially an avatar generator. Using "Mad Men Yourself" fans could create their very own Mad Men avatars, down to choosing Sixties-style clothing and accessories for those avatars. What is more, one could place one's avatars in various places, such as the offices of Sterling Cooper, the avatar's home, a bar, an airport, and so on.

"Mad Men Yourself" was launched in 2009 as part of the promotion for the third season of the show. It was created by the digital marketing company Deep Focus. The designs for the avatars for "Mad Men Yourself" were created by Dyna Moe, an illustrator and comedienne whose style draws  heavily upon the Sixties. "Mad Men Yourself" proved to be a hit upon its launch, with thousands of Mad Men fans (myself included) using it to design their own avatars. It received coverage in a good many news outlets, including AdWeek, Entertainment Weekly, In Style, People, The New York Post, NPR, TV Guide, The Washington Post, and many others. In 2011 "Mad Men Yourself" was nominated for the Webby Award for Interactive Advertising.

"Mad Men Yourself" would be updated every season, adding new styles of clothing to reflect the changing fashions of the Sixties. A good number of Mad Men fans then updated their avatars on a yearly basis and some even more often, changing their looks to reflect the current year in which the current season of Mad Men took place. Not surprisingly, many fans use their "Mad Men Yourself" avatars as their profile pictures on such social media sites as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and so on to this day. Sadly, "Mad Men Yourself" appears to no longer be available. I'm not sure when AMC shut it down, but it must not have been long after Mad Men's final episode in 2015.

I have to confess that I was one of those fans who updated his "Mad Men Yourself" avatar fairly often. Below are the "full body" pictures of my avatar. I have arranged them in chronological order, from the first to the last.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

The 10th Anniversary of Mad Men

Anyone who gets to know me soon realises that the vast majority of my favourite shows were made before 1980. In fact, if I were to make a list of my top fifty favourite shows of all time, there would probably be only one show on the list that was made after the Seventies. What is more, it would likely rank in my top five. That show is Mad Men. It was ten years ago today, on July 19 2007, that Mad Men debuted on AMC.

For those of you are not familiar with the show, Mad Men was a drama that aired on AMC from 2007 to 2015. It was set in the Sixties around the advertising agency Sterling Cooper. It's chief protagonist was Don Draper (played by Jon Hamm), who began the show as the agency's creative director. Equally important to the show was Peggy Olson (played by Elisabeth Moss), who began as Don's secretary and eventually became a copywriter and still later head of creative. While arguably Don and Peggy were the show's central characters, Mad Men was truly an ensemble drama with a fairly large cast, including not only the employees of Sterling Cooper, but their wives, relatives, and lovers. The series spanned the whole of the Sixties, beginning in late 1959 and ending in 1970.

The origins of Mad Men go back to 1999 when the show's creator Matt Weiner was one of the writing staff on Ted Danson's sitcom Becker. It was at that time that he conceived a TV show set in the Sixties. To that end he spent his spare time doing extensive research on the Sixties, including the fashions, the decor, and even what people drank during the decade. It was in 2001 that he wrote a spec script for an advertising agency called Sterling Cooper at the close of the Fifties, a script that would eventually become the first episode of Mad Men, "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes".

Matt Weiner's spec script drew no buyers, but it did get the attention of the creator and executive producer of HBO's critically acclaimed TV series The Sopranos, David Chase. Impressed with the script, Mr. Chase hired Mr. Weiner as a writer. It was only a matter of weeks after Matt Weiner had joined the writing staff of The Sopranos that David Chase recommended Matt Weiner's script for "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" to HBO's development department. HBO decided that they would only make Mad Men if David Chase was an executive producer. At the time Mr. Chase wanted to move away from weekly television shows, so he declined. Despite this, David Chase still admired the script and continued to promote it when he could.

It was in 2004 that Matt Weiner resubmitted "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" to HBO's development department. Once more HBO turned the show down. Afterwards Mr. Weiner's agent shopped Mad Men around to various cable outlets, including Showtime (who, like HBO, had been doing their own original series for some time), the USA Network (then best known for such "blue sky dramas' as Monk and Pscyh), and FX. FX had already produced three critically acclaimed shows: The Shield, Nip/Tuck, and Rescue Me. It should then come as no surprise that Matt Weiner actually got a meeting with FX's president Kevin Reilly. Unfortunately, FX wanted to make Mad Men only as a half-hour show.

It was Matt Weiner's manager's assistant who sent "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" to AMC. AMC had originated as American Movie Classics, a classic movie channel that existed in the days before Turner Classic Movies. It was in 2002 that the channel ceased to be a classic movie channel and began airing movies from all eras. AMC was not known for original scripted drama at the time. In fact, they had only produced one original scripted show in their history, the comedy Remember WENN, which had aired from 1996 to 1998. That having been said, since it had ceased being a classic movie channel, AMC was struggling.  Its vice president in charge of programming and production at the time, Rob Sorcher, decided that what AMC needed was its own signature show, much like HBO's The Sopranos. He hired Christina Wayne as the channel's new vice president in charge of scripted programming. Years before Miss Wayne had wanted to option the novel by Richard Yates, which dealt with suburban life in the mid-Fifties. She saw similarities between Revolutionary Road and Mad Men. In the end, AMC bought Mad Men.

Mad Men would turn out to be a very expensive show. The first episode alone cost $3.3 million. Unfortunately for AMC, the channel could find no partners to help finance the show. AMC ultimately wound up financing the pilot themselves. It proved to be the best investment they ever made. One the pilot was finished Lionsgate, who had turned the pilot, agreed to partner on the show.

As strange as it might seem now, Mad Men was not a hit in the ratings. It debuted to a paltry 1.65 million viewers. That having been said, while its audience would never be very large, the audience for Mad Men did grow over time. Not only was the audience for Mad Men small, but it also tended to be older. Relatively few people in the 18-49 demographic desired by advertisers watched the show. The majority of Mad Men's viewers were over 50.

While Mad Men had a relatively small audience made mostly of older viewers, it also had a good deal of critical acclaim. The Television Critics Association named it the best show of 2007. The American Film Institute named it one of the ten best TV shows several years in a row. In the Writers Guild of America's list of the 101 best-written shows in the history of television, Mad Men ranked no. 7. Mad Men also won a tonne of awards. For its first season it won the Emmys for Outstanding Drama Series and Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series, and was nominated for several more. It became the first drama on an advertising supported cable channel to win the Emmy Ward for Outstanding Drama Series (previous winners had either aired on broadcast networks or premium cable channels). Ultimately Mad Men would win the Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series four years in a row. Through the years it also picked up Emmy Awards for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series, Outstanding Casting for a Drama Series, Outstanding Art Direction for a Single-Camera Series, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series (for Jon Hamm),  and yet others.

Here it must be pointed out that it would probably be a mistake to consider Mad Men simply another low rated, but critically acclaimed TV show. Mad Men may have had a relatively small audience, but it was one that is fiercely loyal to the show. Over the years Mad Men developed the sort of fans usually reserved only for genre shows like Star Trek and Dark Shadows. Several different books centred on Mad Men have been published, from The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook to Sterling's Gold: Wit and Wisdom of an Ad Man--the memoirs of Roger Sterling. There is also a tonne of Mad Men merchandise for fans to buy, including coffee mugs, T-shirts, notebooks, pinback buttons, laptop skins, and even clothing lines.

Indeed, fans were so fiercely loyal to the show that many inserted themselves into the show after a fashion. Several fans created their own Twitter accounts for various characters, tweeting in character. Almost no character was overlooked, not even Betty Draper's fainting couch. The various Mad Men Twitter accounts would even roleplay various events, such as the Great Blackout of 1965 and a funeral for Lane Pryce.

In the end Mad Men would prove to be a very influential show. Here it must be pointed out that it did not begin the current Silver Age of American Television (I refuse to call it 'the Golden Age" as to me that was the Fifties). By the time Mad Men had debuted, HBO had already aired Six Feet Under and The Sopranos, while FX had already aired The Shield and Rescue Me. That having been said, it certainly proved that cable channels were capable of producing quality dramas at the same level as HBO. Indeed, as mentioned earlier,  it became the first ever drama on an advertising supported cable channel to win the Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series. In this way Mad Men insured that the Silver Age of Television would not be confined to HBO and Showtime.

Given its status as a quality TV show, Mad Men certainly put AMC on the map. After AMC abandoned classic movies in 2002 it was often in danger of being dropped by cable operators. Mad Men changed all of that. It made AMC the home of quality dramas. Without Mad Men, such shows as Breaking Bad, Hell on Wheels, The Walking Dead, and Preacher might never have aired. After Mad Men, AMC went from a channel that was always in danger of being dropped by cable operators to a must-have channel that could win carriage disputes based on its prestige and popularity alone.

Mad Men would have an impact in other ways as well. In the years since its debut there has been an increase in period pieces in television, some of which could be considered outright imitators of Mad Men. In 2011 alone the broadcast networks tried two: The Playboy Club on NBC and PanAm on ABC.  Since 2007 there have been such other period dramas as The Hour on BBC Two, The Americans on FX, Masters of Sex on Showtime, Manhattan on WGN America, The Astronaut Wives Club on ABC, Halt and Catch Fire on AMC, and yet others.

Mad Men would also have an impact beyond television. Because of the success of Mad Men, in the late Naughts and early Teens, various fashions from the Sixties would make a comeback. The slim Brooks Brothers suits, ties complete with tie bars, and even fedoras came back into fashion for a time. In the wake of Mad Men, men's retail sales actually went up. Brooks Brothers even came out with a "Mad Men Edition" suit. Women's fashions were affected as well, with bodycon dresses, pencil skirts, kitten heels, and pearls even making a comeback. For a brief time in the late Naughts and early Teens, people were actually well dressed again.

Of course, the question for many may be, "What is the appeal of Mad Men?" I am not sure that can ever be adequately answered. Speaking as someone who spent his first seven years in the Sixties, I have to say that much of it is probably nostalgia. The show is a look at a bygone era that many people remember with some fondness. As a Gen Xer I can watch Mad Men and recognise relics from my childhood, everything from the Kodak Carousel slide projector to Burger Chef to the movie Planet of the Apes. Even the aforementioned fashions bring back memories. It was a time when suits weren't only worn for formal occasions.

While much of the appeal of Mad Men is nostalgia, unlike many other shows, Mad Men does not idealise or romanticise its era. Smoking is rampant, with only a few characters never lighting up. Many of the characters drink too much, a fact that sometimes causes problems for them (such as Don Draper getting in an auto accident while driving drunk). Sexism is rampant. Husbands (especially Don Draper) often cheat on their wives and many of the secretaries are often treated as sex objects. Racism is also common place. Dawn Chambers (played by Teyonah Parris) was the first African American ever hired by Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and for a time the only African American working there. Michael Ginsberg (played by Ben Feldman) was the first Jew ever hired by Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and the only one to ever work there as long as Mad Men aired. Sadly, in the offices of Sterling Cooper, sexist attitudes and racist attitudes are all too common. It is one of the great things about Mad Men in that just as one is thinking that the Sixties would be a great time in which to live, there is something to remind him or her that it really wouldn't be.

Regardless of the nostalgia the show creates or its somewhat realistic portrayal of its era, I have to suspect that the primary appeal of Mad Men is that it was very much a character driven show. The majority of characters were complicated and three dimensional, to the point that any given viewer's reaction to those characters could be complex. There were generally those characters one would be expected to like. I have trouble seeing anyone disliking Peggy Olson, the earnest yet determined young woman who in the early days of the show served as the audience surrogate. There were also those characters one liked despite his or her better judgement. Let's face it, Don Draper drinks too much, womanises, can be dismissive, and has a sometimes volatile temper, yet he is so charming that most fans like him anyway. And then there are those characters that fans love to hate: Pete Campbell (played by Vincent Kartheiser), for whom the word "smarmy" may well have been invented and Lou Avery (played by Allan Havey), who is not only extremely old-fashioned, but apparently lacking in any talent as well. Finally, there are those characters I suspect that fans are meant to like, but many fans simply do not. An example of this is Megan Draper (played by Jessica Paré). Most of the characters on the show apparently liked Megan, yet it seems many fans (myself included) never did. I personally found her immature, entitled, passive aggressive, and annoying.

Indeed, the characters of Mad Men were so complicated that one's feeling for them could change over time. Initially I didn't care much for Joan (played by Christina Hendricks) because I thought she was a bit catty with the secretaries and mean to Peggy. Despite this, by the end of the second season she became and remained one of my favourite characters. My feelings for Betty (played by January Jones) were a bit more complicated. I started out basically liking her, only to grow to dislike her, and then to start liking her again towards the end. Of course, even when I disliked Betty, I could sympathise with her. She was an intelligent woman in a time when there were a few opportunities for intelligent women, and one who had been emotionally abused by her mother, spoiled by her father, and emotionally abused by her first husband (Don Draper). I could understand why Betty was the way she was.

Personally I think it is too soon for Mad Men to be termed a classic, but I have no doubt that eventually it will be. As mentioned above, it received a number of accolades and it is still regularly ranked in lists of the greatest shows of all time. It still has a loyal following, one that continues to grow as new fans discover it on Netflix and Hulu. While some other shows from the Silver Age of American Television might eventually be forgotten, I think Mad Men will continue to be popular even once the Sixties are a distant memory.

(for a slightly more personal post on Mad Men, see my post on the show's ending from 2015 here).

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

The Late Great George Romero

Director George A. Romero, best known for his classic horror film Night of the Living Dead (1968), died on July 16 2017 at the age of 77. The cause was lung cancer.

George A. Romero was born in the Bronx on February 4 1940. As a child he was a movie fan, particularly the classic monster movies. He attended Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and graduated in 1961. Mr. Romero made a short film "Expostulations" in 1962. His first paying work came through Fred Rogers, for whom he shot short segments for the show Mr. Rogers' Neighbourhood. Among the segments George Romero made for the show were " How Lightbulbs are Made" and "Mr. Rogers Gets a Tonsillectomy".  George Romero and Fred Rogers would remain friends for the rest of their lives. He also shot commercials

It was in the late Sixties that George Romero formed Ten Productions with nine friends. They produced Night of the Living Dead (1968), which was directed by Mr. Romero and co-written with John A. Russo. Night of the Living Dead was met with controversy. Released shortly before the MPAA's ratings system was in place, theatres sometimes showed it at Saturday afternoon matinees where children would be present. On its initial release the film sometimes received a hostile reception from critics, particularly for its violence. There were a few critics who did acknowledge the overall quality of the film. The reviewer for Variety wrote, "Although pic’s basic premise is repellent – recently dead bodies are resurrected and begin killing human beings in order to eat their flesh – it is in execution that the film distastefully excels." Despite the controversy, or perhaps because of it, Night of the Living Dead became a hit. It remains the most profitable horror movie not made by a big studio. And as history has shown, it has been very influential.

In the Seventies Mr. Romero followed Night of the Living Dead with the comedy There's Always Vanilla (1971) and the horror fantasy Jack's Wife (1973--later retitled Season of the Witch). While both of those films are largely forgotten by all but George Romero fans, in 1973 The Crazies was released. Dealing with a spate of homicidal madness brought on by a chemical spill, the film would gain some respect in the years following its release. These films were followed by two of his better known films. Martin (1978) dealt with a young man who believes himself a vampire. Dawn of the Dead (1978) was the first sequel to Night of the Living Dead. He also directed TV movies in the Seventies, including O.J. Simpson: Juice on the Loose (1974) and Magic at the Roxy (1976), as well as episodes of the TV show The Winners.

The Nineties saw George A. Romero direct some of his best known films. Knightriders (1981) was a modernised version of Arthurian legend, centred around a travelling medieval re-enactment troupe that jousted on motorcycles. Creepshow (1982) was a horror anthology made in  collaboration with Stephen King. Day of the Dead (1985) was the second sequel to Night of the Living Dead. Monkey Shines (1988) was based on the Michael Stewart novel. He directed a segment based on Edgar Allan Poe's "The Facts in the Case of Mr. Valdemar" for the horror anthology Two Evil Eyes (1990).

George Romero would slow down in the Nineties. That decade he directed only two films--The Dark Half (1993), based on Stephen King's novel of the same name, and Bruiser (2000). In the Naughts he directed Land of the Dead (2005), Diary of the Dead (2007), and Survival of the Dead (2009).

In addition to directing feature films, George A. Romero was also an executive producer on the TV horror anthology Tales from the Darkside. Beginning with Night of the Living Dead, he made cameos in several of his own movies, as well as a few made by others, including Flight of the Spruce Goose (1986) and The Silence of the Lambs (1991).  He also wrote comic books, including Toe Tags featuring George A. Romero for DC Comics and Empire of the Dead for Marvel.

Arguably Night of the Living Dead was one of the last great horror masterpieces, and there can be no real debate regarding its influence. In the wake of Night of the Living Dead there would be a whole plethora of imitators featuring their own versions of the living dead. Without Night of the Living Dead, there would be no Return of the Living Dead (1985), no 28 Days Later (2002), no The Walking Dead, no iZombie, no Z Nation. Alongside  Richard Matheson's I Am Legend, Night of the Living Dead would introduce a new sort of monster in the horror genre, the dead raised not by the supernatural but through various pseudo-scientific means (radioactive contamination, viruses, and so on).

Of course, the fact is that George Romero did make more films than his "Dead" movies. He had proven himself an excellent director with Night of the Living Dead and so it should be no surprise that he would direct other films that would become cult classics. Martin numbers among his very best films, not simply as a variation on vampire lore, but more importantly as a film that is both satirical and thoughtful. Knightriders is one of the best takes on Arthurian legend, a film that addresses the dangers of having utopian dreams in a world that is definitely not utopian. Of course, as might be expected, George Romero was at his best directing horror movies, and he directed classics besides Night of the Living Dead and Martin: The Crazies, Creepshow, and Monkey Shines. What is more remarkable is that many of his films were made in Pittsburgh without the support of a major studio. Truly independent and extremely talented, George Romero was one of the best auteurs to emerge outside Hollywood.

Monday, 17 July 2017

The Late Great Martin Landau: Man of a Million Faces

There are those actors that you have never known life without. You cannot remember where you first saw them, because they have always been around as far as back as you can remember. Martin Landau was one of those actors for me. Mission: Impossible debuted when I was only three years old and my family watched it regularly throughout its run. Later I would see Martin Landau in his many guest appearances on the various syndicated reruns I loved. He was in everything from The Wild Wild West to Gunsmoke, as well as such movies as North by Northwest (1959) and Nevada Smith (1966). Only a little later I would see him as Commander John Koenig on the science fantasy TV series Space: 1999. He was always there throughout my adult years, appearing on TV shows like Murder, She Wrote and movies like Crimes and Misdemeanours (1989). He won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his work on Ed Wood (1994). Even in recent years he has still been active, guest starring on The Simpsons and providing his voice for Frankenweenie (2012). He even appeared at Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival this year. It then seems impossible that Martin Landau is gone. After all, he had always been with us and, what is more, he was still active. He was one of my favourite character actors of the modern era.

Sadly, Martin Landau died Saturday, July 15 2017 at the age of 89.

Martin Landau was born on June 20 1928 in Brooklyn, New York. He attended James Madison High School and the Pratt Institute. He had planned to become an illustrator. When he was only 17 he got a job at the New York Daily News as a cartoonist, illustrating Billy Rose's column "Pitching Horseshoes" and acting as an assistant to Gus Edson on the comic strip The Gumps. After five years he quit the New York Daily News to pursue acting.

Mr. Landau made his stage debut in 1951 at the Peaks Island Playhouse in Maine in Detective Story. That same year he appeared in First Love at the Provincetown Playhouse in Greenwich Village. He made his television debut in 1953 in an episode of The Goldbergs. In 1955 he enrolled at the Actors Studio. Out of the 2000 applicants to the Actors Studio that year, only he and Steve McQueen were admitted.

Martin Landau's career took off in the late Fifties. He made his film debut in Pork Chop Hill in 1959. That same year he appeared in what might be his most famous role in a feature film (outside of perhaps only Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood), playing the sinister Leonard in North by Northwest. He also appeared in the film The Gazebo (1959). Mr. Landau made frequent guest appearances on TV shows in the late Fifties. He guest starred on such shows as Omnibus, Armstrong Circle Theatre, Schlitz Playhouse, Maverick, Sugarfoot, Lawman, Gunsmoke, Tales of Wells Fargo, Rawhide, Playhouse 90, Wanted: Dead or Alive, and Wagon Train.

The Sixties saw Martin Landau play what might be his best known role, that of master of disguise Rollin Hand on Mission: Impossible. Rollin Hand was a professional quick change artist and impersonator who lent his skills to the Impossible Missions Force on a regular basis. Indeed, in addition to disguise and impersonation, he was also a skilled escape artist and skilled at sleight of hand. Mr. Landau was nominated three times for the Emmy Award for Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Dramatic Series for his role as Rollin Hand. Sadly, after three seasons he and his wife Barbara Bain (who played Cinnamon Carter on the show) left Mission: Impossible due to a contract dispute.

In addition to his regular role on Mission: Impossible, Martin Landau was busy in the Sixties making guest appearances on other shows. He guest starred on such shows as Bonanza, Checkmate, The Rifleman, The Detectives, The Untouchables, The Defenders, The Outer Limits, The Twilight Zone, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, I Spy, The Wild Wild West, The Big Valley, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and Get Smart. He continued to appear in films as well, including Stagecoach to Dancers' Rock (1962), Decision at Midnight (1963), Cleopatra (1963), The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), The Hallelujah Trail (1965), Nevada Smith (1966), and They Call Me Mister Tibbs! (1970).

In the Seventies Martin Landau starred on the cult science fiction TV series Space: 1999. On the show he played Commander John Koenig, the commanding officer of Moonbase Alpha. The show only ran for two seasons. He also guest starred on Columbo. Mr. Landau appeared in the TV movies The Fall of the House of Usher (1979) and The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island (1981). He appeared in the films A Town Called Bastard (1971), Black Gunn (1972), Una Magnum Special per Tony Saitta (1976), Meteor (1979), The Last Word (1979), The Return (1980), and Without Warning (1980).

The Eighties saw Martin Landau's career revitalised after he played New York financier Abe Karatz in Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988). For the role he was nominated for the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. He received another nomination for Best Supporting Actor for Crimes and Misdemeanours (1989). He also appeared in such films as Alone in the Dark (1982), Trial by Terror (1983), The Being (1983), Access Code (1984), Treasure Island (1985), Sweet Revenge (1987), Empire State (1987), Run If You Can (1988),  and The Colour of Evening (1990). He guest starred on such TV shows as Matt Houston; Hotel; Murder, She Wrote; the revival of The Twilight Zone; and the revival of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

It was in 1994 that Martin Landau played Bela Lugosi in the movie Ed Wood. He won the Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for the part. He also appeared in such films as Firehead (1991), Mistress (1992), No Place to Hide (1992), Sliver (1993), Eye of the Stranger (1993), Time Is Money (1994), City Hall (1996), The Adventures of Pinocchio (1996), The X Files (1998), Rounders (1998), Carlo's Wake (1999), Edtv (1999), Sleepy Hollow (1999), and Shiner (2000). On television he played Woodrow Wilson in the mini-series The Great War and the Shaping of the 20th Century. He voiced The Scorpion in the animated series Spider-Man.

In the Naughts Martin Landau had recurring roles on the TV shows The Evidence, Entourage, and Without a Trace. He guest starred on In Plain Sight. He appeared in such films as The Majestic (2001), Hollywood Homicide (2003), Love Made Easy (2006), David & Fatima (2008), City of Ember (2008), and Finding Grandma (2010).  In the Teens he appeared in such films as Mysteria (2011), Entourage (2015), Remember (2015), and The Red Maple Leaf (2016). He was the voice of Mr. Rzykruski in the animated film Frankenweenie. There are several films in post-production in which he starred that are set to come out later this year or next year. On television he guest starred on Hallmark Hall of Fame.

I have to admit I will always remember Martin Landau best as Rollin Hand on Mission: Impossible. I have to believe it was the first role in which I first saw him, and it was certainly the role in which I saw him most often in the early part of my childhood. In many ways it is perhaps fitting that I remember him best as Rollin Hand. Rollin Hand was billed on stage as "the Man of a Million Faces", and "the Man of a Million Faces" could just as easily describe Martin Landau himself. Indeed, in the role of Rollin Hand, Martin Landau often found himself also playing the character that Rollin was impersonating!

As an actor Mr. Landau was a chameleon, able to transform himself into anything a role called for. It was something he did throughout his career, even before he played Rollin Hand on Mission: Impossible. He played a wide variety of historical figures in his career, including Bob Ford, Doc Holliday, Caiaphas, Edwin Booth, Abe Karatz, Simon Wiesenthal, Bela Lugsoi, and Woodrow Wilson. He was well known for playing a number of heavies in his career, but even then there was a good deal of variety. He played the dirty coward Bob Ford in an episode of Lawman only a year before he appeared as the menacing Leonard in North by Northwest. He played General Grimm, a megalomaniac with his own private army, in The Wild Wild West episode "The Night of the Red-Eyed Madmen" only a year before he played stone cold gunman, thief, and killer in Nevada Smith. Martin Landau did play a lot of heavies, but no two were ever alike.

The simple fact is that while many actors are known for one particular type of role, the roles Martin Landau played were so varied that it is very difficult to say that he was known for only one type of role. This can be seen by looking at his best known roles. Leonard in North by Northwest was a well-dressed, cold-hearted killer who might just be in love with his boss. Rollin Hand was considerably more light hearted, a serious master of disguise, escape artist, and prestidigitator with a bit of a sense of humour. Commander Koenig on Space: 1999 was serious and at times emotional, but also had a good sense of humour. Bela Lugosi was a once great actor at the end of his career, addicted to drugs and only a shadow of his former self. The variety in Martin Landau's best known roles reflected the roles he played throughout his career. Every role Mr. Landau ever played was different from ones he had played before. And even when a particular movie or TV show wasn't very good, Martin Landau always was. In the end he truly was a Man of a Million Faces, one of the greatest character actors of the modern era.. 

Friday, 14 July 2017

Susan Cummings Passes On

Susan Cummings, a German actress who made frequent guest appearances on American television in the Fifties and Sixties, died on December 3 2016 at the age of 87.

Susan Cummings was born Susanne Gerda Tafel in Bavaria on July 10 1930. She was still a teenager when she worked both as a singer and as a model. She made her film debut as a singer in Merrily We Sing (1946), billed as Suzanne Tafel. She later appeared in an uncredited, bit part in An American in Paris (1951). In 1953 she appeared on stage in New York using the stage name Suzanne Ta Fel.  She made her television debut in episodes of Mr. District Attorney using the same name. After 1954 she would be billed as Susan Cummings.

In the Fifties Susan Cummings played Georgia in the single season TV show Union Pacific. She guest starred on such shows as Waterfront, The Lone Wolf, Adventures of the Falcon, Studio 57, The Adventures of Kit Carson, Science Fiction Theatre, The Ford Television Theatre, The Third Man, Perry Mason, The Man From Blackhawk, The Untouchables, The Millionaire, Gunsmoke, Peter Gunn, Bat Masterson, and The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp. She appeared in the films Security Risk (1954), Headline Hunters (1955), Swamp Women (1956), Secret of Treasure Mountain (1956), Utah Blaine (1957), Tomahawk Trail (1957), Man from God's Country (1958), and Verboten! (1959).

In the Sixties she guest starred on such shows as Laramie, Checkmate, Cheyenne, The Twilight Zone, and McHale's Navy. She appeared in the film The Street Is My Beat (1966). She appeared one last time on screen in the movie A Time for Love (1974).

Susan Cummings was certainly lovely. She was also fairly talented. During her career she played everything from secretaries to femmes fatales a cryptographer in the famous Twilight Zone episode "To Serve Man". It was little wonder that she was so much in demand as an actress in the Fifties and Sixties.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Joe Robinson R.I.P.

Joe Robinson, the professional wrestler turned stunt man and actor, died on July 3 2017 at the age of 90.

Joe Robinson was born in Newcastle upon Tyne, Northumberland on May 31 1927. Both his father and his grandfather had been champion professional wrestlers. Joe Robinson followed them into wrestling as "Tiger Joe Robinson". In 1952 he defeated Axel Cadier of Sweden to win the European heavyweight wrestling title at Royal Albert Hall. Mr. Robinson was already interested in acting at the time and studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. He appeared as Harry "Muscles" Green in a West End production of Arthur Kober's Wish You Were Here. After injuring his back Mr. Robinson decided to concentrate on acting.

Joe Robinson made his film debut in A Kid for Two Farthings in 1955. In the late Fifties he appeared in such films as Pasaporte al infierno (1956), Die ganze Welt singt nur Amore (1956), Murder Reported (1957), Fighting Mad (1957), The Flesh Is Weak (1957), The Strange Awakening (1958), Sea Fury (1958), The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (1960), and The Bulldog Breed (1960). He made his television debut in a guest appearance on Before Your Very Eyes in 1956. He guest starred on Hancock's Half Hour, Emergency-Ward 10, Meet the Champ, and The Strange World of Gurney Slade.

In the Sixties it was Joe Robinson and his brother Doug Robinson who trained Honor Blackman in judo for her role as Mrs. Cathy Gale on the hit TV series The Avengers. They also co-wrote the 1965 book Honor Blackman's Book of Self-Defence and appeared with Miss Blackman as her opponents in photos in the book. As might be expected, Mr. Robinson also guest starred on The Avengers, in the episode "November Five". He also guest starred on the TV shows The Saint, Pardon the Expression, and Theatre 625. He appeared in such films as Carry on Regardless (1961), Gli invasori (1962), Barabbas (1961), Ursus e la ragazza tartara (1961), The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962), Taur, il re della forza bruta (1963), and The Undertakers (1969).

He made one last film appearance in Diamonds Are Forever (1971).

Mr. Robinson also worked as a stunt arranger on many films, including several James Bond movies. He retired from acting in the Seventies and opened a martial arts centre.

There can be no doubt that Joe Robinson was a skilled martial artist. When he was 70 he made headlines by fighting off a gang of eight muggers in Cape Town single-handedly. He was also very good at training others in martial arts, having taught Honor Blackman, Mrs. Gale herself. That having been said, he was a fairly good actor as well. He was quite convincing as sport master Roach in Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, as well as smuggler Peter Franks in Diamonds Are Forever. He was even good at comedy, as evidenced by his turn as neurotic fighter Dynamite Dan in Carry On Regardless. Joe Robinson generally played heavies known more for their fighting prowess than their intelligence or personalities, but he was talented enough that he could do other roles as well.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Save Net Neutrality

As long time readers know, I try to avoid politics on this blog. Quite simply, A Shroud of Thoughts is dedicated to nostalgia and pop culture, and I prefer for my posts to only address things related to those subjects. Unfortunately, there is one particular issue that could not only affect this blog, but hundreds of other blogs, small websites, not to mention every single American who uses the internet. Because of this, I feel that I must speak up.

Quite simply the new Federal Communications Commission (FCC)) chairman Ajit Pai is heading a move to do away entirely with the Net Neutrality rules that have governed the Internet from its earliest days. For those of you who are wondering what Net Neutrality is, it is the principle that internet service providers (ISPs) should allow access to all content and applications without favouring or blocking certain products or services. Opponents of Net Neutrality want to do away with it so ISPs could create "fast lanes" for those companies that can afford them. Those of us who could not afford to pay would then be stuck in the "slow lane".

To say this would be catastrophic would be an understatement. If ISPs were allowed to create "fast lanes", it would essentially only benefit large, powerful, established corporations. A tech company that is just starting out probably would not be able to afford to pay to be in a "fast lane", and as a result would probably wither on the vine. In other words, had Net Neutrality not existed in the Nineties, such giants as EBay, Amazon, Google, and many others would have never come into existence or, if they had, they would have closed up shop very quickly. Quite simply, Net Neutrality is good for the economy.  Of course, an end to Net Neutrality would not just impact tech startups. It would also affect non-profit organisations such as libraries, museums, and churches, schools, hospitals, and even small local governments. Want to go online and check to see if your children have school the next day or if they're out for snow? Without net neutrality you might not be able to. Your school might no longer be able to afford to pay to be in a "fast lane"!

Net Neutrality becomes even more important when one considers that in most of the United States consumers have very little choice in ISPs. I feel very lucky in that I have a choice of two different internet service providers. Many people only have access to one. If one's ISP then creates "fast lanes" and he or she suddenly finds himself or herself left in the dust, he or she will have little choice but to put up with it or move to a an area where the choices in ISPs are better. Given the fact that only a few companies control broadband in this country, they probably wouldn't have much luck if they did move.

To give you an idea of how important Net Neutrality is, such Internet giants as Google, Amazon, Netflix, Twitter, and others are participating in today's Day of Action to protect Net Neutrality. It is estimated that 80,000 websites are taking part in today's protest. No less than Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the World Wide Web himself, has spoken out against the move to do away with Net Neutrality rules. In a tweet today, he said, "#NetNeutrality allowed me to invent the web without having to ask for permission. Let's keep the internet open!" That's right, without Net Neutrality we would not even have the World Wide Web!

If you are an American who enjoys surfing the web and enjoys seeing what you want to see on the internet, please write, email, or call your Congressman and your Senators, and, most of all, contact the FCC.  Here  Fight For the Future's "Battle for the Internet" site, where you can learn more and take action. Net Neutrality is much too valuable to lose.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

The 1st Anniversary of Margaret Lockwood: Queen of the Silver Screen

It was one year ago today that my friend Lyndsy Spence's biography of Margaret Lockwood, Margaret Lockwood: Queen of the Silver Screen, was published by Fantom Films. Margaret Lockwood: Queen of the Silver Screen was the culmination of many years of work on Lyndsy's part. When I first encountered Lyndsy, she already had plans for writing a Margaret Lockwood biography. It was a little over five years later that the book was published. She has on more than one occasion described it as her dream project.

You can read my review of Margaret Lockwood: Queen of the Silver Screen here

Lyndsy Spence recently started a vlog and a few days ago she talked about the anniversary of Margaret Lockwood: Queen of the Silver Screen. You can watch it below.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Elsa Martinelli Passes On

Elsa Martinelli, the beautiful Italian star who appeared in such films as The Indian Fighter (1955), Blood and Roses (1960), and The V.I.P.s (1963), died on July 8 2017 at the age of 82. The cause was cancer.

Elsa Martinelli was born in Grosseto, Tuscany on January 30 1935. She delivered groceries and worked at a bar before she was discovered by designer Roberto Capucci in 1953. She then began a highly successful career as a model, appearing in Mr. Capucci's first collection. She modelled for Ford Models in Paris and New York City. She made her film debut in one of the segments of the film Se vincessi cento milioni (1953).  She then appeared in an uncredited part in Le rouge et le noir (1954) before starring in her first Hollywood film, The Indian Fighter, in 1955.

In the Fifties Miss Martinelli appeared in films made in Europe, Britain, and Hollywood, including La risaia (1956), Donatella (1956), Four Girls in Town (1957), Manuela (1957), La Mina (1958),  I battellieri del Volga (1959), La notte brava (1959), Et mourir de plaisir (1960--better known in English as Blood and Roses), and Le capitan (1960).

The Sixties not only saw Elsa Martinelli continue appearing in films made in multiple countries, but also saw her appear on television as well. She starred in such films as Hatari! (1962), The Trial (1962), The V.I.P.s (1963), Rampage (1963), La fabuleuse aventure de Marco Polo (1965),  La decima vittima (1965), Maroc 7 (1967), Le plus vieux métier du monde (1967--known in English as The Oldest Profession), Woman Times Seven (1967), Un dollaro per 7 vigliacchi (1968), Candy (1968), If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium (1969), and OSS 117 prend des vacances (1970).  She appeared on the TV show The Rogues.

In the Seventies Miss Martnelli appeared in the films La araucana (1971), La part des lions (1971), and Garofano rosso (1976). She guest starred on the TV shows Return of the Saint and Astuzia per astuzia. In the Eighties she played Anastasia on the TV series Atelier. She appeared in the films Sono un fenomeno paranormale (1985), Pigmalione 88 (1988), and Arrivederci Roma (1990). In the Nineties she played Carlotta Pirri on the TV series Alles Glück dieser Erde. She guest starred on the TV series Il barone. She appeared in the film Once Upon a Crime... (1992) and Cabiria, Priscilla e le altre (1999). In the Naughts she played on the TV show Orgoglio.

Elsa Martinelli was certainly beautiful. The Sydney Morning Herald described her as "...a kind of Audrey Hepburn with sex appeal." While I would argue that Audrey Hepburn had plenty of sex appeal, I do agree that Elsa Martinelli was very similar to her. Like Audrey she was a gorgeous brunette. Like Audrey she was very stylish. And like Audrey she had a very coy sort of charm. Of course, while Elsa Martinelli was beautiful and charming, like Audrey she was also a very talented actress. In Donatella she played the title character, a simple and honest daughter of a bookbinder. In Four Girls in Town she played a very different role from Donatella, that of Italian beauty Maria Antonelli, whose primary gift is in drawing men to her In Hatari! she played yet another different role, that of animal loving photojournalist Anna Maria "Dallas" D'Alessandro. Elsa Martinelli wasn't just another pretty face. She was an actress who could play a rather wide variety of roles and do them well.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Old Cinemas in Randolph County, Missouri

A 1938 playbill for the Roxy Theatre in Huntsville
My trip to the 4th Street Theatre on Thursday got me to thinking about the other cinemas that operated in Randolph County throughout much of the 20th Century.  Randolph County has a rich history of entertainment going back to the 19th Century.  The Semple Opera House in Huntsville was built in 1884 and continued to operate into the 20th Century.  That same year saw the construction of the Hagarty Grocery Store and Hagarty Opera House in Moberly (the grocery was on the first floor, the opera house on the second). With the advent of motion pictures it should then come as no surprise that several successful cinemas would operate in the county.

With all apologies to my friends who live in Moberly, I am going to discuss the cinemas in Huntsville first. My reasoning is is twofold. First, it is the older of the two towns (in fact, it is one of the oldest towns in the area, having been established as the county seat in 1831). Second, not nearly as much has been written about the cinemas in Huntsville. The movie theatres in Moberly are a bit more well documented. I will be discussing the theatres in chronological order, beginning with the oldest first.

The Capitol Theatre: This was the first cinema in Huntsville. It had begun life as the Malone and Dameron livery stable. It was in 1913 that Judge W. O. Doyle and G. P. Dameron (the two men who owned the building) remodelled it as the Capitol Theatre at a cost of $8000. It was equipped for sound in 1932. Sadly, the Capitol Theatre burned on March 6 1935 with every bit of equipment lost. According to the March 6 1935 issue of the Moberly Monitor-Index, it was either caused by the theatre's furnace or "electric wiring leading to the motion picture machines". It was never rebuilt and never reopened.

A Roxy Theatre ad
from the June 20 1947
issue of the Moberly

The Roxy Theatre: The Roxy Theatre is the best remembered cinema to operate in Huntsville. Unfortunately, I don't know exactly when it opened. I do know that it had to have been in or before January 1938, as that is when the earliest advertisements in the Moberly Monitor-Index appear. It was originally named the Vita Theatre, a name it kept very briefly.  By May 1938 it was given the name by which it would be best remembered, the Roxy. The Roxy was located at 118 N. Main Street, where the Masonic Lodge is currently located. Many Huntsvillians have fond memories of the Roxy and it operated successfully for years. Sadly, like many theatres, it would close in the Fifties. It shut down in 1954.

The Gem Theatre: The Gem was the most recent cinema to operate in Huntsville. For a very brief time it was in direct competition with the Roxy. It was located in what had formerly been the Semple Opera House. As noted above, the Semple Opera House was built in 1884. The lower levels contained stores, while the upper level was the opera house itself. The Gem opened on October 31 1950, showing Colt .45 starring Randolph Scott and Ruth Roman. The Gem Theatre apparently did not remain open long, as advertisements for it ceased to appear after 1951. A variety of businesses would occupy the old opera building for the next several years, the last being a video store. The Semple Opera House had been vacant for several years when a portion of it collapsed in 2014. Unfortunately, it had to be demolished.

That is all of the theatres in Huntsville. Now I'll address the theatres in Moberly, which are much better documented.

The Grand Theatre: As its name suggest, the Grand was the movie palace in the county. It began life as a vaudeville theatre. Patrick Halloran built the Halloran Theatre for the then princely sum of $80,000. It opened on December 14 1903. It was in 1913 the Halloran Theatre was sold to George Sparks Sr., who leased the building to Fred Corbett and Jack Truitt that same year. They changed its name to the Grand Theatre. It was at some point later that it became a motion picture theatre. In its history the Grand experienced two fires, one in 1914 and another in 1925. It was rebuilt and leased to the Sears Amusement Company, which represented Universal Pictures in the area. It was in the early Thirties that it, along with the 4th Street Theatre, would be taken over by Fox West Coast Theatres Corp.  They would continue to operate it until February 9 1960 when it closed, a victim of growing competition with television. The building then served as the J. C. Penney store until a few years ago.

Bijou Theatre: The Bijou was a theatre that stood at 314 W. Reed Street in Moberly. I do not know when it opened, but the earliest references I found to it in newspapers was 1908. Beside it at 316 W. Reed was the Gem Theatre, and the two operated side by side for a few years. Like most of the early theatres, it was a vaudeville house that also showed motion pictures. Just as I don't know when it opened, I don't know when the Bijou closed either. I am guessing it was either in 1917 or a little after that, as the last reference to it in newspapers is in 1917.

Gem Theatre: The Gem Theatre stood at 316 W. Reed Street, right beside the Bijou. It opened on February 18 1910 and showed films from the very beginning. In a newspaper article on its opening, there is a reference to "a program of moving pictures." It was owned by Everett Tritch. It was in an article in the July 15 1913 issue of The Moberly Daily Monitor that it was announced that the Gem was consolidating with the White Way, owned by Fred Selby. The new building would be built on a lot owned by Mr. William O'Keefe (one of the five O'Keefe brothers who operated a grocery in town) "between Perkins' store and the new garage on Fourth Street." Quite simply, the Gem Theatre and the White Way Theatre consolidated and closed to become the 4th Street Theatre.

 White Way Theatre: I cannot be absolutely certain, but it appears to me that the White Way Theatre was on the corner of W. Reed Street and N. Clark Street. I also cannot be certain when it opened. The earliest newspaper references I could find to it are from 1912, but it could have existed earlier. At any rate, it clearly showed movies, as in the above cited article about the consolidation of the White Way Theatre and the Gem, both theatres are referred to as "picture houses". The White Way closed after its consolidation with the Gem, the building afterwards being occupied by a grocery.

The Amy Lou: The theatre that would be known as the Amy Lou in the end has perhaps the most complicated history of any cinema in the county. It was also one of the oldest. I am not certain when it opened, but the earliest advertisements for it date to early 1913. It was built by John A. Haworth, who owned and operated it in its earliest years as the Princess Theatre. In 1915 Mr. Haworth retired, and its operation was taken over by J. Oliver Bradley. At some later point it would be bought by T. R. Fiorita. When a fire burned down the Grand in 1925, the Princess would be renamed the Baby Grand and would take over the movies planned to be shown at the Grand until that cinema was rebuilt. At some point the theatre was leased to Fox, just as the Grand and 4th Street would be.

Sadly, the Princess or Baby Grand was not profitable much of the time. The April 28 1931 issue of the Moberly Monitor-Index included a news story on a Moberly City Council meeting at which a tax on theatres was debated. Theo Davis, who managed the theatre for Fox, questioned why the theatre tax should be doubled. He described the lease on the building as only being a "short term lease which the company intended to release as soon as a business could be found to occupy it." Mr. Davis said, "It has been the history of that house that the man who runs it lost money."

It was in 1936 that Louis Sosna leased the building that formerly housed the Princess Theatre. Mr. Sosna and his brother had operated a cinema in Manhattan, Kansas and would open a theatre in Mexico, Missouri as well. Mr. Sosna had a deal with Warner Bros. and Mongram for all of their first run films. He gave what had been the Princess Theatre its third name, the Sosna Theatre. As will be seen later, this would cause confusion for many local people later on! Mr. Sosna operated the Sosna Theatre on Williams Street until 1946, when the building was leased to Dickinson Operating Co. This did not mean Louis Sosna was out of the theatre business in Moberly, as he would open a new theatre on 4th Street (more on it later).

As might be expected. Dickinson renamed the theatre again, this time calling it the "Dickinson". Dickinson Theatres, as the company would finally be called, was a major chain in the late 20th Century. They eventually ran theatres in seven different states, including ones in Little Rock, Arkansas, Columbia, Missouri, and Springfield, Missouri.  It was in 2014 that Dickinson Theatres was sold to B&B Theatres. B&B had originated as Bills Theatres, which was founded in Salisbury, Missouri. In 1980 it would merge with Bagby's Travelling Picture Show, a local company that operated what was essentially a travelling movie theatre that traversed the state of Missouri, and became B&B Theatres.

Of course, years before B&B Theatres acquired Dickinson Theatres, Elmer Bills,(the founder of B&B Theatres) leased what had been the Dickinson Theatre. He renovated it and then reopened it as the Amy Lou in 1960. Sadly for the Amy Lou Theatre, the city of Moberly had other plans for the land on which it sat. The city purchased the property from T. R. Fiorita with plans to tear it down for a parking lot. The Amy Lou closed in 1962. Where it once stood at 112 North Williams Street there is now a parking lot.

The 4th Street Theatre: I wrote a detailed post about the 4th Street Cinema yesterday, so I won't repeat myself. You can read it here

State Theatre: When what had once been the Princess Theatre and later the Sosna Theatre was leased to Dickinson Theatres, Louis Sosna did not leave the theatre business in Moberly. In July 1946 he opened a new theatre, the Sosna, at 209 N. Fourth Street. This was the theatre that would come to be known as the "State" for many Randolph County residents. It was also the theatre I frequented the most as a child and young adult besides the 4th Street Cinema. Of course, the fact that it was originally called the "Sosna" would create confusion among Randolph County residents, local people confusing what was once called the Princess Theatre and was called the Sosna with what was once called the Sosna Theatre and what would become best known as the State.

It was in November 1949 that Louis Sosna leased the Sosna Theatre to the Dubinsky Brothers, who ran a chain that included cinemas in Iowa and Illinois. It was the Dubinsky Brothers who renamed the theatre, "the State". They operated the theatre until 1955, when it closed down. Fortunately, Louis Sosna would reopen the State in 1960, whereupon he remodelled it and renamed it the "Sosna State". He operated it until 1962 when it was taken over by Elmer Bills. It was once more renamed the "State". In the Eighties, B&B Theatres turned the State into a twin theatre by taking the balcony and turning it into another auditorium. The lower floor was then the "State I" and the upper floor the "State II". B&B Theatres continued to operate the State Theatre until March 1997, when it closed with the opening of the Moberly Five & Drive.

Highway 63 Drive-In Theatre: While I love drive-in theatres, I am not sure that I think of them as cinemas. To me a cinema means viewing a movie in an actual building. To be complete, however, I really have to talk about the Highway 63 Drive-In, given its importance in theatre history here. Bills Theatres opened the Highway 63 Drive-In in June 1950. It would open every summer until closing in 1985. It would remain closed until B&B Theatres struck upon the rather singular idea of not only re-opening the drive-in, but building a multiplex beside it. It was the first time ever that a multiplex was built with a drive-in theatre in mind. The multiplex portion of the Moberly Five & Drive opened in March 1997. The drive-in theatre reopened a little later that spring.

Friday, 7 July 2017

The 4th Street Theatre (AKA the 4th Steeet Cinema)

Last night was a fairly special night for me. I finally got to meet one of my fellow Turner Classic Movies fans (and a fellow Missourian), Meredith of Behind Her Time and Vitaphone Dreamer in person. I also got to see Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) on the big screen. While I have seen it many times on television, I had never seen it in a theatre. What made both of these events even more special is that they happened at one of the two theatres of my childhood, the 4th Street Theatre in Moberly.

The 4th Street Theatre was one of two cinemas I frequented from childhood well into adulthood (the other was the State Theatre, which happened to be at the opposite end of 4th Street). When I was growing up it was known as "the 4th Street Cinema" or simply "the Cinema". The 4th Street Cinema was the theatre where I saw my first "grown-up" movie (Logan's Run in 1976). It is also where I first saw Star Wars (1977) and several other movies. While I have fond memories of the State Theatre as well, it was the 4th Street Cinema that generally got the "big movies". What is more, even in the Seventies, Eighties, and Nineties, it was clear that at one time it had been a movie palace in every sense of the word.

The 4th Street Cinema was a very old theatre even when I was young. The 4th Street Theatre was the result of the consolidation of two movie houses in Moberly:  the Gem Theatre, owned by Everett Tritch, and the White Way Cinema, owned by  Fred Selby.  It was built on a lot owned by William O'Keefe, one of five brothers who ran a grocery in Moberly.  The 4th Street Theatre was designed by a noted local architect name Ludwig Abt. At the time no one knew if movies would last, so while it was primarily designed as a cinema, there was also a stage for vaudeville acts, as well as an orchestra pit. The 4th Street Theatre opened on February 9 1914. It was on that day that the theatre showed its very first film, An Hour Before Dawn (1913), starring Laura Sawyer and House Peters. Sadly, it numbers among the many lost films from the Silent Era.

In 1924 the 4th Street Theatre was remodelled by the Boller Brothers. If you are a cinema aficionado that name probably sounds familiar to you, as the Boller Brothers designed a large number of theatres throughout the United States (including the Missouri Theatre in Columbia, Missouri and the Orpheum in Hannibal, Missouri). Many of them are now listed on the National Register of Historic Places

Over the years the 4th Street Theatre would change ownership several times. For a time it was leased to the Sears Amusement Company, which represented Universal's chain of theatres in the area. It was in the late Twenties that both the 4th Street Theatre and the Grand (then the movie palace in Moberly at the time) were ran by Fox West Coast Theatres Corp. Fox continued to operate the theatre until 1954. It closed on May 5, 1954, and would remain closed for eight years. As to the Grand, it had opened in 1903 as a vaudeville theatre called the Halloran and in 1913 was renamed the Grand Theatre. It was also one of the many theatres designed by designed by the Boller Brothers. It closed on February 9 1960.

Fortunately, the 4th Street Theatre would reopen in 1962. when Oliver Penton (my cousin, who had been a projectionist at a number of theatres in the county) and Don Robbe leased it. It was a few years later that Bills Theatres bought the 4th Street Theatre outright. They installed a new, wide screen and also updated the theatre's marquee. It was Bills Theatres that renamed it "the 4th Street Cinema", although most local people would simply call it "the Cinema". It was in 1980 that Bills Theatres merged with the Bagby Travelling Picture Show, essentially a travelling movie theatre that traversed the state of Missouri, to become "B&B Theatres". B&B would continue to operate the 4th Street Cinema until March 1997. B&B having built a new multiplex beside the site of their drive-in theatre, the Moberly Five and Drive, there was no need for the Cinema any longer.

B&B Theatres then donated the 4th Street Cinema to the Randolph County Historical Society. The Randolph County Historical Society spent the past many years restoring the 4th Street Theatre to as close to its original condition as possible. This included not only restoring much of the ornamentation in the theatre, but the orchestra pit as well. The orchestra pit having been covered up decades ago, many people (myself included) did not even realise it had one. At any rate, the Randolph County Historical Society did a fine job of restoring the theatre, which looks beautiful.

Both Meredith and I took several photos last night. I have to apologise for the quality of my photos. I was using my tablet, which does not perform particularly well in low light! If you want to see what the 4th Street Theatre looked like in its days as the 4th Street Cinema, there are photos to be found online.

The 4th Street Theatre restored to its former glory

The auditorium 

One of the wall ornaments

Inside the theatre they have several classic movie posters, some of which are going to be shown in the coming months. This is the one for Yankee Doodle Dandy.

The chandelier in the lobby.

I plan to go back to the 4th Street Cinema soon, when with any luck I'll have a proper camera with me! At any rate, if you are ever in mid-Missouri, you will want to check out the 4th Street Theatre.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

60 Years Ago Today John Lennon and Paul McCartney First Met

It was sixty years ago today that John Lennon and Paul McCartney met for the first time. It was at a fete at St. Peter's Church in Woolton in Liverpool at which John Lennon's group The Quarrymen played.  Like other performers at the fete, The Quarrymen performed from the back of a moving truck. The Quarrymen were set to play again in the evening at the church's Grand Dance.

Paul McCartney accompanied his friend Ivan Vaughan to the fete. He and John Lennon chatted for a few minutes. Paul showed John how to tune a guitar (John's guitar at the time was actually tuned  in G banjo). Paul performed his version of version of Eddie Cochran's "20 Flight Rock", Gene Vincent's "Be-Bop-A-Lula", and various Little Richard songs. John and Paul were both various impressed with each others' talents. Eventually Paul McCartney was asked to join The Quarrymen and the rest is history.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Happy 4th of July 2017

As my regular readers are already well aware, for many holidays I post classic pinups with that particular holiday's theme. The 4th of July is no different, so without further ado, here is this years batch of classic pinps.

First up is Sixties startlet Carole Wells, who is riding a rocket!

Next up is the lovely Elaine Stewart, who is celebrating the 4th with some rather large firecrackers!

Next up is Adele Jergens, who is celebrating her 4th of July on the beach! And with fireworks!

Next up is Jayne Mansfield and a very large Uncle Sam hat.

The lovely and leggy Cyd Charisse is celebrating the 4th with cake...and firecrackers!

And, last but certainly not least, the lovely, leggy Ann Miller in a patriotic costume!

Happy 4th of July!