Saturday, 24 October 2015

The Late Great Maureen O'Hara, Queen of Technicolor

The phrase "movie legend" is often applied to actors, even sometimes to those who are not particularly legendary. One actress who most certainly deserves to be called a "movie legend" was Maureen O'Hara. She was remarkably beautiful, with a mane of red hair, big green eyes, and a perfect complexion. Her good looks were perfect for the Technicolor films in which she starred. She was also incredibly talented. A strong woman in real life, Miss O'Hara was known for playing women who could easily stand up to any man. At the same time she could play roles of emotional depth and sensitivity in a way that few actresses even during the Golden Age of Film could. As if that was not enough, Maureen O'Hara possessed an athleticism rare even among men of the era. She performed many of her own stunts. Indeed, her fencing skill was such that she was better than most men with a sword--among actors she was one of the greatest fencers of all time.

It was perhaps for these reasons that Maureen O'Hara was particularly revered in my household. She was my mother's favourite actress. When my brother and I first watched The Parent Trap (1961) my mother remarked often throughout the movie on how beautiful she was, and she could not understand how Brian Keith would ever choose Joanna Barnes over Maureen O'Hara. The rest of the family adored Maureen O'Hara as well, to the point that she is probably the entire family's favourite actress of all time. Sadly, Maureen O'Hara died today at the age of 95.

Maureen O'Hara was born  Maureen FitzSimons on August 17 1920, in Ranelagh, County Dublin, Ireland. Her father, Charles FitzSimons, was a a clothing-business manager and a co-owner of the  Shamrock Rovers Football Club. Her mother Marguerita FitzSimons (née Lilburn) had been an opera contralto and became a women's clothier. Maureen FitzSimons took an interest in acting from early age, appearing in plays as a child. She studied at the Abbey Theatre and the Ena Mary Burke School of Drama and Elocution in Dublin.

Maureen O'Hara made her film debut under her given name in a small role in the British musical Kicking the Moon Around in 1938. She appeared in a bigger role under her given name in the British musical My Irish Molly that same year. After those two movies she was given a screen test in London, and Maureen O'Hara was hardly happy with the results. Dressed in a gold lamé dress, heavy makeup, and an ornate hairstyle for the test, her thought was "If this is the movies, I want nothing to do with them!" Fortunately actor Charles Laughton saw the test and saw potential in the starlet. Charles Laughton directed his partner Erich Pommer's attention to the screen test and in the end Maureen was given a  seven-year contract with their company Mayflower Pictures. She had a major role in Alfred Hitchcock's film Jamaica Inn (1939), but with a new stage name She was no longer Maureen FitzSimons--she was now Maureen O'Hara. Charles Laughton was so happy with her performance that she was cast as the female lead, Esmeralda, in the classic The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939). In 1939 Miss O'Hara also appeared on British television on the BBC's Picture Page programme.

With the outbreak of World War II Charles Laughton thought it was impractical for Mayflower Pictures to continue filming in London. He then sold Miss O'Hara's contract to the American studio RKO. Maureen O'Hara appeared in the low budget films A Bill of Divorcement (1940), Dance, Girl, Dance (1940), and They Met in Argentina (1941)  before being cast in How Green Was My Valley (1941). How Green Was My Valley marked the first time she worked with John Ford who would utilise her in his films several more times throughout both of their careers. The film won the Oscar for Best Picture.

The Forties would see Maureen O'Hara become a major star. With the classic pirate movie The Black Swan (1942) she appeared in her first of many swashbucklers. During the decade she also appeared in The Spanish Main (1945), Sinbad, the Sailor (1947),  and Bagdad (1949). At the end of the decade she worked with John Wayne for the first time and John Ford for the second on the film Rio Grande (1950). Maureen O'Hara would work with John Wayne many more times and became both his favourite actress to work with as well as a close friend. In the Forties Miss O'Hara also appeared in what is possibly her most famous film, the Yuletide classic Miracle on 34th Street (1947). During the Forties she also appeared in such films as To the Shores of Tripoli (1942), This Land Is Mine (1943), Buffalo Bill (1944), Sitting Pretty (1948), Britannia Mews (1949), Comanche Territory (1950), and Tripoli (1950).

In the Fifties Maureen O'Hara starred in what may be her most famous collaboration with director John Ford and actor John Wayne, The Quiet Man (1952). The film won the Academy Awards for Best Director and Best Cinematography. She worked with John Ford two more times in the Fifties, in the films The Long Gray Line (1955) and The Wings of Eagles (1957), the latter of which starred John Wayne. During the decade Maureen O'Hara also came into her own as a star of swashbucklers. While in the Forties Miss O'Hara had played the love interest in most of her swashbuckler films, in the Fifties she wielded a blade herself. In At Sword's Point (1952) she played the daughter of Athos of The Three Musketeers, who was as good with a sword as any of them. She also appeared in the swashbuckler films Flame of Araby (1951) and Against All Flags (1952), as well as the period drama Lady Godiva of Coventry (1955).  Miss O'Hara appeared in the Westerns The Redhead from Wyoming (1953) and War Arrow (1953). During the decade she also appeared in such films as Malaga (1954), The Magnificent Matador (1955), and Our Man in Havana (1959).  In 1960 she appeared on Broadway in the production Christine. In 1960 she also released two record albums, Love Letters from Maureen O'Hara and Maureen O'Hara Sings her Favorite Irish Songs.

In the late Fifties Maureen O'Hara began appearing on television. She appeared on such talk shows and variety shows as Sheilah Graham in Hollywood, The Dinah Shore Chevy Show, Perry Como's Kraft Music Hall, The Garry Moore Show, The George Gobel Show, and The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show, as well as the panel show What's My Line. In 1960 she played the title role in a television adaptation of Mrs. Miniver and  Lady Marguerite Blakeney in The Dupont Show of the Month's adaptation of The Scarlet Pimpernel.

The Sixties saw Maureen O'Hara star in two of her most famous films, both comedies She played the mother of two twins played by Hayley Mills in The Parent Trap (1961) and the wife of the title character opposite John Wayne in McLintock! (1963). She appeared in the films The Deadly Companions (1961), Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation (1962), Spencer's Mountain (1963), The Battle of the Villa Fiorita (1965), The Rare Breed (1966), and How Do I Love Thee? (1970). She appeared on television in an episode of Theatre '62, the Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation "A Cry of Angels", and an episode of Off to See the Wizard. as well as the variety shows The Ed Sullivan Show, The Ed Sullivan Show, The Beautiful Phyllis Diller Show, and The Jackie Gleason Show.She appeared on the game show Hollywood Squares.

Following the Sixties Maureen O'Hara retired from acting and her appearances on screen became infrequent. She appeared for one last time with John Wayne in Big Jake in 1971. In 1973 she appeared in the TV movie The Red Pony. In 1991 she appeared in the feature film Only the Lonely and then the TV movies The Christmas Box (1995), Cab to Canada (1998), and The Last Dance (2000).

Throughout her career Maureen O'Hara has remained one of the most beloved film stars of all time. It is not simply a case that she was one of the great beauties of all time. Maureen O'Hara was extremely talented and very versatile. She made movies in a wide variety of genres: dramas, Westerns, swashbucklers, spy movies, comedies, war movies, and so on. She was capable of moving performances, as shown by her performances in How Green Was My Valley and The Quiet Man. She could also play a wide variety of roles, from the gypsy Esmeralda in The Hunchback of Notre Dame to divorcee Doris Walker in Miracle on 34th Street to the feisty Rose in Only the Lonely.

Indeed, Maureen O'Hara's versatility set her apart from other actresses of her era in that she was both a "serious" actress and an action/adventure star. Miss O'Hara starred in Westerns and swashbucklers, usually playing strong minded women who could hold their own with anyone. In a few of her films she actually got to fight alongside the men. What is more remarkable is that she often did her own stunts. Perhaps the only actress of the era comparable to Maureen O'Hara was Barbara Stanwyck, but then Miss Stanwyck never wielded a blade.

Indeed, Maureen O'Hara would become the only female swashbuckler star on the same level as such male actors as Errol Flynn and Tyrone Power. She trained under legendary fencing master Fred Cavens for her role in At Sword's Point and became very competent with a sword. Director Lewis Allen doubted women could fence and made no secret of his opinion. When it came to the first action scene Maureen O'Hara did her best fencing she possibly could, receiving applause from the stuntmen and leaving Lewis Allen speechless.

The fact was that Maureen O'Hara not only played strong characters in film, but she was a strong woman herself. She was the very first actor ever to stand up to the notorious tabloid magazine Confidential. In the February 1957 issue of Confidential it was alleged that actress Maureen O'Hara and a "Latin Lothario" had sex in the balcony of Grauman's Chinese Theatre. The story was not a cover story and, in fact, was buried in the contents of the magazine. Regardless, Miss O'Hara was outraged. She sued the magazine for $1 million, an amount she later increased to $5 million. With little to no support from the film industry, Maureen O'Hara took Confidential to court and won the case. Miss O'Hara's victory over the magazine would prove instrumental in its downfall.

In the end Maureen O'Hara was utterly unique. She was a flame haired, Irish beauty who could play the passive love interest in a film, but at the same time was fully capable of playing the fiery action heroine in a film as well. She could play in films of any genre, as adept at comedy as she was drama. She could hold her own with such directors as John Ford and such actors as John Wayne. Indeed, even when she wasn't playing an action heroine, her characters were more than a match for any man, as both The Parent Trap and McLintock! prove. Maureen O'Hara was an utterly remarkable, totally singular actress, and it is doubtful we will ever seen her like again.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Cory Wells R.I.P.

Cory Wells, one of the three lead vocalists of Three Dog Night, died on October 20 2015 at the age of 74.

Cory Wells was born Emil Lewandowski on February 2 1941 in Buffalo, New York. He was raised by a single mother, his father being married to someone else. His father died when he was still a small child. After graduating from high school, he joined the United States Air Force. After he left the service Cory Wells returned to Buffalo and sang with such bands as The Fidelitones and The Satellites. Eventually he joined a band called The Vibratos. The Vibratos moved to California where they adopted the name "The Enemys". It was while Cory Wells was with The Enemys that he adopted the stage name "Cory Wells". "Wells" was a shorted form of his father's surname (Wellsley) and "Cory" was the name of the son of The Enemys' first manager, Gene Jacobs.

The Enemys performed in various clubs in Los Angeles,  San Diego, Sacramento, and Las Vegas. Eventually The Enemys became the house band of the Whisky a Go Go on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles. The Enemys released their first single, "Sinner Man"/"Say Goodbye to Donna" on Valiant Records in 1965. Their next single, "Glitter And Gold "/ "Too Much Monkey Business" was released on MGM Records. The Enemys toured with Sonny & Cher. Their third single was a cover of the Billy Roberts song "Hey Joe", backed by the song "My Dues Have Been Paid". "Hey Joe"/"My Dues Have Been Paid" was produced by Cory Wells's future Three Dog Night bandmate Danny Hutton. The Enemys' last single was "Mo-Jo Woman".

While The Enemys had relatively little success as recording artists, they did make appearances on television and film. The Enemys appeared in the Burke's Law episode "Who Killed The Strangler?", along with Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello, in 1965. That same year The Enemys appeared in the Beverly Hillbillies episode "Hoe Down A-Go-Go". In 1966 The Enemys appeared in the movie Harper starring Paul Newman and Lauren Bacall. They made one last film appearance in the movie Riot on Sunset Strip (1967).

The Enemys broke up in 1967. It was about a year later that Cory Wells and Danny Hutton formed a new band with vocalist Chuck Negron. They considered various names, including Six Foot Three and Tricycle. They recorded demos under the name Redwood. It was Danny Hutton's girlfriend at the time, actress June Fairchild, who suggested the name "Three Dog Night" after reading a magazine article about aboriginal Australians, who considered a "three dog night" a particularly cold night.

Signed to Dunhill Records, Three Dog Night's eponymous debut album was released on October 16, 1968. The first single from that album, "Nobody", only went to no. 116 on the Billboard singles chart. A second single, their cover of "Try a Little Tenderness", did quite a bit better, going to no. 29 on the Billboard Hot 100. Their third single would prove to be a charm for the band. Their cover of Harry Nilsson's "One" went to no. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was certified gold. With "One" a hit, the song's title was soon added to the album cover.  The album peaked at no. 11 on the Billboard albums chart.

For the next four years Three Dog Night would have an impressive string of hit singles. They hit the top ten of the Billboard Hot 100 with the singles "Easy to Be Hard", "Eli's Coming", "Liar", "An Old Fashioned Love Song", "Never Been to Spain", and "Shambala". They hit no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with their cover of Randy Newman's "Mama Told Me (Not to Come)", "Joy to the World", and "Black and White". From 1970 to 1973 their lowest charting song was "One Man Band", which peaked at no. 19 on the Billboard Hot 100. From 1969 to 1976 Three Dog Night released ten albums. Their albums It Ain't Easy, Harmony, and Seven Separate Fools hit the top ten of the Billboard albums chart.

Unfortunately Three Dog Night's string of hits would not last. While in 1974 their cover of Leo Sayer's "The Show Must Go On" went to no. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and their cover of John Hiatt's "Sure As I'm Sittin' Here" went to no. 16, their final single of the year, "Play Something Sweet (Brickyard Blues)", peaked at no. 33. Their next single, "Til the World Ends", only peaked at no. 32 in 1975. Their only single released in 1976,  "Everybody Is a Masterpiece", did not chart at all. Their albums also fared badly. All of their albums had previously hit the top 20 of the Billboard album chart except for 1973's Cyan, which peaked at no. 26. Their 1975 album, Coming Down Your Way, peaked at no. 70. Their 1976 album, American Pastime, fared even worse. It only peaked at 123.

In 1976 Three Dog Night broke up. Cory Wells released a solo album, Touch Me, along with the single "Starlight", on A&M Records. He recorded another solo album, Ahead of the Storm, in 1978, but it remained unreleased until 2002.

In 1981 Three Dog Night reunited. In 1983 they released a new EP , It's a Jungle, along with the single ""It's a Jungle Out There". The band made an appearance in the television special Scrooge's Rock 'N' Roll Christmas in 1984.  In 1985 Chuck Negron left the band, and  Cory Wells and Danny Hutton continued Three Dog Night without him. The band continued to tour and released their third live album, Three Dog Night: Live, in 1988.  In 2002 Three Dog Night released their final album, Three Dog Night With The London Symphony Orchestra. In 2009 they released the single "Heart of Blues"/"Prayer of the Children".

There can be little doubt that the success of Three Dog Night was largely due to the vocal strength of its lead singers. Cory Wells, Danny Hutton, and Chuck Negron created three part harmonies that have rarely been matched before or since. Cory Wells himself had a soulful voice with a good deal of range. It was also extremely adaptable. He could sing anything from the rhythm and blues infused rock he sang with The Enemys to the more folk oriented sound of  Three Dog Night's cover of "“Sure As I’m Sittin’ Here”. In fact, it was this adaptability that perhaps allowed Three Dog Night to have so many hit songs. The band ranged from American standards ("Try a Little Tenderness") to pure rock 'n' roll ("Nobody"). Three Dog Night recorded songs by such songwriters as Harry Nilsson, Laura Nyro, Hoyt Axton, Randy Newman, and Paul Williams. Arguably Cory Wells's death marks the end of the one of the most successful and versatile bands to emerge from the United States in the Sixties. 

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

My Back to the Future Day Experience....

As I am sure all of you know if you have been paying attention to the media anyway, in the movie Back to the Future, Part II Marty McFly travelled from 1985 to 2015 to save his as of yet unborn children. The day that Marty arrived just happened to be today, October 21 2015. Well, it turns out he did....

This morning, about 8:00 AM, I heard this horrible noise outside and I looked out to see this Delorean pulling up in our drive. I went outside and looked to see burning tyre tracks all the way down the street and leading up to the car. This young guy who looked like a young Michael J. Fox then got out of the Delorean and said, "Is this October 21, 2015?" I stared at him and nodded my head slowly, "Yeah, it is." I then looked askance at him and said, "Okay, who put you up to this?"

Once we established that this wasn't an elaborate practical joke, I had to explain to young Michael J. Fox Marty McFly that he, Doc, Biff, and so on were only movie characters in this universe. I also had to explain to him that here in 2015 there were no flying cars, no hoverboards, and no home energy reactors. Furthermore, I had to explain to him that he was about 1700 miles away from Hill Valley, California, as well as about ten hours early (he was supposed to arrive in Hill Valley on October 21 2015 at 4:29 PM PDT). We figured out that he had not only travelled through time, but had somehow crossed through universes. Fortunately, Marty was a regular reader of DC Comics, so he had no problem understanding the concept of alternate realities. After calling the "Doc Brown" of our reality (who looks a lot like Christopher Lloyd) on my mobile phone, we were able to get Marty back to the October 21 2015 of his reality. .. All of this before I even had my coffee...

And if you believe any of this, I have a bridge in Brooklyn, New York I'd like to sell you....

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Google Photos is Less Than Meets The Eye

This summer Google introduced Google Photos, a photo and video storage service. Google Photos received generally good reviews from the tech press. To its credit Google Photos gives users unlimited photo and video storage. It also allows users to back their photos up to Google Photos' cloud service so that they can access them on any of their devices. It also has editing tools on par with Instagram and other photo and video services. For people who primarily want a service for storing their photos and videos, Google Photos does have a lot to commend itself.

Unfortunately, for many Google+ users, Google Photos has proven to be a rather large disappointment. Quite simply, most power users on Google+ post a wide array of photos, many of them not personal. On any given day I post photos for celebrity birthdays, memes, classic pin ups, and so on. In Google+ Photos I could easily separate the celebrity birthday photos, memes, and so on from my personal photos by highlighting my personal photos and removing any non-personal photos from Highlights. Anyone looking at the photos tab on my profile would then only see my personal photos. Sadly, there is no practical way to separate personal photos from non-personal photos on Google Photos if one has posted several photos every single day to Google+ for the past four years. While Google's slogan for Google Photos is " All your photos organised and easy to find", for anyone who posts a large number of photos to Google+ it is nothing of the sort.

The other reason that Google Photos is a huge disappointment for Google+ users is precisely the editing tools many reviewers liked so much. True, they on are on par with Instagram and other services, but that is just the problem. Google+ Photos had advanced tools for editing that went far beyond anything that Instagram and other services had to offer. While these tools were not quite the equal of Paint Shop Pro or Photoshop, they came as close as a web based editor probably could. Unfortunately when Google introduced Google Photos, they also yanked Google+ Photos' advanced editing tools. Google+ users accustomed to being able to create rather spectacular effects with Google+ Photos editing tools would naturally be disappointed with Google Photos' rather meagre tools in comparison.

Beyond Google Photos not being a particularly good way for Google+ power users to organise their photos and the fact that Google removed Goolge+ Photos' very useful and powerful editing tools, I myself find Google Photos not particularly easy to navigate on the web. One basically has to scroll down until he or she finds the photo he or she wants-- unlike Google+ Photos there is no calendar where one can click on the date that a photo was taken or uploaded. Quite frankly, if I weren't using Google+, I'd prefer Google's Picassa Web Albums when it comes to simply wanting to look at my photos or sort them! Now many might point out I could organise my photos into albums. The problem with that is that for someone like me who has posted a huge number of photos to Google+ for years it would take literally days, perhaps weeks.

In the end Google Photos is not a bad service as far as photo and video storage goes. If one has never used Google+ and only wants to use the service to store one's personal photos, I would fully recommend it. But if one is a Google+ user, especially one who posts a large number of assorted photos, not all of them personal, it can be an absolute nightmare. I do hope Google plans to keep Google+ Photos in place for Google+ users, as Google Photos is wholly inadequate to managing photos on Google+. I also hope they give us our powerful editing tools back. Many might like Google Photos. I really do not.

Monday, 19 October 2015

Pat Woodell Passes On

Pat Woodell, perhaps best known as the first actress to play Bobbie Jo Bradley on Petticoat Junction, died on September 29 2015 at the age of 71. The cause was cancer.

Pat Woodell was born on July 12 1944 in Winthrop, Massachusetts. She wanted to be a singer and as a teenager performed at resorts in the Catskills. She was eventually signed to Warner Bros. and made her television debut in 1962 in an episode of Cheyenne. She made her film debut in the notorious anti-Communist propaganda short "Red Nightmare", narrated by Jack Webb. She guest starred on episodes of Hawaiian Eye, The Gallant Men, G.E. True, and 77 Sunset Strip before being cast as Bobbie Jo on Petticoat Junction. Bobbie Jo was the bookish, intelligent brunette of the three sisters on the show. The part did give Pat Woodell opportunities to sing on the show. In an episode titled "The Ladybugs" Bobbie Jo and her sisters (Billie Jo, played by Jeannine Riley, and Betty Jo, played by Linda Kaye), formed a singing group of the name and performed The Beatles' "I Saw Her Standing There". The Ladybugs even appeared in an edition of The Ed Sullivan Show.

After two years on Petticoat Junction, Pat Woodell decided to leave the show to pursue her singing career. As a singer she toured with Jack Benny and even recorded an album. She also sang on the shows The Merv Griffin Show and The Hollywood Palace. Unfortunately as a singer she did not see a great deal of success. Miss Woodell guest starred on an episode of The Munsters and appeared in episodes of the soap opera Bright Promises. She provided the voice of Bunny in Warner Bros.' short lived series of "Bunny and Claude" theatrical animated shorts.

The early Seventies saw Pat Woodell appearing in low budget exploitation films.She starred in the films The Big Doll House (1971), The Woman Hunt (1972), Class of '74 (1972), The Twilight People (1972), and The Roommates (1973). Her last acting job was a guest appearance on The New Perry Mason in 1973.

Pat Woodell left acting in 1973 after becoming a follower of the controversial est self-motivation organisation founded by Werner Erhard. For a time she worked for the est group. She later co-founded a consulting firm from which she retired in 2013.

Pat Woodell was well suited to the role of Bobbie Jo Bradley on Petticoat Junction, and to this day fans of the show still debate whether she or Lori Saunders (who took over the role) played Bobbie Jo better. Miss Woodell was very convincing at the attractive bookworm among the sisters. She was also a very good singer, so much so it is surprising that she did not have more success in that arena. While her acting career was not particularly long, her believability as Bobbie Jo has insured she will be remembered.