Saturday, 4 May 2013
I have had a busy day today and I wanted to do a blog pot tonight, but I am rather tired. Rather a full fledged post, then, I'll simply leave you with one my favourite songs from the Nineties, from one of my favourite films of the Nineties, "That Thing You Do." It was written by Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne.
Friday, 3 May 2013
This cycle actually began in the late Forties. It was on 27 June 1949 that the DuMont Television Network debuted Captain Video and His Video Rangers, possibly the first American science fiction television series. Captain Video and His Video Rangers centred upon the Video Rangers, a group that kept peace and fought for justice in the distant future. The Video Rangers were led by Captain Video, whose direct superior was the Commissioner of Public Safety. The Video Rangers' jurisdiction was not only over the planet Earth, but the entire Solar System and human colonies scattered throughout the stars. Captain Video and His Video Rangers was a children's show that aired live five days a week. It was produced on a shoestring budget, so that special effects were kept to a minimum and the sets were extremely cheap.
Captain Video and His Video Rangers proved very enormously popular. During its run the show inspired a film serial produced by Columbia Pictures (Captain Video: Master of the Stratosphere, released in 1951) and six issues of a comic book published by Fawcett Comics (also in 1951). The show ran until April 1955. When it did go off the air it was not simply due to a decline in popularity, but instead the declining fortunes of the DuMont Television Network. Failing in the ratings and losing money, DuMont ceased airing regularly scheduled programmes on 28 September 1955. After airing one last sporting event (a boxing match) on 6 August 1956, DuMont ceased operations entirely.
Regardless, the popularity of Captain Video and His Video Rangers would inspire an entire cycle towards similar space operas. It was only around nine months after the debut of Captain Video and His Space Rangers debuted that another space opera started its run. Space Patrol debuted as a local show in Los Angels on 9 March 1950. ABC added the show to its national, Saturday morning schedule on 30 December 1950. Space Patrol centred on Commander-in-Chief Buzz Corry (Ed Kemmer) and his sidekick Cadet Happy (Lyn Osborn), both of the United Planets Space Patrol. Together the two of them fought a dizzying array of diabolical masterminds, and the members of the Space Patrol were always equipped with such high tech gadgetry as tiny "space-o-phones (the Fifties space opera equivalent of a mobile phone, I suppose)", "atomolights," and, of course, the all essential ray guns.
Space Patrol would be a ground breaking show. The show was originally aired locally and then aired on other stations through kinescopes. Later it would become the first regularly scheduled, network morning show originating from the West Coast to be broadcast to the East Coast. Although at the time we take for granted that a programme can be broadcast around the world, at the time for a West Coast programme to be broadcast simultaneously on the East Coast required a complex and large network of relay stations and cable interchanges to do so. Space Patrol then received much more nation wide exposure than many of its contemporaries. As a result it became one of the first nationwide phenomena on American television. Space Patrol not only inspired a radio show of the same name (it ran from 4 October 1952 to 19 March 1955), there were also a comic book published for two issues by Ziff-Davis in 1952, at least two records featuring the TV/radio cast of the show, and merchandise from clocks to trading cards.
On television Space Patrol ran until 26 February 1955. The show's popularity would continue well after it went off the air, with three issue Space Patrol comic book published in the early Nineties, a 2005 titled Space Patrol by Jean-Noel Bassior, and an online book titled The Original Exploits of the Space Patrol by Warren Chaney published by Swapsale Magazine in 2008.
Following the success of Space Patrol it would not be long before another juvenile space opera debuted. Tom Corbett, Space Cadet was created by writer Joseph Greene. On 16 January 1946 Mr. Greene submitted a radio script entitled Space Academy that centred on Tom Ranger of the Space Cadets to Orbit Feature Services Inc. Later in October 1949 he developed a Tom Ranger and the Space Cadets newspaper comic strip. In the meantime Robert A. Heinlen published the novel Space Cadet in 1948. Alongside Joseph Greene's earlier proposed radio show and comic strip featuring Tom Ranger of the Space Cadets, Mr. Heinlen's novel would inspire much of the TV show Tom Corbett, Space Cadet. The series debuted 2 October 1950 on CBS.
Tom Corbett, Space Cadet centred on the title character (played by Frankie Thomas Jr.) and his friends Astro (Al Markim) and Roger Manning (Jan Merlin), all three cadets at the Space Academy training to be a part of the Solar Guard. Much of the show was set at the Space Academy itself, although action also took place aboard the training vessel Polaris and on alien planets. Tom Corbett, Space Cadet tended to be a bit more scientifically accurate than the other juvenile space operas of the era. Science writer Willie Ley served as the scientific advisor on the show. That having been said, there was a limit to its scientific accuracy. Venus was portrayed as a lush jungle planet, while Mars was portrayed as a desert planet, even though astronomers at the time already knew otherwise.
Tom Corbett, Space Cadet proved highly successful, so that it was naturally adapted to other media. From 1952 to 1956 Grosset & Dunlap published eight Tom Corbett, Space Cadet young adult novels. There was also a daily newspaper strip published from 1951 to 1953. Dell Comics published several Tom Corbett, Space Cadet comic books, first in their Dell 4 Colour title and later under the title Tom Corbett, Space Cadet. When Dell Comics stopped publishing Tom Corbett, Space Cadet, Prize Comics took it over for three more issues. There was also a radio show that ran from 1 January 1952 to 26 June 1952. There was a large array of Tom Corbett, Space Cadet merchandise manufactured in the Fifties, from a Space Academy playset put out by Marx Toys to a lunch box to costumes to Little Golden Books.
Tom Corbett, Space Cadet ran from 2 October 1950 to 25 June 1955. It was one of the very few shows to have run on all four networks (NBC, CBS, ABC, and DuMont) at any given time. Indeed, it was one of the few shows to run on multiple networks at the same time. Its run on ABC overlapped with its first run on NBC for several months.
Following Tom Corbett, Space Cadet, the next space opera to air on American television was the first TV adaptation of the comic strip Buck Rogers. Buck Rogers debuted 15 April 1950 on ABC. It aired live from WENR-TV in Chicago, and was then distributed through kinescopes to other stations. Despite being based on a famous comic strip, Buck Rogers did not prove as successful as some of the other space operas. It went off the air on 30 January 1951.
By 1954 the cycle towards juvenile space operas would nearly be over, but one of the last would also be one of the best preserved. While most of the juvenile space operas were aired live, Rocky Jones, Space Ranger was filmed. As a result the entire run of the series still exists and has even been released on VHS and DVD. Despite the fact that Rocky Jones, Space Ranger is better preserved than the vast majority of the juvenile sci-fi shows of the Fifties, it would not see the success that many of them of did. It was also took some time to actually make it to the small screen.
Rocky Jones, Space Ranger was created by Roland D. Reed, who was one of the producers on the sitcom My Little Margie. In 1951 he formed his own production company and the same year veteran screenwriter Warren Wilson wrote the pilot for the show. By the end of the year the show had already been cast, with Richard Crane (who would later play Lt. Plehn on Surfside 6) in the title role. The pilot was shot between January and April 1952. When the pilot was screened on 29 September 1952 it was decided to recast several of the parts. As a result filming on the series would not begin until October 1953. The show finally made its debut on 23 February 1954 and aired in syndication.
While merchandising usually came about with most of the space operas of the era after they had become successful, a merchandising campaign was planned for Rocky Jones, Space Ranger even before it debuted. Charlton published several issues of Rocky Jones, Space Ranger and the character also appeared in three issues of Charlton's title Space Adventures. Gordon Baking Company issued Rocky Jones, Space Ranger pinback buttons as advertising promotions for both Silvercup Bread and Harvest Bread. There were also Rocky Jones, Space Ranger wristwatches, wallets, colouring books, records, and many other various bits of merchandise manufactured both before and during the show's run.
Despite the massive merchandising campaign, Rocky Jones, Space Ranger would not see the success of other space operas of the era. Having debuted in February 1954, its final, original episode aired on 2 November 1954.
The first television adaptation of the comic strip Flash Gordon would prove no more successful than Rocky Jones, Space Ranger. Flash Gordon was truly international, a joint production between Germany, France, and the United States. It was filmed in both West Berlin and Marseille. The show aired on the DuMont Television Network on the East Coast, but in syndication through most of the United States.
Flash Gordon departed from the comic strip for the most part. Flash Gordon (Steve Holland), Dale Arden (Irene Champlin), and Dr. Zarkov (Joseph Nash) were agents of the Galactic Bureau of Investigation who travelled about the galaxy in their spaceship Sky Flash. The show is notable not only for featuring Steve Holland (who would later be the model for Doc Savage in the series of paperback reprints published by Bantam), but also featuring the early work of television writer Bruce Geller (who would go onto create Mission: Impossible). Despite being loosely based on the popular comic strip, Flash Gordon did not last long. It debuted on 15 October 1954 and ended its run on 15 July 1955.
The cycle towards space operas on American television in the Fifties came to an end with Flash Gordon. Most of the shows that debuted after 1953 in the wake of Tom Corbett, Space Cadet had seen little success, so television producers may have decided to abandon the genre. By 1955 the cycle had run its course as one by one even the most successful of the genre went off the air. Space Patrol was the first to go, leaving the air in February 1955. Captain Video and His Video Rangers followed, ending its run in April of that year. Tom Corbett — Space Cadet ended its run that June.
Although largely unknown to most people under 60, the juvenile space operas would have a lasting impact. It seems likely that much of the young audience for Captain Video and His Video Rangers and Tom Corbett, Space Cadet grew up to be the college aged audience for Star Trek. And while the space operas of the Fifties were obviously made for children, one can see similarities between them and later science fiction shows made for adults. Indeed, not only was the premise of Space Patrol similar in some respects to that of Star Trek, but some of the technology was similar too (the space-o-phones of Space Patrol are similar to the communicators of Star Trek). While the space operas of the Fifties may be largely forgotten, their influence can still be felt today.
Thursday, 2 May 2013
Indeed, although Bing Crosby is still famous today, I suspect most people under 60 don't realise just how phenomenally successful he really was at the height of his career. Bing Crosby was a superstar on the same level as Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, and The Beatles. He remains one of the biggest selling recording artists of all time, with over half a billion records sold. He also had an extremely successful career on film and later television. Although today he is best known for his biggest hits (particularly "White Christmas") and the "Road to..." pictures he made with Bob Hope, in the mid-Twentieth Century there were very few artists in any media who matched his success.
What makes Bing Crosby all the more remarkable is just how long his success actually lasted. As a recording artist he had his first hit in 1927: "Muddy Water" with Paul Whiteman. His first number one would come the following year in the form of "Ol' Man River", once more with Paul Whiteman. His recording career would last literally decades. In fact, his last real hit would occur several years after his death, the duet "Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy" with David Bowie. Recorded for his final Christmas special in 1977, it was released as a single in 1982.
Over his years as a recording artist, Bing Crosby had 41 number one hits. He also had at least one single chart every single year (usually more) between 1931 and 1954. If this is not impressive enough, one must consider that Bing Crosby still has the biggest selling single of all time worldwide. According to The Guinness Book of World Records "White Christmas" has sold over 100 million copies when every one of Bing Crosby's versions are counted. After its initial release "White Christmas" would re-enter the Billboard charts an astounding 22 times. Music historian Joel Whitburn of Billboard determined that Bing Crosby was the most successful recording artist of both the Thirties and Forties.
Of course, Bing Crosby was not simply a recording star, but also a film star. Bing Crosby made his film debut as one of the performers in the musical revue King of Jazz in 1930. His first major film role would come just two years later in 1932 with The Big Broadcast. In the film Mr. Crosby plays a very fictionalised version of himself, a singer more interested in enjoying himself than his career. In all Mr. Crosby would appear in some way, shape, or form in over 75 feature films, from 1930 to his final appearance on film in a cameo in Bob Hope's 1972 film Cancel My Reservation. Such was Bing Crosby's success in film that he ranked in Quigley's box office poll of the top ten stars for fifteen years. What is more, for five years (1944 to 1948) he was the top box office star. While many of Bing Crosby's films are no longer well known, a surprising number of his movies are still famous to this day. Holiday Inn (1942), Going My Way (1944), White Christmas (1954), and especially the "Road to..." films he made with Bob Hope are still well known to the general public. Quite simply, Bing Crosby is one movie star from the Golden Age whose films even people beyond classic film buffs have seen.
Beyond his recording and film careers, Bing Crosby also had success on both radio and television. He made his debut on radio in 1931 as one of the regulars on The Radio Singers on CBS. Mr. Crosby received his own radio show on 2 September 1931 on CBS. It would continue through various title changes and changes in network (it was on CBS, NBC, and ABC at various times) until 1955. In addition to his own show, Mr. Crosby also appeared on such radio shows as The Screen Guild Theatre, Command Performance, Duffy's Tavern, and, as might be expected, The Bob Hope Pepsodent Show.
On television Bing Crosby would repeat the success he had on radio. His first television special aired on 3 January 1954. Disliking live television, Mr. Crosby's appearances on the medium actually increased as live television gave way to film and videotape. In fact, he was the host of the first videotaped television programme in the United States, the TV special The Edsel Show, which aired on 13 October 1957. Over the years he made numerous television specials, and his Christmas specials became an annual event. He was also a regular guest on television specials and variety shows from the Fifties to the Sixties. He appeared on such shows as The Ed Sullivan Show, The Tonight Show, The Carol Burnett Show, Rowan and Martin's Laugh In, and The Flip Wilson Show. He was a frequent host on ABC's variety show The Hollywood Palace, hosting the show no less than 32 times from its debut in 1964 to its final season in 1970. He also had his own short lived sitcom, The Bing Crosby Show, in the 1964 to 1965 season. Bing Crosby continued to appear on television until the year he died, 1977. In fact, he taped his final Christmas special, Bing Crosby's Merrie Olde Christmas, only five weeks before he died. Bing Crosby's impact on television would extend beyond that of a performer. His production company Bing Crosby Productions produced such shows as Ben Casey and Hogan's Heroes.
In addition to his achievements in recording, film, radio, and television, Bing Crosby would also be partially responsible for an important development in the postwar recording industry. Mr. Crosby preferred recording his radio shows to performing them live, but unfortunately the recording techniques of the day were inferior to broadcasting a programme live. It was then in 1947 that Bing Crosby invested $47,000 in Ampex, the company that would develop the first American reel to reel tape recorder. Bing Crosby then became the first radio performer to record his programmes using reel to reel recording technology. Not only would Mr. Crosby begin recording his songs on Ampex reel to reel tape recorders, but he gave one of his own Ampex Model 200 recorders to guitarist Les Paul. In turn, Mr. Paul would invent multitrack recording.
Although today many only know Bing Crosby as the man who originally sung "White Christmas," Bob Hope's partner in crime in the "Road to..." films, and the star of such classics as Holiday Inn and Going My Way, he was actually one of the biggest stars of the 20th Century, one whose stardom actually cut across several media. He would prove to be a huge influence (in some cases the primary influence) on a whole generation of crooners, including Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, Dean Martin, and Tony Bennett, as well as musical artists as diverse as Elvis Presley and The Beatles (whose hit "Please Please Me" owed a good deal to the Bing Crosby song "Please"). His presence is still ubiquitous in Anglophonic pop culture. Quite simply, Bing Crosby will still be remembered when many modern day pop stars have long been forgotten.
Wednesday, 1 May 2013
Deanna Durbin was born Edna Mae Durbin in Winnipeg, Manitoba on 4 December 1921. She was only one year old when her family moved to Los Angeles, California. She began singing while very young, and she began seriously studying singing by the time she was ten years old. She was discovered by a casting director at MGM who was looking for someone to play opera contralto Ernestine Schumann-Heink as a child in a film biography of the Miss Schumann-Heink. MGM gave her what was essentially an extended screen test by casting her in the short "Every Sunday." She was paired with another recently signed teenage star, Judy Garland. Miss Durbin sang the aria Il Bacio in the short, while Miss Garland sang the original, jazz composition "The Americana."
Unfortunately, Miss Durbin would not get the chance to play a young Ernestine Schumann-Heink. The legendary opera star fell ill and then died at age 75, at which point MGM abandoned the biopic about her life. In the meantime Deanna Durbin's contract with MGM expired in May 1936. It was not long afterwards that Miss Durbin signed with Universal. It was at Universal that she received the name by which she would become famous--previously billed as "Edna Mae Durbin," she was given the stage name "Deanna Durbin." Universal assigned her to Joe Pasternak, who produced ten of her films.
It was during the production of Deanna Durbin's first film at Universal, Three Smart Girls, that she began singing on The Eddie Cantor Show on radio. She would continue to appear on The Eddie Cantor Show until 1938, when her commitments to Universal began taking up most of her time. Miss Durbin made her feature film debut, in Three Smart Girls in 1936. The film proved to be a hit and she would be the lead in her next film, One Hundred Men and a Girl. Over the next several years she starred in the films Mad About Music (1938), That Certain Age (1938), Three Smart Girls Grow Up (1939), First Love (1939), It's a Date (1940), and Spring Parade (1940). Concurrent with her film career, Deanna Durbin also recorded songs for Decca Records. In all she recorded around 50 songs for the label.
Deanna Durbin began to transition from teen roles to more adult roles starting with 1939's First Love. It was the film in which she received her first screen kiss (Robert Stack was the lucky young actor who got to give kiss her). Miss Durbin also began to assert her power as star. After Joe Pasternak left for MGM in 1941, she refused to appear in the proposed film They Lived Alone. As a result Universal suspended Deanna Durbin, although they eventually came to an agreement with her that she had approval over both the scripts and the directors on her films. As to They Lived Alone, the film was cancelled. Miss Durbin also attempted to expand beyond the light musicals in which she had appeared throughout her career. She appeared in roles very different from those she usually played in both the comedy drama The Amazing Mrs. Holliday (1943), the holiday themed film noir Christmas Holiday (1944), and the comedy-mystery Lady on a Train (1945). Unfortunately these films were not particularly well received by the film going public. Miss Durbin did continue to make musicals, including her only Technicolor film, Can't Help Singing (1944). In 1943 she was offered the lead in Roger and Hammerstein's original Broadway production of Oklahoma. Unfortunately, Universal refused to loan her out for the project.
While Deanna Durbin remained a top box office star for much of the Forties, her last two films (Up in Central Park and For the Love of Mary, both in 1948) both did poorly at the box office. Miss Durbin then retired from the film industry. She moved to France in 1949 where she lived a private life and raised her family. In the Forties she had appeared in some of Universal's most successful films, including Nice Girl? (1941), It Started With Eve (1941), Hers to Hold (1943), His Butler's Sister (1943), Because of Him (1946), I'll Be Yours (1947). and Something in the Wind (1947).
At the height of her career Deanna Durbin was a phenomenally successful star, so much so that a good deal of merchandising was associated with her. In the Thirties and Forties there were Deanna Durbin dolls, dresses, and many other goods. In 1941 Whitman Publishing Company published two young adult novels by Kathryn Heisenfelt in which Miss Durbin solved mysteries like Nancy Drew: Deanna Durbin and the Adventure of Blue Valley and Deanna Durbin and the Feather of Flame. In 1939 alone Miss Durbin made $2 million from merchandising and endorsements.
Although now many in the general public may not recognise her name, Deanna Durbin could rightly be described as a phenomenon for much of her career. During the late Thirties and the entirety of the Forties she was a household name. Not only did everyone recognise who she was, but she was for a time the highest paid female star in the entire world. In the history of film only a few stars ever enjoyed the sort of success and celebrity that Deanna Durbin did. Indeed, she still has a fan club to this day.
Of course, there were several reasons for Deanna Durbin's incredible success, not the least of which was her voice. Even as a teenager she had a surprisingly mature, sweet soprano. Her voice was arguably one of the best in film history. In addition to her voice, there can be no doubt that much of her success was due to her on screen persona. Deanna Durbin always played the girl with a "can do" attitude, who not only solves her own problems, but those of everyone around her as well. It was an image that was seemingly built for the Depression, a time when people were sorely in need of optimism, that of a girl with moxie who seemingly could not be stopped. And while Miss Durbin did not see quite much success in her career as an adult (at least later on), it can be argued that her appeal only increased as she came of age. Miss Durbin grew into a very beautiful, young woman, which no doubt earned her a whole legion of male fans (I rather suspect my crush on Miss Durbin as a lad was pre-dated by many young men in the Forties). Deanna Durbin's combination of talent, charm, and looks would be one that was nearly impossible to beat in any era. It is little wonder she became one of the biggest stars of all time.
Tuesday, 30 April 2013
Indeed, many either are not aware or simply forget that the Internet existed well before the World Wide Web. The Internet's beginnings essentially trace back to the ARPANET, which launched on 29 October 1969. Other networks would be developed in the wake of the ARPANET. Eventually these networks would evolve into what we now know as the Internet (a term first used in 1982). Over time more and more universities, libraries, and other organisations would connect to the Internet. As the Internet grew, keeping track of resources on the Internet became more and more difficult.
As a result various organisations began developing means of tracking the information on the Internet. In the late Eighties an archiver of FTP sites was developed at McGill University in Montreal, Ontario known "Archie." Archie was implemented in 1990. The internet protocol called Gopher was established in 1991 and for a time was a rival to the World Wide Web. Created at the University of Minnesota (hence its name), Gopher would thrive only for a brief time in the Nineties. It was doomed by essentially two factors. The first was that the University of Minnesota decided to charge a licensing fee for Gopher--this only two months before CERN made the World Wide Web totally free. The second is that Gopher documents are much more rigidly structured than the hypertext documents of the World Wide Web.
As to the World Wide Web, it was the result of developments made by Sir Timothy Berners-Lee over the years. Then an independent contractor at CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) in Geneva, Switzerland, it was in 1980 that he developed ENQUIRE. At the time, as it is now, CERN was a vast organisation with a large number of people, with a number of ongoing projects at any time. Much of the work was done via the internet, through email and exchanges of files. As a result CERN needed a means to keep track of everything. Mr. Berners-Lee then developed and proposed ENQUIRE. In many ways ENQUIRE can be considered a predecessor to the World Wide Web. Like the World Wide Web, ENQUIRE relied upon hypertext, and like the World Wide Web it could operate on different systems.
Sir Timothy Berners-Lee left CERN in late 1980 to work for Image Computer Systems, Ltd. He returned to CERN in 1984 where he continued to use ENQUIRE to keep track of his own projects. It was in 1989 that Sir Timothy Berners-Lee wrote a proposal for "..."a large hypertext database with typed links." It was in 1990 that he found a collaborator in the form of Belgian computer scientist Robert Cailliau. The two of them tried to attract interest in their idea of World Wide Web at the the European Conference on Hypertext Technology in September 1990 to no avail.
Regardless, they continued work on the project, creating the first web site at CERN. Over the next several months Sir Timothy Berners-Lee developed what would be the building blocks of the Web: HTTP (the HyperText Transfer Protocol), HTML (HyperText Markup Language), and even the first web browser and editor (named simply WorldWideWeb). The work was completed by late December 1990. It was on 6 August 1991 that Sir Timothy Berners-Lee put the world's first Web site online. Initially the World Wide Web was adopted primarily by universities. Two turning points would come about in 1993. The first was the introduction of the Mosaic web browser on 23 January 1993. While other browsers pre-dated Mosaic, none possessed the versatility or ease of use of Mosaic. Of course, the second turning point occurred twenty years ago today--the World Wide Web went public.
Of course, in the following years the World Wide Web would experience enormous growth. Web commerce emerged fairly early, with such companies as Amazon.com (1994), EBay (1995), and others being founded in the mid to late Nineties. By the early Naughts the World Wide Web was nearly commonplace. As of 30 June 2012 78.1% of all Americans and 83.6% of everyone in the United Kingdom are on online.
Twenty years after the World Wide Web was made free to the public it is nearly impossible to imagine life without it. Indeed, it may well have been the most revolutionary medium introduced in the 20th Century, doing more to change the world than even radio or television. For better or worse, the World Wide Web has become a part of everyday life for many around the world.