Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Walt Disney's Mary Poppins's 50th Anniversary

It was 50 years ago today that the classic Walt Disney musical Mary Poppins premiered in Los Angeles, California. Upon its release the film proved to a phenomenal success. It grossed  $28.5 million, making it the top box office film for 1964. Mary Poppins was not simply a financial success, however, as it also received a good deal of critical acclaim. The film also received a number of awards, including five Oscars (it was nominated for a total of 13) and one BAFTA award among many others. Today it is not only regarded as a classic, but as one of the greatest musicals of all time.

The character of Mary Poppins originated in the 1934 novel Mary Poppins by poet, actress, and journalist P. L. Travers. Mary Poppins proved successful and was followed by another novel, Mary Poppins Comes Back, in 1935. Ultimately there would be six more Mary Poppins books, published from 1943 to 1988. With the success of the very first book P. L. Travers started receiving offers from movie executives for the film rights. For various reasons P. L. Travers turned down most of the offers to adapt Mary Poppins over the years. Eventually she did accept one, but it was not from the ever-persistent Walt Disney. Instead the offer she accepted was from the American network CBS-TV. Ultimately the network aired a live adaptation of Mary Poppins as an episode of their prestigious anthology show Studio One. The episode starred Mary Wickes as Mary Poppins and E. G. Marshall as George Banks. Julie Andrews was then not the first actress to portray Mary Poppins.

Of course, Walt Disney was among the number of movie executives eager to adapt Mary Poppins to film. It was in 1944 that his brother and fellow executive Roy Disney visited P. L. Travers about adapting the books as a motion picture. At the time Walt Disney would be rebuffed, but he remained persistent. On and off for the next sixteen years Mr Disney enquired about the rights to Mary Poppins. With the royalties to her books declining, it was in 1960 that P. L. Travers finally agreed to sell the film rights to Walt Disney.

To write the songs for the film Mary Poppins Walt Disney looked to brothers  Robert B. Sherman and  Richard M. Sherman. Over the years the Sherman Brothers (as they were collectively known) would not only write the songs for Mary Poppins, but those for many other Walt Disney films as well as songs for the Disney theme parks. For the all important role of Mary Poppins, Walt Disney cast actress Julie Andrews. Miss Andrews already had an extensive career on stage, having appeared in The Boy Friend and My Fair Lady. Walt Disney decided upon her when he saw her on Broadway in Camelot. For Julie Andrews there were only two problems with taking the role of Mary Poppins. The first was that she was three months pregnant at the time. Walt Disney told her that they could simply delay production until after she had the baby. The second was that Warner Bros. was producing a film adaptation of My Fair Lady. Julie Andrews had originated the role of Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady on both the West End and Broadway. It was possible, then, that she might be cast in the role for the film. Miss Andrews was concerned that she could back out of Mary Poppins if she was cast in the role of Eliza in the film version of My Fair Lady. As it turned out Jack Warner chose superstar Audrey Hepburn over Julie Andrews because Miss Andrews was not yet a household name. Walt Disney then had his Mary Poppins.

Mary Poppins proved to be an unqualified success upon its initial release. The film proved a huge success at box office. As mentioned earlier, it became the highest grossing film of 1964 (ironically, among the films it out-grossed was the one for which Julie Andrews had been passed up, My Fair Lady). It also received overwhelmingly positive reviews. In The New York Times Bosley Crowther referred to it as "...the nicest entertainment that has opened at the Music Hall this year (the "Music Hall" to which he is referring is Radio City Music Hall--Terence)." In The Miami Times Herb Kelly wrote that Mary Poppins "...is everything one could ask for in the way of entertainment and Walt Disney's magic touch is everywhere."As mentioned earlier, Mary Poppins also won a number of awards, including quite a few Oscars.

Of course, while audiences and critics loved Mary Poppins, there was one very notable person who did not. Author P. L. Travers actually disliked the film and objected to many aspects of it. She was upset that the Mary Poppins in the film was a much cheerier character than the somewhat cold and intimidating nanny of her books. She also disliked the use of animation in the film, something to which she had objected from the very beginning. According to Richard Sherman, P. L. Travers even hated the songs in the film. P. L. Travers disliked the film adaptation of Mary Poppins enough that she left the premiere in tears. Afterwards she would never again allow any of the Mary Poppins stories to be adapted to the screen or television.

While P. L. Travers hated the film, it is clear from the past fifty years that many people have loved Mary Poppins. It is not only counted as one of Walt Disney's finest achievements, but among the greatest musicals of the Sixties. In a survey conducted in the United Kingdom  in 2009 by the biscuit/cookie brand Oreo, Mary Poppins topped the list of the best family films, beating out even The Wizard of Oz and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The character of Mary Poppins ranked #41 in a list of the "100 Greatest Movie Characters" compiled by Empire magazine. In 2013 the Library of Congress selected Mary Poppins for inclusion in the National Film Registry. Over the years Mary Poppins has come to be regarded as a classic and there can be no doubt it will continue to be regarded as such for a long time to come.

Monday, 25 August 2014

The Late Great Richard Attenborough, Baron Attenborough

Legendary actor, director, and producer Richard Attenborough, Baron Attenborough, CBE died yesterday at the age of 90.

Richard Attenborough was born on 29 August 1923 in Cambridge. His father was scholar Frederick Attenborough, who was a fellow at Emmanuel College, Cambridge and later principal of University College, Leicester from 1932 to 1951, as well as the editor and translator of The Laws of the Earliest English Kings Æthelberht I to Æthelstan and author of Cities in Sonnets. His mother was Mary Attenborough (née Clegg), one of the founders of  the Marriage Guidance Council. Lord Attenborough had two younger brothers, naturalist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough and motor trade executive John Attenborough (who preceded Lord Attenborough in death on 9 November 1912).  In 1939 the Attenboroughs took in  Helga and Irene Bejach (aged 9 and 11 respectively), German-Jewish refugees. The girls lived with the Attenboroughs and were adopted by the family when it was learned that their parents had been killed in the war.

Lord Attenborough was educated at Wyggeston and Queen Elizabeth I College in Leicester. From an early age his parents cultivated in him a love of music and art. It was in 1935 when he saw Charlie Chaplin's film The Gold Rush that he decided to pursue acting as a career. Richard Attenborough left school at age 16 when he won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. There he met his future wife, Sheila Sim. Sheila Sim had her own acting career prior to retiring to raise their family. Lord Attenborough made his stage debut in Ah, Wilderness! in 1941. He made his film debut the following year, appearing as a sailor who deserted in Noël Coward's In Which We Serve. He appeared in the films It Started at Midnight (1943) and The Hundred Pound Window (1944).

In 1943 Lord Attenborough joined the Royal Air Force.  During World War II he served in the RAF Film Unit as a cameraman. He shot footage from the rear gunner's position of aeroplanes during the RAF Bomber Command's various missions. It was while serving in the RAF that Lord Attenborough sustained permanent ear damage. Following the war Lord Attenborough returned to acting on both stage and in film.

It was in 1947 that Richard Attenborough appeared in his breakthrough role in Brighton Rock playing Pinkie Brown, a role he had earlier played at the Garrick Theatre on the West End in 1942. During the mid to late Forties Lord Attenborough also appeared in such films as Think It Over (1945), Journey Together (1945), A Matter of Life and Death (1946), School for Secrets (1946), The Man Within (1947), Dancing with Crime (1947), Dulcimer Street (1948) , Boys in Brown (1949), and Morning Departure (1960). He made his television debut in 1950 in an episode of BBC Sunday-Night Theatre.

Richard Attenborough was extremely prolific in the Fifties, acting both in films and on stage. Previously best known for his dramatic roles, Lord Attenborough demonstrated that he had a talent for comedy as well, playing Private Cox in the comedy Private's Progress (1956).  He appeared in more comedies, including The Baby and the Battleship (1956), Brothers in Law (1957), and I'm All Right Jack (1957). Among his notable dramatic roles were those of the title character, Peter Watson, in The Man Upstairs (1958) and Lt. Lexy in The League of Gentlemen (1960). Throughout the decade Lord Attenborough appeared in such films as The Magic Box (1951), Father's Doing Fine (1952), Eight O'Clock Walk (1954), The Ship That Died of Shame (1955), The Scamp (1957), Dunkirk (1958), Danger Within (1959), and Upgreen - And at 'Em (1960).

In the late Fifties Richard Attenborough and fellow actor Bryan Forbes founded the production company Allied Film Makers (AFM) with director Basil Dearden and actor Jack Hawkins. AFM produced the League of Gentlemen before Richard Attenborough and Bryan Forbes went on to form their own production company, Beaver Films, in 1959.  Beaver Films' first movie was The Angry Silence (1960) in which Lord Attenborough played the lead. Bryan Forbes wrote the film's screenplay. In 1952 Richard Attenborough and his wife Sheila Sim were part of the original cast of the stage play The Mousetrap. It would go on to become the longest running stage production ever. During the Fifties he also appeared  in Double Image at the Savoy on the West End and  The Rape of the Belt at the Grand Theatre in Leeds

The Sixties would see Richard Attenborough prospering in his career as an actor and a producer, as well as his directorial debut. In 1963 he appeared in what might be his best known role, that of Sqn. Ldr. Roger Bartlett, "Big X" in The Great Escape. Lord Attenborough received the BAFTA Award for Best Actor for another war film, Guns at Batasi (1964). He appeared opposite Shirley MacLaine in the comedy film The Bliss of Mrs. Blossom (1968). Among his most notable roles was in a film that he and Bryan Forbes produced and that also marked Mr. Forbes's directorial debut. In Séance on a Wet Afternoon (1964) Richard Attenborough played Billy, the asthmatic husband of medium Myra Savage (played by Kim Stanley). In the Sixties Mr. Forbes also appeared in such films as Only Two Can Play (1962), All Night Long (1962), The Third Secret (1964), The Sand Pebbles (1966), Doctor Dolittle (1967), The Magic Christian (1969), and Loot (1970).

In the Sixties in addition to Séance on a Wet Afternoon , Richard Attenborough and Bryan Forbes also produced Whistle Down the Wind (1961), starring Hayley Mills, and The L-Shaped Room (1962), which was directed by Bryan Forbes. Richard Attenborugh made his directorial debut in 1969 with the musical Oh! What a Lovely War, starring Sir Dirk Bogarde and Phyllis Calvert.

In the Seventies Richard Attenborough's acting career slowed as he began concentrating more on direction and production. In 1971 he played a role very different from any he had before, playing real life serial killer John Christie in 10 Rillington Place. He also played Judge Arthur Cannon  in the 1974 version of Ten Little Indians. During the Seventies he appeared in such films as Brannigan (1975), Rosebud (1975), Conduct Unbecoming (1975), The Chess Players (1977), and The Human Factor (1979). He directed three films in the Seventies. Young Winston (1972) starred Simon Ward as a young Winston Churchill. A Bridge Too Far  was an epic war film of the sort Richard Attenborough had often appeared, starring Sir Dirk Bogarde, James Caan, and Michael Caine. Magic (1978) was a psychological thriller starring Sir Anthony Hopkins and Ann-Margret.

In the Eighties Richard Attenborough focused on his career as a director He directed the historical epic Gandhi (1982), starring Sir Ben Kingsley in the title role, an adaptation of the Broadway musical A Chorus Line (1985), and the anti-apartheid film Cry Freedom (1987). Gandhi won several Oscars, including Best Picture and a Best Director award for Lord Attenborough, several BAFTA Awards.

In the Nineties Richard Attenborough returned to acting. Most notably, he appeared in Jurassic Park (1993) as John Hammond, owner of the theme park of the title. He also appeared as Sir William Cecil in Elizabeth (1998). In addition to these films, Lord Attenborough appeared in the films Miracle on 34th Street (1994), E=mc2 (1996), Hamlet (1996), and The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997). On television he appeared in a 2000 adaptation of The Railway Children and a 1999 adaptation of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. He provided a voice for the animated series Tom and Vicky.

Lord Attenborough continued to direct in the Nineties. His 1992 film Chaplin centred on Charlie Chaplin (played by Robert Downey Jr.) and was nominated for three Academy Awards. Shadowlands (1993) portrayed the romance between C. S. Lewis (Anthony Hopkins) and American poet Joy Gresham (Debra Winger). In Love and War (1996) was an adaptation of the book Hemingway in Love and War by Henry S. Villard and James Nagel while The Grey Owl (1999) was a biopic about Archibald Belaney (Pierce Brosnan), a British man who reinvented himself as a Native trapper in Canada.

In the Naughts Richard Attenborough appeared in the television film Jack and the Beanstalk: The Real Story and the movie Puckoon (2002). His last acting work was a voice in Tres en el camino. His last directorial work was the film Closing the Ring (2007).

Richard Attenborough, Baron Attenborough was also active in many charities and organisations. He was president of the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign for 33 years In 2012 the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign established the Richard Attenborough Fellowship Fund in his honour. Over the years he supported a vast number of groups and causes, including the British Film Institute, Capitol Radio, Channel 4, the Chelsea Football Club, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, the Tate Gallery,  UNICEF, and United World Colleges. In 1998 he was elected Chancellor of the University of Sussex and held the position until he stepped down in 2008.

There can be no doubt that Richard Attenborough was one of the greatest British actors of the 20th Century. He had an incredible range and could play nearly any role given him. This is perhaps best demonstrated by looking at two of his best known roles. He may be most famous as Sqn. Ldr. Roger Bartlett, "Big X", the leader of the escape in The Greate Escape. Watching The Great Escape one would never know that in many of his earlier war films Lord Attenborough had played deserters and cowards. Bartlett was calm, cool, collected, intelligent and brave, and possessed a conscience as to what the escape would mean. His portrayal of Bartlett is a sharp contrast to Billy in Séance on a Wet Afternoon. It is not simply that Billy is asthmatic and not particularly healthy. He is almost entirely ineffective, remaining a bundle of nerves throughout most of the movie. Even when a film was not particularly good (a prime example being the wholly unnecessary remake of Miracle on 34th Street), Richard Attenborough always delivered a great performance. Over the years he played many military men, but also a juvenile delinquent (Boys in Brown), a taxi driver (Eight O'Clock Walk), a serial killer (10 Rillington Place), and a scientist turned theme park owner (Jurassic Park).

It was not enough that Lord Attenborough was one of the great British actors of the 20th Century, he was also one of the best British directors of the 20th Century as well. As a director he had an amazing eye for detail, a talent that benefited him whether he was directing small, personal scenes as those in Shadowlands or massive scenes with many extras as those in Gandhi. He was also adept at making extremely moving films. In the late 20th Century when Hollywood seemed increasingly interested only in shallow, plot driven blockbusters, Lord Attenborough made films that hearkened back to such British directors as Carol Reed and David Lean. His films were always driven by their characters rather than plots, and I have to suspect most audiences found it difficult not to have an emotional investment in them.

It was not enough that Richard Attenborough was an extremely talented actor and director, he also appears to have been a true gentleman. He was one of those few people in the film industry about whom one never hears a bad word.  Indeed, as a director he was known not only for treating his stars with respect, but even the extras on his films. While one might hear stories of none too nice behaviour from other actors and directors, one only hears stories of Lord Attenborough's kindness and thoughtfulness towards others. Richard Attenborough was well known for addressing everyone as "Darling". He always said it was because he easily forgot names, but one has to suspect that perhaps it was because he truly cared about other people. Quite simply, to Lord Attenborough, a true gentleman and a truly kind man, we were all "darling. "

Friday, 22 August 2014

Shared Universes Before the Marvel Cinematic Universe

If you are fan of comic books or superhero movies, chances are good you have heard of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The  Marvel Cinematic Universe is the fictional universe in which the films and TV shows based on various Marvel Comics characters, produced initially by Paramount and later by Disney, are set. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is a prime example of what is known as a "shared universe" A shared universe is a fictional reality that includes contributions from multiple creators. Examples of other shared universes are the Star Wars Expanded Universe (in which the Star Wars films, books, comic books, et. al. take place) and the Star Trek Universe (which consists of the original series, its sequel series, and the movies spun off from those series).

The media in general have made much of the success of the films set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Certainly such success is unusual. That having been said, the existence of a shared universe, even one in film and television, is not terribly unusual. Indeed, there were shared universes in film and television well before the Star Wars Expanded Universe and the Star Trek Universe. Indeed, it appears that at least one shared universe might pre-date the medium of comic books where it is sometimes assumed the concept of shared universes originated.

Indeed, one of the earliest shared universes is often referred to as the "Cthulhu Mythos" or the "Lovecraft Mythos". Arguably starting with his story "Dagon" (published in 1919), H. P. Lovecraft developed his own world with its own mythos in which his stories were largely set. Eventually many of the writers with whom Mr. Lovecraft corresponded (including Robert Bloch, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, and so on) would introduce elements of the Cthulhu Mythos into their own stories. During H. P. Lovecraft's lifetime the Cthulhu Mythos was never systematised or formalised, but following his death writer August Derleth would set about a systematisation of what he termed "the Cthulhu Mythos". Since then writers from J. Ramsey Campbell to Stephen King have written stories set in the shared universe that originated with H. P. Lovecraft.

Of course, in the early to mid-20th Century the concept of a shared universe would have its biggest impact on the medium of comic books. In  fact, the origins of the Marvel Universe go all the way back to Marvel Mystery Comics #9 (July 1940), in which the Human Torch met and battled The Sub-Mariner. It was the first major crossover in the history of comic books. Of course, while Marvel Mystery Comics #9 established that the Human Torch and The Sub-Mariner existed in the same world, it said nothing of the other characters published by what would become Marvel Comics.

This would be a stark contrast to All Star Comics #3 (Winter 1940-1941), which featured the first appearance of the very first superhero team in the history of comic books, the Justice Society of America. The characters who belonged to the Justice Society of America were all published by All-American Comics and National Comics, two of the companies that would lead to the DC Comics we now know. Quite simply, All Star Comics #3 marked the beginning of the DC Universe, in which Superman, Batman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, and all the other characters published by All-American Comics and National Comics (and later DC Comics) existed. Other comic book companies, from Fawcett (publisher of Captain Marvel and Spy Smasher) to Marvel would soon follow suit.

While shared universes would play a major role in comic books, that is not to say that they would not play a role in film prior to the Seventies. In fact, one of the earliest shared universes may have been that of Hal Roach Studios. Hal Roach Studios is perhaps most famous for its various comedy shorts, including the Laurel & Hardy shorts, the "Our Gang" shorts, the Thelma Todd and Zasu Pitts shorts (later Thelma Todd was teamed with Patsy Kelly), and so on. It was from a very early period that characters from one series of shorts might make a cameo or even a longer appearance in another series of shorts. Indeed, it was in the 1927 Charley Chase short ""Now I'll Tell One" that Laurel & Hardy appeared. Laurel & Hardy would also appear in the 1931 Thelma Todd and Zasu Pitts short "On the Loose". Of course, here it must be pointed out that the Hal Roach shorts did not have any sort of real continuity and such crossovers were rare, so some may argue against there even being a shared "Hal Roach Universe".

While some may might argue against the characters of the Hal Roach comedy shorts existing in the same universe, there can be no doubt that the Universal Monsters share the same reality. Universal made its first horror film in 1913 (when the company was still called Independent Moving Pictures Company), an adaptation of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. Later in the Silent Era Universal would have success with adaptations of The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) and  The Phantom of the Opera (1925). The studio would follow the success of those films with such movies as The Cat and the Canary (1927) and The Man Who Laughs (1928).

While Universal had a great deal of success with horror during the Silent Era, however, it was two films made at the advent of Sound Era that would cement the studio's association with the horror genre. Dracula (1931) and Frankenstein (1931) proved to be such phenomenal successes that they not only led Universal to make more horror films, but nearly every studio in Hollywood over the next several years. This cycle towards horror movies (which I refer to as "the first Golden Age of Horror Movies") wound down in 1936. It was in 1939 that Universal resumed making horror movies with the second sequel to Frankenstein (1931), Son of Frankenstein. Son of Frankenstein started a whole new cycle of horror movies, including The Mummy's Hand (1940), The Wolf Man (1941), and The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942).

During the Thirties and the first few years of the Forties there was little, if any, reason to believe that the various Universal Monsters necessarily existed in the same reality. For all anyone knew, in the reality of the "Dracula" movies Frankenstein's Creature might simply be a fictional character. All of this would change in 1943 when Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man was released. Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man established that both Frankenstein's Creature and the Wolf Man existed in the same universe. It would be followed by House of Frankenstein in 1944 in which it is established that Dracula also existed in the same universe as Frankenstein's Creature and the Wolf Man. House of Frankenstein would be followed by House of Dracula in 1945 and by Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein in 1948. The last of Universal's "monster rally" films, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, would establish that the Invisible Man (voiced by Vincent Price) also existed alongside Dracula, Frankenstein's Creature, and the Wolf Man in the same universe. Curiously, Universal has recently announced that it plans to reboot its classic monsters in a shared universe not unlike the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

While it is well known that the Universal Monsters shared the same universe, what is less well known is that there was a rather extensive shared universe in the early days of episodic television shows in the United States. Having scored a major success with one TV series produced by a major Hollywood studio (Disneyland, produced by Walt Disney), the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) approached Warner Bros. about producing television shows for the network. The first show Warner Bros. produced for ABC was an umbrella series called Warner Bros. PresentsWarner Bros. Presents consisted of three rotating shows: Casablanca, King's Row, and television's first hour long Western Cheyenne. Of the three Cheyenne would be the only one to prove to be a success, perhaps because it was among the first shows (along with Gunsmoke and The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp) in a long and very prolific cycle towards Westerns in the late Fifties. As a result of its success, Cheyenne would be the first of many Westerns produced by Warner Bros. and the first set in a rather extensive shared universe.

Indeed, Cheyenne would be joined by three more Westerns in the 1957-1958 season alone: Sugarfoot, Maverick, and Colt .45. Warner Bros. would introduce two more Westerns in the 1958-1959 season: Bronco and Lawman. It was with the 1957-1958 seasons that characters from one Warner Bros. Western began appearing on other Warner Bros. Westerns. It was on the 10 December 1957 episode of Sugarfoot, "Misfire", that Bret Maverick of the TV show Maverick (played by James Garner) appeared on the show. It would not be the last appearance of one Western hero on a Warner Bros. show by any means. Bret's brother Bart would appear in the Sugarfoot episode "Price on His Head". Lawyer Tom "Sugarfoot" Brewster (played by Will Hutchins) made several guest appearances on other Warner Bros. Westerns, appearing on Cheyenne, Maverick, and Bronco. Undercover government agent Christopher Colt (played by Wayde Preston), the hero of Colt .45, appeared several times on Sugarfoot. Bronco Lane (played by Ty Hardin) appeared on both Cheyenne and Sugarfoot. Deputy Johnny McKay (played by Peter Brown) of the TV show Lawman also appeared on Sugarfoot.

If there had been any doubt that the heroes of the Warner Bros. Westerns all existed in the same universe, that doubt would have been erased by the 1960 Maverick episode "Hadley's Hunters". In the episode Bart Maverick (played by Jack Kelly) finds himself framed by a crooked sheriff and as a result seeks help from every Warner Bros. Western hero who still had a show on the air. Bart visits Cheyenne Bodie (played by Clint Walker) of Cheyenne, Marshall Dan Troop (played by John Russell) and Deputy Johnny McKay of Lawman, Tom Brewster of Sugarfoot, and Bronco Lane of Bronco. "Hadley's Hunters" not only made it clear Warner Bros' various Western heroes existed in the same reality, but that their detective shows might well take place in the 20th Century of that reality as well. Among the people that Bart visits in an effort to clear his name is a stableboy played by Edd Byrnes, who played Kookie on Warner Bros' detective show 77 Sunset Strip. The address at which the stableboy works is "77 Cherokee Strip". While Edd Byrnes' appearance is most certainly an in-joke, it seems possible that the stableboy was an ancestor of Kookie on 77 Sunset Strip. In other words, 77 Sunset Strip is part of the shared universe of Warner Bros.' Westerns!

Of course, if 77 Sunset Strip exists in the same reality as Warner Bros' Westerns, that means that most of Warner Bros' detective shows also existed in the same reality. Quite simply, just as there were several crossovers between Warner Bros' Western shows, there were also crossovers between their detective shows as well. Stu Bailey (played by Efrem Zimbalist Jr.), Jeff Spencer (played by Roger Smith) and Kookie of 77 Sunset Strip all appeared on episodes of Hawaiian Eye. Jeff Spencer and Kookie appeared on Surfside 6 as well. Tracy Steele (Anthony Eisley) and Tom Lopaka (Robert Conrad) of Hawaiian Eye appeared on 77 Sunset Strip. Sandy Winfield (Troy Donahue) and Kenny Madison (Van Williams) of Surfside 6 both appeared on 77 Sunset Strip. Characters even moved from one show to another. The TV show Bourbon Street Beat lasted only one season, Kenny Madison then moved from that show's New Orleans setting to Miami Beach and Surfside 6. Rex Randolph (played by Richard Long) also moved from Bourbon Street Beat to another show, in his case 77 Sunset Strip.

Warner Bros' shared universe in which their Westerns and detective shows took place did not have a particularly tight continuity, nor were crossovers as common as the above summary might make it seem (we are taking about a period of many years here). Regardless, outside of comic books and the Cthulhu Mythos, the Warner Bros. shared universe of Westerns and detective shows was one of the most extensive shared universes up to that time. In fact, in television it would not be matched until the Star Trek shared universe began developing with the debut of the sequel series Star Trek: The Next Generation in 1987. Even today, in an era of such franchises as CSI and Law & Order, it remains an impressive achievement.

While the Marvel Cinematic Universe is certainly an impressive achievement, then, in many respects it is hardly an isolated event. Not only did shared universes exist in media other than comic books well before the development of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but some of them were quite extensive. In fact, it seems that not only could Universal dust off its shared universe of Universal Monsters, but so could Warner Bros dust off its shared universe of gamblers, lawmen, gunfighters, and detectives. Although shared universes might seems like a new concept to me, they have actually been around for awhile.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

"This Boy" by The Beatles

I have had a splitting headache most of today, so I don't feel particularly up to a full fledged blog post. I will then leave you with some music. It is another Beatles song and it is also one of my favourites. Here is "This Boy" by The Beatles.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

"Drive My Car" by The Beatles

After six straight eulogy posts I thought tonight I would leave you something happy. Here then is one of the most fun-filled songs The Beatles ever recorded. It is "Drive My Car", which appeared on the British version of their album Rubber Soul and later on the American compilation Yesterday and Today. "Drive My Car" was primarily written by Paul McCartney with some input from John Lennon.


Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Godspeed Don Pardo

Don Pardo, the legendary announcer for NBC known for his work on  Jeopardy, Saturday Night Live, and the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, died yesterday at the age of 96.

Don Pardo was born Dominick George Pardo on 22 February 1918 in Westfield, Massachusetts. He grew up in Norwich, Connecticut. It was while he was attending the Norwich Free Academy (the primary high school there) that he became interested in both public speaking and drama. It was in 1938 that he received his first job in radio, working at radio station WJAR in Providence, Rhode Island. He graduated from Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts in 1942.

It was in 1944 that Don Pardo and his friend Hal Simms (who would later serve as announcer on What's My Line and The Edge of Night) took a tour of NBC's studios in New York City. Don Pardo ended the tour with a meeting to thank Patrick J. Kelly, then in charge of NBC's announcers, for arranging everything. Patrick J. Kelly then offered Mr. Pardo a job. He started working for NBC on 15 June 1944. He would serve as announcer on such radio shows at NBC as Barrie Craig, Confidential Investigator; Front Page Farrell; Pepper Young's Family; X Minus One; and Dimension X. It was in 1946 that Don Pardo did his first work in television when he and another announcer announced three baseball games televised by NBC. Don Pardo's work on the three games was not well received. Mr. Pardo would later relate how one reviewer said of his work on the baseball games, "He doesn’t know the game, and he wouldn’t shut his mouth.”

Regardless, Don Pardo's future was in television. In the late Forties Mr. Pardo served as announcer for NBC Presents and Remember This Date. The Fifties would see some of his best known work. Don Pardo served as the announcer on the original version of the game show The Price is Right, hosted by Bill Cullen. He also served as an announcer on such variety shows as The Colgate Comedy Hour and All Star Revue. Don Pardo worked  as an announcer on such shows as Winner Take All, Judge for Yourself, Three Steps to Heaven, Choose Up Sides, Doodles, and Charge Account as well.

The Sixties would see Don Pardo in one of his most famous jobs, that of the announcer on the original version of the game show Jeopardy. Mr. Pardo would serve as its announcer for the entirety of its run, from 1964 to 1975. So identified was Don Pardo with the game show that he reprised his role as announcer in Weird Al Yankovic's 1984 song "I Lost on Jeopardy" (a parody of "Jeopardy" by The Greg Kihn Band"). In the Sixties he also served as a substitute announcer on Match Game as well as an announcer on Eye Guess. Mr. Pardo did a wide variety of announcing at NBC in the Sixties beyond games shows. In fact, it was Don Pardo who broke into WNBC programming in 1964 to announce that President John F. Kennedy had been shot.

It was in the Seventies that Don Pardo began what might be his longest job ever, that as announcer for Saturday Night Live. He announced the very first episode and would continue to announce every episode of the show except for the 1981-1982 season when then producer Dick Ebersol inexplicably went with someone else. In the Seventies Don Pardo also served as the announcer for the game shows Winning Streak and Jackpot.

In the Eighties Don Pardo continued to serve as the announcer for SNL, as well as doing a variety of other work. He served as an announcer on NBC's annual coverage of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade until 1999. He also served as announcer for Wheel of Fortune for a week when it was at Radio City Music Hall, and as an announcer on the TV special Steve Martin's Best Show Ever. He provided his voice for the films The Sex O'Clock News (1985) and Radio Days (1987).

In the Nineties Don Pardo worked on the films Stay Tuned (1992), Honeymoon in Vegas (1992), and The Godson (1998), as well as episodes of the show Dream On. He also announced commercials for Frosted Cheerios and MCI in the Nineties. In the Naughts and Teens he appeared on the shows Oz, 30 Rock, and The Simpsons. His final work for Saturday Night Live was this very year.

It should be little wonder that Don Pardo's career lasted nearly seventy years. His voice was entirely singular, a velvet baritone that could be loud and yet still remain pleasant. What is more, he had an elongated delivery that was entirely his own. The hosts and producers with whom he worked obviously appreciated him. On The Price is Right host Bill Cullen would occasionally mention him by name at a time when announcers were rarely if ever acknowledged. On Jeopardy host Art Fleming thanked him by name in each and every episode. While Don Pardo officially retired in 2004, he continued to announce SNL at producer Lorne Michaels's request. It is easy to understand why Mr. Michaels would not want Don Pardo to retire entirely. Mr. Pardo's voice was unlike any one else's. It was immediately recognisable. Quite simply, Don Pardo was one of a kind.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

TV Writer Wilton Schiller R.I.P.

Wilton Schiller, who wrote episodes for television shows from Lassie to The Six Million Dollar Man and produced episodes of both The Fugitive and Mannix, died on 27 July 2014 at the age of 95.

Wilton Schiller was born in Chicago on 24 July 1919. Mr. Schiller attended the University of Chicago. Following his graduation he worked as a writer in the Chicago radio market and also performed stand up comedy. During World War II he served in the United States Army as a psychiatric assistant. Following the war he moved to Los Angeles where he worked as a literary agent for MCA.

Mr. Schiller began his television writing career in the Fifties, writing episodes of the show China Smith. During the decade he wrote episodes of such shows as The New Adventures of China Smith, Lassie, Adventures of Superman, Have Gun--Will Travel, Broken Arrow, The Millionaire, M Squad, Dragnet, The Adventures of Robin Hood, and Rawhide.

In the Sixties Wilton Schiller wrote episodes of such shows as Rawhide; I'm Dickens, He's Fenster; Leave It to Beaver; Ben Casey; The Fugitive; Mannix; and Adam-12. He served as a producer on the shows Ben Casey, The Fugitive, and Mannix. He wrote the screenplay for the film The New Interns (1964). He also taught screenwriting at UCLA.

In the Seventies Mr. Schiller wrote episodes of The Six Million Dollar Man, as well as the TV movie Captain America II: Death Too Soon (1979). He served as a producer on the Canadian series Police Surgeon and as a script consultant on The Six Million Dollar Man. In the Eighties he wrote and produced an Australian television adaptation of Marcus Clarke's novel For the Term of His Natural Life. In the Naughts he served as the executive producer of the film Our of Omaha (2007).

As a television writer Wilton Schiller's speciality seems to have been episodes featuring original twists to them. In the Adventures of Superman episode "The Town That Wasn't" criminals created a mobile town that they used to get money from travellers through a speed trap, as well as to hijack trucks. His Have Gun--Will Travel episode, "The High Graders", dealt with the phenomenon of high grading, in which miners steal ore from their employers. In his Ben Casey episode "Pack Up All My Cares and Woes", Dr. Casey is pressured by lawyers to testify in court that brain surgery will cure a convict of his murderous tendencies. Even those times with Wilton Schiller's episodes might not have been that good, they were always entertaining due to the amount of originality he put into them.

Of course, Wilton Schiller was also a producer as well as a writer, and he was an excellent producer. Indeed, he produced two of the greatest shows ever on television, Ben Casey and The Fugitive. What is more he produced the last seasons of The Fugitive, including the two part series finale. At the time it aired "The Judgement Part I" and "The Judgement Part II" set a record for having the largest ever audience of any prime time show, a record that would stand until the 1980 Dallas episode "Who Done It", in which hit was revealed who shot J. R. Ewing. Both as a writer and a producer Wilton Schiller had a gift for creating entertaining television.