Thursday, 8 December 2016

"Lucky Man" by Emerson, Lake & Palmer

Greg Lake died yesterday at age 69 from cancer. I did not have time to write a eulogy for him today, but I wanted to acknowledge his passing (I will have a eulogy for him Saturday). I thought what better way to acknowledge his death than with the first song he ever wrote. It also happens to be my favourite Emerson, Lake & Palmer song.

Greg Lake wrote "Lucky Man" when he was only twelve years old, not long after his mother had bought him a guitar. While recording their self-titled debut album, Emerson, Lake & Palmer found they were short one song. Greg Lake then played "Lucky Man" for Keith Emerson and Carl Palmer. Messrs. Emerson and Palmer did not particularly care for the song, then an acoustic ballad for guitar. It was then reworked into the form it took on the record.

"Lucky Man" would be released as a single and saw some success. It peaked at  number 48 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, and reached no. 25 in Canada. It was released again as a single in 1973 where it once more reached the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at no. 51.

Here, without further ado, is "Lucky Man" by Emerson, Lake & Palmer.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Godspeed Peter Vaughan

Prolific character actor Peter Vaughan, who appeared in TV shows from The Avengers to Porridge, as well as numerous movies, died yesterday, December 6 2016, at the age of 93.

Peter Vaughan was born Peter Ohm in Wem, Shropshire on April 4 1923. His family later moved to Wellington, Shropshire and, when he was seven years old, Staffordshire. He joined the Wolverhampton Repertory theatre after leaving school. His acting career would be interrupted by World War II. He was drafted into the British Army in 1942. He served in Belgium, Normandy, and the eastern front.

Following the war Mr. Vaughan returned to the stage. He made his television debut in 1954 in an episode of Stage by Stage. He had a recurring role on the TV series Deadline Midnight. He guest starred on such shows as Tales from Soho, BBC Sunday-Night Theatre, The Adventures of Ben Gunn, Mary Britten M.D., Saturday Playhouse, Interpol Calling, Probation Officer, Inside Story, Knight Errant Limited., and Man from Interpol. He appeared in the miniseries Potts and the Phantom Piper He made his film debut in 1959 in The 39 Steps. He appeared in the films Sapphire (1959), Village of the Damned (1960), and Make Mine Mink (1960).

In the Sixties Mr. Vaughan appeared on such miniseries as A Chance of Thunder, Oliver Twist, Quick Before They Catch Us, Great Expectations, Treasure Island, and The Gold Robbers. He guest starred on such shows as Top Secret, Richard the Lionheart, No Hiding Place, Hancock, Maupassant, Espionage, The Saint, Dixon of Dock Green, Coronation Street, Public Eye, Adam Adamant Lives!, Armchair Theatre, The Avengers, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), and Strange Report. He appeared in such films as Two Living, One Dead (1961), The Court Martial of Major Keller (1961),  Smokescreen (1964), Fanatic (1965), Rotten to the Core (1965), The Naked Runner (1967), The Man Outside (1967), The Bofors Gun (1968), Hammerhead (1968), A Twist of Sand (1968), Alfred the Great (1969), Taste of Excitement (1969), and Eyewitness (1970).

In the Seventies Peter Vaughan was one of the stars of the TV comedy Citizen Smith and had a recurring role on the TV series Fox. He appeared in three episodes of Porridge as Harry Grout (better known as Grouty). He appeared in the miniseries The Pallisers, Härte 10, The Doombolt Chase, and The Danedyke Mystery. He guest starred on such shows as The Persuaders!, The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes, The Adventurer, Thriller, The Protectors, The Sweeney, Crown Court, and The Morecambe & Wise Show. He appeared in such films as Straw Dogs (1971), The Pied Piper (1972), Savage Messiah (1972), The Blockhouse (1973), The MacKintosh Man (1973), Rappresaglia (1973), Malachi's Cove (1973), 11 Harrowhouse (1974), Valentino (1977), Zulu Dawn (1979), and Porridge (1979).

In the Eighties Peter Vaughan appeared in the films Time Bandits (1981), The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981), The Razor's Edge (1984), Forbidden (1984), Brazil (1985), Haunted Honeymoon (1986), Mountains of the Moon (1990), and  King of the Wind (1990). He appeared in the miniseries Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years, Bleak House, Codename: Kyril, The Bourne Identity, and War and Remembrance.

In the Nineties Mr. Vaughan was a regular on the TV series Chancer, Dandelion Dead, The Choir, and Our Friend in the North. He appeared in Our Mutual Friend and The 10th Kingdom. He guest starred on The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes, Boon, Lovejoy, and Nightingales. He appeared in the films The Remains of the Day (1993), The Secret Agent (1996), The Crucible (1996), Face (1997), The Good Son (1998), Les Misérables (1998), The Legend of 1900 (1998), An Ideal Husband (1999), and Hotel Splendide (2000).

In the Naughts Peter Vaughan had a regular role on the TV series The Jury. He guest starred on Casualty, Heartbeat, Lark Rise to Candleford, and Holby Blue. He appeared in the films The Mother (2003), The Life and Death of Peter Sellers (2004), The Queen of Sheba's Pearls (2004), Care (2006), Death at a Funeral (2007), and Is Anybody There? (2008).

In the Teens Peter Vaughan appeared in the film Ablatross (2011). He guest starred on Silk and Doc Martin. He had a recurring role on Game of Thrones.

Peter Vaughan was a remarkable actor with incredible range. He could play a wide variety of roles and play them well. In Straw Dogs he played the rather violent town drunk Tom Hedden. In Death at a Funeral he played Uncle Alfie, a crusty but somewhat neurotic old man. In Fanatic he played the ill-fated servant Harry. Mr. Vaughan even played Bondian villains, starring as the title character in Hammehead. His television roles were no less diverse. In the Avengers episode "My Wildest Dream", he played Dr. A. Jaeger, the head of a clinic who may well be programming people to commit murder in their sleep. Of course, on Porridge he played Grouty, the master schemer who seems to have control over everything that goes on in the prison. He played a wide variety of literary characters on television, including Bill Sikes in Oliver Twist, Mr. Jaggers in Great Expectations, and Long John Silver in Treasure Island. Peter Vaughan appeared in a wide variety of roles and played nearly all of them well.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Godspeed Van Williams

Van Williams, the star of the Sixties TV series The Green Hornet as well as Bourbon Street Beat and Surfside 6, died on November 28 2016 at the age of 82. The cause was renal failure.

Van Williams was born on February 27 1934 in Fort Worth, Texas. His family owned a cattle ranch and he grew up working the ranch. Curiously, despite being an actual cowboy, he was never cast in many Westerns. He studied animal husbandry and business at Texas Christian University. His television debut came in 1954 where he played Exton's servant in a Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation of King Richard III.

He later moved to Hawaii where he worked as a driving instructor. It was there in 1957 that he was discovered by producer Mike Todd. Mr. Todd encouraged him to move to Hollywood to pursue an acting career. He guest starred in an episode of General Electric Theatre before being signed by Warner Bros. His first work at Warner Bros. was a guest appearance in the Western Lawman. This was followed by a guest appearance on Colt .45. He was then cast as one of the leads, Ken Madison, in the short-lived detective Bourbon Street Beat, one of the many clones of 77 Sunset Strip that Warner Bros. made. He made his film debut in an uncredited role in Tall Story (1960).

After Bourbon Street Beat was cancelled, Van Williams reprised his role as Ken Madison in the new detective series Surfside 6 (yet another clone of 77 Sunset Strip). The series ran for two seasons. He also guest starred on such shows as Cheyenne, 77 Sunset Strip (once as Ken Madison), The Gallant Men, Hawaiian  Eye, and Temple Houston. In 1964 he played the one of the leads in the series The Tycoon. He also appeared in the theatrical short "Red Nightmare" and the feature film The Caretakers (1963).

Immediately prior to being cast in The Green Hornet, Van Williams guest starred on The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Beverly Hillbillies. He also provided the voice of the President in the feature film Batman (1966). It was in 1966 that The Green Hornet debuted. It starred Van Williams as the title character and Bruce Lee as his valet Kato. Unlike its sister show, Batman, The Green Hornet was played entirely straight. While the series received low ratings in its initial network run, it developed a cult following. It would prove to be one of the few single season shows to have a fairly good run as a syndicated rerun. As The Green Hornet, Van Williams made a "Batclimb" cameo and later guest starred on a two-part Batman episode alongside Bruce Lee as Kato. He also appeared on The Milton Berle Show as The Green Hornet. Van Williams closed out the Sixties with guest appearances on The Big Valley; Mannix; Love, American Style; and Nanny and the Professor.

In the Seventies Van Williams guest starred on Ironside, Mission: Impossible; Apple's Way, Gunsmoke, The Manhunter, The Streets of San Francisco, Tales of the Unexpected, Barnaby Jones, Mrs. Columbo, and The Rockford Files. He appeared in the mini-series How the West Was Won and Centennial.  He starred in the short-lived show Westwind and had a recurring role on The Red Hand Gang. Afterwards Mr. Williams more or less retired from acting. His final appearance was in Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story (1993), on which he played a director on The Green Hornet.

Following Van Williams's acting career he served as a reserve deputy sheriff at the Malibu station of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and a volunteer fire fighter.

Dark haired and handsome, Van Williams seemed born to play heroic roles. There should be little wonder that he played a succession of such roles from the Fifties to the Seventies. He was well suited to playing a detective like Ken Madison or a superhero like The Green Hornet.  That is not to say that Mr. Williams could not play more complex characters. In the Cheyenne episode 'Vengeance is Mine" he played a friend of Cheyenne Bodie who was determined to take revenge on those who had wronged him. In the 77 Sunset Strip episode "The Tarnished Idol" he played an outright villain--one half of a brother and sister team of grifters. Van Williams made a great hero, so much so that for many he will always be The Green Hornet, but he was quite capable of playing other roles s well.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Agnes Moorehead's Radio Career

Agnes Moorehead and her 1953
Golden Mike Award
Today Agnes Moorehead is best known as Endora on the classic TV show Bewitched. When people think of her other roles, they might think of Mary Kane from Citizen Kane (1941) or Fanny from The Magnificent Ambersons (1942). That having been said, Agnes Moorehead had a whole career of which many people today have no knowledge. Agnes Moorehead played primarily supporting characters in film, but on radio she was a bona fide star.

Agnes Moorehead's radio career began before she was even famous, while she still called St. Louis her home. In the Twenties she was a singer on radio station KMOX. in St. Louis. She moved to New York City in the early Thirties. Her first major role on radio came in 1935 when she was cast as Min Gump on The Gumps, a radio show based on the popular comic strip of the same name. It was not long afterwards that she became part of the repertory company of the classic radio show March of Time. It was through March of Time that Agnes Moorehead met a young actor named Orson Welles. When Orson Welles and John Hoseman formed the Mercury Theatre in 1937, Agnes Moorehead became a part of it.

The year 1937 would prove significant for Agnes Moorhead beyond the formation of the Mercury Theatre. It was on September 26 1937 that the radio drama The Shadow debuted. Orson Welles played the title character for its first year. Agnes Moorehead played Margo Lane, The Shadow's female associate who knew his secret identity. She played the role until 1940. In 1937 she also appeared in a radio play based on Alice Through the Looking Glass that aired on Columbia Workshop.

As part of the Mercury Theatre, Agnes Moorehead would quite naturally appear on The Mercury Theatre on the Air. CBS asked Orson Welles for a summer show that would last thirteen weeks. Debuting on July 11 1938, it was initially titled First Person Singular. It was only after a few months that it was renamed The Mercury Theatre on the Air.  Agnes Moorehead appeared in many of the radio plays on The Mercury Theatre on the Air, including Dracula and Treasure Island. In 1939, when The Mercury Theatre on the Air became The Campbell Playhouse, Agnes Moorehead continued to appear on the show. She appeared in such radio plays on The Campbell Playhouse as Our Town, The Count of Monte Cristo, Liliom, and Vanity Fair.

Nineteen forty saw Agnes Moorehead appearing regularly on Cavalcade of America. On the show she appeared on such productions as "Susan B. Anthony", "Wild Bill Hickock", "The Farmer Takes a Wife", and "Will Rogers". She continued to appear on Cavalcade of America into 1941. The Forties would be an active time for Agnes Moorehead. In 1941 she briefly played Maggie on the short-lived show Bringing Up Father, based on the famous comic strip of the same name. That same year she guest starred on Jungle Jim. From 1942 to 1949 she played Marilly, the housekeeper of the unnamed mayor (played by Lionel Barrymore) on the show Mayor of the Town.

While Agnes Moorehead was one of the stars of the gentle comedy Mayor of the Town, it would be for the mystery and suspense genre that she would become best known in radio. She was a frequent guest star on the legendary radio show Suspense, appearing in such episodes as "Sorry, Wrong Number", "Post Mortem", "The Screaming Woman", and "The Evil of Adelaide Winters". She also appeared on many other mystery/suspense programmes. She appeared in an adaptation of The Lodger on Mystery in the Air in 1947. She also appeared on several episodes of Inner Sanctum Mysteries.

Agnes Moorehead continued to appear on radio throughout the Fifties, even as television was taking its toll on the medium's popularity. She continued to appear on Suspense and Inner Sanctum Mysteries, as well as such shows as Hallmark Hall of Fame, Anthology, NBC Radio Theatre, and Beyond Our Ken. Her last appearance on Suspense was fittingly enough another adaptation of "Sorry, Wrong Number" in 1960.

With the growing popularity of television in the Fifties, the days of Old Time Radio were numbered.  Of the networks CBS held out the longest. It aired its last radio dramas for some time on September 30 1962. Fittingly enough, Suspense was the final radio show aired for quite a while, preceded by Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar.

Radio drama would not remain dead in the United States, however, as it saw a revival in the Seventies. On January 6 1974 CBS Radio Mystery Theatre debuted. The show was created by legendary radio producer Himan Brown. Fittingly enough, the very first episode starred the Queen of Radio Suspense, Agnes Moorehead. It was "The Old Ones Are Hard to Kill". Miss Moorehead starred in another episode, "The Ring of Truth", a few weeks later, on January 26 1974. Sadly, it would be her last appearance on radio. Agnes Moorehead died only a few months later, on April 30 1974.

Agnes Moorehead had a remarkably long career in radio, spanning from 1926 to 1974. Through the years she played a number of great roles on the medium and worked with some of the best actors in radio. Over the years she worked with such legends as Orson Welles, Everett Sloane, Ida Lupino, Lionel Barrymore, and many others. While Agnes Moorehead's radio career has been largely forgotten by all but Old Time Radio fans, there is every reason it should be better known.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Godspeed Andrew Sachs

Andrew Sachs, perhaps best known for playing Manuel on Fawlty Towers, died on November 23 2016 at the age of 86. The cause was vascular dementia.

Andrew Sachs was born in Berlin on April 7 1930. Being Jewish, his family fled Germany for Britain in 1938 and moved to Kilburn, London.  Mr. Sachs made his film debut in a bit part in Hue and Cry in 1947 and appeared in The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby that same year. In the Fifties he appeared on radio shows, including Fredrick Bradnum's Private Dreams and Public Nightmares. He appeared in repertory theatre and made his debut on the West End in 1958 in Simple Spymen. He made his television debut in an episode of BBC Sunday-Night Theatre in 1958. He also appeared in an episode of Dial 999. He appeared in the film The Night We Dropped a Clanger (1959).

In the Sixties Andrew Sachs was one of the stars of the TV programme The Six Proud Walkers and also starred on Mr. Toby's Christmas. He guest starred on such shows as BBC Night-Play, The Saint, Espionage, Intrigue, Hugh and I Spy, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), and Callan. He appeared in the film Nothing Barred (1961). He provided the voice of Andreco in the English language version of Astérix le Gaulois (1967).

It was in 1975 that Andrew Sachs first played Manual on Fawlty Towers. He remained with the show for both of its two series and in 1980 was nominated for a BAFTA Award for Best Light Entertainment Performance for the role. In the Seventies he also starred on The History of Mr. Polly on television. He guest starred on The Sound of Laughter, The Basil Brush Show, Send in the Girls, Crown Court, Rising Damp, and Lovely Couple. He appeared in the films Hitler: The Last Ten Days (1973), Romance with a Double Bass (1974), Frightmare (1974), House of Mortal Sin (1976), Are You Being Served? (1977), What's Up Nurse! (1978), and Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978).

In the Eighties Mr. Sachs starred on the TV programmes Dead Ernest, It'll All Be Over in Half an Hour, and There Comes a Time. He guest starred on Artists and Models and Bergerac. He appeared in the films History of the World: Part I (1981) and Consuming Passions (1988). He reprised the voice of Ardeco in the English language version of Astérix et le coup du menhir (1989).

In the Nineties Andrew Sachs starred on the TV programme Every Silver Lining and had a recurring role on Jack of Hearts. He guest starred on Woof!, The Gingerbread Man, The Mushroom Picker, Minder, Horizon, and Silent Witness. He appeared in the films The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1993), Taxandria (1994), and Dead Clean (1998). He provided voices for the films Lesson Faust (1994), and The Forgotten Toys (1995).

In the Naughts he appeared in the films Nirgendwo in Afrika (2001), Cheeky (2003), Benjamin's Struggle (2005), and The 10th Man (2006). He starred on the TV series Coronation Street. He guest starred on Silent Witness, Doctors, Holby City, The Bill, Casualty, and Going Postal. In the Teens he appeared in the films Run for Your Wife (2012), Quartet (2012), and Breaking the Bank (2014). He provided the voice of the Mantel Clock in Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016). He guest starred on EastEnders and appeared in the mini-series Spies of Warsaw.

I rather suspect Andrew Sachs will always be remembered as Manuel on Fawlty Towers. It was arguably the role of a life time. Manuel was clumsy and rather bumbling, and yet he always retained a positive outlook, even as he worked for the detestable Basil Fawlty. Of course, Andrew Sachs's performance as Manuel is one of the best examples of his sheer talent as an actor. I rather suspect many viewers did not realise the actor playing the Spanish waiter was actually German in birth. The fact is that Andrew Sachs was a master of accents and could play a wide variety of roles. Over the years he played Frenchmen, Russians, Scotsmen, Germans, and characters of many other nationalities. He played Walter Wagner, Hercule Poirot, and Albert Einstein. There should be little wonder that he did a good deal of voice work for animated films and TV shows, as he could make his voice do nearly anything. Andrew Sachs was an enormous talent, and Manuel was only one remarkable role out of many he played in his career.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Valerie Gaunt Passes On

Valerie Gaunt, best known for her appearances in The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and Dracula (1958), died on November 27 2016 at the age of 84.

Valerie Gaunt was born in  Stratford-on-Avon, Warwickshire on July 9 1932. She attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and graduated in 1951. Her acting career would be brief. She made her television debut in 1956 in an episode of Dixon of Dock Green. That same year she appeared in an episode of ITV Television Playhouse. In 1957 she made her film debut in The Curse of Frankenstein. She played Victor Frankenstein's ill-fated maid Justine. In 1958 she appeared in Dracula, playing a Bride of Dracula who bites Jonathan Harker. Afterwards she married and retired from acting.

While Valerie Gaunt's career was exceedingly short, she will be always be remembered for her appearances in The Curse of Frankenstein and Dracula. She did well as Justine, the maid whose dalliance with Victor Frankenstein proves to be her undoing. Her brief role in Dracula also earned her a place in film history. She is the first vampire in a Hammer film to bear her fangs. While her career may have been brief, she will be always be remembered by Hammer fans.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Grant Tinker R.I.P.

Grant Tinker, who was co-founder of MTM Enterprises (the company responsible for such classics as The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Bob Newhart) and who served as chairman and CEO of NBC from 1981 to 1986, died on November 28 2016 at the age of 90.

Grant Tinker was born on January 11 1926 in Stamford, Connecticut. During World War II he served in the United States Army Air Corps. He received a Bachelor of Arts in English from Dartmouth in 1949. Afterwards he became an executive trainee in NBC's radio operations department. He left in 1954 to work in advertising, first at McCann-Erickson and then at  Benton & Bowles. It while he was at Benton & Bowles that he helped develop The Dick Van Dyke Show for Procter & Gamble Co.

In 1961 Grant Tinker joined NBC as its vice president in charge of West Coast programming. There he developed such shows as Dr. Kildare, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and I Spy. In the late Sixties he left NBC for Universal and then 20th Century Fox. It was in 1969 that he founded MTM Enterprises with his wife of the time, actress Mary Tyler Moore.

MTM Enterprises would prove to be one of the most successful television companies of all time. Its first series, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, prove to be a smash hit. It would be followed by such successes as The Bob Newhart Show, Lou Grant, WKRP in Cincinnati. Hill Street Blues, Remington Steele, St. Elsewhere, and Newhart. In 1981 Grant Tinker and Mary Tyler Moore divorced, and Mr. Tinker left MTM Enterprises to become chairman and CEO of NBC.

When Grant Tinker rejoined NBC it was the lowest rated network on television. Grant Tinker approached programming on NBC with the philosophy of "First be best; then be first." He nurtured the creative talent on shows, giving them room to do their work and protecting them from studio executives who might want to meddle with their shows. Grant Tinker's programming philosophy worked out and turned NBC around. While Mr. Tinker was chairman and CEO of NBC, the network's annual profits went from $48 million to $500 million. Several classic, hit shows made their debut on NBC during his tenure there, including Hill Street Blues,Cheers, Night Court, St. Elsewhere, and The Golden Girls.

After General Electric bought out RCA, NBC's parent company, in 1986, Grant Tinker left the network. He founded GTG Entertainment with media conglomerate Gannet. Unfortunately GTG Entertainment was not successful and folded in 1990.

Grant Tinker was remarkable in that he is one of the few network executives of whom one hears producers and writers speak fondly. Both Steve Bochco, creator of Hill Street Blues, and Gary Golderberg, creator of Family Ties, acknowledged how Mr. Tinker nurtured creators. Grant Tinker's approach certainly paid off, as NBC went from being the lowest rated network at the time to the highest rated network. Of course, Grant Tinker had earlier put his philosophy to work at MTM, where he created an environment that resulted in a whole slough of quality, hit shows. Grant Tinker was blessed with an eye for talent, the ability to nurture that talent, as well as an instinct for quality shows that audiences would actually watch.