Character actor George Murdock, who played Lt. Scanlon on Barney Miller and appeared in numerous movie and on TV shows, passed on 30 April 2012 at the age of 81. The cause was cancer.
George Murdock was born in Salina, Kansas on 25 June 1930. He made his television debut in an episode of Shannon in 1961. Throughout the Sixties he appeared in such shows as The Twilight Zone, The Untouchables, The Gallant Men, Combat, Rawhide, I Spy, Gunsmoke, Ben Casey, The Wild Wild West, Run for Your Life, Tarzan, Night Gallery, The Virginian, The Name of the Game, and It Takes a Thief. He made his film debut in the movie Pressure Point in 1962. In the Sixties he appeared in such films as He Rides Tall (1964), Taggart (1964), Gunn (1967), and Blackbeard's Ghost (1968).
In the Seventies George Murdock played the recurring role of Lt. Scanlon on Barney Miller and the recurring role of Dr. Salik on Battlestar Galactica. He appeared on such shows as Hawaii Five-O, Mod Squad, Adam-12, The Sixth Sense, Search, Hec Ramsey, The Magician, McCloud, Ironside, The Rockford Files, The Streets of San Francisco, The Rockford Files, and Struck by Lightning. He appeared in such movies as The Mack (1973), Willie Dynamite (1974), Thomasine & Bushrod (1974), Earthquake (1974), Breaker Breaker (1977), Thunder and Lightning (1977), and Any Which Way You Can (1980).
In the Eighties Mr. Murdock was a regular on the sitcom What a Country. He appeared on such shows as Trapper John M.D., T. J. Hooker, Hill Street Blues, Benson, Mike Hammer, Murder She Wrote, Night Court, L. A. Law, and Star Trek: The Next Generation. He appeared in the movies Shoot the Moon (1982), The Sword and The Sorcerer (1982), I'm Going to Be Famous (1983), Certain Fury (1985), Retribution (1987), and Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989). In the Nineties George Murdock appeared in the TV shows Reasonable Doubts, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, Seinfeld, The Nanny, ER, Mike Hammer Private Eye, The X-Files, and Law & Order. He appeared in such films as Timescape (1992), Final Analysis (1992), Firepower (1993), The American President (1995), and Time Share (2000).
From the Naughts into the Teens, George Murdock appeared on such shows as CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Eli Stone, and Torchwood. He appeared in such films as Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003), One More Round (2005), Man in the Chair (2007), and Say It in Russian (2007). His last appearance will be in the short Caterwaul (2012).
Although most often cast as a heavy, George Murdock performed a number of roles throughout his career. He played a number of police officers, judges, and even politicians over the years. In The Rockford Files episode "The Competitive Edge" he even played a mental patient who was convinced he was Doc Holliday. What is more, he was good in every role he played. If Mr. Murdock was a prolific actor with a long career, it was perhaps because he was also a very talented actor.
It was 80 years ago today that The Jack Benny Programme, colloquially known as The Jack Benny Show, debuted on radio on the NBC Blue network under the title The Canada Dry Programme. It would go onto become one of the best known comedy series of all time. Indeed, between its run on radio and its run on television, The Jack Benny Programme would run 33 years.
At the centre of The Jack Benny Programme was Jack Benny himself. Jack Benny was born Benjamin Kubelsky in Chicago on 14 Feburary 1894. His parents, both immigrants to the United States (his father was from Poland, while his mother was from Lithuania) had high hopes for young Benjamin. He was only six when he began studying the violin; his parents hoped that one day could become a great classical violinist. Contrary to the portrayal on his television show, Benjamin Kubelsky was indeed a very good violinist. When he was 14 not only was he playing the instrument in the high school orchestra, but in local dance bands as well. By age 17 he was playing violin in vaudeville theatres. Indeed, he was good enough that Minnie Marx, mother and manager of The Marx Brothers, wanted to hire him as their permanent accompanist. Young Benjamin's parents vetoed the idea, as they did not want him travelling on the road.
It was in 1912 that Benjamin Kebelsky formed a musical duo with vaudeville performer Cora Salisbury. It would be this act that would ultimately lead to young Benjamin adopting the stage name by which he would become famous. Famous composer and violinist Jan Kubelík worried that the young vaudeville violinist could damage his reputation due to the similarities of their last names. Benjamin Kebelsky then adopted the stage name "Ben K. Benny." After serving in the U.S. Navy during World War I, Ben K. Benny returned to performing. It was after the war that he would once more be forced to change his stage name. Famous jazz violinist Ben Bernie thought the stage name "Ben K. Benny" was too similar to his own and threatened to sue. Ben E. Benny then became Jack Benny.
It was in 1922 that Jack Benny joined Zeppo Marx at a Passover feast. It was there that he met Sadie Marks. Miss Marks would sometimes take part in Jack's routines, although she did not seriously consider a career in entertainment. The two were married in 1927. She would eventually become Jack's collaborator after the debut of The Jack Benny Programme. An early episode of the show called for a character named "Mary Livingstone," who was supposed to be Jack Benny's biggest fan. The actress to perform the role did not show up, so Jack simply called his wife and asked her to do the part. Mary Livingstone was only meant to appear for that one episode, but NBC Blue received so much mail that the character became a permanent part of the show. Sadie Marks then became Mary Livingstone.
In 1929 Irving Thalberg, MGM's head of production, watched Jack Benny at the Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles, California at the behest of Jack's agent Sam Lyons. He made his film debut in The Hollywood Revue of 1929. Unfortunately, Jack's early film career would not be a roaring success and MGM eventually released him from his contract. While Jack Benny would go onto make movies, it was only after radio made him a star.
It was on 29 March 1932 that Jack Benny made a guest appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show (related only to the later TV Show of the same name in that it shared the same host). The guest spot proved successful enough that on 6 Apirl 1932 NBC's Commercial Programme Department held an audition for Jack Benny with the advertising agency N. W. Ayer and its client Canada Dry. Both N. W. Ayer and Canada Dry liked Jack Benny, so that on 2 May 1932 The Canada Dry Programme made its debut. In its early days The Jack Benny Programme would change sponsors and even networks. On 30 October 1932 The Canada Dry Programme moved to CBS, where it remained until 26 January 1933. On 17 March 1933 The Jack Benny Programme returned as The Chevrolet Programme on NBC, lasting until 1 April 1934. While Jack Benny would remain with NBC for the next several years, he would continue to change sponsors. From 1934 to 1942 The Jack Benny Programme was The Jell-O Programme Starring Jack Benny and then he Grape Nuts Flakes Programme Starring Jack Benny, the sponsor in both instances being General Foods. In 1944 American Tobacco Company became the show's sponsor, so that its name became The Lucky Strike Program Starring Jack Benny. Of course, eventually the practice of including a sponsor's name in the title of radio and television would die out, so that the show would become The Jack Benny Programme. As it is, it has been informally called The Jack Benny Show for years.
Regardless of its sponsor or its title, The Jack Benny Show would prove to be one of the most successful radio shows of all time. Originally the show was a sketch comedy programme with musical interludes, but it evolved into its familiar sitcom format in only a few years of its debut. While on the show, Jack Benny played "Jack Benny," his character was nothing like him in real life. In his years in vaudeville and over the years on radio, Jack Benny developed the role of a skinflint who was self absorbed, self congratulatory, and incredibly vain. He would continue to insist that he was only 39, even when it was obvious he was older. And despite years of practice, he played the violin horribly. Many running jokes dealt with Jack Benny's penny pinching. He continued to drive an ancient Maxwell because he refused to buy a new car. His safe was equipped with numerous different alarms.
Jack Benny also had a long running on air "feud" with fellow comedian Fred Allen. For literally years the two would exchange barbs on their respective shows. The feud would spill over into shows on which they guest starred and even into movies on which they appeared. Although the insults Jack Benny and Fred Allen delivered each other could be extreme, in fact the two were very close friends.
Here it must be pointed out that while Jack Benny was the star of The Jack Benny Programme, the show had one of the best and largest ensembles in the history of radio or television. Jack's wife, Mary Livingstone, formed a part of the ensemble from the earliest years. While Mary was Jack's wife in real life, on the show her status with Jack was a bit more amorphous. While she was sometimes Jack's date and even a love interest on the show, Mary was never his steady girlfriend. Played as "dumb" in her first appearance, Mary would become a wisecracking foil to Jack Benny, with Jack more often than not the target of her jokes. Don Wilson was the show's announcer, abut whose weight Jack often joked. Dennis Day was the show's singer. His character was perpetually in his twenties and rather naive.
While Mary Livingstone, Don Wilson, and Dennis Day appeared in most of the episodes of The Jack Benny Programme at its height, the show also boasted a number of performers in recurring roles. Perhaps the most notable was voice artist Mel Blanc. Mel Blanc played Jack's long suffering violin teacher Professor Pierre LeBlanc, Chuck the Plumber, the voice of Jack's parrot Polly, and assorted other characters. He even provided the sounds of Jack's old Maxwell automobile! Character actor Frank Nelson appeared on the show as various hotel clerks, waiters, store clerks, and so on. When Jack would try to get the attention of one of the characters played by Frank Nelson, he would invariably reply "Yeeeeeeeeesssss?" Frank Nelson would play the same role on many other shows, from I Love Lucy to Sanford & Son. Sheldon Leonard played "The Tout," a racetrack tout who would give Jack unsolicited advice on every subject under the sun except horse racing.
There were several other recurring characters on The Jack Benny Show throughout the years, but by far the most popular character on the show was one of the regulars. Indeed, Jack Benny's valet, chauffeur, and butler Rochester, played by the great Eddie Anderson, may well have been more popular than Jack Benny himself. Eddie Anderson first appeared on the show on 28 March 1937 in a guest appearance as Pullman porter. Audience response to Eddie Anderson resulted in his return to the show until he was cast as Rochester Van Jones, Jack Benny's valet, butler, and chauffeur. Eddie Anderson then became the first African American to have a regular role on a radio show.
In Rochester's earliest appearances the character was a bit of a stereotype, but over the years any humour based on Rochester's race disappeared from the show. This was a conscious choice on the part of Jack Benny and his writing staff, who during World War II came to feel that racial humour was more offensive than funny. Indeed, Rochester became less a stereotypical black servant and more the archetypal servant who is smarter than his employer, not unlike Jeeves or Ruggles. Rochester was easily the smartest character on the show besides Mary Livingstone and he often outwitted Jack Benny. Although Jack Benny was Rochester's employer, the two treated each other as equals. In this respect the evolution of Rochester can be considered an important turning point in the portrayal of African Americans in American mass media.
Indeed, both Jack Benny and Eddie Anderson, close friends in real life, would do a good deal to ease race relations in the United States. Jack Benny would even fight segregation on behalf of Eddie Anderson. When Eddie Anderson was denied a room in a hotel in St. Joseph, Missouri at which Jack Benny's cast and crew had planned to stay, Jack Benny told them, "If he doesn't stay, neither then do I." The hotel relented and gave Eddie Anderson a room. The South was not the only place where racism against Eddie Anderson took place. Once in New York, a couple at a hotel at which the cast and crew were staying complained about being in the same hotel as Eddie Anderson. The hotel manager tried to convince Eddie Anderson to move to another hotel. The show's producer and Mary Livngstone's brother, Hilliard Marks told the manager that Eddie Anderson would be happy to move to another hotel. The following day the entire cast and crew, 44 people in all, checked out of the hotel. Ultimately, Eddie Anderson and Jack Benny were more than a successful comedy team, they were also very close friends. Indeed, Eddie Anderson cried openly at Jack Benny's funeral.
It was in 1948 that CBS founder and head William S. Paley made a talent raid on rival NBC that Time referred to as "Paley's Comet (a name it has been known by ever since)." In the raid William S. Paley not only took Frank Sinatra and ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his dummy Charlie McCarthy, but arguably NBC's biggest star as well, Jack Benny. It was on 2 January 1949 that The Jack Benny Programme aired on CBS in nearly fifteen years. It would be on CBS that Jack Benny would make his television debut in specials aired in 1949. It was on 28 October 1950 that The Jack Benny Programme debuted as a regularly scheduled television show. The television version of The Jack Benny Programme differed very little from the radio version, with the cast and the format of the show transferred the new medium largely intact.
Indeed, one tradition that the television show carried over from the radio show was that of guest appearances by some rather big name stars in the entertainment world. The radio show had featured guest appearances by such performers as Ingrid BergmanGeorge Burns, Ronald Colman, Tony Curtis Deanna Durbin, Boris Karloff, Danny Kaye, Groucho Marx, Vincent Price, Frank Sinatra, Barbara Stanwyck, and many others. On the television show appeared such performers as Lucille Ball; Bobby Darin; Connie Francis' Bob Hope; Peter, Paul, and Mary; Robert Wagner; and many others Jimmy Stewart and his wife played Jack Benny's long suffering neighbours on both the radio show and the TV show.
The Jack Benny Programme remained on CBS until 1964, when it moved to NBC to run for one more season. It was during the 1964-1965 season that Jack Benny decided to end the show. While it still did well in the ratings, Jack had tired of the weekly grind of a television programme. Jack Benny would continue to appear in specials aired on NBC, as well as make appearances on various television shows. It was on 26 December 1974 that Jack Benny died from pancreatic cancer. Jack Benny's last appearance on television was on The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast for Lucille Ball. It aired on 7 February 1975, a few weeks after his death.
The Jack Benny Programme ran on radio from 1932 to 1955 for a total of 23 years. It ran on television from 1950 to 1965 for a total of 15 years. When it ended its television run in 1965, The Jack Benny Programme was still receiving good ratings. It is quite possible that The Jack Benny Show was not simply one of the most successful sitcoms of all time, but that it is the most successful sitcom of all time.
Much of the reason for the success of The Jack Benny Programme was the fact that it was very much a character driven show. Much like Jack Benny's routines, the humour on the show did not derive only from jokes or gags, but largely from the characters themselves. Indeed, unlike some early situation comedies, the plots on The Jack Benny Programme largely emerged from the characters. At the centre of it all was the character of Jack Benny, the vain, self aggrandising, and petty miser who constantly insisted he was 39. In the hands of a lesser talent, Jack Benny's character could have been unlikeable, but Jack made him a sympathetic character with whom the audience could identify. Indeed, unlike many performers, Jack Benny was never afraid to get jokes at his character's expense. In fact, it was more often the norm on the show, with Mary, Rochester, Don, and even Dennis getting the best of Jack.
Jack's ensemble (they played much too big a role to simply be called a "supporting cast") could well have been one of the best in sitcoms. Although Rochester started out as something of a stereotype, he developed into a much more complicated character. Rochester often turned his sardonic wit on Jack and outsmarted him on several occasions. Mary Livingstone also differed from many female characters on sitcoms of the time, her wisecracks often deflating Jack's ego. Don Wilson was perfect as the show's announcer, not only because of his great voice, but because he was also a great character. What is particularly amazing about The Jack Benny Programme is that not only were the lead characters three dimensional, but so were nearly all of the recurring characters. Indeed, Mel Blanc and Sheldon Leonard created some of the most memorable characters in sitcom history on the show.
Given how long ago The Jack Benny Programme debuted and how long it ran, it is often easy to forget how revolutionary the show was. The Jack Benny Programme was one of the earliest sitcoms and as a result helped develop the format. As pointed out above, the show was largely character driven show. This was a sharp break from many early sitcoms that were more plot driven. Its rather large ensemble cast was another way in which The Jack Benny Programme was innovative. While many radio shows, even in the Thirties, had ensembles, few had as large a cast of regular and recurring characters. In this respect The Jack Benny Show was a forerunner of such television shows as The Andy Griffith Show, Cheers, 30 Rock, and Community with similarly large ensemble casts.
The Jack Benny Programme was also innovative in terms of race in American mass media. As mentioned above, it was the first radio show to feature an African American, Eddie Anderson, as a regular cast member. While Rochester began as a bit of a stereotype, he would evolve into a positive character over the years. What is more, over the years Jack Benny would include many African American guest stars, including Louis Armstrong, The Ink Spots, and others.
Ultimately, it is difficult to overestimate the importance of The Jack Benny Programme in the history of radio and television. It was one of the earliest sitcoms and helped define the format. It was also pioneering with regards to race on American radio and televisions shows. This would perhaps be enough, but it was also one of the funniest situation comedies in the history of American broadcasting. Eighty years after its debut, The Jack Benny Programme is still as fresh and funny as when it first aired.
I recently had the honour of being nominated for the Liebster Award by Mark Means of the blog Left and Write. Mark's blog deals with writing and various other subjects. It is also one of the best blogs out there. Thank you for nominating me, Mark!
As to what the Liebster Award is, it is an award for blogs with under 200 followers that regularly contain great posts. Of course, the way the Liebster Award works is that once nominated, one nominated five other blogs for the award. Ultimately, it's a way of recognising those blogs one really appreciates. Here then are my five nominees:
1, Bobby Rivers of Bobby Rivers TV. If the name "Bobby Rivers" sounds familiar, it is probably because you have seen him on your TV. Bobby was at one time a veejay and talk show host on VH1 and a host on the Food Network. In his blog Bobby writes about classic film and television, often drawing upon his own experiences to do so. I must also say that Bobby's knowledge of classic film is incredible!
2. KC of Classic Movies. KC's blog Classic Movies is about exactly that--classic film. The blog has such regular features as Classic Links (links to websites and articles of interest to classic movie buffs), Classic Birthday (the birthdays of various figures in classic film), and the Quote of the Week. KC also writes on classic film subjects that I have rarely seen covered elsewhere, such as animated shorts, silent film, and pre-Code talkies. I can guarantee if you love classic movies then you will love, well, Classic Movies.
3. Lyndsy of Culture in a Cold Climate. Lyndsy writes about heritage sites in Northern Ireland and always includes plenty of pictures of the various sites she visits. She also discusses the history of those sites. Mixed in with Lyndsy's posts on heritage sites are book reviews and posts on the Mitford Sisters and other subjects. If you love historic sites or Northern Ireland, then her blog is definitely for you.
3. Toby of Inner Toob. Toby's blog is rather interesting and also unique in that it explores an alternate universe in which everything on television actually took place. Not only is Inner Toob really fun, but it can also be informative as well, as Toby at times goes into the history of television shows. Inner Toob is definitely a blog any television buff would enjoy.
4. Timony Souler ofIs This Alt Lit?Is This Alt Lit is first and foremost a blog featuring the poetry of the talented Timony Souler. Timony's poetry ranges from being funny to being touching, and all of it is good. Timony also occasionally posts her thoughts on life and various other subjects. It is definitely a very interesting blog.
5. Lady Eve of The Lady Eve's Reel Life. Lady Eve covers classic film with the occasional detour into television. Her posts are always well researched with an attention to detail. And she is perhaps the only blogger I know to devote a whole month to the movie Vertigo (1958). The Lady Eve's Reel Life is definitely worth a look for any classic film fan.
Okay, I am not going to say you have to do this, but it would be nice if the nominees would:
1, Thank your presenter on your blog.
2. Link to the blogger in your thank you message (see above for a possible method of doing so… Props for being original, if you feel so inclined)
3, Copy and past the award (see below).
4. Present the award to 5 other blogs (with fewer than 200 followers) if you think that they deserve it.
5. Let your nominees know through some means of social media.
It was today on 30 April 1912 that Universal Pictures was founded. It would become one of the eight major motion picture studios that dominated Hollywood from the Thirties to the Fifties (the others were MGM, Fox, Paramount, Warner Brothers, RKO, Columbia, and United Artists). Today it remains one of the most important studios in the world, surviving some of the studios that were bigger than it was. Indeed, it is the oldest Hollywood studio (Paramount is second, having been founded 8 May 1912).
Universal Pictures (also known as Universal Studios) was founded on 30 April 1912 by Carl Laemmle. Carl Laemmle was an immigrant from Laupheim, Württemberg, Germany. He had arrived in the United States in 1884, when he was only 17. He settled in Chicago, where he spent two decades working in retail stores. It was when he was 38 that he decided to change careers. He had lost his job (it is unclear whether he quit or was fired) and then contacted advertising man Robert Cochrane, with whom he had worked before, to help him find another line of business. Mr.Laemmle wanted to go into film even then, although Mr. Cochrane advised him to learn about film before he took the leap into the business. It was on 24 February 1906 that Carl Laemmle opened the White Front Nickelodeon in Chicago. Six months later he opened the Laemmle Film Service, which rented films to other exhibitors. In 1909 he formed Independent Moving Pictures Company. Independent Moving Pictures would be one of the first studios to actually credit its actors, thus helping create the star system. In fact, Independent Motion Pictures would use actress Florence Lawrence and actor King Baggot in their promotional materials in 1910, making the company perhaps the first to use its stars in their advertising.
It was in 1912 that Independent Motion Pictures Company merged with Nestor Studios, Powers Picture Plays, Bison Life Motion Pictures, The Champion Film Company, Rex Motion Picture Company, and Éclair American Company to form the Universal Film Manufacturing Company. In 1915 Carl Laemmle opened the 230 acre Universal City Studios, the largest movie producing facility in the world. The company would be formally incorporated in 1925 under the name by which it is perhaps best known, Universal Pictures. It would go through various name changes throughout the years before it was given the other name by which it may be best known, Universal Studios.
For much of its history during the Golden Age of Hollywood, Universal would occupy a niche somewhere between the Big Five (MGM, Fox, Paramount, Warner Brothers and, RKO) and the Poverty Row studios. While it was rare that Universal Pictures produced films with the budgets of the Big Five, over all their movies cost more and were of a higher quality than Columbia (who spent much of their history on the border between the majors and Poverty Row). The average Universal movie of the Thirties and Forties generally had a moderate budget and production values that were not quite that of the Big Five, but still well ahead of the minor studios.
While Universal would largely work in the shadow of the Big Five for much of the Thirties and Forties, in the end they would leave an imprint on Anglo-American pop culture as large as, if not larger, than the bigger studios. Indeed, if you mention "horror movies" to the average person, they are apt to think of Universal Pictures. The studio's history with horror movies actually goes back further than the classics of the Thirties and Forties. Universal's predecessor, Independent Motion Pictures, had produced one horror film, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde in 1913. In 1923 Universal produced an adaptation of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, a historical drama that bordered on the horror genre. It was in 1925 that the studio released its first pure horror film, Phantom of the Opera starring Lon Chaney. The success of Phantom of the Opera would lead to more films from Universal that at least bordered on horror: The Cat and the Canary (1927), The Man Who Laughs (1928), and The Last Warning (1928).
Of course, it was in 1931 that Universal launched its adaptation of Dracula. The film proved highly successful and made Bela Lugosi a star in the horror genre. It success was followed in 1931 by Universal's Frankenstein. Frankenstein was the Star Wars of its day, making a good deal of money and making Boris Karloff a star. The success of these two films would start a cycle towards horror movies that lasted from 1931 to 1936, with most of the major studios producing horror films during the period. In 1939 Son of Frankenstein would spark a new cycle towards horror movies, a cycle in which studios other than Universal (most notably RKO and their films produced by Val Lewton) also took part. The impact of Universal's horror movies cannot be underestimated. Frankenstein and its first sequel, Bride of Frankenstein,are counted among the greatest films ever made. Even today, after countless adaptations of the novel have been made, when most people picture Frankenstein's Creature in their heads, it is most likely to be the image of Boris Karloff in Jack Pierce's make up. Dracula, Frankenstein, and the other Universal horror films would have a lasting impact on the genre. In fact, their influence can still be felt today.
While Universal may even today be best known for its horror movies, the studio worked in a number of other genres. One of these was comedy. Over the years Universal would make several comedy films, often drawing upon stars from radio for their casts, including Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, and Red Skelton. It would be from radio that Universal would draw its two best known comedy stars, the team of Abbott & Costello. Their 1941 film Buck Privates proved to be such an enormous success that it would spark a series of Abbott and Costello films that would last until 1955 (with one more film, Dance with Me, Henry, released in 1956 by United Artists). Eventually Universal would combine their Abbott & Costello films with their horror movies. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, released in 1948, would lead to a number of films in which the comedy duo met various Universal Monsters.
The Abbott & Costello movies may be the best known series Universal produced, but it was by no means the only series. In many respects the meat and potatoes of Universal was the various series of medium budget films in a variety of genres that the studio produced. As might be expected, some of these series were in the horror genre. Universal produced a number of sequels to both Dracula and Frankenstein. The studio also produced a series based on the popular Inner Sanctum radio show. Aside from the Abbott & Costello movies and their horror series, perhaps the best known series ever produced by Universal was their series of Sherlock Holmes movies starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce as Holmes and Watson respectively. Universal made fourteen Sherlock Holmes films in the series. Universal also produced a series of Dead End Kid and Little Tough Guys movies, Baby Sandy movies, Ma & Pa Kettle movies, and others.
Here it must be pointed out that Abbott & Costello were not the only stars Universal produced. In fact, in the Forties their biggest star may have been Deanna Durbin. Deanna Durbin had been signed to MGM in 1935, but the studio had also signed another young songstress, Judy Garland, at the same time. While debate over whether to keep both raged at MGM's front offices, Miss Durbin's contract with the studio expired. MGM's loss was then Universal's gain. She made her debut at Universal with Three Smart Girls in 1936. The movie proved to be a success and soon Miss Durbin was starring in musicals for the studio. Miss Durbin would continue making movies for Universal until 1948, by which time her success at the box office had declined. Her contract with Universal was allowed to expire and she retired from film.
While Universal would become famous for its monster movies, Abbott & Costello comedies, and Deanna Durbin musicals, like most studios at the time it would also produce a number of Westerns. Indeed, Universal would also produce or co-produce some of John Wayne's later films, including The War Wagon (1967) and Rooster Cogburn (1975). While Universal would not work with John Wayne often, they had a number of their own cowboy stars. Tom Mix, Buck Jones, Johnny Mack Brown, and Tex Ritter would all work for the studio at one time or another. In addition to many B-Westerns, Universal would also produce major feature films in the Western genre. Destry Rides Again (1939), Comanche Territory (1950), Winchester '73 (1950), The Far Country (1954), and others among them.
Of course, many of the B-Westerns produced by Universal would actually be serials. In fact, among aficionados of chapterplays, Universal is considered to have produced the very best serials besides Republic. Unlike Poverty Row studio Monogram and fellow major studio Columbia, Universal's serials generally had good production values and often relatively large budgets. In fact, Flash Gordon (1936), Universal Pictures' adaptation of Alex Raymond's classic comic strip, was the most expensive serial of its time. It would prove to be a huge success, followed by two sequels. Universal would also produce several other notable serials, including Secret Agent X-9 (1937), Buck Rogers (1939), The Green Hornet (1939), Don Winslow of the Navy (1941), and many others. Universal would continue producing serials until 1946, when it ceased production of chapterplays. The studio had been producing serials since the Silent Era.
Not only did Universal produce serials, but they also produced animated cartoons. While Universal's cartoons would never gain the prestige of those of either Warner Brothers or MGM, they would prove very successful and they would have a lasting impact on pop culture. Indeed, it could well have been actions on the part of Universal that led to the creation of Mickey Mouse and the foundation of The Walt Disney Company. Universal owned the rights to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, a popular character created by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks. Charles Mintz, whose studio produced cartoons for Universal, demanded that Messrs. Disney and Iwerks accept a lower fee for producing the Oswald the Lucky Rabbit shorts. When Disney and Iwerks refused, Mr. Mintz took over production of the shorts himself. Messrs. Disney and Iwerks simply created a new character for their own series of animated shorts, a character who looked in his early days very similar to Oswald. His name was Mickey Mouse.
In what could be considered a bit of poetic justice, Charles Mintz hired his own successor in 1928. Animator Walter Lantz was a veteran of John Bray Studios as well as Carl Laemmle's part time chauffeur. Eventually Carl Laemmle tired of dealing with Charles Mintz and looked to found Universal's own in-house animation studio. As a result, Universal Studio Cartoons was formed, with Walter Lantz as its head. The company would become independent in 1935 as Walter Lantz Productions, although their cartoons would continue to be distributed by Universal until 1947. For a brief period from 1948 to 1949 Walter Lantz's cartoons would be distributed by United Artists. From 1951 to 1972 Universal would once more distribute the Walter Lantz cartoons.
While Walter Lantz Productions cartoons have never been considered to be of the quality of Warner Brothers, Disney, Fleischer Studios, or MGM, the company produced such popular characters as Woody Woodpecker, Andy Panda, and Chilly Willy. Walter Lantz Productions would continue to produce animated shorts long after many of the other studios had ceased doing so. The studio would not permanently close until 1972. In 1984, Lantz sold the company, its characters, and its cartoons to Universal.
By the Fifties and Sixties Universal, like most of the studios, had fallen on hard times. Music Corporation of America (MCA), originally a talent agency, had expanded into television. Its subsidiary, Revue Productions, originally formed in 1943 to produce live concerts, became the company's television production arm in 1950. Revue would become one of the most successful production companies in television. It produced such shows as Alfred Hitchock Presents, Wagon Train, Studio 57, and many others. In 1958 Universal sold its lot to MCA, who then renamed both the Revue Productions and the lot, "Revue Studios." Although MCA had only bought the lot, it would prove increasingly influential in Universal's dealings. MCA's various clients, including Doris Day, Cary Grant, and Lana Turner would sign to Universal. In 1962 MCA bought Universal outright. Revue Productions then became Universal Television.
Universal Television continued to produce shows originally produced by Revue, such as Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Virginian. Eventually it would produce some of the best known shows of the Sixties and Seventies, many of them airing on NBC. In its early days Universal Television produced such series as Laredo and Ironside. By the Seventies it produced the umbrella series The NBC Mystery Movie, which included such classic shows as Columbo, McCloud, and Hec Ramsey. Over the years Universal Television would produce such television classics as Ellery Queen, The A-Team, Miami Vice, The Equaliser, Northern Exposure, and the Law & Order franchise. Universal would further become involved in television through the cable channel the USA Network in the Seventies. Originally started with other companies, Universal would become the sole owner of the channel in 1987.
Among the television series Universal inherited fro Revue was Alfred Hitchcock Presents. It should then come as no surprise that Alfred Hitchcock's last few movies would be produced through Universal. It was in 1955 that Lew Wassermann, head of MCA, approached their client Alfred Hitchcock about producing a television series, what would become Alfred Hitchcock Presents. MCA later persuaded Alfred Hitchcock to sign a contract with Universal. Beginning with The Birds in 1963, all of Hitchcock's films were released through Universal. Universal would even acquire the distribution rights to Psycho (originally distributed by Paramount). Here it must be noted that this was not the first time Universal was associated with Alfred Hitchcock. Selznick International loaned the director to Universal for Saboteur (1942) and Shadow of a Doubt (1943).
Here it must be stressed that following the Fifties, Universal did produce more than television shows, Ma & Pa Kettle movies, and Hitchcock films. In the late Fifties and well into the Sixties it was Universal who produced the majority of Doris Day's sex comedies. Starting with Pillow Talk in 1960, Universal produced all of them until Send Me No Flowers. The success of Pillow Talk would lead to a cycle of sex comedies that lasted from 1960 until 1965 in which other studios also took part. Universal also produced such classic films as To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), Charade (1963), Jesus Christ Superstar (1973), American Graffiti (1973), Jaws (1975), and Animal House (1978). In the Eighties Universal produced the highly popular Back to the Future trilogy. In more recent times Universal has produced films ranging from The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) to Jurassic Park (1993) to the 2005 remake of King Kong.
As famous as Universal is for their movies and television shows, they are also famous for their studio tour. The Universal Pictures studio tour goes back to the earliest days of the company's history. Unlike other heads of studios, Carl Laemmle actually encouraged tourists to visit Universal. In 1915 visitors could pay 25 cents to sit on bleachers and watch movies being made. It was in 1964 that the current Universal Studios tour official began, with tourists travelling through the lot in "GlamorTrams." Given the success of the studio tour, it should no surprise that Universal would expand into theme parks. This happened slowly with Universal Studios Hollywood, as rides and other attractions were added. In 1990 the Universal Orlando Resort was opened in Florida. In 2001 Universal Studios Japan opened. Currently Universal Studios is the third biggest amusement park operator in the world.
While Universal has survived to see its 100th birthday, it was not without changes in ownership. Indeed, in the Nineties the studio changed hands several times. It was in 2004 that then current owner, French multi-media company Vivendi, sold Universal to General Electric, parent of company of NBC. General Electric then merged the movie studio and the television network to form NBCUniversal. In many respects the merger should not seem so unusual given the close association between NBC and Universal in the past. Universal Television's predecessor, Revue, had produced shows for NBC beginning in 1950 with the series Armour Theatre. Thereafter Revue would produce several more shows for NBC. Once Revue became Universal Television, the studio would continue to produce many shows for NBC, including such high profile shows as The Rockford Files and Miami Vice.
Since the creation of NBCUniversal, the company has expanded. In 2004 NBCUniversal created the cable channel Sleuth (now called Cloo), which is entirely devoted to mysteries. In 2007 it launched Chiller, a horror oriented cable channel. That same year the company acquired the cable channel Oxygen. NBCUniversal is arguably one of the giants in cable, owning such cable channels as the USA Network SyFy Channel, Cloo, Chiller, Bravo, and Oxygen
The survival of Universal over the years could perhaps be attributed to two factors. The first is that it was perhaps one of the first studios to actually produce franchises. The Universal horror movies not only made a good deal of money when first released, but have made a good deal of money ever since. Indeed, the Universal monsters would produce an inordinate amount of merchandise. The various movie series Universal produced over the years would be rerun on television for literally decades, from Sherlock Holmes to Abbott & Costello. Here it must be pointed that, unlike other studios, Universal kept many of its films while acquiring the rights to others. The Universal library is one of the largest in the movie industry, consisting of everything from serials to Walter Lantz cartoons to classics like To Kill a Mockingbird.
The other factor which has permitted Universal's survival is perhaps the fact that the studio changed with the times when other studios did not. In the Sixties when many of the studios continued to produce big budget blockbusters (many of which flopped), Universal moved into television and continued to produce more moderately budgeted films. In the Seventies Universal would expand into cable with the USA Network. Universal has always had a degree of adaptability that saved it from total extinction.
In the end Universal has had an impact on pop culture which few movie studios could match. The movie monsters it created in the Thirties are still as recognisable today as they were 80 years ago. Abbott & Costello are still one of the best known comedy teams of all time. The many sex comedies Universal produced are still shown on television today. Such television characters as Lt. Columbo and Jim Rockford continue to be popular. Universal would also produce several classic films, including Destry Rides Again, The Naked City, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Sting, and may others. Given the studio's long history, it seems likely it will survive for another hundred years.