Saturday, 23 October 2010

This....is a Thriller!

(As regular readers of this blog know, every year the week before Halloween I make a blog post befitting the holiday each day. Today I am breaking a bit with tradition in reprinting a post from the first year of this blog, although it is on a subject well suited to Halloween. "This....is a Thriller!" was first published on 29 October 2004. The article was about the classic horror anthology series, Thriller, hosted by Boris Karloff. I reprint it today for two reasons. The first is that in 2004 it was very difficult to post pictures to Blogger, but today it is much easier. This version of the article then includes photos to go with the text. The second reason is that since 2004 the entire series has been released on DVD, news I wanted to include in this version of the article. Without further ado, then, "This...is a Thriller!")

Next Sunday is Halloween and my mind is turning to the horror genre. Growing up I remember a horror anthology series called Thriller. I was not yet born when the series first debuted on September 13, 1960. In fact, I was not even born when the series last aired on NBC on April 30, 1962. For much of that two year run, Thriller brought tales of unspeakable horror to the small screen, including adaptations of some classic stories from horror literature. This was perhaps fitting, as the series was hosted by famous movie ghoul, Boris Karloff. Fortunately, as I was not yet born during its original run, Thriller had a healthy syndication run. I remember KRCG reran it in the Seventies. I watched it as often as I could. It was possibly the most frightening TV show I had ever seen, short of a few episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Though it is best known as a horror anthology series, Thriller did not start out that way. Thriller was created by TV legend Hubbell Robinson (former programming chief of CBS). As originally conceived by Mr. Robinson, Thriller would be "the Studio One of mystery, a quality anthology drawing on the whole rich field of suspense literature." The series would be on par with Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone. Mr. Robinson assured NBC that Thriller would be his own personal project. Mr, Robinson had been programming chief at CBS during the so called Golden Age of Television. During that time he had watched over the development of many of that network's greatest series, including I Love Lucy and Sergeant Bilko. Mr. Robinson championed such classic anthology series as Studio One and Playhouse 90. He had also been executive producer for Playhourse 90. Mr. Robinson then had a good deal of clout in the televison community and NBC added Thriller to their fall 1960-1961 lineup without requiring a pilot episode.

Unfortunately, problems regarding the series developed almost immediately. Nineteen sixty was the year of the third longest Writers Guild strike of all time. For the duration of the strike, no television writer could write, re-write, or even so much as edit any script of any TV series. To do so would result in sanctions from the Guild. Needless to say, this made things extremely difficult for televison shows, particularly those going into production for the first time. A more serious problem was a disagreement between executive producer Hubbell Robinson, line producer Fletcher Markle, and associate producer/story editor James P. Cavanaugh as to what consulted a good "thriller." The three men disagreed as to whether horror and black comedy could be included under the heading of "thriller," whether graphic violence was necessary within a thriller, and nearly everything else about the show.

Between the writer's strike and inner turmoil in the production staff, Thriller debuted to almost universally hostile reviews and low ratings. As the series progressed, neither the quality of the stories nor the reviews nor the ratings showed any significant improvement. Its sponsor was not happy, hence neither was NBC. Robinson blamed the low quality of the initial episodes on the writers' strike. From another producer this might be an acceptable explanation, but, from Hubbell Robinson, NBC did not buy it. NBC conducted its own investigation and discovered the ugly truth: Messrs. Robinson, Markle, and Cavanaugh simply could not agree on anything

After eight episodes, NBC handed Mr. Robinson an ultimatum: either Thriller would be brought up to the level of quality they had expected of the show or it would face cancellation. Mr. Robinson decided that the series' problem was the fact that its focus was simply too broad. Its focus was then narrowed from the whole field of mystery to two specific subgenres: the horror/mystery tale with supernatural elements and the fast paced crime story. Mr, Markle was fired and two new producers were hired. William Frye would produce the horror episodes, while Maxwell Shane would produce the crime episodes. Peter Rugolo, who provided Thriller with loud, jazzy musical scores, was replaced by Morton Stevens and Jerry Goldsmith, who provided the series with more appropriately chilling music. Finally, Boris Karloff, the master of horror himself, was brought in as the show's host.

Mr. Robinson's solution initially made for an uneven series. Though the episodes were now of a fairly high quality, the show itself was divided between two very distinct genres. One week the viewer might tune in to see an exciting tale of murder and drug smuggling, while the next week he might tune in to see a terrifying tale of the undead and ghostly possession. As the first season of Thriller progressed, however, the show began to take shape as a definite horror anthology. Tales of terror outnumbered the tales of crime, and even the crime stories took on a more of an air of Hitchcockian suspense or psychological horror.

In some respects it was logical that Thriller would evolve into a horror anthology. This would further set it apart from Alfred Hitchcock Presents, to which it is still compared. At the same time, television had yet to fully mine the horror genre. Thriller first ventured into the horror genre with its fourth aired episode, the first one produced by William Frye, "The Purple Room." This episode dealt with an heir (played by Rip Torn) who must first spend a night in a house said to be haunted before he can inherit the property. It was with the series' 12th episode that Thriller took shape as the horror anthology which most fans remember it as. "The Cheaters" was based on a story by Robert Bloch, originally published in Weird Tales back in 1947. The episode centred upon a mysterious pair of glasses which allowed the wearer to see through the facades of anyone to the truth about that person. Unfortunately, it does so at a terrible cost to the wearer. "The Cheaters" was pivotal in the development of Thriller in that it was the first of many to be based on a classic horror story and it was the first in which Boris Karloff utters the immortal words, "This....is a Thriller!" That phrase would become the tagline for the series.

"The Cheaters" was among the best episodes of the first season of Thriller. "Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper" was based on the classic Robert Bloch story from a 1943 issue of Weird Tales, in which a man (John Williams) discovers that Jack the Ripper is alive and well in the United States and continuing to commit murders. Robert Bloch himself adapted "The Devil's Ticket," based on his own story which first appeared in Weird Tales in 1944. In "The Devil's Ticket" a starving artist (MacDonald Carey) pawns his soul to Satan for three months of fame and fortune. Perhaps the most terrifying episode of the series' entire run as John Kneubuhl's adaptation of "Pigeons from Hell," based on the story by Robert E. Howard which first appeared in Weird Tales in 1938. In "Pigeons from Hell" two brothers, stranded by car trouble, find themselves facing the undead presences of a particular sadistic plantation family's servants. Over all, the first season of Thriller saw some of the best horror tales ever aired. To this day many of the episodes remain unmatched in their power to evoke terror.

For its second season Thriller shifted almost entirely to a horror format. Only the final episode, "The Specialists," an unsold pilot about an international ring of jewel thieves, contained absolutely no elements of terror. Among the best episodes of this season was Robert Bloch's adaptation of his own "Waxworks," first published in Weird Tales in 1939, in which figures in a travelling wax museum modelled after famous killers are brought to life. In another one of Bloch's adaptation of his own stories, "The Weird Tailor,"a man has a tailor make a special suit that will resurrect his dead son.

Not every episode of Thriller was an exercise in chills. The show also dealt in black comedy. An example of this is "The Remarkable Mrs. Hawks" in which a lady hog farmer (Jo Van Fleet) in a small American community turns out to be the legendary Circe!

Boris Karloff himself appeared in a few of the second seasons. Among these was an adaptation of Poe's "The Premature Burial." Mr. Karloff played a woman's lover who buries her cataleptic husband alive. Mr. Karloff also appeared in "The Last of the Sommervilles," in which he plots with his cousin to kill their wealthy aunt. In "The Incredible Dr. Markesan," based on an August Derleth/Mark Schorer story first published in Weird Tales in 1934, Karloff plays a doctor who has figured out a way to cheat death.

In addition to Boris Karloff, Thriller would feature several well known guest stars. Classic movie stars Mary Astor, John Carradine, Reginald Owen, and Everett Sloane all appeared in episodes on the series. The show also featured many television actors who were already famous or soon would be: Donna Douglas of The Beverly Hillbillies, Russell Johnson (soon to be best known as The Professor on Gilligan's Island), Werner Klemperer (a few years from lasting fame as Colonel Klink on Hogan's Heroes), Elizabeth Montgomery (who a few years later became the star of Bewitched), Mary Tyler Moore (already starring on The Dick Van Dyke Show), William Shatner (soon to be forever known as Captain Kirk on Star Trek), and Dick York (a few years away from becoming Darren Stevens on Bewitched).

By the end of its second season, Thriller was a cult favourite with horror fans and had redeemed itself with television critics. Unfortunately, this would not guarantee that it would see a third season. . At the time NBC was also home to Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Unlike the hour long Thriller, Alfred Hitchcock Presents had only been a half hour in length. With the 1962-1963 season, Hitchcock and his production staff decided to expand his series to one hour and rename it The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. It seems possible that Thriller was cancelled to make room for more Hitchcock. Perhaps confirming this theory is a report from Thriller associate producer Doug Benton who had heard that Hitchcock thought that in making Thriller Hubbell Robinson had tread on his turf. From what Mr. Benton had heard, Hitchcock thought that Thriller was doing the same sort of material he covered in his own show. The fact that both shows aired on NBC and that both were made at the production company Revue (now Universal Television) at least makes it possible that Hitchcock expanded his show to an hour in an effort to compete with Thriller.

Regardless, Thriller went onto a very successful syndication run, airing on local stations for literally years. To this day it is perhaps better remembered than horror series with longer runs. The reason is not just its famous host, Boris Karloff, but the fact that despite an awkward start it went onto become a quality anthology series. While Mr. Robinson had wanted to do the Studio One of mystery, he ultimately produced the Studio One of horror. It was one of the few shows to adapt classic tales of horror from pulp magazines, often by a master of horror himself (Robert Bloch). The show also benefited from several talented directors, among them John Newland, John Brahm, and Ida Lupino. Finally, as both host and actor, Boris Karloff lent the series both an atmosphere of terror and an air of prestige.

To this day I have fond memories of watching Thriller Saturday afternoons and nights on KRCG . Sadly, the series would almost totally disappear from syndication in the Eighties. In the Nineties individual episodes of the show would be released on VHS. In the Naughts Thriller would be rerun on the Scream cable channel. At long last, on August 31, 2010, the entire run of Thriller would be released on DVD. Not only were the episodes remastered and uncut, but the DVD set includes a number of special features. Among the extras on the DVD set are commentaries by such names as Arthur Hiller, Daniel Benton, Marc Scott Zircee, Larry Blamire, and others, production and promotional still galleries, the original network promo for the show, and promos for individual episodes. Unfortunately, Thriller is only sold in a DVD set including both the first and second seasons, making it prohibitively expensive for many ($99.99 on Amazon). Regardless, at long last Thriller is finally widely available for the first time for years. For people such as me who remember it from our childhoods and for fans for the horror genre, classic television, and Boris Karloff, this is truly a blessing. At last many will get to see the greatest horror anthology of all time again or, in many cases, for the very first time.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Scholastic Turns 90

In most places around the world, chances are you have heard of Scholastic Inc. Indeed, it is the largest publisher and distributor of children's books in the world. Of course, Scholastic does more than publish children's books. It also publishes several various magazines for the classroom, such as Scholastic News and Let's Find Out. It also owns Weston Woods Studios, which produces films and audio books for children, Tom Snyder Productions, which produces educational software for children, and book publisher Arthur A. Levine Books. Of course, for many Americans Scholastic may be most familiar through its Book Clubs division, book clubs through which children can buy discounted books through the classroom.

Scholastic Inc. was founded on October 22, 1920 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania by M. R. Robinson. Its first publication was The Western Pennsylvania Scholastic, which covered high school sports and was founded on that day. It was in 1922 that Scholastic Inc. went national with The Scholastic, a classroom magazine meant to educate children on the news of the day. In 1923 the Scholastic Writing Awards would be established as part of The Scholastic. This would lead to the first book published by Scholastic, in 1926. It entitled Saplings, it collected the best material from the various Scholastic Writing Awards winners.

In the Thirties, Scholastic would expand with the publication of the magazine Scholastic Coach, meant for high school and college coaches. The magazine is still being published today, making it Scholastic's longest running magazine. In 1937 Scholastic expanded into the junior high market with Junior Scholastic, which remains one of the company's oldest publications

Following World War II Scholastic would add more publications, including Scholastic Teacher, Prep, and Literary Cavalcade. It would be in 1948 that Scholastic would enter into a joint venture with paperback publisher Pocket Books to create their first Book Club, T.A.B. ("Teen Age Book Club"). The book clubs would prove extremely successful, so that Scholastic would add more over the years. It was in 1957 that Scholastic created their Arrow Book Club, currently serving fourth to sixth grades. It was in 1961 that the Lucky Book Club, serving second to third grades, was launched. In 1966 Scholastic launched its Seesaw Book Club, centred on kindergarten and first grade. Since then the Scholastic Book Clubs have expanded even more. In 1994 Scholastic acquired one of their competitors, Trumpet Book Clubs. In 2003 they acquired another competitor, Troll Book Clubs.

It was in 1957 that Scholastic founded its first subsidiary outside the United States, Scholastic Canada. The company would expand into the United Kingdom and New Zealand in 1964, and Australia, in 1968. Today there are Scholastic subsidiaries around the world. Over the years Scholastic would also expand the number of magazines it published. News Time would be introduced in 1952, its first news magazine directed at elementary school. News Time would be the forerunner of the now familiar Scholastic News, which has editions published for every grade in elementary school. In 1964 Scholastic launched Scope, a magazine for struggling readers. From 1974 to 1992, Scholastic published Dynamite, which as a guide to pop culture for children. Dynamite was one of the few Scholastic magazines to be sold on newsstands. It was also sold through the Book Clubs.

It was in 1978 that Scholastic Productions was formed with the goal of producing children's television shows and feature films. Beginning with the TV series Voyagers, Scholastic Productions would go onto produce such shows as Charles in Charge, The Magic School Bus, Clifford the Big Red Dog, and Word Girl. It would also produce such feature films as The Indian in the Cupboard (1995), Tuck Everlasting (2002), and The Golden Compass (2007).

It was in 1981 that Scholastic entered the book fair business by buying California Book Fairs. In 1983 Scholastic Book Fairs would go national after the company bought Great American Book Fairs. Since then Scholastic has continued to expand. In 1989 it bought Instructor, the oldest magazine for teachers, published since 1891. In 1993 Scholastic launched the Scholastic Network on AOL, the first online service for teachers and students. It was the direct forerunner of Scholastic's web site (launched in 1996). In 1996 Scholastic bought Weston Woods, which produces films and audio books for children. In 2001 Scholastic opened its first retail store in New York City. In 2004 it would open another in Scarsdale, New York. That same year Scholastic acquired Tom Snyder Productions. In 2002 Scholastic launched COOL (Clubs Ordering Online), which allows teachers and parents to order through the Book Clubs online.

Starting with a single magazine in 1920, Scholastic Inc. is now the largest publisher of children's books in the world. Indeed, it owns the American publishing rights to the highly successful "Harry Potter" series, as well as such successful series as "Clifford the Big Red Dog" series, "Goosebumps" series, "Baby Sitter's Club" series, and others. It seems quite likely that since 1960 there have been very few American children who have not been touched by Scholastic, either through Scholsatic News, the Scholastic Books, or, most likely both. I remember reading both Scholastic News and Dynamite growing up, as well as buying books through the Book Clubs (indeed, I bought my first book by Ian Fleming through the Book Clubs--Chitty Chitty Bang Bang). Of course, today Scholastic has a bigger impact on my life than it did when I was a child, given I have worked for them for six years now. I can't think of any company I would rather work for.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Johnny Sheffield Passes On

Johnny Sheffield, who played Boy in the Tarzan movies and Bomba the Jungle Boy, passed on October 15, 2010 at the age of 79. The cause was a heart attack.

Johnny Sheffield was born in Pasadena, California on April 11, 1931. His father, Reginald Sheffield, had been a child actor who appeared in silent movies and on Broadway.

It was in 1938 that Johnny Sheffield made his acting debut in the West Coast production of the Broadway play On Borrowed Time. He would later appear in the play on Broadway as a replacement. He made his film debut in an uncredited role in The Man on the Rock (1938). It was in 1939 that he first played Boy in the movie Tarzan Finds a Son. He would go onto appear in Tarzan's Secret Treasure (1941), Tarzan's New York Adventure (1942), Tarzan Triumphs (1943), Tarzan's Desert Mystery (1943), Tarzan and the Amazons (1945), Tarzan and the Leopard Woman (1946), and Tarzan and the Huntress (1947). He also appeared in the films Babes in Arms (1939), Little Orvie (1940), Lucky Cisco Kid (1940), Knute Rockne All American (1940), Million Dollar Baby (1941), Roughly Speaking (1945), and The Sun Comes Up (1949).

In 1949 Johnny Sheffield starred in the movie Bomba the Jungle Boy, based on the Stratemeyer Syndicate boy's adventure novels published from 1926 to 1938. He would appear in eleven more Bomba movies, including Bomba on Panther Island (1949), The Lost Volcano (1950), Bomba and the Hidden City (1950),
The Lion Hunters (1951, The Elephant Stampede (1951), African Treasure, 1952, Bomba and the Jungle Girl, 1952, Safari Drums (1953), The Golden Idol (1954), Killer Leopard (1954), and Lord of the Jungle (1955). After the Bomba series had run its course, in 1956, Johnny Sheffield's father, Reginald Sheffield, produced a pilot for a TV series entitled Bantu the Zebra Boy. It did not find a sponsor and as a result a series never materialised.

Mr. Sheffield earned a business degree from UCLA and worked for a company that farmed various crops in Yuma, Arizona. He later went into real estate in California, and afterwards worked for a company that imported lobsters from Baja California. He eventually became a contractor.

Johnny Sheffield was hardly a great actor, but he played the parts of Boy and Bomba well. While the later Tarzan films and especially the Bomba movies can hardly be considered classics, they were entertaining adventure movies that seemed perfectly suited to little boys watching in the cinema or at home on television on a Saturday afternoon. As both Boy and Bomba, Mr. Sheffield was rather convincing, as if he had been born to the part. Indeed, he had continued to receive fan mail to this day, decades after he had given up acting.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Tom Bosley R.I.P.

Tom Bosley, who appeared in such films as Love with the Proper Stranger, The World of Henry Orient, and Divorce American Style, as well as starring in the TV series Happy Days and The Father Dowling Mysteries, passed yesterday at the age of  83. The cause was lung cancer.

Tom Bolsey was born in Chicago on October 1, 1927. During World War II he served in the United States Navy. After he was demobilised in 1947, Mr. Bosley returned to Chicago where he enrolled in classes at DePaul University in hopes of becoming a sportscaster. While there he made his acting debut with the Canterbury Players at the Fine Arts Theatre in a production of Our Town. He would also play the Woodstock Opera House in Woodstock, Illinois alongside Paul Newman.

In 1955 Mr. Bosley made his television debut on The Hallmark Hall of Fame in a production of "Alice in Wonderland." He made his debut on Broadway in 1958 The Power and the Glory. In 1959 he appeared on Broadway in the play The Beaux Stratagem. It was that year that his big break would come. He was cast Mayor Fiorello La Guardia of New York City in the musical Fiorello! For his role in the play Mr. Bosley won the 1960 Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical.  Over the next few years Tom Bosley guest starred on such shows as Play of the Week, Hallmark Hall of Fame, The Law and Mr. Jones, Car 54 Where Are You, The Naked City, and Route 66. On Broadway he appeared in the plays Nowhere to Go But Up (1962) and Natural Affection (1963).

Tom Bosley made his film debut in Love with the Proper Stranger (1963), in which he played Anthony Columbo, the clumsy but sweet owner of a small restaurant. For the remainder of the Sixties Mr. Bosley would work in the movies, television, and on Broadway. He appeared in such films as The World of Henry Orient (1964), Divorce American Style (1967), The Bang-Bang Kid (1967), The Secret War of Henry Frigg (1968), and Yours Mine and Ours (1968). He was a regular on the short lived sitcom The Debbie Reynolds Show. He guest starred on such shows as Dr. Kildare, Profiles in Courage, Ben Casey, The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., The F.B.I., Get Smart, The Virginian, and Bonanza. On Broadway he appeared in A Murderer Among Us  (1964), Catch Me If You Can (1965), and  The Education of H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N (1968).

In the Seventies Mr. Bosley would be a regular on The Sandy Duncan Show and Howard Cunningham on the long running sitcom Happy Days. He was the voice of lead character Harry Boyle on the animated series Wait Till Your Father Gets Home. He guest starred on such shows as Night Gallery, The Name of the Game, Bewitched, The New Dick Van Dyke Show, The Sixth Sense, Medical Centre, The Paul Lynde Show, Maude, Love American Style, McMillan and WifeInsight, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, Ellery Queen, and The Streets of San Francisco. He appeared in the films To Find a Man (1972), Mixed Company (1974), and Gus (1976).

In the Eighties Tom Bosley was a regular on Murder She Wrote, playing Sheriff Amos Tupper. He also played the lead role in The Father Dowling Mysteries. He was the voice of David the Gnome in the animated series of the same name. He guest starred on such shows as Tales of the Unexpected, Hotel, and Out of This World. He appeared in the films O'Hara's Wife and Million Dollar Mystery. From the Nineties into the Naughts, Mr. Bosley guest starred on such shows as Burke's Law, The Drew Carey Show, Johnny Bravo, Port Charles, Maggie, Jack and Jill, Family Law, and One Tree Hill. He returned to Broadway in Beauty and the Beast (1994) and a revival of Cabaret (1998). His last work was as the voice of Santa Paws in the movie Santa Buddies (2009).

Many might best remember Tom Bosley as Howard Cunningham on Happy Days, but he did so much more. Indeed, he was a very prolific actor who appeared in movies, on television, and on Broadway. Indeed, I remember Mr. Bosley best not as Mr. C, but from his very film roles: Columbo in Love with the Proper Stranger, Frank Boyd in The World of Henry Orient, and Farley in Divorce American Style. It should be little wonder that Mr. Bosley should have such a long and prolific career playing in three different media. He was a gifted actor, particularly as comedy. He had a perfect sense of timing that was unmatched by most actors, and he was equally good whether playing the straight man or the gag man. He was also a consummate professional who was loved by everyone who worked with him. Indeed, it is a testament to Tom Bosley that he would have a character in one of the most popular shows from the Seventies named for him. Aaron Spelling named "Bosley" on Charlie's Angels for Mr. Bosley and even wanted him to play the role (ultimately played by David Doyle). Unfortunately for Mr. Spelling, Tom Bosley had turn him down as he was already in the hit show Happy Days. So talented and beloved was Mr. Bosley that he would inspire a character based on himself

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Actress Janet MacLachlan Passes On

Actress Janet MacLachlan, who guest starred on shows from Star Trek to Archie Bunker's Place, passed on October 11, 2010 at the age of 77.

She was born in New York City on August 27, 1933. She graduated from Hunter's College in University of New York with a bachelor's degree in psychology. She was an executive secretary in New York before she started acting. She started out in small stage roles before becoming part of the ensemble at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Afterwards she signed a contract with Universal Studios. She made her television debut in 1965 in two episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. For the remainder of the Sixties she guest starred on such shows as The Girl from U.N.C.L.E., Star Trek, I Spy, The Invaders, Ironside, The Mod Squad, and The Name of the Game. She appeared in the films Up Tight (1968), Change of Mind (1969), and Darker than Amber (1970).

In the Seventies Miss MacLachlan guest starred on such shows as Longstreet, Mary Tyler Moore, Circle of Fear, Griff, Police Story, The Streets of San Francisco, The Manhunter, The Rockford Files, Ellery Queen, Insight, Barney Miller, BarettaWonder Woman, All in the Family, and Archie Bunker's Place. She appeared in the films Sounder (1972) and Maurie (1973). In the Eighties she was a regular on the soap opera Santa Barbara and had a recurring role on Cagney and Lacey. She guest starred on Quincy M.E., Hill Street Blues, Trapper John M.D., The Golden Girls, Beauty and the Beast, Murphy Brown, Midnight Caller, and Amen. She appeared in the films Tightrope (1984), Murphy's Law (1986), The Boy Who Could Fly (1986), Big Shots (1987), and For Keeps (1988).

In the Nineties she guest starred on Reasonable Doubts, Murder She Wrote, In the Heat of the Night, ER, NYPD Blue, and Murder One. She appeared in the films Hearts and Souls (1993), Covenant (1995), The Tuskogee Airmen (1995), The Big Squeeze (1996), and The Thirteenth Floor (1999). In the Naughts she guest starred on Family Law and Alias

Monday, 18 October 2010

Actor Simon MacCorkindale Passes On

Actor Simon MacCorkindale passed on 14 October 2010 at the age of 58. The cause was bowel cancer.

Simon MacCorkindale was born on 12 February 1952 in Ely, Cambridgeshire. He spent part of his childhood in Edinburgh where his father, a Group Captain in the Royal Air Force, was stationed. He attended Haileybury and Imperial College in Hertfordshire. He eventually decided to become a stage director and trained at the Studio 68 acting school.  Mr. MacCorkindale made his acting debut at the Belgarde Theatre in Coventry and made his debut on the West End in Pygmalion

Simon MacCorkindale made his television debut in  a guest appearance on Hawkeye the Pathfinder in 1973. Over the next few years he appeared on television in BBC Play of the Month, Sutherland's Law, Hunter's Walk, I Claudius, Beasts, Jesus of Nazareth, Just William, Quatermass (1979), Hammer House of Horror, and Dynasty. He appeared in the  films Juggernaut (1974), Death on the Nile (1978), The Quatermass Conclusion (1979), The Riddle of the Sands (1979), and The Sword and the Sorcerer (1982).

In 1983 Simon MacCorkindale was cast in the notorious TV series Manimal. It was cancelled after only eight episodes. From 1984 to 1986 Mr. MacCorkindale played the role of Greg Reardon on Falcon Crest. From 1990 to 1993 he played the role of Peter Sinclair on the series Counterstrike. He spent the rest of the Nineties appearing on telefilms, as well as guest starring on La Femme Nikita, Poltergeist: The Legacy, and Earth: Final Conflict. He appeared in the film Wing Commander  (1999). In the Naughts he played Harry Harper on Casualty from 2002 to 2008. He guest starred on Dark Realm, Queen of Swords, Relic Hunter, and New Tricks. He appeared in the films A Closed Book (2010) and 13Hrs (2010).

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Barbara Billingsley R.I.P.

Actress Barbara Billingsley, best known for playing June Cleaver on the sitcom Leave It To Beaver, passed yesterday at the age of 94. The cause was the rheumatoid disease polymyalgia.

Barbara Billingsley was born on December 22, 1915 in Los Angeles, California. She attended George Washington High School and Los Angeles Junior College. She left the junior college to appear in the short lived Broadway play The Straw Hat. She worked for a time as a fashion model, the went back to Los Angeles where she appeared in local plays. In 1941 she married Glenn Billingsley, taking his surname as her stage name. She was signed to a contract with MGM and would have several uncredited roles and bit parts in films in the late Forties and Fifties, including in the movies Up Goes Maisie (1946), Living in a Big Way (1947), Act of Violence (1948), A Kiss for Olga (1949), Shadow on the Wall (1950), Angels in the Outfield (1951).

Miss Billingsley made her television debut in a guest appearance on The Abbott and Costello Show. Over the next few years she guest starred on the shows The Pepsi-Cola Playhouse, The Lone Wolf, The Pride of the Family, Four Star Playhouse, Schlitz Playhouse, The Loretta Young Show, Make Room for Daddy, Cavalcade of America, and Mr. Adams and Eve. She was a semi-regular on the short lived series Professonal Father and The Brothers. She also appeared in such films as The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), Invaders from Mars (1953), Day of Triumph (1954), and The Careless Years (1957).

It was in 1957 that Barbara Billingsley signed a contract with Universal Pictures. This lead to her being cast as June Cleaver, the mother of the title character, on Leae It To Beaver. The character was the epitome of the Fifties, sitcom housewife, even wearing pearls and high heels while doing housework. Leave It To Beaver ran only one season on CBS before being cancelled for low ratings, then lasted another five years on ABC. It then went on to a phenomenal run in syndication.

Miss Billingsley would go onto guest star on such shows as The F.B.I. In 1980 she made a signature appearance in the movie Airplane! In the Eighties she would reprise her role as June on the revival of Leave It to Beaver, The New Leave It To Beaver. Miss Billingsley also provided the voice of Nanny on the cartoon Muppet Babies. She guest starred on such shows as Mork and Mindy, Movie Macabre (reprising her role as June Cleaver), Silver Spoons, Amazing Stories (once more reprising her role as June Cleaver), Mike Hammer, The Love Boat (on an episode of which she played June Cleaver again), and Baby Boom (playing June Cleaver). She appeared in the films Back to the Beach (1987) and Going to the Chapel (1988).

In the Nineties into the Naughts she guest starred on the shows Empty Nest, Murphy Brown, The Mommies, Roseanne (once more as June Cleaver), and Mysterious Ways. She appeared in the film version of Leave It To Beaver (1997) and the telefilm Secret Santa (2003--her last appearance on the screen).

I never was a huge fan of Leave It To Beaver, but I always did like Barbara Bilingsley. She was charming and appealing in her role as June Cleaver. She played it very well. And she was very good in her many guest appearances and film appearances over the years. She was a very good comedic actress. Indeed, she was one of the best parts of Airplane! She was loved by many and she will certainly be missed by many.