Saturday, 3 December 2016

Valerie Gaunt Passes On

Valerie Gaunt, best known for her appearances in The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and Dracula (1958), died on November 27 2016 at the age of 84.

Valerie Gaunt was born in  Stratford-on-Avon, Warwickshire on July 9 1932. She attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and graduated in 1951. Her acting career would be brief. She made her television debut in 1956 in an episode of Dixon of Dock Green. That same year she appeared in an episode of ITV Television Playhouse. In 1957 she made her film debut in The Curse of Frankenstein. She played Victor Frankenstein's ill-fated maid Justine. In 1958 she appeared in Dracula, playing a Bride of Dracula who bites Jonathan Harker. Afterwards she married and retired from acting.

While Valerie Gaunt's career was exceedingly short, she will be always be remembered for her appearances in The Curse of Frankenstein and Dracula. She did well as Justine, the maid whose dalliance with Victor Frankenstein proves to be her undoing. Her brief role in Dracula also earned her a place in film history. She is the first vampire in a Hammer film to bear her fangs. While her career may have been brief, she will be always be remembered by Hammer fans.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Grant Tinker R.I.P.

Grant Tinker, who was co-founder of MTM Enterprises (the company responsible for such classics as The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Bob Newhart) and who served as chairman and CEO of NBC from 1981 to 1986, died on November 28 2016 at the age of 90.

Grant Tinker was born on January 11 1926 in Stamford, Connecticut. During World War II he served in the United States Army Air Corps. He received a Bachelor of Arts in English from Dartmouth in 1949. Afterwards he became an executive trainee in NBC's radio operations department. He left in 1954 to work in advertising, first at McCann-Erickson and then at  Benton & Bowles. It while he was at Benton & Bowles that he helped develop The Dick Van Dyke Show for Procter & Gamble Co.

In 1961 Grant Tinker joined NBC as its vice president in charge of West Coast programming. There he developed such shows as Dr. Kildare, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and I Spy. In the late Sixties he left NBC for Universal and then 20th Century Fox. It was in 1969 that he founded MTM Enterprises with his wife of the time, actress Mary Tyler Moore.

MTM Enterprises would prove to be one of the most successful television companies of all time. Its first series, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, prove to be a smash hit. It would be followed by such successes as The Bob Newhart Show, Lou Grant, WKRP in Cincinnati. Hill Street Blues, Remington Steele, St. Elsewhere, and Newhart. In 1981 Grant Tinker and Mary Tyler Moore divorced, and Mr. Tinker left MTM Enterprises to become chairman and CEO of NBC.

When Grant Tinker rejoined NBC it was the lowest rated network on television. Grant Tinker approached programming on NBC with the philosophy of "First be best; then be first." He nurtured the creative talent on shows, giving them room to do their work and protecting them from studio executives who might want to meddle with their shows. Grant Tinker's programming philosophy worked out and turned NBC around. While Mr. Tinker was chairman and CEO of NBC, the network's annual profits went from $48 million to $500 million. Several classic, hit shows made their debut on NBC during his tenure there, including Hill Street Blues,Cheers, Night Court, St. Elsewhere, and The Golden Girls.

After General Electric bought out RCA, NBC's parent company, in 1986, Grant Tinker left the network. He founded GTG Entertainment with media conglomerate Gannet. Unfortunately GTG Entertainment was not successful and folded in 1990.

Grant Tinker was remarkable in that he is one of the few network executives of whom one hears producers and writers speak fondly. Both Steve Bochco, creator of Hill Street Blues, and Gary Golderberg, creator of Family Ties, acknowledged how Mr. Tinker nurtured creators. Grant Tinker's approach certainly paid off, as NBC went from being the lowest rated network at the time to the highest rated network. Of course, Grant Tinker had earlier put his philosophy to work at MTM, where he created an environment that resulted in a whole slough of quality, hit shows. Grant Tinker was blessed with an eye for talent, the ability to nurture that talent, as well as an instinct for quality shows that audiences would actually watch.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Al Brodax Passes On

Al Brodax's cameo in Yellow Submarine
Al Brodax, who as head of King Features Syndicate's motion picture and television development oversaw the production of Popeye cartoons, cartoons based on various King Features properties, The Beatles Saturday morning cartoon, and the feature film Yellow Submarine (1968), died on November 24 2016 at the age of 90.

Al Brodax was born on February 14 1926 in Manhattan, New York. He spent his early years in Washington Heights, Manhattan. His family later moved to Brooklyn, where he attended Midwood High School. In 1943 he enlisted in the United States Army, where he served as a medic. During the Battle of the Bulge he was wounded. He earned a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star, and a Combat Medical Badge.

Following the war he enrolled at the University of Wisocnsin, where he majored in literature. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in 1948. He started work at the William Morris Agency in the mailroom and eventually moved into programme development at the agency. He worked on such shows as Your Show of Shows and Omnibus. In 1958 he helped produce a Broadway adaptation of the book Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson. It was in 1960 that he joined Kings Features Syndicate as the head of its new motion picture and television development department. Among his first projects was the development of 200 new "Popeye the Sailor" shorts for television from 1960 to 1962. Paramount's contract to produce "Popeye" cartoons had ended in 1957.

At Kings Feature Syndicate Mr. Brodax oversaw the production of an unsold, live action pilot based on the comic strip character The Phantom in 1961. In 1963 he oversaw the production of animated shorts for television based on the King Features Syndicate comic strips "Beetle Bailey", "Krazy Kat", and "Snuffy Smith and Barney Google".

It was in 1964 that events would lead to one of his better known works. In 1964, with Beatlemania sweeping the United States, a cartoon based on The Beatles seemed like a surefire hit to King Features Syndicate. Al Brodax got the rights to do a Beatles cartoon and then set about getting financing from toy giant A. C. Gilbert Company with little more than a rough outline of the show and some preliminary artwork. It was A. C. Gilbert Company that sold ABC on the idea of a Beatles animated series. The Beatles proved extremely successful and ran from 1965 to 1969 on ABC.

In 1965 Al Brodax produced an unsold pilot titled Hello Dere, starring Marty Allen. In 1966 he served as the executive producer on the Saturday morning cartoon Cool McCool (created by "Batman" co-creator Bob Kane). It would be The Beatles cartoon that would lead to Mr. Brodax's most famous work. Al Brodax, proposed producing an animated feature based on The Beatles' songs, suggesting to the band's manager Brian Epstein that the film could satisfy The Beatles' agreement with United Artists for a third film after A Hard Days Night and Help!. Once he had the rights to do the film, Al Brodax hired TVC London to produce the feature itself. Yellow Submarine was directed by George Dunning of TVC London and Jack Stokes of TVC London served as its animation director. The production of the film would be tumultuous, with Al Brodax at heads with George Dunning and John Coates (among others) at times, but ultimately what emerged was a film today regarded a classic in animation.

In 1968 Al Brodax served as executive producer of the ill-fated, live action sitcom Blondie. Afterwards Mr. Brodax left King Features Syndicate for ABC. There he served as production suprevisor on such ABC children's shows as Make a Wish and Animals, Animals, Animals. He also served as supervisor on the 1972 television movie Between Time and Timbuktu. He later produced the 1980 animated special Sunshine Porcupine for HBO. He later served as a consultant for Marvel Comics and Computer Graphics Laboratories.

Things did not always go smoothly between Al Brodax and the rest of the team on Yellow Submarine, and his 2004 memoir Up Periscope Yellow: The Making of the Beatles' Yellow Submarine would be a source of some controversy, but ultimately it must be admitted that the movie could not have been made without him. After all, it was Mr. Brodax who initially came up with the idea of an animated Beatles film and it was he who secured permission from the band to do so. Quite simply, without Al Brodax, Yellow Submarine might never have happened.

Of course, Al Brodax did much more than serve as producer on Yellow Submarine. He also produced the many King Features Syndicate animated shorts featuring Beetle Bailey, Krazy Kat, and so on, as well as The Beatles Saturday morning cartoon and Cool McCool. Without Al Brodax weekday afternoons and Saturday mornings would have looked very  different for many children in the Sixties.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

The Late Great Fritz Weaver

The average person might not recognise Fritz Weaver's name, but they would certainly recognise his face. In a career that spanned sixty years, Fritz Weaver appeared in numerous television shows, films, and Broadway plays. From his Broadway debut in 1956 to his final credit this year, he was constantly working. Fritz Weaver died at age 90 on November 26 2016.

Fritz Weaver was born on January 19 1936 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He attended the University of Chicago, where he majored in physics, and then served in the Civilian Public Service during World War II. Following the war he moved to New York City where he studied acting at the Herbert Berghof Studio. He made his debut Off Broadway in The Way of the World at the Cherry Lane Theatre in 1954.

Fritz Weaver made his debut on Broadway in The Chalk Garden in 1956. In the Fifties he also appeared on Broadway in Protective Custody, Miss Lonelyhearts, The Family Reunion, The Power and the Glory, The Great God Brown, Peer Gynt, Henry IV, Part I, and Henry IV, Part II. He made his television debut in 1957 in the Studio One episode "The Playwright and the Stars". He guest starred on the shows The DuPont Show of the Month, Armstrong Circle Theatre, Omnibus, Playhouse 90, CBS Repertoire Workshop, The Twilight Zone, and Festival.

In the Sixties Mr. Weaver guest starred on such shows as Way Out, The Twilight Zone, The Asphalt Jungle, The New Breed, Dr. Kildare, The Defenders, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Rogues, Rawhide, The Fugitive, Combat, Gunsmoke, The Invaders, The Felony Squad, The Name of the Game, The Big Valley, and Ironside. He appeared in the films Fail-Safe (1964), The Maltese Bippy (1969), and A Walk in the Spring Rain (1970).  He appeared on Broadway in A Shot in the Dark, All American, Lorenzo, The White House, Baker Street, and Child's Play. He won a Tony Award for his role as Jerome Malley in Child's Play.

In the Seventies Fritz Weaver guest starred on such shows as Dan August, The Storefront Lawyers, Night Gallery, Mission: Impossible, Medical Centre, Room 222, The Mod Squad, The Snoop Sisters, Mannix, Kung Fu, Barnaby Jones, The Streets of San Francisco, Cannon, Wonder Woman, Hawaii Five-O, and Magnum P.I. He starred in the mini-series Holocaust and The Martian Chronicles. He appeared in the films The Day of the Dolphin (1973), Marathon Man (1976), Black Sunday (1977), Demon Seed (1977), The Big Fix (1978), and Nightkill (1980). On Broadway he appeared in Absurd Person Singular and The Price.

In the Eighties Mr. Weaver guest starred on such shows as Quincy M.E.; Falcon Crest; Tales of the Unexpected; The Love Boat; The Twilight ZoneTales From the Darkside; Murder, She WroteHallmark Hall of Fame; Monsters; and Matlock. He appeared in the films Jaws of Satan (1981); Creepshow (1982); and Power (1986). He appeared on Broadway in Angels Fall and Love Letters.

In the Nineties Fritz Weaver guest starred on such shows as All My ChildrenHallmark Hall of Fame, L. A. Law, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, The X-Files, Fraiser, and Law & Order. He appeared in such television movies as Ironclads (1991 and Citizen Cohn (1992). He appeared in the film The Thomas Crown Affair (1999). He appeared on Broadway in The Crucible and Ring Round the Moon.

In the Teens he appeared in the films Muhammad Ali's Greatest Fight (2013), We'll Never Have Paris (2014), and The Cobbler (2014). His last appearance was in The Congressman, set for release this year.

While Fritz Weaver was never a household name, there would seem to be little doubt that he was one of the greatest actors of his time. He was nominated for Tony Awards four times and won two of those times. He was also nominated for an Emmy Award for his role in Holocaust.

There should be little wonder that Mr. Weaver should be recognised for his work, as he played a wide variety of roles in his long career. In Fail-Safe he played the overzealous and unstable Colonel Cascio. In Holocaust he played nearly the polar opposite of Colonel Cascio--the respected Dr. Josef Weiss, a Jewish surgeon who attempts to save his fellow Jews in the face of Nazism. He gave two remarkable performances on the original Twilight Zone. In "Third from the Sun" he played Will Sturka, a scientist seeking to save his family on the brink of nuclear war. In "The Obsolete Man" he played The Chancellor, a strict but somewhat hypocritical official in a totalitarian estate. Through the years Fritz Weaver played a wide variety of roles, from military officers to professors to medical doctors to law enforcemet officers to politicians. What is more he played all of them well.

It is most likely due to his talent that Fritz Weaver had such a long and prolific career. He made his first appearance on Broadway in 1956. His last credit was this year. He never really retired. The simple fact is that Fritz Weaver was always in demand throughout his career. Because he could play nearly any part given him, he was able to work as long as he wished. Not every actor is so talented.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

The Late Great Ron Glass

It is a rare thing that an actor stars in more than one of my favourite television shows. Most of the time they only star in one. Ron Glass was one of those actors who starred in more than one of my favourite television shows. I first encountered him on television on a regular basis on Barney Miller, on which he played Detective Ron Harris. I would later see him on the short-lived, cult, sci-fi series Firefly, on which he played Shepherd Derrial Book. The two shows couldn't have been more different. One was a situation comedy centred on a police station in Greenwich Village in New York City. The other was a space Western set in a star cluster in 2517. The two characters couldn't have been more different either. Detective Harris was an intellectual with a taste for fashion. While Shepherd Book was also an intellectual, he was a Christian preacher who does not mind a more ascetic lifestyle. In between these shows Ron Glass appeared on an number of series, both as a regular and a guest star. Sadly, Ron Glass died on November 25 2016 at the age of 71. The cause was respiratory failure.

Ron Glass was born in Evansville, Indiana on July 10 1945. He graduated from Saint Francis Seminary in 1964 and then received a bachelor's degree from the University of Evansville . He made his debut on stage at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis. It was in 1972 that he made his television debut in the Sanford and Son episode "The Card Sharks". It was followed by guest appearances on such shows as Maude, Hawaii Five-O, The Bob Newhart Show, Good Times, When Things Were Rotten, and The Streets of San Francisco. It was in 1975 that he first played Detective Harris on Barney Miller. In 1982 he was nominated for the Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy or Variety or Music Series for the role. He remained with Barney Miller for the entirety of its run.

In the Eighties Ron Glass played the role of perpetual neat freak Felix Unger on the short-lived, African American version of The Odd Couple. He guest starred on such shows as The Love Boat; The Twilight Zone; 227; and Amen. He narrated the film Sound of Sunshine - Sound of Rain (1983) and appeared in the film Deep Space (1988).

In the Nineties he starred on the short-lived sitcom Rhythm & Blues, the sitcom Mr. Rhodes, and the sitcom Teen Angel. He provided the voice of neighbour Randy Carmichael on the long running animated series Rugrats. He guest starred on such shows as Amen; Murder, She Wrote; The Royal Family; Designing Women; Friends; The Practice; and Star Trek: Voyager. He appeared in the films Houseguest (1995), It's My Party (1996), Back in Business (1997), and Unbowed (1999).

In the Naughts Ron Glass was cast as Shepherd Book on Firefly. While the show was very swiftly cancelled by Fox, it developed a large cult following and remains popular to this day. He reprised the role in  the film based on the series, Serenity (2005). He continued to voice Randy Carmichael on Rugrats and later on its spinoff All Grown Up!. He guest starred on such shows as Rude Awakening, The Education of Max Bickford, The Proud Family, Shark, and Dirty Sexy Money. In addition to Serenity he appeared in the films Lakeview Terrace (2008) and Death at a Funeral (2010). He provided a voice for the video game Fable II.

In the Teens Mr. Glass guest starred on the shows CSI: NY, Major Crimes, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. He appeared in the film Just Another Man's Story (2013). He provided a voice for the video game Ancient Space.

I won't deny that this had been one of the harder eulogies for me to write this year. As I mentioned earlier, Ron Glass starred in two of my favourite television shows of all time, Barney Miller and Firefly. He also appeared on many other shows, from Sanford and Son to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. I have admired him since childhood. I was not prepared for a world without Ron Glass. I sincerely thought he would be with us for many more years to come.

Of course, I am sure I am not alone in this. It is not simply a case of Mr. Glass starring in several beloved shows. The simple fact is that he was an extremely talented actor. This can be seen in his two most famous roles. On Barney Miller Detective Ron Harris was an intellectual who may well have loved writing more than police work. Not only was he easily the smartest man in the squad room, he was also easily the best dressed.  On Firefly Shepherd Book was also an intellectual, but for him spirituality was the most important thing in life. He served as the voice of reason and the moral compass for the sometimes rambunctious crew of Serenity. The two characters are quite different, and yet Ron Glass played them both very well.

That having been said, Ron Glass played much more than Detective Harris and  Shepherd Book. Short of Tony Randall, he was perhaps the best Felix Unger ever on television and in  film.  In Unbowed he played President Duquesne, the head of an all-black college who must deal with the conflict between Lakota Sioux who have enrolled there and the black students. In the Eighties Twilight Zone episode "I of Newton" he played the Devil himself. Over the years Ron Glass played everything from medical doctors to politicians to lawyers, and he played all of them well.

Beyond being a very talented actor, it must be said that Ron Glass was also a very good man. The cast of Firefly always had the best things to say about him, always remarking on his kindness, his gentleness, and his generosity. His fans said the same things about him. He always had a way of making fans feel important and special. In many respects he was a lot like Shepherd Book--a genuinely honourable man who was always kind to others. Indeed, Mr. Glass devoted much of his time to the Wooten Centre, a non-profit organisation in Los Angeles that helps students from grades 3 to 12 prepare for college. He served on its board of directors and was its chairman from 1993 to 2005. Despite all the years he was involved with the Wooten Centre, he never publicised it.  In the end Ron Glass was not simply a very talented actor. He was also a truly great gentleman.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Lyndsy Spence Talks About Her New Book on Doris Delevingne

If you are a regular reader of A Shroud of Thoughts, then chances are good that you are familiar with author Lyndsy Spence. Miss Spence has a talent for writing books on interesting women. She made her debut with a book about the Mitford Sisters, The Mitford Girls' Guide to Life. She followed it up with biographies of the controversial Diana Mosley (Mrs Guinness: The Rise and Fall of Diana Mitford) and beloved film legend Margaret Lockwood (Margaret Lockwood: Queen of the Silver Screen). Her current book, The Mistress of Mayfair: Men, Money and the Marriage of Doris Delevingne, is about scandalous Twenties and Thirties socialite Doris Delevingne, Lady Castlerosse. Lady Castlerosse was linked to some of the most powerful men of the era: Sir Winston Churchill; Sir Cecil Beaton; Sir Alfred Beit; and others. In her social circle were included everyone from British aristocrats to Hollywood royalty. I had a chance to ask Lyndsy Spence a few questions about The Mistress of Mayfair: Men, Money and the Marriage of Doris Delevingne.

A lot of my American readers probably aren't familiar with Doris Delevingne, so could you explain who she was?

Much like modern celebrities, the 1920s and 30s was an era when one could be famous for doing very little, especially if one were a debutante. Or, in Doris's case, for courting infamy. She clawed her way to the top of the social ladder and progressed from selling second-hand evening dresses to chorus girls, to working as a show girl, and then becoming a courtesan. Of course, today Cara Delevingne (Doris's great-niece) has put the family's name on the map, but Doris was quite the star in her day.

What drew you to Doris Delevingne as a subject?

Her name often pops up in biographies but very little was known about Doris, and was has been written about her is quite often misconstrued. Doris herself was very candid about her exploits and I discovered her confessions in various letters locked away in archives. The latter is the reason I enjoy the research stage so much. Anyhow, I love that Doris was practically self-made and she was unapologetic about her lifestyle. She was a trailblazer in an era when women of her class were expected to marry and have children, and she literally grabbed life by the scruff of the neck. I also admire her flaws and, I think, that makes her all the more human. She was just an ordinary girl who set out to be an extraordinary woman.

Doris had affairs with several important men. What appeal do you think she held for them?

I think she was the polar opposite of a debutante and of the women they were expected to, and did, marry. She spoke her mind, had her own money, was not afraid to call the shots. I think men found that appealing and terribly exciting. She was imitating how those men lived and had adopted their point of view, all the while looking very feminine. I also think her profession had something to do with it!

Doris knew some fairly famous people. Who were some of her acquaintances?

Doris knew EVERYONE! Amongst her famous admirers were Winston and Randolph Churchill, Cecil Beaton, Lord Beaverbrook, Gerald Berners, Noel Coward, Michael Arlen, Diana and Nancy Mitford, the Aly Khan, Maxine Elliot, and, of course, her husband Viscount Castlerosse – then the most famous gossip columnist in 20s and 30s London.

What are some of your other projects on which you are currently working?

I am working on a collection of mini biographies of high society women who appear in my books and who deserve wider recognition. Although the portraits are not full-length biographies, I am doing a lot of original research and I have chosen various fun ladies such as Marg of Arg, Enid Lindeman and Mariga Guinness. There will be about 12 in total. I'm also researching my new book, which will be on a group of socialites who lived in a far-off land.

 The Mistress of Mayfair: Men, Money and the Marriage of Doris Delevingne by Lyndsy Spence is available at Amazon, History Press, and other fine book sellers.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

The Famous 3000th Post

Give or take a few posts that may have been lost along the way (Blogger wasn't always reliable in the early years), this is the 3000th post of A Shroud of Thoughts. Back when I began this blog on June 4 2004 I never dreamed I would reach 1000 posts, let alone 3000 posts. It seems a bit of miracle that I have. For those of you who are curious, I think that comes out to 240 posts a year or 4.6 posts a week.

In fact, provided I post nearly every day through December, 2016 is on course to break the record for the most number of posts in a year. The current record holder is 2010 with 272 posts. I figure if I keep up 7 posts a week, I'll reach 275 by the end of the year. Sadly, I swear most of this year's posts have been eulogies.

Over the years I can't say that A Shroud of Thoughts has evolved much. It has always been devoted to popular culture. That having been said, there have been a few changes over the years. I used to address more recent films, TV shows, and music in the blog, but I ceased doing so several years ago. This actually wasn't a conscious decision. I simply prefer writing about the films, TV shows, and music of yore to the films, TV shows, and music of today. Another change is that at one time I wrote a few more personal posts. I dropped those after about the first year. Besides being a very private person, I really don't think anyone is much interested in my life.

Another change for which I have never particularly cared is that I write many more eulogies in A Shroud of Thoughts than I did when I began. The sad fact is that the classic stars of film, television, and music are dying at a much faster rate than they were in 2004. I have to confess I have never much cared for writing eulogies. Quite simply, to do so means that someone has died. For those wondering why I call them "eulogies" rather than "obituaries", it is quite simple. To me an obituary is an objective announcement of someone's death, while a eulogy is a celebration of that individual's life. Given how emotional I can be in my eulogies, it would be improper to call them "obituaries".

I really don't have any regrets about having begun A Shroud of Thoughts save one. I wish I had chosen another name. "A Shroud of Thoughts"is taken from  Lord Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage canto iii stanza 113. I chose it because at the time the trend in blog titles tended towards those including the word "thoughts" or a synonym thereof. In retrospect, I should have chosen a title more fitting a pop culture blog. I discovered the word "retrophilia" a few years after starting A Shroud of Thoughts. It means "a love of times left behind." I did use it for the title of my Tumblr blog. The simple fact is that by the time I'd thought of changing the title, A Shroud of Thoughts already had a readership. I was afraid a title change would confuse my readers.

Anyhow, I have enjoyed writing A Shroud of Thoughts over the past 12 and a half years. Given the length of my posts and how often I post, it has meant a substantial investment of time on my part. And I do wish I could actually make a living writing the blog. That having been said, as Confucius said, " Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life." I certainly do love writing A Shroud of Thoughts and I can't see giving it up any time soon. I hope that both A Shroud of Thoughts (and myself for that matter) are around for another 3000 posts.