Saturday, 17 September 2016

Mission: Impossible Turns 50

When it comes to American spy shows, Mission; Impossible numbers among the most famous. At seven seasons and 171 episodes it is also the longest running American spy show. It is the second longest running spy show worldwide, coming in right behind The Avengers. It was fifty years ago today, on September 17 1966, that Mission: Impossible debuted on CBS.

Mission: Impossible was the creation of Bruce Geller. Mr. Geller had written episodes of such shows as  Have Gun--Will Travel, The Rebel, and The Rifleman. He was co-executive producer on Rawhide for a brief time. In creating Mission: Impossible Mr. Geller was not inspired by Alfred Hitchcock thrillers or James Bond movies, the inspiration for many American spy dramas of the Sixties, but instead by the classic caper movie Topkapi (1964). In fact, it was originally entitled Briggs Squad and centred on a group of former, not quite reformed criminals who had served in special forces.

Eventually Bruce Geller realised that to conform to the National Association of Broadcasters' Television Code, Briggs Squad would have to be given some sort of semi-official status. While they were still an independent group (not a government agency), they worked exclusively for the United States government. If they were caught, the government could then disavow any knowledge of them at all. The former criminals of Briggs Squad then became the secret agents of the Impossible Missions Force or IMF. It was after Bruce Geller found a place for Briggs Squad at Desilu (where another show called Star Trek was also being developed at the same time) that Briggs Squad was retitled IMF and then finally Mission: Impossible.

Initially the Impossible Missions Force was led by Dan Briggs (played by Steven Hill). Initially the composition of the IMF was to vary from episode, with a rotation of four or five guest stars filling one of the spots as agents. It is for this reason that Martin Landau was billed as a "special guest star" for the whole of the first season. As it turned out, however, the IMF generally relied upon the same agents from episode to episode. Each IMF agent had his or her own speciality. The group's original master of disguise, con man, picket pocket, and master of sleight of hand was Rollin Hand, played by Martin Landau. Cinnamon Carter was a model and actress, played by Martin Landau's real life wife Barbara Bain. Barney Collier (played by Greg Morris) owned Collier Electronics and served as the IMF's electronics and mechanical specialist. The group's "muscle" was weight lifter Willy Armitage (played by Peter Lupus).

While Mission: Impossible would become one of the most successful shows to emerge from the United States in the Sixties, it very nearly did not make it to the air. Two Desilu executives, Argyle Nelson, head of production and studio operations, and Edwin Holly, senior vice president, estimated that both Star Trek and Mission: Impossible would cost $225,000 apiece a week to produce, with weekly revenues of $160,000 apiece. Quite simply, Desilu would lose money on both shows. Ed Holly was so opposed to Desilu producing both Mission: Impossible and Star Trek that he told Lucille Ball, the head of Desilu, that they would have to sell the studio if they produced the pilots for both shows. Fortunately, Herb Solow, Vice President of Production, persuaded Lucille Ball to go forward with both shows. Lucille Ball  remained firm that both Star Trek and Mission: Impossible would continue.

Of course, Mission: Impossible would become known for its theme music and highly stylised opening credits. The theme was composed by Lalo Schifrin, who had already composed music for the films Rhino! (1964) and Les félins (1964). The opening credits would become among the most iconic in television history. They opened with a hand lighting a fuse, which continued to burn through scenes from the particular episode and the actors' credits. The hand that lit the fuse belonged to none other than creator and producer Bruce Geller.

Ratings for Mission: Impossible were not particularly good during its first season, but it did receive good notices from critics. It also did well at the Emmy Awards, where it won Outstanding Dramatic Series, Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Dramatic Series (for Barbara Bain), Outstanding Writing Achievement in Drama (for Bruce Geller),  and Individual Achievements in Film and Sound Editing (for Paul Krasny and Robert Watts). Oddly enough, it did not win two of the awards for which it was nominated that it truly deserved to win: Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Dramatic Series for Martin Landau and Individual Achievements in Music - Composition for Lalo Schrifin.

While Mission: Impossible did not perform particularly well in the ratings in its first season, its audience was primarily well-to-do, young adults aged 18 to 35, essentially the key demographic desired by advertisers. Between its wins at the Emmy Awards and doing well in the key demographic, Mission: Impossible was guaranteed a second season. That second season would be without Steven Hill, who left the series. He was replaced by Peter Graves, the younger brother of James Arness and the star of the short-lived shows Whiplash and Court Martial. Mr. Graves played Jim Phelps, the new head of the IMF. No explanation was ever given for Dan Briggs's absence.

For its second season Mission: Impossible was moved from Saturday night at 8:30 PM Eastern/7:30 Central to Sunday night at 10:00 PM Eastern/9:00 PM Central. Eventually its ratings would improve to the point that in its third season it was one of the top rated shows on television. In the 1967-1968 season Mission: Impossible ranked no. 11 out of all the shows on the air for the year.

It was while Mission: Impossible was at the height of its success in 1968 that Filmways Productions sued Bruce Geller, alleging that he had plagiarised their short lived series 21 Beacon Street. 21 Beacon Street was a summer replacement show that ran for only eleven episodes in 1959 on NBC. The show centred on the Chase Detective Agnecy, headed by Dennis Chase (played by Dennis Morgan). Dennis Chase headed a team of specialists who often used such means as electronic bugs, hidden tape recorders, miniature cameras, and other advanced technology to catch criminals. Bruce Geller said that he had never seen the show (and given how briefly it was on, he was probably telling the truth). Regardless, he settled the lawsuit out of court.

Unfortunately, the success of Mission: Impossible would not last. Ratings dropped in the show's fourth season, to the point that it was no longer in the top thirty shows for the year. One of the reasons for the ratings drop was probably the departure of Martin Landau and Barbara Bain. The couple left the show in a salary dispute. The IMF's new master of disguise was Paris, played by Leonard Nimoy (who was then fresh from Mission: Impossible's sister show, Star Trek). Another reason for the drop in the ratings may have been a major change in the show. During its first three seasons Mission: Impossible took place almost entirely in international settings. The IMF faced off against several opponents in vaguely Eastern European or Latin American countries. In the fourth season Mission: Impossible shifted towards more domestic settings. Increasingly the IMF's opponents would be the organised crime organisation called the Syndicate. The Syndicate had actually appeared in the first two seasons of the show, but by the fourth season began to play a much bigger role. The Syndicate would come to play such a large role that the later seasons of Mission: Impossible are often referred to as "the Syndicate Years" by fans. Regardless, it seems possible that the television viewing audience preferred international intrigue to fighting what was essentially the Mob on domestic soil.

Mission: Impossible would never again reach the numbers it did in its third season. It would also see more cast changes, so that ultimately only Greg Morris and Peter Lupus were with the show for its entire run (and even Mr. Lupus missed several episodes in the show's fifth season).  Mission: Impossible still managed to last several more years, ultimately succumbing to low ratings and being cancelled in its seventh season.

This would hardly be the end of Mission: Impossible. The series proved successful in syndication, where if anything it might have been more popular than it was during its original run. The Writers Guild strike of 1988 would lead to a revival of Mission: Impossible. While the cast was mostly new (except for Peter Graves, who returned as Jim Phelps), the scripts the show initially used were scripts from the original series updated for the Eighties. The new Mission: Impossible was fairly low rated, but proved successful enough to run for two seasons and 35 episodes.

In 1996 there was a feature film loosely based on the series. Titled Mission; Impossible, the film caused some ire among fans of the original show, as well as original cast members, due to its portrayal of Jim Phelps. Regardless, the movie proved successful enough to produce several sequels:  Mission: Impossible II (2000); Mission: Impossible III (2006); Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011); and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015). A sixth Mission: Impossible movie is set for release in 2018.

While I can't lay claim to being a huge fan of Mission: Impossible, I do believe that the first three seasons of the show number among the best American television had to offer in the Sixties. And there is no denying that Mission: Impossible had a huge impact on American pop culture. The theme song numbers among the most famous in television history, to the point that people who have never even seen the shows or movies recognise it immediately. Its opening credits, with the burning fuse, remains one of the best remembered opening credits in American television history. Mission: Impossible has been parodied many times over. Mission: Impossible has even had an influence on other shows. It Takes a Thief, The A-Team, Hustle, Leverage, Burn Notice, and White Collar all owe something to Mission; Impossible. Fifty years after its debut, Mission; Impossible not only remains popular, but still has an influence on American popular culture.

Friday, 16 September 2016

Thank You for a Successful Blogathon!

I just wanted to thank everyone who participated in the Margaret Lockwood Centennial Blogathon. I have to admit I had worried that every entry would be about The Lady Vanishes (1938) or The Wicked Lady (1945), but we actually had quite a bit of variety in posts! I was very happy to see Give Us the Moon (1944) was actually covered in two posts! Anyhow, thanks to all of you and congratulations on a successful blogathon.


Thursday, 15 September 2016

The Centenary of Margaret Lockwood's Birth

 (This post is part of the Margaret Lockwood Blogathon hosted by A Shroud of Thoughts)

By the time I was 18 I was already an Alfred Hitchcock fan. I had seen many of his films so that I always looked forward to those I had not seen yet. Quite naturally, then, I eagerly awaited seeing The Lady Vanishes (1938) on television. What I did not anticipate was that I would be seeing more than another Alfred Hitchcock classic, even more than a movie that would become one of my favourite Hitchcock films of all time. Quite simply, I developed yet another classic film crush. The star of the film was a striking, dark haired woman with looks that matched those of Vivien Leigh. What is more, she played an intelligent, resourceful young lady who could handle herself. Alfred Hitchcock may have been known for his blondes, but what would be my favourite of his leading ladies was a brunette.  It was on that day that I fell in love with Margaret Lockwood. Over the years I would see yet more Margaret Lockwood movies: The Wicked Lady (1945), Night Train to Munich (1940), The Slipper and the Rose (1976), and yet others. Margaret Lockwood eventually became one of my favourite film stars of all time.

I certainly am not alone in my adoration of Margaret Lockwood. She was the top British star in the United Kingdom in the Forties. Her film The Wicked Lady still ranks among the most profitable films in Britain of all time. To this day she still has many fans not only in the United Kingdom, but in Australia, Canada, the United States, and yet other countries. It was 100 years ago today. on September 15 1916, that Margaret Lockwood was born in Karachi, British India (now Pakistan).

Margaret Lockwood was drawn to acting while she was still very young. She studied at the Italia Conti School. It was through the Italia Conti School that young Margaret would make her debut at age 12 on stage as one of the fairies in a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Unfortunately Margaret suffered travel sickness going and back and forth to the Italia Conti School, so she enrolled at the local Haddon School of Dancing. It was through the Haddon School that she would be invited by the Cone School of Dancing to audition for the chorus of a pantomime of Babes in the Wood, which was set to play at the Scala Theatre. It very nearly proved to be Margaret's big break. As it turned out, the girl originally cast in the lead role had contracted measles, and so Margaret was set to take her place. It was the Cone School that suggested Margaret should use a stage name, so Margaret would briefly become "Margie Day". Photographs of young Margaret were even hung outside the Scala bearing her new stage name. As things turned out, Margie Day would not get to play the lead. The original lead actress made a recovery from the measles and as a result resumed her role. Margaret once more simply became one of the fairies in Babes in the Woods. While Margaret was disappointed, one good thing came out of the entire affair. Grace Cone was so impressed with Margaret's talent and diligence that she invited her to study at the Cone School of Dancing.

It was in 1933 that Margaret Lockwood enrolled in the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). It was through a fellow pupil at RADA that Miss Lockwood was introduced to the agent Herbert de Leon. After seeing her in a performance of Hannele at RADA, Margaret Lockwood became Herbert de Leon's client. He remained her agent for the next 45 years.

While Herbert de Leon had complete faith in Miss Lockwood's talent, there were others who did not. Not long after leaving RADA she had a meeting with powerful producer and director Alexander Korda, who dismissed her out of hand.  Regardless, Margaret Lockwood had no time to dwell on Mr. Korda's advice to return to "her typing or shorthand or whatever she did for a living", as Herbert de Leon convinced his brother Jack, who ran the Q Theatre, to consider Margaret Lockwood for a part in his production of House on Fire. In 1934 Miss Lockwood proved to be busy as an actress, appearing in Family Affairs at the Ambassador's Theatre, as well. She would later appear in Repayment at the Arts Theatre and  Miss Smith at the Duke of York's Theatre in 1936.

While Margaret Lockwood was quite busy on stage in the years from 1934 to 1937, her destiny was in film. It was while Miss Lockwood was performing in Family Affairs that she had a screen test at Elstree Studios. Unfortunately, the screen test did not go particularly well and Elstree Studios was less than impressed. Surprisingly it would still lead to her career in film. Associated Talking Pictures Ltd., the parent company of Elstree Studios, had seen Margaret Lockwood's screen test and because of it they offered her a small role in their production of Lorna Doone. When leading lady Dorothy Hyson had a nervous breakdown, Miss Lockwood found herself cast in the female lead role of Anne Ridd. It was in 1934, then, that Margaret Lockwood made her screen debut in Lorna Doone.

Over the next few years Margaret Lockwood appeared in such films as Midshipman Easy (1935), The Amateur Gentleman (1936), and The Beloved Vagabond (1936).  It was in 1937 that Gaumont British decided to produce an adaption of Russell Thorndike's novel Doctor Syn. Originally it was set to star George Arliss and Anna Lee. Anna Lee dropped out of the project and as a result Gaumont British offered the lead female role to Margaret Lockwood. Miss Lockwood's performance in the film so impressed Gaumont British that she was signed to a three year contract with their sister company Gainsborough Pictures.

It was not long before Margaret Lockwood would be established as a star. It was in 1937 that Margaret Lockwood would be cast in the starring role in Bank Holiday (1938). Bank Holiday would prove to be an important film for its director, Carol Reed, as well. Bank Holiday proved highly successful upon its release and both established Margaret Lockwood as a true film star and established Carol Reed's reputation as a director. Her next film would prove to be even more important in her career. Initially Alfred Hitchcock had considered such actresses as Nova Pilbeam and Lilli Palmer for the lead role of English socialite Iris Henderson in his next film, The Lady Vanishes. It was Ted Black, head of production at Gainsborough Pictures, who recommended Margaret Lockwood to him. The Lady Vanishes (1938) not only received positive reviews on both sides of the Atlantic, but also proved to be a box office smash in both the United Kingdom and the United States as well. Not surprisingly, Miss Lockwood found Hollywood knocking at her door.

Unfortunately, Margaret Lockwood would be ill used by Hollywood. In the wake of the success of The Lady Vanishes (1938) 20th Century Fox made a deal to loan Gainsborough their contract players if they could use Miss Lockwood. Unfortunately, 20th Century Fox cast her in a vehicle hardly befitting the star of Bank Holiday and The Lady Vanishes. She played the second female lead in Susannah of the Mounties (1939) to Fox's resident star for much of the Thirties, child actress Shirley Temple. Gainsborough then loaned Margaret Lockwood to Paramount Pictures for Rulers of the Sea (1939). In Rulers of the Sea Margaret Lockwood was the female lead, but unfortunately the film received bad notices and performed very poorly at the box office.

Surprisingly enough, both 20th Century Fox and Paramount considered offering Margaret Lockwood seven year contracts. Unfortunately, 20th Century Fox thought Margaret Lockwood looked too much like Hedy Lamarr and Joan Bennett and as a result wanted Margaret Lockwood to dye her hair blonde. Quite naturally Miss Lockwood, now well known for her dark hair, refused. After a disastrous experiment with a blonde wig, 20th Century Fox decided not to sign her. Paramount did not get a chance to sign Margaret Lockwood to a contract. With war looming on the horizon and an offer of the leading role in Carol Reed's next film, she returned to England.

That film would be The Stars Look Down (1940). The Stars Look Down would be historic as it would be the first time that Margaret Lockwood played what could be described as a "bad girl". Previously in her career Miss Lockwood had primarily played good, honest women, from Catherine Lawrence in Bank Holiday to Leslie James in Carol Reed's A Girl Must Live (1939). By contrast, Jenny Sunley was, as Margaret Lockwood described her, "an ungrateful little hussy". In fact, Miss Lockwood initially considered turning down the role. As it turned out, The Stars Look Down proved to be a hit both at the box office and with critics. It remains to this day one of Margaret Lockwood's most popular movies.

Margaret Lockwood would work with Carol Reed two more times, in the thrillers Girl in the News (1940) and Night Train to Munich (1940). It was in 1943 that Margaret Lockwood's career would make another change. She was cast in the role of the villain Hester Shaw, in the first of Gainsborough's notorious bodice rippers, The Man in Grey. Critics were not particularly impressed with The Man in Grey, but it proved to be a huge box office success. As a result it created a formula that Gainsborough would follow for the next few years, one of sex, sadism, and pageantry, often in period settings.

That is not to say Margaret Lockwood only appeared in Gainsborough's melodramas during the period. Give Us the Moon (1944) was a screwball comedy. I'll Be Your Sweetheart (1945) was a musical.      Hungry Hill (1947) was a historical drama. That having been said, the Gainsborough melodramas proved to be among the most popular of Margaret Lockwood's career. In fact, short of The Lady Vanishes, The Wicked Lady may be the most successful film that Miss Lockwood ever made. In the film she starred as Barbara Worth, the wife of a landowner who turns to highway robbery. The film proved to be scandalous on both sides of the Atlantic. It also proved to be phenomenally successful as well, particularly in the United Kingdom. With an audience estimated at 18.4 million, it still ranks among the highest grossing films in Britain when adjusted for inflation. The other Gainsborough melodramas starring Margaret Lockwood also remain well remembered, including A Place of One's Own (1945), Bedelia (1946), and Jassy (1947).

The success of the Gainsborough melodramas would make Margaret Lockwood the most popular actress in Britain in the mid to late Forties. She won the Daily Mail National Film Award for Most Outstanding British Actress During the War Years in 1946 and then the award for Best Film Actress of the year in both 1947 and 1948. She consistently ranked in Quigley Publishing's polls of the top money making stars in the Forties. In 1943, 1944, 1945, and 1946 she was the most popular British female star in the polls. In 1947 and 1948 she was second only to Anna Neagle.

Despite the success she had in the many years she had with Gainsborough, she eventually left them because she was not happy with the scripts she was getting. In 1946 Margaret Lockwood signed a six year contract with the Rank Organisation, which by then had become Gainsborough's parent company. Unfortunately many of Margaret Lockwood's films of the late Forties would fall short of the successes she had earlier in the decade. Look Before You Love (1948), The Cardboard Cavalier (1949), and Highly Dangerous (1950) did poorly at the box office, although Madness of the Heart (1949) turned out to be a hit.

It was during the late Forties that Margaret Lockwood made her television debut, playing Eliza Doolittle in a BBC adaption of Pygmalion. She also returned to the stage. She went on a national tour of Noel Coward's Private Lives in 1949, as well as played the title role in Peter Pan at the Scala Theatre. She would play Peter Pan again in 1950 and 1957. In 1951 she once more played Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion, this time at the Edinburgh Festival.

Sadly, the Fifties would see Margaret Lockwood's film career continue to decline. In 1952 she signed a two picture a year deal with director and producer Herbert Wilcox. Ultimately she would make three films with Mr. Wilcox. The first, Trent's Last Case (1952), received mixed reviews, but did well at the box office. Unfortunately the other two films Miss Lockwood made with Herbert Wilcox--Laughing Anne (1953) and Trouble in the Glen (1954) did not do nearly as well. In 1955 Margaret Lockwood appeared in the film Cast a Dark Shadow opposite Dirk Bogarde. Cast a Dark Shadow received good notices from critics. Miss Lockwood was also nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best British Actress for her role in the film. Unfortunately, it also did poorly at the box office. Although today Cast a Dark Shadow is regarded as one of Margaret Lockwood's best films, it would be the last feature film she would make for around twenty years.

While Margaret Lockwood's film career declined in the Fifties, she saw considerable success on stage during the decade. Agatha Christie wrote the play The Spider's Web for Margaret Lockwood, and the play had a highly successful run starting in 1954. During the Fifties Miss Lockwood also appeared in the plays Subway in the Sky (at the Savoy Theatre in 1957), Murder on Arrival (on tour in 1959), and And Suddenly It's Spring (at the Duke of York's Theatre in 1959).

It was in the 1950s that Margaret's daughter Julia Lockwood began her own acting career. She had appeared in minor roles in Margaret Lockwood's films Hungry Hill and The White Unicorn (1947). In 1953 Julia Lockwood had her first significant acting role, playing the tile character in a BBC adaption of Heidi. She had her first significant role in a feature film in The Flying Eye in 1955. She went on to appear in the films My Teenage Daughter (1956) and Please Turn Over (1959). She made frequent appearances on television.

Margaret Lockwood also made several appearances on television in the Fifties. She appeared in television adaptions of The Spider's Web and Murder Mistaken (the play upon which the film Cast a Dark Shadow was based). She starred in the TV series The Royalty with her daughter Julia. Debuting on October 16 1957 on the BBC, it centred on an exclusive hotel in London.

The Sixties would see Margaret Lockwood continue to appear on television. She starred in the BBC TV series The Flying Swan, once more opposite her daughter Julia. Debuting on March 27 1965, The Flying Swan is often described as a sequel to The Royalty, although it is perhaps better to say that it was inspired by the earlier series. Margaret Lockwood also guest starred on Yorky, ITV Play of the Week, The Human Jungle, and BBC Play of the Month. Perhaps her most significant guest appearance was in an episode of ITV Playhouse. In "Justice is a Woman" Margaret Lockwood played Julia Stanford, a barrister who defends a young man accused of murdering a Scottish girl. It would serve as the inspiration for Margaret Lockwood's series Justice. During the Sixties she continued to appear on stage, including a long run in Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband at the Strand Theatre and later the Garrick Theatre. She also appeared in such plays as Signpost to Murder at the Cambridge Theatre, The Others at the Strand Theatre, and Lady Frederick at the Vaudeville Theatre.

The ITV Playhouse episode "Justice is a Woman" was very well received. At the same time Yorkshire Television's series The Main Chance, about a solicitor in Leeds, proved very popular. "Justice is a Woman" then served as the template for the series Justice. Debuting on October 8 1971, Justice starred Margaret Lockwood as Harriet Peterson, a barrister initially in the North of England and later London. Justice proved very popular and ultimately three series were made. Margaret Lockwood continued to appear on stage, appearing in Noel Coward's Relative Values, Double Edge, Quadrille, and Suite in Two Keys. In 1976 she appeared in her final film, The Slipper and the Rose. Directed by Bryan Forbes and inspired by the fairy tale "Cinderella", Margaret Lockwood played the Stepmother in the film. In 1980 she made her final appearance on stage in the play Motherdear at the Ambassadors Theatre.

Margaret Lockwood died on July 17 1990 at the age of 73.

There should be little wonder that Margaret Lockwood still has legions of fans across the English speaking world. She was exquisitely attractive, a brunette beauty on the level of Vivien Leigh, Paulette Goddard, Hedy Lamarr, and Gene Tierney. What is more, as Lyndsy Spence, author of Margaret Lockwood--Queen of the Silver Screen, has pointed out, she was the only dark beauty to achieve her level of stardom in Britain--her closest rivals were blondes. While Margaret Lockwood was beautiful, it does not explain why she became so popular and remains popular to this day. There have been many beautiful actresses over the years in both Britain and Hollywood, and many of those actresses have since been forgotten.

The fact is that not only was Margaret Lockwood exquisitely beautiful, but she was also extremely talented. While she is now best known for playing femmes fatales, she actually played a variety of roles throughout her career. Indeed, her most famous role is hardly a femme fatale at all. Iris Henderson in The Lady Vanishes may be an English socialite, but she is one who is intelligent, resourceful, and has rather strong ideas about what is right and what is wrong. Iris is about as far from Barbara Worth in The Wicked Lady as one can get. That's not to say that Barbara wasn't intelligent and resourceful, but that her ideas of what is right and what is wrong are a far cry from those of Iris! Margaret Lockwood could play a wide variety of roles, from a caring nurse (in Bank Holiday) to a black widow serial killer (in Bedelia) to a low class yet wealthy widow (in Cast a Dark Shadow).

What is more, Margaret Lockwood could do well in any number of genres. In some respects it is a shame that her thrillers and melodramas have so overshadowed her comedies, as she was actually quite good at comedy. Give Us the Moon is a match for any comedy to emerge out of Hollywood during the same era, and Miss Lockwood excels in it. She also did very well in Highly Dangerous, a spy spoof before there really were spy spoofs, as well as the romantic comedy A Girl Must Live. While today many people think of the Gainsborugh bodice rippers when they think of Margaret Lockwood, over the years played in a number of different genres and did well in all of them: thrillers (Night Train to Munich), romances (Love Story), historical dramas (Hungry Hill), musicals (I'll Be Your Sweetheart), and others. Even on television she was able to display her versatility. In the Human Jungle episode  "Solo Performance", Margaret Lockwood played an actress overcome with a fear of ageing.

Of course, much of Margaret Lockwood's appeal went beyond her beauty and her talent. Edward Black, producer of The Lady Vanishes, once said, Margaret Lockwood "...had something with which every girl in the suburbs could identify."  While in the United States people tend to think of the suburbs as strictly middle class, in Britain in the Thirties the suburbs could cover a wide array of classes. Iris Henderson of The Lady Vanishes was clearly upper middle class, while Jenny Sunley in The Stars Look Down was clearly lower class. Over the years Margaret Lockwood played nearly every class in between. Women of nearly all classes identified with Margaret Lockwood. Even with men Margaret Lockwood's appeal went beyond being a woman blessed with a beautiful face and a good figure. Quite simply, for all her beauty Margaret Lockwood still seemed like the sort of girl one might like to walk home. Ultimately, unlike many of the dream girls churned out by Hollywood, Margaret Lockwood seemed approachable in many of her roles.

Ultimately Margaret Lockwood achieved something few British stars ever did. She was able to match Hollywood's stars in popularity in her native Britain. She also accomplished something else few British stars ever did. She attained a modicum of popularity in the United States without ever having made many films in Hollywood. Given what Margaret Lockwood accomplished in her lifetime, it should be no wonder that she is still popular 100 years after her birth.


(Much of this post was written from memory, but when in doubt I turned to Lyndsy Spence's excellent biography of Margaret Lockwood, Margaret Lockwood--Queen of the Silver Screen. Any errors are my own)

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Roald Dahl at 100

Yesterday marked 100 years since the birth of Roald Dahl. Today he is best known as the author of highly successful children's books, including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, The BFG, and many others. He is almost as well known as the author of macabre short stories, many of which have become well known in their own right. "The Smoker" (AKA "Man from the South"), "William and Mary", "The Landlady", and many others would be adapted for such anthology TV shows as Suspicion and Alfred Hitchcock Presents.The TV shows Way Out, Uit de wereld van Roald Dahl, and Tales of the Unexpected drew largely upon his work. Roald Dahl was born in Llandaff, Cardiff, Wales to Norwegian immigrants on September 13 1916.

Neither Roald Dahl's childhood nor his young adulthood indicated he would ever become a successful writer. In fact, at Repton School one of his teachers actually wrote in young Roald's school report, "I have never met anybody who so persistently writes words meaning the exact opposite of what is intended." As a young man his first actual job was with Shell Petroleum, working first in Mombasa, Kenya and then in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanganyika. In August 1939, with war on the horizon, he joined the King's African Rifles. In November 1939 he joined the Royal Air Force.

Roald Dahl's career as a fighter ace would end when he began getting headaches that were so severe he would black out. He was sent home to the United Kingdom where it was hoped that he would recover so that he could become a flight instructor. As it turned out, Lt. Dahl met Major Harold Balfour, then Under-Secretary of State for Air. Major Balfour was impressed by the young man and appointed him as assistant air attaché at the British Embassy in Washington, D.C. It was during this period that Roald Dahl met novelist  C. S. Forester (now best known for the Horatio Hornblower series), who was then working for the British Information Service. Mr. Forester encouraged Roald Dahl to write about his experiences as a fighter pilot. The end result was Roald Dahl's first piece of writing,  "A Piece of Cake". It was published in the August 1 1942 issue of The Saturday Evening Post under the title "Shot Down Over Libya".

Roald Dahl would follow "A Piece of Cake" with several more stories based on his experiences in the RAF,  published in such magazines as Atlantic Monthly, Ladies Home Journal, and Harper's. They would eventually be collected into the book Over to You: Ten Stories of Flyers and Flying, which was published in January 1946.

It was during the same period that Roald Dahl wrote his  first children's book. Like "A Piece of Cake", this book also drew upon his experiences in the RAF. The book was about the gremlins that RAF pilots blamed for any difficulties they might have with their aircraft. He sent this to his superiors for approval. British media mogul Sidney Bernstein was then part of the Ministry of Information, and he forwarded The Gremlins to Walt Disney. Mr. Disney liked it enough that he wanted to turn it into an animated feature. Unfortunately, the planned film would be shelved. An abbreviated version of the book was published as a story in Cosmopolitan, and then in April 1943 Walt Disney and Random House published The Gremlins as a book. Profits from the book went to the RAF Benevolent Fund. Unfortunately The Gremlins would remain out of print for decades until Dark Horse Books published a new edition in 2006.


The year 1948 would prove to be an important one for Roald Dahl. It saw the publication of his first novel for adults, Some Time Never: A Fable for Supermen. It is notable as possibly the first novel published in the United States following the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to deal with nuclear war. Unfortunately, the novel sold poorly. It was in the September 1948 issue of Collier's Magazine that the first of Roald Dahl's macabre stories was published "Man from the South" (AKA "The Smoker") centred on a grisly bet involving a Zippo lighter. It would later be adapted as an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents as well as an episode of Tales of the Unexpected.

"Man from the South" would be followed by several more macabre stories by Roald Dahl, including "Poison", "Dip in the Pool", "Lamb to the Slaughter", "William and Mary", and yet others. Several would be adapted for Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "Lamb to the Slaughter", "Dip in the Pool', "Poison", and "The Landlady". They would be collected into several anthologies, including Someone Like You (1953), Kiss Kiss (1960), Tales of the Unexpected (1980), and yet others.

In fact, there were enough of Dahl's macabre stories for a TV show to be based upon them. Roald Dahl served as the host of Way Out, an anthology series that adapted many of his short stories. The series debuted on March 31 1961 and, fittingly enough, aired directly before The Twilight Zone. Way Out received overwhelmingly positive reviews from critics. It also did well in larger cities such as New York. Unfortunately it performed poorly outside of urban areas and was cancelled after only 14 episodes. It last aired on July 14 1961.

It was also in 1961 that Roald Dahl's first children's book in eighteen years, James and the Giant Peach, was published. James and the Giant Peach was followed by Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in 1964, The Magic Finger in 1966, and Fantastic Mr Fox in 1970. By the end of the Sixties Mr. Dahl was well established as a writer of children's books. In fact, he was so well established that today some do not realise his first real claim to fame was as a writer of macabre stories. Over the years many of his books have been adapted as feature films, including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (as Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory in 1971 and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in 2005), The BFG (first in 1989 and again this year), The Witches (in 1990), James and the Giant Peach (in 1996), Matilda (also in 1996), and Fantastic Mr. Fox (in 2009).

 During the Sixties Roald Dahl would also turn to screenwriting. He adapted two of his friend Ian Fleming's works to film. He wrote the screenplays to You Only Live Twice (1967) and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968). He also wrote the screenplay to The Night Digger (1971), a movie starting his wife Patricia Neal.

The Seventies would see two different TV shows that drew upon the work of Roald Dahl. Uit de wereld van Roald Dahl was a Dutch series that ran for five episodes in 1975. Tales of the Unexpected was a British series that debuted in 1979. It was produced by Anglia Television for ITV and syndicated in the United States and elsewhere in the world. Roald Dahl served as the host for the first several series of the show, and ultimately it ran for nine series and 112 episodes. Later in its run it also featured adaptions of works from other writers.

In the Eighties Roald Dahl began publishing poetry. His first collection of poems was Revolting Rhymes (1982), which parodied such fairy tales as "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" and "Little Red Riding Hood". Hi second collection of poems, Dirty Beasts (1983), had an animal theme. His third and final collection of poems was Rhyme Stew, whose content varied from parodies of nursery rhymes to original stories by Dahl himself.

Roald Dahl died on November 23 1990 at the age of 74 from myelodysplastic syndrome, a blood-related medical condition.The Roald Dahl Foundation (now Roald Dahl’s Marvellous Children’s Charity) was founded by his widow, Felicity Crosland, not long after his death.

While Roald Dahl was a very talented writer, in real life he was in many ways a very unpleasant person. He was known to say outrageous things just to provoke a reaction out of other people. He could at times be very unkind to his wife of 30 years, Patricia Neal, and their marriage ultimately ended because of an affair with Felicity Crosland. He was known to bully his editors and other people. Later in his life Roald Dahl made statements that were not only anti-Israel, but could easily be considered anti-Semitic. While he had several Jewish friends in his life, including philosopher Sir Isaiah Berlin and Amelia Foster (director of the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre in Great Missenden), many of the statements he made could be considered anti-Semitic in the extreme.  Roald Dahl was an extremely talented writer, one who has had a lasting impact on popular culture, but the simple fact is that he was not always what one would consider a nice man.

While Roald Dahl may not have been the best human being in the world, there can be no doubt that he was a talented writer. Much of that greatness as a writer may have come from the fact that Dahl did not have the easiest life. He lost his father and his older sister when he was only three. He was abused and bullied at school. He nearly died while in the RAF. His daughter Olivia died of  measles encephalitis when she was only seven. His wife Patricia Neal had three brain aneurysms. One could not blame Roald Dahl if he was angry at the world, and it would seem that he channelled that anger into his books and his stories.

Indeed, darkness is the one thing that both Dahl's macabre stories for adults and his children's stories have in common. In the story "William and Mary", Mary gets her revenge on her husband William, now existing only as a disembodied brain, by doing all the things he didn't want her to when he still had a body. In "Lamb to the Slaughter" Mary kills her cheating husband with a frozen leg of lamb and then serves the evidence to the police who are investigating his death. Similar situations can be seen in Dahl's children's books. In Matilda the title character uses her telekinesis to rid the school of the bullying headmistress Miss Trunchbull. In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory naughty children experience punishments of their own making and the kind, but downtrodden Charlie wins in the end. Much of the appeal of Dahl's stories to adults and his children's books to children is the sheer grotesquerie contained within them.

Of course, there is more than just darkness in Roald Dahl's stories and children's books. Perhaps because he had been bullied as a child, Roald Dahl always saw to it that the underdog, those who are oppressed by others, would win in the end. In "William and Mary", Mary proves triumphant over her overbearing husband. In "Lamb to the Slaughter", Mary actually murders her cheating husband and gets away with it.  In James and the Giant Peach James escapes his abusive aunts and goes on a magical journey. In The Twits the animals the Twits have mistreated ultimately get their revenge on the couple. Much of the appeal for both adults and children in Roald Dahl's work is the victory of the downtrodden over either the circumstances in which they live or those who have oppressed them. In many respects, Roald Dahl's children's books are modern day fairy tales, all of them built upon the basic duality of good and evil. In Dahl's stories good always wins in the end.

Roald Dahl's children's books alone have sold 200 million copies worldwide. At the moment films based on James and the Giant Peach, The Witches, and The Twits are in development.  Roald Dahl may have been a rather despicable person in real life, but he was one of the greatest storytellers of all time. One has to suspect people will still be reading his stories and children's book 100 years from now.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

The Margaret Lockwood Centennial Blogathon!

 
In honour of the 100th anniversary of legendary British actress Margaret Lockwood's birth this Thursday, I am hosting the Margaret Lockwood Centennial Blogathon for the next three days (September 13 to September 15). For those participating in the blogathon, simply let me know in a comment here, a message on Twitter, or an email and I will add it to the list. And please remember to link to this page using one of the images from the introductory post! I want to thank everyone who is participating!

Anyhow, without further ado, here are the posts:

Caftan Woman: "Margaret Lockwood Centennial Blogathon: The Stars Look Down (1940)"

Crítica Retrô: "Give Us the Moon (1944)"

The Stop Button: "Give Us the Moon (1944)"

"I Say Old Man"-Charters and Caldicott: "Night Train To Munich - part of the Margaret Lockwood Centennial year"

Once Upon a Screen: "THE LADY VANISHES (1938) for Margaret Lockwood’s Centenary"

Realweegiemidget Reviews Movies, TV, Books and more: Reviewing The Slipper and the Rose : The Story of Cinderella (1976)

Old Hollywood Films: "Bedelia"

The Wonderful World of Cinema: "Margaret Lockwood Centennial: Tribute to a most Extraordinary British Star"  

A Shroud of Thoughts: "The Centenary of Margaret Lockwood's Birth"
  
Cinema Cities: "Taking the Train with Margaret Lockwood: The Lady Vanishes and Night Train to Munich

The Owl Wagon: "Love Story (AKA A Lady Surrenders)"  

Monday, 12 September 2016

The 50th Anniversary of The Monkees

It was fifty years ago tonight that an utterly singular television show debuted. On the surface The Monkees appeared to simply be a sitcom centred on a struggling rock group composed of four young men (Mike Nesmith, Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz, and Peter Tork).  The group all shared one apartment that they were always nearly in danger of losing (as struggling artists they were always broke).  That having been said, that description hardly does The Monkees justice. It took place in a fantasy world where mad scientists, hillbillies, alien invaders, and 20s-style gangsters all existed, and where the rules of physics did not always apply. What is more, it drew upon The Beatles' movies (A Hard Day's Night and Help!), the Marx Brothers, and French New Wave cinema, among other things. As expected music played a large role on the series, and The Monkees would have a highly successful recording career that has continued on and off to this day. It was on September 12 1966 at 6:30 PM Eastern/7:30 PM Central on NBC that The Monkees premiered.

The Monkees was the creation of Bob Rafelson, the cousin of legendary playwright and screenwriter Samson Raphaelson, who would go onto direct such films as Five Easy Pieces (1970), The King of Marvin Gardens (1972), and Mountains of the Moon (1990).  As a young man in 1953 Bob Rafelson played with three other young, rambunctious folk musicians throughout Mexico. It later occurred to Mr. Rafelson that this would make for a good TV show. He even pitched the idea to the television studio Revue in 1962, who turned it down.

It was two years later in May 1964 that Bob Rafelson formed Raybert Productions with Bert Schneider, the son of Abe Schneider, president of Columbia Pictures and its television division Screen Gems. It was the success of The Beatles' movie A Hard Day's Night (1964) that inspired the two men to revive Bob Rafelson's idea for a show about a wild and woolly band. Initially Messrs. Rafelson and Schneider thought of developing the show around an existing rock group. To this end, they turned to The Lovin' Spoonful. Unfortunately, it became obvious during auditions that this would not work out. Among other things, the fact that The Lovin' Spoonful was already signed to Elektra Records and already had signed a publishing deal for their songs would have precluded  Screen Gems and Columbia's record label Colgems from marketing The Lovin' Spoonful's music.

Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider then decided to more or less create their own band for the show. Actor and singer Davy Jones was not only already signed to Screen Gems, but also to Columbia's Colpix Records label. In fact, Colpix released Davy's first single ("What Are We Going to Do?") in August 1965 and the album David Jones not long afterwards. It was probably no surprise, then, when the July 14 1965 issue of The Hollywood Reporter reported that Davy Jones was returning from England to the United States "..."to prepare for a TV pilot for Bert Schneider and Bob Rafelson."

For the other three members of The Monkees, Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider ran an ad in The Hollywood Reporter and Daily Variety. Running on September 8 to September 10 1965, it read, "Madness!! Auditions. Folk & Roll Musicians-Singers for acting roles in new TV series. Running Parts for 4 insane boys, age 17-21. Want spirited Ben Frank's types. Have courage to work. Must come down for interview." Ultimately Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider received 437 applicants, some of who would  later become famous in their own right. Stephen Stills (later of Buffalo Springfield and Crosby,  Stills, and Nash), Danny Hutton (later of Three Dog Night), Harry Nilsson, and Paul Williams all auditioned for The Monkees.

The Monkees auditions were hardly typical of auditions for a TV show. Applicants might arrive to find Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider sitting on the floor and playing with blocks. In other cases, Messrs. Rafelson and Schneider might even throw things at applicants as they arrived. The two men then observed how the applicants reacted and from that determined whether they had the "insanity" necessary for the series. In the end the three lucky young men finally selected for roles in the series all came from musical backgrounds and one had extensive acting experience prior to The Monkees. The son of character actor George Dolenz, Micky Dolenz had starred in the 1956 TV series Circus Boy under the name "Micky Braddock." Afterwards he made guest appearances on shows ranging from Playhouse 90 to Mr Novak. Though he had been a child actor, Micky had some musical experience prior to joining The Monkees. He knew how to play guitar and had been playing with a group called, ironically, The Missing Links, when he heard about the auditions for The Monkees.

Of the four Monkees, the one who had the most experience in the music industry was Michael Nesmith. Mike was the son of Bette Nesmith, the woman who invented Liquid Paper. Eventually she would leave him the tidy sum of $25 million. Already an established musician, Mike had released two albums under the name "Mike Blessing." In fact, Mike Nesmith's pre-Monkee solo career would provide Linda Ronstadt and her group The Stone Ponies with their first hit. In 1968, while Mike was still a Monkee, The Stone Ponies recorded a remake of Nesmith's "A Different Drum" which achieved top ten status.

The last Monkee hired, Peter Tork, also had an extensive musical background. Peter came from a family who of highly trained musicans. He could play several different instruments, including the guitar, bass, banjo, and ukulele. In the early Sixties he had been a member of  a folk group called The Phoenix Singers. He had been recommended by Stephen Stills, who did not have good enough hair or teeth for the show. Given the fact that both Mike Nesmith and Peter Tork were both already experienced musicians prior to The Monkees, while Micky Dolenz had some music experience, it is safe to say the idea that The Monkees did not know how to play their instruments is totally and utterly false.

With their band now assembled, Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider had to think of a name for the group. Several names were considered, including The Turtles (not used because there was already a band by that name), The Creeps (not used for obvious reasons...), and The Inevitables. They eventually settled on the name The Monkees, the name misspelled as was the custom with rock bands of the day (two very famous examples are The Beatles and The Byrds).

Since two of The Monkees (Mike Nesmith and Peter Tork) had no acting experience whatsoever, Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider hired actor James Frawley to both teach acting and direct the pilot. The Monkees were then put through an intensive, six week course in improvisation. At the same time they rehearsed extensively playing their instruments.

As to James Frawley, who would go onto direct many episodes of The Monkees, he was an actor who had guest starred on such shows as Gunsmoke, The Outer Limits, and The Bill Dana Show. The pilot, "Here Come The Monkees", would mark his directorial debut. The songwriting team of Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart were brought in to write the theme song for The Monkees, as well as other songs for the pilot. There was no time to get The Monkees into the recording studio prior to the shooting the pilot. so that it was Boyce and Hart's voices that are heard on the songs in the very original version of "Here Come The Monkees".

Unfortunately, the completed pilot scored badly with test audiences. The pilot was then re-edited so that the screen tests for Davy Jones and Mike Nesmith were added to the episode. Two days later it scored well enough for NBC to pick The Monkees up for the '66-'67 season. Unfortunately the poor initial scores for The Monkees pilot would not be the last of the fledgeling show's problems. In late June 1966, NBC held a gathering at Chasen's Restaurant in Hollywood to sell its new fall season to its affiliates. Both NBC and Screen Gems expected The Monkees to make an appearance before the affiliates. Producer Bert Schneider opposed this for the simple reason that most television affiliates tended to be conservative in outlook and would not appreciate a TV series about a long haired rock group. As it turned out, Mr. Schneider's fears were well justified.

Comedy writers prepared a sketch for The Monkees to perform before the gathering.  The Monkees were simply supposed to perform their sketch and leave, but the meeting ran late. Standing outside and left to their own devices, The Monkees started playing with a stuffed peacock that someone had brought along, thus disrupting traffic in the street. Micky managed to get inside the restaurant where the gathering was held and shut off the lights. The Monkees refused to perform the sketch written for them and instead did their own comedy material. The end result was that the affiliates were not impressed. Between the pilot's poor showing with test audiences and the antics of The Monkees when NBC was entertaining its affiliates, five stations in major markets refused to air the show. In the weeks following the show's debut, other affiliates (mostly those located in rural areas) would take the series off the air because of complaints from some of their more conservative viewers. As a result the nation wide ratings never quite reflected The Monkees' popularity.

Among the preparations for the show Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider also hired Dean Jeffries to design the series' largest and possibly most popular prop. The Monkeemobile was a low slung hot rod designed for the boys to drive in the series. In keeping with the series' quirkiness, it was never explained how four down and out rock performers could afford what was obviously a very expensive car. 

From the very beginning it was understood that music would play a major role on the series. Songs were specifically composed for the show and worked into episodes in a number of ways. The Monkees might perform a song in a club or at a dance. The songs might be used in a chase scene (in which The Monkees went every which way--up, down, forwards, backwards, and upside down). The Monkees were nearly always running from someone. More often than not, the songs might be used in musical vignettes, called "romps", that might have very little to do with the episodes themselves. Romps on The Monkees were essentially the equivalent of the promotional films The Beatles and other British bands were making at the time or the music videos of the Seventies and Eighties.

Because The Monkees was also a means of promoting records made by the rock group The Monkees, the songs featured in particular episodes were sometimes changed in order to promote whatever album or single was out at the moment. For instance, when the debut episode, "Royal Flush," aired on September 12 1966, it featured "This Just Doesn't Seem to Be My Day" and "Take a Giant Step (both songs from The Monkees' first album)." When NBC reran "Royal Flush" on May 8 1967, the episode's soundtrack was redubbed with the songs "You Told Me" and "The Girl I Knew Somewhere."  This practice was resurrected when The Monkees was rerun on CBS Saturday mornings, with songs from The Monkees' latest albums sometimes replacing earlier songs on the soundtracks of a few episodes. As a result the soundtracks of episodes that later appeared in syndication and on video did not always represent the episodes as they first appeared on the series' original run on NBC.

With The Monkees set to debut on NBC in 1966, Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider were faced with the prospect of providing two to three songs for each episode of the show. They then turned to Don Kirshner, then head of Columbia Pictures' music division. Don Kirshner would prove to a bit of double edged sword with regards to The Monkees. On the one hand, he had access to some of the most successful songwriters in the industry, including  Gerry Goffin and Carole King, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, and Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield. He also had a number of connections within the industry with music producers and musicians themselves. On the other hand, he demanded nearly total control of The Monkees' music. He would not allow The Monkees to play on their own recordings, and allow them very little choice in the songs they would perform. In fact, he kept their own compositions on their albums to a bare minimum. He also came into conflict with Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, the two men who initially shaped The Monkees' sound.

The Monkees actually made their debut as recording artists before the TV show premiered. Their first single, "Last Train to Clarksville"/"Take a Giant Step" was released on August 16 1966, about three weeks before The Monkees debuted. It reached no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 on November 5 1966. Their self-titled debut album was released on October 10 1966. It became the first of four consecutive albums by The Monkees to reach no. 1 on the Billboard albums chart.

The Monkees would have another hit single later in the year with "I'm a Believer", written by an upcoming songwriter named Neil Diamond. While The Monkees were proving successful as recording artists, however, the situation with Don Kirshner would come to a head in early 1967 while the show was still in its first season. The Monkees were very unhappy with being unable to play on their own records and having no choice in the songs they recorded, particularly professional musicians Mike Nesmith and Peter Tork. The final straw occurred when Don Kirshner assembled and released a second album, More of The Monkees, with neither their consent nor their knowledge. Mike Nesmith called his own press conference. While only Time and Look attended the conference, it would ultimately make headlines across the country. At the conference Mike Nesmith complained, "We're being passed off as something we're not. We all play instruments but we haven't on any of our records. Furthermore, our company doesn't want us to and won't let us."

Mike's press conference was followed by a showdown in late January at Don Kirshner's suite at the Beverly Hills Hotel, where they were to accept their gold records and royalty cheques.  After the press had left, Kirshner presented The Monkees with acetates of four songs to which they would only have to add their voices. Mike Nesmith, who had already had enough, informed Kirshner that he was tired of having his name attached to work that others had done and threatened to quit The Monkees. When Colgems attorney Herb Moelis told Michael Nesmith that he had better read his contract, a very angry Mike rammed his fist into the hotel's room wall and then said, "That could have been your face....!" He then stormed out of the room.

Faced with the prospect of losing Mike Nesmith,  Bert Schneider chose to give The Monkees more control over their music. The Monkees would finally be allowed to play their own instruments on their records. While Don Kirshner would still choose the A-side of their singles, the B-side of their singles would have to be a song of The Monkees' choice that they had recorded themselves. Unfortunately Don Kirshner chose to violate this agreement. Kirshner released a single with "A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You" as the A-side and "She Hangs Out" as the B-side without The Monkees' permission. When The Monkees, Raybert Productions, and, worse yet, Columbia Pictures found out what Don Kirshner had done, they not only withdrew the single from circulation, but they fired Kirshner. At last The Monkees would have total control over their music.

While The Monkees proved to be phenomenally successful as recording artists, The Monkees received only moderate Nielsen ratings at best. For the 1966-1967 season it ranked no. 42 for the year. That having been said, it did very well at the 1967 Emmy Awards. It won the award for Outstanding Comedy Series and the award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Comedy (for James Frawley's direction of the episode "Royal Flush".

While The Monkees did not become a ratings smash, it did become a veritable phenomenon with the nation's youth. NBC received 500,000 letters a week addressed to The Monkees. Monkees merchandise may have only been surpassed by Batman and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. goods in sheer number. Games based on the series included The Monkees Game (Transogram, 1967) and The Monkees card game (Ed-U-Cards, 1967). Personal accoutrements included Monkees Shades (sunglasses) and a Monkees charm bracelet featuring images of the Pre-Fab Four. There was also a novelty book (The Monkees Go Mod) and a model of the Monkeemobile issued by Airfix in 1967. When CBS reran the series in the early Seventies, Monkees merchandise could once more be found on store shelves. 

The second season of The Monkees saw some changes to the show. Perhaps the most noticeable change to the show was a change in the closing theme of the series. While the show still opened with "(Theme From) The Monkees", the closing theme was "For Pete's Sake", from The Monkees' third album (and the first on which they played their own instruments) Headquarters. The show became even more frantic in its approach to comedy, and episodes became even more subversive in their outlook, with carefully veiled drug references and references to the counterculture. The influence of psychedelia was felt not only in the music, but in the show itself as episodes grew ever more surrealistic as the season progressed. The Monkees began wearing fashions more befitting the Summer of Love, and Micky Dolenz had longer, wilder hair. The last episode of The Monkees' first season, "The Monkees on Tour", eschewed a laugh track. Starting with the second season episode "Hitting the High Seas" on November 27 1967, most episodes of The Monkees did not have a laugh track. And while The Monkees had more control over their music, they also became more involved with the TV series. Peter Tork directed "The Monkees Mind Their Manor" under his given name of Peter H. Thorkelson. Micky Dolenz both wrote and directed the episode "Mijacogeo (aka "The Frodis Affair")."

For the show's second season The Monkees received another Emmy nomination, once more for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Comedy (for James Frawley's direction of "The Devil and Peter Tork"). Unfortunately, ratings for The Monkees dipped for its second season. Occupying the upper third of the Nielsen ratings in its first season, in its second season it was in the lower third of the Nielsen ratings. To make matters worse, The Monkees had tired of the stock plots involving romance, spies, gangsters, vampires, and so on. They wanted The Monkees to go from being a sitcom to something more like a variety show. Unfortunately NBC was happy with the show as it was and, rather than change the format, they simply cancelled The Monkees. NBC made the cancellation announcement in February 1968. A letter writing campaign was mounted by Monkees fans to save the show, but to no avail. The final episode on NBC aired on September 9 1968.

While The Monkees had been cancelled, the band would not lack for projects after the show's end. The band and NBC came to an agreement to make three variety specials for the 1968-1969 season. There would also be The Monkees' one and only feature film. The movie Head (1968) emerged from a brainstorming session between The Monkees, Bob Rafelson, and Jack Nicholson on a weekend spent at an Ojai, California resort. Jack Nicholson then distilled their ideas into a screenplay. Unfortunately there would be some hard feelings between The Monkees and Bob Rafelson when The Monkees realised they would not be given a screenwriting credit for the film. Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, and Mike Nesmith staged a walkout in protest. The walkout ended after one day when they were promised a greater percentage of the profits.

Not only did Head mark The Monkees' film debut, but Bob Rafelson's debut as a feature film director as well. Head was essentially a surreal free-for-all, with such bizarre images as The Monkees cavorting in Victor Mature's hair. The film was virtually plotless and much darker than The Monkees ever was. That having been said, it shared with the series the same freewheeling, often surreal humour and parodies of such established genres as war movies and Westerns. In between various sequences would be what could only be described as Monkees romps (such as "Can You Dig It" performed in a harem).

Unfortunately Head would not initially be a success. A preview screening in Los Angeles in August 1968 proved disastrous enough that the film was edited down from its original 118 minutes to 86 minutes. The film's promotional campaign perhaps made matters worse. Advertisements made no reference to The Monkees (who were largely considered personae non gratae by the counterculture). Instead the ads simply featured a balding man's face with the title Head. Head premiered in New York City on November 6 1968 and went into wide release on November 20 1968. Ultimately it only made about $16,000 at the box office, far short of its admittedly meagre $790,000 budget. Fortunately, over the years it has become a cult classic. It made its television debut on The CBS Late Movie on December 30 1974 and was latter shown on many other television outlets.

The Monkees' first and only special for NBC would prove no more successful than Head. 33⅓ Revolutions per Monkee had a convoluted plot in which musical guest stars Julie Driscoll and Brian Auger seemed to take a greater role than The Monkees themselves. Matters were made worse upon its debut on April 14 1969 when an engineer at NBC aired the special out of sequence. Aired opposite the top rated Gunsmoke and Here's Lucy on CBS in the Eastern and Central time zones and against the Academy Awards telecast on ABC on the West Coast,  33⅓ Revolutions per Monkee did very poorly in the Nielsen ratings. Ultimately NBC decided to cancel the two remaining Monkees specials they had planned for the season.  33⅓ Revolutions per Monkee would mark the final time in the Sixties that Peter Tork would appear with the other Monkees. He left the group not long afterwards, citing exhaustion.

Following the demise of the TV series, The Monkees continued to make occasional appearances on television. On February 5 1969 they appeared on The Glen Campbell Good Time Hour, miming to "Tear Drop City". On February 10 1969, Davy Jones was a guest performer on Laugh In. On March 22 1969 the group appeared on Happening (formerly titled Happening '68), a show airing on ABC on Saturday afternoons devoted to rock music. On July 16 1969 The Monkees were guests on The Johnny Cash Show, where they performed "Nine Times Blue," as well as the novelty song "Everybody Loves a Nut" with the Man in Black himself. On October 6 1969 The Monkees appeared on Laugh In as guest performers (dressed as the Spirit of '76). The Monkees also made several commercials during the period. They appeared in a commercial for Kellogg's Frosted Flakes in September of 1969 and in various Kool Aid commercials that same year.

It was with the demise of The Monkees TV series that their career as recording artists began to decline as well. The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees, released on April 22 1968, became the first Monkees album that did not go to no. 1 on the Billboard albums chart, although it did go to no. 3. Their cover of The Coasters' "D. W. Washburn", released on June 8 1968, only went to no. 19 on the Billboard Hot 100. It would be The Monkees' final top 40 single in the Sixties. Head, the soundtrack album of the same name, only went to no. 45 on the albums chart. The album The Monkees Present did even worse, peaking at no. 100. In 1970 Michael Nesmith left The Monkees to focus on his country rock group, Michael Nesmith and The First National Band. Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones recorded the final Monkees album of the Sixties, Changes, before going their separate ways.

Of course, as history shows, this was hardly the end of The Monkees. In September 1969 CBS added reruns of The Monkees to their Saturday morning line up. As a result, The Monkees was introduced to yet another generation. Just as had been done before, the songs from the soundtracks of a few episodes were replaced to showcase music from The Monkees' latest releases. For instance, when "Mijacogeo" aired on NBC on March  25 1968, it featured the song "Zor and Zam" from The Birds, The Bees, and The Monkees. When it was reran on CBS on November 8 1969, however, the soundtrack had been redubbed to use the song "I Never Thought It Peculiar" from the album Changes. The Monkees remained on CBS Saturday mornings until 1972, whereupon it moved to ABC Saturday mornings for one more season. Oddly enough, it would be two years before The Monkees would be released to syndication in 1975, where it introduced the Pre-Fab Four to yet another generation.

The success of The Monkees on CBS and later ABC on Saturday morning led to the formation of the band Dolenz, Jones, Boyce & Hart. The group consisted of Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, Tommy Boyce, and Bobby Hart. From July 1975, to early 1977 they toured the United States, Japan, and Thailand playing a mixture of old Monkees songs and some new material. They released a self-titled album in 1976. In 1977 they appeared in a syndicated television special, The Great Golden Hits of the Monkees Show

The Monkees would be introduced to yet another generation in the Eighties when it was rerun on MTV in the Eighties. It was in 1986 that MTV held a Monkees marathon. Response was so huge that the channel started airing reruns of the series on a regular basis. The result was a Monkees fad that matched, if not surpassed their success in the Sixties. Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz, and Peter Tork reunited for a tour of the United States and even started recording again. Local stations around the country picked The Monkees up and the series became part of Nick At Nite's regular line up. Starting in 1987 Rhino began issuing a series of albums of unreleased Monkees material under the title Missing Links.

There was even an attempt to launch a new Monkees series. The New Monkees debuted in September 1987 as a syndicated sitcom. It featured Larry Saltis, Dino Kovas, Jared Chandler, and Marty Ross as The New Monkees. The series was set in a huge Gothic mansion, serviced by Manfred the Butler (Gordon Oas-Heim). Every room of the mansion featured video screens that showed a pair of bodiless lips named Helen (Lynne Godfrey), who offered caustic remarks on the proceedings. A diner was attached to the mansion, where Rita the Waitress (Bess Motha) worked. Many episodes took place entirely in the mansion. The New Monkees failed miserably, lasting only thirteen episodes. Apparently the public only wanted to see Mike, Micky, Davy, and Peter.

Since MTV first reran The Monkees in 1986, The Monkees have never really gone away. The series has continued to be seen in syndication and has also been released on DVD and Blu-Ray. On January 22 1997, the Disney Channel aired a retrospective of both the series and the group entitled Hey, Hey, We're the Monkees. On February 18 1997 the four Monkees reunited  for an ABC special which essentially played as an hour long version of the original sitcom. Produced and directed by Mike Nesmith, Hey, Hey, We're The Monkees posited the idea that TV shows continue to have episodes long after they have gone off the air. In fact, Hey, Hey We're The Monkees, in which the four musicians search for a plot, is stated to be "Episode 781". Though the humour was sometimes hit and miss, Hey, Hey, We're The Monkees or "Episode 781" caught much of the flavour of the original series.

On June 28, 2000, VH-1 aired a TV movie about both the show and the group entitled Daydream Believers: The Monkees Story. Like many such films, Daydream Believers sometimes played fast and loose with the facts. For example, in the movie The Monkees was portrayed as being created by one man--the fictional character called Van Foreman--rather than resulting from a collaboration between Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider. The film received decidedly mixed reviews from most Monkees fans.

Following the phenomenal success of repeats of The Monkees on MTV in the Eighties, The Monkees began recording again. They released their first album of entirely new material since Changes, Pool It!, in 1987. In 1996 they released another new album, Justus. The Monkees (at least Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, and Peter Tork) even toured from time to time. In the wake of their renewed popularity in 1986, they once more toured and made more money than they had in the Sixties. They reunited for tours again in the Nineties and the Naughts. They toured once more in 2010 and 2011.

Sadly, time would take its toll on those who took part in the multimedia phenomenon that was The Monkees. Tommy Boyce, who with Bobby Hart wrote many of The Monkees' hits, committed suicide on November 23 1994. On December 12 2011 television producer Bert Schneider died at age 78. On February 29 2012 Davy Jones died of a massive heart attack. He was only 66. As a testament to The Monkees' continuing popularity, there was an outpouring of grief on social media following his death. According to NME, the plays of Monkees songs increased 3000% following Davy's death.

Following the death of Davy Jones and in anticipation of the 50th anniversary, The Monkees resumed touring in 2012, followed by more tours in 2014 and 2015. This year has seen a highly successful 50th anniversary tour as well as a new studio album. Good Times! was produced by Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne with some songs produced by Andrew Sandoval. It features tracks by Rivers Cuomo of Weezer, Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie,  Noel Gallagher (formerly of Oasis) and Paul Weller (formerly of The Jam and Style Council), and Adam Schlesinger, as well as songs by Michael Nesmith, Mickey Dolenz, and Peter Tork. It also included some material surviving from the Sixties, including Harry Nilsson's "Good Times", Boyce and Hart's "Whatever's Right", and Gerry Goffin and Carole King's "Wasn't Born to Follow". Davy Jones was represented with a Neil Diamond song, "Love to Love", that had been recorded when The Monkees was still on the air.

When it debuted The Monkees was truly a revolutionary show. Prior to The Monkees it was rare for TV shows to centre on young people. Dobie Gillis (to which The Monkees owes a good deal) centred on teenagers, but there were Dobie's parents and teachers in the regular cast. The Monkees featured no one over thirty in the regular cast (although The Monkees' landlord, Henry Babbit played by Henry Corden, would make rare appearances).  What is more, The Monkees was as sympathetic a portrayal of the counterculture as would be seen on American television in 1966. While the Vietnam War was never acknowledged in episodes of the show and drugs were only referenced in carefully veiled jokes (perhaps not so veiled in the episode "Mijacogeo"...), The Monkees were ultimately four long haired young men doing their own thing with no older person there to tell them what to do. In the second season representatives of the counterculture appeared on the show in the form of Frank Zappa and folk singer Tim Buckley. Beyond the TV series The Monkees would do their fair share of protest songs. Their very first hit, "Last Train to Clarksville", is about a young man who was drafted. "Pleasant Valley Sunday" was a protest against American suburbia. "Daily Nightly" addressed the Sunset Strip riots. "Zor and Zam" was an anti-war song.

Beyond centring on young people, The Monkees was revolutionary in other ways. For one thing, it was exceedingly fast paced. The average sitcom at the time generally had only about 15 scenes per episode. The Monkees had many more, with around 60 scenes per episode. What is more, it was not unusual for any given Monkee to break the fourth wall and speak directly to the audience. At times it was even clear that The Monkees knew they were on a TV series. In "The Spy Who Came in from the Cool" Davy accidentally summons a genie from a lamp, similar to Jeannie on I Dream of Jeannie, to which he remarks, "Huh, imagine that.. Wrong show."  The Monkees also relied on a number of surreal effects for humour. It was not unusual for captions to appear on the screen. In the "Spy Who Came in From the Cool", Communist spies Madam Olinsky (Arlene Martel) and Boris (Jacques Aubuchon) try disguising themselves as teenagers, prompting the caption "They've got to be kidding." The Monkees frequently featured fantasy sequences as well, such as a Batman parody featuring Frogman (Peter Tork) and Roobin the Tadpole (Davy Jones) in the episode "Captain Crocodile". The show also made use of a number of effects, including fast motion, slow motion, sight gags (such as the twinkle in Davy's eyes when he fell in love), solarisation, and yet others that had never been used on a TV sitcom before.

Of course, the biggest impact of The Monkees may have been on what would later become known as music videos. While many artists had made promotional films prior to The Monkees (including The Big Bopper, Ricky Nelson, and The Beatles), The Monkees marked the widest exposure the art form ever had at the time. While many of the romps on The Monkees were little more than performance clips, others were full blown vignettes resembling the rock videos of the Seventies and Eighties. An example of this was the romp for "Last Train to Clarksville" from the episode "The Monkees at the Movies", which played out as a parody of Victorian melodramas and Westerns, complete with Micky Dolenz as a caped, moustachioed villain. 

While music critics and the music press have often derided The Monkees over the years, it must be pointed out that many members of the music establishment have actually liked The Monkees over the years.  John Lennon counted The Monkees as one of his favourite TV shows and even considered the four young men to be modern day Marx Brothers. In 1967 Paul McCartney said, "I'm sure that The Monkees are going to live up to a lot of things many people didn't expect." The Monkees would find many fans in the punk movement, including The Sex Pistols, The Dickies, and Minor Threat. Certainly The Monkees' songs have proven to have lasting power, and not simply those chosen by Don Kirshner. Songs written by band members themselves, including Mike Nemsith's "Sweet Young Thing" and Micky Dolenz's "Randy Scouse Git" are still played to this day. While The Monkees have been derided and mocked over the years, there can be no denying their success.

After fifty years there appears to be no end in sight for The Monkees. Currently the series is aired on Antenna TV, FamilyNet, and IFC. The series is available on both DVD and Blu-Ray. As of yet The Monkees is not available on streaming (aside from episodes illegally uploaded to YouTube...), but one has to suspect it will be one day. On the fiftieth anniversary of the debut of The Monkees, both the show and the group are as popular as ever. One has to suspect that fifty years from now people will still be watching The Monkees and listening The Monkees' music.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Just a Preview of Tomorrow

If you know me at all, you probably know what the topic for tomorrow's post will be. If you don't, well, here is a clue: "The Kind of Girl I Could Love" by The Monkees