Saturday, 5 July 2014

The 60th Anniversary of Elvis Presley's First Single

It was sixty years ago today that Elvis Presley recorded his very first single, "That's All Right." The song "That's All Right" had been written by  Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup, who first recorded it in 1946 in Chicago on the RCA label. Upon its first release "That's All Right" did not break into the national charts. RCA re-released the song in 1949 as their first R&B single in the new 45 RPM format under the title "That's All Right, Mama". Sadly this re-release did not perform particularly well either.

Six years later "That's All Right" would make history. It was on 5 July 1954 that Elvis Presley first recorded with guitarist Scotty Moore (who would record many more songs with him) and bassist Bill Black (who would also record many more songs with Elvis). It was while the trio were taking a break from recording that Messrs. Presley, Moore, and Black extemporised an up-tempo version of "It's All Right". Producer and founder of Sun Records Sam Philips persuaded the three musicians to record this upbeat version of "It's All Right". It then became Elvis Presley's first release on Sun Records and his first single ever. It's flip side was  "Blue Moon of Kentucky", a song written and recorded by bluegrass pioneer Bill Monroe in 1946.

Elvis Presley's cover of "That's All Right" was released on 19 July 1954. While the single did not crack the Billboard's national charts, it did go to #4 on the local Memphis chart. It also generated interest in the new singer, who would crack the Billboard singles chart with "I Don't Care if the Sun Don't Shine", which went to #74, later the same year. After some success on the country charts in 1955, Elvis would have a smash hit with "Heartbreak Hotel" in early 1956, which went to #1 on the Billboard singles and country charts and to #3 on the R&B chart. The rest, as they say, is history.

Here then is Elvis Presely's historic first recording of "That's All Right".


Friday, 4 July 2014

Happy 4th of July 2014

I would like to wish my fellow Americans a happy 4th of July! Regular readers of this blog know that I post classic movie pinups every 4th of July and this 4th of July is no different. Here with no further ado, then, are this year's pinups.

1st up is Paul Prentiss, for whom fireworks weren't enough. She needs a cannon!

Next up is Dorothy Arnold, who may be better known for her marriage to Joe DiMaggio than her film career.

Gloria DeHaven wants to make sure everyone remembers what date it is!

Marilyn Monroe with a warning about the fireworks!

Gloria Henry is ready for the fireworks display!

Of course, it wouldn't be the 4th of July without Ann Miller!

Happy 4th of July!

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Paul Mazursky Passes On

Actor and director Paul Mazursky died on 30 June 2014 at the age of 84. The cause was pulmonary cardiac arrest.

 Paul Mazursky was born  Irwin Mazursky on 25 April 1930 in Brooklyn, New York. He graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School in Brooklyn in 1947. He attended Brooklyn College, where he took part in dramatic productions at the school. He made his film debut in Stanley Kubrick's Fear and Desire in 1953. In the late Fifties as an actor Mr. Mazursky appeared in the film Blackboard Jungle (1955). He guest starred on such shows as The United States Steel Hour, The Kaiser Aluminum Hour, Robert Montgomery Presents, and The Chevy Mystery Show.

It was in the Sixties that Paul Mazursky broke into writing with an episode of The Rifleman, "Tinhorn", which aired in 1962. Mr. Mazursky also wrote the pilot for The Monkees ("Here Come The Monkees") with Larry Tucker, for which they received a "developed by" credit. He also wrote material for The Danny Kaye Show. In the Sixties Mr. Mazursky wrote screenplays for the short "Last Year at Malibu" (1962--which he also directed) and the features I Love You, Alice B. Toklas! (1968), Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969--which he also directed), and Alex in Wonderland (1970--which he also directed). It was also in the Sixties that Paul Mazursky began directing as well. He made his directorial debut with the short "Last Year in Malibu", then directed the features Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969), and Alex in Wonderland (1970).  Mr. Mazursky continued to act, guest starring on such shows as Outlaws, Michael Shayne, The Dick Powell Theatre, The Untouchables, The Detectives, The Twilight Zone, The Rifleman, The Real McCoys, The Monkees, and Love on a Rooftop. He appeared in the films Deathwatch (1966), I Love You, Alice B. Toklas! (1968), Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969), and Alex in Wonderland (1970).

In the Seventies Paul Mazursky directed Blume in Love (1973), Harry and Tonto (1974), Next Stop, Greenwich Village (1976), An Unmarried Woman (1978), and Willie & Phil (1980). As an actor he guest starred on the show Getting Together and appeared in the films The Other Side of the Wind (1972), Blume in Love (1973), A Star Is Born (1976), An Unmarried Woman (1978), and A Man, a Woman and a Bank (1979).

In the Eighties he directed Tempest (1982), Moscow on the Hudson (1984), Down and Out in Beverly Hills (1986), Moon Over Parador (1988), and Enemies: A Love Story (1989). As an actor he appeared in the films Moscow on the Hudson (1984), Into the Night (1985), Down and Out in Beverly Hills (1986), Punchline (1988), Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills (1989), and Enemies: A Love Story (1989).

In the Nineties he directed Scenes from a Mall (1991), The Pickle (1993), and Faithful (1996). Into the Naughts he continued his directorial career on television, directing the TV movies Winchell, Coast to Coast, and Yippee. In the Nineties he acted in such films as Scenes from a Mall (1991), Man Trouble (1992), The Pickle (1993), Carlito's Way (1993), Love Affair (1994), Miami Rhapsody (1995), Faithful (1996), 2 Days in the Valley (1996), Touch (1997), Why Do Fools Fall in Love (1998), and Crazy in Alabama (1999). He provided the voice of the psychologist in the animated feature Antz (1998).  He guest starred on the shows Frasier and The Sopranos. He had a recurring role on Once and Again.

In the Naughts Mr. Marzursky had a recurring role on Curb Your Enthusiasm. He appeared in the films Da wan (2001), Do It for Uncle Manny (2002), I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With (2006), Cattle Call (2006), and Hopelessly Devoted (2010). He provided a voice in Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011).

Paul Mazursky was a singular filmmaker. He had the ability to blend satire with sentimentality in such a way that it appeared seamless. He could lampoon current trends in society and yet at the same time remain sympathetic to the characters who were involved in those trends. In many ways his films chronicle the changing landscape of late 20th Century America.  Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice touched upon wife swapping and group therapy. Harry And Tonto dealt with ageing. An Unmarried Woman centred upon divorce and its consequences. In all of his films Paul Mazursky was able to bring out the humour in the changes occurring in America in the late 20th Century, while at the same time giving us glimpses at the inner workings of his characters' minds. Quite simply Paul Mazursky achieved a balance that few other directors have. He was able to address changes in American culture while remaining focused on the characters and their lives in his films.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Godspeed Bob Hastings

Bob Hastings, who played Lt. Elroy Carpenter on McHale's Navy and did voice work for cartoons ranging from Superboy on The New Adventures of Superman to Commissioner Gordon on Batman: The Animated Series, died on 30 June 2014 at the age of 89. The cause was prostate cancer.

Bob Hastings was born on 18 April 1925 in Brooklyn, New York. He was only 11 years old when he began his acting career in radio in 1936. Mr. Hastings appeared on such radio shows as Coast-to-Coast on a Bus, The National Barn Dance, The Sea Hound, This Life is Mine, and other radio shows. During World War II he served in the Army Air Forces as a B-29 navigator.

Following the war Bob Hastings provided the voice of Archie Andrews on The Adventures of Archie Andrews, based on the popular "Archie" comic book feature. He played the role from 1945 to 1953. In the Fifties he also provided voices for the radio show X Minus One. Bob Hastings made his television debut in the recurring role of Hal on Captain Video and His Video Rangers. He was also a regular on the series Atom Squad and Kitty Foyle. In the Fifties he guest starred on such shows as The United States Steel Hour; Tom Corbett, Space Cadet; Armstrong Circle Theatre; The Phil Silvers Show; The Real McCoys; The Untouchables; Hennessy; and The Donna Reed Show.

In the Sixties Bob Hastings played the regular role of Lt. Elroy Carpenter on the television series McHale's Navy. He was also the voice of the raven on The Munsters. He guest starred on such shows as Car 54, Where Are You?; Pete and Gladys; Gunsmoke; Ben Casey; Dennis the Menace; The Twilight Zone; Batman; Hogan's Heroes; I Dream of Jeannie; The Flying Nun; and Green Acres. He provided voices for the Saturday morning cartoon The New Casper Cartoon Show as well as the voice of Superboy on The New Adventures of Superman. He made his film debut in The Great Impostor in 1961. In the Sixties he appeared in the films Moon Pilot (1962), McHale's Navy (1964), McHale's Navy Joins the Air Force (1965), Did You Hear the One About the Travelling Saleslady? (1968), The Bamboo Saucer (1968), Angel in My Pocket (1969), The Love God? (1969), and The Boatniks (1970).

In the Seventies Bob Hastings appeared in such films as The Marriage of a Young Stockbroker (1971), The Poseidon Adventure (1972), Charley and the Angel (1973), The All-American Boy (1973), Airport 1975 (1974), No Deposit, No Return (1976), and Harper Valley P.T.A. (1978). On television he played Kelsey on All in the Family. He guest starred on such shows as Nanny and the Professor, My Three Sons, Emergency, Love American Style, The Odd Couple, Adam-12, Hec Ramsey, Kolchak: The Night Stalker; Ironside, The Rockford Files, Police Story, Quincy, Black Sheep Squadron, Wonder Woman, Alice, and The Waltons. He provided voices for such animated TV shows as Jeannie, Clue Club, and C.B. Bears.

In the Eighties Bob Hastings was a regular on No Soap, Radio; He guest starred on the shows The Greatest American Hero; The Dukes of Hazzard; Trapper John M.D.; Remington Steele; and Murder, She Wrote. He appeared in the films Separate Ways (1981) and Snowballing (1984).  In the Nineties Mr. Hastings provided the voice of Commissioner Gordon on Batman: The Animated Series and related shows, as well as the feature films based on the show. He appeared in the film Shadow Force (1992). 

There can be little wonder that Bob Hastings' career as a voice actor spanned nearly 75 years (from his debut on Coast to Coast on a Bus in 1936 to the video game Mafia II in 2010). Mr. Hastings was blessed with a truly versatile voice, capable of playing everything from the raven on The Munsters to various voices on Challenge of the Superfriends. Indeed, it is notable that Bob Hastings voiced some of the most iconic comic book characters of all time, voicing Archie Andrews on radio as well as Superboy and Commissioner Gordon on television. Few actors can boast that.

Of course, Bob Hastings was not simply a voice actor. He appeared on screen in many films and television shows as well. He had a particular gift for comedy and it is for his comedic roles that he seems to be best remembered. He was perfect as bumbling yes man Lt. Carpenter, Captain Binghamton's aide on McHale's Navy. He also did well in the Batman episode "Penguin Sets a Trend" as the slightly clueless Major Beasley. When it came to comedy Mr. Hastings had a great sense of timing and was capable of delivering pitch perfect performances. He was a versatile actor who could play any number of roles. Indeed, during his long career he played everything from reporters to police officers to drunks, and he did all of them well.

Monday, 30 June 2014

Torchy Turns 110: The 110th Birthday of Glenda Farrell

Glenda Farrell as Torchy Blane and Barton
MacLane as Steve McBride

It was 110 years ago today that Glenda Farrell was born in Enid, Oklahoma. Miss Farrell would have a career that would span over 35 years, from her film debut in Lucky Boy in 1928 to her last appearance on screen in Tiger by the Tail in 1970. Along with Joan Blondell (with whom she appeared in several movies) she was the epitome of the wisecracking blonde of Thirties and Forties cinema. While Glenda Farrell had a long career in which she played many different roles, she may be best known as "girl reporter" Torchy Blane from the series of films she made in the late Thirties.

Glenda Farrell had a successful career well before she ever played Torchy Blane. It was in 1930 that she became the first actor signed to a long term contract with First National Pictures. What is more, she was almost immediately cast in the role of the female lead in Little Caesar (1931). Over the next few years she would appear in such films as I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932), Grand Slam (1933), Lady for a Day (1933), Travelling Saleslady (1935), Gold Diggers of 1935 (1935), and Gold Diggers of 1937 (1936). Notable among her early films is Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933), in which Miss Farrell played a character who could very nearly be considered a prototype for Torchy Blane. In the film Glenda Farrell played  Florence Dempsey, an intelligent, wisecracking reporter who becomes involved in the mysterious events surrounding a wax museum. Florence was bright, resourceful, fearless, and quick with words. In other words, she was almost exactly like Torchy.

Given the strength of Glenda Farrell's performance as Florence in Mystery of the Wax Muesum, it should be little wonder that she would be cast in the role of  Torchy Blane in the film Smart Blonde (1937). Curiously, "girl reporter"Torchy Blane was based on a male character from a series of mystery stories by  Frederick Nebel. Kennedy was a crime reporter for the Free Press who often found himself at odds with  Captain Steve MacBride of the Richmond City Police Department. Kennedy of the Free Press first appeared in the story "Raw Law" in the September 1928 issue of Black Mask. Kennedy appeared in over 38 stories until his final appearance in "Deep Red" in the August 1936 issue of Black Mask. Like many reporters portrayed in fiction during the era. Kennedy was a bit of a drunk. He was also a bit of wiseacre.

Frederick Nebel sold the rights to his "Kennedy of the Free Press" stories to Warner Bros., who changed the character of intrepid, wisecracking, drunken male reporter Kennedy of the Free Press to that of intrepid, wisecracking, fast talking female reporter Torchy Blane of the Daily Star. The character of Steve McBride more or less remained the same. He was still gruff, loud mouthed, and not particularly perceptive. That having been said, McBride's relationship with Torchy in the films would be very different from his relationship with Kennedy in the short stories. While McBride hardly approved of Torchy's investigations into crimes, the two of them did have a romantic relationship, something Kennedy and McBride never had in the short stories!

Torchy Blane first appeared in the film Smart Blonde in 1937. The film proved so successful that there would be eight more Torchy Blane films: Fly-Away Baby (1937), The Adventurous Blonde (1937), Blondes at Work (1938), Torchy Blane in Panama (1938), Torchy Gets Her Man (1938), Torchy Blane in Chinatown (1939), Torchy Runs for Mayor (1939), and Torchy Blane...Playing with Dynamite (1939). Glenda Farrell played Torchy in all but two of the films. Lola Lane played Torchy in Torchy Blane in Panama, while Jane Wyman took over the role for the final film, Torchy Blane...Playing with Dynamite. Regardless, it would be Glenda Farrell who would be remembered as Torchy Blane.

Torchy Blane would have a lasting impact on American pop culture. Jerry Siegel, co-creator and the original writer for the "Superman" comic book feature, said that Glenda Farrell's portrayal of Torchy Blane was the inspiration for Lois Lane. What is more, Lois's name was taken from that of actress Lola Lane, who played Torchy Blane in Torchy Blane in Panama. As to Lois's appearance, that was taken from artist Joe Schuster's model, Joanne Carter (who later become Jerry Siegel's wife). It also seems likely that Torchy Blane provided much of the inspiration for newspaper comic strip character Brenda Starr, who was also a strong, independent woman . It seems quite possible that the majority of female reporters in crime and adventure films, TV shows, and comic strips could well have been influenced by Torchy Blane since her first appearance in Smart Blonde.

The last Torchy Blane film was made in 1939 and Glenda Farrell's contract with Warner Bros. expired. Miss Farrell made fewer films in the Forties than she had in the Thirties, largely electing to concentrate on her stage career. She appeared on Broadway in such productions as Separate Rooms, The Life of Reilly, The Overtons, and Mrs. Gibbons' Boys.  The Fifties saw a resurgence in her film career, with such movies as Secret of the Incas (1954), Susan Slept Here (1954), and The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing (1955). She appeared frequently on television, guest starring on such shows as Armstrong Circle Theatre, Goodyear Playhouse, Studio One, and Wagon Train. The Sixties would see her career shift primarily to television, appearing on such shows as The Defenders, Route 66, Ben Casey, The United States Steel Hour, Rawhide, The Fugitive, and Bonanza. She appeared in the films Kissin' Cousins (1964) with Elvis Presley, The Disorderly Orderly (1964) with Jerry Lewis, and, her final appearance on screen, Tiger by the Tail (1970). Sadly, Glenda Farrell died of lung cancer at age 61 in 1971.

Glenda Farrell had a rich and varied career than spanned film, television, and the stage. While she played many memorable roles, however, it seems likely that she is best remembered as reporter Torchy Blane. Indeed, there is perhaps every reason she should be. Glenda Farrell was ideal for the part. As portrayed by Miss Farrell, Torchy was intelligent, independent, feisty, wisecracking, and sexy. What is more, in an era when most women on screen and in real life were either housewives or worked in such traditionally "female" occupations as teachers, nurses, or secretaries, Torchy worked in what was a traditionally "male" profession, that of a reporter. Not only was Torchy Blane very competent at her job, she was actually better at it than most male reporters. Indeed, one has to wonder that Steve McBride and the local police could ever solve a case without her! Torchy Blane was every bit the equal of any man and as such provided a role model for young women at a time when there were few to choose from. Not only should it be little wonder that Glenda Farrell is best remembered as Torchy Blane, but it should be little wonder that the character would prove as influential as she has.