Thursday, 20 November 2014

The Late Great Mike Nichols

Mike Nichols, who began his career as part of the legendary comedy team of Nichols and May with Elaine May and went onto a career as an acclaimed director, died yesterday at the age of 83. The cause was a heart attack.

Mike Nichols was born Mikhail Igor Peschkowsky in Berlin, Germany on 6 November 1931. On his mother's side his grandfather was anarchist Gustav Landauer and his grandmother was poet Hedwig Lachmann. Also through his mother's side, Albert Einstein was his third cousin twice removed. His family were Russian Jews who had migrated to Germany. With the Nazis in power, the family eventually left Germany for the United States. Young Mikhail's father left first and a few months later, in April 1939, Mikhail and his younger brother joined him. The family settled in New York City. Young Mikhail's mother, who had been ill,  joined them after escaping from Nazi Germany in 1940. In the United States Mikhail's father changed his name to Paul Nichols and established a medical practice in Manhattan.

Mike Nichols attended P.S. 87 on the Upper West Side and became a naturalised citizen of the United States in 1944. He graduated from Walden School in Manhattan and then attended New York University for a short time. He enrolled in the pre-medical programme at the University of Chicago in 1950. It was at the University of Chicago that he took an interest in theatre. Mike Nichols first encountered Elaine May, who would eventually be his partner in comedy, while there. He was acting in a student production of August Strindberg's play Miss Julie when he first took notice of her, a young woman who obviously hated the production and his performance. The two encountered each other a few more times before a fateful meeting in the Illinois Central Railroad station.

It was in 1953 that Mike Nichols joined the  the Playwrights Theatre Club, a forerunner of the Compass Players. He dropped out of the University of Chicago in 1954 to move to New York City to study acting under Lee Strasberg. He returned to Chicago in 1955, at which point he joined the cabaret revue show known as the Compass Players. It was there that Mike Nichols reconnected with Elaine May and the two of them formed a comedy team with Shelley Berman. The team was soon reduced to simply Mike Nichols and Elaine May.

Eventually Nichols and May were performing in New York City at various clubs. They also began to appear on television. They made their television debut on an edition of Omnibus in 1958, "The Suburban Show". Nichols and May appeared on The Steve Allen Plymouth Show, The Dinah Shore Chevy Show, the 11th Annual Emmy Awards, The Big Party, The Jack Paar Tonight Show, What's My Line, and Perry Como's Kraft Music Hall.  They also appeared in their own show on Broadway, An Evening With Mike Nichols and Elaine May, and recorded the comedy albums Improvisations to Music, An Evening with Mike Nichols and Elaine May, and Mike Nichols & Elaine May Examine Doctors, as well as proving voices for animated commercials for Narragansett Brewing Company.

Unfortunately Mike Nichols and Elaine May's partnership could be volatile and the two not only argued off stage, but sometimes on stage as well. Eventually Miss May dissolved the partnership, and for a time their friendship ended as well. The two would reunite from time to time in the Sixties, appearing in the TV special President Kennedy's Birthday Salute and several editions of The Jack Paar Programme. Elaine May would have a cameo in Mike Nichols's film The Graduate (1967).

By his own admission Mike Nichols floundered for a time after the dissolution of his partnership with Elaine May. Fortunately in 1963 he was hired to direct a play written by Neil Simon that would eventually be titled Barefoot in the Park. Barefoot in the Park debuted on Broadway in 1963 and received widespread acclaim, with Mr. Nichols's direction often praised. Mike Nichols would direct several more high successful Broadway plays in the Sixties, including Luv, The Odd Couple, The Apple Tree, a revival of The Little Foxes, and Plaza Suite.

Mike Nichols also broke into directing films. His film debut was the 1966 adaptation of Edward Albee's play Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. The film was not only critically acclaimed, but was nominated in every single eligible category in the Academy Awards. In total it won five Oscars. If anything Mr. Nichols's next film would be even more successful. The Graduate (1967) would be the highest grossing film of its year and is still the 21st highest grossing film of all time when adjusted for inflation. It received overwhelmingly positive reviews and seven Oscar nominations. Mike Nichols won the Oscar for Best Director for the film. Mr. Nichols directed the short "Teach Me!" and then the 1970 adaptation of Joseph Heller's novel Catch-22. While Catch-22 did not do well at the box office and was largely ignored by the various awards ceremonies, it has since become highly regarded.

Mike Nichols's film career slowed in the Seventies He directed the films Carnal Knowledge (1971), The Day of the Dolphin (1973), and The Fortune (1975), as well as co-directing a filmed version of Gilda Radner's Broadway show Gilda Live! (1980) with Lorne Michaels. He did a good deal of directing on Broadway, including The Prisoner of Second Avenue, a revival of Uncle Vanya, StreamersComedians, and The Gin Game. He had a great deal of popular success with the musical Annie. He won the Tony Award for Best Direction of a Play for The Prisoner of Second Avenue and was nominated several more times during the decade.

The Eighties would see a revival of Mike Nichols's film career. Silkwood (1983) received a good deal of critical acclaim and was nominated for five Oscars. He directed Heartburn (1986) and Biloxi Blues (1988) before having a popular success with Working Girl (1988). The film did very well at the box office and received five Oscar nominations. He finished the decade with Postcards from the Edge (1980). Mr Nichols continued to work on Broadway, directing such productions as Lunch Hour, The Real Thing, Hurlyburly, and Social Security. He won the Tony Award for Best Direction of a Play for The Real Thing.

Mike Nichols began the Nineties with the films Regarding Henry (1991) and Wolf (1994). He renewed his collaboration with Elaine May, with Miss May writing the screenplays for his films The Birdcage (1996) and Primary Colours (1998). The Birdcage was an adaptation of the French film La Cage aux Folles and did very well at the box office. The film also received largely positive reviews. While Primary Colours did poorly at the box office, the film did receive largely positive reviews. Mike Nichols finished the decade with the science fiction comedy What Planet Are You From?. On Broadway Mr. Nichols directed the  production Death and the Maiden.

In the Naughts Mike Nicholas directed the television movie Wit and two episodes of the mini-series Angels in America. He also directed the films Closer (2004) and Charlie Wilson's War (2007). On Broadway he directed The Play What I Wrote, Spamalot, and revivals of The Apple Tree and The Country Girl. He won the Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical for Spamalot. In the Teens he directed revivals of Death of a Salesman and Betrayal. He received the Tony Award for Best Direction of a Play for Death of a Salesman.

The word "genius" is often applied liberally to various individuals, but the word might well have been accurate in describing Mike Nichols. As one half of the comedy team of Nichols and May, Mike Nichols created some of the most hilarious comedy sketches of all time. It was not enough that Mike Nichols and Elaine May were masters of improvisation, they could create memorable sketches off the cuff that also served as a commentary on American culture. Their classic sketch "$65 Funeral" pre-dated the Jessica Mitford's The American Way of Death and Ruth Muvey Harner's The High Cost of Dying in attacking abuses on the part of the funeral home industry. Their classic "Mother and Son" sketch featured Elaine May as an overprotective mother nagging her aerospace engineer son. Their "At the Watercooler" sketch derived humour from two office workers discussing everything from the then current quiz show scandals to politicians. Nichols and May had a way of taking scenes from everyday life and turning them into a critique of American culture in a way that no other comedians ever had. They also found humour in subjects very few comedians would have ever tried tackling at the time, everything from funerals to hospitals.

Of course, Mike Nichols would go onto a very successful career as a director of both Broadway plays and films. For many his most lasting contribution to film may be The Graduate, the classic tale of a young man coming of age with no particular goals in life. There is no doubt that it is not only a highly regarded film, but one that has had a lasting impact on pop culture. There are very few people who would not recognise the name "Mrs. Robinson". That having been said, Mr. Nichols directed several great films in his career. While it did poorly at the box office and did not win many awards, Catch-22 is now somewhat better regarded. Indeed, seen now it holds up much better than what was at the time the more highly regarded and successful contemporary M*A*S*H. Mike Nichols sometimes pushed the envelope as to what was acceptable in his films. Although it might seem to hard believe now, in its time Carnal Knowledge was very controversial in its rather open portrayal of male sexuality. Although many of Mike Nichols's later films would not be as highly regarded as Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf or The Graduate, Mike Nichols was still capable of making fine films later in his career. Not only was The Birdcage one of the funniest Nineties in my opinion, but it was better than the original French film.

As both part of the comedy team May and Nichols and as a director Mike Nichols displayed a rare brand of talent. Both as an improvisational comedian and a director his contributions to popular culture will not soon be forgotten. 

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Tony Randall, What a Character!

For many Tony Randall will always be Felix Unger on the classic TV show The Odd Couple. For those a little bit older he might be history teacher Harvey Weekitt on Mister Peepers. Yet others might best remember Tony Randall as any number of supporting characters in Sixties sex comedies. In fact, a running joke among my friends and me is that no film is truly a Sixties sex comedy until Tony Randall appears! Tony Randall appeared on television, in major motion pictures, on radio, and on the Broadway stage. Few actors were as versatile as Tony Randall. While he may be best known for playing supporting roles in feature films, he shined those times in which he played the lead. In fact, in some way it is debatable whether Tony Randall was a lead actor capable of playing character roles or a character actor capable of playing lead roles!

Tony Randall was born Arthur Leonard Rosenberg on 26 February 1920 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Young Leonard Rosenberg decided he wanted to be an actor when he was very young. In grade school he performed in his very first production. He enjoyed it so much that he decided that was what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. Surprisingly, at  Tulsa Central High School he often lost parts in school plays for which he tried out. This was largely because of a stutter he had since childhood, something he fortunately overcame. While young Leonard Rosenberg got to do very little acting in high school, he did go to see plays every chance he got. He even got to meet Katharine Cornell backstage when she visited Tulsa with a touring production of Romeo and Juliet.

After graduating from high school Leonard Rosenberg enrolled as a speech and drama major at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. He only attended one year before he moving to New York City to study acting at the Neighbourhood Playhouse School of the Theatre. Among his instructors were Sanford Meisner (who also trained such actors as Peter Falk, Grace Kelly, Steve McQueen, and Gregory Peck) and legendary choreographer Martha Graham. It was in 1941 that he made his stage debut in a production of the 13th-century Chinese play A Circle of Chalk in New York City. That same year he appeared in a revival of George Bernard Shaw's Candida in New York City. It was about this time that he took the stage name of "Anthony Randall", which would later be shortened simply to "Tony Randall". In 1942 he was in a rehearsal for a role Thornton Wilder's Skin of Our Teeth when he was drafted into the United States Army.

Tony Randall spent his time in the Army during World War II in the Signal Corps. He had been offered an entertainment assignment with Special Services, but turned it down. Mr. Randall attended Officer Candidate School and achieved the rank of 1st Lieutenant.  While in the Signal Corps he worked on a number of training films. He ended the war delivering classified documents to various government offices.

After the war Tony Randall resumed his acting career. He initially performed at the  Olney Theatre in Montgomery County, Maryland before returning to New York City. In New York Mr. Randall established a highly successful career in radio. With regards to radio, he might be best known for playing Reggie York on the classic radio show I Love a Mystery (later titled I Love an Adventure). Mr. Randall played regular roles on other radio shows as well, including The Henry Morgan Program, Portia Faces Life, Opera Quiz, When a Girl Marries, and Life's True Story. He also appeared on such radio shows as The Adventures of Frank Merriwell and  Best Plays.

Mr. Randall also returned to the stage following the war. In 1946 he was part of the touring company for Katherine Cornell's revival of The Barretts of Wimpole Street. He made his debut on Broadway in a revival of Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra in 1947 and also appeared on Broadway in a revival of George Bernard Shaw's Caesar and Cleopatra in 1949. While many actors who achieved success in television and film would desert the stage, Tony Randall continued to appear on stage for much of his career. Mr. Randall was Gig Young's replacement in Oh, Men! Oh, Women! in the early Fifties. His first major role on Broadway came a few years later, when he played E. K. Hornbeck in Inherit the Wind in 1955. In 1958 on Broadway he played the lead in Oh Captain!.  For the role he was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical.

Over the years Tony Randall would appear many more times on Broadway. He was John Lithgow's replacement in M. Butterfly in the Eighties. In the Nineties he appeared in revivals of A Little Hotel on the Side, Three Men on a Horse, The Government Inspector, The School for Scandal, and others. In 1991 he founded the National Actors Theatre. He remained its chairman until his death in 2004. Under Mr. Randall's leadership the National Actors Theatre would prove very successful. Over the years its productions earned an extraordinary number of Tony Award nominations. Among those nominated for the Tony Award were Saint Joan, Timon of Athens, Inherit the Wind, and The Gin Game. Mr. Randall appeared in many of the National Actors Theatre's productions and directed its production of The Master Builder.

Despite his success on the stage, Tony Randall not only sought out roles in other media, but, as everyone knows, had great success in them. He made his television debut even as he was appearing on Broadway and still acting on radio. It was in 1950 that he made his television debut as Mac on the primetime television version of One Man's Family. He played the role until 1952. He followed it in 1952 with one of his best known television roles, that of  Harvey Weskit, history teacher and best friend of Wally Cox's Robinson J. Peepers on Mister Peepers. Mr. Randall's Harvey Weskit was a sharp contrast to Wally Cox's shy Mr. Peeepers. Harvey was a bit of a ladies man, both confident and at times even boastful. Mister Peepers proved to be a hit and was probably responsible for introducing Tony Randall to a national audience. The role also earned Mr. Randall his first Emmy nomination. He was nominated for Best Series Supporting Actor in 1954.

Throughout the Fifties Tony Randall would make guest appearances on several shows, including Kraft TheatrePhilco-Goodyear Television Playhouse, Studio One, The Alcoa Hour, and The United States Steel Hour. As Tony Randall's film career took off in the Fifties, he was largely absent in the small screen in the Sixties. He did appear in episodes of Checkmate, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, The Milton Berle Show, and The Red Skelton Show. Mr. Randall also appeared in a 1962 television adaptation of Arsenic and Old Lace, as well as the Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation "The Littlest Angel".

It was in 1970 that Mr. Randall was cast in the role for which he may be best known, that of neat and overly fussy commercial photographer Felix Unger on The Odd Couple (based on Neil Simon's play of the same name). He played opposite Jack Klugman, who played his roommate, total slob Oscar Madison. Surprisingly enough for a show now regarded as a classic, The Odd Couple struggled in the ratings and was nearly cancelled at the end of each season. Regardless, the show was well regarded. For his role as Felix Tony Randall was nominated for Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Comedy Series four times before winning the award in 1975. Jack Klugman also earned Emmy nominations for his role as Oscar, winning twice. While The Odd Couple never did well in the ratings during its network run, it proved to be a hit in syndication where it has remained ever since. Tony Randall and Jack Klugman also became very close friends in real life. Messrs. Klugman and Randall would even later appear in revivals of the play, sometimes switching roles to where Mr. Randall played Oscar and Mr. Klugman played Felix!

Tony Randall appeared frequently on television in the Seventies. In addition to The Odd Couple, he played the lead role of Judge Walter Franklin on the short lived Tony Randall Show. He also guest starred on The Red Skelton Show, Here's Lucy, The Carol Burnett Show, The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour, and The Muppet Show. He was a frequent guest on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. He also appeared frequently on game shows from Hollywood Squares to The $20,000 Pyramid.

Tony Randall's last regular, starring role on television was the comedy Love, Sidney. The show was a continuation of the television movie Sidney Shorr: A Girl's Best Friend, in which Tony Randall played the title character, a gay man living with a single mother and her daughter. Both the TV movie and the television show were based on a short story by Marilyn Cantor Baker.  For the television show Sidney's homosexuality was initially downplayed to the point that many viewers may not have been aware that the character had originally been conceived as gay. Much of this may have been due to protests over a positive portrayal of homosexuality from such moral watchdog groups as the Moral Majority and the Coalition for Better Television. While hardly a hit, Love Sidney did well enough in the ratings to warrant a second season. The second season saw the show more fully explore Sidney Shorr's sexuality. Unfortunately ratings for the show fell and it did not see a third season. Love, Sidney remains historic as the first American TV show to feature a lead character who was gay.

Love, Sidney would be Tony Randall's last regular television series. He appeared in the television movies Hitler's S.S.: Portrait in Evil and Save the Dog!. In 1993 he reprised his role as Felix Unger opposite Jack Klugman as Oscar Madison in the television reunion movie The Odd Couple: Together Again. He was also a guest voice on the animated show The Magic School Bus. He continued to appear regularly on the late night talk shows, particularly The Late Show with David Letterman and Late Night with Conan O'Brien.

By the mid-Fifties Tony Randall was an established star of both television and Broadway. It was at that point that he conquered movies as well. In 1957 he made his film debut in the movie adaptation of Oh, Men! Oh, Women!, although he played the role of Cobbler rather than the role of Arthur Turner he had played on Broadway. It was that same year that Mr. Randall appeared in the film that made him a movie star. He played the lead role of Rockwell "Rock" P. Hunter in Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?. In the film television advertising writer Rock Hunter must pretend to be the boyfriend of  famed actress Rita Marlowe (played by Jayne Mansfield) before she will agree to endorse Stay-Put's new brand of lipstick. A parody of Hollywood, advertising, and movie fandom, Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? could also be considered a precursor to the Sixties sex comedies, a genre with which he would soon become identified.

Indeed, while Mr. Randall's next film would be the drama No Down Payment (1957), his next film could be considered an outright Sixties sex comedy (even if it was released in the Fifties), The Mating Game. In The Mating Game Mr. Randall played the lead role of  Lorenzo Charlton, an IRS agent assigned to investigate the Larkin family only to fall in love with the eldest daughter (played by Debbie Reynolds). While whether The Mating Game is a Sixties sex comedy is perhaps debatable, Mr. Randall's next film is considered by many to be the Sixties sex comedy (even though it was released in 1959). In Pillow Talk Tony Randall played millionaire Jonathan Forbes, an old college buddy of Broadway composer Brad Allen (played by Rock Hudson) and one of the clients of interior decorator Jan Morrow (played by Doris Day). While it was not a lead part, it was a plumb role for Tony Randall. In fact, it would dictate the path of Tony Randall's career for the next few years, as he regularly played supporting roles (or, perhaps more accurately, "tertiary leads") in many Sixties sex comedies over the next few years.

Tony Randall appeared in Doris Day and Rock Hudson's next two films together, Lover Come Back (playing ad agency president Pete Ramsey) and Send Me No Flowers (playing Arnold Nash, the best friend of hypochondriac George Kimball, played by Rock Hudson). Tony Randall appeared in other Sixties sex comedies as well, including Let's Make Love (1960), Boys' Night Out (1962), and Island of Love (1963). Ultimately, Mr. Randall appeared in so many Sixties sex comedies that he is as identified with the genre as Doris Day or Rock Hudson.

Of course, in the Sixties Mr Randall appeared in other sorts of movies than sex comedies. In fact, among his best known films from the era is the comic fantasy The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964). The film is arguably Tony Randall's acting tour de force, as he not only played the title role of Dr. Lao, but also Merlin, Pan, the Serpent, Medusa, Apollonius of Tyana, and the Abominable Snowman. It was also in 1964 that he starred in another comic fantasy, The Brass Bottle, in which he played architect Harold Ventimore, who inadvertently finds himself in possession of a bottle containing a djinn (played by Burl Ives). Tony Randall also played Hercule Poirot in the 1965 adaptation of The Alphabet Murders and "the King of France" in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1960). He also starred in the films Fluffy (1965), Our Man in Marrakesh (1966), and Hello Down There (1969).

After the Sixties Tony Randall's film career slowed as he concentrated on television and the stage, although he continued to appear in a few movies over the years. He appeared in a cameo in the comedy Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Afraid to Ask (1972) and was part of the ensemble cast of Scavenger Hunt (1979). Mr. Randall played himself in Martin Scorsese's The King of Comedy (1982). Fittingly he played an important role in the 2003 homage to Sixties sex comedies Down with Love. His last film was the comedy It's About Time (2005). Perhaps fittingly Tony Randall's character shared his given surname, Mr. Rosenberg.

Few actors had a career like Tony Randall. He moved seamlessly from medium to medium, often working in film at the same time that he was working on stage or on television. And while there can be no doubt that Tony Randall was one of the great character actors of the Fifties and Sixties, he was more than capable of playing the lead, as shown by Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, The Mating Game, The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao, and Our Man in Marrakesh. While today people are often inclined to think of Mr. Randall as Felix Unger, he actually played a wide array of very different characters throughout his career. On I Love a Mystery Reggie was an idealistic Englishman who also happened to be remarkably strong. On Mister Peepers Harvey Weskit was a good natured, yet swaggering ladies man. In Pillow Talk Jonathan Forbes was a spoiled little rich boy. In Boys' Night Out George Drayton can't complete a sentence without his wife finishing it for him. While Tony Randall rarely played villains, he was more than capable of doing so. In the Checkmate episode "The Button Down Break" he played an overly ambitious advertising man sent to prison for murder by Checkmate Inc. and now plotting revenge on them. Mr. Randall could not have gotten further away from Harvey Weskit if he had tried.

It must be pointed out that as well as being a talented actor, Tony Randall was also an actor of both courage and conviction. After playing lead roles in Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? and The Mating Game, some actors might have scoffed at ever playing supporting roles again. Tony Randall didn't, playing second banana to both Rock Hudson and James Garner while continuing to play the lead in other films. Sixteen years before Ellen DeGeneres's character came out on Ellen and seventeen years before Will & Grace, Tony Randall played a gay man in Love, Sidney. In the early Eighties this was an enormous risk for any actor, let alone one who was an established star of film, stage, and television. It must also be pointed out that Tony Randall could have easily continued his career in television beyond the Eighties, but instead he chose to establish The National Actors Theatre. Throughout his life Tony Randall had always been an ardent supporter of the arts.

Tony Randall's career spanned 63 years and there is little wonder that it did. He was a versatile actor who could play a wide array of roles, from swaggering womanisers to henpecked husbands. He was also an actor who could switch between lead roles and supporting roles with little problem. What is more, he was comfortable in several different media. Many actors can be described only as movie stars or TV stars, but Tony Randall mastered several different media. Tony Randall wasn't just a movie star or a TV star. He was a star of movies, television, radio and the stage.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

David Watson R.I.P.

David Watson, who had recurring roles on the TV shows Rawhide and Never Too Young, died on 5 October 2014 at the age of 74. The cause was a heart attack.

David Watson was born in Austin, Texas on 10 March 1940. His parents moved to London not long after he was born. At a young age he was a choirboy at Westminster Abbey and even sang at the Coronation of HRM Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. As a teenager he became a professional singer and performed in nightclubs and cabarets. He later turned to acting, initially on stage.

He made his television debut playing the regular role of Ian Cabot in the final season of the TV Western Rawhide. He was also a regular on the teenage soap opera Never Too Young that aired on ABC-TV in 1965 and 1966. In the late Sixties he guest starred on such shows as The Girl from U.N.C.L.E., The Time Tunnel, Petticoat Junction, Rowan & Martin's Laugh In, and Daniel Boone. In 1968 he starred in a television musical version of the Robin Hood myth entitled The Legend of Robin Hood alongside Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Roddy McDowall. He made his film debut in 1970 playing Cornelius in Beneath the Planet of the Apes. Due to a scheduling conflict, Roddy McDowall was unable to play the role he had originated in the first movie and as a result Mr. Watson got the part. He also appeared on the British stage in The Great Waltz.

In the Seventies David Watson guest starred on the TV shows Charlie's Angels, The Bionic Woman, and Project U.F.O. He appeared on the British stage in R Loves J. In 1979 he became a talent agent with the White Light agency.

Mr. Watson returned to acting a few times over the years. He appeared in the films Beyond the Next Mountain (1987), Headless! (1994), Lucky Break (1994), and Criminal Ways (2003). He appeared in the TV movies Perry Mason: The Case of the Lady in the Lake and My Brother Jack, and guest starred on the TV show Good Guys Bad Guys.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Warren Clarke Passes On

Warren Clarke, who played Dim in A Clockwork Orange (1971) and Detective Superintendent Andy Dalziel on the TV show Dalziel and Pascoe, died on 12 November 2014 at age 67 after a brief illness.

Warren Clarke was born  Alan James Clarke on 26 April 1947 in Oldham, Lancashire. After leaving school at age 15 he started work as a copy boy at the Manchester Evening News.  He performed as an amateur at the Huddersfield Rep and the Liverpool Playhouse before taking up acting full time. It was at this time that he took "Warren Clarke" as a stage name.

Mr. Clarke made his television debut on ITV Play of the Week in 1966. In the  Sixties he went onto appear on television in such programmes as Pardon the Expression, The Avengers, Coronation Street, On the Rocks, and Callan. He made his film debut in an uncredited, bit part in The Virgin Soldiers (1969) and appeared in a role in The Breaking of Bumbo (1970).

In 1971 he appeared as Dim in Stanley Kubrick's controversial film A Clockwork Orange. In the Seventies he would appear in such films as Antony and Cleopatra (1972), O Lucky Man! (1973), The Great Riviera Bank Robbery (1979), Victims (1979), and Hawk the Slayer (1980). He had regular roles on the TV series Softly Softly: Task Force, Jennie: Lady Randolph Churchill, Our Mutual Friend, and The Onedin Line. He appeared on such shows as Six Days of Justice, Armchair Theatre, The SweeneyZ Cars, and Hammer House of Horror.

In the Eighties Warren Clarke guest starred on such shows as Tales of the Unexpected, Crown Court, Bergerac, All Creatures Great and Small, and Black Adder the Third. He was a regular on the series Shelley, The Home Front, The Jewel in the Crown, Wish Me Luck, Nice Work, and The Manageress.
He appeared in the films From a Far Country (1981), Firefox (1982), Enigma (1983), Real Life (1984), Lassiter (1984), Top Secret! (1984), Ishtar (1987), and Crusoe (1988).

In the Nineties Mr. Clarke was a regular on the TV shows Sleepers, All Good Things, Gone to the Dogs, The Secret Agents, Gone to Seed, Conjugal Rites, The House of Windsor, Moving Story, and Down to Earth. It was in 1996 that he began his long run as Det. Supt. Andy Dalziel on Dalziel and Pascoe. He guest starred on Lovejoy and In the Red. He appeared in the film I.D. (1995).

 In the Naughts Warren Clarke continued to appear on Dalziel and Pascoe and Down to Earth. He also appeared in the mini-series Bleak House and the TV series The Invsibles. He guest starred on the shows Agatha Christie's Marple and Inspector Lewis. He appeared in the films Blow Dry (2001), Arthur's Dyke (2001), and The Man Who Married Himself (2010). 

In the Teens Mr. Clarke was a regular on the TV shows In with the Flynns and Chugginton. He guest starred on the shows Midsomer Murders, Inspector George Gently, Just William, Wild at Heart, and Call the Midwife. He starred in the series Poldark, set to air next year.

Warren Clarke was a very versatile actor. He appeared in a wide variety of films, everything from dystopic science fiction (A Clockwork Orange) to Shakespeare (Antony and Cleopatra) to low budget sword and sorcery (Hawk the Slayer). He also played a wide variety of roles over the years, from the overly camp "Sophie" Dixon in The Jewel in the Crown to the rather old fashioned and even downright sexist Dalziel in Dalziel and Pascoe. Regardless of the film or television show in which he was appearing or the role he was playing, Warren Clarke always gave a good performance. His was a great talent whose career was cut all too short.

Monday, 10 November 2014

The Flash Turns 75

It was 75 years ago today, on 10 November 1939, that Flash Comics #1 (January 1940) hit newsstands in the United States. To say Flash Comics #1 was a very historic issue would be a bit of an understatement. First, it was the first comic book published by All-American Publications (one of the companies that would form the modern day DC Comics) to feature superheroes. Second, and perhaps more importantly, it featured the first appearances of such characters as Hawkman, Johnny Thunder, and The Whip. By far the most important character to make his first appearance in Flash Comics #1 was The Flash. Not only was The Flash was the first superhero with super-speed as his power, but he also proved to be one of All-American's most popular characters. He was also one of the founding members of the first superhero team in comic books, the Justice Society of America. In a roundabout way it was also The Golden Age Flash who would spark the Silver Age of Comic Books in 1956.

Flash Comics was published by All-American Publications, a company that grew out of National Allied Publications (publisher of Superman) and Detective Comics Inc. (publisher of Detective Comics, the eventual home of Batman). The company was founded by Max Gaines, who had played a large role in the creation of the very first American comic book, and Jack Liebowitz, who with Harry Donenfeld was co-owner of  National Allied Publications and Detective Comics Inc. Max Gaines, who had been working for the McClure Syndicate, wanted to form his company. To do he sought financing from Harry Donenfeld. At the same time Jack Leibowitz was anxious to expand beyond the four titles published his companies were currently publishing. Mr. Donenfeld was not particularly anxious to do so, feeling the company already published enough comic books. Harry Donenfeld then killed two birds with one stone. He provided Max Gaines with the money to start All-American Publications on the condition that he take Jack Liebowitz on as a partner. All-American Publications was technically a separate company from National Allied Publications and Detective Comics Inc., with its own offices at its own address. Despite this, characters from National Allied Publications and Detective Comics Inc. were promoted in All-American titles and vice versa. Furthermore, for most of its history All-American titles would bear the informal DC logo or "bullet" that National and Detective Comics titles did.

All-American Publications' first title was All-American Comics, its debut issue having a publication date of April 1939. That first issue of All-American Comics, like many of All-American's titles, published a mixture of newspaper reprints and original material, including popular aviator character Hop Harrigan. The continued success of Superman and the emergence of other superheroes such as Batman made it inevitable that All-American Publications would have to start publishing superheroes, even though Max Gaines was not particularly fond of the genre. It was then that All-American published its first title to feature superheroes, Flash Comics #1, in November 1939.

While Flash Comics was an anthology title that featured several characters and was not devoted exclusively to him, The Flash soon became the most popular character in the title. The Flash was created by legendary writer Gardner Fox and artist Harry Lampert. Mr. Fox had been inspired by the Roman god Mercury, known for his great speed. Reflecting Gardner Fox's inspiration, Harry Lampert based The Flash's costume on Mercury, complete with a winged helmet and winged boots.

The Flash was Jay Garrick, a science major attending an American university at the time he gained the power of super-speed. Jay did very well in his classes and even worked with Professor Hughes in his studies on "heavy water." Unfortunately, Jay was not nearly so successful in his other pursuits. Although a member of the football team, he spent more time on the bench than on the gridiron. His love life was not much better. Joan Williams spurned him for the captain of the football team. Fortunately for Jay, his luck was about to change.

Working on an experiment in the lab late at night, Jay knocked over some heavy water and other chemicals. Overcome by the fumes, Jay lay there for hours until he was discovered by Professor Hughes. Hughes immediately rushed Jay to the hospital, where he lay for weeks in a coma. When Jay finally came to, the physicians at the hospital told Hughes that tests on Garrick indicated a highly accelerated metabolism. He said that Jay would be, "the fastest thing to ever walk the earth!" It was not long after his release from hospital that Jay learned he could move at super speed. When he saw Joan getting on a bus he was able to catch up to her in less than a second. Jay tested the extent of his powers and, for the first time in his life, led the football team to a win through the use of a bit of his super speed.

It was later that Jay decided to put his powers to good use and assumed the identity of The Flash. Shortly thereafter Joan visited him with the news that her father had been kidnapped by a gang calling themselves the Faultless Four. Using his super speed, The Flash was able to rescue him.

The Flash proved popular from his first appearance in Flash Comics #1, and it was not long before he was appearing in other titles. He was one of the characters featured in All Star Comics #1, summer 1940, an anthology title that featured characters from both All-American Comics Publications and Detective Comics Inc. With All Star Comics #3, winter 1940-1941, The Flash became one of the founding members of the Justice Society of America. So popular was The Flash that he eventually received his own title All-Flash, the first issue cover dated summer 1941. He was also one of the characters featured in Comic Calvacade (the first issue was cover dated December 1942), which  featured All-American's most popular characters: The Flash, Green Lantern, and Wonder Woman. So popular was The Flash that at one point he was appearing in four different magazines: Flash Comics, All Star Comics, All-Flash, and Comic Cavalcade.

The Flash inspired imitators as a number of high-speed superheroes followed in his wake. The first such imitator appeared only two months after The Flash's appearance, The Silver Streak in Silver Streak Comics #3, February 1940 published by Your Guide Publications (The Silver Steak could not only run fast, he could fly...literally). A third super-speedster was Quicksilver (not to be confused with the Marvel character of the same name), who debuted in National Comics #5, November 1940, published by Quality Comics. The company that would become the modern day Marvel Comics introduced their own super-speed hero, The Whizzer, in USA Comics #1, August 1941. Even All-American Comics' sister company, Detective Comics, would come out with a super-speedster, Johnny Quick in More Fun Comics # 71, September 1941. Of course, none of  them ever surpassed the original in popularity.

Over the years The Flash would also develop his own rouge's gallery. His first super-powered opponent was The Shade, a villain capable of manipulating shadows who first appeared in Flash Comics #33, September 1942. Unfortunately, The Shade would not appear again until 1961. It was only a few months later in Flash Comics # 36, December 1942, that The Flash fought The Rag Doll, a villain gifted with extreme flexibility (he was said to be triple-jointed). Like The Shade, The Rag Doll would not appear again for decades. While The Shade and The Rag Doll only fought The Flash once during the Golden Age, other supervillains fought him multiple times. Among these was The Thinker . Equipped with his "Thinking Cap", which could project psychic force, he first appeared in All-Flash #12, Fall 1943. Another recurring villain was The Fiddler, who played a fiddle that could control minds, create force fields and even shatter objects. He first appeared in All-Flash #32, December 1947-January 1948. Among the enemies The Flash faced more than once during the Golden Age was one of the rare female supervillains of the era. The Thorn was the alter ego of Rose Canton, a woman with dissociative identity disorder. Not only did she have fairly extensive knowledge of botany, but she was also able to control plants. She first appeared in Flash Comics #89, November 1947.

Although The Flash was a founding member of the Justice Society of America, he would be absent from the feature for part of the Forties. It was a policy at the time that once a character received his own title, he would no longer appear as part of the Justice Society of America. Having received his own title in the formof All-Flash, The Flash stopped appearing in All Star Comics with issue #7, October-November 1941. The Flash returned to the Justice Society of America in All Star Comics, #24 spring 1945 and remained in the feature until it ended with All-Star Comics #57, March 1951.

The Flash's return to All-Star Comics emerged from a period of estrangement between All-American Publications and its sister company Detective Comics. Co-owners Max Gaines and Jack Liebowitz found themselves increasingly at odds, to the point that All-American broke away from Detective Comics Inc. For a time All-American titles were published with the company's own "All-American" logo. At the same time various Detective Comics characters stopped appearing in All Star Comics as members of the Justice Society of America. To fill their spots, The Flash and Green Lantern (who had also stopped appearing in the title with All-Star Comics #7, October-November 1941) returned to the Justice Society of America. Max Gaines eventually sold his part of All-American Publications to Jack Liebowitz, who then merged it with Detective Comics Inc. This merger would lead to the company National Periodical Publications, which was eventually renamed DC Comics (the name by which it had been informally known for decades).

Following World War II the popularity of superhero comic books went into decline. Several superhero titles were cancelled, among which were titles featuring The Flash. All-Flash ceased publication with issue #34, December 1947-January 1948. Flash Comics ended its run with issue #104, February 1949. The Flash continued to appear as a member of the Justice Society of America until All Star Comics #57, March 1951. The title was then retitled All Star Western and the Justice Society of America no longer appeared in its pages.

The Flash--or at least a Flash--would not be absent from comic books for long.  Only a little over five years after Jay Garrick's last appearance as The Flash in All Star Comics, editor Julius Schwartz assigned writer Robert Kanigher and artist Carmine Infantino to create a new version of The Flash. The new version of The Flash was police scientist Barry Allen, who while working late one night is splashed with chemicals and struck by lightning. He learns that he can now move at super-speed as a result. In fact, he can even vibrate his molecules at high speed. He took the name "The Flash" after his favourite comic book character (The Golden Age Flash, Jay Garrick).

This new Flash first appeared in  Showcase #4, October 1956. Sales for that particular issue proved to be so good that The Flash would appear in a few more issues of Showcase before being given his own title, The Flash. Perhaps fitting The Flash took up the numbering of Flash Comics, starting with issue #105, March 1959. The new Flash proved so successful that National Periodical Publications also created new versions of a number of their Golden Age superheroes, including Green Lantern, Hawkman, The Atom, and so on. In fact, the first appearance of Barry Allen in Showcase #4, October 1956, is considered the beginning of the Silver Age of Comic Books.

While the origin of The Silver Age Flash established that The Golden Age Flash was only a comic book character, Jay Garrick would appear again in the pages of comic books. The Flash #123, September 1961 featured the story "Flash of Two Worlds", which would be Jay Garrick's first appearance in a comic book in a little over ten years. In the story Barry Allen, performing tricks for children at a charity event, vibrates his molecules in order to disappear and finds himself transported to another reality (later called "Earth Two"). It turns out that in this reality Jay Garrick--The Golden Age Flash--actually exists. The two Flashes, Jay Garrick and Barry Allen, then team up to battle three of The Golden Age Flash's old enemies: The Shade, The Fiddler, and The Thinker.

The response of fans to "Flash of Two Worlds" was very good. Both older fans who remembered Jay Garrick and younger fans for whom he was a new character wanted to see more of The Golden Age Flash. Jay Garrick then appeared again in The Flash #129, June 1962, which would also mark the first time the Justice Society of America was ever mentioned in the Silver Age. The Justice Society of America itself appeared for the first time in over twelve years in The Flash #137, June 1963. Thereafter Jay Garrick would make regular appearances in comic books during the Silver Age and in the Seventies, both in the pages of The Flash and as part of the Justice Society of America in their regular team ups with the Justice League of America.

Since that time Jay Garrick has appeared in various comic books over the years. He appeared as part of the Justice Society of America in the short lived revival of All Star Comics in the Seventies.  He also appeared in issues of All-Star Squadron, a comic book set in World War II, in the Eighties. Starting in the Eighties he appeared as one of the supporting characters in The Flash, the title starring the third Flash (Wally West, who had been Kid Flash when Barry Allen bore the title). As might be expected Jay Garrick appeared in various revivals of the Justice Society of America through the years, including the short lived Justice Society of America in the Nineties and the somewhat more successful JSA and Justice Society of America in the Naughts.

While the original Flash may not be as well known as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, or even his Silver Age counterpart, his impact on comic books is perhaps as great. The Flash was the first character in what became a superhero archetype, that of the the hero whose sole power is super-speed. Every super-speedster ever since, from The Silver Streak to Quicksilver of Marvel's Avengers, then owes The Flash a debt. As one of the most popular characters of the early Forties, The Flash insured the popularity of the Justice Society of America in the pages of All Star Comics, thus establishing the trope of the superhero team. In a roundabout way The Flash of the Golden Age was even responsible for sparking the Silver Age of Comic Books. After all, had Jay Garrick never been created, then neither would Barry Allen, the Silver Age Flash. Of course, had the Silver Age Flash never been created, it is questionable if DC Comics would have ever rebooted any of its other Golden Age characters. Perhaps the Silver Age would have taken place had the original Flash never been created, but it would have been very, very different. Although the average person might not know who the Golden Age Flash is (or even that there was a Golden Age Flash), he is one of the most important characters in the history of comic books.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Fairy Tale Blogathon: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

Today animated feature films are not a rarity. Indeed, they are nearly ubiquitous. Even animated feature films based on fairy tales are fairly commonplace. A very good argument can be made that the Walt Disney empire was built upon animated movies based on well known fairy tales and children's stories. It is perhaps for this reason that we tend to take Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) for granted. It is true that most people know that it was not only Disney's first animated feature film, but the first American animated feature ever. What many people might not realise is that it is also still one of the highest grossing films of all time when adjusted for inflation, and in many ways it revolutionised the movie industry even beyond its status as the first American animated feature film.

Walt Disney began n his animation career in 1920 when he and Ub Iwerks founded Iwerks-Disney Commercial Artists in Kansas City, Missouri.  Iwerks-Disney Commercial Artists did not last long, nor would Mr. Disney's next company,  Laugh-O-Gram. It was following the failure of  Laugh-O-Gram that Walt Disney relocated from Kansas City to Hollywood where Walt Disney and his brother Roy founded the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio on 16 October 1923. The Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio would evolve into what we now know as the Walt Disney Company. Renamed the Walt Disney Studio in 1926, the company found success with a series of animated shorts featuring Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Unfortunately, Disney lost control of Oswald the Lucy Rabbit to their distributor, Universal Pictures. It was after the loss of Oswald that Disney found success with a new creation, an animated character called "Mickey Mouse". Disney followed his Mickey Mouse shorts with another series of animated shorts, "Silly Symphonies", in which music proved a key role.

The "Mickey Mouse" shorts proved to be a phenomenal success. While the "Silly Symphonies" series were not nearly as successful as Mickey Mouse, they also proved very popular. It was then in the early Thirties that Walt Disney began contemplating the production of a full-length animated feature film. Walt Disney considered Babes in Toyland for the subject of his first feature, but a feature film based on Victor Herbert's operetta was already in development at RKO. Adaptations of Rip Van Winkle and Alice in Wonderland were also considered. Ultimately Mr. Disney settled on an adaptation of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as the subject of his first feature film.

Walt Disney's choice of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs actually stemmed from an earlier film based on the fairy tale. In 1916 Famous Players-Lasky released a film titled Snow White, based on  Jessie Braham White's 1912 Broadway play Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which in turn was based on the fairy tale. Both the play and the film starred Marguerite Clark in the title role. Walt Disney had seen Snow White at the Kansas City Convention Centre in 1917. As one of the first feature films Mr. Disney had even seen, the film left an impression on him. It was then in 1934 that Walt Disney announced to his animators that they would be making a feature film based on the fairy tale "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs". It was in June 1934 that Walt Disney made public his plans to make his first feature film through The New York Times.

To say that Mr. Disney's announcement of his first animated feature film was met with scepticism from the film industry would be an understatement. The project was soon labelled "Disney's Folly", with many in Hollywood convinced that it would fail. Even his brother Roy and his wife Lillian had little faith in the project and both actively tried to discourage Walt Disney from pursuing it, with Roy pointing out the sheer cost of an animated feature. Indeed, Walt Disney estimated that Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs would cost $250,000, which was ten times as much as his average animated shorts cost. As it turns out Walt Disney dramatically underestimated the cost of producing the feature. The budget for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs eventually grew to $1,488,422.74. With financing proving difficult to find, Walt Disney had to mortgage his house.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs did not simply take a large amount of money to make, it also took a good deal of time. Production appears to have begun on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs on 9 August 1934 with the goal of completing the film in early 1936. Ultimately the film would not be finished until 1937. According to publicity materials for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, 32 animators, 102 assistant animators, 167 in-betweeners, 20 layout artists, 25 background artists, 65 effects animators, and 158 inkers and painters were involved in the making of the film.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was completed in 1937. It premiered at the Carthay Circle Theatre in Hollywood on 21 December 1937. The audience, which included such well known personages as Charlie Chaplin and Marlene Dietrich, gave the film a standing ovation. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs also received widespread acclaim among movie critics. Frank S. Nugent in The New York Times wrote of the film, "The picture more than matches expectations" and "Nothing quite like it has been done before; and already we have grown impolite enough to clamour for an encore. Another helping, please!" In Variety John C. Flinn, Sr. stated, "There has never been anything in the theatre quite like Walt Disney’s 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs', seven reels of animated cartoon in Technicolor, unfolding an absorbingly interesting and, at times, thrilling entertainment." Walt Disney even appeared on the cover of the 27 December 1937 issue of Time magazine.

The film industry, including many who had deemed the project "Disney's Folly", also showed their appreciation for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. At the 10th annual Academy Awards held in 1938 the film was nominated for Best Score. Surprisingly, "Some Day My Prince Will Come" was not nominated for Best Song, even though it has since become a standard.  At the 11th annual Academy Awards held in 1939 Walt Disney was given an honorary Oscar consisting of one full-sized award and seven smaller ones.

As appreciative as critics and the film industry and movie critics were of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the general public was even more appreciative. After playing exclusive runs at theatres such as Radio City Music Hall in New York City, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs went into general release on 4 February 1938. By May 1939 it had already made $6.5 million, making it the highest grossing film of all time. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was soon overtaken by Gone with the Wind for the highest grossing film of all time, but to this day it remains one of the all time biggest money makers. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is still the tenth highest grossing film of all time when adjusted for inflation.

As the first American animated feature film film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs certainly had a lasting impact. The film took Walt Disney Productions from a maker of animated shorts to one of the major studios in Hollywood. In fact, it was with the profits from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs that Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, the company's headquarters to this day, was built. Of course, the success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was responsible for the release of every single Disney animated feature film ever since. From Fantasia and Pinocchio in 1940 to Frozen in 2014, none of them would have been possible without Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs would also provide the template for many Disney features to come; namely, the adaptation of classic fairy tales. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs would be followed by Cinderella (1950), Sleeping Beauty (1959), The Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty and the Beast (1991), and many others.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs would also lead other animation studios to make their own feature films. Disney's long time rivals, Fleischer Studios, released their first animated feature, Gulliver's Travels, in 1939. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs would even have an impact on live action films. It was because of the early success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs that MGM decided to go forward with a live action adaptation of L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, simply titled The Wizard of Oz.

Besides being one of the highest grossing films of all time and the first American animated feature film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is also important in film history as one of the first movies in which merchandising was an important part of its marketing plan. Even before the film had been released Walt Disney planned what was then an extensive merchandising campaign for the film. A newspaper comic strip adaptation of the film, simply titled Snow White, was distributed to newspapers by King Features Syndicate from December 1937 to April 1938. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs would also be the first film to have a commercially produced soundtrack album. Among the Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs merchandise made in 1938 were radios, banks, books, dolls, games, and much more. In a New York Times editorial, "Prosperity Out of Fantasy", published on 2 May 1938, it is stated that "Figments of Disney’s imagination have already sold more than $2,000,000 worth of toys since the first of the year." Four decades before the release of Star Wars, Walt Disney pioneered movie merchandising with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

There can perhaps be no greater measure of the influence of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs than the impact the film has had on the public's perception of the original fairy tale. Indeed, in the original fairy tale as told by the Brothers Grimm, not only did the dwarfs not have names, they did not really have individual personalities either. The names by which many, perhaps most, people know the dwarfs by today (Doc, Bashful, Sleepy, et. al.) were creations of Walt Disney Productions. While Snow White's biological mother appears at the start of the fairy tale, she is entirely omitted from the film. Similarly in the fairy tale Snow White is not awakened by a kiss from the Prince, but instead by her coffin being moved (thus dislodging the piece of poisoned apple from her throat).  Disney's version also differed from the original story in many other ways. Despite this, today if someone is asked to tell the story of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs", chances are good that they will relate the Disney version rather than the Grimms' version, right down to the names of the dwarfs.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs proved phenomenally successful upon its initial release, paving the way for many animated feature films to come. It also pioneered movie merchandising years before it would become commonplace. What is more, the film continues to be popular to this day. to. Even now, seventy seven years after its release, merchandise for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is still being made. Indeed, it is quite possible that Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs could be the most famous film adaptation of a fairy tale of all time.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Happy 100th Birthday to the Great Norman Lloyd!

It was 100 years ago today that Norman Lloyd was born in  Jersey City, New Jersey. Well known for his appearances in Alfred Hitchcock's Saboteur (1942) and Spellbound (1945), Mr. Lloyd is one of our last remaining links to the Golden Age of Film. Having served as a producer (as well as director and occasional star) on Alfred Hitchcock Presents and guest starred on such shows as The United States Steel Hour and G.E. Theatre, he is one of our remaining links to the Golden Age of Television as well. Mr. Lloyd also appeared on various radio shows as well. He is then one of our remaining links to Old Time Radio as well.

Norman Lloyd began his remarkable career when he was very young. He was still a child when he first took the stage in the Twenties as a song and dance performer. He began his acting career as part of Eva Le Gallienne's Civic Repertory Theatre. He was only thirteen years old when he made his debut on Broadway in the play Crime in 1927. In the Thirties he appeared on Broadway in productions of Noah and Power before joining Orson Welles's Mercury Theatre. He appeared in the Mercury Theatre's productions of Julius Caesar and The Shoemakers' Holiday on Broadway. The Forties would be a busy time for Norman Lloyd on stage. He appeared in such productions on Broadway as Liberty Jones, Village Green, and Ask My Friend Sandy. His career on stage continued to prosper in the Fifties, during which time Mr. Lloyd appeared in such Broadway productions as King Lear; Madam, Will You Walk; and Measure for Measure. He also directed two plays on Broadway: The Golden Apple and The Taming of the Shrew.

While Norman Lloyd never appeared on Orson Welles's The Mercury Theatre on the Air, he did appear in other radio shows over the years. He appeared in Norman Corwin's radio play "The Undecided Molecule" on Columbia Presents in 1945. He also guest starred on episodes of Columbia Workshop, Suspense, and Listener's Playhouse. He later appeared in several radio plays staged by the California Artists Radio Theatre, including adaptations of Alice in Wonderland, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Major Barbara, and many others.

While Norman Lloyd has worked on both stage and radio, he is better known for his career in film, a career which is still ongoing. He made his movie debut in the short "The Forgotten Man" in 1941, only a year before his historic role as Fry in Alfred Hitchcock's classic Saboteur (1942). He worked with Mr. Hitchcock again in the director's 1945 film Spellbound. Over the years Mr. Lloyd appeared in many films, including The Unseen (1945), A Walk in the Sun (1945), Reign of Terror (1949), the 1951 remake of M, and Limelight (1952). Norman Lloyd would be introduced to new generations of fans in such films as FM (1976), The Nude Bomb (1978), and Dead Poets Society (1989). Mr. Lloyd has continued to appear in films over the years, including the short "Photosynthesis" (2005), as well as the features In Her Shoes (2005) and A Place for Heroes (2014). Next year he will appear in the Judd Apatow film Trainwreck. In addition to acting, Mr. Lloyd also directed one motion picture, A Word to the Wives... from 1955.

As well known as Mr. Lloyd is for his film career, he may be equally well known for his career in television. In fact, Mr. Lloyd appeared on television before he ever appeared in a feature film. In 1939 he appeared in an adaptation of Dion Boucicault’s The Streets of New York that aired on NBC's experimental station W2XBS in New York City on 31 August. He would return to television in the Fifties, although not initially as an actor but as a director. Mr. Lloyd directed episodes of The Adventures of Kit Carson, Chevron Theatre, and Omnibus. It was in 1957 that his friend Alfred Hitchcock brought Norman Lloyd on board his show Alfred Hitchcock Presents as an associate producer. Mr. Lloyd remained with Alfred Hitchock Presents for the rest of its run, becoming the show's producer and later executive producer when it changed to an hour long format as The Alfred Hitchcock Hour in 1962. Mr. Lloyd also directed several episodes of both Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. He even occasionally acted in episodes as well, including the classic "Design for Loving".

Norman Lloyd would prove to have an extremely successful career in television on both sides of the camera. He produced such shows as Journey to the Unknown and Tales of the Unexpected, as well as many television movies. Mr. Lloyd also continued to direct television shows after The Alfred Hitchcock Hour left the air, including episodes of Columbo and Tales of the Unexpected, as well as many television movies. Of course, most audiences are probably familiar with Mr. Lloyd from the various roles he has played as an actor in television shows over the years. He may be best known as Dr. Daniel Auschlander on St. Elsewhere, a role he played for the entire run of the show. Mr. Lloyd also played the regular role of Dr. Isaac Mentnor on the short lived sci-fi show Seven Days. Over the years Norman Lloyd guest starred on such shows as One Step Beyond, The Most Deadly Game, Night Gallery, Quincy M.E., The Paper Chase, Wiseguy, Wings, and Modern Family.

Norman Lloyd has had a remarkable career, one that is all the more remarkable in that it is still continuing even as he turns 100. He is an incredible character actor, with a range far greater than most actors, even those from the Golden Age of Film. Over the years he played nearly every sort of role an actor could play. He appeared as one of film's most iconic villains, Fry, in Hitchock's Saboteur. In his second Hitchcock film, Spellbound, he played a role about as far from Fry as one could get, that of mental patient Mr. Garmes. In  A Walk in the Sun he played the rather pessimistic Private Archimbeau. Over the years he appeared in a wide variety of genres of film. From Hitchcock thrillers to war films (A Walk in the Sun) to films noirs (Scene of the Crime) to Westerns (Calamity Jane and Sam Bass) to swashbucklers (The Flame and the Arrow). He also worked with such legendary talents as Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, and Charlie Chaplin. Regardless of what film in which he played or with whom he was working, Mr. Lloyd always delivered (and still does deliver) a great performance.

Of course, it is not enough that Norman Lloyd is a great actor. He also did great work as a producer and director in television as well. Alongside producer Joan Harrison, Norman Lloyd oversaw the day to day operations of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. He was involved in everything from the casting of episodes to the hiring of directors to the commission of scripts. Together Miss Harrison and Mr. Lloyd insured that Alfred Hitchcock Presents would be one of the greatest, if not the greatest, anthology shows of all time. The show featured scripts by such writers as Ray Bradbury, Roald Dahl, Evan Hunter, and Stirling Silliphant. The show's episodes were directed by such experienced veterans as Robert Stevenson and Don Weiss (not to mention Mr. Hitchcock himself) as well as such newcomers as Robert Altman, William Friedkin, Arthur Hiller and Sydney Pollack. Alfred Hitchcock Presents was truly one of the shining moments in the last days of the Golden Age of Television, and Norman Lloyd was much of the reason it was so great.

Having worked with some of the most legendary figures in film and having worked extensively in television, Norman Lloyd is a rich source of stories of both the Golden Ages of Film and Television. What is more, in interviews he tells these tales with both charm and wit, and with such richness of memory that it is hard to believe the events happened decades ago. What is more, Mr. Lloyd is that most rare thing in Hollywood, a true gentleman. He was married to the same woman, his beloved wife Peggy, for nearly 75 years (until her death in 2011). From those who have worked with him to those who have only met him briefly and casually, one never hears an ill word said about Mr. Lloyd. He is the sort of man who treats everyone with dignity and always has a kind word for them. In the end Norman Lloyd is more than a great talent as an actor, producer, and director. He is more than a centenarian with a incredibly rich memory. He is, quite simply, a truly good man.