Sunday, 21 May 2017

A Pictorial Tribute for Raymond Burr's Centennial

It was 100 years ago today that Raymond Burr was born in New Westminster, British Columbia. Today he is best known as criminal defence lawyer Perry Mason from the TV show of the same name, but his career not only included other TV shows, but many movies as well. Curiously, before he was cast as Perry Mason, Raymond Burr more often than not played villains. In fact, his most famous role besides Perry Mason may well be that of suspected killer  Lars Thorwald in Rear Window (1954). Here is a look back at his career in pictures.

Raymond Burr's first significant role was that of Jeff Torrance in the 1946 film San Quentin. Here he is with Lawrence Tierney and Carol Forman.

Today we tend to think of Raymond Burr as starring in crime thrillers, film noirs, and a few sci-fi B-movies, but he did make other sorts of pictures. Here he is with Errol Flynn in The Adventures of Don Juan (1948)

While he generally played bad guys, Raymond Burr did play good guys sometimes early in his career. He even played a lawyer before Perry Mason. In A Place in the Sun (1951) he played District Attorney  R. Frank Marlowe. Here he is with Montgomery Clift. 

 In The Blue Gardenia (1953) Raymond Burr played womanising artist Harry Prebble. Here he is with Anne Baxter.

Possibly Raymond Burr's most famous role besides Perry Mason, that of the menacing Lars Thorwald in Rear Window

One of Raymond Burr's earliest good guy roles, that of American reporter Steve Martin in Godzilla, King of the Monsters (1956). Godzilla, King of the Monsters was essentially the Japanese film Gojira (1954) re-edited for American audiences. In addition to eliminating many scenes (and thus changing the tone of the whole movie), new footage was made with Raymond Burr. This was done for essentially two reasons. First, reporter Steve Martin could explain what was happening for American audiences, allowing for less dubbing in the film. Second, it would add an American star who would be somewhat familiar to audiences in the United States. Raymond Burr would reprise the role nearly 30 years later in Godzilla 1985

It was in 1957 that Raymond Burr began a nine year run in his most famous role, that of defence attorney Perry Mason in the TV show Perry Mason. The character of Perry Mason had begun life in novels by Erle Stanley Gardner. By the time the TV show had debuted, the character had already appeared in six feature films and a radio show that ran for 12 years on CBS. Although Raymond Burr is now the actor most identified with Perry Mason, he was not the only actor considered for the part.  Richard Carlson, Mike Connors, Richard Egan, William Holden, and Efrem Zimbalist Jr., were all considered, and even Fred MacMurray was reportedly in negotiations with CBS for the role. While producer Gail Patrick had been impressed with Raymond Burr's performance as the district attorney in A Place in the Sun (1951), there were concerns about his weight. Raymond Burr went on a diet and did a second screen test for the role. In the end, he was chosen out of around 50 other actors trying for the part. 

Raymond Burr followed Perry Mason with another successful TV show, Ironside. Ironside featured Mr. Burr as Robert T. Ironside, a former San Francisco Chief of Detectives who became a consultant for the police department after he was paralysed from the waist down. Ironside proved quite successful, running for eight seasons.

Following Ironside, Raymond Burr appeared in such films as Out of the Blue (1980), Airplane II: The Sequel (1982), and Godzilla 1985. He reprised his role as Perry Mason in the TV reunion Perry Mason Returns in 1985. It was followed by 25 more TV movies starring Raymond Burr as Perry Mason. Perhaps fittingly, Perry Mason would be the final role he ever played. He last appeared in the TV movie Perry Mason: The Case of the Killer Kiss (1993). Having died on September 12 1993, it aired over two months after his death, on November 29 1993.

Friday, 19 May 2017

The Late Great Chris Cornell

Chris Cornell, founding member, lead vocalist, chief songwriter, and rhythm guitarist of Soundgarden, died on May 17 2016 at the age of 52. The cause was suicide.

Chris Cornell was born Christopher Boyle on July 20 1964 in Seattle, Washington. His parents were pharmacist  Ed Boyle and accountant Karen Cornell. He took to music at a young age, having discovered an abandoned collection of Beatles records in a neighbour's basement when he was 9 years old. Mr. Cornell had a somewhat troubled childhood. He struggled with loneliness and depression. In an interview with Rolling Stone in 1994 he admitted to having been a "...daily drug user at 13.” After his parents divorced he dropped out of school when he was only 14. He worked various jobs to help support his mother, including working at a seafood wholesaler and as a sous-chef. Music became an outlet for him and he learned to play drums when he was 16. His first band was the Jones Street Band, in which he was both the drummer and lead singer.

It was in 1984 that Chris Cornell, bassist Hiro Yamamoto, and guitarist Kim Thayil formed Soundgarden. The band took its name from an artwork located at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, "A Sound Garden". Originally Chris Cornell served as both Soundgarden's drummer and lead vocalist, but in 1985  the band hired Scott Sundquist as its drummer so Chris Cornell could concentrate on singing.

Soundgarden signed with Seattle record label Sub-Pop and their first single, "Hunted Down", was released in 1987. Their EP Screaming Life was released on the label that same year, followed by the EP Fopp in 1988. The two EPs were combined and released as the album Screaming Life/Fopp  in 1990. It was in 1988 that Soundgarden signed with independent label SST Records. Their debut album, Ultramega OK, was released in October 1988.  Ultramega OK received a Grammy nomination for Best Metal Performance. SST Records followed Ultramega OK with the EP Flower, released in 1989.

Following a tour to support Ultramega OK, Soundgarden signed with A&M Records. Their second album, Louder Than Love, was released in September 1989. Louder Than Love became Soundgarden's first album to reach the Billboard Top 200 album chart, peaking at 108. An EP containing outtakes from Louder Than Love as well as other material, Loudest Love, was released in October 1990.

While still working with Soundgarden, Chris Cornell teamed up with former Mother Love Bone members Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament, Soundgarden's drummer Matt Cameron, Mike McCready, and Eddie Vedder to record as Temple of the Dog. Messrs. Gossard, Ament, McCready, and Vedder would soon become famous as Pearl Jam. The supergroup's lone album, Temple of the Dog, was released in April 1991.

It was in October 1991 that Soundgarden's third studio album Badmotorfinger was released. It was the first to feature bassist Ben Shepherd. It proved to be their most successful album up to that time, peaking at no. 39 on the Billboard Top 200 album chart. It received a Grammy nomination for Best Metal Performance. In June 1992 a special edition of Badmotorfinger was released that included the EP Satanoscillatemymetallicsonatas. Satanoscillatemymetallicsonatas included covers of Black Sabbath's "Into the Void", Devo's "Girl U Want", and The Stray Cats' "Stray Cat Strut", as well as other material.

Soundgarden's fourth album, Superunknown, proved to be their most successful album ever. It debuted on the Billboard Top 200 at no. 1 and sold 310,000 copies in its first week alone. The single "Spoonman" won the Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance, while the single "Black Hole Sun" won the Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance and was nominated for the award for Best Rock Song. Superunknown was released on March 8,1994. Superunknown was followed by the EP Songs from the Superunknown and the CD-Rom  Alive in the Superunknown. Both were released on November 21 1995.

Soundgarden's fifth album, Down on the Upside, was released on May 21 1996. The album debuted at no. 2 on the Billboard Top 200 albums chart, which was also its peak. Unfortunately tensions rose among the group during its recording. Chris Cornell had wanted to move away from the heavy guitar that had become associated with Soundgarden, something that Kim Thayil disagreed with. The tensions within the band only increased during the worldwide tour to support the album. It was on April 9 1997 that Soundgarden announced that they were disbanding.

In the wake up of Soundgarden's break-up, Chris Cornell began work on his first solo album. Euphoria Morning was released in September 1999. The album peaked at no.18 on the Billboard Top 200 album chart and was well received by critics.

Chris Cornell afterwards joined former Rage Against the Machine members Tom Morello, Tim Commerford, and Brad Wilk to form the band Audioslave. After Rage Against the Machine vocalist  lead vocalist Zack de la Rocha left Rage Against the Machine, the other members decided to remain together and find a new vocalist. It was producer Rick Rubin who suggested they seek out Chris Cornell.

Audioslave's self-titled debut album was released in November 2002. The album peaked at no. 7 on the Billboard Top 200, although it received mixed reviews from critics. Their second album, Out of Exile, was released in May 2005. The album performed even better than Audioslave, reaching no. 1 on the Billboard Top 200. The single "Be Yourself" even reached the top forty of the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at no. 32.

Audioslave only released one more album. Revelations was released in September 2006. It did very well, peaking at no. 2 on the Billboard Top 200 album chart. Despite this, the album received mixed reviews. Audioslave were on a break while Chris Cornell co-wrote and recorded "You Know My Name", the theme song to the James Bond movie Casino Royale (2006). At the same time Audioslave guitarist Tom Morello went to work on his solo project, The Nightwatchman. As it turned out Chris Cornell would never return to Audioslave. In July 2006 he announced that he was leaving the band.

It was then in 2007 that Chris Cornell released his second solo album. Carry On peaked at no. 17 on the Billboard Top 200, but received mixed reviews. It was followed by Scream, which was released in March 2009. The album marked a shift in Mr. Cornell's musical style, with less guitar and more electronic music. Scream peaked at no. 10 on the Billboard Top 200, but receive mostly negative reviews. It was followed by the acoustic live album Songbook in 2011. Songbook featured a mix of Soundgarden songs, Audioslave songs, and his own solo work.

It was on January 1 2010 that Chris Cornell announced that Soundgarden was reuniting. It was in February 2011 that it was announced that they would be recording a new album. Soudgarden toured for the first time in years in 2011. They also recorded a new song, "Live to Rise", that was featured in Marvel's The Avengers (2012).  Their new album, King Animal,was released on November 13 2012. It peaked at no. 5 on the Billboard Top 200, and received positive reviews over all.

Soundgarden continued to tour in 2014. Chris Cornell released his final solo album, Higher Truth, in September 2015. The album peaked at no. 19 on the Billboard Top 200 and received generally good reviews. It was in January 2016 that it was confirmed that Soundgarden had returned to the studio to record a new album. At the moment it is not clear how Soundgarden will proceed in the wake of Chris Cornell's death.

Chris Cornell's last solo work was the  single "The Promise", which appeared in the film The Promise (2017).

The soundtrack of my life in the Nineties was largely comprised of The Posies, Monster Magnet, The Gin Blossoms, and Soundgarden. Chris Cornell's work then spoke to me in a way that the work of Kurt Cobain, Jerry Cantrell, or Eddie Vedder never did. The lyrics of his songs were often deep, sometimes humorous, sometimes dark. Even when the lyrics of a particular Soundgarden, Audioslave, or Chris Cornell song were dark, there was still a glimmer of hope behind them. Soundgarden's songs were not about necessarily how hard life can be, but the will to survive that hard live. Even when things were at their worst, I could be guaranteed that a Soundgarden song would help me feel better.

Of course, even beyond Chris Cornell's lyrics there was a musical complexity to his songs that was sometimes lacking in his contemporaries' music. He often used non-standard chord progressions, and the melodies were often unusual as well. It was not unusual for his music to use only major chord changes. Chris Cornell also utilised a variety of different styles of music throughout his career. Soundgarden alone ranged in style from the proto-punk of MC5 and The Stooges to melodic variations on heavy metal to psychedelia. Soundgarden was often counted as part of the grunge movement, but I have never thought they really should have been. While I love grunge, Soundgarden worked on a much broader canvas, to the point that they should perhaps be considered simply "hard rock" or "heavy metal", rather than simply "grunge".

Regardless, there can be no doubt that Chris Cornell was one of the greatest rock vocalists of all time. He was a baritone, but his voice could span several octaves. In addition to the lower register baritone of he could sing fairly high in the ranges of tenor. His voice also packed a good deal of power, so that I have to think he would not have had to use a microphone to be heard several yards away. Chris Cornell was extremely versatile as a singer, so that he could do everything from a gentle falsetto to harsh screams. When combined with his talent for songwriting, this ultimately made Chris Cornell one of the greatest front men in the history of rock 'n' roll.

George Stroumboulopoulos on CBC Radio said of Chris Cornell that ""He was the voice of an entire generation's youth." I really cannot argue with that. With a few possible exceptions (Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow of The Posies, for example), Chris Cornell spoke to me more than any other rock star my age. The music of Soundgarden helped me navigate my late twenties and early thirties. It is then for that reason that I am very sad I am gone.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Godspeed Stan Weston, Godfather of Action Figures

Stan Weston, the licensing agent who was one of the creators of the action figure G.I. Joe, and who also created such action figures as Captain Action and "The World's Greatest Super Heroes", died on May 1 2017 at the age of 84. The cause was complications from surgery.

Stan Weston was born Stanley Weinstein in Brooklyn, New York on April 1 1933. He was only five years old when Superman first appeared in Action Comics no. 1 (June 1938) and he became a huge comic book fan. He was particularly a fan of the companies that would one day become the modern day DC Comics. He even rented comic books to other children in his neighbourhood from a makeshift stand on his front stoop. He attended  New York University and received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Advertising and Journalism. He served in the United States Army and afterwards he returned to New York University and earned a Master of Business Administration degree. He took the surname "Weston" in order to avoid anti-Semitism.

Stan Weston went into advertising at the agency McCann Erickson. It was while he was at McCann Erickson that he met Allan Stone, whose brother Martin Stone was a producer on The Howdy Doody Show. Allan Stone founded Stone Merchandising Associates, which licensed movie and television properties. In 1959 Stan Weston went to work at Stone Merchandising Associates. He worked there only for a year before founding his own company, Weston Merchandising, in 1960. It was in 1962 that Weston Merchandising merged with the company Trans-Beacon. Stan Weston remained with Trans-Beacon for three years. As a licensing agent he was rather successful, and represented the TV series Dr. Kildare, The Kingston Trio, and comedian Soupy Sales, among many others.

It was in 1963 that Stan Weston would become involved in his most famous creation, the action figure G.I. Joe. Stories vary as to the origins of the famous action figure. According to one story, Stan Weston received inspiration for G.I. Joe from Elliot Handler, founder of Mattel. Mr. Handler, who was one of Mr. Weston's mentors, told him, “Stan, you’ve got to sell them the razor, then you can sell them a lot of blades." Of course, Mattel had seen great success in not only selling the Barbie doll, but in selling numerous outfits and accessories to go with the doll as well. Stan Weston looked through the Encyclopaedia Britannica seeking an idea for a toy that would also include numerous accessories, and fell upon the idea of a military themed toy. By making a military themed toy there could then also be several different uniforms, weapons, and other accessories sold to go along with it. 

According to another story it was  Larry Reiner, who was an executive at Ideal Toy Company, who came up with the initial idea for G.I. Joe. Mr. Reiner thought of an idea for a soldier toy and tried to interest Ideal in it, only to be told that boys would never play with a "doll". It was after the 1963 Toy Fair that Larry Reiner met Stan Weston, who liked his idea for a military toy. Mr. Weston then went to work on finding someone to buy the concept. Yet another origin story is that G.I. Joe began as a possible tie-in to the short-lived TV show The Lieutenant. Quite simply, Stan Weston approached Hasbro with the idea of a soldier toy based on the show. Regardless, Stan Weston always credited Larry Reiner with having come up with the idea that the soldier toy should have articulated joints.

Whoever initially came up with the idea of G.I. Joe first, Stan Weston and Larry Reiner approached Don Levine, then Creative Director at Hasbro with their concept for a movable soldier toy. It was Don Levine, a veteran of the Korean War, who ultimately came up with the name "G.I. Joe," remembering the movie The Story of G.I. Joe (1945). Because of fears that boys would not play with a "doll", Hasbro came up with the term "action figure", which has been used ever since for movable figures made for boys. G.I. Joe hit stores on  February 2 1964 and proved to be a huge hit.

The success of G.I. Joe saw the emergence of several more action figures in the mid-Sixties, among them another created by Stan Weston. He developed an idea for an action figure to be called "Captain Magic", a character who could transform into different superheroes. Mr. Weston pitched it to Larry Reiner, still an executive at Ideal Toy Company. Larry Reiner was not initially fond of the idea, and thought that children wouldn't be interested in an action figure that lacked its own identity. Larry Reiner eventually capitulated to Stan Weston, although the action figure was renamed "Captain Action". Introduced in 1966, the basic Captain Action figure came with a costume, a hat, boots, a belt, a gun, and a sword. In the first year outfits for The Lone Ranger, Batman, Superman, Sgt. Fury, Aquaman, Captain America, Steve Canyon, The Phantom, and Flash Gordon were sold separately.

In 1967 outfits for Spider-Man, Buck Rogers, The Green Hornet, and Tonto were added to the Captain Action line. Also added were new action figures. Captain Action was given a sidekick in the form of Action Boy, for whom outfits for Superboy, Aqualad, and Robin were made. Captain Action was also given an archenemy in the form of Dr. Evil (not to be confused with the villain from the "Austin Powers' movies). Unlike Captain Action and Action Boy, Dr. Evil could not change into different villains.  Captain Action would not repeat the success of G. I. Joe. Ideal ceased production on the line in 1968, after only about two years on the market.

In 1970 Stan Weston founded Leisure Concepts with Mike Germakian.  The company would have such licences as The Lone Ranger, Farrah Fawcett, James Bond, Charlie Chan, Marvel Comics, Star Wars, and many others. In 1995 the company changed its name to 4kids Entertainment Inc. In 2012 it became 4Licensing Corporation.

It was in the early Seventies that Stan Weston conceived an idea for a series of action figures called "The Worlds' Greatest Super Heroes". At the time Leisure Concepts had the licences for Marvel Comics' characters. Mr. Weston approached Jay Emmett, head of Licensing Corporation of America, which handled the licences for DC Comics' characters and struck a deal on a handshake to use their characters. Unfortunately, Stan Weston found "The World's Greatest Super Heroes" difficult to sell. Mattel, Hasbro, Kenner, Gabriel, and Ideal all turned the idea down. He then took the idea to Mego Corporation, a small toy company then manufacturing an action figure called "Action Jackson". Marty Abrams, the head of Mego, liked the idea. Leisure Concepts then set about getting the necessary rights from DC Comics, Marvel Comics, and the Edgar Rice Burroughs estate in order to proceed.

It was during the Christmas shopping season that the first action figures in "The World's Greatest Super Heroes" line were introduced in tests in the New York area. The first batch of characters were Superman, Batman, Robin, and Aquaman. In the autumn of 1973 the characters of Spiderman, Captain America, and Tarzan were added. "The World's Greatest Super Heroes" proved enormously successful, so that yet more characters were added to the line. In the end "The World's Greatest Super Heroes" line included over 30 different heroes and villains. "The World's Greatest Super Heroes" continued to be manufactured until 1983. Production on the line ended not because the action figures had declined in popularity, but instead because Mego Corporation had gone bankrupt after several bad business decisions.

Stan Weston would also do some work in the film industry. He was an executive producer on the films Vision Quest (1985) and Gardens of Stone (1987), and a co-executive producer on The Shadow (1994). He also appeared in front of the camera. As an actor he appeared in the films The Power (1984), Torment (1986), and The Book (2010). 

There can be no doubt that Stan Weston revolutionised the toy industry. Arguably, articulated figures meant for boys existed before G. I. Joe. In 1932 there was a wooden Popeye figure and in 1939 Ideal manufactured a wooden Superman figure complete with a cloth cape. That having been said, G.I. Joe was the first to be called an "action figure" and the one that created the demand for action figures that has persisted to this day. Stan Weston's "World's Greatest Super Heroes" line would transform Mego Corporation from a rather small company to the biggest manufacturer of action figures in the Seventies, with licences for Star Trek and Planet of the Apes action figures, among others. While Captain Action would only be manufactured briefly, the action figure developed a cult following that has persisted to this day. While action figures have certainly changed over the years (today's action figures are generally much smaller than the original 12-inch G.I. Joe), it seems that they might not have been possible without Stan Weston.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

The Late Great Powers Boothe

Powers Boothe died June 1 2017 at the age of 68. He appeared in such films as The Emerald Forest (1985), Tombstone (1993), Nixon (1995), and Sin City (2005), and on such TV shows as Philip Marlowe Private Eye, Deadwood, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Powers Boothe was born on a cotton farm near Snyder, Texas. In high school he played football and took part in school plays. He surprised many when, in his senior year, he quit football to concentrate on acting. He attended Southwest Texas State University where he received a bachelor degree and then received a masters degree at Southern Methodist University.

After graduating from Southwest Texas State University, Powers Boothe joined the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's repertory company. He played roles in  Henry V, Othello, and Troilus & Cressida. In 1974 he appeared in Richard III at the Lincoln Centre in New York City. In 1977 he made his film debut as part of the cast of Richard III in the film The Goodbye Girl. In 1979 he appeared on Broadway in Lone Star & Pvt. Wars.  He appeared in the films The Cold Eye (My Darling, Be Careful) (1980) and Cruising (1980). On television he had a recurring role on the TV show Skag and played Jim Jones in the TV movie Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones (1980).

The Eighties saw Powers Boothe's film career take off. He was one of the leads in Walter Hill's Southern Comfort (1981) and the lead in John Boorman's The Emerald Forest (1985). He also appeared in the films A Breed Apart (1984), Red Dawn (1984), Extreme Prejudice (1987), Sapphire Man (1988), Voyager: The Grand Tour (1990), and Stalingrad (1990). On television he played the title role in the HBO TV series Philip Marlowe, Private Eye. He also starred in the two part TV movie Family of Spies (1990).

In the Nineties Powers Boothe appeared in such films as Rapid Fire (1992), Tombstone (1993), Sudden Death (1995), Nixon (1995), U Turn (1997), and Men of Honour (2000). On television he appeared in the mini-series Joan of Arc and the two part TV movie Attila.

In the Naughts Mr. Boothe was a regular on the TV shows Deadwood and 24. He was the voice of Gorilla Grodd on the animated series Justice League and Justice League Unlimited, as well as the voice of Lex Luthor in the straight-to-video animated film Superman: Brainiac Attacks. He appeared in the films Frailty (2001), Sin City (2005), The Final Season (2007), and MacGruber (2010).

In the Teens Powers Boothe appeared in the mini-series Hatfields & McCoys and To Appomattox, and had recurring roles on the TV shows Nashville and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. He guest starred on the TV show Moonbeam City and was a guest voice on the animated series Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated and The Looney Tunes Show. He appeared in the films Tattoo (2011),  Marvel's The Avengers (2012), Straight A's (2013), and Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014).

During his career Mr. Boothe also provided voices for several video games, including Area 51, Turok, Ben 10 Ultimate Alien: Cosmic Destruction, and Hitman: Absolution.

Powers Boothe was an incredibly talented actor. Indeed, while various news outlets have noted the many villains he played in his career, I remember him best for his heroic roles. He was the cynical Texan Corporal Hardin in Southern Comfort; Bill Markham, the father seeking his son in the Amazonian Rainforest in The Emerald Forest; and, of course, Philip Marlowe in the HBO series of the Eighties. That having been said, Powers Boothe made for a very good villain in several films and TV shows. Perhaps no politician on film was as evil as Senator Roark in Sin City and Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. As Cy Tolliver on Deadwood, Powers Boothe played a formidable rival to the show's primary villain Al Swearengen. On Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  He played Gideon Malick, one of the leaders of the criminal organisation Hydra. Such was Powers Boothe's talent that he played historical figures convincingly. He played Alexander Haig in Nixon, Curly Bill Brocius in Tombstone, Jacques d'Arc on Joan of Arc, and Jim Jones in Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones. Powers Boothe was convincing in almost any role offered him, whether he was playing a hero, a villain, or something in between.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Five Stars

Today is the 3rd annual National Classic Movie Day in the United States. To honour that day, Rick of The Classic Film and TV Cafe is holding the "Five Stars Blogathon" in which bloggers list their five favourite stars and why they are their five favourites. I did not learn about the blogathon until today, but I decided it would be a good way to honour National Classic Movie Day.

Here I must say that while I can name my five favourite movies of all time with ease, I have always had some difficulty limiting my favourite stars to even ten, much less five. For that reason this list should be taken with a grain of salt. On any other day I might have chosen a completely different set of five actors. I will say that I restricted my choices to stars who were best known for their appearances in films rather than on television. It is for that reason that Patrick Macnee and Dame Diana Rigg are missing from the list (they are both best known for The Avengers, my all time favourite TV show). Regardless, here are my five favourite stars (at least for today). I listed them in alphabetical order as there is no way I could decide which one was my absolute favourite.

Sir Dirk Bogarde: I'm not sure where I first saw Sir Dirk Bogarde. It might have been in the 1958 version of A Tale of Two Cities or perhaps Darling (1965). Regardless, he has long been one of my favourite actors for the simple reason that he was just so versatile. Throughout his career he played a truly wide variety of characters, from the somewhat nervous Dr. Simon Sparrow in the "Doctor" series to the heroic yet tragic Sidney Carton in A Tale of Two Cities to the sinister valet Hugo Barrett in The Servant (1963) to the evil industrialist Friedrich Bruckmann in The Damned (1969). Sir Dirk Bogarde was something of a chameleon, able to play nearly any role offered to him.

Audrey Hepburn; Audrey Hepburn could be considered my first classic film crush, although when I first saw her in My Fair Lady the film was only about ten years old (I was eleven at the time). Having been released in 1964, I then don't think it was old enough to be considered a classic when I first saw it. Regardless, my father had to talk me into watching the movie (like many little boys I was not particularly a fan of musicals) and to this day I am glad he did. I fell in love with Audrey Hepburn that night and so I looked forward to her movies whenever they were on television. Of course, as I grew older I learned that she was not only a beautiful and graceful woman, but also a very talented actress. She gave impressive performances in everything from Sabrina (1954) to Wait Until Dark (1967).  I think my crush on her grew even greater when I learned that she wasn't just a great actress, but a fine human being too. She did a great deal of work for UNICEF.

Sir Christopher Lee:  Bela Lugosi fans might disagree with me, but for me Sir Christopher Lee will always be the quintessential Dracula. To me no other actor quite captured the character so well. Indeed, to this day Dracula remains his best known role. That having been said, Sir Christopher Lee played a vast array of roles over the years, and not all of them were monsters or villains. In The Devil Rides Out (1968) he played the hero of the film, Duc de Richleau, who finds himself combatting devil worshippers. He also played Sherlock Holmes in the TV movies Sherlock Holmes and the Leading Lady (1991) and Sherlock Holmes: Incident at Victoria Falls (1992). Often times the characters he played were neither hero nor villain, as in the case of  Lord Summerisle in The Wicker Man (1973).  While he could play heroes and other characters, arguably he was at his best playing villains, and he played some of the best ever villains on film, including Doctor Pierre Gerrard in The Man Who Could Cheat Death (1959),  Scaramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun (1974),  Saruman in The Lord of the Rings, and Count Dooku in the Star Wars prequel trilogy.

Jack Lemmon: Having been born in the mid-Sixties and growing up in the Seventies, Jack Lemmon was probably one of the first stars I was ever aware of. He appeared in a number of films I loved even as a child: Mister Roberts (1955), Some Like It Hot (1959), The Apartment (1960), How to Murder Your Wife (1965), The Great Race (1965), and yet others. While he appeared in a wide variety of roles throughout his career (even playing villains, such as Professor Fate in The Great Race), I think the appeal of Jack Lemmon for me was that no one played average guys as well as he did. Whether as Ensign Pulver in Mister Roberts (1955), or C. C. Baxter in The Apartment (my second favourite movie of all time), Felix Ungar in The Odd Couple (1968), to me no actor was ever as convincing playing ordinary guys as Jack Lemmon.

Vivien Leigh: It was a couple of years after I fell in love with Audrey Hepburn that I finally encountered a rival for her affections. NBC aired Gone With the Wind (1939) and I fell in love with Vivien Leigh. Okay, I am aware that Scarlett O'Hara was not a very nice person, but as a boy in his Tweens having only recently discovered girls I was willing to overlook that. At the time I thought she was must have been the most beautiful woman ever. Of course, in time I would realise that she was a very talented actress who was much more than a pretty face and Scarlett O'Hara. While she made only a few films in her career when compared to other actors, she was very impressive in most of them, whether as Emma Lady Hamilton in Lady Hamilton (1941) or Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951).

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Children of Paradise/Les Enfants du Paradis (1945)

(This post is part of the "No, YOU"RE Crying Blogathon hosted by Moon in Gemini

When it comes to romances, not many are as epic or as tragic as Children of Paradise (the literal translation of its original French title, Les Enfants du Paradis). Set in the Parisian theatres of the 1820s and 1830s, Children of Paradise centres around the courtesan Garance (played by Arletty). In the movie she is pursued by four men, although arguably it is her relationship with mime Baptiste Deburau that takes centre stage. It has been described as France's answer to Gone With the Win (1939), and the comparison is an apt one. The film's plot spans literally years. It was released in two parts, and its running time was ultimately 190 minutes.

Children of Paradise was made during the German occupation of France, so it should come as no surprise that it had difficulty getting to the screen. Worse yet, the weather was not always cooperative with regards to shooting the film. During the occupation film stock was rationed, so camera crews might find themselves without film. It was also not unusual for the set builders to experience shortages in supplies. The Nazi regime itself would also cause problems for the production. They banned producer  André Paulvé from working on the film because he had some Jewish ancestry. Ultimately production had to be suspended for three months. Fortunately French production company Pathé took over production of the film. Both set designer Alexandre Trauner and composer Joseph Kosma were Jewish, and had to work on the film in secret.

Unfortunately that would not be the end of problems for Children of Paradise, as the weather would sometimes interfere with its production. The primary set in the film, the Boulevard du Temple, was damaged in a storm and had to almost entirely be rebuilt. Naturally, this delayed shooting even longer.

Shooting would again be delayed following the Allied invasion of Normandy on June 6 1944, although it seems possible that production was delayed so that the film could be finished once France was free. Regardless, Children of Paradise would not begin production again until after Paris was liberated in August 1944. Even once France was free of the Nazis, however, Children of Paradise would experience problems in production. Actor Robert Le Vigan, who had been cast as used clothes salesman Jericho, had supported the Nazis. Once France was liberated, he fled and the role was recast with Pierre Renoir, film director Jean Renoir's brother. As to Robert Le Vigan, he was eventually caught and sentenced to ten years hard labour in 1946.

Because Vichy France forbade any films longer than 90 minutes, Children of Paradise was released in two parts. In the end it would be the most expensive film made in France up to that time, costing about fifty eight million francs. Fortunately given the difficulties it faced in being made and the amount of money it cost, Children of Paradise proved to be a success. It was the third most successful film in France for 1945. The film would also prove successful elsewhere and is now considered one of the greatest films ever made.

Children of Paradise had its roots in history. In fact, set in the theatres of Paris in the 1820s and 1830s, it takes it title from the term "paradis" (literally "paradise" in English), which had once been used of the upper balcony of the theatre where seats were cheap enough that the poor could afford them. Some of the film's characters were actual historical personages. Jean-Gaspard Debureau was a famous mime who performed at the Theatre des Funambules.  Frederick Lemaitre was a popular actor of the time. Pierre-Francois Lacenaire was a well known criminal of the time and would provide the basis for the character Rodion Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

While Children of Paradise is unabashedly a romance, it is also a very sophisticated film. Nearly every class in Paris of the 1820s and 1830s is portrayed in the film, and class plays a large role in the film. Lacenaire's origins are strictly bourgeoisie, while the Count Edouard de Montray is from the nobility. Some have even seen Children of Paradise as a metaphor for the French Resistance, with Garance representing Occupied France. Indeed, many of the film's extras were agents of the Resistance, who used their work on the film as a cover.

That having been said, it seems likely that most viewers will enjoy the film primarily as an epic romance. And it is indeed a romance for the ages. Garance is pursued by three very different men (Baptiste Deburau,  Frédérick Lemaître, Pierre-François Lacenaire, and the Count Edouard de Montray), and it is her choice of one over the others that would ultimately lead to dire consequences. Children of Paradise is ultimately a tragedy, and one has to suspect that even those who do not cry at movies might shed some tears before it is over.

As mentioned earlier, Children of Paradise has been counted among the greatest films ever made. Cahiers du cinéma regularly ranked it among the greatest films ever made, despite the fact that magazine had never exactly supported the films of Marcel Carné. In 1995 a poll of 600 film professionals voted Children of Paradise the best film ever. In 2005 Time included it among their list of the All-Time100 greatest films made since 1923. Children of Paradise is then not only one of the all time great romances, but one of the greatest movies ever made.

Friday, 12 May 2017

The 50th Anniversary of The Jimi Hendrix Experience's Are You Experienced

It was fifty years ago today that the debut album of The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Are You Experienced, was released in the United Kingdom. It proved to be a smash hit upon its release. It entered the British album chart at no. 27 and spent 33 weeks total on the chart. Are You Experienced peaked at no. 2 on the chart, kept out of the no. 1 spot by another legendary album, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles. Are You Experienced would be released later in the United States on August 23 1967, featuring a different track listing than the British version.

Are You Experienced has since been considered one of the greatest debut albums of all time. The original British version of the album featured some of The Jimi Hendrix Experience's best known songs, including "Foxy Lady", "Manic Depression", "May This Be Love", and "Are You Experienced?".  It has also since been considered one of the most influential albums of all time. While psychedelia had existed prior to the release of Are You Experienced, the album's release was certainly a pivotal moment in the genre's history. It would also lay the groundwork for heavy metal, with many, if not most, metal guitarists emulating Jimi Hendrix's work. It has often been included in lists of the greatest rock albums of all time. In 2005 Are You Experienced was added by the Library of Congress to to the National Recording Registry for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

Without further ado, here is the title track, "Are You Experienced?"

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

The Late, Great Michael Parks

Michael Parks, the star of cult TV show Then Came Bronson, died yesterday, May 9 2017, at the age of 77.  Mr. Parks appeared on TV shows from Perry Mason to Twin Peaks, and in movies from The Happening (1967) to Kill Bill Volume 1 (2003) and Kill Bill Volume 2 (2004).

Michael Parks was born on April 24 1940 in Corona in Riverside County, California. He worked a variety of jobs when he was very young, including fruit picking, ditch digging, and fighting forest fires. He eventually found his way into acting and made his television debut in an episode of Zane Grey Theatre in 1960. The Sixties saw Michael Parks guest star on several different TV shows, including such programmes as The Untouchables, The Asphalt Jungle, The Detectives, The Dick Powell Theatre, The Real McCoys, Gunsmoke, Perry Mason (on which he played opposite Bette Davis), 77 Sunset Strip, Ben Casey, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Wagon Train, Route 66, and The Young Lawyers. It was from 1969 to 1970 that he starred in the cult TV series Then Came Bronson. On the show he played former newspaperman Jim Bronson, who travels around the country on his motorcycle in an effort to find himself. Although the series is often assumed to have drawn upon the film Easy Rider (1969) for inspiration, in reality it was in development wel before the premiere of that film. In fact, the pilot aired before Easy Rider was even released. Then Came Bronson only lasted one season, although even during its original run it developed a cult following that it maintains to this day.

During the Sixties Michael Parks also appeared in several feature films. He made his film debut in the title role in Bus Riley's Back in Town in 1965. In the Sixties Mr. Parks appeared in the films Wild Seed (1965), The Idol (1966), The Bible: In the Beginning... (1966), and The Happening (1967).

In the Seventies Michael Parks guest starred on such shows as Owen Marshall, Counsellor at Law, Medical Centre, Ironside, Movin' On, McCloud, Get Christie Love!, Baretta, The Streets of San Francisco, Ellery Queen, Police Woman, and Fantasy Island. He appeared in the films Between Friends (1973), The Last Hard Men (1976), Sidewinder 1 (1977), Love and the Midnight Auto Supply (1977), The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover (1977), Breakthrough (1979), The Evictors (1979), and ffolkes (1980).

In the Eighties Michael Parks played Phillip Colby on the TV series The Colbys and gunrunner Jean Renault on Twin Peaks. He guest starred on such shows as The Equaliser; Murder, She Wrote; and War of the Worlds. He appeared in the films Hard Country (1981), Savannah Smiles (1982), The Return of Josey Wales (1986), Club Life (1986), French Quarter Undercover (1986), Spiker (1986), Arizona Heat (1988), Prime Suspect (1989), Nightmare Beach (1989), and Caged Fury (1990).

In the Nineties Mr. Parks appeared in the films The Hitman (1991), Over the Line (1992), Storyville (1992), Death Wish V: The Face of Death (1994), Sorceress (1995), Niagara, Niagara (1997), Deceiver (1997), Julian Po (1997), Wicked (1998), and Bullfighter (2000). He played Texas Ranger Earl McGraw for the first time in the movie From Dusk Till Dawn (1996). He guest starred on the shows Shades of L.A.; SeaQuest 2032; and Walker, Texas Ranger.

In the Naughts Michael Parks reprised his role as Earl McGraw in the films Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003), Kill Bill: Volume 2 (2004), and both segments of Grindhouse (2007), Planet Terror and Death Proof. He appeared in such films as Big Bad Love (2001), The Librarians (2003), Miracle at Sage Creek (2005), One Night with You (2006), Fighting Words (2007), The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007), Noble Things (2008), Satisfaction (2009), and Street Poet (2010).

In the Naughts Michael Parks appeared in such films as Red State (2011), Argo (2012), Django Unchained (2012), We Are What We Are (2013), Tusk (2014), Blood Father (2016), and Greater (2016).

Although he never achieved major stardom, Michael Parks was one of the great acting talents of the late 20th Century.  Early in his career he was often cast in roles associated with the counterculture. In the Perry Mason episode "The Case of Constant Doyle" he played troubled young man Cal Leonard and more than held his own with Constant Doyle as played by Bette Davis. In the movie Bus Riley's Back in Town he played a young man trying to adjust to life after several years in the Navy. In The Happening Mr. Parks played Sureshot, one of a group of hippies who "kidnap" gangster Roc Delmonico. Of course, what may be Michael Parks's most famous role was linked to the counterculture, that of wanderer Jim Bronson in Then Came Bronson.

While Michael Parks played a number of countercultural roles in the Sixties, the Seventies saw him beginning to play authority figures. He played a doctor in an episode of Medical Centre, Sheriff Noel Nye in The Last Hard Men, and Sgt. Anderson in Breakthrough (1979).  Michael Parks was capable of playing a wide variety of roles. The character of Texas Ranger Earl McGraw he played in multiple films was largely comedy relief. He not only played Texas Ranger Earl McGraw in Kill Bill Volume 1, but in Kill Bill Volume 2 he played retired pimp Esteban Vihaio as well.  It seems likely many viewers did not realise that both roles were played by the same man. Michael Parks even played villains quite well. Jean Renault on Twin Peaks was among the most ruthless of characters on a show that did not lack for villainous types. Michael Parks might never have become a leading man, but he will always be remembered as an excellent character actor who played a diverse number of roles throughout his career.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Quinn O'Hara Passes On

Quinn O'Hara, who guest starred on such TV shows as Dragnet, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and The Saint, and starred in The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (1966), died on May 5 2017 at the age of 76.

Quinn O'Hara was born Alice Jones in Edinburgh, Scotland on January 3 1941 to a Welsh father and Scottish-Irish mother. She attended a convent boarding school in Cardiff, Wales as a child. When she was 14 she and her mother moved to Quebec. Three years later they moved to Long Beach, California. She attended Long Beach College. She wanted to compete in the Miss Lakewood beauty pageant, but was disqualified as she was a Scottish citizen. The Royal Order of Scotland named her "Miss Scotland". While she did not actually get to compete in the Miss Universe pageant, she did receive a participation award.

Quinn O'Hara made her television debut in an episode of Dragnet in 1956. She made her film debut in a bit part in the Jerry Lewis movie The Errand Boy in 1961. In the Sixties she was a regular on the summer replacement series The Lively Ones. She guest starred on such shows as General Electric Theatre, The Real McCoys, Channing, The Red Skelton Hour, The Beverly Hillbillies, The Rogues, Burke's Law, Run for Your Life, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., My Three Sons, The Saint, and Dragnet 1968. She appeared in the films The Caretakers (1963), Who's Minding the Store? (1963), The Patsy (1964), Good Neighbour Sam (1964), A Swingin' Summer (1965), The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (1966), Cry of the Banshee (1970), and Rubia's Jungle (1970).

In the Seventies Miss O'Hara guest starred on To Rome With Love, Dan August, The Smith Family, Ironside, UFO, The Streets of San Francisco, One Day at a Time, CHiPs, and Fantasy Island. She appeared in the films Foursome (1971) and The Teacher (1974).

In the Eighties Quinn O'Hara had a recurring role on Trapper John M.D. and Dallas. She guest starred on such shows as Quincy M.E., Vega$, The Fall Guy, T. J. Hooker, and Matlock. Quinn O'Hara later went into nursing, although she still made occasional appearances in TV shows. She guest starred on Acapulco H.E.A.T., Diagnosis Murder, Baywatch, N.Y.P.D. Blue, and Las Vegas.

Quinn O'Hara may have been best known for her red hair and her good looks, although she was talented as an actress. She did particularly well with comedy, as demonstrated by A Swingin' Summer and The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini, as well as a number of her television appearances. And while she played sex kittens often, they were generally a bit left of centre. In The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini she played one of the villains, Sinistra. In Cry of the Banshee she played a serving wench who was also a witch. Quinn O'Hara may have been best known for her looks, but she did have a good deal of talent.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Daliah Lavi R.I.P.

Daliah Lavi, the Israeli actress who appeared in such films as Lord Jim (1965), Ten Little Indians (1965), The Silencers (1966), and Casino Royale (1967), died on May 3 2017 at the age of 74.

Daliah Lavi was born Daliah Levinbuck on October 12 1942 in Haifa, British Palestine. She was only ten years old when she met actor Kirk Douglas, and told him that she wanted to become a dancer. Mr. Douglas encouraged her parents to send her to Stockholm, Sweden to learn dance when she was 12 years old. Her father died when she was 16, at which point she returned to Israel to become a swimsuit model.

Miss Lavi made her film debut when she was only about 13, appearing in the Swedish film Hemsöborna (1955).  In the late Fifties she appeared in the films Brennender Sand (1960) and Candide ou l'optimisme au XXe siècle (1960).  She spent the early Sixties appearing in various European films, including Un soir sur la plage (1961), La fête espagnole (1961), Im Stahlnetz des Dr. Mabuse (1961),  Das schwarz-weiß-rote Himmelbett (1962),  La frusta e il corpo (1963), Das große Liebesspiel (1963), Old Shatterhand (1964), and Cyrano et d'Artagnan (1964). 

She made her debut in an American film in Two Weeks in Another Town in 1962. She played the Girl in Lord Jim (1965). Based on Joseph Conrad's novel and directed by Richard Brooks, unfortunately the film received bad reviews and did poorly at the box office. Lord Jim did nothing to hurt Daliah Lavi's career in English language films. In the late Sixties she appeared in such films as Ten Little Indians (1965), The Silencers (1966), Casino Royale (1967), Jules Verne's Rocket to the Moon (1967), Nobody Runs Forever (1968), and Some Girls Do (1969).

Miss Lavi's last American film was Catlow (1971). She began a successful singing career in Germany, and appeared frequently on European television in the Seventies and Eighties in that capacity.

In the English speaking world Daliah Lavi is probably best known for her roles as an often scantily clad object of lust in various American and British spy spoofs. Given her looks there can be no doubt that she was well suited to such roles. That having been said, she was fluent in multiple languages, so that she made films in Israel, Italy, France, and Germany, and often these films were a far cry from the light-hearted spy spoofs she made in English. Outside of the Anglopshere she made several dramas and films in other genres, where she more than held her own. Ultimately she was much more than a pretty face.

Friday, 5 May 2017

The 50th Anniversary of The Kinks' "Waterloo Sunset"

It was fifty years ago today that The Kinks' single "Waterloo Sunset" was released. It has since become possibly their most famous song besides "You Really Got Me" and "All Day and All Day of the Night". As to the origins of the song, there has been a persistent rumour that it was inspired by the relationship between British movie stars Terence Stamp and Julie Christie. According to Ray Davies, who wrote the song, this was not the case. Instead, in an article on the making of the song in The Guardian, he aid had in mind "...the image I had in my mind was of my sister and her boyfriend walking into the future." Ray Davies does have a nephew named Terry.

Regardless of the origins of the song, it did very well on the charts of various countries. It peaked at no. 2 in the United Kingdom, no. 4 in Australia, no. 7 in Germany, no 1 in the Netherlands, and no. 7 in New Zealand. Amazingly enough, it did not chart in the United States.

Here, without further ado, is "Waterloo Sunset" by The Kinks:

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Don Gordon Passes On

Character actor Don Gordon died on April 24 2017 at the age of 90.  He had been diagnosed with cancer only five days before he died.

Don Gordon was born on November 13 1926 in Los Angeles, California. He made his film debut in 1949 in an uncredited role in Twelve O' Clock High. During the Fifties he appeared in such films as Halls of Montezuma (1951), Let's Go Navy! (1951), Force of Arms (1951), Girls in the Night (1953), Law and Order (1953), Revolt at Fort Laramie (1956), and Cry Tough (1959). He made his television debut in 1951 in an episode of Space Patrol. Towards the end of the decade Mr. Gordon starred in the syndicated TV series The Blue Angels. He guest starred on such shows as The Ford Television Theatre, Mister Peepers, Robert Montgomery Presents, Studio One, Sugarfoot, Trackdown, 77 Sunset Strip, The Millionaire, Johnny Staccato, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Wanted: Dead or Alive, Playhouse 90, and The Twilight Zone.

In the Sixties he appeared in several episodes of the TV show Peyton Place. He guest starred on such shows as The Defenders, The Untouchables, Channing, The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, The Fugitive, Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre, Combat!, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, 12 O' Clock High, The Wild Wild West, The Invaders, and The Name of the Game. Don Gordon wrote and starred in the film The Lollipop Cover (1965). He appeared in the films Bullitt (1968), The Gamblers (1970), WUSA (1970), and Cannon for Cordoba (1970).

In the Seventies Don Gordon appeared in the films Z.P.G. (1972), Fuzz (1972), Slaughter (1972), The Mack (1973), Papillon (1973), and Out of the Blue (1980). He was a regular on the short-lived TV show Lucan. He guest starred on such shows as Search, Banacek, The F.B.I., The Magician, Mannix, Cannon, Matt Helm, The Streets of San Francisco, Charlie's Angels, Switch, Barnaby Jones, Vega$, and Hart to Hart.

In the Eighties Don Gordon guest starred on such shows as Matt Houston, The Powers of Matthew Star, The Love Boat, T. J. Hooker, Cover Up, Knight Rider, Airwolf, Remington Steele, and MacGyver. He appeared in the films The Beast Within (1982), Lethal Weapon (1987), Code Name Vengeance (1987), Skin Deep (1989), and The Exorcist III (1990).  In the Nineties he appeared in the film The Borrower (1991)  and guest starred on Diagnosis Murder.

Don Gordon was best known for playing tough, hard nosed characters. And it was the sort of role that he was very good at playing. He was Bullitt's partner Delgetti in Bullitt and he played the prisoner Julot in Papillon. He appeared as different gangsters on the classic show The Untouchables. That having been said, playing cops and criminals was not the limit of Don Gordon's talents. He played an unbalanced young man accused of murder in the two-part episode "Mad Man" of the classic TV show The Defenders. He was nominated for an Emmy for the role. In the Twilight Zone episode "The Self-Improvement of Salvadore Ross" he played a pushy and insensitive young man who learns he has the ability to trade personal characteristics with others. In The Last Movie he played Neville Robey, a man convinced he is going to strike it rich from gold in the Andes. Don Gordon had a great amount of talent and could play even the toughest characters with subtlety many other actors lacked.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Lorna Gray R.I.P.

Lorna Gray, who was billed as Adrian Booth later in her career, died on April 30 2017 at the age of 99. She was the star of many B-movies for Columbia Pictures and Republic Pictures in the Thirties and Forties.

Lorna Gray was born Virginia Pound in Grand Rapids, Michigan on July 26 1917. She won the Miss Grand Rapids beauty pageant and went on to win the Miss Michigan pageant. Afterwards she moved to Chicago as a singer. She later moved to New York City to perform in Ben Yost’s Varsity Coeds in vaudeville. It was a Universal talent scout who sent her on her way to Hollywood. She was signed to Paramount Pictures. At Paramount she spent her time playing uncredited roles in such films as Hold 'Em Navy (1937), The Buccaneer (1938), and The Big Broadcast of 1938 (1938).

It was an agent who gave her the name "Lorna Gray". She signed with Columbia Pictures where her first film was an uncredited part in Scandal Street (1938). She received her first major role in Adventure in Sahara (1938). In the late Thirties she appeared in such feature films and serials as The Lone Wolf Spy Hunt (1939), Flying G-Men (1939), The Man They Could Not Hang (1939), Convicted Woman (1940), Bullets for Rustlers (1940), and Deadwood Dick (1940). She also appeared in various short subjects, including "Oily to Bed, Oily to Rise" (1939). "Three Sappy People" (1939),  "You Nazty Spy!" (1940), and "Rockin' Thru the Rockies" (1940) with the Three Stooges and "Pest from the West" with Buster Keaton. Beginning in the late Thirties Lorna Gray moved to Monogram, where she made such films as Up in the Air (1940), Drums of the Desert (1940), and Father Steps Out (1941).

Miss Gray then shifted to Republic Pictures in 1941. There she appeared in various feature films and some rather well-known serials, including Perils of Nyoka (1942), Ridin' Down the Canyon (1942), Captain America (1944), The Girl Who Dared (1944), and Federal Operator 99 (1945). She appeared in So Proudly We Hail! (1943) for Paramount. In 1946 Republic gave her the new name "Adrian Booth" and touted her as a new discovery, even though she had been working since the late Thirties. As Adrian Booth she appeared in such films as Valley of the Zombies (1946), Daughter of Don Q (1946), Out California Way (1946), Along the Oregon Trail (1947), Under Colorado Skies (1947), The Gallant Legion (1948), The Plunderers (1948), Brimstone (1949), Rock Island Trail (1950), Oh! Susanna (1951) and The Sea Hornet (1951). 

Miss Gray retired from film making in 1951. She was an active supporter of the World Adoption International Fund. She later became an ordained minister. For many years she attended film festivals, including those devoted to Westerns and the Three Stooges.

Lorna Gray was certainly beautiful, and she was also a delight to see on the screen. She acted opposite some very famous leading men during her career, including Monte Hale, Boris Karloff, Buster Keaton, Clayton Moore, the Three Stooges, and John Wayne. What is more she held her own with all of them. Miss Gray was always convincing, even when some of her material stretched the bounds of reality (such as some of the serials she made).

I have known a few people who had the opportunity to meet Lorna Gray and even some who corresponded with her. Every one of them had the same things to say about her. She was an incredibly sweet lady, very kind and considerate. She was always grateful to her fans. Lorna Gray may have spent her career in B-movies, but for many she was a true star.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Kathleen Crowley R.I.P.

Kathleen Crowley, who frequently guest starred on television shows in the Fifties and Sixties, died on April 23 2017 at the age of 87.

Kathleen Crowley was born Betty Jane Crowley in Green Bank section of Washington Township, Burlington County, New Jersey. It was three years after she graduated from Egg Harbour High School that she won the Miss New Jersey pageant. She would be a finalist in the Miss America pageant. She was named "Miss Congeniality" and won a scholarship which she used towards studying acting at the Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City.

Kathleen Crowley made her television debut in an adaptation of A Star is Born on the anthology series Robert Montgomery Presents in 1951. That same year she also appeared in episodes of Kraft Theatre, Starlight Theatre, and Armstrong Circle Theatre. She made several guest appearances on TV shows in the Fifties, making eight alone on the classic Western Maverick. She also guest starred on such shows as Chevron Theatre, The Lone Wolf, The Lone Ranger, Studio 57, General Electric Theatre, Disneyland, The 20th Century-Fox Hour, Climax, Cheyenne, Colt .45, Wagon Train, The Restless Gun, Death Valley Days, Laramie, Bat Masterson, 77 Sunset Strip, and Tales of Wells Fargo. She was a regular on the short lived show Waterfront. She made her film debut in The Silver Whip in 1953. During the Fifties she appeared in such films as The Farmer Takes a Wife (1953), Sabre Jet (1953), Target Earth (1954), Ten Wanted Men (1955), Female Jungle (1956), The Quiet Gun (1957), The Phantom Stagecoach (1957), The Flame Barrier (1958), and The Rebel Set (1959).

In the Sixties Miss Crowley guest starred on such shows as 77 Sunset Strip, Thriller, Surfside 6, Checkmate, Route 66, The Farmer's Daughter, The Virginian, Perry Mason, Gidget, Batman, Bonanza, The Donna Reed Show, My Three Sons, Family Affair, and The High Chaparral. She appeared in the films Showdown (1963), Downhill Racer (1969), and The Lawyer (1970). Miss Crowley retired from acting not long after marrying John Rubsam in 1969.

Kathleen Crowley was certainly beautiful, which is perhaps why she so often played the love interest in both films and TV shows. That having been said, she also had quite a bit of range. In two episodes of Maverick she played confidence artist Melanie Blake, who very nearly outsmarted Bret Maverick himself. In the Perry Mason episode "The Case of the Lonely Heiress" she played an heiress trying to find the con man who swindled her sister only to be charged with his murder. In the Batman episode "The Penguin Goes Straight"/"Not Yet, He Ain't" she played a naive socialite who is fooled by The Penguin into thinking he has gone straight. Throughout her career she appeared in a diverse array of TV shows, including several Westerns, some dramas, and even a good number of sitcoms. Kathleen Crowley didn't simply have looks. She had talent as well.

Friday, 28 April 2017

General Jack D. Ripper in Dr. Strangelove

 (This blog post is part of the Great Villain Blogathon 2017 hosted by Speakeasy, Shadows and Satin, and Silver Screenings)

It was almost as soon as World War II ended that the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union began. The stakes in the Cold War were raised considerably when on August 29 1949 the U.S.S.R. detonated its first atomic bomb. With both of the world's superpowers of the time at odds with each other and with both of the world's superpowers in possession of nuclear weapons, fears of nuclear annihilation were widespread from the Fifties well into the Eighties. In the United States various organisations and even individuals built fallout shelters. Schools and other institutions regularly held civil defence drills so that people would know what to do in case of a nuclear attack. Fears of a nuclear apocalypse may well have reached their peak during the Cuban Missile Crisis, which unfolded from October 16 to 28 1962.

Given how rampant fears regarding nuclear war were in the Sixties and given how these fears became even more pronounced during the Cuban Missile Crisis, in retrospect it seems strange that a comedy capitalising on those fears would be released only a little over a year after the Crisis had taken place. In Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)  a deranged Air Force General (Jack D. Ripper played by Sterling Hayden) orders a nuclear attack on the U.S.S.R. The President of the United States (one of three roles played by Peter Sellers) and the Joint Chiefs of Staff must then scramble to recall the bombers before they can reach their assigned targets in the Soviet Union. While the plot of Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb sounds like a thriller, it was very much played as a political satire and a comedy, although a very black comedy.

If Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb can be said to have a villain at all, that villain would be Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper. Like many people at the time, General Ripper has an extreme distrust of the Soviet Union. And like many people at the time General Ripper believes that the Soviet Union will stoop to any level to destroy the United States. Unlike many people at the time, General Ripper also believes that the U.S.S.R. is seeking to destroy the U.S through the fluoridation of American water supplies. General Ripper believes that the fluoridation of water is a Communist plot to poison Americans' "precious bodily fluids". What is more he believes that there are studies underway to fluoridate salt, flour, fruit juices, soup, sugar, milk, and ice cream as well. It is in an effort to save the United States from this Communist conspiracy perceived by the crazed General Ripper that he orders the nuclear first strike on the U.S.S.R.

Today General Ripper's conspiracy theories sound so off the wall that people could be forgiven if they thought they were invented for the movie. Surprisingly enough, General Ripper's conspiracy theories were drawn from real-life conspiracy theories that had actually been held by a few individuals in the Fifties. Studies in the early 20th Century had indicated that a small amount of fluoride in water prevented tooth decay. To this end it was on January 25 1945 that the water supply of Grand Rapids, Michigan was fluoridated as part of a controlled experiment. The results were published in 1950 and indicated a sharp decline in tooth decay. It was then in 1951 that water fluoridation became an official policy of the U.S. Public Health Service. As the Fifties progressed, more and more cities, towns, and communities began fluoridating their water supplies.

Of course, there was a good deal of opposition to the fluoridation of water. Some of this opposition came from individuals who thought fluoridating water supplies had no real advantage over other means of preventing cavities in teeth. Others opposed the fluoridation of water because they thought it violated the rights of the individual as to what to put in his or her body. A distinct minority of those who opposed the fluoridation of water honestly believed that it was a Communist plot. The idea that fluoridation was part of a Communist conspiracy may go back to 1939, when Oliver Kenneth Goff testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee that Communist Party leaders had discussed fluoridation as a means of keeping "...the general public docile during a steady encroachment of Communism.” Charles Bett, an Ohio dentist, may well have been the foremost proponent of the idea that water fluoridation was part of a Communist plot. Dr. Bett claimed that fluoridation was "...better than using the atom bomb because the atom bomb has to be made, had to be transported to the place it is to be set off while poisonous fluorine has been placed right beside the water supplies by the Americans themselves ready to be dumped into the water mains whenever a Communist desires."  Among other things, the conspiracy theorists of the Fifties believed that fluoridation weakened the mental capacities of individuals, making them more susceptible to brainwashing, and that it could even result in cancers that would kill off a large number of Americans, making a military takeover by the Communists easier.

The idea that fluoridation was part of a Communist conspiracy was never widespread and by the early Sixties it had declined from what little popularity it had ever had. General Ripper then likely sounded as demented to audiences in 1964 as he does to audiences today. That having been said, General Ripper's whole-hearted embrace of the idea that fluoridation is a Communist plot is part of what makes him such a good villain. General Ripper is not ordering a nuclear strike for his own gain. He is not doing so to seek glory for himself. He is doing so because he honestly believes that he is right. He honestly thinks that the U.S.S.R. is poisoning the water supply of the United States and, what is more, he thinks he has the means to stop it once and for all. I rather suspect most people would think General Ripper is evil, but General Ripper would certainly insist he is not. To him he is a patriot seeking to defend his country as best as he can.

This places General Ripper in an entirely different category from villains such as Bond's archenemy Blofeld or Superman's archenemy Lex Luthor, who realise that what they are doing is wrong--they simply reject conventional morality or perhaps they simply don't care that what they are doing is wrong. It also makes General Ripper much more dangerous. After all, if General Ripper thinks a nuclear strike on the Soviet Union is the best way to stop what he perceives as a Communist plot to poison Americans en masse, what more might he be capable of?

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb is one of the funniest movies ever made. It is also one of the greatest comedies ever made. In many respects, it is also a very terrifying movie. It is not only because it portrays the possibility of nuclear war, but because it features man with a good deal of power who simply is not in his right mind. Quite simply, when nuclear weapons are combined with a man like General Ripper, the end result might well be the unthinkable.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Jonathan Demme Passes On

Jonathan Demme, who directed such feature films as Something Wild (1986) and The Silence of the Lambs (1991), as well as such documentaries Stop Making Sense (1984) and Neil Young: Heart of Gold (2006), died yesterday, April 26 2017 at the age of 73.  The cause was complications from oesophageal cancer and heart disease.

Jonathan Demme was born in Baldwin, New York on Long Island on February 22 1944. He spent much of his childhood in Rockville Centre. The family later moved to Miami, Florida, where Jonathan Demme attended high school. As a teenager he worked at a kennel and an animal hospital. He attended the University of Florida with plans to become a veterinarian. He changed his mind after he failed chemistry and became the movie critic for the university newspaper. He also became the movie critic for a shopping guide in Coral Gables, Florida.

It was a review for the film Zulu (1964), published in that Coral Gables shopping guide, that would lead to Mr. Demme's career in film.  Embassy Pictures Corporation distributed Zulu in the United States. Embassy Pictures founder Joseph E. Levine was staying at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach, where Jonathan Demme's father Robert Demme was the publicist. Robert Demme introduced his son to Joseph E. Levine. Mr. Levine, having been impressed by Jonathan Demme's review of Zulu, gave him a job. Jonathan Demme worked in the publicity department of Embassy Pictures and in various other publicity departments in the film industry before moving to London in 1969.  It was in London that he got his first credit on a film, as music coordinator on Sudden Terror in 1970.

The Seventies saw Jonathan Demme credited as a publicist on Von Richthofen and Brown (1971), as well as a credit for directing the opening sequence to Naughty Wives (1973).  He wrote several screenplays during the decade, including Angels Hard as They Come (1971), Rio Tigre (1972), Black Mama White Mama (1973), Caged Heat (1974), and Fighting Mad (1976).  He also served as a producer on Angels Hard as They Come (1971) and The Hot Box (1972).  He made his directorial debut with Caged Heat (1974). In the Seventies he directed the films Crazy Mama (1975), Fighting Mad (1976), Handle with Care (1977), Last Embrace (1979), and Melvin and Howard (1980). He directed a 1978 episode of Columbo.

The Eighties saw Jonathan Demme direct the films Swing Shift (1984), Something Wild (1986), Swimming to Cambodia (1987), and Married to the Mob (1988). It was with the classic 1984 Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense that Jonathan Demme began making documentaries. During the Eighties he would follow it with the documentary Haiti: Dreams of Democracy. He also directed episodes of the TV shows Saturday Night Live and Trying Times, as well as music videos for UB40 & Chrissie Hynde and New Order.

In the Nineties Jonathan Demme directed the feature films The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Philadelphia (1993), and Beloved (1998).  He also directed the documentaries Cousin Bobby (1992), The Complex Sessions (1994), and Storefront Hitchcock (1998).

In the Naughts Mr. Demme directed the feature films The Truth About Charlie (2002), The Manchurian Candidate (2004), and Rachel Getting Married (2008). He also wrote the screenplay for The Truth About Charlie (2002). He directed the documentaries The Agronomist (2003), Neil Young: Heart of Gold (2006), Jimmy Carter Man from Plains (2007), and Neil Young Trunk Show (2009). He directed the documentary TV series Right to Return: New Home Movies from the Lower 9th Ward.

In the Teens Jonathan Demme directed the feature films A Master Builder (2013) and Ricki and the Flash (2015). He directed the documentaries  Neil Young Journeys (2012), Enzo Avitabile Music Life (2012), What's Motivating Hayes (2015), and Justin Timberlake + The Tennessee Kids (2016).  He directed episodes of the TV shows A Gifted Man, Enlightened, and Shots Fired. He directed episodes of the documentary TV shows P.O.V. and The New Yorker Presents.

Jonathan Demme was certainly a versatile director. He directed a wide range of different sorts of movies, from romantic period pieces (Swing Shift) to comedies (Married to the Mob) to horror movies (The Silence of the Lambs). In fact, while he may have been best known for the critically acclaimed films he made later in his career (The Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia, Rachel Getting Married), I think I actually preferred some of his earlier work. Films like Melvin and Howard and Something Wild were unlike anything else being made at the time. They were idiosyncratic in ways that much of his later, more commercial work was not.

Of course, in some respects I think Jonathan Demme may have been a better documentarian than he was a feature film director (and he was a very good feature film director).  Stop Making Sense numbers among the greatest concert films ever made. Cousin Bobby is a touching film exploring the mission and memories of Jonathan Demme's cousin the Rev. Robert Castle, an Episcopalian minister in Harlem. I'm Carolyn Parker centred on Carolyn Parker, the last woman to leave her New Orleans neighbourhood as Hurricane Katrina approached and the first one who returned to her neighbourhood. Mr. Demme was indeed very good at directing feature films, but I think that he could easily have made a living making only documentaries. When it came to film in many respects Jonathan Demme was a jack of all trades, although he was a master of most of them. He was equally at home making comedies, horror films, and documentaries.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Erin Moran R.I.P.

Erin Moran, who played Jenny Jones in one season of Daktarii and Joanie Cunningham on the hit TV show Happy Days, died on April 22 2017 at the age of 56. The cause was cancer.

Erin Moran was born on October 18 1960 in Burbank, California. She was interested in acting from a very young age and her mother signed her with an agent when she was only five years old. Her first job was also when she was only five years old, appearing in a commercial for First Federal Bank. She made her film debut in Who's Minding the Mint? in 1967 and then appeared in  How Sweet It Is! (1968). She joined the TV show Daktari in its final season, playing the orphan Jenny Jones who comes to stay with the Tracy family. In the late Sixties she also made guest appearances on the shows Death Valley Days, The Courtship of Eddie's Father, My Three Sons, and Family Affair. She appeared in the films The Happy Ending (1969), 80 Steps to Jonah (1969), and Watermelon Man (1970).

In the early Seventies she guest starred on the shows O'Hara, U.S. Treasury; Bearcats!; The Smith Family; Gunsmoke; The Don Rickles Show; The F.B.I.; and The Waltons. She began playing Joanie Cunningham on Happy Days in 1974.  

In the Eighties she appeared in the feature film Galaxy of Terror (1981). Happy Days would lead to a short-lived spinoff Joanie Loves Chachi that aired from 1982 to 1983. She guest starred on the TV shows The Love Boat; Glitter, Hotel; and Murder, She Wrote. From the Nineties to the Teens she guest starred on the TV shows Diagnosis Murder and The Bold and the Beautiful. She appeared in the feature films Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star (2003), Broken Promise (2008), and Not Another B Movie (2010).

Saturday, 22 April 2017

TCM To Cease Printing the Now Playing Guide

Since January 1997 Turner Classic Movies has published Now Playing,  the channel's programming guide and magazine devoted to classic film. Over the past twenty years Now Playing has offered its readers articles, behind-the-scene looks at TCM, rarely seen photos of classic movie stars, and much more. Sadly, TCM  is ceasing printing Now Playing. Its last print issue will be August 2017. Subscribers will receive a pro-rated refund based on the remaining balance of their subscriptions starting in July.

The print version of Now Playing is going to be replaced by a digital version of the magazine that one can receive through email. The good news about the digital version is that it will be entirely, totally free. The digital version of Now Playing will include a printable schedule, articles, photos, and so on. If you wish to subscribe to the digital version of Now Playing, you can do so here.

As sad as it may be, in some respects it is understandable why Turner Classic Movies is bringing the printed version of the Now Playing guide to an end. The past twenty years have not been kind to print media. Since the Nineties several major magazines have ceased publication, including Amazing Stories, Cinefantastique, Ladies Home Journal, McCall's, and The National Lampoon, among many others. Even given the enthusiasm of TCM fans for anything related to Turner Classic Movies, it seems possible that Now Playing fell victim to the same falling sales as many other print magazines.

While the end of the print version of Now Playing is certainly the end of an era, at least there will be a digital version to take its place. Many of us might well prefer a print version, but at least we will still have something to look forward to and read each month.