Thursday, November 26, 2020

Happy Thanksgiving 2020

Before I get to the  Golden Age of Hollywood pinups I traditionally post on holidays, I would like to address a question many might have. Namely, why would someone of Cherokee descent, such as myself, celebrate Thanksgiving? After all, many Native Americans view the holiday as a celebration of the genocide the colonists committed upon indigenous peoples and observe it as a day of mourning. And I can fully understand their point of view. After all, the Wampanoag who are said to have dined with the Pilgrims in Plymouth, suffered greatly for their contact with British settlers. And, sadly, the mythology of that Thanksgiving celebrated at Plymouth seems intimately tied to the holiday.

That having been said, contrary to popular belief, the Thanksgiving observed at Plymouth was not the first in what would become the United States. As far as Europeans go, Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado and his men observed a Thanksgiving on May 23 1541. As far as the British Colonies go, Thanksgiving was observed at Berkeley Hundred in Virginia in 1919. Of course, here I have to point out that various Native American tribes were observing Thanksgiving rituals well before any Europeans arrived in North America. The Seneca have Thanksgiving rituals that last four days, and other Iroquois nations have their own Thanksgiving rituals as well. The Cherokee have several different ceremonies at which we give thanks, including the Great New Moon Ceremony, the Exalting Bush Festival, and the Ripe Corn Ceremony.

Given that various Native American tribes have their own Thanksgiving rituals and I feel that the act of giving thanks is something important to do from time to time, my only strong objection to Thanksgiving is the mythology of the Pilgrims attached to it. To me the solution is then to divorce the Pilgrims myth from the holiday and observe it purely as a time to give thanks for what we have in our lives. Wilma Mankiller, the first woman to serve as Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, expressed my view perfectly, "We celebrate Thanksgiving along with the rest of America, maybe in different ways and for different reasons. Despite everything that's happened to us since we fed the Pilgrims, we still have our language, our culture, our distinct social system. Even in a nuclear age, we still have a tribal people."

For those of you who may be wondering why someone of Cherokee descent would celebrate Thanksgiving, that is why I do. Anyway, I know many of you are expecting pinups, so here they are.

First up is Raquel Torres who is cuddling a turkey.
 
Next up is Peggy Diggins, who is also cuddling a turkey. 
 
 Next is Judy Garland, who is making friends with a turkey.
 
Joan Leslie also seems to have made friends with a turkey.

I think it is safe to say Virginia Gibson does not plan to friends with the turkey!
 
And last but not least, Ann Miller is serving turkey!
 

Happy Thanksgiving!

 
 

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

"Wheel of Fortune" by Kay Starr

Chances are good that if you are into popular music from the mid-20th Century that you have heard of Kay Starr. Blessed with a beautiful voice, she had such hits as "Wheel of Fortune," "Side by Side," "The Rock and Roll Waltz," and the Christmas song "(Everybody's Waitin' For) The Man with the Bag." What you might not know is that Kay Starr was Native American. Her father was a full-blooded Iroquois. Her mother was part Choctaw, part Cherokee, and part Irish.

Kay Starr was born Catherine Laverne Starks in Dougherty, Oklahoma. Her family later moved to Dallas. It was after she had won several talent contests as a young girl that Dallas radio station WRR gave young Catherine her own 15-minute show. She was only ten years old when she was making $3 a night singing, a good amount of money during the Great Depression. Her family moved to Memphis, Tennessee where she continued singing. She received a good amount of fan mail when she sang at Memphis station WMPS. Unfortunately, many of her fan letters misspelled her name. Young Catherine and her parents then decided she should take the stage name "Kay Starr."

By 1939 Kay Starr was singing with the likes of Bob Crosby and Glenn Miller. During the Forties she sang with Wingy Manone and Charlie Barnet. It was in 1946 that she became a solo artist and signed with Capitol Records. After having a few modest hits, Kay Starr had her first major hit with "Hoop-de-Doo" in 1949, which went to no. 2 on the Billboard chart. It was followed in 1950 by her second major hit, "Bonaparte's Retreat." By the time of her biggest hit, "Wheel of Fortune," Miss Starr had already had several hit records. Her version of "Wheel of Fortune" hit no. 1 on the Billboard chart in 1952 and remained there for ten weeks. While Kay Starr had many other hits (including "The Rock and Roll Waltz," which also hit no. 1), none matched the success of "Wheel of Fortune."

Here, without further ado, is Kay Starr's rendition of "Wheel of Fortune."

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Brave Eagle

Today Native Americans are nearly invisible on the broadcast television networks, cable channels, and streaming services. This was not the case in the Fifties. The boom in Westerns that started in the Fifties that Native American characters would appear form time to time on various shows. There would even be two shows that would feature Native American characters as their leads: Brave Eagle, Broken Arrow, and Law of the Plainsman. The first of these was Brave Eagle. It debuted on CBS on September 28 1955. It aired its final original episode on March 14 1956.

The idea for Brave Eagle originated with Arthur Rush, who was Roy Rogers's manager. Mr. Rush came up with the idea of a Western told from a Native American point of view. He brought the idea to Roy Rogers, whose company Frontier Productions produced the show. Arthur Rush served as the executive producer of Brave Eagle. Mike North would later be added as another executive producer. Roy Rogers also had the title of executive producer, although he had very little to do with the day to day running of the show. That having been said, much of Brave Eagle was shot at Roy Rogers's ranch in Chatsworth, California. It was also shot at the Corriganville Ranch in Simi Valley.

Brave Eagle centred on the fictional Cheyenne chief of that name. As was often the case in the Fifties, a non-Native was cast in the role of Brave Eagle. Keith Larsen was Scottish, Danish, and Spanish in descent. He had appeared in such films as Hiawatha(1952) and Son of Belle Star (1953), and had starred in the short-lived espionage series The Hunter. He would later star on the shows Northwest Passage and The Aquanauts. While Keith Larsen was not indigenous in descent, others in the show's cast were. Kim Winona, who played Brave Eagle's love interest Morning Star, was Sioux in descent. Brave Eagle's adopted son Keena was played by Keena Nomkeena (birth name Anthony Numkena), who was Hopi and Karuk. Totally miscast as the halfbreed Smokey Joe was Bert Wheeler of Wheeler and Woolsey fame. Bert Wheeler was no more an American Indian than Keith Larsen was.

In many ways Brave Eagle was unique among Westerns beyond the fact that it featured a Native American as its hero. White characters very rarely appeared on Brave Eagle. Instead the show focused on the various issues the Cheyenne faced from day to day. When shows featured antagonists, it was usually the Apache (one of the historical opponents of the Cheyenne). The show was also unique in portraying Native Americans sympathetically. Even when the Apache appeared as the Cheyenne's opponents on the show, they were presented as human beings rather than cardboard villains. If there is one criticism that could be directed at Brave Eagle, it's that Brave Eagle occasionally assisted the U.S. Army against other Native American tribes. That having been said, this did happen historically.

Like many Westerns made primarily for children at the time, Brave Eagle generated a good deal of merchandise. Dell Comics published a Brave Eagle comic book. There were Little Golden Books, a lunch box, and other bits of merchandise.

While Brave Eagle would generate a good deal of merchandising, it was not successful in the ratings. The show had the misfortune of being scheduled against Disneyland on ABC. Not only did Disneyland appeal to the same young audience for whom Brave Eagle was made, but it ranked no. 4 for the season. Brave Eagle then went off the air with the end of the 1955-1956 season.

While some of its casting left a bit to be desired, Brave Eagle was in many ways a revolutionary show. It was ahead of its time in its portrayal of Native Americans. Given the fact that Native Americans are so rarely seen on American television even now, in some ways it is ahead of this time. While Brave Eagle was not a perfect show, it was the first television show to attempt to present Native Americans realistically. 

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Godspeed Herb Solow

Herb Solow, the former Desilu executive who brought Star Trek, Mission: Impossible, and Mannix to television, died November 19 2020 at the age of 89. The cause was complications from Parkinson's disease.

Herb Solow was born on December 14 1930 in New York City. He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1953. It was not long after he graduated that he got a job at the William Morris Agency working in the mailroom. He was promoted to a talent agent in 1954. He later worked as program director of NBC Films (the syndication arm of the network NBC), where he supervised the production of various syndicated TV shows, including the Western Boots and Saddles. Afterwards he worked at CBS as Director of Daytime Programs, West Coast. He was at CBS for a year before returning to NBC as Director of Daytime Programs there. At NBC he worked with Grant Tinker (later co-founder of MTM Enterprises and CEO of NBC from 1981 to 1986) and oversaw production of the game show Let's Make a Deal.

Herb Solow was the executive in charge of production on the shows A Man Called Shenadoah and The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. It was in 1964 that he was hired by Lucille Ball to help revitalize Desilu Productions following her divorce from Desi Arnaz. He helped develop Star Trek and sold the show to NBC. He also helped develop Mission: Impossible and Mannix and sold both shows to CBS. In 1967 Lucille Ball sold Desliu to Gulf+Western, who had also recently bought the motion picture studio Paramount Pictures. Mr. Solow then took a job at MGM Television as vice president in charge of television production.

At MGM he oversaw production of Then Came Bronson, The Courtship of Eddie's Father, and Medical Centre. He went onto become Vice President of Worldwide Television and Motion Picture Production at MGM and was the head of both MGM's Culver City studios in California and its Borehamwood studios in England. He oversaw production of the documentary film Elvis: That's the Way It Is (1970).

After he left MGM, Herb Solow produced the TV movies Climb an Angry Mountain, Heatwave!, Killdozer, and McLaren's Riders. He co-created Man from Atlantis with Mayo Simon and served as the show's executive producer. As an independent producer, he produced the movies Brimstone & Treacle (1982), Veliki transport (1983), Get Crazy (1983), and Saving Grace (1986).

He co-wrote the book Star Trek: The Real Story (1996) with Robert Justman (who had been associate producer and producer on Star Trek) and The Star Trek Sketchbook (1997) with his wife Yvonne Fern Solow.

Herb Solow definitely had an impact on television history. At Desilu he oversaw some of the most successful and well remembered shows of all time. Indeed, Star Trek and Mission: Impossible would become franchises, while reruns of Mannix are still in syndication. The shows he oversaw at MGM also saw success. The Courtship of Eddie's Father and Medical Centre had respectable network runs and would be seen in syndication for years. While Then Came Bronson only ran for one season, it remains well-remembered to this day. Similarly, while his own production, Man from Atlantis also ran for only one season (not counting the four TV movies that had preceded it), it would go onto become a cult show. Herb Solow had a knack for knowing what would be successful and developing it in such a way to insure such success.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

"Rumble" by Link Wray

If you are a fan of power pop, punk rock, or heavy metal, you have a Native American to thank. Link Wray did not invent the power chord nor was he the first popular music artist to make use of power chords, it was his instrumental "Rumble" that not only popularized the use of power chords, but distortion and feedback as well.

Fred Lincoln Wray, Jr. was born on May 2 1929 in Dunn, North Carolina. His paternal grandfather was Cherokee. His mother was Shawnee. As Native Americans, Link Wray's family was subject to racism in North Carolina. When they could, they passed as white, to the point that they even listed their ethnicity as "white" on 1930 and 1940 United States Census. Link Wray's mother refused to teach her three sons the Shawnee language out of fear that they might be subject to persecution if they were caught speaking it. As might be expected, when Link Wray was growing up, Native Americans were often the target of the Ku Klux Klan. When the Ku Klux Klan was burning crosses in the area, Link Wray's mother would turn off all the lights in their house and place blankets over the windows. It was not unusual for them to hide under beds, in barns, and even in holes in the ground.

It was following service in the United States Army during the Korean War that Link Wray began his music career. Initially Link Wray and his brothers (Vernon and Doug) played country music, but like many music artists of the era he eventually found himself playing rock 'n' roll. It was in 1957 at a dance in Fredericksburg, Virginia that his most famous work, "Rumble," began to take shape. Link Wray's boss, a local DJ named Milt Green, asked Mr. Wray to come up with something suitable for the latest dance craze, the Stroll. Link Wray started improvising with his guitar. The distortion in the song originated when someone placed a microphone close to one of the amps.

The resulting instrumental would prove popular with audiences, who consistently requested. Although now known as "Rumble," it was originally called "Oddball." After rejections from both Capitol and Decca, Link Wray approached Cadence Records. Cadence founder Archie Bleyer disliked "Oddball," but observed that his daughter loved the instrumental. He then signed Link Wray to the label.

As to how "Oddball" became "Rumble," there are two differing stories. One is that it was Archie Bleyer's daughter who renamed the song. The other is that it was Phil Everly of The Everly Brothers who suggested the title "Rumble." In both versions of the story the title "Rumble" was suggested because the instrumental sounded like a street fight.

"Rumble" would prove to be controversial. The song was banned by radio stations in New York City, Boston, and elsewhere because the word rumble was a slang term for a street fight and some feared the song's harsh sound would encourage juvenile delinquency. Regardless, "Rumble" proved to be a hit. It went to no. 16 on the Billboard singles chart.

"Rumble" would prove to be influential, to the point that it can be said that it directly influenced the genres of garage rock, power pop, punk rock, and heavy metal. Pete Townshend of The Who once said, "If it hadn't been for Link Wray and 'Rumble,' I never would have picked up a guitar." Ray Davies of The Kinks has also cited Link Wray as an influence. Iggy Pop credited "Rumble" as having led him into his music career. "Rumble" would have a lasting impact on rock music and gave rise to entire genres of rock.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Google Celebrates Maria Tallchief

The Google doodle for today, November 14 2020, celebrates Maria Tallchief. For those of you who might never have heard of her, Maria Tallchief was the first major prima ballerina from the United States, as well as the first Native American prima ballerina. She was born a member of the Osage Nation with the name Elizabeth Marie Tall Chief on January 24 1925. Her Osage family name was Ki He Kah Stah Tsa. She trained from a very young age in ballet. It was when she was eight years old that her family moved to Los Angeles to further the careers of both Betty Marie (as she was called) and her sister Marjorie. When she was 17 years old she moved to New York City, where she took the name "Maria Tallchief." She danced for Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. After the New York City Ballet was founded, she became its first major star. In her career she danced with the American Ballet Theatre and became the first American to dance with Moscow's Bolshoi Theatre. She later danced with the Hamburg Ballet. After retiring from dance, she served as the director of ballet for the Lyric Opera of Chicago and later founded the Chicago City Ballet.

Below is Google's doodle paying tribute to Maria Tallchief and below that a video on the making of the doodle.



Friday, November 13, 2020

Godspeed Norm Crosby

Norm Crosby, the comic known for his many malapropisms, died on November 7 2020 at the age of 93. The cause was heart failure.

Norm Crosby was born on September 15 1927 in Boston, Massachusetts.  He attended Dorchester High School and then studied advertising illustration at the Massachusetts Institute of Art. Rather than continue his education, he enlisted in the Coast Guard where he served as a radar operator. His hearing would be permanently damaged by depth charges while he was on anti-submarine patrol in the North Atlantic during World War II.

Following the war, Norm Crosby worked in advertising for a women's shoe store chain in the Boston area.  He would eventually become chain's advertising manager. On the side he performed comedy at clubs around New England. In an interview he said that at the time he was doing everybody's material. He found his niche as a comedian when he encountered a club owner who made a malapropism in an offhand comment to him. Norm Crosby then began misusing words in his act. It took time for Mr. Crosby to catch on, but he eventually found himself booked at the Latin Quarter in New York City for 18 weeks. Afterwards he was represented by the William Morris Agency. It was not long before he began appearing on television.

Norm Crosby made his television debut on The Garry Moore Show in 1963. In the Sixties he appeared on such variety shows, game shows, and talk shows as The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, The Perry Como Show, The Jimmy Dean Show, The Hollywood Palace, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, George Jessel's Here Come the Stars, Della, The Joey Bishop Show, It Takes Two, The Ed Sullivan Show, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, The David Frost Show, The Dean Martin Show, and The Merv Griffin Show. He was a regular on The Phyllis Diller Show. He guest starred on the musical sitcom That's Life.

In the Seventies he appeared on such variety shows, talk shows, and game shows as The Dean Martin Show, The Merv Griffin Show, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, American Bandstand, The Bobby Vinton Show, Celebrity Bowling, Dinah!, and The Hollywood Squares. He was the host of The Comedy Shop. He guest starred on the police drama Adam-12 and the semi-anthology The Love Boat.

In the Eighties he appeared on such variety shows, talk shows, and game shows as The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, The Palace, Lou Rawls Parade of Stars, Thicke of the Night, It's Garry Shandling's Show, and The New Hollywood Squares. He was a regular on the short-lived show The Boys.

In the Nineties, Norm Crosby appeared in the movie The Misery Brothers (1995). He appeared on the shows L.A. Law, Roseanne, The Larry Sanders Show, Alright Already, and Diagnosis Murder. He was a guest voice on Buzz Lightyear of Star Command. He appeared in the movies Amore! (1993) and The Misery Brothers (1995).

In the Naughts he guest starred on Arli$$. He was a voice in the animated movies Eight Crazy Nights (2002) and Farce of the Penguins (2006). He appeared in the movie Cougar Club (2007). His last appearance on film was in the movie Grown Ups 2 (2013).

An argument can be made that Norm Crosby was the undisputed master of malapropisms. No one mangled words like Mr. Crosby did. Much of what made his comedy so funny was that his persona, that of a good natured guy next door. On stage, Mr. Crosby was the neighbour or the guy down the block who was always choosing the wrong words. He was definitely one of the best comics to emerge from the mid to late 20th Centuy.

 

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