Thursday, 17 August 2017

The Great Movie Ride Closes

After 28 years in operation, the Great Movie Ride at Disney's Hollywood Studios in Florida has closed. It opened on May 1 1989. For those unfamiliar with the ride, it used a combination of animatronics, projections, sets, and live actors to recreate scenes from classic movies. It was in 2014 that Turner Classic Movies became a sponsor of the Great Movie Ride. After this there would be a pre-show introduction, narration, and a post-show featuring the legendary Robert Osborne. Sadly, the Great Movie Ride closed on August 13 2017 to make way for a new ride, Mickey & Minnie's Runaway Railway.

I must admit that I am saddened by the closing of the Great Movie Ride. I have never been to any of Disney's theme parks and it was the one ride I really wanted to experience. Over the years I have known several people who have gone on the ride and all of them loved it. I have even known a few people whose love of classic films was spurred by the Classic Movie Ride. I am honestly disappointed that now it looks like I will never experience the ride unless they somehow bring it back. I can' see being nearly as enthusiastic about Mickey & Minnie's Runaway Railway....

Regardless, the Great Movie Ride provided some fond memories for many people I know and inspired yet others to become classic film buffs. It is sad to see it go. 

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Lionel Barrymore in Key Largo (1948)

Key Largo (1948) numbers among Lionel Barrymore's most famous films. In it he played the role of crotchety but spirited hotel owner James Temple. Mr.Temple is a man with such backbone that he is even willing to stand up to the brutal gangster Johnny Rocco (played by Edward G. Robinson).

Key Largo was very loosely based on the play of the same name by Maxwell Anderson. In fact, the film owed very little to the play, The names of the characters and even their backgrounds were changed for the movie, as well as the setting, to the point that the movie is very nearly an entirely original creation. Regardless, Key Largo received largely positive reviews. It also did very well at the box office. Claire Trevor won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Gaye Dawn, Rocco's moll. The film was also nominated for the Writers Guild of America's award for Best Written American Drama.

As in nearly of all of Mr. Barrymore's made after 1938, he plays nearly all of Key Largo in a wheelchair. His arthritis has often been given as the reason that he was confined to a wheelchair for the last part of his career, but in fact it would appear to be two accidents he had in the Thirties. The first occurred in 1936 when a drawing table fell on him, breaking his hip. The second occurred in 1937 when he tripped over a cable, again breaking his hip. In 1951 Lionel Barrymore said that it was twice breaking his hip that confined him to a wheelchair. Quite simply, it made walking very difficult.

The fact that Lionel Barrymore had difficulty walking makes one scene in Key Largo particularly dramatic and demonstrates just how great an actor Mr. Barrymore was. In one scene Mr. Barrymore gets up from his wheelchair in an attempt to punch at Rocco's henchman Toots (played by Harry Lewis), falling in doing so. Given Lionel Barrymore's condition at the time, there can be no doubt that this was a difficult scene for him to shoot.

That having been said, the scene also sums up the character of James Temple. James Temple is cantankerous and a bit rowdy, but for the most part lovable. Indeed, he is so respected by everyone that he has more influence with the local Seminoles than the sheriff's department does. That having been said, he would also seem to have a will of iron.  In addition to taking a swing at Totos, James Temple also issues a stream of insults towards Rocco not long after the gangster's arrival, full well knowing Rocco could simply shoot him.

In many respects, James Temple was a variation on the sorts of roles Lionel Barrymore primarily played throughout his career, that of lovable but irascible characters. He was Grandpa Martin Vanderhof in You Can't Take It With You (1938), Dr. Gillespie in the "Dr. Kildare" movies,and he originated the role of Judge Hardy in A Family Affair (1937), the film that sparked the "Andy Hardy" series (in the series the role would be played by Lewis Stone). In some ways James Temple is Grandpa Vanderhof or Dr. Gillespie if they came face to face with gangsters in their own homes. One can rather picture any of these characters shouting insults at the gangsters and even taking a swing at them!

Lionel Barrymore was part of an incredible cast that included Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, Lauren Bacall, and Claire Trevor. And like the rest of the cast, Lionel Barrymore gave a great performance in Key Largo. There should be little wonder it remains among his most famous films.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

My First Smart Phone

For most of the past eleven years I only ever owned one mobile phone. It was a Nokia 6230i. Unfortunately it was a few weeks ago that I noticed that its battery was running down faster and faster. I concluded that it was about time I got a new phone. Unfortunately, I liked none of the standard mobile phones that my carrier sells. It seemed as if they were all cheap looking flip phones. Indeed, my sister had bought one for $89 and it didn't even have a camera. I then decided I would have to get a smart phone. I went ahead and got a Samsung Galaxy J3. It has sufficient memory and storage for my purposes. More importantly it was affordable.

Despite being one of the more inexpensive Samsung Galaxy phones, I have to say that I am impressed with the J3. It is much faster than my Amazon Kindle Fire (which sometimes seems to move as slow as molasses). It also came with some useful apps. Gallery is exactly what it sounds like. It is a photo viewing app with some capacity for editing. Optimize is an app that shuts down unnecessary apps that are running. It also came with Accuweather, which is my weather app of choice on my Amazon Fire.  It came with several Google apps, although I can say with some certainty I will never use Google Photos or Duo. I would have rather had Google+ and Hangouts instead.  Of course, I installed Google+ and Instagram right away, as well as some of my other favourite apps. I installed Facebook so I could easily upload photos taken with the phone, but not Messenger (I don't even have Messenger installed on my Amazon Kindle Fire).  Here I must note that Facebook has never been one of my favourite apps.

One cool thing about this new phone is that since both my TV and my phone are Samsungs, I can mirror things from my phone to the TV. This could come in useful if I ever want to stream anything to the television set or if I want to look at photos on the phone on a bigger screen.

I have to say that I am impressed with the Samsung Galaxy J3's camera. It is not necessarily anything incredible. It does have some trouble in low light as many digital cameras do, but it is superior to my old Nokia's camera and the Kindle Fire's as well. I can take photos much faster than with the two older devices. And it has a flash, which is something I have had on none of my other devices other than the digital camera. At any rate, the photos I have taken with it look much better than the photos I took with the old phone or the Kindle.

Of course, I do have one complaint about the Samsung Galaxy J3. There seems to be no way to turn off badge notifications for specific apps. Many apps, such as Twitter, allow you to turn them off. Unfortunately, Facebook does not. I am hoping either Facebook will do an update where they will allow one to shut down badge notifications or that there will be an Android update that allows one to do so.

Anyway, so far I have primarily used my new phone for phone calls, texting, and Instagram. I have played around with some other apps (such as Gallery and Prisma). I don't think I'll ever be one of those people addicted to his smart phone, but I must admit it is mice to have one.

Monday, 14 August 2017

American Patriotic Superheroes of the Forties

On September 1 1939 Nazi Germany invaded Poland. It was on September 3 1939, after Nazi Germany ignored a demand from the United Kingdom to withdraw troops from Poland, that the United Kingdom, France, and Australia declared war on Nazi Germany. In the United States the majority of Americans opposed the nation entering the war. It would not be until December 8 1941, after Japan's attack on Pearl Harbour the previous day, that the United States would enter World War II. They would declare war on Nazi Germany a few days later, on December 11 1941.

While the United States would not enter World War II until 1941, a majority of Americans were hostile towards Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. And while a majority of Americans still favoured a course of non-interventionism, there were those who thought the United States should enter the war against Nazi Germany. It should then come as no surprised that patriotically themed superheroes began appearing in American comic books well before the U.S. entered World War II or that there would be a plethora of them following the nation's entry into the war. Strangely enough, the most popular patriotic superheroes with the most longevity all appeared before the United States entered the war.

Indeed, the first patriotically themed superhero appeared nearly two years before the attack on Pearl Harbour. The Shield was the creation of writer Harry Shorten and artist Irv Novick. He first appeared in Pep Comics #1 (January 1940), published by MLJ Comics (the company that would later become Archie Comics). The Shield was chemistry student Joe Higgins, the son of Lieutenant Tom Higgins, who was working on a formula that would give people super-strength for the United States military. Unfortunately, the Nazis wanted the formula and killed Tom in an act of sabotage. Joe continued to develop the formula on his own and, once completed, used it on himself. He then took to fighting crime and the enemies of America as The Shield, dressed in a suitably patriotic costume.

The Shield proved to be MLJ's most popular superhero. He was featured on the cover of Pep Comics for several years. With Pep Comics #15 May 1941 he received his own fan club, the Shield G-Man Club. From summer 1940 to winter 1944 he also shared his own title with another superhero, The Wizard: Shield-Wizard Comics. Unfortunately for The Shield, the popularity of teen humour character Archie was such that Archie eventually forced The Shield entirely off the covers of Pep Comics with issue #51 (December 1944). The Shield would continue for another four years in the pages of Pep Comics before ending his original run in 1948.

The Shield would not remain the only patriotically themed superhero for long. As a national personification of the United States, Uncle Sam has existed since around 1810. It was legendary comic book artist and writer Will Eisner who took Uncle Sam and turned him into a superhero. Uncle Sam first appeared in National Comics #1 (July 1940), published by Quality Comics. Uncle Sam was the spirit of a slain Revolutionary War soldier who returned any time his country was in need of him. He proved to be a fairly popular character and received his own magazine, Uncle Sam Quarterly in September 1941. Uncle Sam would continue to appear in the pages of National Comics until #45 1944. His own magazine, Uncle Sam Quarterly, continued for 8 issues until September 1943, after which it was renamed Blackhawk and given over to another wartime hero.

While the superhero Uncle Sam has largely been forgotten by all but comic books fans, Captain America would become the second most famous and second most popular patriotic superhero after Wonder Woman. Created by the legendary team of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, the character would appear to owe a little bit to the original patriotic superhero, The Shield. Captain America was Steve Rogers, a tall, frail, young man born to a poor family on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Disturbed by the rise of Nazi Germany, he tried to enlist in the United States Army but was rejected as being too thin. Steve then volunteered as a test subject for a top secret project that would transform him into a super-soldier. Injected with a special serum, Steve Rogers found he had super-strenghth and enhanced reflexes. He then became Captain America, fighting the Axis powers in a red, white, and blue costume. He was equipped with a bullet-proof shield.

Captain America's original shield would create a bit of conflict with John Goldwater of MLJ Comics, who thought the shield bore too close a resemblance to their character The Shield's breastplate on his costume. Martin Goodman, publisher of the company that would evolve into the modern day Marvel Comics, then had Joe Simon and Jack Kirby redesign Cap's shield. The end result was the circular shield used by Captain America today.

Captain America was introduced in his very own title, Captain America Comics #1 (March 1941). That same issue marked the first appearance of his archenemy, The Red Skull. Originally The Red Skull was an American Nazi sympathiser, George Maxon, owner of Maxon Aircraft Company. In Captain America Comics #7 (October 1941), however, it was revealed that Maxon was merely a pawn of the real Red Skull, a Nazi agent named Johann Schmidt.

Captain America proved phenomenally popular, but the character also proved to be a source of controversy. At the time Captain America first appeared the United States was several months away from declaring war on Nazi Germany. The cover of the first issue featured Captain America punching Adolph Hitler. While they were a minority at the time, there were Nazi sympathisers in the United States in 1941 and they were angry about this new patriotic superhero. The offices of Timely Comics were inundated with angry letters and hateful phone calls. Eventually suspicious, threatening-looking men were seen outside their offices, to the point that employees were afraid to go out for lunch. The threats were reported to the NYPD and soon the offices of Timely were being patrolled by New York City cops. It was not long after the police guard had arrived that Timely Comics received a call from Mayor Fiorello La Guardia himself. He spoke on the phone to Joe Simon, telling him, "You boys over there are doing a good job. The City of New York will see that no harm will come to you."

Captain America proved to be Timely Comics' most popular character and one of the most popular characters of the Golden Age. Although it drew little from the comic book, there was even a 1944 Republic serial. Captain America would end his original run in 1948. After an unsuccessful revival attempt in 1954, Captain America was brought back in 1964 and has remained around ever since.

Although never as popular as Captain America, The Star-Spangled Kid and Stripsey would see a good deal of success in the Golden Age. The Star-Spangled Kid was Sylvester Pemberton, a young man of some wealth. One night he went to the cinema where Nazi sympathisers were so upset by a film's patriotic theme that they started a riot. Sylvester Pemberton, along with mechanic Pat Dugan, helped stop the riot. The two of them eventually decided to fight such threats to America as The Star Spangled Kid and Stripesy, with Pat Duggan going to work as Sylvester's family's chauffeur. The two relied on superb martial arts skills and a few gadgets, as well as their specially made limousine the Star Rocket Racer, to battle the forces of evil. They were unique in being a teenage hero with an adult sidekick.

The Star-Spangled Kid and Stripesy first appeared in Action Comics #40 (September 1941) before regularly appearing in Star-Spangled Comics on a regular basis. The characters were created by writer Jerry Siegel (most famous as co-creator of Superman) and artist Hal Sherman. The Star-Spangled Kid and Stripesy were featured on the covers of Star-Spangled Comics until #7 (April 1942), when the Newsboy Legion (created by Jack Simon and Jack Kirby) took over. That having been said, they continued to appear in the pages of Star-Spangled Comics until #86 (November 1948).  The two of them joined the Seven Soldiers of Victory, the second superhero team published by one of the companies that would become DC Comics (the first being the first ever superhero team, the Justice Society of America). They first appeared with the Seven Soldiers of Victory in Leading Comics #1 (December 1941) and continued to appear until Leading Comics #14 (March 1945), after which the title switched to a funny animal format.

The Fighting Yank also made his first appearance in a comic book with a cover date of September 1941. He first appeared in Startling Comics #10, published by Nedor. He was created by writer Richard E. Hughes and artist Jon L. Blummer. The Fighting Yank was Bruce Carter III, who was visited by the ghost of his ancestor Bruce Carter I, a veteran of the Revolutionary War. Bruce Carter I directed him to a magic cloak that gave the wearer super-strength and invulnerability. Bruce Cabot III then became The Fighting Yank, outfitted in a Revolutionary War inspired costume, complete with a tri-corner hat. The Fighting Yank proved fairly successful. He received his own title with Fighting Yank #1 (September 1942). He continued to appear in various Nedor titles until 1949.

By far the most popular patriotic superhero of all time made her first appearance only a little over a month before the attack on Pearl Harbour.  Wonder Woman first appeared in a back-up story in All-Star Comics #8 (December 1941). Wonder Woman was Diana, Princess of the Amazons.  Steve Trevor of U.S. Army Intelligence crashed on Paradise Island, home of the Amazons. Nursing Steve back to health, Diana fell in love with him. Having learned of the threat of Nazism, Queen Hippolyta  of the Amazons decreed that an Amazon should accompany Steve Trevor back to the United States to help fight the Nazis. Unfortunately, Hippolyta also forbade her daughter, Diana, to participate in the tournament that would decide who should go back to the U.S. with Steve Trevor. Diana then donned a mask in order to take part in the tournament. Winning the tournament, Diana then won the right to accompany Steve Trevor back to the United States. She was then given her patriotic costume and the name "Wonder Woman".

While Wonder Woman has since drifted away from her patriotic roots (in the Eighties the eagle that originally formed part of her costume would be replaced by a stylised "WW"), during World War II she was very much a patriotic character. Among her opponents in the Golden Age were Nazi spy and saboteur Baroness Paula von Gunther. In addition to supervillains, it was not unusual for Wonder Woman to tackle spies and saboteurs during World War II.

Regardless, Wonder Woman would prove phenomenally popular during the Golden Age. In fact, she became one of the only superheroes besides Superman and Batman to be published continuously since the Golden Age. She would be adapted to television, animated cartoons, and, most recently, a feature film. Although not tied to patriotism as closely as she once was, Wonder Woman would appear to be the most successful patriotically themed superhero of all time.

These aren't the only patriotically themed superheroes to appear during the Golden Age of  Comic Books. There were a few others who appeared before the United States had entered the war and several others who appeared after the U.S. had entered World War II. In fact, comic books cover dated August 1941 produced several  patriotic superheroes, including Miss America (Quality), Miss Victory (Holyoke), U.S. Jones (Fox), and American Crusader (Nedor). Among the other well-known patriotic heroes of the Golden Age were Minute-Man (Fawcett), Captain Battle (Lev Gleason), Mr. America (DC Comics), Captain Flag (MLJ), Liberator (Nedor), and Liberty Belle (DC Comics). There were yet others, some of whose lifespans were measured in months.

Patriotically themed superheroes served an important purpose during World War II. Like many films from the era, they served to boost morale, both at home and in the various theatres of the war. Even superheroes without a patriotic theme often found themselves battling Nazis or the Japanese during the war, including such big names as Batman and Superman. During what was perhaps the bloodiest struggle in the history of humanity, superheroes did their part.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

"Unchained Melody"

"Unchained Melody" is one of the most recorded songs of all time. In fact, there have been over 1500 recordings of the song. The Righteous Brothers' version went to no. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and remains so popular that many people probably think the song originated with them. What is often forgotten is that "Unchained Melody" originated with a movie.

"Unchained Melody" was written by composer Alex Noth and lyricist Hy Zaret for the film Unchained (1955). Unchained was a somewhat forgettable prison film most notable for featuring Barbara Hale (later of Perry Mason) and Jerry Paris (later of The Dick Van Dyke Show). The fact that "Unchained Melody" originated with the film not only explains its rather unusual title, but also its lyrics. The lyrics are sung from the point of view of someone who is separated from the one he loves (quite simply, he is in prison).

While Unchained was somewhat forgettable, "Unchained Melody" certainly was not. In the film it was sung by Todd Duncan. In 1955, the year Unchained was released, three different versions of the song reached the top ten of the Billboard singles chart (ones by Lex Baxter, Roy Hamilton, and Al Hibbler). Lex Baxter's version hit number one on the Billboard singles chart. Given the song's popularity, it should come as no surprise that "Unchained Melody" was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song. It might come as a surprise that it actually lost the award, but then it must be considered that it lost to another well known standard, "Love is a Many Splendoured Thing" (from the film of the same name).

For those who have never heard it, here is the very original version, sung by Todd Duncan, in a scene from Unchained.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Rural Variety Shows of the Late Sixties

In the late Sixties American television saw a cycle of variety shows on the networks that appealed primarily to a rural audience. Of course, this was nothing new.  Country music variety shows appeared on American television fairly early in its history, These included Midwestern Hayride on NBC, The Windy City Jamboree and The Old American Barn Dance on DuMont, and Ozark Jubileee on ABC.  As the Fifties progressed two of country music's biggest stars had successful variety shows. The Ford Show, Starring Tennessee Ernie Ford ran from 1956 to 1961. Country music singer Jimmy Dean was the host of three different national variety shows. The first aired on CBS as a summer replacement show in 1957. The second aired  in the daytime from 1958 to 1959. A third Jimmy Dean Show aired on ABC from 1963 to 1966 (it would be notable for featuring Rowlf the Dog, making him the first Muppet to have a regular spot on a network TV series).  Of course, not all variety shows that appealed to rural audiences were necessarily centred on country music. Comedian Red Skelton, whose variety show ran from 1951 to 1971, appealed primarily to country folk.

While rural sitcoms dominated most of the decade, for the most part rural variety shows were not to be found on the networks in the Sixties with the exception of The Jimmy Dean Show. All of this would change as the decade was nearing its close, when all three networks would debut several rural variety shows in a little over a two year period. Sadly for fans of these shows, they would disappear from the airwaves even more quickly.

Given that many of the shows were either summer replacement series or began life as such, the show that started the cycle was a summer replacement series. The Summer Brothers Smothers Show debuted on June 23 1968 as a summer replacement for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour on CBS. It was hosted by Glen Campbell, then an up and coming country singer who was experiencing his first taste of success with such singles as "Gentle on My Mind" and "By the Time I Get to Phoenix". For its guests the show featured a mix of country singers and more mainstream artists. Among the country artists who appeared on the show were Johnny Cash, Lee Hazlewood, and Bobbie Gentry. Among the more mainstream artists were Judy Collins, Cream, Lulu, and Nancy Sinatra.

The Summers Brothers Smothers Show proved extremely popular, so that it led to Glen Campbell receiving his own variety show. The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour debuted as a mid-season replacement on January 29 1969. It proved very popular, ranking no. 15 in its first season. Like The Summer Brothers Smothers Show, it featured a mix of country singers and more mainstream artists. An example of the eclectic mix of artists that appeared on The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour is the show's second edition, on which both country singer Jeannie C. Riley and rock group The Monkees appeared. During its run it featured such musical artists as Stevie Wonder, Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Roy Rogers, and Dale Evans, Liza Minnelli, The 5th Dimension, and Tom Jones. The promotional clips for The Beatles' songs "Get Back" and "Don't Let Me Down" aired on the show on April 30 1969.

It was a mark of the popularity of The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour with younger viewers that it was one of the very few shows with rural appeal to survive the Rural Purge of 1971. Unfortunately, its ratings would drop in its later seasons. After four seasons The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour ended its run on June 13 1972.

In the wake of the success of The Summer Brothers Smothers Hour no less than two variety shows with appeal for rural audiences debuted in the 1969. The first starred one of the most legendary American singers of the 20th Century, Johnny Cash and his wife June Carter. The Johnny Cash Show debuted on June 7 1969 on ABC. Like The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, The Johnny Cash Show featured both country artists and more mainstream music artists. During the run of the show such acts as Cass Elliot, Pete Seeger, Dusty Springfield, Roy Orbison, Roger Miller, Chet Atkins, Lulu, The Monkees, Joni Mitchell, and Bob Dylan appeared on the show. The Johnny Cash Show was popular enough to receive a berth in ABC's fall schedule and it would run for a second season. Unfortunately, it would also be one of the many victims of the Rural Purge in 1971. Its last original edition aired on March 31 1971.

The second rural variety show to debut in the summer of 1969 may well be the most successful country music show of all time. Hee Haw debuted on CBS on June 15 1969. It was essentially a countrified version of Laugh-In, with an ensemble casts, two hosts (Buck Owens and Roy Clark), and comedy sketches. It parted ways with Laugh-In in that it also had musical guests. What is more, it differed from both The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour and The Johnny Cash Show in that music artists appearing on the show were exclusively country artists.

Hee Haw proved immensely popular as a summer replacement show, so much so that it earned place on CBS's 1969 fall schedule. For its second season it ranked no. 20 out of all the shows on the air. For its third season it performed even better, coming in at no. 16 for the year. Unfortunately it would not be enough to save Hee Haw from the Rural Purge. It was cancelled during the 1970-1971 season, becoming one of the highest rated shows ever to be cancelled. This would not mean the end for Hee Haw, as it entered first run syndication in the fall of 1971 where it remained for an additional 21 years.

Most of the rural variety shows of the late Sixties were hosted by country singers. This was not the case with the next rural variety show to debut. The Jim Nabors Hour debuted on CBS on September 26 1969. It was hosted by Jim Nabors, an actor and singer then best known for his portrayal of the character of Gomer Pyle on both The Andy Griffith Show and Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C. Indeed, both Frank Sutton and  Ronnie Schnell from Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C. were part of the show's cast. As a show starring an actor best known for a character from two rural sitcoms, The Jim Nabors Hour would obviously appeal to country folk. It should then come as no surprise that the show featured its share of country artists, including Bobbie Gentry, Glen Campbell, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Johnny Cash, Eddy Arnold, and Roger Miller. The Jim Nabors Hour proved fairly popular. For its first season it ranked no. 12. Its ratings dropped in its second season, but it still ranked a very respectable no. 29 for the year. Unfortunately, this was not enough to save it from cancellation in the wake of the Rural Purge.

The Jim Nabors Hour would be the last major rural variety show to debut in the cycle. The next two to debut would be summer replacement shows.  The Ray Stevens Show debuted on June 20 1970 on NBC. It was hosted by country and novelty singer Ray Stevens. Among its regulars were pop singers Lulu and Cass Elliot. Perhaps because Ray Stevens was then known primarily as a novelty singer rather than a country singer, it had a considerable emphasis on comedy. Curiously, Johnny Cash was the only country music artist to be a guest on the show.

The Everly Brothers Show was a summer replacement series for The Johnny Cash Show hosted by the Everly Brothers. It featured a wide variety of music artists in its short run, including country singers (Marty Robbins, The Statler Brothers, Doug Kershaw, and so on) and mainstream artists (Arlo Guthrie, Neil Diamond, Bobby Sherman, and so on). It debuted on ABC on July 8 1970 and ended its run on September 9 1970.

The Everly Brothers Show would be the last rural variety show to debut in the cycle. As it was the days of any show that appealed to the a rural audience in any genre were numbered. The 1970-1971 season saw the Rural Purge, essentially a mass cancellation of any shows that appealed to rural or older audiences. It is a myth that the networks only discovered demographics in the late Sixties, but by the 1970-1971 they came to dominate the television industry in a way that they never had before. In particular, CBS, who had aired so many shows with rural appeal that it was nicknamed "the Country Broadcasting System", wanted to rid itself of as many rural shows as possible.

In the wake of the Rural Purge, the networks would spend much of the Seventies pursuing young, urban audiences much more than they had in the past. Only a few rural variety shows would air after the Rural Purge. In 1973 the summer replacement for The Dean Martin Show was Dean Martin Presents Music Country, a country music programme. From 1974 to 1976 country singer Mac Davis had his own show on NBC, The Mac Davis Show. In 1980 the variety Show Barbara Mandrell and the Madrell Sisters, hosted by country singer Barbara Mandrell and her two sisters, debuted on NBC. It proved a success and ran until 1982. Among other reasons it ended its run because, with her busy schedule, Barbara Mandrell was suffering from vocal strain.

Of course, while rural variety shows were rare in the Seventies, variety shows of any sort went into decline during the decade. At the start of the 1970-1971 season around 15 different variety shows were on the air. At the start of the 1980-1981 season there were only two. Eventually variety shows would disappear entirely from networks schedules. When Dolly, starring Dolly Parton, debuted in September 1987 on ABC it was not simply the first rural variety show in some time, it was the first variety show of any kind in some time. It lasted only a single season. It seems unlikely that there ever will be another time like the late Sixties when several rural variety shows debuted in a short space of time.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Godspeed Glen Campbell

Singer and actor Glen Campbell died yesterday, August 8 2017, at the age 81. The cause was Alzheimer's disease.

Glen Campbell was born on April 22 1936 in Billstown, Arkansas. His parents were share croppers and he was the seventh of twelve children. He started playing guitar when he was four years old after his uncle gave him a five dollar Sears guitar as a present. He was only six years old when he started playing on local radio stations. He dropped out of school when he was only 14 to work in Houston with his brothers. He installed installation and later worked at a gas station. He started playing guitar at church picnics and various fairs before playing at local radio stations. He was 17 years old when he joined his uncle's band, Dick Bills and the Sandia Mountain Boys, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He played on his uncle's radio show and also on the children's show K Circle B Time on the TV station KOB. It was in 1958 that he formed his own band, The Western Wranglers.

It was in 1960 that Glen Campbell moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career as a session musician. It was in October of that year that he joined the rock band The Champs. He remained part of the band's line-up for about a year. In 1961 he went to work for music publishing company American Music, where he wrote songs and recorded demos. It was these demos that would lead to Glen Campbell becoming part of the legendary group of session musicians that would later become known as the Wrecking Crew.

Glen Campbell would remain a part of the Wrecking Crew for the next several years. As part of the group he played guitar on literally hundreds of songs, including 'Hello Mary Lou" by Ricky Nelson, "Surf City" by Jan & Dean, "I Get Around" by The Beach Boys, "Dang Me" by Roger Miller, "You've Lost That Loving Feeeling" by The Righteous Brothers, "Strangers in the Night" by Frank Sinatra, and "Mary Mary" by The Monkees.

It was in 1961 that Glen Campbell was signed as a solo artist to Crest Records. His first single, "Turn Around, Look at Me", was released that same year. The following year he signed with Capitol Records. His first single for Capitol was "Too Late to Worry, Too Blue to Cry". Over the next few years he would meet with some success on the country music charts. His single "Kentucky Means Paradise" reached no. 20 on the chart in 1962, while "Burning Bridges" reached no. 18 in 1966. He had a minor crossover hit with his version of "Universal Soldier", which peaked at no. 45 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1965.

It was in 1967 that Mr. Campbell had his first major hit, "By the Time I Get to Phoenix". It peaked at no. 2 on the country chart and no. 26 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1967. In 1968 he had a bigger hit with "Wichita Lineman", which went to no. 1 on the country chart and no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. In 1969 he had another major hit with "Galveston", which went to no. 1 on the country chart and no. 4 on the Billboardi Hot 100. From 1969 to 1972 Mr. Campbell would have several more hits, some of which not only did well on the country chart, but the Billboard Hot 100 as well.

Glen Campbell's career would go into a slight decline in 1972, but would be revitalised in 1975 with the song "Rhinestone Cowboy", which went to no. 1 on both the country chart and the Billboard Hot 100. It would be followed by several more crossover hits, one of which, "Southern Nights", also went to no. 1 on both the country chart and the Billboard Hot 100. Afterwards Glen Campbell did well on the country charts, with a few singles occasionally crossing over to the Billboard Hot 100.

Following his Alzheimer's diagnosis, Glen Campbell went on a final farewell tour that ended in 2012. The tour was documented in the documentary Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me. His last single, "Adios", was released just this year. Throughout his career he released around 60 albums.

Glen Campbell also had a career on film and in television. He made his film debut in an uncredited role as a member of a band in Baby the Rain Must Fall (1965). He went onto appear in the films The Cool Ones (1967), True Grit (1969), Norwood (1970), Any Which Way You Can (1980), and Uphill All the Way (1986). He was the voice of Chanticleer in the animated film Rock-A-Doodle (1991). 

He made his television debut on the show Shindig in 1964. As a singer he made frequent appearances on various music, variety, and talk shows through the years, including Hollywood a Go Go, The Dick Cavett Show, The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, The Mike Douglas Show, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, The Hollywood Palace, The Joey Bishop Show, The Merv Griffin Show, The Jim Nabors Hour, The Dean Martin Show, and Hee Haw. From 1969 to 1972 he was the host of his own variety show, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, on CBS. It is notable as one of the few rural shows to survive the Rural Purge of 1971. He also hosted a syndicated variety show, The Glen Campbell Music Show, which aired during the 1982-1983 season. Glen Campbell also acted on television. In 1967 he guest starred in an episode of The F.B.I. He appeared in the TV movie Strange Homecoming (1974) and the special Christmas in Disneyland (1976).  In 1997 he guest starred on an episode of Players.

Not being a country music fan, I can't say I have ever been a huge fan of Glen Campbell's songs (although I have always liked "Wichita Lineman"). That having been said, I do recognise that he was a major talent in music. He was among the most popular country singers of the last decades of the 20th Century, and he was a bit of a phenomenon in the late Sixties. Beyond being a legendary country singer, he was also an extremely talented guitarist. His skill is readily recognisable on the many songs he recorded as part of the Wrecking Crew. He had been playing guitar since childhood and it showed.

While his acting career was somewhat limited, I also have to say that Glen Campbell was a fairly good actor. His best known role is most likely that of Texas Ranger  La Boeuf in True Grit (1969). He did a fine job in the part, and he remains one of my favourite actors to play opposite John Wayne. As a musician Glen Campbell was the consummate performer, and that translated quite well to acting. Glen Campbell was one of the most popular entertainers in the late 20th Century, and given his talent that should come as no surprise.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Godspeed Haruo Nakajima, "Mr. Godzilla"

Haruo Nakajima, the man in the Godzilla suit for 12 movies from Gojira (1954) to 1972, died yesterday at the age of 88. The cause was pneumonia. He also appeared in several other films, including classics directed by Akira Kurosawa. 

Haruo Nakajima was born on January 1 1929 in Yamagata, Japan. He made his film debut in Sengoku bura (Sword for Hire) in 1952. He appeared in Taiheiyô no washi (1953--Eagle of the Pacific) before appearing in what might be the two most iconic Japanese movies ever made. In Gojira, known in English as Godzilla, he played the title character, encased in a heavy rubber suit. To determine how Godzilla would move, Mr. Nakajima visited zoos and studied how elephants and bears walked. That same year he appeared in Shichinin no Samurai (Seven Samurai) as one of the bandits.

In the Fifties Haruo Nakajima would appear as Godziila again in the sequel Gojira no gyakushû (1955--Godzilla Raids Again). He also played various other monsters in the films Rodan (1956), Chikyû Bôeigun (1957--The Mysterians), Daikaijû Baran (1958--Varan the Unbelievable), and Gasu ningen dai 1 gô (1960--The Human Vapour). He also appeared in roles other than monsters in kaiju and sci-fi movies. In addition to Akira Kurosawa's Kakushi-toride no san-akunin (1958--The Hidden Fortress), he appeared in such films as Jû jin yuki otoko (1955), Ankokugai (1956--The Underworld), Shujinsen (1956--Rebels on the High Seas), Bijo to ekitai ningen (1958--The H-Man), Yajikita dôchû sugoroku (1958--The Happy Pilgrimage), and Sengoku gunto-den (1959--The Saga of the Vagabonds).

In the Sixties Mr. Nakajima reprised his role as Godzilla in the films Kingu Kongu tai Gojira (1962--King Kong vs. Godzilla), Mosura tai Gojira (1964--Mothra vs. Godzilla), San daikaijû: Chikyû saidai no kessen  (1964--Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster), Kaijû daisens (1965--Invasion of Astro-Monster), Gojira, Ebirâ, Mosura: Nankai no daiketto (1966--Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster), Kaijûtô no kessen: Gojira no musuko (1967--Son of Godzilla), Kaijû sôshingek (1968--Destroy All Monsters), and Gojira-Minira-Gabara: Oru kaijû daishingeki (1969--All Monsters Attack). He played other monsters in Mosura (1961--Mothra), Yôsei Gorasu (1962--Gorath), Matango (1963--Attack of the Mushroom People), Furankenshutain tai chitei kaijû Baragon (1965--Frankenstein Conquers the World), Furankenshutain no kaijû (1966--War of the Gargantuas), Kingu Kongu no gyakushû (1967--King Kong Escapes), and Gezora, Ganime, Kameba: Kessen! Nankai no daikaijû (1970--Space Amoeba). He also appeared in the films Taiheiyo no tsubasa (1963--Attack Squadron!), Horafuki taikôki (1964--The Sandal Keeper), and Izu no odoriko (1967).  Mr. Nakajima played various monsters in the TV series Ultraman.

In the Seventies Haruo Nakajima would make his last few appearances as Godzilla in the films Gojira tai Hedora (1971--Godzilla vs. Hedorah), and Chikyû kogeki meirei: Gojira tai Gaigan (1972--Godzilla vs. Gigan). He appeared in stock footage as Godzilla in 1973's Gojira tai Megaro (Godzilla vs. Megalon). His last appearance as an actor in a film was in Nippon chinbotsu (1973--Tidal Wave).

He retired from acting in 1973. In the Nineties he began appearing at various kaiju conventions both in Japan and the United States. 

Haruo Nakajima received very little screen time outside of a monster suit, playing uncredited bit parts in many films, but in various kaiju films he was very much the star. Perhaps no other actor could move quite so convincingly as Haruo Nakajima. Watching Gojira and the other early Godzilla movies, it is sometimes easy to forget that it is a man in the suit and not an actual, giant monster devastating Tokyo. Later in his life Mr. Nakajima would be responsible for relaying much of the history of the films to fans. Except for the first film (uncut and in its original Japanese), the Godzilla films may not number among the greatest films ever made, but they are very enjoyable. Haruo Nakajima's performances as Godzilla are much of the reason for that.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Thank You for a Successful Blogathon!

This weekend was the fourth annual British Invaders Blogathon. This year we had posts on a wide array of British films, from a British musical starring Margaret Lockwood to Hammer's films noirs to the classic "Carry On" comedies. The earliest film covered was released in the Thirties and the latest film covered was released in the Eighties. I want to thank everyone who participated in this year's blogathon for all of their wonderful posts! I also want to invite everyone to participate in next year's British Invaders Blogathon, which will be its fifth anniversary!

Sunday, 6 August 2017

100 Years of Robert Mitchum

It was 100 years ago today that Robert Mitchum was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut. He would become one of the most celebrated actors of the later part of the Golden Age of Hollywood, starring in such films as Out of the Past (1947), Holiday Affair (1949), The Night of Hunter(1955), Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957),  The Enemy Below (1957), Cape Fear (1962), and many others. Over the years he made films in many genres, including war movies, film noir, Westerns, and even comedies.

In honour of the 100th anniversary of Robert Mitchum's birth, here is a short pictorial tribute.

Robert Mitchum's first credited role was as Rigney in the Hopalong Cassidy Movie Hoppy Serves a Writ (1943). He was credited as "Bob Mitchum". He would go onto appear in many more Hopalong Cassidy movies.
From the earliest years of his career Robert Mitchum appeared in several war films. Among the best known was one in which he played the secondary lead, opposite Burgess Meredith, The Story of G.I. Joe (1945). Mr. Mtichum was nominated for the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the film.

By the late Forties Robert Mithcum was being cast as the lead in films. He became particularly identified with film noir. He appeared in several films noirs, the most famous of which is often counted among the greatest films noirs of all time, Out of the Past (1947).

During his career Robert Mitchum would also appear in several comedies. Holiday Affair (1949) was not a hit upon its initial release, but has since developed a considerable following.

Over the years Robert Mitchum would play several heavies, including one of the greatest villains in the history of American film. He played Harry Powers, sociopath and serial killer, in the classic Night of the Hunter (1955). Although not a success, either with critics or at the box office, upon its initial release, it has since become regarded as one of the greatest films of all time.

It is a mark of Robert Mitchum's versatility that he could go from playing a psychopathic murderer in Night of the Hunter to playing a U.S. Marine Corporal who befriends a nun in Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957) only two years later. Deborah Kerr received an Academy Award nomination for her role as Sister Angela in the film.

Robert Mitchum was very good playing villains, so good that he played more than one legendary screen bad guy. Max Cady in Cape Fear (1962) would certainly number in any list of the greatest movie villains

Robert Mitchum continued to appear in Westerns throughout much of his career. He played Sheriff J.P. Harrah opposite John Wayne in the movie El Dorado (1966). In El Dorado Mr. Mithcum was clearly one of the good guys.

In the Seventies Robert Mitchum played private eye Philip Marlowe in two films The first was Farewell, My Lovely in 1975. He would play the detective again in 1978 in The Big Sleep.

Robert Mitchum continued to work in the Eighties and Nineties, appearing in such film as Mr. North (1988), Scrooged (1988), and Woman of Desire (1994). His final film was the Norwegian movie Pakten in 1995, known in English as Waiting for Sunset.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

The Man in Grey (1943)

 (This post is part of the "British Invaders Blogathon" hosted by A Shroud of Thoughts)

In Hollywood it was often the case that major studios became identified with a particular genre of film. To this day Universal is known for their horror movies of the Thirties and Forties. Warner Bros. is still known for the gangster films they made in the Thirties. MGM remains remembered for their many musicals. The same holds true for the various British studios. Ealing Studios made a variety of films, but are best known for their comedies. Hammer Films remains firmly identified with the horror genre. In the case of Gainsborough Pictures, the studio remains best known for their melodramas made in the mid to late Forties.

Gainsborough Pictures was founded in 1924. In the Twenties and Thirties they released a wide variety of films, including movies directed by Alfred Hitchcock (including The Man Who Knew Too Much, The 39 Steps, Sabotage, and The Lady Vanishes) and Carol Reed (including Bank Holiday, Climbing High, and A Girl Must Live). It was in 1943 that a film would be released that would set the course of the studio for a few years. Quite simply, The Man in Grey (1943) was the first Gainsborough melodrama.

The Man in Grey was based on the 1941 novel of the same name by Lady Eleanor Smith. The Man in Grey proved to be a best seller not only in the United Kingdom, but in the United States and elsewhere as well. Given the success of the novel, it perhaps came as no surprise when Gainsborough Pictures elected to make a motion picture adaptation. The script was written by Margaret Kennedy (perhaps best known for her novel The Constant Nymph), Doreen Montgomery (who would later be pivotal in the development of the character of Cathy Gale on the classic TV show The Avengers), and  Leslie Arliss (an experienced screenwriter for whom The Man in Grey would mark his directorial debut--he would go onto direct The Wicked Lady).

Like the novel The Man in Grey was set in the Regency Period. It centred on the relationship between two women:  sweet aristocrat Clarissa Richmond (played by Phyllis Calvert) and the jaded, impoverished Hester Shaw (played by Margaret Lockwood). Clarissa eventually marries the cold hearted Lord Rohan (played by James Mason), who would come to play a significant role in Hesther's life as well. Into this mix eventually enters Rokeby (played by Stewart Granger), a young man with his own rather interesting past.

At the time that The Man in Grey was made, Margaret Lockwood was already a major British star, having appeared in such films as Bank Holiday (1938), The Lady Vanishes (1938), The Stars Look Down (1940), and Night Train to Munich (1940). It should then come as no surprise that when Gainsborough's head of production, Maurice Ostrer, gave Miss Lockwood the script he expected her to read for the part of Clarissa, who appears more in the film than any other character. Despite this, Margaret Lockwood found herself more interested in the part of "bad girl" Hester Shaw. Maurice Ostrer consented and Miss Lockwood was cast in the role of Hester. While she would receive top billing, Margaret Lockwood would then have less screen time in The Man in Grey than Phyllis Calvert (who was cast as Clarissa). 

In the role of Lord Rohan, James Mason was cast. James Mason and Margaret Lockwood had already worked together on the film Alibi (1942). The role of Rokeby, essentially the second male lead in the film, would not be cast until the day before shooting was to start. The role went to Stewart Granger, a young actor for whom it would be his first major role. The search for someone to play Rokeby caused production on The Man in Grey to fall behind schedule by several weeks. This was complicated by the fact that Phyllis Calvert was pregnant with her first child at the time. Director Leslie Arliss was then forced to shoot The Man in Grey faster than he might have otherwise. 

The Man in Grey was released on August 23 1943. It did not receive a particularly warm reception from critics on either side of the Pond. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times referred to it as"...a stiff, ostentatious costume-picture—mechanical, tedious and dull." Fortunately for Gainsborough Pictures, audiences in Britain apparently disagreed with the critics, as they flocked to The Man in Grey in droves. It was ultimately the seventh most successful film in the United Kingdom for 1943.  It was also very popular in Australia, where it was the tenth highest grossing film of 1943.

Americans watching The Man in Grey today might be shocked by some of the film's content. After all, it not only contains instances of adultery, but also some language that would be considered objectionable even by today's standards. The British Board of Film Censors passed The Man in Grey with no cuts, but gave it an "A" certificate, meaning that children could only see the film if they were accompanied by an adult. In the more conservative United States The Man in Grey faced much more opposition from the the Production Code Administration (PCA). The PCA demanded that the N-word be cut, as well as the word "slut". They also demanded that the lines "Never know until you try," "A reputation that would not do discredit to a woman of the streets," and "..may have as many lovers as she likes" be cut. Eventually the PCA would relent on two of the lines in the film, but insisted that the N-word and the word "slut" would absolutely have to be cut as they were on the PCA's list of forbidden words. Ultimately, The Man in Grey was cut to 93 minutes for release in the United States and distributed by Universal. Given its subject matter, it might come as a surprise that the National Legion of Decency only gave it a "B" rating, meaning it was "morally objectionable in part". They would not be so lenient with some of Gainsborough's other melodramas. 

Because of its success The Man in Grey would have a lasting impact on British film. It certainly had an impact on its stars. Margaret Lockwood was already a major star when she appeared in The Man in Grey, but the film marked the beginning of the peak of her career as a box office star. It also marked a change in the sort of roles she played.  While Miss Lockwood had played villainous characters before (The Stars Look Down being an example), it was with The Man in Grey that she began playing them with some regularity. At the time The Man in Grey was released, James Mason was not nearly as big a star as Margaret Lockwood. That having been said, he had already played the lead in many movies (a good number of them quota quickies). The Man in Grey would make James Mason one of the top stars of the day. As to Phyllis Calvert and Stewart Granger, the two of them had appeared primarily in bit parts prior to The Man in Grey. With its success they became major stars nearly overnight.

While The Man in Grey would have an impact on its stars, it would also have an impact on Gainsborough Pictures. The success of The Man in Grey led Gainsborough to produce more melodramas, many of which were costume dramas like The Man in Grey. These melodramas would prove exceedingly popular at the British box office, often outgrossing films produced in Hollywood. In fact, one of them--The Wicked Lady--remains one of the most profitable films in Britain to this day. In the end, Gainsborough Pictures would become identified with melodramas in the same way that Ealing Studios became identified with comedies and Hammer Films would become identified with horror.

Seen today it is perhaps easy to understand the success of The Man in Grey. While Leslie Arliss's direction is adequate at best, the film has an impressive cast, with both Margaret Lockwood and Stewart Granger giving particularly impressive performances. It also benefited from a fine script, with clearly delineated characters and several great lines. Arthur Crabtree's cinematography and Elizabeth Haffenden's costumes give The Man in Grey a lush look that makes the film appear more expensive to make than it actually was. Seen today it is easy to understand why wartime audiences flocked to see the film when it was first released. It is also easy to understand why it would lead Gainsborough Picturs to make yet more melodramas.

Friday, 4 August 2017

The Fourth Annual British Invaders Blogathon

The Fourth Annual British Invaders Blogathon has arrived! For those who did not see the initial announcement regarding the blogathon, the British Invaders Blogathon is meant to celebrate the best in British classic films. While many think of Hollywood when they think of movies, the fact is that many classic films originated in the United Kingdom. From the Gainsborough melodramas to the Ealing comedies to the Hammer Horrors, the United Kingdom has made many contributions to classic film. The British Invaders Blogathon will last from today (August 4 2017) to Sunday (August 6 2017).

I am glad to say we have a wide range of posts lined up that span the history of British film from the Thirties to the Eighties. For those participating in the blogathon, simply let me know in a comment here, a message on Twitter, or an email and I will add it to the list. And please remember to link to this page using one of the images from the introductory post! I want to thank everyone who is participating!

Anyhow, without further ado, here are the posts:

Movie Movie Blog Blog: "The Beatles in Let It Be (1970)--And in the end..."

The Stop Button: "Kes (1969, Ken Loach)"

Cinema Essentials: "The Liquidator (1965)"

Cinema Essentials: "Early Hitchcock Classic: The 39 Steps (1935)

Cinema Scribblings: "A Day in the Lives: Billy Liar (1963)"

Crítica Retrô: "Papai é do Contra / Hobson's Choice (1954)"

The Hitless Wonder Movie Blog: "The British Invaders Blogathon: The Dr. (not Doctor) Who Films"  

Caftan Woman: "Innocent Sinners (1958)"

 The Midnite Drive-In: "Hammer Films Does Noir"

The Filmatelist: "Swinging Flix from '66"  

Realweegiemidget Reviews Films TV Books and More: "An American Werewolf in London (1981)" 

A Shroud of Thoughts: "The Man in Grey (1943)"

Mooon in Gemini: A Touch of Class (1973)  

A Viewer's Guide to Classic Films: "The Captive HeartEmotional Rescue"

The Wonderful World of Cinema: "A British Chorus Line: A Girl Must Live (1939)" 

Wide Screen World: "Jolly Good Fun: England's 'Carry On' Films"

Thursday, 3 August 2017

The Late Great Robert Hardy

Robert Hardy, who played Siegfried Farnon on the highly popular TV show All Creatures Great and Small and appeared in numerous shows and films, died today at the age of 91.

Robert Hardy was born on October 29 1925 in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. His father was the headmaster at Cheltenham College. He attended Rugby School and Magdalen College at the University of Oxford. Among his tutors when he was at the University of Oxford were legendary authors C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. He served in the Royal Air Force during World War II.

Following the war he began his acting career. He made his television debut in 1951 in an episode of Michèle and René. He played the title role in a BBC mini-series production of David Copperfield and played Henry, Prince of Wales in the series An Age of Kings. He guest starred on the TV shows The Adventures of Sir Lancelot, The Buccaneers, BBC Sunday-Night Theatre, Studio One, Buckskin, and General Electric Theatre. He appeared in a television production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. His film debut was in 1958 in Torpedo Run. After World War II he frequently appeared in Shakespearean roles on stage. In 1959 he played opposite Lord Laurence Olivier in Coriolanus at Stratford-upon-Avon and later in Henry V.

In the Sixties he starred in the television series The Dark Island, The Spread of the Eagle, Daniel Deroda, Manhunt, and Mogul. He guest starred on such shows as Somerset Maugham Hour, The Baron, ITV Playhouse, The Saint, The Wednesday Play, Strange Report, The Doctors, and Armchair Theatre. He appeared in the films The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965), How I Won the War (1967), and Berserk (1967).

It was in 1978 that Robert Hardy was cast in the role of cantankerous veterinarian Siegfried Farnon on All Creatures Great and Small. The show ran for three series. It would be revived in 1988 and ran for another four series, with Mr. Hardy once more in the role Siegfried. In the Seventies he also played Robert Dudley (Earl of Leicester) in the mini-series Elizabeth R. He guest starred on such shows as Thirty-Minute Theatre; ITV Saturday Night Theatre; Love Story; Hallmark Hall of Fame; Edward the King; Upstairs, Downstairs; Raffles; Buck Rogers in the 25th Century; and Mrs. Columbo. He appeared in such films as Young Winston (1972), Demons of the Mind (1972), Dark Places (1973), Psychomania (1973), Le silencieux (1973), Gawain and the Green Knight (1973), and Yellow Dog (1973).

In the Eighties Mr. Hardy once more played Siegfried on All Creatures Great and Small. He starred as Winston Churchill in Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years and played him again in the mini-series War and Remembrance. He also appeared in the mini-series The Cleopatras, The Far Pavilions, and Jenny's War. He starred on the show Hot Metal. Robert Hardy guest starred on such shows as Shades of Darkness and Bulman, He appeared in the films The Shooting Party (1985) and Paris by Night (1988).

In the Nineties he continued to appear as Siegfried on All Creatures Great and Small. He starred on the show Look at the State We're In!. He appeared in the mini-series Middlemarch, Gulliver's Travels, and The 10th Kingdom. He guest starred on the shows The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes, Inspector Morse, Bramwell, and Midsomer Murders. He appeared in the films Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1994), A Feast at Midnight (1994), Sense and Sensibility (1995), Mrs Dalloway (1997), The Tichborne Claimant (1998), and An Ideal Husband (1999).

In the Naughts Robert Hardy appeared in the films The Gathering (2002), Thunderpants (2002), Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002), Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004), Making Waves (2004), Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005), Lassie (2005), Goodbye Mr Snuggles (2006), Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007), Framed (2008), and Old Harry (2009). He guest starred on the shows Foyle's War, Spooks, Agatha Christie's Marple, and Inspector Lewis. He appeared in the mini-series Shackleton and Little Dorrit.

In the Teens Mr. Hardy appeared in the TV movie Churchill: 100 Days That Saved Britain (2015), once more playing Winston Churchill, and in the movie Joseph's Reel (2015).

Robert Hardy was a remarkable actor with a good deal of versatility. Indeed, the two roles for which he was best known were entirely different. The irascible, eccentric Siegfried on All Creatures Great and Small was a far cry from Winston Churchill. What is more, Mr. Hardy played yet other characters that were very different from both Siegfried and Churchill. Cornelius Fudge in the "Harry Potter" movies was more Neville Chamberlain than Winston Churchill. In "The Desperate Diplomat", an episode of The Saint, he played an outright villain--Walter Faber, who is holding a diplomat's daughter hostage. He played a number of historical figures besides Winston Churchill, including King Henry V, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Prince Albert, and King Richard the Lionhearted. Robert Hardy was an immensely talented actor who play a wide array of roles and play all of them well.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Sam Shepard R.I.P.

Playwright, screenwriter, and actor Sam Shepard died on July 27  2017 at the age of 73. The cause was complications from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Sam Shepard was born Samuel Shepard Rogers III on November 5 1943 in Fort Sheridan, Illinois. He grew up on the family avocado farm near Duarte, California. As a young man he worked a variety of jobs, including work as a stablehand, an orange picker, and a sheep shearer. He briefly studied agriculture at  Mount San Antonio College in Walnut, California, but dropped in 1962 to move to New York City.  There he became involved in Off-Broadway theatre.

It was not long before Mr. Shepard began writing plays. His first was Cowboys in 1964. During the Sixties he wrote several more plays, including Chicago (1965), La Turista (1967), The Unseen Hand (1969), and The Holy Ghostly (1969), among others. The Seventies would see Sam Shepard come into his own as a playwright. He wrote and performed Cowboy Mouth (1971) with Patti Smith. His 1978 play Curse of the Starving Class would later be adapted as the 1994 film of the same name. His 1979 play Buried Child  won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. His 1980 play True West was a finalist for the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Drama In the Seventies he also wrote such plays as The Tooth of the Crime (1972), Action (1975), Angel City (1976), and Suicide in B Flat (1976), among others.

The Eighties saw Mr. Shepard's 1983 play Fool for Love be a finalist for the 1984 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. His 1985 play A Lie of the Mind won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play, the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best Play, and the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Off-Broadway Play. In the Nineties Mr. Shepard wrote the plays States of Shock (1991),  Simpatico (1993), :Eyes for Consuela (1998), and The Late Henry Moss (2000). In 1996 he revised his play The Tooth of the Crime as Tooth of Crime: Second Dance. From the Naughts into the Teens he wrote the plays The God of Hell (2004), Kicking a Dead Horse (2007), Agnes of the Moon (2009), Heatless (2012), and A Particle of Dread (Oedipus Variations) (2014).

Sam Shepard was also a screenwriter. His first writing credit was on Me and My Brother (1969). It was followed by Zabriskie Point (1970). Over the years he wrote screenplays for such films as Renaldo and Clara (1978), Savage/Love (1981), Paris, Texas (1984), Fool for Love (1985--based on his play of the same name), Far North (1988), Silent Tongue (1993), and Don't Come Knocking (2005).

In addition to his careers as a playwright and screenwriter, Mr. Shepard also had a very successful acting career. According to IMDB, his film debut was in the rather obscure film Brand X in 1970. In the late Seventies he appeared in the films Renaldo and Clara (1978), Days of Heaven (1978), and Resurrection (1980).  In the Eighties he played Chuck Yeager in the movie The Right Stuff (1983), for which he received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. He also appeared in the films Raggedy Man (1981), Frances (1982), Country (1984), Fool for Love (1985), Crimes of the Heart (1986), Baby Boom (1987), Steel Magnolias (1989), and Bright Angel (1990).

In the Nineties Sam Shepard appeared in the films Homo Faber (1991), Defenceless (1991), Thunderheart (1992), The Pelican Brief (1993), Safe Passage (1994), The Only Thrill (1997), Curtain Call (1998), Snow Falling on Cedars (1999), Hamlet (2000), and All the Pretty Horses (2000). He also appeared on television. He appeared in the TV movies The Good Old Boys (1995), Purgatory (1999), and Dash and Lilly (1999). He appeared in the mini-series Streets of Laredo and in the Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation Lily Dale.

In the Naughts Sam Shepard appeared in such films as Swordfish (2001), Black Hawk Down (2001), Blind Horizon (2003), The Notebook (2004), Walker Payne (2006), The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007), The Accidental Husband (2008), Brothers (2009), and Fair Game (2010).  In the Teens Mr. Shepard had roles in the TV shows Klondike and Bloodline. He appeared in such films as Blackthorn (2011), Savannah (2013), August: Osage County (2013), Ithaca (2015), and Midnight Special (2016). His last appearance was in Never Here, set to be released later this year.

Arguably, Sam Shepard was one of the greatest playwrights of the late 20th Century. His plays were simultaneously a deconstruction of the mythology of the Old West and a tribute to it. Mr. Shepard's West was one where there was no such thing as certainty and family relations could be complicated at best. His characters were three-dimensional while at the same time drawing upon archetypes common to American Western iconography. Of course, he was also a great screenwriter and his films had a lot in common with his plays.

While he was a great playwright and screenwriter, I rather suspect Sam Shepard is most familiar to audiences for his acting career. And he was a great actor. He was well suited to playing legendary, American icons, and he played several of them throughout his career, including Chuck Yeager, Wild Bill Hickcock, Dashiell Hammett, and Frank James. Sam Shepard was very versatile, and played a number of different sorts of characters in his career. He played farmer and devoted husband Pea Eye Parker in the mini-series Streets of Laredo. In Baby Boom he was the love interest, veterinarian Dr. Jeff Cooper. In Steel Magnolias he was the work-shy Spud Jones. He played a wide variety of characters throughout his career, and played all of them well. In the end Mr. Shepard was one of those rare multi-talents: a great playwright, a great screenwriter, and a great actor.

Monday, 31 July 2017

Jeanne Moreau Passes On

Legendary French actress Jeanne Moreau died today at the age of 89.

Jeanne Moreau was born on January 23 1928 in Paris, France. Her father was the owner of a hotel and restaurant in Paris. Her mother was a dancer who had performed at the Folies Bergère. She decided to become an actress when as a teenager she saw her first play, Antigone. She studied acting at the Conservatoire National d’Art Dramatique. Miss Moreau became a member of the Comédie-Française when she was 20, making her the youngest ever full member of the theatre. She made her debut as a professional actress in  Ivan Turgenev's A Month in the Country. She made her film debut in Dernier amour in 1949. She also appeared in the films Meurtres (1950) and Pigalle-Saint-Germain-des-Prés (1950). She joined the Théâtre National Populaire.

In the Fifties she appeared in such films as L'homme de ma vie (1952), Julietta (1953), Touchez pas au grisbi (1954), Secrets d'alcôve (1954), Queen Margot (1954), Les hommes en blanc (1955), Le salaire du péché (1956), Les louves (1957), and Trois jours à vivre (1957). It would be the late Fifties that would see Jeanne Moreau's career take off. In 1958 she starred in Louis Malle's Ascenseur pour l'échafaud (Elevator to the Gallows in English). The same year she appeared in Mr. Malle's Les amants (The Lovers in English). Towards the end of the decade Miss Moreau appeared in such films as Les liaisons dangereuses (1959), Le dialogue des Carmélites (1960), and Moderato cantabile (1960). She had a cameo in François Truffaut's Les quatre cents coups (1959--known in English as The 400 Blows).

The Sixties would see Jeanne Moreau appear in what might be her most famous role, that of Catherine in Jules et Jim (1962). She also appeared in such notable films as La Notte (1961), Le procès (1962--in English The Trial), Eva (1962), Le journal d'une femme de chambre (1964--in English Diary of a Chambermaid), The Train (1964), Chimes at Midnight (1965), Viva Maria! (1965), Le plus vieux métier du monde (1967--English title The Oldest Profession), La mariée était en noir (1968--English title The Bride Wore Black), The Deep (1970). and Monte Walsh (1970).

In the Seventies Miss Moreau appeared in such films as Chère Louise (1972), Nathalie Granger (1972), Les Valseuses (1974), Joanna Francesa (1975), Hu-Man (1975), Mr. Klein (1976), The Last Tycoon (1976),  and Chansons souvenirs (1980). She also appeared on television, in the teleplay La chevauchée sur le lac de Constance (1974) and an episode of the TV show Arena.

In the Eighties she appeared in the films Plein sud (1981), Your Ticket Is No Longer Valid (1981), Mille milliards de dollars (1982), Querelle (1982), La Truite (The Trout) (1982), Le paltoquet (1986), Le miraculé (1987), Jour après jour (1989), and Nikita (1990). She appeared in the TV show Shades of Darkness and the mini-series Le tiroir secret.

In the Nineties she appeared in the films La vieille qui marchait dans la mer (1991--in English The Old Lady Who Walked in the Sea), Bis ans Ende der Welt (1991), Map of the Human Heart (1992),  L'absence (1992), Al di là delle nuvole (1995), I Love You, I Love You Not (1996), Ever After: A Cinderella Story (1998), and Il manoscritto del principe (2000). She appeared in the TV films Catherine the Great (1996) and Balzac (1999), as well as the mini-series Les Misérables.

In the Naughts Miss Moreau appeared in such films as Cet amour-là (2001), Les parents terribles (2003), Autogram (2005), Le temps qui reste (2005), Go West (2005), Roméo et Juliette (2006), Disengagement (2007), Plus Tard (2008), and Visage (2009). She appeared on television in the mini-series Les rois maudits, TV movie La contessa di Castiglione (2006), and an episode of Collection Fred Vargas.

In the Teens Jeanne Moreau starred in the TV series Le tourbillon de Jeanne. She appeared in the films Une Estonienne à Paris (2012) and Gebo et l'ombre (2012). Her last appearance on screen was in Le talent de mes amis in 2015.

Jeanne Moreau also had a very successful career on stage. In 1954 she appeared in a production of Jean Cocteau's La Machine Infernale. In the Seventies she appeared in such plays as La chevauchée sur le lac de Constance and Lulu. In 1988 she won the Molière award for her performance in Le Récit de la Servante Zerline. In the Sixties she released several record albums.

Jeanne Moreau directed films as well as starred in them. She directed the drama Lumiere (1976), the drama L'adolescente (1979), and the documentary Lillian Gish (1983).

Perhaps no other actress is as identified with the French New Wave as Jeanne Moreau was. This should not be surprising, as she appeared in some of the best known films to emerge from the movement, including Ascenseur pour l'échafaud, Les amants, and Jules et Jim. If she was very much in demand by the directors of the French New Wave, it was perhaps because of her extraordinary talent. Miss Moreau was less of a movie star than she was a character actress. Quite simply, she could play any role given to her and she could play it well. She was the mercurial Catherine in Jules et Jim. She was the bored housewife in Les amants. In The Bride Wore Black she was the vengeful bride of the title. Miss Moreau could play nearly anything, from the manipulative chambermaid in Le journal d'une femme de chambre to a grandmother in her final film, Le talent de mes amis. It is little wonder that her career spanned  70 years. Jeanne Moreau was truly one of the great actress of European cinema.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

British Invaders Blogathon Reminder

This is just a reminder that the British Invaders Blogathon will take place this coming weekend, August 4, 5, and 6. If you want to take part there is still time! Visit the original post here.

Saturday, 29 July 2017

"Pictues of Matchstick Men" by Status Quo

This week I have felt tired and worn out all week, so tonight I will leave you with one of my favourite songs. "Pictures of Matchstick Men" was the first single for legendary British band Status Quo. It also happened to be their first major hit. The song reached no. 7 on the British singles chart. Status Quo would go onto chart many more times in the United Kingdom, so many times that they hold the record for the most hits on the chart of any band there. Surprisingly enough, "Pictures of Matchstick Men" would be their only hit in the United States, reaching no. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

The Late Great June Foray

June Foray, the legendary voice artist who provided the voice for such characters as Rocky J. Squirrel in the Rocky and Bullwinkle franchise, both Granny (originally voiced by Bea Benaderet) and Witch Hazel (also originally voiced by Bea Benaderet) and many other characters in Warner Bros. cartoons, the cat Lucifer in the Disney classic Cinderella, and many other cartoon characters, died yesterday at the age of 99.

June Foray was born June Lucille Forer on September 18 1917 in Springfield, Massachusetts. She made her radio debut in Springfield when she was only 12 years old. By the time that she was 15 years old she was regularly doing voice work in radio. Her family moved to Los Angeles two years after Miss Foray graduated from high school. It was not long before she had her own radio show, Lady Make Believe, which she not only hosted, but also wrote as well. June Foray worked extensively in radio. From 1944 to 1952 she provided the voices for Midnight the Cat and Old Grannie on The Buster Brown Program. From 1945 to 1947 she provided various voices for Smile Time. She was also regularly provided voices for The Jimmy Durante Show, CBS Radio Workshop, and The Stan Freberg Show. Her career in radio would continue after the age of Old Time Radio ended. She guest starred on Sears Radio Theatre in 1979 and then Adventures in Odyssey in 2007.

June Foray made her film debut in the Walter Lantz animated short "The Egg Cracker Suite' as the voice of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit in 1943. She first worked for Warner Bros. on the short "The Unbearable Bear", providing various voices. She was also the voice of a cigarette girl in Tex Avery's classic MGM short "Red Hot Riding Hood" (1943). In addition to various shorts in the late Forties, Miss Foray also provided the voice of Lucifer the cat in the classic Disney film Cinderella (1950).

It was in the late Fifties that June Foray first provided the voice for Rocket J. Squirrel, better known simply as "Rocky". In 1959 the Jay Ward Productions TV show Rocky and His Friends debuted on ABC. It ran on ABC until 1961, whereupon it moved to NBC and was retitled The Bullwinkle Show. On NBC it ran for a single season in primetime before being moved elsewhere on the schedule. NBC cancelled the show in 1964, but it ran in reruns on various networks until 1973. June Foray would voice Rocky in various revivals of Rocky and Bullwinkle, as well as TV commercials and the 2000 feature The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle. In addition to Rocky, June Foray also voiced Rocky and Bullwinkle's archenemy Natasha Fatale on the show, as well as Nell Fenwick in the Dudley Do-Right segments.

In addition to her work on Rocky and Bullwinkle, June Foray did other work on television in the Fifties. She provided voices for the animated series as The Woody Woodpecker Show, The Huckleberry Hound Show, and Mister Magoo. She also provided incidental voices for live action shows, including that of a dog on I Love Lucy, an operator on Father Knows Best, an operator on The Jack Benny Program, and the voice of a dummy on Johnny Staccato, as well a voice for Rawhide.  Miss Foray also made a rare appearance in front of the camera on television in the Fifties, appearing on The Ray Milland Show: Meet Mr. McNulty. As might expected, June Foray continued to provide voices for theatrical animated shorts. She first voiced Granny in the Bugs Bunny short "This is a Life" (1955). She first voiced Waner Bros.' Witch Hazel in the Bugs Bunny short "Broom-Stick Bunny" (1956).  In addition to her work with Warner Bros., she also provided voices for shorts produced by MGM, Walt Disney Productions, Walter Lantz, and  Hanna-Barbera Productions. Miss Foray also provided voices for animated features, including Disney's Peter Pan (1953) and the English dub of The Snow Queen (1955). She made a rare live action appearance in the feature film Sabaka (1954). She also provided incidental voices for live-action feature films, including Susan Slept Here (1954) and It's Always Fair Weather (1955).

In the Sixties June Foray continued to provide the voice of Rocky J. Squirrel. She also provided voices for other animated TV shows, including The Alvin Show, Calvin and the Colonel, George of the Jungle, Off to See the Wizard, Here Comes the Grump, and The Pink Panther Show. She provided voices for the Beetle Bailey and Krazy Kat television animated shorts. She also provided incidental voices for live action TV shows, the most famous perhaps being Talky Tina in the Twilight Zone episode "Living Doll". She also provided voices for such live action shows as The Red Skelton Show, Gilligan's Island, 12 O' Clock High, Bewitched, It's About Time, Lost in Space, The Brady Bunch, and Get Smart. She made a rare live action appearance on Green Acres. She provided the voice of Cindy Lou Who in the classic TV special How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, the Rankin/Bass special Mouse on the Mayflower, Frosty the Snowman, and The Pogo Special Birthday Special. She continued to provide voices for theatrical animated shorts, as well as voices for the animated feature The Phantom Tollbooth (1970).

In the Seventies June Foray provided voices for the children's show The Curiosity Shop and the animated shows These Are the Days, The Pink Panther Laugh and a Half Hour and a Half Show, and Heathcliff. She provided voices for several TV specials, including The Thanksgiving That Almost Wasn't, The Cricket in Times Square, Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, and Mowgli's Brothers. She continued to provide voices for animated shorts.

 In the Eighties June Foray regularly provided voices for various Saturday morning cartoons. She was the voice of Aunt May on Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, the voice of Jokey Smurf on The Smurfs, Grandma on Teen Wolf, Grandma Cavemom on The Flintstone Kids, and both Ma Beagle and Magica De Spell on DuckTales. She provided additional voices on such cartoons as The Incredible Hulk, Saturday Supercade, and Alvin & the Chipmunks. Miss Foray was a guest voice on The Simpsons. She also provided voices for animated television specials, including Faeries, Happily Ever After, and others. June Foray made a live action appearance as herself on the sitcom The Duck Factory. She continued to work in movie shorts, and provided voices for the feature film Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988).

In the Nineties Miss Foray again worked on several animated television cartoons. She was the voice of Grammi Gummi on The Adventures of the Gummi Bears, Granny on Tiny Toon Adventures, Martha Wilson on The All-New Dennis the Menace, and Granny on The Sylvester & Tweety Mysteries. She provided additional voices for yet other television cartoons. She also provided voices on episodes of the live action sitcoms Married...With Children and Weird Science. She provided voices for the feature films Thumbelina (1994), Space Jam (1996), Mulan (1998), and The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle (2000). She also continued to provide voices for animated shorts.

In the Naughts June Foray provided the voice of Granny on the animated series Baby Looney Tunes. She made a voice cameo as Rocky on Family Guy. She was also a guest voice on such animated shows as The Powerpuff Girls, Duck Dodgers, and The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack. She was the voice of Granny in Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003), Grandmother Fa in Mulan II (2004), and Mama Sasquatch in The Legend of Sasquatch (2006). She continued to provide voices for animated shorts.

In the Teens Miss Foray was the voice of Granny on The Looney Tunes Show. She was a guest voice on The Garfield Show. She continued to do voices for animated shorts. Fittingly, her last credit was as Rocky in the animated short "Rocky and Bullwinkle" (2014).

June Foray also provided voices for video games related to Warner Bros. cartoons and DuckTales, as well as the video game Lego Island. In the 1940s she recorded children's records for Capitol Records and in the Fifties she recorded comedy records with fellow voice artist Stan Freberg.  Miss Foray was also the original voice of Mattel's highly popular talking doll Chatty Cathy in the Sixties.

In additional to being the industry's foremost female voice artist, June Foray was one of animation's biggest champions. She was an early member of ASIFA-Hollywood (a branch of Association Internationale du Film d'Animation or the International Animated Film Association). As part of ASIFA-Hollywood, Miss Foray founded the Annie Awards, annual American awards for accomplishments in animation. She was also instrumental in the creation of an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.

Legendary animator Chuck Jones once said, , "June Foray is not the female Mel Blanc, Mel Blanc was the male June Foray." Mr. Jones's quote shows just how good Miss Foray was as a voice artist. If she was not the greatest voice artist of all time, then she certainly numbered among them. Over the years she certainly voiced a wide variety of voices. She could do "little girl" voices, as she did with Talky Tina in the Twilight Zone episode "Living Doll" and Cindy Lou Who in How the Grinch Stole Christmas!. She could also do old lady voices, the most famous of which was Granny in Warner Bros.' "Sylvester and Tweety" shorts. Miss Foray could even do the voices of young males. In fact, what may be her most famous character was male, Rocket J. Squirrel in the "Rocky and Bullwinkle" franchise. Over the years June Foray provided voices for an amazing array of characters, from Warner Bros.' Witch Hazel to Jokey Smurf.

Of course, June Foray wasn't simply a great voice artist. She was also one of animation's foremost champions. As noted above, she was one of ASIFA-Hollywood's earliest members and it was she who came up with the idea for the Annie Awards. As might be expected, June Foray had a legion of fans, some of them quite famous. When movie critic Leonard Maltin attended the 2007 Oscar nominees luncheon, he asked legendary director Martin Scorsese whom he was most excited to meet. Mr. Scorsese's response was "June Foray." Those fans who were fortunate enough to meet June Foray always came away with fond memories of her. Fans who met her always said the same things about her. She was a woman of class, a true lady, and one of the nicest people one could ever meet. Miss Foray leaves behind a legacy in animation that might never be matched. What is more, she was a truly great lady.