Friday, 5 June 2009

The Late, Great David Carradine

David Carradine, who played Kwai Chang Caine in the TV series Kung Fu and Frankenstein in the movie Death Race 2000, passed on June 3, 2009 at the age of 72. He was found hanging in a Bangkok hotel where he was making a new movie.

David Carradine was born John Arthur Carradine in Hollywood, California on December 8, 1936. His father was legendary actor John Carradine. To avoid being confused with his father (whose birth name was Richmond Reed Carradine--he took the stage name "John" in 1935 and legally changed it two years later), Carradine took the name David not long after he started his career. Carradine attended various San Francisco area colleges, studying music and later acting. He served in the United States Army from 1960 to 1962. David Carradine began his career with guest appearances on Armstrong Circle Theatre, East Side/West Side, and Wagon Train in 1963. In 1964 he was cast in the Broadway play The Deputy. That same year he appeared in episodes of Arrest and Trial The Virginian, and Alfred Hitchock Presents. He also appeared in the movie Taggart that year.

It was in 1966 that David Carradine was cast as the lead in the short lived TV series Shane, based on the classic film of the same name. Although the series was expected to do well, it was cancelled after a mere sixteen episodes. The show's failure would not hurt Carradine's career, as from the late Sixties into the early Seventies he guest starred on such shows as Coronet Blue, Cimarron Strip, The Name of the Game, Ironside, Gunsmoke, and Night Gallery. He also appeared in the films The Violent Ones, Young Billy Young, The McMasters, and The Good Guys and the Bad Guys. In 1969 he appeared off Broadway in the play The Transgressor Rides Again.

It was in 1972 that David Carradine appeared in the role for which he was most famous. It was that year that the pilot movie for a new series, entitled Kung Fu, aired on the American Broadcast Company (ABC). The movie proved successful and Kung Fu aired as a monthly series starting in the fall of 1972, becoming so popular that it was eventually made a weekly series starting in January 1973. In the series Carradine played Kwai Chang Kaine, a Shaolin monk of Chinese and American ancestry, who had to flee China after killing his teacher's murderer (who just happened to be the Emperor's nephew). Wandering the Old West, he searched for his American half brother Danny Caine. Pursued by bounty hunters and facing injustice along the way, Caine often found himself forced to use his kung fu to defend himself and others. The show may have been responsible in part for sparking the Kung Fu craze in the United States in the Seventies.

Today it would be considered politically incorrect for someone such as Carradine, who was of mixed European and Cherokee descent, to even play someone who was half Chinese. That having been said, Carradine endowed Caine with a quiet dignity and never played him as a stereotype. Kung Fu still had fairly good ratings when it went off the air, ending only because David Carradine felt he could not continue on the series giving the many injuries he had received while making it.

Carradine followed his success in Kung Fu with what might be his most famous movie role, that of Frankenstein in Death Race 2000. The movie portrayed a fascist police state in which the Transcontinental Road Race has become the national pastime. No mere car race, in the Transcontinental Road Race the drivers were awarded points based on how many pedestrians they hit and killed, and it is perfectly legal to kill one's competitors. Made on the cheap by Roger Corman's New World Pictures, the movie would become a cult film, inspiring a 2007 remake entitled Death Race.

The next several years Carradine appeared in such films as Cannonball, Bound for Glory (playing Woody Guthrie), Thunder and Lightning, Deathsport (a follow up to Death Race 2000), Circle of Iron, and The Long Riders (playing Cole Younger). He also appeared on television in the TV movies Mr. Horn (playing Tom Horn) and Gaugin the Savage, playing Paul Gauguin). The Eighties saw Carradine appear in such films as Q (another cult movie), Lone Wolf McQuade, The Warrior and the Sorceress, Ingmar Bergman's The Serpent's Egg, Behind Enemy Lines, Armed Response, Warlords, and Wizards of the Lost Kingdom II. On television he returned as Caine in Kung Fu: The Movie and guest starred on Matlock. He also appeared in the mini-series North and South and North and South, Book II.

The Nineties saw Carradine appear in such B movies as Dune Warriors and Future Zone. He once more played Kwai Chang Kaine in the TV movie The Gambler Returns: The Luck of the Draw. From 1993 to 1997 he played Caine's grandson. The Naughts would see Carradine appear in yet more B movies, with some notable exceptions. He appeared as Bill in the movies Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Kill Bill Vol. 2. He also guest starred on the series Queen of Swords and King of the Hill.

It is hard for me to express precisely how deeply saddened I am by David Carradine's death. Like many I first noticed him as Caine in the TV series Kung Fu, but I remember him well in other roles as well: Frankenstein in Death Race 2000, Cole Younger in The Long Riders, and Shepard in Q. The roles were each different from Kaine and different from each other. Frankenstein was a racer in the Transcontinental Road Race, but not the government stooge the Resistance believed him to be. Cole Younger was a historical figure, one of the leaders of the James-Younger gang, continuing his wartime activities by fighting against the Radical Republicans. Shepard was a dedicated New York City detective who saw a link between a series of ritualistic murders and the disappearances of people from rooftops. Each of these roles was different, but Carradine played them all well. He was a versatile actor with a good deal of talent. Indeed, while many of the films he made could be called cheesy at best, Carradine always turned in a good performance.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

The Fifth Anniversary of A Shroud of Thoughts

On June 4, 2004 I made the first entry to A Shroud of Thoughts. That makes today the fifth anniversary of this blog. Throughout that time I have posted to this blog at least three times a week, every week. I will admit, some of the posts were pretty poor and others were pretty short, but I have always managed to keep A Shroud of Thoughts updated.

For those people who keep track of the latest developments on the Internet, it should not be surprising that A Shroud of Thoughts was founded in 2004. In the years 2004 and 2005 blogs became the "in" thing. Even though blogs had been around 1997, it was in those years that the conventional media first took notice of blogs (by way of example, here's an article from the September 22, 2004 edition of The Christian Science Monitor about blogs and a current event of the time). A good number of people were starting blogs back then blogs. Indeed, a number of my favourite bloggers are also celebrating their fifth anniversaries this year: J. Maquis of Major Conflict, Jeremy of Popped Culture, Snave of Various Ecstacies, and Toby of Inner Toob (let me know if I've forgotten anyone). I encourage all of you to check out these blogs, as they are some of the best out there.

As to how A Shroud of Thoughts came about, one of my friends at the time had a blog she had operated since around 1992. This inspired me to create my own blog. As to the name, I drew that from Lord Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage canto iii stanza 113, which is quoted below:

I have not loved the world, nor the world me;
I have not flattered its rank breath, nor bow'd
To its idolatries a patient knee,
Nor coin'd my cheek to smiles, nor cried aloud
In worship of an echo; in the crowd
They could not deem me one of such; I stood
Among them, but not of them; in a shroud
Of thoughts which were not their thoughts, and still could,
Had I not filed my mind, which thus itself subdued.

Of course, the internet has changed a good deal since A Shroud of Thoughts and its contemporary blogs were founded five years ago. In 2004 only 43/% of all Americans were connected to the internet through a broadband connection as opposed to dial-up. By 2008 the number of people using broadband in the United States had risen to 72.5 %. It is difficult to gauge the total impact the steady increase in the number of Americans using broadband has had on the internet, but one result may be the popularity in video on the internet which has steadily increased throughout the Naughts. While video sharing websites have existed in some form since the late Nineties, they would not become commonplace until the Naughts. Indeed, the most popular video sharing website, YouTube, was not founded until February 2005 (by which time A Shroud of Thoughts was already eight months old). In 2004 one could watch only a very few television shows online. Now not only do the vast majority of broadcast networks and cable channels have their most recent shows available online, but they even have classic shows available for viewing over the internet (NBC and CBS are notable examples). What is more, one can watch entire movies online through such venues as NetFlix and ITunes. I have no doubt that these changes developed because more people now use broadband connections as opposed to dial up connections. Let's face it, one could watch video on dial up, but it was very tiresome to do so. It usually meant sitting for many minutes while even a short video buffered before one could watch it.

One thing that has changed since 2004 which is probably not due to the fact that more people are connected to the net via broadband than before is the popularity of social networking sites. Social networking sites existed in some form long before 2004. Classmates.Com was founded all the way back in 1995. Even MySpace pre-dates 2004, being founded by 2003. Facebook was founded in February 2004. Still, there can be no denying that while social networking sites existed before 2004, they would not explode in popularity until after that.

As to A Shroud of Thoughts, it has changed over the years. I must confess that I started A Shroud of Thoughts without much of a plan, beyond writing about those things in which I was interested. As the vast majority of my posts dealt with pop culture in some way, shape, or form, I then the blog's primary focus would be pop culture (I believe I decided this in the first month--maybe the first week--of the blog's existence). And while I have never gone into detail on my personal life in this blog, I did discuss it a bit in my earliest posts. I eventually stopped this practice because a.) this is a blog about pop culture, not me, and b.) people probably are not interested in reading about my problems. Other than that there has not really been too much change in the subject matter of A Shroud of Thoughts. I do think the blog was originally a bit more nostalgic than it is now. While I still wax nostalgic about such pop culture artefacts as old TV shows, old movies, old rock groups, pulp magazines, comic books, and so on, I do not write about the places important to American society as I once did. At one time I did posts on such places as department stores, dime stores, barber shops, cinemas, drive in restaurants, and so on. It was not a conscious choice I made about writing about such places, but rather the fact that I eventually ran out of such places to write about!

One change in subject I consciously made was the incorporation of video into posts. This is directly related to the growing number of people on broadband (including myself) and the popularity of video sharing websites. For those of you who might be curious, the first video ever appearing in a post was a clip of the Underdog theme song courtesy of IFilm in the post "There's No Need to Fear...Underdog is Here" from August 6, 2007. I actually had broadband before that, so I am embarrassed to admit that this was the first time I thought of incorporating video into a post!

As to the way that A Shroud of Thoughts looks, that would change frequently in the early days of the blog. For those of you wondering, here is the original look of A Shroud of Thoughts when it debuted, here is a screen capture courtesy of the Wayback Machine.



Unfortunately, the Wayback Machine did not spider the way A Shroud of Thoughts looked in between the original template and this one. Fortunately, I do remember them. The second template was simply a three column version of the original. After Blogger introduced the ability to embed images into one's blog, which resulted in my second template starting halfway down the page for some reason. I switched temporarily the template Minima Black before adopting this template. This template was reated through combining Blogger's Minima Black with Eris Design's Faintly Victorian (sadly, I don't think Eris Design exists any longer) and throwing in some modifications of my own, such as the way comments are handled. I have used it since July 2005. Since then Blogger has introduced what they call Layouts features, but must upgrade his or her blog to one of Blogger's new templates to do so. As Blogger still has no three column templates, then, I see no reason to change the current template! I can do without those fancy Layout features.

I suppose I have rambled on enough about A Shroud of Thoughts here. I will simply close with two things. The first, in honour of the blog's fifth anniversary, is an open invitation to anyone who wants to make a guest post to A Shroud of Thoughts. If you would like to be a guest blogger, you can email at the handy email link in the right hand column. If for whatever reason the link at the right does not work, then email me at either mercurie at gmail.com or spacelord at warpdriveonline.com. I only have a few ground rules:

1. The post must be on some facet of pop culture. This is not as narrow as it sounds, because it includes everything from movies to literature (by my definition, Shakespeare is pop culture).
2. Please, keep all posts rated PG-13 at the most. I will not say A Shroud of Thoughts is a family blog, but I am fully aware that children might be reading it.
3. Given the fact that I can be long winded, a post can be fairly long, but not so long that it must be posted in entries. I am the only one who gets to write series of articles here!
4. If you want pictures included with your post, please email them to me!

Finally, I went through the blog last weekend and chose what I felt have been my best entries over the past five years, except for 2008-2009 (those were included in yesterday's post). So, here they are, year by year, "The Greatest Hit of A Shroud of Thoughts!"

2004-2005

Action Figures BSW (Before Star Wars 08/12/2004

Action Figures and Merchandising 08/13/2004

The Vanguard of Mars Part One 09/03/2004

The Vanguard of Mars Part Two 09/04/2005

The Golden Age of Horror Movies 10/02/2004

The Week Before Halloween 2004

Disney 03/18/2005

Fantasy Films of the Eighties 04/01/2005

The Adventures of Robin Hood 04/19/2005

The Architecture of Cinemas 05/10/2005

The Blonde Mystique 05/25/2005

2005-2006

A Night at the Movies 06/10/2005

Simon and Garfunkel 06/11/2005

The Rise and Fall of the Independent Televison Station 06/13/20085

Les Belles Dames Sans Merci: Elf Maidens and Men 06/30/2005

The Fleischer Superman Cartoons 08/03/2005

Blondie Turns 75 09/08/2005

Forty Years of The Wild Wild West 09/17/2005

Dracula on Film 10/30/2005

Roald Dahl's Critics 11/13/2005

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade Balloons 11/24/2005

The History of Heavy Metal (all five parts and another entry thrown in for good measure) 02/05/2006

Vikings on Film 02/16/2006

The Week of February 26, 2006 ("The Dramatic Roles of Gene Kelly," "Great Expectations," and eulogies for three of my favourite actors)

2006-2007


The Most Successful Studio Never to Exist 06/11/2006


Midnight Movies 08/06/2006

Nero Wolfe...Merely a Genius 08/19/2006

The Monkees Turn 40 09/12/2006

Dick Tracy Turns 75 10/04/2006

Dark Shadows 10/28/2006

Warren Horror Comic Magazines 10/30/2008

5 November 11/05/2006

The Long Journey of Casino Royale to the Big Screen 11/19/2006

The Beatles Cartoon 12/09/2006

The Future Was Then 02/19/2006

Warner Brothers Cartoons AB (After Bugs) 04/06/2007

Shicinin no samurai (Seven Samurai) 04/15/2007

The Week of April 29, 2007, includes "Concept Albums Parts One, Two, and Three"

The 70th Anniversary of the Hindenberg Disaster 05/06/2007

The Anime Wave on American Television in the Sixties Part One 05/27/2007

The Anime Wave on American Television in the Sixties Part Two 05/28/2007

It Was 40 Years Ago Today 06/01/2007

2007-2008

The Week of June 24, contains the three part article "Defining Generation X"2007

The Week of July 1, 2007, contains the two part article "Advertising Mascots"

Total Television (TTV) 07/12/2007

There No Need to Fear...Underdog is Here 08/06/2007

Week of August 12, contains the four part article "African Americans in Comic Books"2007

Cinema Killed the Radio Star: How Elvis Presley's Movies Nearly Ended His Career 08/22/2007

Superman's Pal, the Smut Monger 08/29/2007

The Horror Movies of Val Lewton 10/20/2007

Vincent Price 10/28/2007

Mutt and Jeff Turn 100 11/15/2007

The Week of November 18, 2007, includes the articles " Tomorrow is Thanksgiving...Who Needs Pilgrims." "Boris Karloff's 120th Birthday," and "Black Friday"

The Week of Yule, 2007, contains the articles "Father Christmas," "Santa Claus," and " When TV Cartoons Become Live-Action Movies..." ()

The Week of December 20, 2007, contains the four part article "A History of Power Pop"

The Week of January 13, 2008, contains the two part article " Aurora: the Company That Monsters Built...And Destroyed"

Doc Savage Turns 75 03/01/2008

Home is Where the Heart Is....Even on Television 03/17/2008

Winnie the Pooh 05/10/2008

Recreating New York 05/23/2008

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

The Best of 2008-2009

Each year on the anniversary of this blog I post links to what I feel were the year's best posts. That having been said, tomorrow is the 5th anniversary of A Shroud of Thoughts. Since this is a bit of a milestone for this blog, I thought I would then do something a bit more special tomorrow. I still wanted to keep up the tradition of listing what I feel to be my best posts of the year, so I am posting them today. So, without further ado, here are the best posts of 2008-2009.

The Week of the Kung Fu Craze Parts One, Two, and Three (June 10-12, 2008)

60 Years Ago Today the Ed Sullivan Show Debuted (June 20, 2008)

Quality Comics July 5, 2008

The Phenomenon That is the Dark Knight July 27, 2008

The Beatles Movie That Never Was August 3, 2008

When Advertising Spokemen Go Bad August 17, 2008

How Original Was Stan Lee

Danger Man, AKA Secret Agent September 3, 2008

Bus Stop: A Lion Walks Among Us September 14, 2008

The Spider Turns 75 September 21, 2008

The Satanic Panic of the Eighties September 28, 2008

The Week of "The Bowling Alley" and "Chatty Cathy" October 5-11, 2008

The Week of Halloween, includes "A History of Hammer Films Parts One and Two," "DC Comics' Horror Titles of the Seventies," and "The 70th Anniversary of Orson Welles' "War of the Worlds" Radio Broadcast" October 26-Nobember 1, 2008

The 40th Anniversary of the Heidi Game November 17, 2008

The Flying Aces of the Pulp Magazines November 30, 2008

The Week Before Christmas Day, includes "Elves" and "Frosty the Snowman" December 14-20, 2008

Yuletide Week, includes "Gene Autry, the Christmas Cowboy," "Eggnog," and "TV Show Christmas Episodes" December 21-27, 2008

The Week of "Spy Shows Parts One, Two, Three, F1our, and Five" January 4-10, 2009

"The Sixties Sex Comedies Parts One, Two, and Three January 18-23, 2009

Albany: London's Most Prestigous Apartments Feburary 1, 2009

Swinging London on Film Feburary 16, 2009

Doctor Dolittle: The Film That Almost Bankrupted 20th Century Fox February 21, 2009

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss! March 02, 2009

The Week of "Fail-Safe," "Rich People and Theorists: Will Recession Affect Movies," and "Mister Peepers" March 22-28, 2009

The Week of "The 'Road' Pictures," "The First Cartoons on Television in Prime Time," "The Stratemeyer Syndicate: How Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys Were Born," and "Harvey" April 5-11

Turner Classic Movies Turns 15 April 14, 2009

Twlight of Some Brands April 22, 2009

The Week of "Ida Lupino as Director" and "The Geeks That Time Forgot: The Lone Gunmen" May 17-23, 2009

The Television Networks of Paramount May 24, 2009

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

The First Song Ever Played During The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien

Cheap Trick could possibly be my favourite band, second only to The Beatles. I was quite pleased, then, when the song playing during the opening skit of The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien was "Surrender" by Cheap Trick. That's right. "Surrender" by Cheap Trick was the first song ever played on The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien. I have to admit that Conan has good tastes in music. And as the first Gen Xer to host The Tonight Show, I guess Conan almost had to have a Cheap Trick song in the opening skit. It was either that or The Knack...

Anyhow, without further ado, here is the video to "Surrender" by Cheap Trick, courtesy of Metacafe (I don't have the opening skit, but I suspect you'll be able to see it at NBC.Com soon enough).


Cheap Trick - Surrender (Official Music Video) - The most popular videos are here

Monday, 1 June 2009

Conan O'Brien Takes Over The Tonight Show

Before anything else I wanted to let everyone know that I wrote today's guest post at Raquelle's blog Out of the Past. Be sure to stop by the blog. It's one of the best on classic film!
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Tonight Conan O'Brien, the former host of Late Night, will take over as the host of The Tonight Show. Conan is only the fifth man to hold the position, following Steve Allen, Jack Paar, Johnny Carson, and Jay Leno. He then has some fairly big shoes to fill. Steve Allen virtually invented the late night talk show, while Jack Paar and Johnny Carson are television legend.

Conan O'Brien is not the only one making the move from Late Night. His house band, The Max Weinberg 7 will also make the move, although they will now be called Max Weinberg and The Tonight Show Band. Andy Richter, Conan's sidekick from 1993 to 2000, will join him on The Tonight Show. Jeff Ross, who had produced Late Night with Conan O'Brien, will take over as producer of The Tonight Show.

Conan O'Brien had taken over the hosting duties of Late Night after David Letterman had jumped ship from NBC to CBS. Conan had an awkward start, being relatively inexperienced in front of the camera. NBC initially showed little faith in Conan, renewing his contract a mere thirteen weeks at a time. Slowly, as Conan gained more experience in front of the camera, the rating rose. In the end he hosted Late Night for a total of sixteen years. Oddly enough, he will now be competing with the man from whom he had taken over Late Night, David Letterman.

Of course, the big question is how well Conan will do against Letterman. I suppose much of this depends upon whether he can hold onto Leno's audience. I must confess I have my doubts. I have always liked Conan, even in the early days. I watched Late Night with Conan O'Brien semi-regularly until Craig Ferguson took over the hosting duties on The Late, Late Show (in my humble opinion, Ferguson is the best late night host since Jack Paar). Here I must point out, however, that I was probably typical of the viewers of Late Night with Conan O'Brien. Quite simply, Late Night has always appealed to a younger crowd than The Tonight Show. Late Night was the show of my generation--Generation X, while The Tonight Show appealed more to Baby Boomers. I have little doubt that much of this was due to the nature of Conan's humour, sometimes outrageous, often surreal, and filled with non sequiturs. I have to wonder if this kind of humour would appeal to The Tonight Show, and if it doesn't if Conan will be able to make the transition to the more reserved sort of humour for which The Tonight Show under both Johnny Carson and Jay Leno was known. I fear that he might not. In that case, the older audience that always watched the show will desert it in groves. And I have to wonder that much of his old audience aren't regular viewers of Letterman. The question then becomes whether he can lure his Late Night audience away from Letterman. I don't know if he can or not.

Regardless, I have always been fond of Conan, and I probably will tune into see him on The Tonight Show from time to time. I wish him all the luck in the world. And I just pray that when he retires in another sixteen years (or makes the move to prime time....) that Jimmy Fallon doesn't take over The Tonight Show seat...