Tuesday, 23 August 2016

The 25th Anniversary of the World Wide Web

Sir Timothy Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web
It was twenty five years ago today that the World Wide Web went live. Here I must stress that the World Wide Web is not the same thing as the internet, which has actually been around since 1969. That having been said, the World Wide Web made access to the internet easier than it ever had been before and available to more people than it ever had been before. While online services such as CompuServe and America Online had given many access to the internet in the Eighties, it was the World Wide Web that truly brought the internet to the masses.

Indeed, people around the world adopted the World Wide Web very quickly. I have been online since 1995 and I still remember when I first went online. We had to drive to our local telephone company office to pick up the software necessary to go online (my fairly new computer of the time had a built in modem). The World Wide Web essentially opened up a whole new world for me, as it did many other people. Suddenly I had access to information that I never had before. Of course, surfing the Web in those early days was even more of an adventure than it is now. Even the most innocent of search results could deliver a number of porn sites, and one had to be very careful about opening any attachments one might receive in an email for fear of viruses!

Regardless of the dangers in those early days, I would dare say that the World Wide Web would prove to be a boon to any research I was conducting. In the days before the World Wide Web, research would mean a trip to the library where I would browse microfiche of old newspapers or magazines and, if necessary, check out books. Sometimes I might even have to get books on interlibrary loan, which could mean a wait of several weeks. Quite simply, research was a long, drawn out process. The World Wide Web made it so that I had access to a whole, lot more information. Suddenly I did not just have access to a few major newspapers and our local papers, but newspapers around the world.

As to books, I could order them through Ebay or Amazon.Com. Still later, Google Books would make a number of books available online. It has been literally years since I have had to get a book on interlibrary loan. Of course, shopping is another way in which the World Wide Web changed my life. Before the World Wide Web, if I wanted a particular book, CD, or VHS tape (later DVD), I might have to make a trip to Columbia thirty miles away. Now I can simply order them online. What is more, it is not just books, CDs, and DVDs I have ordered online. My glasses frames, pairs of boots, and even my jacket, among other things, were all ordered online.

Of course, now much of my business is conducted online. Most of the household's bills are paid online. And any problems we might have with any of our services are solved online as well. In fact, about the only business I don't do online is pay our water and garbage collection bills, and anything related to my bank. In the case of the water and garbage collection, it's a simple case that the city doesn't have paying online set up as an option yet. As to my bank, it's because in addition to one's password with a capital letter, a special character, and numerals, they also expect one to answer several security questions, offer up the blood of a virgin, sign over one's soul, and other things that just make online banking impractical.

While I do much of my business online now, much of my entertainment is done online as well. Streaming has pretty much revolutionised the way people watch TV shows and movies the past few years. While I still watch a good number of TV shows and movies live or on DVD, much of what I watch is through streaming services such as NetFlix and Hulu. Even in the early days before streaming became commonplace, I would watch  videos online, even if RealPlayer always insisted on buffering several minutes beforehand.

While the World Wide Web has changed the way I do research, shop, and conduct business, probably the biggest change in my life (and the one for which I am most thankful) has been the opportunity to make many new friends I would not have if it had not been for the World Wide Web. One of the wonderful things about the World Wide Web is that it gives one the ability to seek out people with similar interests and similar tastes in TV shows, movies, music, and so on. Over the years I have made many dear friends online, at first on the email lists and forums of the early days and later on the various social networks that began to spring up in the Naughts. What is more, many of them live in faraway place to which I have never been; Canada, Australia, Scotland, Italy, and so on. I have known many of these friends for years now, and I feel closer to many of them than people I have known in person.

Not only have I made new friends through the World Wide Web, but it has allowed me to stay in touch better with old friends and my many relatives. In the old days the only way to keep in touch with friends and relatives was through the post or the telephone, neither of which were necessarily known for their efficiency. With the World Wide Web I could stay in touch through email or instant messaging, and still later through the various social networks. It's because of this that I have to disagree with those critics who believe the Web is driving people apart. I honesty  think it is bringing many people closer together.

In end, for all the criticisms levelled at the Web over the years, I think it has improved people's lives a good deal. I know that I am very thankful for its invention.

And here without further ado, is the post I wrote for the 20th anniversary of the World Wide Web, in which I talk a bit about its history.


It was twenty years ago today, on 30 April 1993, that CERN made the technology of the World Wide Web available free of charge to the public. The World Wide Web would not only revolutionise the Internet, but in the process would also revolutionise the world itself. From science to education to business to entertainment, there has probably not been one field that has not been changed by the World Wide Web.

Indeed, many either are not aware or simply forget that the Internet existed well before the World Wide Web. The Internet's beginnings essentially trace back to the ARPANET, which launched on 29 October 1969. Other networks would be developed in the wake of the ARPANET. Eventually these networks would evolve into what we now know as the Internet (a term first used in 1982). Over time more and more universities, libraries, and other organisations would connect to the Internet. As the Internet grew, keeping track of resources on the Internet became more and more difficult.

As a result various organisations began developing means of tracking the information on the Internet. In the late Eighties an archiver of FTP sites was developed at McGill University in Montreal, Ontario known "Archie." Archie was implemented in 1990. The internet protocol called Gopher was established in 1991 and for a time was a rival to the World Wide Web. Created at the University of Minnesota (hence its name), Gopher would thrive only for a brief time in the Nineties. It was doomed by essentially two factors. The first was that the University of Minnesota decided to charge a licensing fee for Gopher--this only two months before CERN made the World Wide Web totally free. The second is that Gopher documents are much more rigidly structured than the hypertext documents of the World Wide Web.

As to the World Wide Web, it was the result of developments made by Sir Timothy Berners-Lee over the years. Then an independent contractor at CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) in Geneva, Switzerland, it was in 1980 that he developed ENQUIRE. At the time, as it is now, CERN was a vast organisation with a large number of people, with a number of ongoing projects at any time. Much of the work was done via the internet, through email and exchanges of files. As a result CERN needed a means to keep track of everything. Mr. Berners-Lee then developed and proposed ENQUIRE. In many ways ENQUIRE can be considered a predecessor to the World Wide Web. Like the World Wide Web, ENQUIRE relied upon hypertext, and like the World  Wide Web it could operate on different systems.

Sir Timothy Berners-Lee left CERN in late 1980 to work for Image Computer Systems, Ltd. He returned to CERN in 1984 where he continued to use ENQUIRE to keep track of his own projects. It was in 1989 that Sir Timothy Berners-Lee wrote a proposal for "..."a large hypertext database with typed links." It was in 1990 that he found a collaborator in the form of Belgian computer scientist Robert Cailliau. The two of them tried to attract interest in their idea of World Wide Web at the the European Conference on Hypertext Technology in September 1990 to no avail.

Regardless, they continued work on the project, creating the first web site at CERN. Over the next several months Sir Timothy Berners-Lee developed what would be the building blocks of the Web: HTTP (the HyperText Transfer Protocol), HTML (HyperText Markup Language), and even the first web browser and editor (named simply WorldWideWeb). The work was completed by late December 1990. It was on 6 August 1991 that Sir Timothy Berners-Lee put the world's first Web site online. Initially the World Wide Web was adopted primarily by universities. Two turning points would come about in 1993. The first was the introduction of the Mosaic web browser on 23 January 1993. While other browsers pre-dated Mosaic, none possessed the versatility or ease of use of Mosaic. Of course, the second turning point occurred twenty years ago today--the World Wide Web went public.

Of course, in the following years the World Wide Web would experience enormous growth. Web commerce emerged fairly early, with such companies as Amazon.com (1994),  EBay (1995), and others being founded in the mid to late Nineties. By the early Naughts the World Wide Web was nearly commonplace. As of 30 June 2012 78.1% of all Americans and 83.6% of everyone in the United Kingdom are on online.

Twenty years after the World Wide Web was made free to the public it is nearly impossible to imagine life without it. Indeed, it may well have been the most revolutionary medium introduced in the 20th Century, doing more to change the world than even radio or television. For better or worse, the World Wide Web has become a part of everyday life for many around the world.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Animal Shows of the Sixties

Today it is rare that one sees a drama or even a comedy television series centred around an animal. There seem to be none on the broadcast networks, none on the many cable channels, and not even any of them on the streaming services. That having been said, there was a time when there were several shows with an animal as the main character. In the Sixties one could watch TV shows that starred a dog or a dolphin or a bear or even a kangaroo. Most of these shows were based on feature films that had also starred animals and most of them were produced by one man (more on him later). What is more, in the Sixties even shows on which humans were the main characters often had animals who played large roles on the shows.

Of course, animal shows were nothing new in the Sixties. They had been quite popular in the Fifties as well. Two shows centred on dogs debuted in 1954 alone. One was The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, which centred around a dog named for the canine star of the Silent Era. The other was Lassie, inspired by Eric Knight's novel Lassie Come Home and the six MGM feature films. Lassie would prove extremely popular and very durable, lasting an entire 19 seasons. There was no shortage of shows about horses in the Fifties, with Fury, The Adventures of Champion, and My Friend Flicka airing during the decade. Given the popularity of shows about animals in the Fifties, it should not be surprising that there would be a new cycle towards shows about animals in the Sixties.

Indeed, an argument could be made that the Fifties cycle towards animals shows ended even as the Fifties became the Sixties. National Velvet premiered in 1960. While the show technically starred Lori Martin as Velvet Brown, arguably her co-star was her thoroughbred horse named King. Two other shows about animals would debut in 1961, although both of them were sitcoms. The first was a classic still seen in reruns today. Mister Ed starred Bamboo Harvester as the horse of the title, who had a most unique ability: he could talk. While Mister Ed is fondly remembered today, the same cannot be said of the other sitcom to debut in 1961. The Hathaways starred the Marquis Chimps, who lived with a couple played by Peggy Cass and Jack Weston. Its ratings were so low that ABC had difficulty finding sponsors. Worse yet, The Hathaways received largely bad reviews. Today it is often counted among the worst shows of all time.

Like the animal show cycle of the Fifties, the cycle towards animal shows in the Sixties would begin with two shows about dogs. That having been said, the first was not American, but rather a Canadian import. The Littlest Hobo was based on an American film of the same name released by Allied Artist in 1958. Like The Littlest Hobo (1958), the TV series centred upon a German Shepherd who wanders from place to place helping people. In the series the dog was rarely named on screen, except for those times when the humans he befriended gave him one. Elsewhere the dog was always referred to as "Hobo".

Hobo was played by a reverse masked German Shepherd named London. London was cared for and trained by Charles P. Eisenmann, who had also served as the dog trainer on the 1958 feature film. While London played Hobo in most scenes, sometimes London's relatives (Toro, Litlon, and Thorn), also reverse masked German Shepherds, would also be called upon to play the wandering dog.

The Littlest Hobo debuted on September 24 1963 on CTV in Canada and was syndicated not only in the United States, but eventually around the world. It began airing on ITV in the United Kingdom in 1964 and still later it aired in West Germany in 1967.  It ran for two seasons and 61 episodes. The Littlest Hobo was rebooted in 1979 by CTV. Charles P. Eisenmann was the trainer on the new series, on which various reverse masked German Shepherds played Hobo. According to Mr. Eisenmann in his book A Dog's Day in Court, one of them was indeed the grandson of London, who was also named "London". If anything the new show was more successful than the original. It ran for six seasons and 114 episodes.

The second show that sparked the cycle towards animal shows in the Sixties was not a new show, but rather one with a new format. When Lassie debuted in 1954 its format could easily be described as "a boy and his dog". For the first three years Lassie was the constant companion of young Jeff Miller and lived with the Millers on their farm. In 1957 Lassie became the canine companion of young Timmy Martin, the foster son of Ruth and Paul Martin. It was in 1964 that the format of Lassie was entirely changed. The Martins had to move to Australia and were unable to take Lassie with them, Lassie was then adopted by n by U.S. Forest Ranger Corey Stuart and would spend the next six years working with the United States Forest Service.

For the final season of Lassie on CBS the show changed formats once again. With no explanation as to why she was no longer working with forest rangers, Lassie was portrayed as wandering from place to place not unlike Hobo on The Littlest Hobo. CBS cancelled Lassie a the end of the 1970-1971 season as part of what has become infamously known as the Rural Purge, the mass cancellation of shows that appealed to rural areas, older people, or both. In the case of Lassie it would seem likely that the show was cancelled because it appealed primarily to children. Sadly, like rural people and older people, children are less desirable to television advertisers.

The cancellation did not end Lassie, however, as the show continued as a syndicated original for another two years. The show also saw another change in format. Lassie now became the companion of Garth Holden, who ran a home for orphaned boys called the Holden Ranch. Lassie ended its run in 1973 after nineteen years on the air. This makes Lassie the fourth longest running American prime-time TV show after The Simpsons, Gunsmoke, and Law & Order.

Regardless of its format, Lassie had a fairly strong connection to the movies produced by MGM. In the first few seasons Lassie was played by the same dog who had played her in the movies, a male collie named Pal. And, just as in the movies, Pal was cared for and trained by Rudd Weatherwax. For the rest of the run various descendants of Pal played Lassie. Rudd Weatherwax remained Lassie's trainer for the entirety of the show's run.

Of course, Lassie would be featured in other media after the cancellation of Lassie. In  1972 a Saturday morning cartoon, Lassie's Rescue Rangers, debuted. In 1978 the feature film The Magic of Lassie was released. From 1997 to 1999 a new TV series, The New Lassie, ran in syndication. In 1994 there was one more feature film, simply called Lassie, released.

A third show that sparked the cycle towards animal shows in the Sixties dealt not with a dog, but with a dolphin. Flipper was based on the 1963 feature film of the same name, and both were produced by Ivan Tors. The movie Flipper was released on August 14 1963. It proved successful enough that it was followed by a sequel,  Flipper's New Adventure, released in June 1964. The TV show followed the sequel almost immediately, debuting on NBC on September 19 1964.

The TV show Flipper centred on the dolphin of the title, who befriends the family of a Park Ranger of the Coral Key Marine Preserve in the Florida Keys, Porter Ricks (played by Brian Kelly). The idea for the initial film was conceived by screenwriter and actor Ricou Browning (who had played the Gill-Man in Universal's Creature from the Black Lagoon and its sequels) when he observed his children watching Lassie.  The story was fleshed out between Ricou Browning and Jack Cowden.

While in the TV series Flipper was male, he was actually played by a number of female dolphins. He was first played by a female named Susie, although a female named Kathy would take over the bulk of the role. Other females named  Patty, Scotty, and Squirt also played Flipper from time to time. A male dolphin named Clown was used for those scenes in which Flipper did his famous tail walk. The reason Flipper relied primarily on female dolphins for the lead role is that they are less aggressive than females and generally do not bear the scars from fighting that male dolphins often do.

Flipper proved to be fairly successful, ranking no. 25 out of all the shows in prime time for the 1964-1965 season. It continued to perform fairly well in its second season, ranking no. 29 for the year. Its ratings fell in its third season and it did not rank in the top thirty that year. It was cancelled at the end of the season. Regardless, it did very well in syndication and can still be seen from time to time on television, as well as streaming. A new series, known both as Flipper and Flipper--The New Adventures, aired from 1995 to 2000 in first run syndication and on the network Pax. A new movie, Flipper, was released in 1996.

Aside from its lasting success, the TV show Flipper would have a lasting impact in another way.  Ric O'Barry had served as the chief trainer for the dolphins on the TV series. After the death of Kathy, the dolphin who most often played Flipper, from what he believed to be suicide, in early 1970, Mr. O'Barry became an activist advocating against keeping dolphins in captivity. He founded The Dolphin Project, an organisation dedicated to the protection and welfare of dolphins.

The success of The Littlest Hobo, Lassie in its new format, and Flipper guaranteed that the networks would debut more shows featuring animals in the next few seasons. What is more, a majority of those shows would be produced by Ivan Tors. Ivan Tors had first met with success in the Fifties with fact-based science fiction movies such as The Magnetic Monster (1951), Riders to the Stars (1954), and Gog (1954). He entered television with the syndicated anthology series Science Fiction Theatre in 1955. He would have a hit with the syndicated action adventure series Sea Hunt in 1958, and also produced the shows The Aquanauts and Man and the Challenge. The success of both the movie and the TV show Flipper marked the path Ivan Tors's career would take for the rest of the Sixties, as a producer of TV shows centred around animals. Ivan Tors would generally produce a movie based around an animal, which would be followed very shortly by a TV show based on the movie.

This was certainly the case with his next series, Daktari. In 1965 Ivan Tors's movie Clarence, the Cross-Eyed Lion was released. The film was centred around a veterinary hospital in East Africa with a very unique pet, a cross-eyed lion named Clarence. Ivan Tors had based the idea for both the film and the TV show on the work of veterinarian Dr. Antonie Marinus Harthoorn, who operated an animal orphanage in Kenya. Like the film, Daktari centred on a veterinary clinic, the fictional Wameru Study Centre for Animal Behaviour, in East Africa. In fact, the title is the Swahili word for "doctor". The show starred Marshall Thompson as Dr. Marsh Tracy and Cheryl Miller as his daughter Paula. That having been said, the real stars of the show were the lion Clarence and the chimpanzee Judy.

Just as Flipper on the TV show of the same name was played by multiple dolphins, Clarence was played by more than one lion. Clarence played Clarence most of the time (the actor's name was the same as the character's), but unfortunately Clarence was frightened by any sort of vehicle. In those scenes with vehicles present, then, a lion named Leo was used. At the time Leo was the lion appearing in the MGM logos of the time. Yet another, much less gentle lion also named Leo was used for those scenes in which Clarence was called upon to growl or snarl. Judy the Chimp had previously appeared in the Disney film The Monkey's Uncle (1965) and would guest star on Lost in Space and other shows while she was still on Daktari.

Daktari debuted on January 11 1966 on CBS. It proved to be very popular, ranking no. 14 for the 1965-1966 season. It proved to be even more popular in its second season, ranking no. 7 for the year. Unfortunately in its third season its ratings plummeted and it didn't even rank in the top thirty for the year. For its fourth season CBS moved it from Tuesday night to Wednesday night, but it continued to struggle in the ratings. Its last first run episode aired on January 15 1969. Like Flipper before it, however, Daktari would have lasting success as a syndicated rerun.

Ivan Tors's next animal show would be based upon a children's book. Walt Morey, had written for such pulp magazines as Argosy, Complete Sports, Fight Stories, Texas Rangers, and others. He had retired from writing after the decline of the pulps, but resumed writing in the Sixties and produced the children's novel Gentle Ben. Published in 1965, the novel centred on an Alaskan brown bear who befriends a young boy. Ivan Tors bought the rights for the novel for both a movie and a TV series. The movie, eventually titled Gentle Giant, was partially financed by CBS, and was actually filmed before the TV show. As it turned out, the release date for Gentle Giant was moved back to Thanksgiving, by which time the TV show Gentle Ben had been on the air for about two months.

Both the movie and the TV show Gentle Ben saw several changes from the novel. While the novel was set in Alaska, the movie and TV show were set in the Florida Everglades. While the boy in the novel was a teenager, the boy in the TV show as only six years old. In the novel the father went from working for fishermen to operating a fish trap, while in the show he went from being a fisherman to becoming a game warden. The names of the characters were also changed.

The movie Gentle Giant and the TV show Gentle Ben had essentially the same cast. Dennis Weaver, then most famous for playing Chester on Gunsmoke, played the father Tom Wedloe. His son was played by experienced child actor Clint Howard, the brother of Ron Howard who was then playing Opie on The Andy Griffith Show. There was a change in the casting of the mother. Played by Vera Miles in the film, the mother was played by Beth Brickell. In both the film and the TV show the role of Ben was primarily played by Bruno the Bear. For the film a few other bears played Ben at different stages of his life. Bruno was used for most of Ben's scenes on the TV show as well, although other bears were used for various scenes. Any scene involving Ben entering the water generally used a bear named Drum. A younger bear named Buck was used in those scenes requiring Ben to run. Throughout the series several bears were used.

Gentle Ben debuted on September 10 1967 on CBS. It proved to be popular in its first season, ranking no.19 out of all the shows for that year. The show did prove to be a source of some controversy. The controversy was made only worse by the fatal attacks of two different women in two different incidents by grizzly bears at Glacier National Par in Montana on August 13 1967 (a little under a month before the TV show debuted). Even Ivan Tors, in a newspaper article by Robert Musel, published around August 23 1967, warned that bears and many of the other animals featured in his TV series can be dangerous. An editorial entitled "The Real Ben Isn't Gentle" appeared at the time of the show's debut in the Montana newspaper The Helena Independent Record warning of the danger of bears. PTA magazine criticised the show, noting again that bears are dangerous animals. Even years after the show went off the air, Gentle Ben was controversial in its portrayal of bears. John Hast, the chief safety officer of the National Park Service, complained in 1971, "Gentle Ben was the worst thing that ever happened to us. People saw this big lovable bear on television and when they see a bear in the park I guess they think it's the same one."

While Gentle Ben did well in its first season, its ratings dropped precipitously in its second season. Gentle Ben was cancelled at the end of the season. The cancellation did prove to be the source of some controversy. A letter writing campaign was even mounted to save the show, to no avail. The show would see some success in syndication. In 2002 Animal Planet aired a TV movie, Gentle Ben, which was followed in 2003 by a sequel, Gentle Ben 2.

The final show of the Sixties starring an animal was not produced by Ivan Tors and it was not even made in the United States. Skippy, known as Skippy the Bush Kangaroo in much of the world, centred on the kangaroo of the title, the pet of a young boy living at the fictional Waratah National Park in Duffys Forest outside Sydney Australia.  It is unclear precisely who first came up with the idea behind Skippy, although it was a product of Fauna Productions, a company formed by Australian actor John McCallum, movie director Lee Robinson, and lawyer Bob Austin. John McCallum had appeared in such films as It Always Rains on Sunday (1947), The Woman in Question (1950), and Trent's Last Case (1952). He was also married to legendary British actress Googie Withers.  Lee Robinson had directed such films as King of the Coral Sea (1954), Walk Into Paradise (1956), and Dust in the Sun (1958).

Fauna Productions noted the popularity of such animals shows as Lassie and Flipper worldwide. They also wanted a subject that would guarantee international success. Ultimately they decided upon a kangaroo as the central character. John McCallum had wanted to call the kangaroo, "Hoppy", but it was Lee Robinson who suggested the name "Skippy". A pilot was produced in 1966 and filmed in colour for the international market (Australian television was still aired in black and white at the time). Fauna Productions was able to sell the series to the Nine Network on the strength of the pilot. Skippy debuted in Australia on the Nine Network on February 5 1968.

International success was not long in coming. The show was soon airing in the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, France, and elsewhere. The international success of the show ultimately led to a feature film, The Intruders, released in 1969. It was in 1970 that the series was sold for first run syndication in the United States. Ultimately Skippy the Bush Kangaroo aired in 128 countries. In the end Skippy proved to be the first Australian show to be successful world-wide and remains one of the most successful Australian shows of all time.

As on other animal shows, Skippy was not played by just one animal. In fact, each episode required the use of between nine and fifteen kangaroos. The show was shot at  Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park and the nearby Waratah Park.

The first run of Skippy ended in May 1970 after 91 episodes. The show persisted in syndication around the world for decades, and would be repeated several times on the Nine Network. A sequel series, The Adventures of Skippy, was produced in 1993. This revival ran for only one season and 39 episodes.

In the United States the cycle towards animal shows was coming to an end in 1969. That season both Daktari and Gentle Ben went off the air. Except for Skippy the Bush Kangaroo, no animal shows would debut on American prime-time network television for the remainder of the decade. Even Lassie would be cancelled by CBS in 1971, a victim of the Rural Purge. It ran two more seasons in syndication before ending its run. While the Seventies would see a few shows about animals (such as Here's Boomer), never again would American network television see a number of shows centred on animals similar to the cycles of the Fifties and Sixties.

Of course, here it must be noted that in addition to these shows that starred animals, there were also a number of American prime-time network shows in the Sixties on which animals played a significant role. Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Colour regularly featured episodes on which animals were the stars. As a show about a circus, the short-lived Western Frontier Circus naturally featured several animals. On The Beverly Hillbillies Elly Mae had an entire menagerie of "critters", everything from a common housecat to a chimpanzee, while the Clampett's hound dog Duke was a central character. Dog (played by Higgins, who would go onto play Benji in the first movie of the same name) played a major role on Petticoat Junction, while Arnold the Pig was a regular character on Green Acres. While Chuck Connors was the star of Ivan Tors's Cowboy in Africa, animals were a big part of the show. Animals also appeared frequently on Tarzan and Maya.

Looking back it is easy to understand the popularity of animal shows in the Sixties I rather suspect a good portion of the American population loves animals, and not simply those that they keep as pets. What is more, it seems to me that children in particular love animals of all types. It shouldn't be surprising at all that animal shows have traditionally appealed most to children. It should then come as no surprise that the Sixties would produce a cycle of shows starring animals and would produce yet others in which animals played major roles.

Of course, this begs the question of why the cycle towards animal shows ended and there has not been one ever since. As mentioned earlier, I think that can simply be explained by the network's pursuit of the 18 to 49 year old demographic (the so-called "key demographic"). It is a bit of a myth that the networks suddenly discovered demographics in the late Sixties. As early as the late Fifties Oliver Treyz, the president of ABC from 1956 to 1962, often used demographics to show that the then third rated network appealed most to the 18-34 demographic and made arguments as to why that was the most desirable demographic. Throughout the Sixties both ABC and NBC made an effort to air shows that would appeal most to adults aged 18 to 49. Rather than the networks suddenly discovering demographics, it was more a case of CBS changing its programming strategy so that they too would pursue the key demographic. Prior to the late Sixties CBS had simply concentrated on the overall ratings of shows, without much regard to who was watching them.

As a result of demographics playing a greater role for the networks in the late Sixties and early Seventies, certain types of shows would cease being seen for the most part on the networks. Essentially the networks wanted to avoid anything that appealed to an older audience, a rural audience, or an audience that was composed primarily of children (as far as advertisers are concerned, children really don't count). While other shows in the notorious Rural Purge were cancelled because their audiences were too old, too rural, or both, I have to suspect Lassie was cancelled because its audience was too young. Of course, with the networks pursuing the key demographic, they naturally would not be airing shows that appealed mostly to children, and the animal shows appealed primarily to children.

Indeed, since Lassie ended its network run there have been only a few shows about animals to debut in the United States. Except for the few that aired on the networks in the Seventies, most have either aired in first run syndication or on cable channels such as Animal Planet. I have to suspect that until the networks learn that the key demographic is not that "key", there probably won't be any shows starring animals in network prime-time any time soon.

Regardless, the Sixties produced a number of shows centred on animals that remained popular for years. Nearly all of them went on to long syndication runs and nearly all of them are available on DVD and Blu-Ray. Even though not much in the way of new animal shows have been made in the past forty five years, those made in the Sixties continue to remain popular and I have to suspect always will be.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

An American Werewolf in London Turns 35

It was 35 years ago today that An American Werewolf in London was released. From the moment I first saw it in the theatre upon its initial release in 1981 it has been my favourite werewolf movie of all time and one of my favourite movies at all time. I have to admit that I was probably at the prime age for a werewolf movie centred on an American college student. That year I had just graduated high school and I was about to enter college. I could easily identify with poor David Kessler (played by David Naughton), who is forced to undergo a transformation every full moon.

Of course, looking back 1981 was a particularly good year for movies, especially for a young man fresh out of high school. It was the year that saw the release of such films as Scanners, Excalibur, Raiders of the Lost Ark, the original Clash of the Titans, Dragonslayer, and Superman II. And 1981 was definitely the Year of the Werewolf.  Earlier in the year both The Howling and Wolfen were released. That having been said, I always thought American Werewolf in London was the best of the three. It was also by far the highest grossing at the box office.

The film's director and screenwriter John Landis developed the idea for An American Werewolf in London in 1969 when he was only 18 and working as a production assistant on Kelly's Heroes (1970) in Yugoslavia. According to Mr. Landis in various interviews, he witnessed a funeral held among the gypsies, complete with a complex burial ritual. Apparently the dead man was buried with rosaries and garlic to prevent him from rising from the grave. This led John Landis to the question of how a rational person would confront something he had believed to be untrue and how he would then deal with it. John Landis wrote the initial screenplay for An American Werewolf in London that year and then shelved it for literally years. It was after he had found success with the films Schlock (1973), The Kentucky Fried Movie (1977), National Lampoon's Animal House (1978), and The Blues Brothers (1980) that he returned to the idea of An American Werewolf in London.

An American Werewolf in London received largely positive reviews upon its release. It also did extremely well at the box office, earning $30 million in the United States and $62 million worldwide.

As to why An American Werewolf in London succeeded, it was probably multiple factors. Chief among these were the special effects. Indeed, Rick Baker won the Academy Award for Best Makeup for the film. At the time the transformation scenes were simply astounding. David Kessler did not simply transform from an human into a creature that still looked more man than wolf (as in Universal's classic The Wolf Man), but into a full-fledged, gigantic wolf. At the time the special effects in An American Werewolf in London were state of the art, and I must say that they still hold up well today. Indeed, I think that they are much more convincing than today's computer generated effects.

Of course, even great special effects would not have guaranteed success for An American Werewolf in London had it been a bad movie. Fortunately it is a very good movie. With An American Werewolf in London John Landis pulled off a very complicated juggling act, blending horror and comedy seamlessly together. At times it is a very funny movie. At other times it is very frightening. What is more, I think John Landis succeed in addressing his initial question of what happens when a rational human being is forced to confront the irrational.

An American Werewolf in London was followed by a sequel, An American Werewolf in Paris, in 1997. That same year it was adapted as a radio show for BBC Radio 1. Since then there have been various reports of a remake.  Perhaps I am biased, but as far as I am concerned there is no need for a remake. An American Werewolf in London may not be a perfect film, but it is certainly a very good one. In a year that saw multiple werewolf movies released, it was the very best. In fact, I think it could possibly be the best werewolf movie ever made.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

"I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night)" by The Electric Prunes

It has been a long week and it feels like all I have written on this blog of late are eulogies for those who have recently died. I'll then end this week with something happier. Here is a clip of The Electric Prunes performing their classic song  "I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night)" on American Bandstand in 1967.

Friday, 19 August 2016

Godspeed Jack Riley

Jack Riley, who played Dr. Hartley's overly neurotic, cynical, and selfish patient Elliot Carlin on The Bob Newhart Show, was a regular on the short-lived Sixties series Occasional Wife, and provided the voice of Stu Pickles on the animated shows Rugrats and its spinoff All Grown Up, died today at the age of 80. The cause was pneumonia.

Jack Riley was born on December 30 1935 in Cleveland, Ohio. He attended John Carroll University in University Heights, Ohio. He served in the United States Army before becoming a radio personality in his native Cleveland. With Jeff Baxter he had his own show, The Baxter & Riley Show, that aired on the radio station WERE.

It was in 1962 that he made his film debut in an uncredited part in Days of Wine and Roses. He made his television debut as a regular on the sitcom Occasional Wife in 1966, playing lead character Peter Christopher's office rival Wally Frick. In the Sixties he guest starred on the shows Gomer Pyle: USMC; The Flying Nun; I Dream of Jeannie; Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, Bracken's World, Pat Paulsen's Half a Comedy Hour; Love, American Style; The Partridge Family, Hogan's Heroes; and The Red Skelton Hour. He appeared in the film Catch-22 (1970).

It was in 1972 that Jack Riley first appeared as Elliot Carlin, Dr. Hartley's cynical and overly neurotic patient on The Bob Newhart Show. Elliot proved to be one of the most popular of the patients on the show, and Jack Riley continued to appear in the role until the show ended its run in 1978. He was a regular on The Tim Conway Show. During the Seventies Jack Riley also guest starred on The Red Skelton Show, The Good Life, Getting Together, M*A*S*H, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Cannon, Columbo, The Girl With Something Extra, Kung Fu, The Snoop Sisters, Happy Days, Police Woman, Barnaby Jones, Harry O, Alice, The Rockford Files, Barney Miller, and Too Close for Comfort. Surprisingly given how often he was on television, Jack Riley also found time to appear in several movies in the Seventies. He appeared in two films directed  by Mel Brooks during the decade: Silent Movie (1976) and High Anxiety (1977). He would appear in more films made by the director in the coming decade. He also appeared in the films The Todd Killings (1971), The Thief Who Came to Dinner (1973), The Long Goodbye (1973), California Split (1974), The World's Greatest Lover (1977), Attack of the Killer Tomatoes! (1978), and Butch and Sundance: The Early Days (1979).

In the Eighties Jack Riley was a regular on the short lived show Roxie. He guest starred on such shows as Fantasy Island, Simon & Simon, Romance Theatre, One Day at a Time, The Love Boat, Riptide, Diff'rent Strokes, St. Elsewhere (reprising his role as Elliot Carlin), Blacke's Magic, ALF (on which he reprised his role of Elliot Carlin), Charles in Charge, Newhart (playing a very similar role in Elliott Carlin), My Two Dads, and Night Court. He appeared in the films History of the World: Part I (1981), Frances (1982), To Be or Not to Be (1983), Finders Keepers (1984), Night Patrol (1984), Spaceballs (1987), Rented Lips (1988), and Payback (1990).

It was in 1992 that Jack Riley began providing the voice of Stu Pickles on the long-running animated series Rugrats. He was a regular on the series Son of the Beach. He guest starred on such shows as Night Court, Babes, Harry and the Hendersons, Civil Wars, Family Matters, Hangin' With Mr. Cooper, Married with Children, Dave's World, Friends, Coach, Seinfeld, George & Leo, Baywatch, The Drew Carey Show, and Touched by an Angel. He appeared in the films A Dangerous Woman (1993), Theodore Rex (1995), Venus Envy (1997), Boogie Nights (1997), and Chairman of the Board (1998).

In the Naughts Jack Riley continued to provide the voice of Stu Pickles on Rugrats and reprised the role on its spinoff All Grown Up!. He guest starred on the shows Lucky; That 70's Show; Yes, Dear; and Easy to Assemble. He appeared in the films Burl's (2003), Room 6 (2006), Papa's Bag (2007), and Nora Falls (2009).

I think there can be no doubt that Jack Riley will always be remembered as Elliot Carlin on The Bob Newhart Show. He was easily one of the most popular patients on the show, and I think easily one of the greatest supporting characters on television. In fact, the character was so successful that Jack Riley often found himself playing similar characters in guest shots on TV and in small parts in films. That having been said, Jack Riley was immensely talented and capable of playing a wide variety of roles. Indeed, Stu Pickles on Rugrats couldn't be any further from Elliot Carlin. Easy going and absent minded, he seemed unaffected by the sort of anxieties that plagued Elliot daily. He played a wide variety of small roles in films: an executive in Silent Movie, a desk clerk in High Anxiety, Dobish in To Be or Not To Be, and so on. Throughout his career he made frequent guest appearances on television. On Night Court alone he guest starred in the roles of Emil Dutton, Warren Wilson, Dr. Flick, Beepo the Clown, and Jim Wimberly. Jack Riley was a very prolific actor and it was all because he was so very talented.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Glenn Yarborough Passes On

Folk singer Glenn Yarborough, who had a successful career with both The Limeliters and as a solo artist, died on August 11 2016 at the age of 86.

Glenn Yarborough was born on January 12 1930 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His parents were both social workers. He was still very young when the family moved to New York City. Young Glenn Yarborough sang as a soprano in the choir of Grace Church in Manhattan. After he graduated from high school Mr. Yarborough attended St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland. It was in 1951 that he released his first album, Follow the Drinking Gourd/The Reaper's Ghost, on the minor label Stafford Records. He served in the United States Army during the Korean War. He performed as part of Special Services (the entertainment branch of the Army) in both Korea and Japan.

Following the war Glenn Yarborough performed as a solo artist playing coffee clubs throughout the country. He recorded the album Come and Sit by My Side for Tradition Records in 1957 before signing to Elektra Records. His first album for Elektra Records was Songs By Glenn Yarbrough (AKA Here We Go, Baby) in 1957. With Marilyn Child he recorded the album Marilyn Child and Glenn Yarbrough Sing Folk Songs for Elektra in 1958. It was during this period that he became owner of a club the Limelite, an Aspen, Colorado.

It was in 1959 that Glenn Yarborough formed The Limeliters with  Lou Gottlieb and Alex Hassilev, their name taken from Mr. Yarborough's nightclub. Their first album, Limeliters, was released on Elektra in 1960. The Limeliters recorded several albums on the RCA Victor label before Glenn Yarborough left the group in 1963. His first solo album in years, Time to Move On, was released on RCA Victor in 1964. In 1965 he had a major hit with "Baby the Rain Must Fall", which peaked at no. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was followed by "It's Gonna Be Fine", which peaked at no. 54.

By the early Seventies Glenn Yarborough had become dissatisfied with fame and performing and his output of albums and singles slowed. He spent much of his time in the early Seventies sailing on sailboat the Jubilee. He reunited with The Limeliters in 1974 and the album Reunion - Glenn Yarbrough and The Limeliters was released on Stax Records. He released another solo album in 1974 and one more before the decade of the Seventies ended.

Much of the next few decades Glenn Yarborough spent sailing. He returned to performing once in a while. In 1994 he released his first album since the Seventies, Family Portrait. He recorded several more albums before the end of the decade.

There can be no doubt that Glenn Yarborough had an incredible voice. It was a full rich tenor that gave nearly any song he sung an impact few other singers could.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Arthur Hiller R.I.P.

Arthur Hiller, the director known for such films as The Americanization of Emily (1964), The Hospital (1971), The Out-of-Towners (1970), Plaza Suite (1971), and The In-Laws (1971), died today at the age of 92.

Arthur Hiller was born on November 13 1923 in Edmonton, Alberta. His father operated a second-hand music store in Edmonton. When Arthur Hiller was around seven or eight years old his parents began putting on plays for the Jewish community there. Young Mr. Hiller helped build and paint sets. He made his acting debut when he was eleven.

After he graduated from high school, Arthur Hiller joined the Royal Canadian Air Force. He served as a navigator on bombers that flew over Europe during World War II. Following the war he attended the University of Toronto. Initially studying law and psychology, he found himself drawn to entertainment. He graduated in 1947 with a Bachelor of Arts degree.

Arthur Hiller began his career working for CBC Radio, but soon found himself directing television programmes for the CBC. It was in 1956 that he moved to the United States. He made his American television debut directing an episode of Matinee Theatre. In the late Fifties he directed episodes of such shows as The Ford Television Theatre, Zane Grey Theatre, Playhouse 90, Climax!, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse, Wagon Train, The Third Man, Goodyear Theatre, Perry Mason, Thriller, Gunsmoke, and The Rifleman. In 1957 he made his feature film debut with the movie The Careless Years.

The early Sixties saw Arthur Hiller continue to direct television programmes. He directed such shows as The Dick Powell Theatre, Naked City, The Detectives, Route 66, Ben Casey, The Addams Family, and Insight. By the middle of the decade, however, he had shifted to feature films. He directed the 1963 Disney film Miracle of the White Stallions, followed by The Wheeler Dealers (1963) the same year. His following film was The Americanization of Emily (1964). With a screenplay by  Paddy Chayefsky, the film won critical acclaim and was nominated for two Academy Awards. It also did moderately well at the box office. Arthur Hiller's film output in the mid to late Sixties was a variety of genres. Promise Her Anything (1965) was a romantic comedy. Penelope (1966) was a Sixties-style, screwball comedy starring Natalie Wood. These two films were followed by the war drama Tobruk (1967). Mr. Hiller closed out the decade with the comedy The Tiger Makes Out (1967), the comedy-drama Popi (1969), and the classic Neil Simon comedy The Out of Towners (1970). His final film of the Sixties was also his biggest box office success, Love Story (1970).

The Seventies saw Arthur Hiller work again with Neil Simon, directing the playwright's Plaza Suite (1971). He also worked once more with Paddy Chayfesky, directing The Hospital (1972). He directed the musical Man of La Mancha (1972), the drama The Man in the Glass Booth (1975), the biopic W.C. Fields and Me (1976), and the horror film Nightwing (1979). He also directed the classic comedies Silver Streak (1976) and The In-Laws (1979).

During the Eighties Mr. Hiller directed the films Making Love (1982), Author! Author! (1982), Romantic Comedy (1983), The Lonely Guy (1984), Teachers (1984), Outrageous Fortune (1987), See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989), and Taking Care of Business (1990). From the Nineties into the Naughts he directed Married to It (1991), The Babe (1992), Carpool (1996), An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn (1997--credited to "Alan Smithee"), and Pucked (2006).

Arthur Hiller was the President of the Directors Guild of America (DGA) from 1989 to 1993. He was also  member of the National Film Preservation Board of the Library of Congress from 1989 to 2005, and President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences from 1993 to 1997.

While the quality of his output varied over the years, for me there is little doubt that Arthur Hiller was a gifted director. I would number him among the best television directors of all time. He directed some of my favourite Naked City episodes, including "Ooftus Goofus". He also directed some of my favourite Route 66 episodes, including "Welcome to Amity" and "Go Read the River". In his television career he worked on some of the greatest TV shows of all time, including Playhouse 90, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Thriller, Gunsmoke, and the aforementioned Naked City and Route 66.

Of course, Arthur Hiller's fame would stem from his feature films, and he directed many classics. He seemed to have a particular gift for comedy, starting with The Wheeler Dealers in 1963. I have always thought that Penelope (1966) is one of the most underrated comedies of the Sixties, and I hope one day it is recognised as a classic. To me The Out of Towners is among Neil Simon's best works adapted to film. Plaza Suite (1971) and The In-Laws (1971) number among the best comedies of the Seventies.

That is not to say that Mr. Hiller was incapable of directing fine dramas. The Man in the Glass Booth (1975) was one of the more remarkable dramas to emerge from the Seventies. And while Love Story (1970) might have its problems, its direction is not one of them. Many of his other films were often as much drama as they were comedies. The Americanization of Emily (1964) was not only nominated for two Oscars and a BAFTA Award, but is now regarded as a classic by many. The Hospital (1971) won awards for Paddy Chayefesky's screenplay and received largely positive reviews. While I suspect Arthur Hiller will be best remembered for his comedies, he was a versatile director who worked in several genres.