Monday, November 28, 2022

I LOVE A MYSTERY

 


I love the Turner Classic Movies cable tv station.  On occasion TCM runs episodes of classic detective movie series from the 30s and 40s.  It is just another reason why TCM may be the best television station around.

Here are some of the series that I have seen on TCM over the years-

* Two famous film series about literary detectives that began with George Sanders as the star – The Saint, more famous as a British tv series with Roger Moore, and The Falcon. Interestingly enough, after making 3 Falcon films Sanders decided to retire from the role, and in the 4th of the series, THE FALCON’S BROTHER, Sanders was killed in the end and his fictional brother, played by Sanders real-life brother Tom Conway, took over as the new Falcon and continued for all but the last three of the 16-film series. FYI - when called THE GAY FALCON the reference was not to the detective’s sexual preference. Back then gay meant something else entirely.

* The adventures of retired jewel thief Boston Blackie, brought to life by Chester Morris, a real-life amateur magician who shared the hobby with his screen character, and his sidekick “Runt”. I had seen many of the Blackie movies during my youth on Saturday afternoon television.  

* The Perry Mason series, which, while keeping the actual ESG mysteries intact, took too many liberties with the characters, portraying Perry as a drunk bon vivant amateur chef who marries Della Street in one episode, a far cry from the more true to the books portrayal of Raymond Burr with which all boomers are familiar, and Paul Drake as a typical bumbling movie sidekick nicknamed “Spudzy”.

* Another retired jewel thief who appeared in a series of 15 films over 14 years – Michael Lanyard, aka the Lone Wolf. This literary detective’s nickname was actually the source of the popular term “lone wolf”, used to describe “one who prefers to go without the company or assistance of others.”

* The uniquely named debonair detective Philo Vance, whose initial entry, THE CANARY MURDER CASE was completed as a silent film and hastily adapted for sound for its 1929 release. This series included THE GRACIE ALLEN MURDER CASE, not among the TCM offerings, written especially for the comedienne by Vance’s creator S.S. Van Dine. A later entry in the series, CALLING PHILO VANCE, was actually a remake of the earlier THE KENNEL MURDER CASE, both of which have been shown on TCM.

* A very interesting series I had never heard of before about Nick and Nora–ish rare booksellers Joel and Garda Sloane, from a novel by famous screenwriter Harvey Kurnitz writing as Marco Page. There were three films with three separate sets of actors playing the couple – Melvyn Douglas and Florence Rice in FAST COMPANY, Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell in FAST AND LOOSE, and Franchot Tone and Ann Sothern in FAST AND FURIOUS, directed by Busby Berkeley.

* And of course, the father of all such detective series – William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles. Of course, you do know by now that the Thin Man was not Nick Charles but a character in the first book that never reappeared, despite the movies’ titles.

While the individual detectives had their unique quirks and subtle differences, to be perfectly honest in many cases the characters and stories are interchangeable. All the heroes are handsome, urbane, witty, and intelligent, generally with some kind of shady past or underworld connection. They usually have a comic relief sidekick and, even if married, are often in the company of a beautiful dame. And they are frequently at odds with a hard-boiled police lieutenant or inspector with a blundering sergeant. They become involved in the mystery or adventure to help a friend, or one of the aforementioned beautiful dames, or to clear themselves of wrongful charges. As some of the films were made during the war years, the heroes occasionally tangled with Nazis and foreign spies.

While these films were considered to be “B” films they often featured actors and actresses early in their careers who would later go on to fame on the big and small screens. One young dame who crossed paths with Boston Blackie was Harriet Hilliard, who would marry a band leader named Nelson and raise her two boys on radio and television.

As with any genre, some series were better than others. And as with any episodic series, some entries, usually the earlier ones (although not always), were better than others.  Different actors often portrayed the various detectives during the runs of the individual series, and some casting choices were far superior to others. But they all were entertaining.

A few of the movie series were later translated to the small screen – Boston Blackie, Lone Wolf, The Thin Man (which starred Peter Lawford as Nick Charles), and of course Perry Mason and the Saint.

TCM has also offered the comic series about radio detective The Fox, which starred Red Skeleton “Whistling” in Dixie, Brooklyn and the Dark, and Margaret Rutherford’s classic run as Agatha Christie’s Miss Jane Marple.

TAFN










Monday, November 21, 2022

UP, UP AND AWAY!

 


Spiderman was not the first comic book super-hero to appear on the Great White Way.  In March through July of 1966 IT’S A BIRD, IT’S A PLANE, IT’S SUPERMAN ran for 19 previews and 129 performances at the Alvin Theatre.  I was in the audience for one of these performances.

This musical had a more traditional Broadway pedigree than today’s Spiderman adaptation.  Music and lyrics were by Charles Strouse and Lee Adams (ANNIE, APPLAUSE, BYE BYE BIRDIE, etc), and it was produced and directed by Hal Prince.   

While it had Lois Lane, there was no Lex Luthor.  The villains of the piece were a mad scientist and the Daily Planet’s Winchell-esque gossip columnist Max Mencken, played by Broadway veteran Jack Cassidy (father of “Tiger Beat” favs David and Shaun and husband of Partridge Family mom Shirley Jones).  

Also in the cast, as Cassidy’s assistant, was Linda Lavin, who would go on to fame on the small screen as Alice, a waitress at Mel’s Diner. Appropriately initialed for the “silver age” Superman, LL sang the show’s one contribution to the Great American Songbook – “You’ve Got Possibilities” – which was featured a few years back in a Pillsbury Doughboy commercial.

According to the Superman Supersite 

The plot revolves around Superman's efforts to defeat Dr. Abner Sedgwick, a ten-time Nobel Prize-losing scientist who seeks to avenge the scientific world's dismissal of his brilliance by attempting to destroy the world's symbol of good. Additionally, Superman comes into romantic conflict with Max Mencken, a columnist for the Daily Planet newspaper, who resents Lois Lane's attraction to Superman.”

FYI, to find out everything you always wanted to know about Broadway go to www.ibdb.com.  The Internet Broadway Database archive is the official database for Broadway theatre information. IBDB provides records of productions from the beginnings of New York theatre until today. Details include pertinent people involved as well as interesting facts and production statistics.

Get a list of every production of Hamlet on Broadway or a list of your favorite actor's credits. Find out what shows opened in a specific Broadway season.  I use IBDB often to verify my memory and to fill in missing or forgotten information for my writings on Broadway.

TAFN










Monday, November 14, 2022

AND AWAY WE GO!

 


There has been a long-standing tradition of making successful television shows out of popular Broadway plays and theatrical movies, from THE NAKED CITY, TOPPER and MR LUCKY to MASH, THE ODD COUPLE, and ALICE.  A while back Hollywood began to reverse the trend, making inferior films based on successful television series.

The first tv series based on a play and/or movie was MAMA, based on the 1944 play and 1948 movie I REMEMBER MAMA.  The show ran on CBS from July 1, 1949 to July 27, 1956.  The cast included a young Dick Van Patten of EIGHT IS ENOUGH.

The second series taken from a play and/or movie was THE FRONT PAGE, starring real life journalist John Daly (who would later become famous at the host of WHAT’S MY LINE) as newspaper editor Walter Burns.  It had a brief run from September 29, 1949, to January 26, 1950.

The third movie turned into a television series was THE LIFE OF RILEY, a successful radio comedy that was made into a movie in 1948.  Both the radio show and the movie, and eventually the tv series, starred William Bendix as Chester A Riley.  But Bendix was not tv’s first Riley.

Television’s first Chester A Riley was none other than “honeymooner” Jackie Gleason. 

William Bendix was supposed to have starred in the initial television version, but Bendix's RKO Radio Pictures movie contract prevented him from appearing. 

The first series was telecast from October 4, 1949 to March 28, 1950.  It won television's first Emmy, for "Best Film Made For and Shown on Television". According to Wikipedia it came to an end because the producer and the sponsor, Pabst Brewing Company, reached an impasse on extending the series for a full 39-week season.

The show returned on January 2, 1953, with a totally new cast that now included William Bendix as Chester A and Marjorie Reynolds as Mrs. Riley, and lasted for 6 seasons.  I remember watching it as a child.

Speaking of first actors to appear in a role and Jackie Gleason – Audrey Meadows, who became famous as Alice Kramden on the iconic HONEYMOONERS tv show, was not the first actress to portray Alice on tv.  The original Alice Kramden, to Jackie Gleason’s Ralph when “the Honeymooners” first appeared as a regular series of skits on the DuMont Network's "Cavalcade of Stars" was Pert Kelton

Kelton appeared in the original 10 to 20-minute sketches.  She was abruptly replaced by Audrey Meadows as a result of blacklisting - the practice of denying employment to screenwriters, actors, directors, musicians, and other American entertainment professionals during the mid-20th century because they were accused of having Communist ties or sympathies, a practice that grew out of Joseph McCarthy’s House Un-American Activities Committee witch hunt.  Instead of acknowledging she was being blacklisted, the producers explained that her departure was based on heart problems.

Kelton is most famous for her Broadway role as Mrs. Paroo, the Irish mother of the town librarian Marian Paroo, in Meredith Willson's Broadway musical THE MUSIC MAN, a role she reprised in the 1962 film version of the show.

FYI – Broadway legend Elaine Stritch played Trixie, the burlesque dancer wife of Ed Norton, for one sketch before being replaced by Joyce Randolph.

And another FYI – Joseph McCarthy’s chief counsel and aide in his Communist witch hunt was lawyer Roy Cohn, who later became Donald Trump’s mentor and lawyer when he was starting out in the real estate business and who was a great influence on Trump.

TAFN












Monday, November 7, 2022

VOTE!

 


Tomorrow is Election Day.  This election is perhaps the most important election in at least my lifetime (I will turn 69 later this month).  You MUST vote like your life depends upon it – because it does!

It is vitally important for the future of America, true American values, and American freedom and democracy that EVERY intelligent and patriotic American regardless of political orientation – every libertarian, conservative, moderate, progress, and liberal - vote against EVERY Republican candidate in EVERY election at EVERY level.

Today’s Republican Party has totally abandoned all integrity and credibility and has totally abandoned all true Conservative and traditional Republican values, philosophy and policies.  Today’s Republican Party is controlled by the racist and repressive Religious Right, bought and paid for by the NRA, and completely embraces ignorant, incompetent, corrupt, crooked, and treasonous demagogue Trump and his lies. 

I am not saying this because I am a Democrat or a “liberal”.  I am not, and have never been, a “card-carrying” member of the Democratic Party or the Republican Party or any other Party.  In the past I have voted for Democratic, Republican and third-Party candidates, liberal, moderate and conservative, in various federal, state and local elections, based on the issues and the individual candidates.  I am saying this because I have a brain and a conscience and a true concern for the safety and security of America and American democracy.

I very seriously and sincerely believe that the greatest threat to America today is the Republican Party.  And I very seriously and sincerely believe that if Republicans gain control of Congress and state legislatures tomorrow it will be the beginning of the end of America as we know it!

The bottom line –

VOTE TOMORROW AGAINST EVERY REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE FOR EVERY ELECTION AT EVERY LEVEL!












Monday, October 31, 2022

LUCY LOVES DESI

 

When CBS first approached Lucille Ball to do a TV series they did not want it to co-star Desi Arnaz, as Lucy had wanted, because he was a Cuban.  The network didn’t think audiences would buy the marriage of an all-American girl and a Latino.
 
Lucy saw the television show as a great opportunity to work with Desi and perhaps save their shaky marriage.  To prove the network wrong Lucy and Desi developed a vaudeville act that they took on the road with Desi's orchestra. The act was a hit and convinced CBS executives that a Ball-Arnaz tv pairing would work.
 
Or so I learned from AN EVENING WITH LUCILLE BALL: “THANK YOU VERY MUCH”, which I saw at the Surflight Theatre in Beach Haven on Long Beach Island several years ago.  The one-woman show, starring Suzanne LaRusch, was written by Ms LaRusch and Lucie Arnaz and directed by Lucie Arnaz.  
 
In 1950 CBS had asked Ball to take her successful radio comedy MY FAVORITE HUSBAND to television with co-star Richard Denning.  The radio program was written by Bob Caroll Jr and Madeline Pugh, who would go on to write for I LOVE LUCY, and co-starred Bea Benaderet and Gale Gordon as their neighbors.  This is the show that eventually became I LOVE LUCY.
 
Bea Benaderet and Gale Gordon were Lucy and Desi's first choice to play the Mertzes, but the actors were unavailable.  When they came across William Frawley, Desi Arnaz wanted him, but he was told that Frawley would be a poor choice because he was a womanizer, a gambler, and a drunk. Arnaz said, "He's perfect!"  It is rumored that Frawley and Vivian Vance did not get along off-screen.
 
Gale Gordon went on to play the principal on OUR MISS BROOKS (see below for Lucy connection).  He guest-starred on I LOVE LUCY and later co-starred with Lucy in THE LUCY SHOW and HERE’S LUCY.  Bea Benederet was unavailable for I LOVE LUCY because she was already cast at George Burns and Gracie Allen’s neighbor Blanche Morton on their tv show.  Bea was the original voice of Betty Rubble of THE FLINTSTONES, and also appeared in THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES and starred in PETTICOAT JUNCTION.
 
Before deciding to do MY FAVORITE HUSBAND on radio Lucy was offered the title role in the radio series OUR MISS BROOKS.  This show eventually went to Eve Arden, and was also taken to television.
 
Lucy first met Desi when she appeared as his love interest in the 1940 RKO movie adaptation of the successful Rodgers and Hart Broadway musical TOO MANY GIRLS.  Desi reprised his Broadway role in the movie.  The movie was the film debut of co-star Eddie Bracken, also reprising his Broadway role, and Van Johnson as a member of the chorus, and introduced the standard “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was”.
 
Desi Arnaz invented the television rerun during the pregnancy episodes of I LOVE LUCY when he re-aired episodes from the first season to give Lucy some rest.  He also pioneered the use of three cameras simultaneously for filming a sitcom, resulting in high-quality prints preserved for future TV audiences.
 
And one more bit of I LOVE LUCY trivia.  The famous "valentine" opening credits we know from syndication were not the original opening credits.  They were added when CBS began rerunning the series in 1958. Originally the credits featured animated stick figures of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz along with the sponsor's product, for example Phillip Morris cigarettes.

TAFN





Monday, October 24, 2022

WHY TRUMP OWNS THE REPUBLICAN PARTY

 


I think I understand Trump’s power over the Republican Party.

Trump accomplished one thing as President.  He “legitimized” racism and white supremacy as an “acceptable” political position.  This had two results -

1. In the past extreme racists and white supremacists either did not vote, because neither Republicans nor Democrats spoke to them or their hatred, or they voted for true fringe party candidates.  They have now been empowered and organized into an actual voting bloc loyal to Trump – his core “base” of ignorant racists - and today’s Republican Party truly courts and panders to them, while abandoning intelligent “traditional” Republicans.

2. Previously “closeted” racists and white supremacists, who in the past hid their beliefs because they had correctly been considered wrong and unacceptable by society and politics, can now “come out” and joined the new Trump-loyal ignorant racist voting bloc.

Add to this the repressive “Religious Right” contingent of the Republican Party, who are also basically racist and have embraced Trump, and the percentage of “loyal” Republicans who have and always will vote Republican regardless of the candidate or issues, and you have a large number of American voters – certainly enough to control the selection of Republican Party candidates and policy.

And, of course, I still seriously and sincerely believe Trump has blackmail information on the sexual “eccentricities” of Republican elected officials and leaders that he got from Jeffrey Epstein.

This is why we MUST vote against EVERY Republican candidate in EVERY election at EVERY level in November – and continue to do so until the Republican Party officially denounces and disavows Trump, his lies, his ignorant racist followers, and the repressive agenda of the “Religious Right”.

If Republicans gain control of Congress and state legislatures next month it will be the beginning of the end of America as we know it.

TAFN















Monday, October 17, 2022

YOU CAN SELL SHIT AND GET THANKS. THAT’S WHAT I LEARNED FROM THE YANKS

 

What is the point of so-called “Reality TV”?  It teaches us absolutely nothing about reality, real life or humanity.

Greedy self-absorbed individuals with questionable intelligence and minimal, if any, self-respect, self-control and common sense are put in staged situations and told to “act outrageously”.  All we learn are that people are stupid and will do anything for attention and money.

We can learn more about reality and humanity from one episode of a scripted drama or comedy than in an entire season of any Reality TV garbage.

While the motto of the father of Reality TV programs is “Outwit, Outplay and Outlast”, the real motto of this genre is “Embarrass, Humiliate and Abuse”. Reality TV has absolutely no worth or value – no educational value, no entertainment value, no “socially redeeming” value.

Back in 2008 USA TODAY did a cover story on reality tv with interviews of panels of “stars” from various shows of the genre.  When a panel from cable channel VH1 was asked about the most memorable moments from their shows, Flavor Flav said, “One of the most memorable moments in the history of reality TV was when that girl shit on my floor.”  Someone else responded, “No, I’d say it’s Mini-Me pissing on the carpet” from THE SURREAL LIFE.  Need I say more?

A result of this vile genre is the creation of a new breed of “celebrities” – self-important narcissistic buffoons with no talent who are merely “famous for being famous”.

One of the best descriptions ever of Reality TV and the making of its pathetic “stars” into “celebrities” appeared in an episode of the BBC tv show JUDGE JOHN DEED, starring Martin Shaw as the judge, over a decade ago.  In “Popular Appeal” an angry contestant in a British show called “The Dungeon” kills another competitor on camera, and the show's producers face charges of manslaughter in Deed's court. The prosecution contends that they acted recklessly and engineered conflict in order to get higher ratings.  A psychiatrist working for the station that airs the show testifies that the producers purposely look for psychologically flawed “contestants” who can be easily manipulated and angered, which clearly represents what Reality TV producers do in “real life”. 

Judge Deed, speaking to the producer of the TV show after the jury has returned its verdict, correctly observes –

Celebrity: the pursuit of the talentless by the mindless. It's a common disease of the twenty-first century. It pollutes our society, and diminishes all who seek it and all who worship it, and you must bear part of the responsibility for foisting this empty nonsense onto a gullible public.”

Just to be clear, when I refer to “reality tv” I am not talking about legitimate talent contests or home improvement shows likes those on HGTV or DIY.  You know what shows I am talking about.

Television can change the world.  Pioneers like Norman Lear and the creative staff behind M*A*S*H changed the world for the better in the early 1970s.  And same-sex marriage would not have become legally accepted without Ellen DeGeneres and shows like WILL AND GRACE and MODERN FAMILY.  Today reality tv garbage is resulting in the decline and deterioration of our society.

In her excellent and spot on blog post “The Danger of Reality TV” Canadian Rhonda Scharf correctly observes -

The reality of reality shows is that they effectively affect our society. Television tells us what is normal and accepted and eventually it worms its way into our subconscious. 

These messages are wrong. They instill a workplace mentality of winning at all costs. They have no compassion, no understanding, and no reality about the world we actually live in.”

A news item from 2012 reported –

The Girls Scouts are warning of the dangers of reality tv after a study by the Girl Scouts Research Institute concluded that reality shows are having a negative effect on young women.

The study found that reality television ‘more frequently portrays girls and women in competition with one another rather than in support or collaboration. This perpetuates a 'mean-girl' stereotype and normalizes this behavior among girls.’

The study concluded: ‘Teen girls who regularly view reality tv accept and expect a higher level of drama, aggression, and bullying in their own lives, and measure their worth primarily by their physical appearance.’"

Reality TV is a result of, and a major contributor to the ongoing continuance of, the “dumbing down of America”. 

Want to know how truly dangerous Reality TV is?  It is partially responsible for the death of the Republican Party and for putting the absolute worst person possible - a mentally unstable narcissistic sociopath and cartoon clown who is completely unfit to serve in any elected position of power – in the White House.  Of course, I am talking about Donald J Trump.  By giving undeserved credibility to Trump via THE APPRENTICE Reality TV can claim credit for the substantial damage done to America and American democracy by the Trump presidency.

TAFN