Thursday, July 31, 2008

Daybreak

November 23, 1951 marked the television debut of The RCA Victor Show, a half-hour program that starred bass singer Ezio Pinza—an opera singer and Broadway star (South Pacific) who also found time to make a few movies at M-G-M, including Mr. Imperium (1951) and Tonight We Sing (1953). On this live half-hour series (sponsored by RCA Victor, natch) Pinza would chat (from his swanky penthouse apartment) with the television audience and do a musical number or two. He would then leave his bachelor’s digs long enough to run into that week’s guest star, who would return (to see his etchings, I’m guessing) back to Chez Ezio for a couple more songs (both separately and together) before Pinza closed the proceedings with one last solo number.

It certainly made for riveting television, no doubt—but before long, the show’s format received a little tinkering when RCA Victor introduced another individual into the mix as an “alternate-week” star: singer-comedian Dennis Day, who debuted on the program February 8, 1952. I’m sure Pinza was a nice guy but I’m pretty much going to close the chapter on him (he left after the first season anyway, only to reappear as a retired opera singer named Babbo Bonino in a short-lived NBC sitcom called Bonino a year later) because the episodes on the Mill Creek Essential Family Television: 150 Episodes set are called The Dennis Day Show, and not The Ezio Pinza Show. Or Bonino, for that matter. (Actually, the series wouldn’t go by “The Dennis Day Show” until the fall of 1953…but I’ll get to that in a minute.)

Day had established himself in radio beginning in 1939 as the new tenor on The Jack Benny Program, replacing Kenny Baker who—and I always thought this was one of life’s little ironies—jumped ship in the fall of 1939 to work for Benny’s “nemesis,” Fred Allen. Baker’s role on the Benny show was not only a singer but a sweet, naïve “kid” who didn’t have a lot upstairs. With the hiring of Dennis, Jack got not only a singer with a beautiful tenor voice but a first-rate mimic; among Day’s specialties were dead-on impressions of Ronald Coleman, Winston Churchill and Jerry Colonna, as well as radio personalities like Titus Moody (Parker Fennelly) and The Mad Russian (Bert Gordon). (Later, as a testament to his comedic talents, the writers transformed Day from a dunce to sort of a male Gracie Allen, whose illogical statements frequently drove Benny to the point of distraction.) Day’s talents also culminated in a “spin-off series” from the Benny program; a sitcom entitled A Day in the Life of Dennis Day which was heard for five seasons over NBC Radio beginning October 3, 1946.

When Day landed the RCA Victor gig (the Friday timeslot for the show didn’t interfere with his Benny appearances, both radio and TV), the format was very similar to a situation comedy: Dennis played himself, the singer on Jack’s program, who was continually browbeaten by his battleaxe of a mother (played by Verna Felton, who did double-duty as his ma on radio as well) to look for a career of his own. Kathy Phillips played his girlfriend Kathy, the only person who understood and was faithful to him. Well…at least until the fall of 1952, that is. That’s when the Day program underwent a slight revamping: he still remained a young bachelor anxious to make good in show business but had escaped from under his mother’s thumb and was living in a swanky apartment (apparently Den learned a few things from the departing Mr. Pinza) he couldn’t afford but he felt was necessary for his showbiz image. Minerva Urecal played his cantankerous landlady, Mrs. Pratt, and Fibber McGee & Molly veteran Cliff Arquette first trotted out his “Charley Weaver” characterization to play the apartment building’s janitor/jack-of-all-trades; he would later play Weaver on shows like The Tonight Show with Jack Paar, Hobby Lobby and The Hollywood Squares, as well as variety hours headed up by Jonathan Winters and Roy Rogers & Dale Evans. Also frequently seen on Day’s sitcom was future $64,000 Question host Hal March, and Dennis’ new main squeeze, Lois Sterling (Lois Butler), who had a kid sister named Susan (Jeri Lou James) that declared herself to be Dennis’ #1 fan.

In the 1953-54 season, Day’s show was officially christened The Dennis Day Show and was now a filmed series as opposed to live. (It is also from this time period from which the Day episodes on the Essential Family collection have been culled.) Once again, several of the show’s cast members were required to play musical chairs: Weaver continued on the show (and even gained a girlfriend in Lavinia, played by Ida Moore) and strangely enough, so did little Susan—but her sister got the ol’ heave-ho for a pair of girlfriends that frolicked in Day’s den of iniquity: Marion (Carol Richards) and later Peggy (Barbara Ruick). (Hal March was given his walking papers as well.)

The first of these episodes from the final season, “The Old Friend,” is the better of the two included with the Family set (plus it contains the original commercials): Dennis’ pal Gus (Harry O. Tyler) a talented (if slightly seedy) vaudevillian who served as Dennis’ showbiz mentor, can’t even get arrested in Hollywood—despite Dennis’ pleas to his agent (George “Joe McDoakes” O’Hanlon) to find the old duffer work. Seeing that Gus is living in a fleabag which he shares with a “comedy” team (the Benson Brothers) that painfully impersonate Martin & Lewis, Dennis gets his landlady Mrs. Pratt (played here by Martha Wentworth) to let Gus rent the room across the hall from him. Unfortunately, Gus’ friends (who have now switched to mimicking Groucho & Harpo Marx) have come along for the ride and start wrecking the joint; Dennis, fearful of hurting Gus’ feelings, dons drag as the landlady to tell them to amscray usterbay. Unfortunately, Charley gets the same idea—and also shows up in drag (still wearing his moustache!)…and then the real landlady arrives. (Dennis’ reaction to this turn of events is priceless: “Oy vey!”)

Naturally, like all well-behaved sitcoms, everything comes out in the wash at the end. I can’t, unfortunately, say the same thing about the second installment, “Party Pooper.” Dennis plays his ninety-year-old grandfather in this entry, a sort of Irish Spuds McKenzie (or perhaps that should be “O’Kenzie”) whom a gangster (Robert Strauss) suspects witnessed a payoff to a city commissioner…and such, throws a huge shindig until the time is right to knock off Gramps. Grandpappy Day, it turns out, didn’t see anything (his pupils were dilated at the time) but ends up outlasting Strauss and his friends at the fete, calling his hosts “party poopers.” While this episode is surely a testament to Day’s talent for mimicry, his pixyish old codger shtick gets very old (pardon the pun) very quickly, and the episode even melts into schmaltzy goo at the end with Day’s rendition of How are Things in Glocca Morra? Even the presence of Elisha Cook, Jr. can’t help this one.

I hate to admit that overall I was disappointed with The Dennis Day Show; its chief problem is that Dennis’ character is so thinly written that half the time he appears to be just a straight man for the supporting characters—there’s really nothing strong enough on which to build a series. Arquette (as Charley Weaver) is fun as always (despite having not a lot to work with); I always wondered if Charley ever met up with Lum ‘n’ Abner’s Ben Withers (Clarence Hartzell) since both men were so fond of talking about Mt. Idy. I guess what I’m saying is that a program produced by Paul Henning and written (in the early seasons) by OTR scribe Parke Levy (who later went on to create December Bride) should have a bit more going for it. (Henning noted in an interview with author-historian Jordan R. Young that the final season of Day’s show was in direct competition with the third season of I Love Lucy—so I suppose it’s not too hard to understand how this might affected morale some.) I still think Dennis’ best solo showcase was radio’s A Day in the Life of Dennis Day; I had a phone conversation with Radio Spirits’ Mark Tepper about the series and he seemed to agree that though the show didn’t break any new comedic ground it was a dependable sitcom that gave Dennis the necessary platform to sing and joke every week, backed by top-notch supporting actors like Bea Benaderet, Francis “Dink” Trout and John Brown.

For Brent McKee, Bill Crider, Elisson...and anyone on my blogroll who's in Wyoming


(click to embiggen, as Steve himself would say)

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

“Hey, Jer—is that a gun in your pocket or are you just glad to see me?”

From the Associated Press:

Vegas police: Jerry Lewis cited for gun in luggage

Babbling Brooks

Monday, the postal person brought me the latest public domain release, Essential Family Television: 150 Episodes, from the good people at Mill Creek Entertainment—a company dedicated to making vintage television collections both collectable and affordable. If you’ve been buying Mill Creek’s products for quite a while, you’ll no doubt know that some of their box sets have a tendency to double-dip from previous releases; for example, Essential has episodes of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, The Jack Benny Program and The Lucy Show that can easily be found on The Essential Ozzie & Harriet (both price-wise and content-wise, one of the best TV-on-DVD collections ever released), The Best of Jack Benny: 40 Episodes and The Best of Lucy and Friends. But the price on Essential is so sweet ($15.36 at DVD Pacific) that it’s worth picking up for the programs that haven’t already been released by Mill Creek.

There are half-a-dozen episodes of The Adventures of Hiram Holiday, the post-Mister Peepers sitcom starring the immortal Wally Cox (and somebody out there must be interested in this show because I get keyword hits for it all the time), Episodes of The Buster Keaton Show, The Dennis Day Show, The Dennis O’Keefe Show (previously released by Alpha, I know), The Ed Wynn Show, The Eddie Fisher Show (aka Coke Time), The Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy Show (a 1950 Thanksgiving special that served as a pilot for a potential series), The Jim Backus Show (aka Hot Off the Wire) and The Liberace Show (“I wish my brother George was here”). There are a couple of Make Room for Daddy episodes that I don’t recall seeing being available on anything currently not discontinued, and of course, the Phil Silvers-Jack Benny special (written by Nat Hiken) entitled “The Slowest Gun in the West.”

I’m going to try for the next several days to watch some of these entries and give you my honest opinion on them, so if your eyes are starting to glaze over…well, I’ll try to include a “comic strip of the day” so things don’t get too deadly dull. One of my biggest delights with this Mill Creek set, however, was finding a previously unwatched P.D. Our Miss Brooks installment, “Here is Your Past” (05/13/55).

Previously, I thought the only episodes of one of my favorite TV (and of course, radio) sitcoms that had public domain status are “The Big Jump” (05/27/55) and “Home Cooked Meal” (06/03/55); but I’ve since learned that both “Past” and a Christmas episode from 1952 are apparently P.D. as well. “Jump” is also included on the Essential set (I talked about it in a previous Salon post here)—a very funny Brooks outing in which Madison High’s conniving principal Osgood Conklin (wonderfully played by Gale Gordon) bullies Connie (Eve Arden) into taking a dive off the roof of the school building as part of a civil defense exercise.

But back to “Past”: Connie starts out having the worst day—she gets into an argument with the local grocer (played by announcer and future film director Hy Averback) over an unpaid meat bill, and then is mysteriously shadowed by a stranger (played by Three Stooges villain Philip Van Zandt). The stranger swipes an article Walter Denton (Richard Crenna) has written for Madison’s school newspaper, and then makes off with the diary of “bashful biologist” Philip Boynton (Robert Rockwell) after Boynton and Connie have this exchange:

BOYNTON (petting a puppy on his desk): I heartily agree, Miss Brooks…Walter had no right to accuse you…but, then…you have been known to steal…
CONNIE: I have? What have I ever stolen?
BOYNTON: I was thinking of last New Year’s Eve when we were parked up on Outpost Road, Miss Brooks…you stole a kiss…
BROOKS: Oh, that wasn’t stealing, Mr. Boynton…that was petting larceny… (She laughs)
BOYNTON: Petting larceny?
BROOKS: It’ll come to you when you’re older… (Referring to the puppy) Well, how ‘bout Hash?
BOYNTON: Well, I’ll admit he’s a darn cute puppy…but I feel a dog should have plenty of room in which to run around…as you know, I live in a bachelor apartment…
BROOKS: No one knows better…yeah, but the last…
BOYNTON (interrupting): Also, there’s the matter of who would take care of him while I’m in school…
BROOKS (taking the dog from Boynton): Well, I guess your hash is cooked, Hash…however, I might try my luck with our beloved principal…
BOYNTON: You might…although I’d like to warn you, Mr. Conklin hasn’t been feeling so well lately…I think it’s a cold…a couple of days ago he sneezed so violently he sprained two of his ribs…
BROOKS: Yes, I know…
BOYNTON: His chest is all taped up; I understand…I wonder what made him sneeze like that?
BROOKS: I accidentally shut the door on him while he was inspecting the cafeteria’s walk-in refrigerator…he walked in all right—but we had to chip him out…that’s when he sneezed…
BOYNTON: Well, good luck, anyway…now if you’ll excuse me, I’d better cart these new fish tanks into my supply closet and put some water in them…
BROOKS: Oh…here, I’ll help you…
(As Connie starts picking up the tanks, she notices a book on Boynton’s desk—which she also picks up, but Boynton stops her short…)
BOYNTON: Oh, please! (Snatching it away from her) That’s my diary, Miss Brooks…
BROOKS: Your diary? Am I mentioned in it?
BOYNTON: I consider its contents highly personal if you don’t mind… (Carrying the fish tanks, the two of them walk over to a closet) Say, wait a minute! Stealing a kiss is petting larceny… (He laughs hysterically) That isn’t bad!
BROOKS (enthusiastically) That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you!

Naturally, it wouldn’t be an episode of Our Miss Brooks if Connie didn’t eventually stop by Mr. Conklin’s office to offer him the puppy she’s trying to get rid of…only to learn, of course, that his encounter in the refrigerator hasn’t produced a cold but aggravated his allergy…to pet dander. What “Past” finally works up to is that Connie is spirited away to a TV studio where a Ralph Edwards-like host (John Hiestand) interviews her on a This is Your Life-type program…and when Denton, Boynton and Conklin show up, their “tributes” to her sour a bit. Arden is particularly funny in this sequence; the program on which she’s guesting has placed some horns and noisemakers on the couch where she’s sitting and when the host makes reference to her age or the year she was born she blows one of the horns and twirls a noisemaker to drown him out.

What I found particularly interesting in the dialogue exchange between Arden and Rockwell’s characters is that the event described (locking Mr. Conklin in the refrigerator) does occur in the episode “Home Cooked Meal”…which was telecast three weeks after “Past.” So either the continuity people were out having lunch when this issue came up…or it wasn’t the first time Connie held Conklin prisoner in the deep-freeze (and knowing the show’s premise, that’s not entirely beyond the realm of possibility).

I, of course, have made no secret in the past of my fondness for Our Miss Brooks—an enormously successful radio-to-TV transplant that, with the exception of Rockwell, came to the one-eyed glass monster with its entire radio cast intact—and at one time thought I had found a treasure trove of Brooks episodes sold at this website…until my good friend BobH (aka “Master of His [Public] Domain”) mentioned that he still believed Brooks to be under copyright at Viacom/CBS TV/Paramount/Beatrice/Archer-Midland-Daniels, etc, etc, etc. (Considering the quality of the episodes—many home-taped off local TV stations—I probably should have figured this out on my own.) So I lobby when I can for a proper DVD release of the show, even though there are probably only a few people (me and those who read this blog) who remember how wonderful it was.

I've been an uncle for sometime now...but now I'm an ant


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Life is a rock but the radio rolled me


(click to enlarge)

“Let this be on your head!”

From TVShowsOnDVD.com, there are some announcements of street dates for some CBS-Paramount TV-on-DVD sets. Oddly enough, they’re all connected…to the number five.

First, CBS-Paramount will wrap the five-year-run of Gomer Pyle, USMC (“Shazam!”) with the release of its fifth and final season of the popular Andy Griffith Show spin-off on November 25th. Pyle was one of the few series to still rank in the Top Ten in its final year before calling it quits (#2 for the 1968-69 season—Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In was the top-rated show); star Jim Nabors had just grown tired of the show and wanted to do something different…which he did at the beginning of the 1969-70 with a comedy/variety program called The Jim Nabors Hour. Nabors’ second series, unfortunately, did not fare as well as the first, lasting only two seasons before it was cancelled in CBS’ famed “rural” series purge in 1971. The odds of seeing the show on DVD are pretty slim, I would suspect—though a sketch from the program was included as an extra on the first season set. Overall, the presentation of Gomer on DVD has been fairly well-done; the exception to this is that they had to edit several episodes due to that perennial fly-in-the-ointment (copyright issues) which is always a bit of a bummer.

Still, the Pyle show’s edits look positively pristine when you compare them to the treatment that The Odd Couple has received on disc, where even a small snatch of a popular song is cut with the efficiency of your neighborhood grocery’s meat department. I think this is the real crying shame; my heart would have been filled with joy if Couple fans could have had the shows as they were originally telecast during its five seasons from 1970-75 (when shown in syndication, the episodes are cut for time to the point of incoherency). Still, one must make do…and will have to make do when The Odd Couple: The Final Season hits the streets on November 18th. Also on that date, Hawaii Five-O: The Fifth Season will be released; it’s still got a few seasons to go before completion (before the behemoth known as Law and Order premiered, Five-O was the longest running crime drama in TV history, lasting for twelve seasons between 1968-80) but I’m just pleased that they made it this far (I’m up for buying future seasons, but Five-O fans generally acknowledge the earlier years as being the best).

I just have time for one last announcement: Infinity Entertainment’s release of Route 66: The Complete Second Season. I’m not going to go into the tortuous history of this show’s first season on DVD (there’s a lengthy thread about it over at HTF if you’re curious) but I’m praying that they don’t screw this one up—heck, I’m just hoping the revamped first season release (which is due out next Tuesday) passes muster; I ordered it from DVD Pacific a few days ago. Route 66’s second season DVD set premieres October 21st.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Dr. Alex Stone: devoted husband or male chauvinist pig?

Though RTN may not be able to squeeze in some of the really vintage television fodder from Universal-NBC, TVShowsOnDVD.com (and Amazon.com) has made the scuttlebutt surrounding rumors of The Deputy coming to DVD official; the 1959-61 western starring Allen Case and Henry Fonda is coming to disc October 14th via Timeless Media Group. The set, The Deputy: The Best Of, is being advertised as a 3-disc collection with twelve episodes and is listed right now at Amazon at a pre-order price of $23.99 (but if you wait a bit, I’m sure DVD Pacific will drop it even lower). Ordinarily, I’m not all that crazy about “Best of” collections, but in the case of rarer shows I’m always willing to make an exception.

TVShowsOnDVD.com also has confirmation on the release of Father Knows Best: The Complete Second Season, which hits the streets courtesy of Shout! Factory this November 11th. (Once again, Amazon lists it with a pre-order price of $27.99.) I bought the first season of this venerable family sitcom (though I must confess I haven’t gotten around to opening it) and I remember a great deal of brouhaha (brouhaha?) over at the Home Theater Forum because many of the episodes were the edited-for-syndication entries…and yet another source disputes this, saying they were able to get the originals from dedicated collectors of the show. Anybody who has the straight dope on this please let me know.

One show that I don’t remember mentioning here at TDOY as making its debut on DVD is another domcom champ, The Donna Reed Show, which will see its first season released October 28th. (Maybe “debut” isn’t the right word here; Donna Reed’s series was released on DVD before…only it was two episodes on a single disc as part of a General Mills cereal promotion.) The Donna Reed Show has been a much requested series in the world of TV-on-DVD, although to be honest I’m not all that certain why; many people view it and revere it as a Utopian example of the all-American household whereas I cringe because Donna seems to work like a dog and get precious little reward for her labor. (I guess it’s a product of its time…but I think I liked Carl Betz better when he was a defense attorney.) If I still have two nickels to rub together by the time this series comes out I might take a flutter on it—I just noticed it on Amazon.com and realized I never mentioned its debut at the DVD cotillion.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

“A man doesn't run from a fight, Mark...but that doesn't mean you should go running TO one, either…”

TVShowsOnDVD.com has announced that MPI Home Video will be releasing complete series DVD box sets of two classic 1960s sitcoms, Family Affair and The Doris Day Show come this November 25th. This won’t really be such a big deal as far I am concerned (I purchased all the sets separately when they came out)—unless they do something really sneaky and add the To Rome, With Love episode (“Roman Affair,” 10/06/70) as a bonus to the Affair collection, like I suggested sometime back. To be honest, I’m sort of surprised that both shows went all the way to completion on disc (and even more stunned that the Day sitcom even got to DVD in the first place)—particularly when MPI “missed it by that much” getting the entire run of The Rifleman to DVD.

MPI released Rifleman in six box set volumes containing a total of 120 episodes, which means there’s another forty-eight episodes unaccounted for. Supposedly, MPI’s contract to release the classic western series with Chuck Connors and Johnny Crawford expired before they could get the rest of the shows out—but I think that had they started out on a season-by-season basis to begin with they would have had more takers. The same thing happened to Image Entertainment’s handling of Naked City—they started out with six single-disc volumes (containing four episodes apiece) and by the time Image was ready to commit to box sets the clock had run out. Which is a darn shame, really; I never watched the show as a kid and in buying the Image releases I discovered a simply marvelous series that I’d love to see on RTN if they can make room from their locked-in Leave It to Beaver lineup. (The show is owned by Sony, if memory serves me right, so there’s really nothing keeping the folks at Retro from doing a deal…it’s not like Sony is in any kind of hurry *cough” Hazel *cough” to bother releasing additional vintage TV series on DVD.)

With the news about Family Affair and Doris Day out of the way, I’m curious to see if MPI will begin the Ghost and Mrs. Muir releases talked about several years back. I’ve got all the shows (in fair-to-good condition; someone obviously taped them in the earlier FX days—before The Shield and Rescue Me) but I’d certainly spend the money on proper releases if they were available. (And no, the picture of the cast under the TDOY logo is not meant to be subliminal; it's there by pure coincidence.)

Fortunately, two classics from the sixties will apparently finish out their runs, according to Messrs, Lacey and Lambert: Shout! Factory has the fourth and final season of McHale’s Navy scheduled for a November 18th release. I have to be honest here: the chances of my purchasing the last season of Navy are relatively slim; it’s my least favorite year of the show—the season where they put McHale and the gang in dry-dock in a small Italian village called Voltafiore, run by a corrupt mayor played by Jay Novello. The completist in me wants to purchase it, but…well, I guess I'll burn that bridge when I get there.

Also rumored to be playing out its hand is Daniel Boone, the 1964-70 adventure series starring Fess Parker; the show has seen its first five seasons hit DVD but the sixth has been in limbo for sometime. This article explains a little about what’s been holding the show up; it appears that its previous rights holder, Goldhil Entertainment, had a bit of a cash problem (“financially strapped” was the term used) and now the rights have reverted to a company called the Cerebellum Corporation. Word has it (though it’s not definite) that Cerebellum will issue Season Six sometime in December of this year.

So, on a final note, have a gander at the art for the Our Gang release I mentioned on the blog earlier…while I debate on what I’m going to have in terms of a late supper.

Ch-ch-changes

I had originally planned to spiffy up the ol’ Thrilling Days of Yesteryear template around this October, the anniversary of the move to Blogspot, but since I’m so sick of looking at that green background I threw caution to the winds and said “Katy bar the door!” (Well, it is windy, you know.) The white background might make for easier reading and since my favorite color is blue I think this revamping will do wewwy nicewy, as Arthur Q. Bryan might say.

So, as the RTN “Are you sick of Leave It to Beaver yet?” festival rages on, I’m going to make a sandwich and catch the non-Beaver episode of Laredo. I’ll be back shortly.

Kids...you know I love 'em!



(click to enlarge--it's funnier that way)

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Beaverthon!

Well, I tuned into WSB’s RTN feed this morning and found out that the previously scheduled back-to-back episodes of Wagon Train had been replaced with—and I know this is gonna surprise you—two hours of Leave It to Beaver. (It’s not looking good for your Kraft Suspense Theatre, Rick.) I still haven’t been able to piece together just exactly what the blue blazes is going on here, but in glancing at my CharredHer homepage, Run for Your Life will be swapped for even more Beaver reruns. (Oh, if only my pal Jeff Stewart were here.) My best guess is that WSB tapped these shows for their subchannel and some of them just aren’t ready—which doesn’t make sense, really: Train and Bachelor Father were CBN/Family Channel staples for many years and Rick says WOR used to run Life not too long ago…so I’m still stumped about what’s holding them up.

The only bright spot about today’s schedule was that they did show an episode of Laredo, a program that I’m quite fond of even though my only exposure to it before today was when Universal packaged several of Laredo’s episodes into TV-movies which would run on weekends on WSAZ-TV in Huntington, WV when I was a tad. Originally presented as an episode of The Virginian (“We’ve Lost a Train,” the final episode of the 1964-65 season), it was picked up as a comedy-western series in the fall of 1965 and ran two seasons, chronicling the colorful escapades of three Texas Rangers in the western outpost of Laredo. The show’s Virginian “pilot” was sort of an homage to Dumas’ The Three Musketeers (with Doug McClure’s Trampas character filling in as the fourth Musketeer, D’Artagnan) but once the actual series got underway it had more of a resemblance to Republic’s popular The Three Mesquiteers series of the 1930s and 1940s.

I like Laredo because of its light-hearted nature and first-rate cast: Neville Brand (whose very presence in any film noir makes it a must-see), Peter Brown (who played opposite John Russell in the classic TV oater The Lawman), William Smith and Philip Carey—I don’t remember too much about the fourth Ranger (Robert Wolders) added in the second season, though. The episode I watched today was very funny; in “The Heroes of San Gill” rangers Chad Cooper (Brown) and Joe Riley (Smith) con their compadre Reese Bennett (Brand) into keeping an eye on things in Laredo while they sneak off to a big “fiesta” being held near the Mexican boarder. Cooper and Riley have already been told the party is off-limits by their commander, Captain Parmalee (Carey), and once they arrive they must resort to any means necessary to keep out of Parmalee’s sight…since he was invited there to give a speech! Naturally, our heroes are saved when they foil an assassination plot on Parmalee and some Mexican officials that was to be carried out by the ever delightfully evil Theodore Marcuse (a menacing bald actor frequently seen in villainous roles on The Wild Wild West and The Man From U.N.C.L.E.)

A present from Snip

Yesterday, the UPS guy made another pass at Castle Yesteryear with a package that—had I been a bit more conscious—I would have received on Thursday. You can take a gander at it on the right (and it's available for purchase here); it was sent to me by sister Debbie, and I really think it’s really swell for a movie buff like myself. I technically can’t hang it on the wall (the Power Properties lady was very specific in pointing out the “no-wall-hanging” policy) but this is of little concern because I have this hook coming out of the ceiling in my living room (the kind you use for hanging plants) and all I had to do was attach it there so it looks a little like a mobile. (My mother had a grandiose scheme to get me some fake plants—since I’d just end up killing real ones—but with the acquisition of this sculpture that plan has been…if you’ll pardon the atrocious pun…nipped in the bud.)

I’ve got another project to finish today but I’m going to try and keep an eye on RTN to see if they deviate from their lineup with the embarrassment of Leave it to Beaver riches. So I’ll be off now in search of a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios, and I hope your day will be as pleasant as my own.

Friday, July 25, 2008

R.I.P. Larry Haines

For those of you who wondered why I didn’t post notice on the passing of Estelle Getty, it might be due to the fact that I really couldn’t come up with anything that hadn’t already been covered on other people’s blogs. Toby O’Brien, that fine broth of a boy who rules Toobworld at Inner Toob, has a list of her television credits here, and here’s a really nice piece from the Associated Press—so anything that I would add to this would just be an additional memo from the Department of Redundancy Department.

But Toby also has taken notice of the departure from this mortal coil of actor Larry Haines, who was probably best known for his Emmy-winning portrayal of Stu Bergman on the long-running CBS-TV soap Search for Tomorrow. Haines, born August 3, 1918 in Mount Vernon, New York, was one of the hardest-working radio actors from the New York contingent affectionately known as “Radio Row.” Among the series he appeared on: 21st Precinct, Cavalcade of America, The Chase, Cloak and Dagger, Crime Club, Dimension X (and its follow-up, X-Minus One), The FBI in Peace and War, Gang Busters, Inner Sanctum Mysteries, The Man Behind the Gun, Murder by Experts, The Mysterious Traveler, The Shadow, Suspense, This is Nora Drake, Words at War, Young Doctor Malone and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. He was also one of the many radio veterans who tried to jump-start radio again in 1974 with Himan Brown’s The CBS Radio Mystery Theatre.

Haines was a first-rate supporting actor, but he was also afforded the occasion to be the star of several series: Manhunt (as Drew Stevens), Now Hear This (as “Boats,” the narrator) and Treasury Agent (on which he played Joe Lincoln). He was also heard as “Mozart,” the blind pianist on Big Town and alongside George Petrie’s legal eagle John J. Malone he played Lt. Brooks on the 1951 summer replacement Murder and Mr. Malone (formerly known as The Amazing Mr. Malone when it starred Frank Lovejoy). He even played Mickey Spillane’s famed literary sleuth Mike Hammer on That Hammer Guy, a crime drama heard on Mutual Radio from 1953-54.

Haines was fortunate to enjoy a very successful career onstage, having been nominated for Tony for performances in Generations (1966) and Promises, Promises (1969). His movie career may not have reached the heights of his television, radio and stage work—but he was certainly a welcome presence in films like The Odd Couple (1968; as Speed, one of Oscar’s poker buddies) and The Seven-Ups (1973).

To two very fine performers…R.I.P.

RTN…we have a problem

The ‘rents stopped by for a visit yesterday, and I’m pleased to report that they appeared to have had a splendiferous time. The night before their visit, however, I didn’t get bedded down ‘til about 2:00am…and I then spent the next four hours lying awake while my insomnia took my central nervous system pub-crawling, or something to that effect. So I got up at 6:00 to prepare Castle Yesteryear for their arrival.

I figured the ETA for Mom and Dad to be about 10:00am, which gave me plenty of time to tidy up—but by 11:30 they still hadn’t shown, so I decided to flop out and try to get forty winks until their arrival. (Somehow, I managed to sleep though the UPS guy’s gently rapping, rapping on my chamber door.) Dad finally shows up around 12:45, and he was dashed decent enough to take me out for a bite to eat…but only a quick one, because he had to meet a couple of guys he hired to move the stuff out of his rented truck into his storage building here in Athens at 2:00pm.

As it turns out, I wasn’t the only one running on fumes yesterday: sister Kat picked up one of her pals from the Atlanta airport—the friend’s plane was due in at midnight but didn’t get in until 3:30am—and then came back to her friend’s apartment to find that not only did she not toss out some milk before her departure (which was in June) but that the carton had swelled to three times its original size and they had to get it out of the house before it exploded. Said friend also neglected to do some dishes before her trip, and came up with the novel idea of putting the dishes in the refrigerator until she got back. Meanwhile, at my parents’ stately Savannah domicile, the power went off around 4pm earlier that day (Mom thinks a transformer blew) and didn’t return until after midnight—which means Dad probably got the full seven minutes before he and Mom began the trek to Athens. (We all got together for some steaks later on and it was sort of like “Dinner of the Walking Dead.”)

While I was waiting for Mater and Pater’s arrival, I checked out the “new” schedule at RTN…and apparently they’re still waiting for some of the “new” shows in the lineup. I had wanted to watch Bachelor Father but it was replaced by a Leave it to Beaver episode, and when I checked in briefly to The Bold Ones at 3:00pm, it, too, was swapped for two more episodes featuring the family Cleaver. (I guess this won’t bode well for some of the shows I was going to take a look at this weekend, particularly Run for Your Life.)

Oddly enough, the two Jack Benny shows run between 10 and 11 were the same public domain installments (one was the Yuletide-themed show where Jack drives sales clerk Mel Blanc to suicide, the other this New Year’s Eve episode I mentioned here) available on DVD (I’m thinking particularly of the Mill Creek box set) and the episode I caught this morning involved Jack’s Hong Kong suit and guest star Gisele McKenzie. To continue this confusion, I flipped past the Dragnet episode showing at 5:30 yesterday to see…gasp…Joe Friday in black-and-white! Again, I’m pretty certain it’s a PD episode—but I didn’t linger on it long enough to see which one. I have to admit, I’m sort of baffled by these turn of events—so if anyone can offer up a reasonable explanation, the comments section has operators standing by…

Thursday, July 24, 2008

House of pain


Shakeup at RTN

My good friend Rick Brooks over at Cultureshark reports that changes are underway at the Retro Television Network, and he does not speak with forked tongue. RTN’s contract with Paramount ended in July, so they’ve signed with NBC/Universal to provide the bulk of their programming. (RTN still imports a few shows from other sources, namely Sony’s The Monkees and The Partridge Family, and some of the oeuvre of Stephen J. Cannell—The Greatest American Hero, Hunter and Renegade.) Rick announces in this post that WJLA-TV in Washington, DC has added a digital subchannel and will begin RTN operations on July 28.

Rick lists a few of the shows his RTN affiliate will be carrying, and if it seems as if I’m not hiding my envy very well it’s because I’m not that good an actor. Some of the goodies he’ll be getting include Quincy, M.E., Ironside, Switch and The Kraft Suspense Theatre. (I’d give up my first born to see Quincy reruns…if I had a first born, that is.) Naturally, I was curious to see what WSB-RTN would be offering up, and so I painstakingly put together their new schedule:

Monday-Friday
10:00a Jack Benny
10:30a Jack Benny
11:00a Bachelor Father
11:30a McHale’s Navy
12:00n Leave It to Beaver
12:30p Leave It to Beaver
01:00p Marcus Welby, MD
02:00p Emergency!
03:00p The Bold Ones
04:00p Kojak
05:00p Adam-12
05:30p Dragnet
06:00p That’s Incredible!
06:30p That’s Incredible!
07:00p Incredible Hulk
08:00p Knight Rider
09:00p Magnum, P.I.
10:00p Rockford Files
11:00p Alfred Hitchcock Hour
12:00m Night Gallery
12:30a Alfred Hitchcock Presents

Saturday
10:00a Leave It to Beaver
10:30a Leave It to Beaver
11:00a Wagon Train
12:00n Wagon Train
01:00p Alias Smith and Jones
02:00p Laredo
03:00p It Takes a Thief
04:00p Run For Your Life
05:00p Mystery Movie (McCloud, McMillan & Wife)
07:00p Airwolf
08:00p Airwolf
09:00p Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer
10:00p Black Sheep Squadron
11:00p Offbeat Cinema

Sunday
10:00a Operation Petticoat
10:30a Operation Petticoat
11:00a Wagon Train
12:00n Wagon Train
01:00p Alias Smith and Jones
02:00p Laredo
03:00p It Takes a Thief
04:00p Run For Your Life
05:00p Harry and the Hendersons
05:30p Harry and the Hendersons
06:00p The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo
06:30p The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo
07:00p Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries
08:00p Voyagers!
09:00p Battlestar Galactica
10:00p Black Sheep Squadron
11:00p RTN Mystery Theater

Now, about 80% of the shows on this list is crap that I wouldn’t watch when they were originally on, so one good thing about the new schedule is that it won’t keep me from any of my usual blogging or movie-obsessing activities. Still, there are a few nuggets among the dross: Bachelor Father (a show I haven’t seen since it was reran and reran and reran on CBN), The Bold Ones (one of Stacia’s favorites), Run for Your Life (I’ve always wanted to see this show) and if I may be permitted a guilty pleasure, The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo. (But only the first season, not that god-awful second act with Nell Carter.) Plus, there are old favorites like Alfred Hitchcock, McHale’s Navy and The Rockford Files—and since I love westerns, Wagon Train and Laredo. I am curious, however, as to how they’re going to schedule Jack Benny twice-a-day five days a week when to my knowledge there’s only 104 episodes in the syndication package (get set for a lot of reruns). (By the way, the appearance of Dragnet on this schedule—it’s not the original black-and-white shows, but you could have guessed that. My cable schedule on my CharredHer homepage classifies it as “documentary.”)

I’m hoping that this deal with NBC/Universal will open up a good many more oldies from the vaults similar to the DVD releases being put out by Timeless Media Group: it would be great to be able to kick back and watch M Squad or The Deputy instead of having to rev up the DVD player. (The RTN website says: “More programming coming soon!” so I’m interpreting that as a positive sign.) I have to admit, though, I will miss some of the stuff that used to be on: The Fugitive, Get Smart, Rawhide and The Untouchables, to name a few. I was going to say something along the lines that since these shows are being released on DVD it probably won’t matter (but then I remembered The Fugitive was involved).

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Region 2 is good for you

I’m in the home stretch of finishing up a project for FGRA…plus I also have to straighten up this jernt in time for the ‘rents arrival tomorrow (ETA: 10:00am) so I’ll make this brief. Please take a goodly-sized portion of your precious free time and read this post by one of my favorite film bloggers, the incomparable Campaspe at Self-Styled Siren. She discusses several movies that aren’t yet available in Region 1 form but can be obtained from across the pond if you’re willing to match the craptastic U.S. dollar against foreign currency. But what really brings it all home is her prescient observation that if certain movie treasures (like Make Way for Tomorrow) are just left in vaults to rot with the passage of time, all that will be left of classic movies is what's on the AFI lists. In a perfect world, this would not be allowed to happen…oh, also you and I would be forced to serve Campaspe as her abject minions…but perhaps I’ve revealed a little too much about her world domination scheme through classic cinema. All seriousness aside, it’s a wonderful post—and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Music 101


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Joan of Arabia

Posting may be spotty the next day or so because I’m finishing up a pair of projects for the fine people at First Generation Radio Archives (ask for them by name!). But I took a brief breather yesterday to wallow in a bit of nostalgia, courtesy of TCM. The film? Harem Girl, a 1952 comedy romp starring TDOY fave Joan Davis and directed/written by noted Three Stooges auteur Edward Bernds.

Let me give you an idea of how long it’s been since I’ve seen this film. The last time I watched Girl it was on TNT; yes, before that channel knew drama (and not just in the biblical sense) it showed a good many movies that would later turn up in light-to-heavy rotation on its sibling classic movies channel. Now, I’m going to be the first to inform you that Harem Girl is not going to make many best-movie-comedy lists; in fact, your tolerance for the movie is going to rest on your tolerance for Joanie’s zany antics. Still, it’s a breezy little time-waster: Davis is a chocolate dipper from Grand Rapids who quits her job to take a trip to the Middle East—she becomes a traveling companion to a beautiful princess (Peggie Castle) and when Princess Peggie’s future kingdom falls in the hands of some unscrupulous bad men (led by one of the baddest bad guys of them all, Henry Brandon), Joan agrees to impersonate her pal while Peg gets help from the underground, headed up by boyfriend Paul Marion.

Joan’s got some pretty nice comedy vignettes in this film: she does a hysterical exotic dance that looks as if she improvised it on the spot and later in the film plays rabble-rouser to a group of other harem girls, convincing them they need to organize a union. (When Peggie is trying to explain to Joan that her kingdom is loaded with black gold and Texas tea, she asks her pal: “What does my country have more than any other?” Joanie wisecracks: “Fleas!”) Yesterday, however, the funniest thing in this film wasn’t in the actual film: in the teaser before the film, the movie was identified onscreen as “Harlem Girl”—and even the announcer referred to it as such! (Imagine my disappointment when I couldn’t find any trace of Pam Grier in the movie.)

Bernds contributed the story and co-wrote the screenplay with longtime partner Elwood Ullman; it was about the time of Harem Girl’s release that the two men left Columbia (Bernds’ supervisor, Hugh McCollum, had been ousted due to the machinations of producer Jules White and Bernds followed his boss out of loyalty) and went over to Monogram/Allied Artists—where they wrote some of the better Bowery Boys vehicles, including The Bowery Boys Meet the Monsters (1954) and Bowery to Bagdad (1955). Naturally, this being a Bernds film you’ll spot an Emil Sitka cameo (Emil’s a lackey for potentate Arthur Blake); other familiar faces include Minerva Urecal, Shepard Menken and Mister John Dehner.

Breaking news


Monday, July 21, 2008

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa

Last week, I sort of got my undies in a bunch and fired off a nasty editorial about the upcoming The Complete Wild Wild West box set scheduled to be released by CBS/Paramount this November 4th, referencing specifically the extras (the made-for-TV movies The Wild Wild Revisited [1979] and More Wild Wild West [1980]) that will not be available separately but will require a purchase of the whole kit ‘n’ kaboodle.

In my screed, I singled out two individuals, Gord Lacey and Dave Lambert—the webmeisters of TVShowsOnDVD.com, as recipients of my admittedly overheated invective, charging that they often approached these sorts of controversial decisions with a great deal of timidity to maintain their close contacts in the TV-to-DVD industry. (My exact words were: “[R}ather than jeopardize their cushy positions hobnobbing with what are essentially a pack of weasels, [they] turn their backs on this kind of chicanery when such ethically-challenged practices cry out for some sort of scathing editorial reply.”)

As it stands, I don’t often set out to be a complete horse’s ass but once I start there’s very little that will stop me, to paraphrase Orson Welles’ famous observation in The Lady from Shanghai {1947). Mr. Lacey has done precisely what I suggested, letting the studios have it with both barrels while asking them politely to stop screwing their customers. As such, I would like to profusely apologize to both Messrs. Lacey and Lambert for jumping the gun on this…I was clearly in the wrong, and for that I humbly express my sincerest regrets.

As to whether my half-cocked screed provided the impetus for the editorial I choose not to speculate, because if I actually did have that sort of influence in the form of enormous Internet powers I’m not sure I could handle that sort of responsibility. But on the other hand…it wouldn’t hurt to try them out. Dame Diana Riggcall me

“Little black sheep…come back home…”

The Sunday Athens Banner-Herald had a nice write-up by Julie Phillips yesterday on the late Hall Johnson, a native of the city who achieved a great deal of fame as a musician and composer beginning in the 1920s with his founding of the Hall Johnson Choir:

Hall Johnson walked the streets of Athens long before the indie rock musicians who came after him, and his musical talent as a composer, arranger and choral director put him in the international spotlight first.

But outside of academic and choral circles - and perhaps those of serious classic film buffs - Johnson's name isn't one enough people know.

This serious classic film buff was trying to remember where he had seen Johnson’s name when I read further on and discovered the movies among his filmography: The Green Pastures (1936), Lost Horizon (1937) and Cabin in the Sky (1943). Since I stayed up to watch Cabin last Wednesday, I was immediately able to answer my own question. Cabin is one of my favorite M-G-M musicals, with so many memorable songs (Takin’ a Chance on Love, Happiness is Just a Thing Called Joe, Shine) and I’ve written about the movie elsewhere, so I’ll try not to rehash it here…but it’s Johnson’s Little Black Sheep that tends to linger in the memory for days on end…it’s that infectious.



I also learned at the end of the movie (you know, where Robert Osborne offers up trivia tidbits that you sometimes—trust me on this—have to fact-check) that Dooley “Sam” Wilson, the performer who originally played the part of Joe in the stage version of Cabin, was passed over for the role in favor of Eddie “Rochester” Anderson. Now, I am a tremendous fan of Anderson’s work (he’s got a small role in Red Skelton’s The Show-Off [1946] that caused me to shout out “Rochester!” when I watched the movie last Friday…resulting in a pair of daschunds staring at me, wondering what the commotion was all about) but I have to confess, I would have loved to see Wilson play the part. (As a consolation prize—though a pretty small one—Wilson does sing Shine in Casablanca.)

Speaking of The Show-Off, I have this to say. There’s not a whole lot of plot in this one and some folks might even think it a bit corny…but I have to chalk this one up in Red’s “win” column. I thought he gave a magnificent performance (striking the right balance between braggart and buffoon), and the supporting cast—Marjorie Main, George “Gramps” Cleveland, Marilyn Maxwell, Virginia O’Brien, Leon Ames—are first-rate as well. Unfortunately for my friend in the Hoosier state, I didn’t make time to watch The Clown (1953)—I’ll have to look for it again when it comes around.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Do as I say, not as I do

Well, it’s Sunday night—and since no one ever reads this stuff on Sunday nights, let me get a political rant off my chest…

From the Associated Press (sigh):

WASHINGTON - President Bush has been a "total failure" in everything from the economy to the war to energy policy, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday. In an interview on CNN, the California Democrat was asked to respond to video of the president criticizing the Democratic-led Congress for heading into the final 26 days of the legislative session without having passed a single government spending bill.

Pelosi shot back in unusually personal terms.

"You know, God bless him, bless his heart, president of the United States, a total failure, losing all credibility with the American people on the economy, on the war, on energy, you name the subject," Pelosi replied. She then tsk-tsked Bush for "challenging Congress when we are trying to sweep up after his mess over and over and over again."

Nance, you had the chance to “sweep up after his mess over and over and over again.” But if memory serves me correct (and it often does), you were the one who said “impeachment is off the table.”

It comes as no surprise to me that support for Congress is in the single digits. I’d like to throw a single digit their way myself.

My demands have been met

I don’t how many of you out there who have the misfortune to welcome CharredHer (Charter) Cable into your homes, but this weekend after returning from dog-sitting I put one of its niftier features to work. They offer an “On Demand” service (they’re not unique in this, of course, other cable companies do the same) that allows you to watch movies in your home for an extra-fee…but they also make available free flicks to those people who wouldn’t pay to see most of the “fee” movies when they were in the theater, so why should anything be different? (Um...sorry about that last part...that's me I'm describing.)

Most of the free movies come from the cable channel Flix, the bastard child from Showtime and The Movie Channel that occasionally offers up a goodie or two (that’s where I saw Wise Blood…and it was letterboxed, too). The first time I used the On Demand service was to finish a movie I had started watching at Kat’s, A Night at the Roxbury (1998)…and please don’t ask me why I watched that odious piece of fromage: it might be either because I was trying to demonstrate to myself that not everything Will Ferrell touches turns to comedy gold, as is Kat’s fervent belief, or I lost the remote and was too lazy to look for it. The awfulness of Roxbury turned me off on trying the On Demand service ever again, but one night here at the new Castle Yesteryear I couldn’t find anything to watch and so I decided to take a peek at the 1999 remake of The Out-of-Towners (1970)…which was even worse. I know the original’s a bit dated and Jack Lemmon’s character comes off as a bit annoying (not to mention Sandy Dennis) but Gott in Himmel, it was miles and away better than that updated time-waster with Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn. If I ever have contact with either of these two on the street, I can't promise I won't take a swing at them. (I can only hope everyone connected with the film was well-paid for the enterprise, particularly John Cleese, for whom I was actually embarrassed.)

Anyway, I get home last night around 8:00pm and I start to look for something to watch when I pop up the On Demand screen to check and see if there’s anything worth writing home about—and I notice that they’ve added some items from TCM to the inventory. All the TCM movies they have listed I’ve either seen or have no desire to, but they did offer the documentary on Val Lewton, Man in the Shadows, that I had considered buying…but after watching it last night I’ve decided to take a pass. (Not that it wasn’t good—it was superb—but I already have the other Lewton doc on the first DVD box set of the Lewton horror films, Shadows in the Dark: The Val Lewton Legacy.) I also watched the Under the Influence (a new series on TCM where film critic Elvis Mitchell talks with filmmakers to find out what classic movies had an impact on them; the Bill Murray show was very entertaining) segment with Sydney Pollack; and its only saving grace was that it was only twenty-nine minutes long. (I’m curious as to why this was available under the “Movies” section of TCM when it makes much more sense to file it under “Shorts & Trailers.”)

Flix On Demand has a few films that I’m curious to see: I want to catch Alice, Sweet Alice (1976) on film historian Danny Peary’s recommendation and they’re also showing Billy Liar (1963), a movie I never got around to seeing…though I have seen the Britcom it inspired, and it’s amusing at times. With a little luck, they’ll start expanding the TCM On Demand section soon. And speaking of TCM, don’t forget to set your DVR’s to catch the outrageously funny The Good Humor Man (1950) with Jack Carson tomorrow at 6:00am. Niatpac Levram!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

“H-A-double R-I…G-A-N spells Harrigan…”

One movie. Of all the movies I had taped from Fox Movie Channel this past month on sister Kat’s DirecTV DVR, one movie is the total fruit of my labors.

You can just imagine my disillusionment.

I don’t remember exactly which movies I had planned to tape, but I know two of the titles—A Hatful of Rain (1957) and The Driver (1978)—I’ve already seen before. The only one that I’m really bummed about missing is The Power and the Glory, the 1933 Preston Sturges-scripted classic that many have observed foreshadows Citizen Kane (1941); I’ve been trying to catch this one for quite a while now.

I had also planned to watch all these movies this morning/afternoon, and then erase them from Kat’s system, freeing up the vital space she needs for important items like the latest installment of Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List and something called Mysteries of the Freemasons. Right now, I’ve got The Desperate Hours (1955) on in the background—not particularly one of my favorite Bogart movies (Bogie comes off like a cranky old fart yelling at kids to get out of his yard than an escaped convict) but it’s a pleasant enough method of killing a couple of hours…desperate though they may be.

The only movie to survive the DVR purge was Hold That Co-Ed (1938), an easy-to-take Fox musical romp starring George Murphy as a former football all-star who takes over as football coach at State University, a rundown state-supported institution that gets a much-needed infusion of cash when an opportunistic governor (John Barrymore, who’s the whole show) exploits the school in order to win a Senate race. The musical numbers in this one are instantly forgettable (except for Harrigan, a tune written by George M. Cohan several years before this film was conceived) but it contains some sprightly performances from some veteran farceurs, including Joan Davis (whose song-and-dance number with Murphy is fun to watch), Jack Haley, Donald Meek, Johnny Downs, Guinn “Big Boy” Williams, Billy Benedict and Frank Sully. The only debits to Co-Ed are that Murphy’s love interest, Marjorie Weaver, is pretty bland and the climax—playing a championship football game during what appears to be a cyclone—doesn’t mesh with the rest of the proceedings. But as mentioned, Barrymore is sensational (and pretty wasted) and I’ll watch anything Joanie’s in—both actors appeared on The Rudy Vallee Sealtest Show in the 1940s and in fact, Davis took over the program when Rudy went into the Coast Guard; it became The Sealtest Village Store…and Jack Haley was her co-star!

Friday, July 18, 2008

“You just don’t look right, boy…you just don’t look right…”

In another six hours, TCM will celebrate the 95th birthday of one of the most famous comedic clowns to appear on radio and television, Richard “Red” Bernard Skelton (who sadly left us in 1997). As a Skelton fan, I’ve written a number of posts/essays on the blog over the years, and I had planned to watch as many of the Skelton films as possible I may miss one or two because I’m scheduled to keep an eye on sister Kat’s daschunds while she’s out of the town the next two days attending a taping of Antiques Roadshow.

I’ve stated many times in the past that I enjoyed Skelton the most on radio, where his “gallery of grotesques” seems to play better than it did on his later television series. Although Skelton achieved success in films as well, I must reluctantly admit that I simply didn’t care for many of them: I think A Southern Yankee (1948) is his all-time best (which, unfortunately, is not on TCM’s schedule), with The Yellow Cab Man (1950) and The Fuller Brush Man (1948) second and third…following by the “Whistling” series (Whistling in the Dark [1941], Whistling in Dixie [1942] and Whistling in Brooklyn [1943]). My main complaint with Red’s film work is that most of it was done at M-G-M, where making musicals was just like riding a bike…but cranking out comedy vehicles was an entirely different ball of wax.

TCM’s run a few Skelton pictures already this month; I saw I Dood It (1943) a couple of Thursdays back and while I can sit for hours and watch Eleanor Powell tap-dance, her thespic talents always were a bit limited. (I hope The Baby isn’t reading this.) Just between you, me and the lamppost, I liked I Dood It better when it was Spite Marriage (1929). (The only thing that really made me laugh in Dood It was when Red was discussing music with Tommy Dorsey and declaring his preference for Dorsey’s brother Jimmy—Tommy responds with: “Yeah, I like Bob Hope, too.”) Skelton not only remade Keaton’s Spite Marriage but also took a crack at The Cameraman (1928) with Watch the Birdie (1950); Keaton, who supplied Skelton with many gags at M-G-M, even attempted to get the studio to let him to take charge of a unit that would make pictures specifically for their star clown but Buster’s previous battles with the bottle scotched that notion. The closest he got was the aforementioned Southern Yankee, which was directed by Keaton pal Edward Sedgwick. (Despite what the IMDb and others have said, I do not consider Yankee to be a remake of The General [1927].)

TCM starts the Skelton festival at 6:15am, and it will include these titles:

6:15 AM Whistling In The Dark (1941)
8:00 AM Whistling In Dixie (1942)
9:15 AM Whistling In Brooklyn (1943)
10:45 AM Maisie Gets Her Man (1942)
12:15 PM Show-Off, The (1946)
1:45 PM Fuller Brush Man, The (1948)
3:30 PM Excuse My Dust (1951)
5:00 PM Clown, The (1953)
6:45 PM Great Diamond Robbery, The (1954)

Of the films listed, I’d like to see Brooklyn (I saw the first two Whistling films last month) and The Fuller Brush Man again…and I’m curious to see Maisie Gets Her Man (1942; I like Ann Sothern—so sue me) and The Show-Off (1946). I’ve seen the silent version (with Louise Brooks…rowr) and I’d like to see the Skelton version because I’m convinced Red would be plumb pluperfect as the obnoxious J. Aubrey Piper. Anyway, I figured as a public service you might want to know about the Skelton “marathon” so if you get the opportunity sit back for some first-rate clowning. And may God bless… (What? Toby’s lawyer is on the phone? Tell him I’m out!)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Now what am I supposed to do with all these donuts?

Thrilling Days of Yesteryear, November 27, 2007:

No sooner does the third season box set of The Wild, Wild West arrive at Rancho Yesteryear when TVShowsOnDVD.com proudly announces that the fourth and final season of the cult espionage Western will be released to DVD March 18th. The details are still sketchy at this time, but several of the denizens at the Home Theater Forum are curious as to whether the final set will contain the two reunion TV-movies, The Wild, Wild West Revisited (1979) and More Wild, Wild West (1980). (One HTF wag cracked that the two reunion movies will only be available when CBS-Paramount inevitably releases The Complete Wild, Wild West—a box set containing all four seasons…and I’ll bet dollars to donuts he’s not too far from the truth.)

TVShowsOnDVD.com, July 16, 2008:

According to the details that retailers received for this package, it says that it will be a 26-disc set, will [sic] all 4 seasons’ worth of remastered episodes, plus a new bonus disc described as “containing 2 full-length restored Wild Wild West TV movies on DVD for the first time: Wild Wild West Revisited and More Wild Wild West. THAT ought to put a smile on some faces out there!

Does it f**king look like I’m smiling?

I don’t know why I should be surprised by all this…it’s a freaking shell game with these people who release TV shows to DVD. If you don’t buy all the seasons, there’s a danger of the studio stopping and not finishing out the series. If you do buy all the seasons, they end repackaging the damn thing and adding something to the new set so that you’re forced to buy it a second time.

TVShowsOnDVD.com says CBS/Paramount has no plans to release the WWW extras on a separate disc (and why should they, if they can get yahoos to re-buy the series for $139.99) which, again, shouldn’t cause a shock to your pacemaker—but in a way, I feel a twinge of sympathy for these bottom-feeders at CBS/Paramount because they simply don't know any better. But I don’t have much use for people like Gord Lacey or Dave Lambert (proprietors of TVShows’ website, and a pair of gents I'm assuming can tell the difference between right and wrong) who, rather than jeopardize their cushy positions hobnobbing with what are essentially a pack of weasels, turn their backs on this kind of chicanery when such ethically-challenged practices cry out for some sort of scathing editorial reply.

In other DVD news, Genius Products is planning to release an eight-disc set containing all eighty of the Our Gang sound shorts released between 1929 and 1938. This big honkin’ box set, retailing for $89.95, is being produced in tandem with RHI Entertainment and though I’m going to have to upgrade my old Cabin Fever DVD set of Our Gang, this one I won’t mind so much since that has only forty-eight of the shorts. Street date is October 20th.

Finally, I just got an e-mail a while ago from Arny Schorr at S’more Entertainment:

We’ve finally signed our contracts with the UCLA Film & Television Archive and on November 11, 2008, we will be releasing season 2 of Mister Peepers at $39.98. UCLA has recently taken delivery of new software that allows them to rejuvenate old kinescopes, remove almost all the flicker and we’re left with some amazingly clear images from these 26 episodes.

The special features are as follows:

· All 26 episodes comprising the entire season 2
· Original commercials
· Interview with Tony Randall about his experiences on “Mister Peepers” produced by the Television Academy.
· Short film explaining what a kinescope is and how they’re made
· Footage of creator David Swift accepting the Peabody Award for the series.
· Episode from the TV series “Suspense” entitled “Murderer’s Meeting” featuring Wally Cox with Jackie Cooper and Mildred Natwick from April 24, 1951. A man escaping from a fresh kill in a hallway makes his way through a building. As he passes an open apartment door, he is pulled inside where a meeting of a club of murder-mystery authors is taking place.


Deal me in on the Peepers and Our Gang collections. As for the "complete" Wild, Wild West set…ah, ya muddah’s bicycle…

G.I. Jo (1917-2008)

I have just learned from Terry Teachout at About Last Night that popular 1940s/1950s female vocalist Jo Stafford has passed on at the age of 91. I haven’t been able to track down an online obituary yet, but Terry’s post will more than suffice. (Update: As astute TDOY reader Julia notes, The Washington Post now has one up.)

Terry points out that Stafford isn’t remembered by anyone save those who were young a half-century ago…which is really a shame, since the lady was truly one of the most popular singers in America at the time. She was a former member of the Pied Pipers, a successful vocal group known for their multiple appearances with Tommy Dorsey’s Orchestra in the late 1930s and early 1940s. The group later had a disagreement with Dorsey and left his musical aggregation, but they were fortunate to be signed by the legendary Johnny Mercer (Savannah: genuflect!) for his burgeoning Capitol Records music label in 1943. (Stafford also started appearing on the radio show Johnny Mercer’s Music Shop at this time; previously she had been the female vocalist for Al Jolson’s Colgate Program during its single 1942-43 season.)

Stafford left the Pipers in 1944 to concentrate on her own career, and for a while gave countless performances for the troops overseas as part of her stint with the USO (her nickname, incidentally, is the title of this post). She also made more inroads into radio, becoming the Tuesday-Thursday night host of NBC’s The Chesterfield Supper Club and also finding time for popular AFRS broadcasts like Mail Call, G.I. Journal and Command Performance. Once returning stateside, she continued her radio appearances—most notably on The Carnation Contented Hour (alongside Tony Martin from 1948-51) and Club Fifteen. She also continued to dominate the pop music charts (after switching to Columbia Records in 1950) both as a soloist and singing alongside the likes of Gordon MacRae and Frankie Laine. Among Stafford’s successful solo hits: Long Ago and Far Away (1944), Shrimp Boats (1950), You Belong to Me and Jambalaya (both in 1952) and Make Love to Me! (1954).

R.I.P., Ms. Stafford…you will be missed.

The perfect Storm

It was Gale Storm her ownself who nixed the idea of doing another television sitcom after My Little Margie, preferring instead to concentrate on her singing career and guest appearances on variety shows. But writer Lee Karson pitched to her a concept rife with possibilities: she would play the social director on a cruise ship, and since the ship itself was very much like “a big city” it would enable her to travel to different places so that there would be a constant change of scenery…ensuring that the storylines wouldn’t become stale.

Storm wasn’t interested. But Karson then threw in a kicker: every third episode would allow her to perform a musical number. Gale took the bait, insisting only that character actor Roy Roberts (a frequent guest performer on Margie) be given the male lead.

And thus, The Gale Storm Show: Oh! Susanna was born. (Yes, that is the official and lengthy title of the show. It was shortened to Oh! Susanna when it went into syndicated reruns.)

The Gale Storm Show premiered on CBS-TV September 29, 1956, and for four seasons (the last on ABC) Gale played Susanna Pomeroy, activities director of the S.S. Ocean Queen, a luxury liner that—because it was filmed at the long-since-lost-its-luster Hal Roach Studios—looked more like a slightly larger ferryboat with a few passengers along for the ride. Susanna’s job was basically to keep the Ocean Queen’s guests amused, but she often couldn’t resist temptation to meddle in their personal and romantic lives, thus creating a lot of the wacky situations on the series. Her best friend, roommate and often accomplice in her shenanigans was Elvira (some sources also say Esmerelda) “Nugey” Nugent, a fluttery beauty salon manicurist played by the wonderful character actress ZaSu Pitts. Between the two of them, they were able to create enough mayhem to keep ship’s captain Simon P. Huxley (the aforementioned Mr. Roberts) in a perpetual state of apoplexy.

Also on the series was an actor named James Fairfax, who played a steward named Cedric and was frequently on hand to aid and abet Susanna and Nugey in their monkeyshines. Most sources report that Fairfax left the series after the switch to ABC, but I’ve watched a few of those telecasts and he’s on them—so if he did “jump ship” he took his sweet time about it. About midway into the ABC run, Sid Melton (of Make Room for Daddy fame) makes a few appearances as a sailor named Hal, but for the most part it would be Storm, Pitts, Roberts and Fairfax apparently running the entire ship. Jimmy Lydon (Henry Aldrich in the Paramount movie series) shows up in a few segments as Roberts’ second-in-command (usually called “Evans,” but he answered to other names as well) and Joe Cranston was seen infrequently as another officer named Anderson.

I was fortunate to find a few reruns of Oh! Susanna for sale on DVD last year from a now-defunct online vendor; twenty discs containing eighty episodes (although there’s technically only seventy-nine, since this person mislabeled one of the shows and it’s a duplicate). I’ve had an opportunity to watch a few of these discs and for a series that supposedly promised a variety of storylines due to its luxury liner premise, The Gale Storm Show often seems stale and uninspired. Many of its plotlines revolve around the old “crooks on board ship” idea, a good example being “Stop, Thief” (06/01/57). An Italian movie actor (Mario Siletti) aboard the Ocean Queen is attempting to keep a low profile because he’s tired of being mobbed by his public. At the same time, an American jewel thief (Brad Dexter) is also trying not to be noticed, so he decides to pose as the same movie actor. Naturally, Susanna isn’t sufficiently bright enough to wonder why an Italian movie actor would speak without a trace of an accent (it also doesn’t help that he’s a handsome looking lug)—but it doesn’t really matter because she fingers the real actor as the thief, and has him locked up in the brig:

HUXLEY (holding telegram): This is from Scotland Yard…it’s a description of the two crooks…
SUSANNA: But we know their descriptions…
HUXLEY: That’s what you think…this description fits
Mr. Fontaine and his valet!
SUSANNA (fumbling for the right words): They do? W-Well, then, who is Louis Lasagna?
HUXLEY (getting angrier) He must be the real Mario Bonetti…the same Mario Bonetti that will sue this line for
one million dollars!
SUSANNA (falling weakly into chair): M-may…maybe he’ll settle for half
HUXLEY: Miss Pomeroy…how can you sit there so calmly?
SUSANNA: I haven’t got the strength to stand up

Oh! Susanna really isn’t a joke show per se—it’s more sit than com—but it did boast a fairly impressive writing staff, including veteran radio scribe Larry Rhine (Duffy’s Tavern) and Al Gordon and Hal Goodman, whose partnership produced many a memorable episode of The Jack Benny Show. John Fenton Murray also contributed quite a few scripts; Murray would later go on to write not only the screenplays for Jerry Lewis’ It’$ Only Money (1962) and Man’s Favorite Sport? (1964) but also managed to make a halfway decent movie in McHale’s Navy Joins the Air Force (1965). One of Murray’s first-rate contributions to Susanna is an amusing little romp called “The Case of the Chinese Puzzle” (01/25/58), in which Susanna and Nugey try to protect a passenger (played by Keye Luke) by looking after a Chinese puzzle box. The twist is that the passenger is actually a smuggler, who’s hiding a ruby inside! (Pitts has a great one-liner in response to Storm’s insistence that Luke must do them no harm: “Yes…we’re Charlie Chan fans!”) In addition to the experienced writing staff, the directors on the show included vets like William A. Seiter, Norman Z. MacLeod…and a young John Rich.

Because the Susanna character always found herself surrounded by eligible young bachelors, those viewers who revel in seeing familiar faces before they hit the big time will get a kick out of this series; her suitors included Craig Stevens, John Russell, Mike Connors, Edd Byrnes, Gene Nelson and Lorne Greene. Celebrities like Pat Boone and Boris Karloff were also on hand; I have the Karloff appearance (“It’s Murder, My Dear”) on the set but I haven’t gotten around to seeing it yet. But who I have seen would fill up an autograph book full of character actors: J. Pat O’Malley, Eleanor Audley, Nancy Kulp, Casey Adams, Lumsden Hare, Jay Novello, Chuck Connors (as a witch doctor named “Irving”), Paul Picerni, Robert Warwick, Robert Rockwell, Percy Helton, Diane Brewster, Margaret Hamilton, June Vincent, Frank Albertson and Don Diamond. (Did I leave anybody out? Good.)

As previously mentioned, The Gale Storm Show retired to the old reruns home in 1960 (and probably roomed with My Little Margie, I’m guessing) but until I purchased these discs I had honestly never seen the series. It’s interesting: I think the show—even though it shares a lot of the same flaws—is much funnier than Margie and overall, the superior sitcom. Storm and Pitts make an engaging team (Pitts can take even the weakest material and make it shine) and Roberts manages to make his somewhat irascible character quite likeable. Yet Margie still prevails as the series Gale Storm’s fans remember her for; which might be due to Margie’s partly public domain status since Oh! Susanna is still under copyright and isn’t due for any sort of DVD release any time soon. (I should point out here that while normally I'm all for vintage TV releases, I just don't see The Gale Storm Show flying off the shelves.) The quality of the shows I purchased range from watchable to not-too-shabby; a few of the ABC shows contain original commercials for Listerine and Anahist (and feature the “steamer trunk” opening—the one where a net drops down containing four trunks with “The Gale Storm Show” written on them…then another trunk lands on top of the four with Storm dressed in a sailor suit and singing the sponsor’s jingle). Check it out if you get an opportunity.