Saturday, 31 December 2016

Goodbye, 2016

2016 is a year that many people are anxious to see leave. It was a year that saw the deaths of more beloved celebrities than any in recent memory. What is more, for many (particularly in the United States) it was a bad year in other ways as well. If ever there was a year that the majority of people in the English speaking world hated, it was 2016.

As mentioned earlier, the year was marked by the deaths of several beloved celebrities. During most years I might cry only over one or two famous people. This year it was many more, as several of my absolute favourites died. The biggest for me was also the most recent. I think it is no secret that I have always loved Debbie Reynolds, and so I took her death particularly hard. Matters were made worse by the fact that she died only a little over a day after her equally beloved daughter Carrie Fisher (over whom I also cried). My favourite celebrities started dying very early in the year. David Bowie has always numbered among my favourite music artists, and so I took his death particularly hard. His death was followed by one of my favourite actors, Alan Rickman. The Beatles' producer, the legendary Sir George Martin, died this year, as did legendary cartoonist Jack Davis. Like many I grieved heavily over Gene Wilder, forever Willy Wonka for many. Ron Glass numbered among the deaths I took the hardest. He starred in two of my favourite shows: Barney Miller and Firefly. William Schallert was another of my favourites who died. He not only starred on Dobie Gillis and The Patty Duke Show, but made an incredible number of guest appearances during his career. Like most people I was shocked and saddened by the death of Prince. Even television heroes were not immune. Robert Vaughn, who starred in the movie The Magnificent Seven and the TV series The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and Van Williams, The Green Hornet himself, both died. Even real life heroes died. John Glenn, astronaut and statesman, the last of the Mercury Seven, died late this year. Among my other favourites who died were actor, star of Mister Ed, and voice of Uncle Scrooge, Alan Young; character actor Jack Riley; character actor Marvin Kaplan; singer Bobby Vee; Dad's Army creator Jimmy Perry; horror host Zacherley; and Dr. Bombay himself, Bernard Fox.

As you can see, it is a very long list of my favourites that died this year. Sadly, they were far from the only beloved stars to die. Music saw the deaths of Paul Kantner of Jefferson Airplane; Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake & Palmer; folk singer Glenn Yarborough; songwriting legend Leonard Cohen; Greg Lake of Emerson, Lake, & Palmer; and  Rick Parfitt of Status Quo. Film also saw its share of deaths, including Phantasm star and author Angus Scrimm; the legendary George Kennedy; cinematographer Douglas Slocombe; animator Willis Pyle;  John Carson of many British horror movies and TV shows; character actor David Huddleston; R2D2 himself, Kenny Baker; and comic legend Pierre Étaix. Besides Debbie Reynolds, two links to the Golden Age of Hollywood died this year: MGM contract player Gloria DeHaven and Lyn Wilde of the Wilde Twins. Several notable figures from television died, including comic actor Pat Harrington; Abe Vigoda of Barney Miller; Peter Brown of Lawman and Laredo; the legendary Patty Duke; creator of The Waltons Earl Hamner; comedian Garry Shandling; comedian Ronnie Corbett; Gareth Thomas of Blakes 7; character actor Doris Roberts; voice artist and voice of Judy Jetson, Janet Waldo; Ann Morgan Guilbert of The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Nanny; Lois Lane herself, Noel Neill; frequent guest star on Sixties TV shows, Lisa Gaye; producer and creator of many shows (not to mention film director) Gary Marshall; Steven Hill of Mission: Impossible and Law & Order; character actress Tammy Grimes; singer and Brady Bunch star Florence Henderson; TV executive Grant Tinker; and Peter Vaughan of many British TV shows. Radio saw the loss of Bob Elliott of Bob and Ray fame. In literature authors Umberto Eco and Harper Lee died.

As to why so many famous people died this year, the simple fact is that the stars from Sixties television shows, rock stars from the Sixties and Seventies, and movie stars from the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies, are all getting old. To make matters worse, many music stars did not lead lives conducive to longevity Ultimately, I think that even if the next few years don't see as many deaths as 2016, they probably will see nearly as many. Sadly, I think 2017 will bring more deaths of beloved actors and musicians.

Indeed, for much of this year there has been a tendency to see 2016 as nothing but death and disaster, but some good things actually did happen this year. My dear friend Lyndsy Spence published two books: her dream project, Margaret Lockwood: Queen of the Silver Screen and The Mistress of Mayfair: Men, Money and the Marriage of Doris Delevingne. My friend Drew Morton had a book published as well, Panel to the Screen Style, American Film, and Comic Books during the Blockbuster Era. I also had two dear friends get married during 2016, a few who welcomed new children or grandchildren, and a few who got jobs that they absolutely love.

I really don't have too much to say about television and film this year. With regards to television it seems as if the networks debuted very little that interested me. The only new shows to debut on the networks in 2016 that I liked were Superstore and The Good Place. Like many people I find myself watching a good deal on streaming these days. In my case it is mostly older shows that originated on network, but I did watch two new originals on Netflix: Jessica Jones and Luke Cage. As to film, it seems as if this year was little more than sequels and remakes, which has been the trend the past several years. I am hoping that perhaps 2017 will bring more original material to the big screen.


Ultimately I think many of us are glad to see 2016 to go. It was not a particularly happy year for many of us. That having been said, I wish everyone the best for 2017.

Friday, 30 December 2016

Godspeed Alan Thicke, Michèle Morgan, Coral Atkins, Rick Parfitt, and Liz Smith

Among the many things for which 2016 will be remembered is the sheer number of celebrities who died this year. What is more, some very big names died during the year. Indeed, December alone  has seen so many famous people die that there is little way that I can write the sort of in-depth eulogies I usually would for each of them, not unless I want to continue doing so well into the new year. I have then decided to do several short eulogies for some of my favourites who died this month. I feel as if I must apologise for having to do so, as each of these people truly deserve their own in-depth eulogy of the sort I usually write on the blog.

Alan Thicke died on December 13 2016 at the age of 69 after having collapsed while playing hockey with his son. The cause was an aortic dissection. Among Americans he may be best remembered as the father, Jason Seaver, on the hit show Growing Pains. That having been said, his career extended well beyond that popular sitcom. He was a successful composer who composed the themes to several game shows (including The Joker's Wild, Celebrity Sweepstakes, and Wheel of Fortune, among others), as well as the sitcoms Diff'rent Strokes and The Facts of Life. In his native Canada Alan Thicke may be best remembered for his success as a talk show host. He hosted the daytime talk show The Alan Thicke Show from 1980 to 1982, and then the night-time talk show Thicke of the Night. Over the years he also guest starred on a number of shows, including Murder, She Wrote; Burke's Law; Married...With Children; The Outer Limits; How I Met Your Mother; and Scream Queens.

Michèle Morgan, the French actress whose career literally spanned decades, died on December 20 2016 at the age of 96. Michèle Morgan saw success both in her native France and in Hollywood. She appeared opposite such leading men as Frank Sinatra in Higher and Higher (1943), Humphrey Bogart in Passage to Marseille (1944), and Sir Ralph Richardson in The Fallen Idol (1948). In her native France she appeared in several notable films including Le Château de verre (1950), Obsession  (1954),  Les Grandes Manœuvres (1955), and Le Miroir à deux faces (1958).  She won the first ever Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Festival for her role in La Symphonie pastorale (1946).

Coral Atkins died on December 2 2016 at the age of 80.  She may be best known for her stint as Sheila Ashton on the British series A Family at War. Coral Atkins also had recurring roles on the shows Flesh and Blood and Emmerdale. She made frequent guest appearances on British television shows, including Emergency-Ward 10, Z Cars, The Avengers, Dixon of Dock Green, Callan, and Anne of Avonlea. In the Seventies she opened a home for disadvantaged children and a second one in the Eighties. Over a span of 26 years she cared for 37 children.

Rick Parfitt, singer, songwriter, guitarist, and founding member of Status Quo, died on December 24 2016 at the age of 68. The cause was a severe infection following a shoulder injury. Rick Parfitt learned to play guitar when he was only eleven years old. By 1963 he was playing with a band called The Feathers in a pub in Camden, London. In 1966 Rick Parfitt met Francis Rossi of The Spectres and joined that band. The Spectres eventually renamed themselves Traffic Jam and then The Status Quo. They soon dropped the definite article to become simply Status Quo.

Status Quo would have an international hit with "Pictures of Matchstick Men" in 1967, which peaked at no. 7 in the UK and no. 12 in the U.S. Status Quo never again saw such success in the United States, but had a long string of hits in Britain, including such songs as "Paper Plane", "Caroline", "Down Down", "Rockin' All Over The World", "What You're Proposing", and  "In The Army Now". They ultimately had over 60 hits in the United Kingdom, more than any other rock band.  In the New Year Honours 2010 both Rick Parfitt and Francis Rossi were appointed Officers of the Order of the British Empire.

Rick Parfitt did have a few projects outside of Status Quo. He appeared on Band Aid's charity single "Do They Know It's Christmas?" in 1984. On Roger Taylor's album 1984 Strange Frontier he played on the song "It's an Illusion". In 1985 he recorded a solo album, Recorded Delivery, that was never released. Prior to his death he had been planning a solo album as well as publishing his autobiography. Along with Francis Rossi he was the last original member of Status Quo who was still with the band.

Liz Smith was an actress well known for many roles in British shows, including  Annie Brandon in I Didn't Know You Cared, Letitia on The Vicar of Dibley, Norma on The Royle Family, and Zillah on Lark Rise to Candleford. She died on December 24 2016 at the age of 96. Liz Smith served in the Women's Royal Naval Service of the Royal Navy during World War II. She made her film  debut in an uncredited role in Leo the Last in 1970, when she was 49 years old. During the Seventies she was a frequent guest star on British shows, including Last of the Summer Wine, Emmerdale, and Crown Court. She appeared in films during the decade as well, including It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet (1976) and Agatha (1979). From 1975 to 1979 she was a regular on I Didn't Know You Cared.

In the Eighties she was a regular on One by One, Now and Then, and Valentine Park. She appeared in such films as Little Dorrit (1987), Apartment Zero (1988), High Spirits (1988), and The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989). The Nineties saw her stints on The Vicar of Dibley and 2point4 Children, as well as Cluedo. She guest starred on shows such as Young Indiana Jones, Lovejoy, and Casualty. She began her stint on The Royle Family in 1998. Liz Smith's last appearance was in the series The Tunnel in 2013.

Thursday, 29 December 2016

The Late Great Debbie Reynolds

These days the word "legend" is often tossed around with regards to movie stars. It is even sometimes applied to those who have done nothing particularly worthy of being regarded as legends. That having been said, Debbie Reynolds was one of those who was truly legendary.  She was only nineteen years old when she starred in what many consider the greatest movie musical of all time, Singin' in the Rain (1952). Miss Reynolds held her own with her co-stars, seasoned song-and-dance men Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor. It should come as no surprise that the film launched her on the path to superstardom. Throughout the Fifties into the Sixties she starred in a string of hits that included Susan Slept Here (1954), The Catered Affair (1956), Tammy and the Bachelor (1957), and The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964). In the Fifties she also had a string of hit records, an outgrowth of her roles in movie musicals.  "Aba Daba Honeymoon" (from the film Two Weeks with Love) peaked at no. 3 on the Billboard  pop chart. Her song "Tammy" (from Tammy and the Bachelor) was certified gold. She went onto a successful career on stage, and the Nineties would see a revival in her film career. Debbie Reynolds was one of the earliest people to preserve film history, amassing a huge collection of movie memorabilia. Her life was often unhappy, but through it all she remained like Molly Brown, unsinkable.

Sadly, last night Debbie Reynolds died at age 84. She had been in poor health the past few years. It was on December 27 that her beloved daughter Carrie Fisher died after suffering cardiac arrest on a flight from London to Los Angeles on December 23. Last night Miss Reynolds was rushed to hospital after suffering a severe stroke. According to her son and Carrie Fisher's brother, Todd Fisher, she wanted to be with Carrie. It would then seem reasonable to say, quite simply, that Debbie Reynolds died of heartbreak.

Debbie Reynolds was born Mary Frances Reynolds on April 1 1932 in El Paso, Texas. Her father, Ray Reynolds worked for the Southern Pacific Railroad. Her mother, Minnie Reynolds, took in laundry to help ends meet. It was in 1939 that the family moved to Burbank, California. As a little girl Debbie Reynolds dreamed of becoming a gym teacher. It was in 1948 that she won the Miss Burbank contest. Her talent in the contest had been an imitation of her idol Betty Hutton. She had entered the contest simply for the free blouse and scarf given to each contestant. As it turned out, two of the judges were talent scouts. She was soon placed under contract to Warner Bros. It was Jack L. Warner himself who gave her the name "Debbie", feeling that "Mary Frances" was too old fashioned a name. Miss Reynolds did not particularly want to be called "Debbie".

Warner Bros. would make little use of their new star. She appeared in an uncredited role in her film debut, June Bride (1948), and then in a slightly more substantial role in The Daughter of Rosie O'Grady (1950). Fortunately, 18 months into her contract with Warner Bros., MGM expressed interest in the starlet. She was loaned to MGM for Three Little Words (1950), and studio head Louis B. Mayer was impressed with her. She was soon under contract to MGM. Her first film under that contract was Two Weeks with Love (1950), which gave her the hit single "Aba Daba Honeymoon".

The early Fifties would see Debbie Reynolds become a superstar. Following her role in  Mr. Imperium (1951), Louis B. Mayer cast her in the musical Singin' in the Rain over the objections of both Miss Reynolds (because she could not dance) and star Gene Kelly (because she could not dance). Mr. Mayer's instincts proved to be right. After extensive training from Mr. Kelly, Debbie Reynolds was able to hold her own with both Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor. The film launched her on the path to stardom. She proved to be one of the biggest stars of the Fifties. She played the title character in Susan Slept Here (1954), opposite Dick Powell in his last film role. She appeared in the hit Bundle of Joy (1956). Her film Tammy and the Bachelor was not only a hit at the box office, but produced the hit single "Tammy".  Debbie Reynolds starred in several other well-remembered films in the Fifties, including I Love Melvin (1953), The Affairs of Dobie Gillis (1953), The Tender Trap (1955), The Catered Affair (1956), This Happy Feeling (1958), The Mating Game (1959), and The Rat Race (1960). In 1959 she released her first pop album, Debbie. It was followed in 1960 by her album Am I That Easy To Forget?.

Debbie Reynolds's career was still going strong in the early Sixties. She received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress for playing the title role in The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964). She also appeared in the all-star movie How the West Was Won (1962). Unfortunately, as the Sixties progressed her career began to decline. The sort of movie musicals and light comedies for which Miss Reynolds had been best known were going out of fashion. Regardless, she still appeared in several films during the decade, including The Pleasure of His Company (1961), The Second Time Around (1961), My Six Loves (1963), Mary, Mary (1963), Goodbye Charlie (1964), The Singing Nun (1966), Divorce American Style (1967), and How Sweet It Is! (1968).

It was in 1969 that she starred in her own situation comedy on NBC, The Debbie Reynolds Show. The show featured Debbie as the wife of a successful sportswriter. The show received respectable ratings, but would ultimately only last one season. Debbie Reynolds was unhappy that during the show's debut an advertisement for Pall Mall cigarettes was aired. She continued with the series only after NBC explained to her that banning cigarette commercials from the show would not be possible. In the end Miss Reynolds would leave the show after only a single season.  In 1970 she made a guest appearance on Pat Paulsen's Half a Comedy Hour. In 1963 she released another album, Tammy And 11 Other Great Folk Hits. That same year Debbie Reynolds made history as the first singer to appear in an American made Scopitone film. She sang "If I Had a Hammer".

In the Seventies Debbie Reynolds left movies for the stage. She made only two films during the decade. She starred in the psycho-biddy film What's the Matter with Helen? (1971)  and provided the voice of Charlotte the spider in Charlotte's Web (1973). While she made few films, she had a highly successful stage career. In 1973 she made her Broadway debut in Irene, for which she was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical. Her daughter Carrie Fisher also appeared in the show. In 1976 she appeared in her own revue, simply titled Debbie. She appeared in Annie Get Your Gun in San Francisco and Los Angeles. She released two more albums, ..."And Then I Sang" and An American Christmas Album.

The Eighties saw Debbie Reynolds return to television and films. In 1981 she starred in the short-lived, semi-anthology series Aloha Paradise. She guest starred on Madame's Place, Alice, The Love Boat, Jennifer Slept Here, and Hotel. She appeared in the TV movie Sadie and Son and the Perry Mason TV movie Perry Mason: The Case of the Musical Murder. She provided the voice of Madame in the English language version of Kiki's Delivery Service (1989). She appeared on Broadway in Woman of the Year as the replacement for Lauren Bacall. She recorded the album Do It Debbie's Way. She appeared in a national tour of The Unsinkable Molly Brown.

The Nineties saw Debbie Reynolds with two recurring roles on TV shows. She was the voice of Lulu Johnston on Rugrats and she played Grace Adler's mother Bobbi on Will & Grace. She guest starred on the shows The Golden Girls, Wings, and Roseanne. She provided the voice of Aggie Cromwell for the TV movie Halloweentown (1998) and appeared in the TV movie The Christmas Wish (1998).  Miss Reynolds also resumed her film career. She appeared in the films The Bodyguard (1992), Heaven & Earth (1993), Mother (1996), In & Out (1997), and Zack and Reba (1998). She provided voices for the animated film Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Movie (1998).

In the Naughts Debbie Reynolds was the voice of Nana Possible on the animated series Kim Possible. She guest starred on the TV shows Touched by an Angel and First Monday. She was a guest voice on Family Guy and The Penguins of Madagascar. She appeared in the TV films These Old Broads (2001), which was written by her daughter Carrie Fisher, and Generation Gap (2002). She reprised the voice of Aggie in the TV animated movies Halloweentown II: Kalabar's Revenge (2001), Halloweentown High (2004), and Return to Halloweentown (2006). She provided the voice of the Queen in the animated feature Light of Olympia (2008).

In the Teens Debbie Reynolds appeared in the feature film One for the Money (2012) and the short subject "In the Picture" (2012). She played Liberace's mother in the TV movie Behind the Candelabra (2013). She was a guest voice on the animated series The 7D last year.

Debbie Reynolds also wrote books. Her autobiography, Debbie--My Life, was published in 1988. Her book Unsinkable: A Memoir was published in 2013. Her book Make 'Em Laugh: Short-Term Memories of Longtime Friends was published just last year.

Debbie Reynolds was a founding member of The Thalians, a charitable organisation dedicated to awareness of mental health issues. She was a Girl Scout growing up, and she continued to support the Girl Scouts of America her entire life. As most classic film buffs are well aware, Debbie Reynolds was responsible for the preservation of a good deal of Hollywood memorabilia.

I think my fellow classic film buffs will agree with me when I say that news of Debbie Reynolds's death last night was met by the classic film fan community with a combination of shock and grief.  News of her death would have brought extreme sorrow to classic film fans regardless, but the fact that she died only a day after her equally beloved daughter Carrie Fisher has made the pain all the more intense. For many of us it hurts to think that a beloved star spent her last few days worrying about and then grieving over her daughter. And I think I can speak for all of us when I say that our sympathies go out to Debbie Reynolds's son and Carrie Fisher's brother Todd Fisher and Carrie Fisher's daughter and Debbie Reynolds's granddaughter Billie Lourd. I cannot imagine what they must be going through right now.

Of course, I must say that regardless of the circumstances I would grieve over Debbie Reynolds quite heavily. I suppose to many that might seem silly, particularly given I never even met Miss Reynolds. That having been said, those of you who know me well know that I have had a crush on Debbie Reynolds since I was a kid, and I never did quite recover from it. The fact is that I cannot remember where I first saw Debbie Reynolds, it might have been her TV show or it might have been one of her movies, but I have had a crush on her for as long as I can remember. Indeed, as a boy it always seemed to me that it was inconceivable that Eddie Fisher had left Debbie Reynolds for Elizabeth Taylor. In the Fifties Elizabeth Taylor was regarded as "the most beautiful woman in the world", but to a young boy in the Seventies Debbie Reynolds was, well, Debbie Reynolds.

I certainly was not alone in my adoration of Debbie Reynolds. As I said above, Debbie Reynolds was among the most beloved of movie stars. She was certainly talented. Miss Reynolds could sing. She could dance. She could act. She was one of those performers who seemed as if she could do it all. And she gave so many memorable performances. Miss Reynolds may have had no experience dancing prior to appearing in Singin' in the Rain, but one would never know it watching the movie. After Singin' in the Rain Debbie Reynolds would become one of the last big stars of movies musicals, singing and dancing in such films as I Love Melvin (1953), Hit the Deck (1955), and The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964).

While she was fantastic in her musical roles, it would be a mistake to think of Debbie Reynolds only as a musical star. She was also very adept at comedy. Debbie Reynolds was great in Susan Slept Here opposite Dick Powell. She proved a match for legendary comic actor Tony Randall in the sex comedy The Mating Game. She was fantastic opposite Tony Curtis in The Rat Race. She still had a gift for comedy in her later years, shining in such films as Mother and In & Out. Miss Reynolds rarely played dramatic roles, but when she did, she was quite good. She was excellent in The Catered Affair. Later, in the psycho-biddy film What's the Matter with Helen?, she gave a nuanced performance rare for the genre.

Even in interviews Debbie Reynolds's talent was obvious. Indeed, it was obvious from whom Carrie Fisher inherited her intelligence and sense of humour. Miss Reynolds was whip-smart, and could always tell the funniest stories. She never took herself too seriously, and could be wonderfully self-deprecating. She could even be irreverent and inappropriate at times. Of course, Debbie Reynolds was also strong-willed and adaptable. She survived the scandal surrounding her husband Eddie Fisher leaving her for Elizabeth Taylor. She took care of Carrie Fisher through her daughter's battles with bipolar disorder and addiction. When her film career began to fail in the late Sixties, she reinvented herself as a star on the Broadway stage. In the Eighties and Nineties she returned to television and film with a vengeance. Miss Reynolds not only played unsinkable Molly Brown--she seemed unsinkable herself.

Of course, beyond Debbie Reynolds's talent, her intelligence, her sense of humour, her strength, and her adaptability was the fact that she truly cared about her fans. I have never heard anyone speak ill of Debbie Reynolds. She always had time for her fans and would treat them warmly and with affection. It was not unusual for her to greet her fans as if they had known each other all their lives. She was from all reports a warm and wonderful woman, one of the sweetest people one could ever hope to meet. In Singin' in the Rain Debbie Reynolds sang the song "Lucky Star". I think my fellow classic film buffs will agree with me when I say that we were very lucky to have had Debbie Reynolds to entertain us all these years. Bright, funny, strong, unsinkable, Debbie Reynolds was truly one of a kind.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Godspeed Zsa Zsa Gabor

During the late 20th Century, arguably the Gabor sisters were the very definition of celebrities. They were renowned for their beauty, their glamour, and their many marriages. Magda Gabor may have been the least famous, having a relatively short acting career. Eva Gabor may have been the most famous among Baby Boomers and Gen Xers, having starred on the sitcom Green Acres and having provided voices for such Disney animated features as The Aristocats (1970) and The Rescurers (1977). While Eva may have been best known among younger generations, it was Zsa Zsa who was the most famous of the Gabor sisters for much of the 20th Century. From the Fifties into the Naughts she regularly made headlines. And while her sisters were married many times, it was Zsa Zsa who was best known for her multiple marriages (which included such husbands as Conrad Hilton and George Sanders). Sadly, Zsa Zsa Gabor died on December 18 2016 at age 99. She was the last of the Gabor sisters.

Zsa Zsa Gabor was born Sári Gábor on February 6 1917 in Budapest, Austria-Hungary. She was the second of the three daughters of soldier Vilmos Gabor and his wife Jolie Gabor. Miss Gabor and her sisters were raised in relative wealth. They were also groomed for stardom from an early age. They attended acting classes, music classes, dancing classes, and even classes for fencing. It was on a trip to Vienna in 1934 that Zsa Zsa Gabor was discovered by opera tenor Richard Tauber. Mr. Tauber hired her to appear as the soubrette in his new operetta Der singende Traum. It was in 1936 that she was crowned Miss Hungary.

Prior to World War II Zsa Zsa Gabor left Budapest for the United States. In 1944 she co-wrote a novel with writer Victoria Wolf entitled Every Man For Himself, which reportedly drew upon Miss Gabor's life. In 1949 Zsa Zsa Gabor was offered the lead in a film adaptation of Lady Chatterly's Lover, but turned it down due to the controversial nature of the novel. Miss Gabor made her television debut on a 1951 edition of the British show This is Show Business. She made her film debut in Lovely to Look At (1952), playing herself. That same year she played Eve Melrose, the gold-digging wife of Freddie Melrose (played by Louis Calhern) in We're Not Married!. It was in 1953 that she played one of her best known roles, that of Rosalie in Lili.

Arguably the Fifties marked the height of Zsa Zsa Gabor's acting career. She played Jane Avril in Moulin Rouge (1952), Mrs. Ryan in Death of a Scoundrel (1956), a night club owner in Touch of Evil (1958), and the title character in Queen of Outer Space (1958). She also appeared in the films The Story of Three Loves (1953), L'ennemi public n° 1 (1953), Sang et lumières (1954), Ball der Nationen (1954), The Girl in the Kremlin (1957), The Man Who Wouldn't Talk (1958), For the First Time (1959), La contessa azzurra (1960) , and Pepe (1960). Miss Gabor appeared frequently on television in the Fifties. She guest starred on such shows as Climax!, The Red Skelton Hour, The Ford Television Theatre, The Bob Cummings Show, Playhouse 90, Matinee Theatre, The Life of Riley, General Electric Theatre, Lux Theatre, and Make Room for Daddy.

The Sixties saw Zsa Zsa Gabor's acting career shift more towards television. She guest starred as socialite Erica Tiffany-Smith on Gilligan's Island, the fortune teller Madame Marova on Bonanza, and the villain Minerva on Batman. She also guest starred on such shows as Mister Ed, The Dick Powell Theatre, Burke's Law, F Troop, The Rounders, The Name of the Game, and Bracken's World. She provided the voice of the Queen of Hearts in the animated special Alice in Wonderland or What's a Nice Kid Like You Doing in a Place Like This? (1966). Miss Gabor continued to appear in movies, including Boys' Night Out (1962), Picture Mommy Dead (1966), Drop Dead Darling (1966), and Jack of Diamonds (1967).

In the Seventies Miss Gabor appeared in the films Up the Front (1972), Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976), and Every Girl Should Have One (1978).  She guest starred on the TV shows Night Gallery, 3 Girls 3, Supertrain, and The Love Boat. In the Eighties she guest starred on The Facts of Life, As the World Turns, Knott's Landing, Matt Houston, The Munsters Today, and City. She appeared in TV special Christmas at Pee Wee's Playhouse. She appeared in the films Frankenstein's Great Aunt Tillie (1984), Smart Alec (1986), A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987), and Johann Strauss - Der König ohne Krone (1987). She was a voice in the animated film Happily Ever After (1990).

In the Nineties she appeared in the films The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear (1991), The Naked Truth (1992), The Beverly Hillbillies (1993), and A Very Brady Sequel (1996). She guest starred on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Empty Nest, Cybill, and Tattooed Teenage Alien Fighters from Beverly Hills.

Throughout her career Zsa Zsa Gabor was a favourite on talk shows, variety shows, and game shows. She appeared on several, including Tonight Starring Steve Allen, The Colgate Comedy Hour, Tonight Starring Jack Paar, The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show, I've Got a Secret, What's My Line?, The Dinah Shore Chevy Show, The Joey Bishop Show, Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, The David Frost Show, and Hollywood Squares

It was often said of Zsa Zsa Gabor that she was famous for being famous. It was certainly true that she was extremely famous long after the peak of her film career in the Fifties. That having been said, I don't think Zsa Zsa Gabor was merely famous for being famous. She, like her sisters Magda and Eva, was actually very talented. In her acting career she gave some very good performances. Her turns in Moulin Rouge and Lili are particularly notable. But then Zsa Zsa Gabor displayed a good deal of talent even when she was just being Zsa Zsa. She possessed a fine sense of humour, quite a bit of wit, and she never took herself too seriously. She was not afraid to joke about her many marriages or her expensive tastes. When combined with her platinum blonde hair and her air of glamour, this made Zsa Zsa Gabor immensely entertaining. I submit that it is then wrong to say that Zsa Zsa Gabor was famous only for being famous. The woman had a good deal of talent. Instead, I would say, quite simply, Zsa Zsa Gabor was famous for being Zsa Zsa. 

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

The Late Great Carrie Fisher

There are those artists who have been a part of one's life for so long that he or she nearly seems like family. Carrie Fisher was one of those artists for many of us. We first encountered her as Princess Leia in Star Wars (1977), but she transcended that role soon enough. She appeared in numerous other films, including The Blues Brothers (1980), Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), and When Harry Met Sally... (1989). She wrote five novels, starting with Postcards from the Edge in 1987. She also wrote screenplays, doctored yet other screenplays, and wrote stage plays. She was a clever, funny woman who was open about her struggles with bipolar disorder and drug addiction. She had little patience for fools, but she was never unfair. For many young women who grew up with her, as well as many young men, she was a hero, and not simply because she played an indomitable space princess. It was because she was indomitable in real life.

Sadly, Carrie Fisher died today at age 60 following cardiac arrest on a flight from London to Los Angeles on December 23, although in her book Wishful Drinking she wrote, "I want it reported that I drowned in moonlight, strangled by my own bra." She is survived by her mother Debbie Reynolds, her daughter Billie Lourd, her brother Todd Fisher, her half-sister Joely Fisher, and her half-sister Tricia Leigh Fisher.

Carrie Fisher was born on October 21 1956 in Beverly Hills, California. Her parents were Hollywood royalty. Her mother is Debbie Reynolds, the screen legend then at the height of her career. Her father was Eddie Fisher, one of the most successful singers of the Fifties. Carrie Fisher was only two years old when her parents divorced. As a child Carrie Fisher was a bit of a bookworm, reading books voraciously and writing poetry. She made her screen debut in a cameo in her mother's television special Debbie Reynolds and the Sound of Children in 1969. She attended Beverly Hills High School until she was 15, at which point she made her Broadway debut in Irene, which starred her mother Debbie Reynolds. Miss Fisher never returned to high school.

In 1975 she made her big screen debut in Shampoo.  In 1977 she appeared for the first time as Princess Leia Organa in Star Wars (later retitled Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope). That same year she appeared in the television movie Come Back, Little Sheba. The following year she appeared in Ringo Starr's TV special Ringo, the TV movie Leave Yesterday Behind, and the notorious Star Wars Holiday Special. In 1980 she reprised her role as Leia in Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back. She also appeared in the film The Blues Brothers and on the TV show Saturday Night Live.

The Eighties proved to be a busy decade for Miss Fisher. She reprised her role as Princess Leia in Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi (1983). In When Harry Met Sally... (1989) she played Sally's best friend Marie. She appeared as April in Hannah and Her Sisters (1986). She also appeared in the films Under the Rainbow (1981), Garbo Talks (1984), Amazon Women on the Moon (1987), The Time Guardian (1987), Appointment with Death (1988), The 'Burbs (1989), Loverboy (1989), She's Back (1989), Sweet Revenge (1990), and Sibling Rivalry (1990). She wrote the screenplay for Postcards from the Edge (1990). She guest starred on the TV shows Laverne & Shirley, Faerie Tale Theatre, George Burns Comedy Week, The Wonderful World of Disney, Amazing Stories, and Trying Times. She appeared in such TV movies as Frankenstein (1984) and Liberty (1986).  Her first novel, Postcards from the Edge, was published in 1987. Her second novel Surrender the Pink was published in 1990. She appeared on Broadway in Agnes of God.

In the Nineties Carrie Fisher appeared in the movies Drop Dead Fred (1991), Soapdish (1991), Hook (1991), This Is My Life (1992), Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997), Scream 3 (2000), and Lisa Picard Is Famous (2000). In 1995 she was the host on the TV series Carrie On Hollywood. She guest starred on the TV shows Frasier, Gun, It's Like, You Know..., and Sex and the City.  She was a guest voice on the animated series Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist. She wrote episodes of Young Indiana Jones and Roseanne. She was one of the writers on the The 69th Annual Academy Awards. Her novel Delusions of Grandma was published in 1993.

In the Naughts Carrie Fisher appeared in the films Heartbreakers (2001), Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001), A Midsummer Night's Rave (2002), Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle (2003), Wonderland (2003), Stateside (2004), Undiscovered (2005), Cougar Club (2007), The Women (2008), White Lightnin' (2009), Fanboys (2009), and Sorority Row (2009). On television she provided the voice of recurring character Angela on Family Guy. She guest starred on A Nero Wolfe Mystery, Jack & Bobby, Smallville, Odd Job Jack, Side Order of Life, 30 Rock, and Entourage. She appeared in the TV movies These Old Broads (2001), and Wright vs. Wrong (2010). Miss Fisher wrote the TV movie These Old Broads (2001). the TV movie Wishful Drinking, and The 79th Annual Academy Awards (2007). She appeared on Broadway in her one woman show Wishful Drinking. She published the novel The Best Awful There Is and the autobiographical book Wishful Drinking.

In the Teens Carrie Fisher returned to the Star Wars franchise as Leia. She appeared in Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens (2015) and will appear Star Wars: Episode VIII (2017). She also voiced Leia in the video game Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2016). She also appeared in the film Maps to the Stars (2014). On television she played the role of Ma in the series Catastrophe. She guest starred on the shows The Big Bang Theory, Legit, and Girlfriends' Guide to Divorce. Her non-fiction book Shockaholic was published in 2011. Her memoir The Princess Diarist was published this year.

Carrie Fisher achieved fame as Princess Leia Organa. And there can be no doubt that the role won her a legion of fans. Leia was a princess as never had been seen on film before. She was strong, intelligent, independent, and could fight as well as, if not better than, her male comrades. That having been said, I suspect Carrie Fisher was beloved for more than having played an iconic role in what may be the most popular science fantasy franchise of all time. The simple fact is that Carrie Fisher was a force to be reckoned with. She appeared in many roles besides that of Leia, and she played all of them remarkably well. She was an incredible writer, possessed of a razor sharp wit and a keen sense of humour. Both her novels and her non-fiction books are immensely readable. Indeed, Miss Fisher was so talented as a writer that she was called upon as a script doctor on more films than many people realise.

Beyond being a talented actress and writer, however, Carrie Fisher was an impressive human being. She was brutally honest about having been diagnosed with bipolar, as well as her battles with addiction. She was a fierce advocate for mental health. She supported such charities as the Alzheimer's Association, Make a Wish International,  and The Midnight Mission. Those fans who were lucky enough to meet Miss Fisher found her to be a warm, friendly, and funny human being. She was genuinely interested in her fans and often spoke to them as if they were long lost friends. If Carrie Fisher has received an outpouring of mourning that the deaths of few other celebrities could match, it's not simply because she was Princess Leia or even a talented actor and writer. It's because she was a wholly wonderful human being as well.

Monday, 26 December 2016

The Late Great George S. Irving

Tony Award winning actor and voice artist George S. Irving died today at the age of 94. He appeared on Broadway in such productions as Oklahoma!, Irene, and Me and My Girl. He was the narrator on Underdog and provided incidental voices as well. He as also the voice of Heat Miser on the cult TV special The Year Without a Santa Claus.

George S. Irving was born George Irving Shelasky on November 1 1922 in Springfield, Massachusetts. By his early teens he was singing in synagogues and churches.  During his senior year in high school he attended a drama school in Boston. In 1942 he was cast in the chorus of the Municipal Theatre Association of St. Louis (better known simply as the Muny). In 1943 he was part of the original Broadway cast of Oklahoma!, playing Joe. Unfortunately he was in the part for only a few days before he was drafted into military service during World War II.

Following the war George S. Irving returned to acting. In the late Forties he appeared on Broadway in Call Me Mister, Along Fifth Avenue, and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. In the Fifties George S. Irving continued to appear on Broadway in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. He also appeared in the productions Two's Company, Can-Can, Me and Juliet, Bells Are Ringing, Shinbone Alley, The Good Soup, and Irma La Douce. He made his television debut in 1955 in a guest appearance on The Goldbergs. He also appeared on Producer's Showcase. He provided the voice of the Wolf in the TV special Art Carney Meets Peter and the Wolf. It was in 1960 that he began a long association with animated cartoon production company TTV. He provided various voices for their Saturday morning cartoon King Leonardo and His Short Subjects.

In the Sixties George S. Irving continued his association with TTV. He was the narrator on Underdog and also provided various voices on the show. He provided various voices for Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales and was the voice of Running Board on Go Go Gophers. He guest starred on Car 54, Where Are You?, The Naked City, and The Patty Duke Show. He appeared in a 1967 TV production of Anastasia. He appeared on Broadway in Romulus, Bravo Giovanni, Seidman and Son, Tovarich, A Murderer Among Us, Alfie!, Anya, Galileo, and The Happy Tree.

In the Seventies George S. Irving was one of the stars of the short-lived sitcom The Dumplings. He was the voice of Heat Miser on the TV special The Year Without a Santa Claus. He appeared in the 1976 special That Was the Year That Was. He guest starred on All in the Family. He appeared in the films Up the Sandbox (1972), Foreplay (1975), and Deadly Hero (1975). He provided the voice of the Captain in the animated feature Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure (1977). On Broadway he won Tony Awards for An Evening With Richard Nixon and... and Irene. He also appeared in the productions Four on a Garden, Who's Who in Hell, All Over Town, So Long, 174th Street, Once in a Lifetime, and I Remember Mama.

In the Eighties George S. Irving appeared in several episodes of the soap opera Ryan's Hope. He appeared on Broadway in The Pirates of Penzance, Copperfield, On Your Toes, and Me and My Girl. In 1996 he appeared on television on Live from Lincoln Centre in a production of The Merry Widow with the New York City Opera. In 2005 he appeared in the one night benefit event A Wonderful Life. In 2008 he reprised the voice of Heat Miser in the TV special A Miser Brothers' Christmas. He also appeared in the Off-Broadway production Enter Laughing. His last appearance on film was in the short "37" (2013).

I rather suspect most Gen Xers like myself remember George S. Irving best as the narrator on Underdog and Heat Miser on A Year Without a Santa Claus. To this day I can still hear his words as the narrator of Underdog, "Looks like this is the end...," as clearly as if I had just watched an episode of the show. Mr. Irving had an incredible voice that was adaptable enough for him to do a number of different characters. Indeed, it was also perfect for singing.

As beloved as George S. Irving was a voice artist, however, he also had a long and prolific career on Broadway. It spanned well over forty years, from 1943 to 1989. On Broadway he played a wide array of characters. He was Joe in Oklahoma!. He was Richard M. Nixon in An Evening With Richard Nixon and... He was Major General Stanley in The Pirates of Penzance. He was Mr. Micawber in Copperfield. In his long Broadway career Mr. Irving won two Tony Awards and was nominated for one other.

In the end George S. Irving was a particularly gifted performer. He could act. He could sing. He do a number of different voices. There aren't many performers who could grace both the Broadway stage and TV screens in Saturday morning cartoons.

Sunday, 25 December 2016

Merry Christmas 2016

Here it at A Shroud of Thoughts it is a custom to post classic pinups on Christmas Day. This year is no different. Without further ado, then, here are this year's pinups.

First up is English star Diana Dors dressed as an American cowgirl holding a sign with a French Christmas greeting!

Next up is French star Yvonne Furneaux with her presents (from her many admirers, no doubt)!

 Martha O'Driscoll with a holiday greeting!

The lovely and leggy Cyd Charisse is pitch hitting for Santa Claus!

The lovely Marguerite Chapman has her presents ready to go!

And, of course, it wouldn't be Christmas without Ann Miller!
Merry Christmas!

Saturday, 24 December 2016

My 12 Favourite Yuletide Movies

Today being the day before Christmas I thought I would list my twelve favourite holiday movies of all time. Here I have to stress that, except for the topmost films, this list does change from time to time. I find it very hard to narrow down my favourite Christmas movies to just twelve! If one of your favourites did not make the list, then, keep in mind it may have almost made the list. In composing this list I limited the selection to films I consider to be Christmas movies. While I adore Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), then, it did not make the list because I have never thought of it as a holiday movie (in fact, I prefer to watch it during spring and summer).

Here then are my favourite Yuletide movies (the list will probably change before Twelfth Night....)

12, Scrooge (1970): Albert Finney was only about 34 when he played Ebeneezer Scrooge, which makes it all the more incredible that he is great in the role. Besides Albert Finney's performances, Scrooge also features some great songs (I still can't believe "Thank You Very Much" lost the Oscar for best song). It also happens to be one of the more faithful adaptations of Charles Dickens's novella.

11. Die Hard (1988): There are those who would question if Die Hard is a Christmas movie, but to me it has all the qualifications. It is set on Christmas Eve and begins with a Christmas party. It also deals with themes common to Christmas movies, such as reconciliation and redemption. Those things already make it more of a Christmas movie than any version of Little Women (none of which I consider Christmas movies). Of course, in addition to being a Christmas movie, it also happens to be one of the greatest action movies ever made.

10. Love Actually (2003): Love Actually is the only 21st Century film to make this list and one of the few holiday films made in the past thirty years that I actually love. The film follows a number of different characters from Britain through the weeks leading up to Christmas. While some of the stories are stronger than others, all of them are enjoyable and there are some particularly strong performances in the film (particularly Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, and Bill Nighy). And I guarantee "Christmas is All Around" will get stuck in your head!

9. A Christmas Story (1983): I love A Christmas Story because it sums up Christmas as seen by children in the mid-20th Century so well. While the film seems to be set in the late Thirties or early Forties (I always thought it was probably 1939), anyone who grew up from the late Thirties to the Eighties can probably identify with Ralphie in his quest to get an official Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle. It certainly reminds me of the holidays when I was a child in the Seventies.

8. A Christmas Carol (1951): While A Christmas Carol (1951), also known as Scrooge, does stray a bit from its source material, in my opinion it remains the best adaptation of the novel. Much of the film's success rests with Alastair Sim's performance. He gave what may be the greatest performance as Scrooge ever. The film also benefits from Brian Desmond Hurst's atmospheric direction. In A Christmas Carol (1951), Victorian London is much as it was in the novella--a very dreary, very grim place!

7. Holiday Affair (1949): In most romantic comedies in which a woman is pursued by two men, it is inevitable that one of them will be a heel. This is not the case with Holiday Affair, as both Steve Mason (played by Robert Mitchum) and Carl Davis (Wendell Corey) are both likeable fellows. What is more, Robert Mitchum, Wendell Corey,and Janet Leigh all give good performances. That having been said, Harry Morgan steals the show as a befuddled police lieutenant in what is easily the funniest scene in the movie. It is one of the funnier, more delightful Yuletide movies out there

6. It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947): It Happened on Fifth Avenue is one of the lesser known films on this list, but there really is no reason it should not be better known. Victor Moore gives one of his best performances as  Aloyisius T. McKeever, a hobo who takes up residence each winter in millionaire Michael J. O'Connor's boarded up mansion. Complications arise after McKeever takes in homeless ex-GI Bullock (played by Don DeFore). It's Happened on Fifth Avenue is a truly wonderful movie, with just the right amount of humour and sentimentality. Frank Capra had considered the script before making a certain other holiday classic, and it is easy to see why Mr. Capra might have liked it.

5. Miracle on 34th Street (1947): Miracle on 34th Street often tops lists of greatest Christmas movies of all time, and it is easy to see why. It contains some fantastic performances, including Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle and Maureen O'Hara as Doris Walker. It also has a fantastic script with some truly great dialogue. It is also genuinely funny and touching at the same time. It is easy to see why it has remained popular for all these years.

4. The Bishop's Wife (1947): Arguably The Bishop's Wife has one of the best casts of any movie ever made. What is more, Loretta Young, Cary Grant, David Niven, and Monty Woolley are all in top form. The film even has a great supporting cast, with Elsa Lancaster and James Gleason particularly standing out. As to to its script, The Bishop's Wife has one of the best of any holiday movie ever made.

3. Christmas in Connecticut (1945): Over the past few years Christmas in Connecticut has gone from relative obscurity to being one of the best loved holiday movies ever made. And it is easy to see why. Christmas in Connecticut forgoes sentimentality for screwball comedy. Quite simply, food writer Elizabeth Lane (Barbara Stanwyck) finds herself in trouble when her publisher, Alexander Yardley (played by Sydney Greenstreet), insists she host war hero Jefferson Jones (played by Dennis Morgan) for Christmas dinner. The problem is that Elizabeth can't cook! Christmas in Connecticut is a very funny movie with a great cast that includes S.Z. Sakall, Reginald Gardiner, Una O'Connor, and Dick Elliott.

2. It's a Wonderful Life (1946): I am guessing this would top most people's list of favourite Christmas movies. Indeed, I really can't think of anything to say about It's a Wonderful Life that hasn't been said before. Quite simply, it is one of the greatest films ever made in any genre. Jimmy Stewart and Frank Capra each counted it as the favourite movie they ever made, and it is easy to see why.

1. The Apartment (1960): The Apartment is my favourite movie of the films Billy Wilder made, which is saying a lot given Mr. Wilder is one of my favourite directors. There is just so much to love about this film: its incredible cast, its remarkable script, Billy Wilder's direction, the film's score. For me The Apartment is one of the few movies ever made that I would describe as perfect. In fact, it is my second favourite movie of all time (after Seven Samurai).

Friday, 23 December 2016

The 200th Anniversary of The Nutcracker and the Mouse King

A giant Nutcracker outside
the Mayo Cabin in Huntsville, MO
This holiday, much as in previous holiday seasons, many people will attend a performance of Tchaikovsky's ballet The Nutcracker. What many might not realise is that The Nutcracker was very loosely based on a much darker novella. Nussknacker und Mausekönig (literally in English, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King) was a novella by E.T.A. Hoffmann, a still influential author of some renown in his time. It was in 1816, exactly 200 years ago, that The Nutcracker and the Mouse King was first published.

The Nutcracker and the Mouse King centred on young Marie Stahlbaum and the nutcracker that her family received for Christmas. As it turns out the Nutcracker has a life all his own, and is locked in conflict with the evil, seven headed Mouse King. Eventually the Nutcracker defeats the Mouse King in battle and whisks Marie off to his own magical kingdom. In many respects The Nutcracker and the Mouse King is a much more frightening and much darker work than Tchaikovsky's ballet. There is a good deal of violence, a bit of gore, and there is no character even resembling a Sugar Plum Fairy in the entire novella.

Of course, it should be little wonder that E. T. A. Hoffmann would write a rather scary novella for children. Mr. Hoffmann worked in the genre we would today call "dark fantasy", and dealt with concepts that today we would consider science fiction as well. The Nutcracker and the Mouse King by E. T. A. Hoffmann was not the only work in which an inanimate object came to life. His short story "The Sandman" included a clockwork automaton as part of the plot. His short story "Automata" centred on the very subject of automatons. E. T. A. Hoffmann was a bit of a renaissance man. In addition to being an author he was also a composer, a draughtsman, a caricaturist, and a legal scholar. His works were enormously popular in the 19th Century, so that The Nutcracker and the Mouse King would not be his only work to be adapted to other media.  Jacques Offenbach's opera The Tales of Hoffman was based on E. T. A. Hoffmann's stories "The Sandman", "Councillor Krespel", and "The Lost Reflection". The ballet Coppélia and the piano composition Kreisleriana were also based on the works of E. T. A. Hoffmann.

It was in 1844 that Alexandre Dumas, père published a retelling of The Nutcracker and the Mouse King entitled Histoire d'un casse-noisette, The Story of a Nutcracker. Mr. Dumas's version was largely faithful to Mr. Hoffmann's original, although he softened it a good deal. While the plot of  Alexandre Dumas's The Story of a Nutcracker was virtually the same as The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, he removed most of the darker elements, including the graphic violence.

It would be Alexandre Dumas's The Story of a Nutcracker upon which Tchaikovsky's ballet The Nutcracker would be based. That having been said, there would be even greater changes made to E. T. A. Hoffmann's original tale for the ballet. In the ballet Marie was renamed Clara. A long section of the original novella titled "The Tale of the Hard Nut" (essentially the origin story of the Nutcracker) was entirely omitted. What is more, a relatively short, satirical passage in the original novella was expanded to occupy a large part of Act II of the ballet. Indeed, no such character as the Sugar Plum Fairy, who occupies a prominent place in the ballet, appears in The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.

Over the years The Nutcracker and the Mouse King has been adapted a few times. The 1973 Russian animated film The Nutcracker drew upon both Tchaikovsky's ballet The Nutcracker and E.T. A. Hoffmann's novella The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. The 1979 Japanese stop motion film Nutcracker Fantasy was very loosely based on both Tchaikovsky's ballet and E. T. A. Hoffmann's original novella. The 1990 animated film The Nutcracker Prince was another very loose adaptation of the ballet and the original novella. In 2009 a rather more faithful adaptation, The Nutcracker in 3D, was released. Unfortunately the film was critically panned and bombed at the box office. In 2010 BBC Radio adapted The Nutcracker and the Mouse King as a radio drama consisting of four 30 minute episodes.

While Tchaikovsky's ballet continues to be popular, there would eventually be a more faithful ballet based upon The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. In 1981  Kent Stowell, then artistic director of the Pacific Northwest Ballet, and author/illustrator Maurice Sendak collaborated on a version of The Nutcracker ballet that drew upon the darkness inherent in the original novella for its inspiration. Every year, from 1983 to 2014, the Pacific Northwest Ballet, Messrs. Stowell and Sendak's Nutcracker ballet. In 1986 the ballet was adapted as the film Nutcracker: The Motion Picture.

Although the average person today probably is not even aware of its existence, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King has had a lasting influence. It was one of the earliest works of dark fantasy, and one with elements of science fiction as well. Through Alexandre Dumas's retelling of the story, it would be the ultimate source for Tchaikovsky's ballet The Nutcracker, which continues to be performed every holiday season. An early work of dark fantasy that blends horror with flights of fancy, it really deserves to be better known than it currently is.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Characters in Christmas Songs

Over the years several characters have become attached to Christmas. In England Father Christmas dates to at least the 17th Century. Santa Claus emerged in the United States in the early 19th Century. The 1823 poem A Visit from St. Nicholas (better known as 'Twas the Night Before Christmas...) elaborated on his mythology, even giving the names to the reindeer who guide his sleigh. For a period in the late Forties and early Fifties, there was a time when songwriters were intent on introducing new Christmas characters through song.

The trend started with Gene Autry's smash hit "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer". Although the song contributed to Rudolph's enduring popularity, he had actually been introduced many years before that. In 1939 Robert L. May created Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer as part of an advertising campaign for the department store Montgomery Ward. That year Montgomery Ward published a book that told the story of Rudolph. Rudolph was a young reindeer who was ostracised by his peers because of his red, shiny nose. It is on a particularly foggy Christmas Eve that Santa Claus discovered Rudolph and asked him to guide his sleigh. Here it should be noted that in the original story that Rudolph was not part of Santa's herd, as in the later Rankin/Bass television special.

The story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer proved immensely popular. In 1939 alone Montgomery Ward distributed 2.5 million copies of the story. It was after World War II, for reasons that are not clear now, that Montgomery Ward simply gave the rights to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer to his creator, Robert L. May. In retrospect it might have been a mistake on Montgomery Ward's part, for Rudolph was about to become more popular than ever. In 1948 Max Fleischer directed an animated short for the Jam Handy Organization. The following year would have something even bigger in store for Rudolph.

Robert L. May's brother in law was Johnny Marks, a radio producer and songwriter. Mr. Marks got Mr. May's permission to adapt the story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer to song. The song was introduced by crooner Harry Brannon on radio in November 1949. It was also performed on the December 6 1949 episode of the radio show Fibber McGee and Molly by Marion Jordan's character Teeny. That having been said, it was Gene Autry's single released that same year that would make Rudolph a holiday superstar. In 1949 alone "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" by Gene Autry sold 1.75 million copies. It would go on to sell  12.5 million copies. For a time it would be second best selling song of all time, right after "White Christmas" by Bing Crosby. The song would also launch Johnny Marks's highly successful songwriting career.

Of course, since then there has been the Rankin/Bass special based on the song (which featured new songs by Johnny Marks in addition to the original song), books, comic books, colouring books, a feature film, and tonnes of merchandise.

"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" would also inspire a bit of a fad towards new Christmas characters. In fact, the very next Christmas character introduced in a song was directly inspired by the success of Rudolph. Noting the success of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer", songwriters  Walter "Jack" Rollins and Steve Nelson decided to write their own song centred around a wintry character. They sent the resulting song to Gene Autry, who recorded it.

Interestingly enough, while "Frosty the Snowman" is regarded as a Yuletide song, it makes no reference to the holiday or any of its trappings It is simply about a snowman who came to life one day through the magic in an old silk hat. Although it is generally only played and sung during the holiday season, there is really nothing to keep "Frosty the Snowman" from being sung all winter long.

Regardless,"Frosty the Snowman" would prove to be an enormous hit for Gene Autry in 1950, although it was not as big a hit as "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer".  Little Golden Books published a book, Frosty the Snowman, almost immediately. In 1954 UPA produced an animated short based on the song. Of course, in 1969 Rankin/Bass produced an animated TV special based on the song, which would make the character even more famous.

The year 1951 would see two more songs featuring new Christmas characters, although neither would see the success of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" or "Frosty the Snowman". One was "Suzy Snowflake" by Rosemary Clooney. "Suzy Snowflake" was written by Sid Tepper and Roy C. Bennett, who were responsible for "Red Roses for a Blue Lady", among other songs. The idea behind "Suzy Snowflake" was quite simple. It revolved around a snowflake personified as a girl named Suzy. "Suzy Snowflake" would do respectably well, although it would not be the success the success that "Frosty the Snowman", let alone "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer", was.

Regardless, in 1953  Centaur Productions adapted the song "Suzy Snowflake" as a stop-motion animation short. Starting in 1956 Chicago television station WGN would air it each year alongside UPA's "Frosty the Snowman" and one other short (more on it in a little bit).

The other song to introduce new Christmas characters in 1951 was "Hardrock, Coco, and Joe (The Three Little Dwarves)". "Hardrock, Coco, and Joe (The Three Little Dwarves)" was written by Stuart Hamblen, who had written the song "Texas Plains" (which Patsy Montana redid as "I Want to Be a Cowboy's Sweetheart") and would later write Rosemary Clooney's hit  "This Ole House"."Hardrock, Coco, and Joe (The Three Little Dwarves)" centred around the dwarves of the title, who assist Santa on his midnight ride during Christmas Eve. In the song it is Hardrock who drives Santa's sleigh and Coco who helps with navigation. Santa Claus had no real need for Joe, but took him along "'cause he loves him so."

To promote "Hardrock, Coco, and Joe", the song's publisher, Hill and Range Songs Inc. looked to Centaur Productions to create an animated short based on it. The result was a 2 minute, 45 second, stop motion animation short titled "Hardrock, Coco, and Joe". Along with the animated short "Suzy Snowflake" (also produced by Centaur Productions) and UPA's "Frosty the Snowman", it would be aired on WGN for years.

In 1951 "Hardrock, Coco, and Joe (The Three Little Dwarves)" was also recorded by Gene Autry. Unfortunately, the third time did not prove to a charm for Mr. Autry and "Hardrock, Coco, and Joe (The Three Little Dwarves)" did not perform particularly well on the charts. Today it is often forgotten that he even recorded the song.

The next Christmas character to be immortalised in song was not a new character at all, much like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Unlike Rudolph, however, Mrs. Santa Claus had been for over a century before having a song centred around her. Mrs. Claus was first referenced in the story "A Christmas Legend" by James Rees in 1849. Afterwards Mrs. Claus would be referenced on and off for much of the 19th Century. She even received a starring role in Katharine Lee Bates's 1889 poem "Goody Santa Claus on a Sleigh Ride" ("Goody" is short for "Goodwife", an old, polite form of address much like today's "Mrs.").

References to Mrs. Claus would continue into the 20th Century, with whole books written about her, including Sarah Addington and Gertrude's 1923 book The Great Adventure of Mrs. Santa Claus and  Alice and Lillian Desow Holland's 1946 book The Story of Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus and The Night Before Christmas).  It was in 1953 that the song "Mrs. Santa Claus" appeared as the flip side of Nat King Cole's single "The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot". "Mrs. Santa Claus" was composed by  Jack Fulton, Louis Steele, and Hazel Houle. Curiously, "Mrs. Santa Claus" turned out to be more popular than "The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot", which, well, has sort of been forgotten.

By the mid Fifties the trend towards new Christmas characters had pretty much ended. This is not to say that since then composers would not occasionally attempt to introduce new holiday characters in songs. The year 1960 saw the release of Lou Monte's  single "Dominick the Donkey". "Dominick the Donkey" centred upon Santa Claus's donkey, Dominick, whom he uses to deliver presents to children in Italy because reindeer do not handle the hills there well. Unfortunately, "Dominick the Donkey" did not prove to be a hit. It only made it as far as no. 14 on Billboard's "Bubbling Under the Hot 100" chart in December 1960. While "Dominick the Donkey" would never be a hit in the United States, it would prove to be on in the United Kingdom upon its re-release in 2011. There it peaked at no. 3 on the UK singles chart.

Since "Dominick The Donkey" there have been very few attempts to introduce new characters into popular holiday mythology through song. One notable exception came in 2014. That year rock band The Killers (who release a Christmas single each year) and late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel teamed up to write "Joel the Lump of Coal". The song centres on a lump of coal named Joel at the North Pole who finds, to his dismay, that he is to be given as a "booby prize" to a naughty little boy. The song was accompanied by a music video done in a style approximating the stop-motion animation of the old Rankin/Bass specials. The song saw some success, reaching no. 27 on the Billboard Hot Rock Songs chart.

Ultimately the Christmas songs from the late Forties onward did not add a large number of characters to holiday mythology. Suzy Snowflake is remembered only by fans of classic American pop music. Hardrock, Coco, and Joe are remembered only by those Baby Boomers and Gen Xers in Chicago and the few other places the animated short was shown. Dominick the Donkey was pretty much forgotten until recently. Only Frosty the Snowman would go on to lasting fame. As to Rudolph, he had originated in an advertising campaign and was already famous well before his song was written. Regardless, these songs are still enjoyed by many today, whether or not their characters were incorporated into the mainstream holiday mythos. And who is to say that fifty years from today Joel the Lump of Coal won't be as well known as Frosty or Rudolph? If only Rankin/Bass would make a special based on the song.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Connections Between It's a Wonderful Life & The Bishops Wife

The Forties were a bit of a Golden Age for Yuletide movies. In fact, a good number of classic Christmas films we still watch today were made during the decade. The years 1946 and 1947 seem to have been a particularly good time for holiday movies, with no less than four films considered among the very best released in those years. It's a Wonderful Life (1946), It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947), Miracle on 34th Street (1947), and The Bishop's Wife (1947) number among classic movie fans' favourites from the era. Indeed, It's a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, and The Bishop's Wife often rank at the top of any list of the greatest Christmas movies ever made.

It should then come as no surprise that many of these films have a good deal in common. In particular, there are a number of connections between It's a Wonderful Life and The Bishop's Wife, more than many people may realise. Some would be obvious to those who have seen both films. Others might only be obvious to classic film buffs. Yet others might only known to those familiar with the history of the films. I thought then I would list some of the connections between It's a Wonderful Life and The Bishop's Wife.

Both Films Centre Upon Angels Helping Mortals

This is one of the more obvious things that It's a Wonderful Life and The Bishop's Wife share in common. In It's a Wonderful Life, when George Bailey (played by James Stewart) contemplates suicide, it is the angel Clarence Oddbody (Henry Travers) who comes to George's rescue. In The Bishop's Wife, when Bishop Henry Brougham (played by David Niven) prays for guidance, it is the angel Dudley who comes to assist him. Here it must be pointed out that it is The Bishop's Wife that is more accurate in its portrayal of angels with regards to Judaeo-Christian theology. In Judaeo-Christian theology an angel is a spiritual being who is more powerful than humans, but less powerful than God. They serve as intermediaries between God and humans. This describes Dudley in The Bishop's Wife perfectly. On the other hand, in It's a Wonderful Life Clarence is a mortal who died and went to heaven. According to Judaeo-Christian theology, then, Clarence would not be an angel, but simply a ghost or more precisely, the helpful dead of folklore.


Cary Grant Almost Starred in What Would Become It's a Wonderful Life

It's a Wonderful Life was based on the story "The Greatest Gift" by Philip Van Doren Stern. Unable to sell the story, Mr. Stern had 200 copies of the story printed and sent out as a Christmas card during the holiday season of 1943. One of these cards would find its way into the hands of RKO producer David Hempstead. It was then in 1944 that RKO bought the screen rights to "The Greatest Gift" as the source for a possible vehicle for Cary Grant. Three failed drafts of the screenplay were written before RKO abandoned the project. It was RKO head Charles Koerner who interested Frank Capra in "The Greatest Gift". It was then in 1945 that RKO sold the rights to the story to Mr. Capra's production company Liberty Films.

Of course, Cary Grant would go onto star in The Bishop's Wife. Here it must be pointed out that prior to making It's a Wonderful Life, Frank Capra was looking at another property that would also become a Christmas classic. In 1945 Frank Capra acquired the rights to the story "It Happened on Fifth Avenue" by Herbert Clyde Lewis and Frederick Stephani with the intent of making a film based on the story. When Frank Capra read "The Greatest Gift", he abandoned plans for a movie based on "It Happened on Fifth Avenue" and made It's a Wonderful Life instead. He sold the rights to "It Happened on Fifth Avenue" to Monogram Pictures, who made the film It Happened on Fifth Avenue .  It was the first film released by new unit Allied Artists.

It's a Wonderful Life and The Bishop's Wife Shared Cast Members in Common

Most classic film buffs know that Karolyn Grimes played both George and Mary Bailey's daughter Zuzu in  It's a Wonderful Life and Henry and Julia Brougham's daughter Debbie in The Bishop's Wife. That having been said, the two films have more cast members in common than just Karolyn Grimes. Bobby Anderson, who played 12 year old George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life, played the captain of the team of boys defending a snow fort in a snowball fight in The Bishop's Wife. Quite simply, in The Bishop's Wife we then have an actor who played George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life engaging in snowball fight with the actress who played his daughter in It's a Wonderful Life!

Two minor roles in The Bishop's Wife were filled by two actresses who played minor roles in It's a Wonderful Life. Sarah Edwards, who played Mary's mother Mrs. Hatch in It's a Wonderful Life, played Mrs. Duffy, the organist at St Timothy's Church, in The Bishop's Wife. Almira Sessions, who played Mr. Potter's secretary in It's a Wonderful Life, appeared as one of the ladies in the restaurant Michel's in The Bishop's Wife.

Both Films Were Nominated for Academy Awards

While neither Its a Wonderful Life nor The Bishop's Wife did particularly well at the box office (It's a Wonderful Life actually did better, with $3.3 million to The Bishop's Wife's $3 million), both received recognition from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. It's a Wonderful Life was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director (for Frank Capra), Best Actor (for James Stewart), Best Film Editing (for William Hornbeck), and Best Sound Recording (for John Aalberg). While it won none of them, it did win a  a Technical Achievement Award for the development of a brand new method of faking snow on movie sets. The Bishop's Wife also received its share of Oscar nominations. It was nominated for Best Picture; Best Director (for Henry Koster), Best Film Editing (for Monica Collingwood), and Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (for Hugo Friedhofer). It won the Oscar for Best Sound, Recording for Gordon Sawyer.

Of course, beyond these things in common, It's a Wonderful Life and The Bishop's Wife are both films that are regarded among the greatest Christmas films ever made. While neither was exactly a smash at the box office, over the years their reputations would grow, particularly through repeat showings on television. Indeed, it is often the case that if for some reason It's a Wonderful Life does not top a list of the greatest holiday films ever made, it is only because it has been beaten by The Bishop's Wife. It would seem that when it comes to Christmas movies, audiences prefer those where angels tread.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

The 70th Anniversary of It's a Wonderful Life

When it comes to Yuletide movies, none may be more beloved than It's a Wonderful Life (1946). It regularly ranks at the top of lists of the greatest Christmas movies ever made. On review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes list of "The 25 Best Christmas Movies of All Time" it came in at #1. It also came in at #1 on a list of the 50 best Christmas movies of all time compiled by Good Housekeeping this year. What is more it is counted as one of the greatest films of all time and may well be the best known film director Frank Capra ever made. It was 70 years ago today that It's a Wonderful Life premiered in New York City.

The origin of It's a Wonderful Life can be traced back to the story "The Greatest Gift" by Philip Van Doren Stern. In 1939 Mr. Stern awakened from a dream inspired by A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. While he began "The Greatest Gift" in 1939, he would not finish it until 1943. Unable to find a publisher for the story, he printed 200 copies of it and sent it out as a Christmas card to friends during the holiday season of 1943. The story would seem very familiar to anyone who has seen It's a Wonderful Life. It centres on George Pratt, a man thinking of suicide on a bridge on Christmas Eve in 1943. Pratt is approached by an unnamed stranger with a bag, with whom he begins a conversation. When Pratt wishes he had never been born, the stranger tells him he should take the bag and tell people he is a door-to-door salesman if anyone ask. When Pratt returns to town, he finds it very different. No one knows who he is, not even his closest friends and family, and everything is very different. Quite simply, it is as if he had never born. Pratt returns to the stranger, who restores Pratt's life to normal.

"The Greatest Gift" was later published in the December 1944 issue of Reader's Scope magazine. Good Housekeeping published the story in its January 1945 issue under the title "The Man Who Had Never Been Born". Regardless, one of Philip Van Doren Stern's original Christmas cards came to the attention of David Hempstead, a producer at RKO. Mr. Hempstead showed "The Greatest Gift" to Cary Grant's agent, and in April 1944 RKO bought the screen rights to the story. At that time the goal was to turn the story into a vehicle for Cary Grant. After three failed drafts of the screenplay, however, RKO ultimately shelved the film. As to Cary Grant, he went onto star in another holiday classic from the mid-Forties, The Bishop's Wife (1947).

Fortunately, there was still a chance for a movie based on "The Greatest Gift" to be made. The head of RKO, Charles Koerner, suggested to director Frank Capra that he read "The Greatest Gift". Frank Capra became interested in making a film based on the story, and in 1945 RKO sold the film rights to Mr. Capra's brand new production company, Liberty Films. As part of the deal RKO included the three unused scripts. Frank Capra,  Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, and Jo Swerling,with input from a few other screenwriters, took liberally from all three screenplays and ultimately came up with a whole new script entitled It's a Wonderful Life.

Today it is hard to picture anyone but Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed as George and Mary Bailey, but others were considered for the parts. In addition to James Stewart, Frank Capra also considered Henry Fonda for the role of George Bailey. As to the role of Mary Bailey, Frank Capra initially wanted Jean Arthur for the role of Mary, but she was already committed to performing in the play Born Yesterday on Broadway. Ginger Rogers was approached about the role, but turned it down as being "too bland". Frank Capra also considered other actresses, including Olivia de Havilland, Martha Scott, Laraine Day, and Ann Dvorak.

Many actors were considered even for the role of the villain, Henry F. Potter. Among those considered were Edward Arnold,  Charles Bickford, Edgar Buchanan, Louis Calhern, Victor Jory, Raymond Massey, and Vincent Price. Even Thomas Mitchell, who would play Uncle Billy in the film, was considered for the role of Potter. Ultimately the role went to legendary actor Lionel Barrymore, who had played the similar role of Ebeneezer Scrooge for literally years on radio. Frank Capra and Lionel Barrymore had earlier worked together on You Can't Take It With You (1938), in which Mr. Barrymore played the very different role of "Grandpa" Martin Vanderhof.

While both Jimmy Stewart and Lionel Barrymore had worked with Frank Capra before, one star of It's a Wonderful Life had worked with the director many times before. Jimmy the Raven first worked with Mr. Capra on You Can't Take It With You. Afterwards he appeared in some role in every Frank Capra film. In It's a Wonderful Life he had one of his bigger roles, that of Uncle Billy's pet raven.

It's a Wonderful Life would be filmed at RKO properties from April 15 1946 to July 27 1946. Interior shots were filmed at RKO Radio Pictures Studio in Culver City. For exterior scenes in the fictional city of Bedford Falls, Max Ree's sets from Cimarron (1931) were assembled on RKO's ranch in Encino and redressed as "Bedford Falls". To the old Cimarron set Frank Capra added a centre parkway lined by trees, 20 fully grown oak trees, and a functional bank set. Naturally, for the reality in which George had never been born, the Bedford Falls set was redressed as "Pottersville". The exterior of  Martini's house was actually a home in  La Cañada-Flintridge, California. The gym floor with the hidden swimming pool was shot in an actual high school gym. It was shot at Beverly Hills High School. The gym and its swimming pool still exist to this day.

It's a Wonderful Life premiered on December 20 1946 in New York City. It then began its run in that city the following day. It premiered in Los Angeles on December 26 1946. It went into wide release in the United States on January 7 1947. It's a Wonderful Life received positive reviews over all, with the only real criticism being the sentimentality of the film (a common criticism of Frank Capra's movies at the time). Contrary to common belief, It's a Wonderful Life did not bomb at the box office. For the year 1947 it ranked no. 26 out of over 400 feature films released this year. It ranked only one place above another holiday classic, Miracle on 34th Street, which was considered a hit at the time. The problem was that It's a Wonderful Life was a fairly expensive movie to make. Its budget was $3.18 million. Even raking in a respectable $3.3 million at the box office, it lost $525,000.

As to why It's a Wonderful Life was released to Los Angeles before it was the rest of the country, this was to put in consideration for the Academy Awards for 1946. Ultimately it would be nominated for five major awards, including Best Picture, Best Director (for Frank Capra), Best Actor (for James Stewart), Best Film Editing (for William Hornbeck), and Best Sound Recording (for John Aalberg). Ultimately it lost all of them, four of them to the juggernaut that was The Best Years of Our Lives (1946).  Many historians and critics believe It's a Wonderful Life might have fared better at the Oscars if it had been released in 1947, when competition was not not quite as stiff.

That is not to say that It's a Wonderful Life walked away from the Academy Awards with nothing. Russell Shearman and RKO's special effects department won a Technical Achievement Award for the development of a brand new method of faking snow on movie sets. Before It's a Wonderful Life, snow was created on movie sets with corn flakes coloured white. Unfortunately, the corn flakes would make a crunching noise when stepped upon, which meant any scenes in the "snow" would have to be redubbed later. There was no need for redubbing with the chemical snow developed at RKO. Made using water, soap flakes, foamite and sugar, it was relatively quiet to walk upon.

Just as It's a Wonderful Life was not exactly a box office failure, it was not exactly forgotten after its initial, general release in 1947. It's a Wonderful Life continued to be shown in theatres throughout the Fifties and even into the Sixties. It was shown regularly on television in the Fifties and even more so during the Sixties. Even before it was incorrectly assumed that it had fallen into public domain, It's a Wonderful Life was a very well respected movie. In his column from March 27 1962, Associated Press writer Bob Thomas compared the Oscar nominees of 1946 with the Oscar nominees of 1961, mentioning It's a Wonderful Life quite favourably. By 1977, not that long after it had been assumed that the film had become part of the public domain, It's a Wonderful Life was already being referred to as "Frank Capra's classic". It's a Wonderful Life was not forgotten between its premiere in 1946 and when it was assumed to be in the public domain, nor did it achieve the status of a classic only after it was assumed to be in the public domain.

That having been said, the assumption that It's a Wonderful Life was in the public domain would introduce the film to a wider audience and would largely be responsible for the film becoming considered by many to be the greatest holiday film of all time. The rights to Liberty Films were initially bought by Paramount Pictures. In 1955 Paramount sold its pre-October 1950 library to U.M. & M. TV Corporation. This included It's a Wonderful Life.  U.M. & M. TV Corporation was bought out by National Telefilm Associates (better known simply as NTA) in 1956. It was a clerical error at NTA that resulted in the copyright for It's a Wonderful Life not being renewed in 1974. Since the copyright had not been renewed, it was assumed by many that the film was in the public domain. As a result hundreds of television stations would show It's a Wonderful Life during the holiday season throughout the Seventies and Eighties.

As it turned out, however, It's a Wonderful Life was not in the public domain. It was based on the story "The Greatest Gift", whose copyright had been properly renewed in 1971. As a derivative work of a story that was still protected under copyright, It's a Wonderful Life then belonged to whoever owned the screen rights to "The Greatest Gift". This happened to be Republic Pictures (as NTA renamed itself in the Eighties), who asserted their claim to It's a Wonderful Life in 1993. In 1998 Viacom bought out Spelling Entertainment, who then owned Republic Pictures. The end result of this is that Paramount, which is owned by Viacom, again owns the rights to It's a Wonderful Life.

Given it was assumed to be in the public domain, in the Eighties there would be multiple releases of It's a Wonderful Life on VHS in the Eighties and Nineties. By the advent of DVD Republic has already reclaimed its right to It's a Wonderful Life, so there have been fewer DVD releases. It's a Wonderful Life was first released on DVD on September 19 1995. Since then have been several more DVD editions of It's a Wonderful Life, including a 60th anniversary edition and now a 70th anniversary edition. It has also been released on Blu-Ray.

In 1993, when it was still assumed that It's a Wonderful Life was in public domain, the film was released on CD-ROM for viewing on PCs with Windows 3.1. At the time it was the longest running video that could be viewed on a computer. Besides being able to watch the entire film on a computer (which was novel enough at the time), one could also follow along with the screenplay. The It's a Wonderful Life CD-ROM was developed by , Kinesoft Development, with help from Republic Pictures.

It's a Wonderful Life would be responsible for the existence of at least two television movies. In 1977, when it was still assumed that Its a Wonderful Life was in the public domain, ABC aired a television remake entitled It Happened One Christmas. The film reversed genders, with Marlo Thomas playing Mary in what essentially the George Bailey part and Wayne Rogers playing George in what is essentially the Mary Bailey part. It Happened One Christmas first aired on December 11 1977. It would be rerun in 1978 and 1979, but has not been aired since. It Happened One Christmas has never been released on VHS or DVD.

A spinoff from It's a Wonderful Life, simply titled Clarence, aired on the Family Channel on November 24 1990. Clarence centred on the guardian angel Clarence Oddbody, who must help a woman in 1989. None of the other characters from It's a Wonderful Life appeared in the film.

Since 1994 It's a Wonderful Life has aired exclusively on NBC. For the past many years the network has aired it early in the month of December and then again on Christmas Eve.

After 70 years It's a Wonderful Life shows no sign of fading in popularity. It still regularly tops lists of the greatest Christmas movies ever made and the greatest films ever made. In 1990 it was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the United States Library of Congress. Over the years there have been several adaptations to other media, including a Lux Radio Theatre radio play in 1947 and a musical version, simply titled A Wonderful Life, in 1986. The film is referenced so often in American popular culture that even a short list of references would require a small book. It's a Wonderful Life may have made no money at the box office on its initial release and won only one Oscar, but it has become one of the best loved films of all time.