Saturday, 11 June 2005

Simon and Garfunkel

Anne Bancroft's death earlier this week got me to thinking about her most famous film role, Mrs.Robinson in The Graduate. Of course, that got me to thinking of Simon and Garfunkel, who provided the music for that movie. I remember from when I was a very young child that their music was constantly being played on the radio. In fact, when I think of music from the Sixties, it is the British Invasion bands (especially The Beatles) and Simon and Garfunkel that always come to mind.

Paul Simon and Art Garfunikel were both born in New York City and met when they were 11 years old. Their friendship led to the two of them forming a musical partnership. The two would eventually adopt the name "Tom and Jerry" under which they performed. At that time their style imitated that of the Everly Brothers, whom they idolised. While still attending Forest Hills High School in New York, they recorded their first song. "Hey, Schoolgirl" led to a performance on American Bandstand and reached #49 on the Billboard charts. Unfortunately, "Tom and Jerry" could not follow up their initial success, with subsequent singles going nowhere. The two went their separate ways after high school. Art Garfunkel attended Columbia University while Paul Simon attended Queens College.

By 1963 Simon and Garfunkel reunited as a music team, this time using their real names. By that point they were performing folk music, although the influence of the Everly Brothers was still noticeable in their harmonies. The two became very popular on the New York folk scene and were eventually signed to a contract with Colubmia Records. In 1964 they recorded their first album, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. Among the songs the album contained was an acoustic version of "The Sound of Silence." Released in late 1964, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. flopped.

In the interim Simon and Garfunkel went their separate ways again. Paul Simon went to England where he recorded his first solo album, The Paul Simon Song Book. Art Garfunkel remained in the United States. Very soon, however, their lives would be changed forever. During the summer of 1965 a few radio stations began playing the original, acoustic version of "The Sound of Silence." News of this reached Simon and Garfunkel's prdoucer, Tom Wilson, who saw a chance to make up for the failure of Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. With an eye on the "folk rock" sound of The Byrds, which Bob Dylan himself later adopted, Wilson added electric guitar, electric bass, and drums to "The Sound of Silence," while leaving the vocal tracks the same. By September 1965 the new version of "The Sound of Silence" had reached Billboard's pop chart. By January 1, 1966, "The Sound of Silence" was the #1 song in America.

In the wake of the succeess of "The Sound of Silence," Paul Simon returned to the United States and once more renewed his partnership with Art Garfunkel. The two immediately recorded another album, this time in the new folk rock style. That album, titled Sounds of Silence, contained both the new version of The Sound of Silence, as well as "I Am a Rock," which would go top 10 on Billboard's pop chart. The album itself would hit #21 on the album chart.

Simon and Garfunkel had at last achieved what they could not as Tom and Jerry, success on the music charts. They would release two more hit singles that year, "Homeward Bound" (which would go top ten on Billboard's pop chart) and "Scarborough Fair/Canticle," their version of a traditional English ballad. Late in 1966 they released their third album, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme. It cotained both "Homeward Bound" and "Scarborough Fair/Canticle." While both the album Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme and its singles did well, subsequent singles did not fare nearly as well as their earlier work. For a short time, it looked as if Simon and Garfunkel's career could well be in decline.

The turning point came when Mike Nichols asked the duo if he could use their songs for his movie The Graduate. The movie included such older songs as "The Sound of Silence" and "Scarborough Fair/Canticle," as well as a new song, "Mrs. Robinson." Nichols had asked Simon to write a song for the movie and Simon said that he had a song he was writing about Eleanor Roosevelt. That partially written song, "Mrs. Roosevelt," became "Mrs. Robinson." The movie proved to be a hit, as did its soundtrack album, which spent nine weeks at the #1 spot on Billboard's albums chart. As to the song "Mrs. Robinson," it proved to be one of Simon and Garfunkel's biggest hits. It went to #1 on Billboard's singles chart.

Nineteen sixty eight saw the release of their only concept album, Bookends. The album dealt with the ideas of the pasage of time and stages in human lives. Besides "Mrs. Robinson," the album also contained the hit singles "Hazy Shade of Winter (possibly my favourite Simon and Garfunkel song)," "At the Zoo,""Fakin' It," and "America." All went top 25 on the pop charts. The following year would see Simon and Garfunkel on tour. It would also see their TV special, Songs Of America. The special took a strong stand against the Vietnam War, which led to sponsors refusing to advertise on the show.

It was in early 1970 that their last album was released, Bridge Over Troubled Water. Besides "The Sound of Silence" and "Mrs. Robinson," the title track would prove to be one of their biggest hits. It went to #1 on the pop singles chart, staying for an incredible six weeks. It also contained the top ten singles "Cecilia" and "The Boxer." At the Grammy Awards, Simon and Garfunkel would take Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Best Engineered Record, Song of The Year, Best Contemporary Song, and Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalists.

Unfortunately, as a recording duo, Simon and Gafunkel's career was over. The two announced that they were parting ways in 1971. Their relationship had been under considerable strain for the past several years. Many of the problems between the two arose from Art Garfunkel's desire to have an acting career. Garfunkel had been cast as Nately in Catch 22. This required that Garfunkel take time off from recording their next album, a fact that did not make Simon happy. Simon also felt that he had been the primary creative force in the duo, causing some resentment on his part. At the same time Art Garfunkel felt overshadowed by Simon's talent as a songwriter. Ultimately, there were many reasons for the strain on Simon and Garfunkel's relationship that led to the break up. Like The Beatles, their break up was not due to any one thing.

Since their break up both Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel went onto solo careers. Simon had great success throughout the Seventies and Eighties, although Garfunkel's albums did not perform that well. Garfunkel did continue acting and has appeared in many movies and TV shows. The two have reunited for concerts and a tour, but insofar as I know they have never recorded another studio album together. The differences between them are apparently still too great.

Regardless, by the time of their break up in 1971, Simon and Garfunkel had established their place in rock history. Indeed, in my humble opinion they were among the very best rock acts of the Sixties. Much of this was due to the fact that the duo was absolutely meticulous in their songwriting. Songs might well be polished for weeks and even months before the final version would be recorded. This is the reason that at a time when many performers released multiple albums a year, Simon and Garfunkel generally released only one. Of course, much of their success was due to Simon's sheer talent as a song writer. In particular, Simon's lyrics were full of imagery, acute observations, and often dry humour ("Mrs. Robinson" is a perfect example of this). The duo also produced some of the best harmonies to be found in any songs of the Sixties, often reminiscent of the Everly Brothers.

Indeed, Simon and Garfunkel's works are hard to classify. Often they are counted as folk rock, but their music would often seem to owe more to the Everly Brothers than Bob Dylan. "I Am a Rock" could be held up as a clear example of the folk rock sound of the mid-Sixties, yet "Hazy Shade of Winter" would clearly seem to be a straight rock song. "Mrs. Robinson" perhaps falls somewhere in between. Like most great artists, Simon and Garfunkel defied being placed in any single category.

During their career, Simon and Garfunkel placed many songs, as well as most of their albums, in the top twenty five of Billboard's charts. Ultimately, they would sell over 20 million records. To this day their songs are still played on the radio. I think it is rather safe to say that they will played for a long, long time to come.

Friday, 10 June 2005

A Night at the Movies

There was a time when going to the movies was an event. Today when one goes to see a movie, at most he or she might see a few commercials, a few trailers, and the feature film. The exception to this rule is only when a theatre is showing a double feature, in which cases one might see a few commercials, a few trailers, and two movies. This wasn't always the case. There was time, before I was born, when a night at the movies could include some trailers (then called "coming attractions"), a newsreel, an animated short, a live-action short, and the feature film. Often times there would be two films, a "B" picture followed by an "A" picture. In those days Saturday matinees almost always had at least one animated short and the latest chapter in a movie serial or "chapterplay." While today going to the movies might mean a stay as brief as 90 minutes in the theatre, in days of old a trip to the cinema could take up the better part of an evening.

To modern day audiences, the programmes of the cinema from the Twenties to the Fifties might seem a bit strange. Indeed, as strange as it might seem, there are people today who don't even want to see the movie previews (I always enjoyed them myself)! In those golden years, however, people were not in quite as much of a hurry as they are today and were more than willing to relax in a cinema for a night of entertainment and enjoyment. The cinema programmes of old were the direct descendent of Vaudeville, of which the cinema can be considered a stepchild. A typical Vaudeville programme might include a novelty act, some skits (both dramatic and comedic), a singing act, and the headliners (often a somewhat famous song and dance act). With the advent of motion pictures, Vaudeville theatres sometimes showed a movie as part of their bill. By the same token, the early cinemas often included live acts in addition to their motion pictures. For instance, a singer might preceed a newsreel, theatrical short, and the feature film. As the motion picture industry progressed, eventually the live acts would be phased out to be replaced by newsreels, animated shorts, live actions, chapters of serials, and, of course, more feature films.

As to the components of the typical night at the movies, they evolved over time. The newsreel was introduced in 1908 by French production company Pathé Freres. Newsreels were essentially short films reporting the news of the day. Nearly all of the major American studios produced their own newsreels or distributed newsreels produced by others. Twentieth Century Fox created the Fox Movietone News in 1929. It lasted a full fifty years, until 1979. MGM distributed News of the Day and William Randolph Hearst's Hearst Metrotone News. Perhaps the most famous newsreel series of all time was The March of Time. It was produced by Time Magazine and drew its inspiration from the successful radio show of the same name (also produced by Time and launched in 1931). The March of Time series began in 1935 and lasted until 1951. While popular with audiences and highly regarded, it never did make money. Each segment, of which one was released each month, cost $50,000. This made The March of Time a constant loser at the box office.

Animated shorts or cartoons would become a part of cinema programmes in the 1910s. The first animated short is generally considered "Humorous Phases of Funny Faces," made by cartoonist J. Stuart Blackton in 1906 (he would later co-found the Vitagraph Company). While Blackton may have made the first animated short, it was cartoonist Windsor McCay (creator of Little Nemo) who would really advanced the art. He produced his first animated short "Little Nemo in Slumberland (based on his famous cartoon character)" in 1911 and "How a Mosquito Operates" in 1912. Both were shown as part of McCay's Vaudeville act. In 1914 McCay produced what many consider to be the first fully animated film (although some claim "Humorous Phases of Funny Faces" holds that honour), "Gertie the Dinosaur." It was not only shown as part of McCay's Vaudeville act, but in cinemas as well. With "Gertie the Dinosaur," the floodgates opened for animation.

It was naturally only a matter of time before animated cartoons produced their first megastar. Felix the Cat debuted in "Feline Follies" and "Musical Mews" in 1919, then simply called "Master Tom." By his third animated short, "The Adventures of Felix," also released in 1919, he finally received his proper name. Felix proved to be a smash hit. The creation of Otto Messmer, Felix became the first character in any medium to be heavily merchandised, inspiring everything from Felix dolls to games to artwork. He would even be spun off into a comic strip (which lasted until 1966) and in 1928 jazz musician Paul Whiteman even recorded a song about the famous cat, "Felix! Felix! Felix the Cat!" In the end 175 Felix cartoons would be produced between 1919 and 1929. Perhaps due to Felix's success, many animation studios opened throughout the Twenties (among them one started by a young man with the last name "Disney"). Eventually, the major studios would either open their own animation units or simply buy out one of the animation studios. Regardless, by the Twenties, cartoons were a well established part of a night at the movies.

As to live action short subjects, prior to the advent of the feature film (the first being Richard III in 1912), most movies would be considered shorts by today's definition of the term. A short subject is basically any film less than 20 minutes in length. The term short subject came into use in the 1910s after the introduction of the feature film (generally, any film over an hour in length). Prior to rise of feature films, what would today be considered short subjects made up the bulk of cinema's programmes. Following the introduction of feature films, they would be shown before the feature. The most popular live action short subjects were usually the one and two reel comedies. In the 1910s, these comedies would produce their own superstars. Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd both came to fame in the comedy shorts of that decade. As the demand for comedy shorts increased, there rose a number of studios which specialised in their production. Actor and director Mack Sennett and his partner Adam Kessel founded Keystone Studios in 1912. Hal Roach started producing comedies in 1915. The demand for short sujbects would produce a large number of film series, among them those featuring Laurel and Hardy, The Three Stooges, and the kids of Our Gang.

By the Twenties, all of the elements of the typical cinema programme were in place. Movie goers in the Thirties and Forties could expect a full night of entertainment when going to the cinema--the "coming attractions," a newsreel, a cartoon, a live action short, and a feature film. Unfortunately, as the years progressed various factors would chip away at the cinema programme as people came to know it. Perhaps the first blow came in the late Twenties and early Thirties with the idea of the double feature. By 1934 many theatre owners had opted for showing two feature films (the "double feature"), usually dropping the comedy shorts in the process. This naturally decreased the demand for short subjects. As the Thirties and Forties progressed, many of the classic comedy short series came to an end.

Another blow to the typical cinema bill of the Thirties and Forties was a 1949 Supreme Court decision that ended the practice of block booking. Block booking was a practice whereby a theatre owner would have to buy an entire package of a set of films from a studio. These packages not only included feature films, but comedy shorts, newsreels, and cartoons. The practice of block booking was introduced by Paramount in the 1910s and quickly spread to the other major studios as well. Block booking made it very difficult for smaller, independent studios to compete with the Hollywood giants. It also forced exhibitors to show weaker, "B" movies alongside the "A" features. While some exhibitors actually favoured block booking, there were also many in the general public who were opposed to it as an unfair trade practice. The beginning of the end for block booking came in 1938 when the Roosevelt administration decided to take action against the major Hollywood studios. The pivotal case, the United States versus Paramount Pictures, Inc, began in 1939. It would be delayed many times during World War II, but finally made it to the Supreme Court in 1948. In 1949 the Court handed down their decison, which has become known as the "Paramount Consent Decree." This decision forced the major studios to make movies available on a film by film basis. One of the positive outcomes of this decision was that it allowed independent studios for the first time to truly compete with the major Hollywood studios. Another was that it allowed smaller theatres access to the first run of feature films. A negative outcome is that the comedy shorts and cartoons of old soon found themselves pushed out of cinema programmes.

The final nail in the coffin of the typical cinema programme of the Thirites and Forties was the advent of television. As more and more television stations opened across the nation and more and more homes had access to television, theatre attendance dwindled from what it once was. In the face of competition from television, many exhibitors simply chose to cut out the short subjects entirely, relying increasingy on double features. The impact of television would be especially deleterious on the newsreels. With the advent of television news, the newsreels soon became redundant. With viewers able to watch the news at home on their television sets, there was no need for them to go to their local theatre to watch a newsreel.

Essentially, the typical night at the movies as it was in the Thirties and Forties was then chipped away by various factors. It did not simply disappear all at once. The live action shorts were the first to go. With theatre owners increasingly deciding not to show comedy shorts in favour of double features, the demand for the shorts decreased. As a result, the studios started making fewer and fewer short subjects. By the Thirties and Forties, many of the classic short subject series were coming to an end. The Laurel and Hardy shorts came to an end in 1935 as the two moved into feature films. The Our Gang shorts would come to an end in 1944. The Three Stooges actually managed to continue making shorts until 1958. Newsreels were the next to go, with many of the newsreel series ending in the Fifties. The acclaimed March of Time series ended in 1951. Fox Movietone News actually made it to 1979. Animated cartoons actually persisted the longest. Cartoon shorts were still being shown in theatres as late as the Seventies. Still, as the years went by, the market for animated shorts dwindled. As a result, many of the animation studios closed their doors. Eventually, even the major studios would shut down their animation units. MGM closed their animation unit in 1956. Warner Brothers closed theirs in 1962, although it would be reopened for a few years in the late Sixties. As animated cartoons disappeared from theatres, so too did the last vestiges of the typical cinema programme of the Thirties and Forties.

By the time I was born, the typical cinema programme of the Thirties and Forties was a thing of the past. I have never seen a newsreel or a live action short in a movie theatre. I have seen a few animated cartoons. The first "grown up" movie I ever saw in a theatre was Logan's Run. My brother and I went to see it at 4th Street Cinema's Saturday matinee; they actually showed an old Chilly Willy cartoon before the movie. It would be the last time I would see an animated cartoon short before a feature film in a theatre until the various Pixar movies of the Nineties and Naughts. For people of my generation it seems there is little way that we can experience what it was like to go to the movies in the Thirties and Forties. For many years in the Eighties, PBS aired a show called Matinee at the Bijou, which simulated a typical Saturday matinee of the Thirties. They would usually show a serial, a live action short, a cartoon, and a feature film. Warner Brothers has also come out with a series of DVDs called Warner Night at the Movies. Each DVD simulates a typical night at the movies in a given year. For example, the DVD for 1931 features a newsreel, the comedy short "The Eyes Have It," the cartoon short "Smile, Darn Ya, Smile," and the feature film Public Enemy. Theatres specialising in classic films also ocassionally show programmes close to those of the Thirties and Forties.

Even though I have never experienced the cinema programmes of the Thirties and Forties, I have often longed for their return. Both the live action comedy shorts and the animated shorts saw new life on television after they left the theatres, so I have had ample opportunity to watch them. And I have loved them since childhood. And, unlike many, I actually do enjoy watching the previews of upcoming movies. To me a night at a movie theatre where I could see a live action comedy short, a cartoon, and a feature film would be a very, very pleasant experience. It would sure beat simply seeing a few commercials, a few trailers, and a feature film, as the typical cinema programme is today. Unfortunately, I doubt the cinema programme of the Thirties and Forties will ever make a comeback. People today are too much in a hurry to want to sit through comedy shorts and cartoons. Indeed, many theatre goers have complained because theatres do not publish the actual starting times of movies, wishing to skip the trailers entirely! In New York City the City Council's Consumer Affairs Committee is even now discussing a bill requiring theatres to post the actual start times of movies. The Lowes theatre chain has actually started doing so. It would seem, then, that the typical night at the movies of the Thirties and Forties will then remain a thing of the past.

Thursday, 9 June 2005

Candy is Dandy...

Like most kids growing up, I enjoyed candy. In fact, some of my fondest memories are when we would go grocery shopping each week, always on Friday evening after my brother and I got out of school. We would always buy at least two packages of candy. Sometimes it might be candy bars, sometimes licorice, sometimes something entirely different. Regardless of what candy we bought, I always looked forward to it.

Most of the brands of candy I enjoyed as a child are still around. In fact, most of the brands of candy I enjoyed as a child had been around for years before I was born. Indeed, Milton S. Hershey invented the milk chocolate bar in 1900. In other words, the Hershey's Chocolate Bar had been around for 63 years before I was even alive. Hershey's invention proved to be a success and it would not be long before competitors would enter the field. The Hershey's Chocolate Bar with Almonds was introduced in 1908. In 1927 Mr. Goodbar was added to the Hershey line. Here I must digress to explain the complex history of the Kit Kat bar. While manufactured by Hershey, the Kit Kat bar is not exactly a Hershey product. It was introduced in 1931 by Rowntree in the United Kingdom. In 1969, Rowntree licensed Hershey to make Kit Kat bars in the United States. In 1988 Nestlé bought Rowntree. Hershey is then licensed by its chief competitor, Nestlé, to make Kit Kat bars! Regardless, it has always been my favourite candy bar made by Hershey. When it came to Hershey's products, it seemed that we rarely bought the original milk chocolate bar introduced in 1900. Usually, we either bought Mr. Goodbar or Kit Kat. Less often we bought Hershey's Chocolate Bar with Almonds.

Indeed, if we bought a standard chocolate bar, it was usually those made by Nestlé. Nestlé was founded by Swiss pharmacist Henri Nestlé. Nestlé had developed the first instant formula for infants in 1867. The company would not enter the chocolate market until 1904, when Peter & Kohler Swiss General Chocolate Company developed a process for creating milk chocolate for Nestlé. The Nestlé chocolate bar came to the United States in 1919. One of their most popular products, the Nestlé Crunch bar, was introduced in 1938. I have fond memories of Nestlé Crunch bars from when I was very young. For some reason, whenever my father had to go to the farm equipment dealership in Cairo, he always bought my brother and I Nestlé Crunch bars. Nestlé also made one of my other favourite candy bars as a child, the $100,000 Bar (now known as the $100 Grand Bar). It was first introduced in 1966. It is basically a combination of chocalate, caramel nugat, and crisped rice. It was also the gooiest candy bar I have ever eaten.

As fond as I was of Nestlé products, I think my favourite candy bars were made by Mars, Incorporated. Frank C. Mars founded the company in 1911 when he went into the candy business. The company's success was guaranteed when, in 1923, Frank C. Mars invented the Milky Way bar. For those of you who have had the misfortune of never having eaten one, Milky Way bars are chocolate bars with nugat in the middle. This success was followed by the introduction of the Snickers Bar in 1929 (currently the best selling candy bar in the Unitd States). It was supposedly named for Frank C. Mars's favourite horse. It is a combination of chocolate, peanuts, and caramel. Mars introduced 3 Musketeers in 1932. Originally it contained three different flavours of candy in one package: chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry. Eventually 3 Musketeers would become a chocolate bar with fluffy chocolate nougat in the middle. Of course, not every Mars candy bar has been a success. In 1973 the company introduced the Marathon bar. The Marathon bar was a braided, chocolate bar with caramel in the middle. It was a full eight inches long, although because of the braiding it weighed no more than other candy bars. A ruler on the back of the wrapper showed the length of the bar. I loved Marathon bars as a kid; they were among my favourite candies. Unfortunately, the Marathon bar did not sell as well as Mars had expected it to. They were discontinued in 1981.

Of course, Mars's most famous product is not even a candy bar. M&M's Chocolate Candies allegedly developed out of a trip Forrest Mars Sr. (son of Frank C. Mars) took to Spain. Supossedly, he encountered soldiers in the Spanish Civil War eating chocolate candies which had a hard sugary coating. M&M's Chocolate Candies were first sold in 1941 Curiously, they were originally packaged in cardboard tubes--they would not be sold in the familiar bags until 1948. They proved popular with soldiers in World War II as they would not melt as candy bars would. They also proved popular on the homefront as well. In 1954 M&M's Peanut Chocolate Candies were introduced. Originally, M&M's only came in earth tones. This changed in 1960 when red, green, and yellow were added. M&M's have always been among my favourite candies. I ate a ton of them as a child and I must confess that I still eat them frequently.

Here I must mention Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. This was a candy I loved as a child and still love. In fact, I think I prefer the miniatures to the full size version It was introduced in 1923 by the H. B. Reese Company. He had started out operating one of Hershey's dairy farms before striking out on his own in the candy business. The H. B. Reese Company would be bought in 1963 by Hershey itself. Hershey has admittedly done a lot with the brand. I believe it was they who introduced the miniature peanut butter cups. And, of course, they also introduced Reese's Pieces in 1978 (popularised by the movie E.T. in 1982).

Another candy I loved as a child and still love is the Tootsie Roll. Leo Hirshfield had brought the recipe for the candy with him from his native Austria. He began sellling them in the United States in 1896, the name "Tootsie" coming from his five-year old daughter's nickname. A single Tootsie Roll then only cost one penny, making it very popular with children. Like M&M's they proved to be popular with soldiers as they would not melt as candy bars would. The Tootsie Roll proved successful enough that in 1931 a new product was introduced, the Tootsie Pop. The Tootsie Pop was revolutionary in being the first sucker with a soft, chocolate centre. Like the Tootsie Roll, it proved immensely popular.

Of course, among the most legendary candies made in America was the Baby Ruth bar. The Baby Ruth bar was a product of the Curtiss Candy Company, founded in 1916 by Otto Schnering in Chicago. In 1921, Scnering introduced a chocolate bar containing peanuts and caramel. He named the candy bar "Baby Ruth." There has always been a controversy over the name of the candy bar. Otto Schnering always claimed that it had been named for Ruth Cleveland, daughter of President Grover Cleveland. Some have been suspicious of this idea, as Ruth Cleveland died a full 17 years before the candy bar was introduced. Many believe that it was named for the homerun king, Babe Ruth, who was already somewhat famous in 1921. Regardless of the truth behind the name, it proved very successful. In the years prior to World War II it was the most popular candy bar in the United States (this is perhaps why in the movie Hellboy it is established as that character's favourite candy bar....). The Curtiss Candy Company followed the success of the Baby Ruth with the Butterfinger bar in 1928. Butterfinger bars consist of chocolate covering a crispy, peanut butter filling. Like the Baby Ruth bar, there is an interesting story behind the Butterfinger bar's name. It was chosen through a public contest. The phrase "butter fingers" was used, then as now, of baseball players who dropped the ball. Despite their success, the Curtiss Candy Company would be bought by Standard Brands in 1963. Standard Brands itself would be purchased by Nabisco in 1981. In 1990 Nabisco would sell the various Curtiss brands to Nestlé

Another candy I enjoyed as a kid were Sugar Babies. For those of you unfamiliar with them, they are bite sized, chewy, caramel candies. The candy was introduced in 1935 by the James O. Welch Company. They took their name from a product introduced by the company in 1925, the Sugar Daddy, which is pretty much milk caramel on a stick. It was orignally called the "Papa," but the name was changed to the Sugar Daddy in 1932. There was also a "Sugar Mama," essentially a chocolate covered Sugar Daddy. It was introduced in 1965, but although they stopped making them in the Eighties. The James O. Welch Company also made Junior Mints, introduced in 1949. They are still one of my favourite candies. Unfortunately, the James O. Welch Company would face the same fate as other confectioners in the 20th century. Eventually it would be bought by drug company Warner-Lambert, who would in turn sell it to Tootsie Roll.

Beyond the well known candies, there were others that I enjoyed as a child. I don't suppose very many remember the little wax bottles which contained syrup that came in different flavours. I think they were called Nik-L-Nips. And then there were those candies that were absolutely politically incorrect: candy cigarettes, sold in boxes that sometimes bore the names of actual cigarettes or at least close facscimiles thereof; and bubblegum cigars. Today it must seem amazing that candy in the shape of nicotine products were sold to kids, but they were. And they tasted good, too.

It seems to me that the candy industry went the way that many industries did here in the United States. The late 19th century into the 20th century saw the rise of many such companies. Hershey, Mars, Peter Paul, Curtiss, and James O. Welch all came to prominence in the period from 1900 to 1930. As the 20th century passed, however, many of the companies were either bought by conglomerates or the candy bar giants (Hershey, Nestlé, and so on). Curtiss's products are now made by Nestlé The James O. Welch products are owned by Tootsie Roll. Like many industries, the candy industry which once saw the existence of many companies is now dominated by a few large coporations.

I could probably go on reminiscing about candies I had as a child, such things as Clark bars, Zero bars, Mounds, and Almond Joy. But I suspect I have talked enough about candy for one day. Many of the brands I enjoyed as a child are still around, although, sadly, so many are also now gone.

Wednesday, 8 June 2005

"And Here's to You, Mrs. Robinson..."

It seems to me that more celebrities have died in the past month than in a good long time. The latest to pass on was Academy Award winner Anne Bancroft. She died Monday at age 73 after a long battle with uterine cancer.

Anne Bancroft was born as Anna Maria Louisa Italiano in the Bronx. She studied acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City. Adopting the stage name Anne Marno, she soon found work in live television. She made her TV debut in an episode of Suspense in 1951. She soon caught the notice of Darryl F Zanuck, who signed her to a contract for Twentieth Century-Fox. The studio asked her to change her stage name, feeling it sounded too ethnic. Anne Marno then became Anne Bancroft.

Anne Bancroft's early film career was fairly undistinguished. Twentieth Century-Fox cast her primarily in B pictures. In fact, prior to 1962, her most famous movie was probably Demetrius and the Gladiators! Unhappy with Hollywood, Bancroft left for Broadway in the late Fifties, where her fortunes would be much, much better. She appeared with Henry Fonda in the play Two for the Seesaw in 1958. She played Helen Keller's teacher, Anne Sullivan, in The Miracle Worker in 1959. For both plays she received Tony Awards.

It was The Miracle Worker which brought Bancroft back to film. For the 1962 film adaptation of the play, Hollywood largely retained the original cast. Anne Bancroft won the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role for her part as Anne Sullivan in the film. She was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role in 1965 as welll, for her part as Jo Armitage in The Pumpkin Eater. While she had won an Oscar for her work in The Miracle Worker and received Oscar nominations for yet other films. Bancroft would be best remembered for her role as Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate. As the seductive, frustrated older women who seduces her daughter's boyfriend, Bancroft was nominated once more for an Oscar and became a part of film history.

Anne Bancroft's film career continued in the Seventies, even if the movies were not always on par with those she did in the Sixites (The Miracle Worker, The Pumpkin Eater, Seven Women, and The Graduate). She appeared as Winston Churchill's mother in Young Winston. She also appeared in The Prisoner of Second Avenue and The Hindenberg. She would be nominated for another Oscar for her role in The Turning Point from 1977. By 1980 she would direct her first movie, Fatso.

In 1964 Anne Bancroft married Mel Brooks. In 1972 the two had a son together. They would eventually collaborate in their work as well. Bancroft appeared as an extra in Blazing Saddles. The two would perform together in Brooks' remake of To Be or Not To Be. Later in her film career, Bancroft increasingly took character parts. She played the mother in Garbo Talks and Torch Song Trilogy. She would receive another Oscar nomination for her role in Agnes of God. Throughout the Nineties she appeared in a variety of films, from Honeymoon in Vegas to G. I. Jane to the modernised version of Great Expectations.

While she had success on film, Anne Bancroft continued to appear on Broadway. She appeared in Mother Courage and Her Children, The Devils, The Little Foxes, and A Cry of Players in the Sixties. By the Seventies she would return to television, appearing in Annie, the Women in the Life of a Man. She also played Mray Magdalene in the TV miniseries Jesus of Nazareth. In the Nineties she did a good deal of television. She received Emmy nominations for her roles in Mrs. Cage, Neil Simon's Broadway Bound, and Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All. She won an Emmy for Deep in My Heart. She was even a guest voice on The Simpsons.

The Graduate has always numbered among my favourite films, and there is no doubt in my mind that Anne Bancroft simply added to the film's greatness. While The Graduate is largely about a young man coming of age, it can also be argued that in part it is about a middle aged woman who realises, to paraphrase Bancroft herself, "that she is utterly ordinary." I suppose that there are a lot of people who can identify with Mrs. Robinson, even if they don't go to the lengths that she did. While I think most people would agree that Mrs. Robinson was Anne Bancroft's greatest film role, it must be kept in mind that her career was much more than that. She gave many great performances, among them her role as Anne Sullivan in The Miracle Worker, Dr. Cartwright in Seven Women, and Mrs. Fanning in PBS's adaptation of The Mother. She was an extraordiary actress equally at home in comedy as in drama, who had an extraordinary range. I think it can truly be said she died all too soon.

Tuesday, 7 June 2005

Some More Morning Music

I am not a huge fan of Journey. Some of their songs I like and others I don't like. But I always liked the song "Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)." This morning I find it going through my head. I have to wonder why...

Anyhow, I found an audio file of it online. I haven't tested it, so I don't know if it works. But if it does and you haven't heard the song, at least you'll know what it sounds like:

"Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)"--Journey

Addendum: Well, as Garza pointed out in his comment, it the direct link doesn't work. Since that it is case, I will just send folks directly to the web page itself J~K~L. With any luck, that will work. (-:

Monday, 6 June 2005

Here is the News

KMIZ in Columbia recently expanded their early morning newscast so that it now begins at 5:00 AM CST. Never mind that to me 5:00 AM is not early morning but late, late night, it seems to me that they would not have very much of an audience at that time of the night (mid-Missouri is not a metropolitan area where people have to get up extra early for the commute....). Regardless, it is simply one more change in the local news here in Little Dixie that has occured over the many years.

As strange as it may seem, the history of local news on television goes back nearly 80 years. The first local newscast took place on May 10, 1928, on the experimental television station in Albany, New York that would eventually be called W2XB (later WRGB). It consisted of the station manager simply reading the weather and farm reports.

Newscasts on local stations in the late Forties and early Fifties would not be terribly different from that first newscast in 1928. For the most part they would simply consist of an announcer reading the news. As the Fifties progressed, local stations started using film to record news events. Live coverage of news events were still a thing of the future. Newscasts were also much, much shorter in the Fifties. Most local newscasts were only ten to fifteen minutes long. Fifteen minute newscasts persisted even into the Sixties. I remember the midday newscast on KRCG in Jefferson City was only fifteen minutes in length until I was in about first grade. They filled the rest of the half hour with cartoons.

The Sixties would see yet more changes come to the news on local television stations. By the Sixties live coverage of news events became possible even for many local stations. The introduction of the character generator also revolutionised local news. Essentially, a character generator is an electronic device which generates characters and graphics for display on television screens (the storm warnings which run at the bottom of one's screen during bad weather are all created by a character generator). The Sixties also saw local stations increasingly switch from film to videotape. Videotape offered a clear advantage over the 16mm film previously used. Film had to be developed and edited before it could even be broadcast. Videotape allowed news crews to record the news just as it was happening.

The Sixties also saw local newscasts grow in length. As the decade progressed, most stations expanded their newscasts from ten to fifteen minutes to an entire half hour. By 1969, here in mid-Missouri, I think the only fifteen minute newscast left was KRCG's midday news. Since that time, many stations have even expanded some newscasts to an hour. For a brief time in the Seventies, KOMU in Columbia had an hour long 6:00 PM newscast. To this day KSDK in St. Louis still has an hour long newscast at noon. Another change has been the introduction of early morning, local news. Growing up I remember that the earliest local news would be the brief, five minute breaks aired during The Today Show. By the Nineties nearly all of the local stations here in mid-Missouri would have newscasts beginning at either 6:30 AM or 6:00 AM CST. Of course, KMIZ now has a newscast beginning at 5:00 AM CST.

While I must applaud our local stations on the job they do with regards to their newscasts, I do think that some changes could be made to improve things. I mean no offence to KMIZ, but I really see no need for a newscast starting at 5:00 AM CST. Indeed, I think a greater need may be for midday newscasts. Both KOMU in Columbia and KRCG have midday newscasts, but, curiously, KMIZ does not have one. In fact, I am not sure that they have ever had one. I would think that the audience for a newscast would be much, much larger at 12:00 noon CST than at 5:00 AM CST. At the very least there would be homemakers (both male and female), college students, retirees, and people who simply are not at work.

Another problem I have with the local stations is that we simply don't have enough newscasts on the weekends. On Saturday the earliest newscast on all of the stations occurs at 6:00 PM CST in the evening. It would be nice to at least have a midday newscast on Saturday. Sundays are even worse. The local stations only have one newscast each on that day, at 10:00 PM CST at night. For a time in the Eighties, KOMU had a local newscast at 5:30 PM CST on Sunday evenings. Unfortunately, it did not last. At any rate, it leaves me slightly envious of those livng in urban areas. KSDK in St. Louis not only has its hour long newscast on noon weekdays, but a newscast on both Saturday and Sunday morning as well as a newscast 5:00 PM on both days as well.

Anyhow, I suppose I have digressed. The news on local television stations has changed a great deal in my lifetime. Indeed, I have not even addressed the introduction of digital technology and the World Wide Web. I rather suspect that there will be even more new developments in the next 42 years.

Sunday, 5 June 2005

Leon Askin 1907-2005

The past several weeks have taken a heavy toll on character actors. Frank Gorshin and Howard Morris were both taken from us. Those of you who have even watched a few episodes of Hogan's Heroes may remember Albert Burkhalter, the Luftwaffe general who would threaten Col. Klink with "I will send you to the Russian front!" The actor who portrayed that character is now gone. Leon Askin recently died in Vienna, Austria at age 97.

Leon Askin was born Leo Aschkenasy, the son of salesman, on Sept. 18, 1907 in Vienna, Austria. He displayed talent early, reciting a 17 verse eulogy in honour of Emperor Francis Joseph before the city hall of Vienna's ninth district when he was all of nine years old. By age 18 he began to seriously consider becoming an actor. Askin received the best education in acting he could ever want. While he started his studies at the People's Academy in Vienna, he would soon work under directors Max Reinhardt and Louise DuMont.

With the arrival of 1933, the next few years would see Askin on the move. The Nazis having taken power, Askin found himself thrown out of the theatre for being a Jew. Not long after he would be arrested and imprisoned. Over the next few years, Askin would find himself in Paris (performing as part of the political cabaret, Künsterclub Paris-Vienne) and then in Austria again (as one of the founders of the political cabaret, ABC, and as stage manager and one of the actors at the State Theater of Upper Austria in Linz).

In 1938, when the Nazis siezed control of Austria, he once more fled for Paris. Unfortunately, France would also fall to the Nazis and Askin would be placed in the internment camp at Meslay du Maine. From there he would make his way to New York City. He would initially perform with the Civic Theatre in Washington D.C. Once the Civic Theatre closed, Askin enlisted in the U. S. Army. While serving in the military, Askin applied for citizenship in the United States.

Following the war, Askin became both an acting instructor and a director on Broadway. He also served on the executive board of the Equity Library Theatre. In 1952, however, Askin's career would see a dramatic change. Askin would be signed to play a part in Assignment Paris for Columbia Pictures. Eventually he would play in over 60 movies made in the United States. His speciality was the comic villain or the comic German or Russian. Over the years he would appear in such movies as The Road to Bali, Son of Sinbad, One, Two, Three, Do Not Disturb, and Airplane II: the Sequel. He would also continue to make movies in Europe, most notably Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse. He made his last film appearance in Kubanisch rauchen in 1999.

Askin also performed a good deal on television. Beyond his role as General Burkhalter on Hogan's Heroes, he made many guest appearances. He first appeared on American television on Biff Baker, U.S.A. in 1952. He would eventually appear on such diverse shows as The Adventures of Superman, Studio 57, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Monkees, McMillan and Wife, and Happy Days. Besides Hogan's Heroes, he was also a regular on The Charles Farrell Show in the Fifties. He would also appear in the mini-series Alma--a Show biz ans Ende in Europe.

In the Nineties, Askin returned to Vienna where he continued his career not only in film and television, but on stage as well. He played in the original stage version of Alma and the play Der Vater.

Askin would be bestowed with various honours by his native Austria. He was endowed with the title "Professor" by the President of Austria. He also received the Austrian Cross of Honor for Science and Art, Veinna's Gold Cross of Honour, and the Austrian Cross of Honour, First Class, for Science and Art.

Many might be misled by Leon Askin's best known, comedic roles, such as Burkhalter on Hogan's Heroes and Peripetchikoff in One, Two, Three, into thinking he was simply a comedic character actor. As an actor, however, Askin had a much wider range from that, playing everything from dramatic roles to villains. Indeed, on stage he played both Shylock and Faust. It was perhaps Askin's great range that made him so good in comedic roles. He could evoke laughter with the most subtle facial expressions or nuance of voice. And his timing was perfect. Although he will be best remembered for his role on Hogan's Heroes, his career extended far beyond that show and he accompished much, much more. It is truly sad that he is now gone.