Thursday, 14 December 2017

Rescuing Net Neutrality

Today the Federal Communications Commission voted to repeal the rules protecting Net Neutrality. For those of you who don't know what Net Neutrality is or why it is important, here is a post I wrote earlier in the year on the subject. Regardless, given how important Net Neutrality is to a free,open, and prosperous internet, many people are upset, particularly as millions of people left comments letting the FCC know that they wanted to keep the rules regarding Net Neutrality.

Despite the FCC vote, however, there is no reason for supporters of Net Neutrality to give up. Already a number of state attorneys general have stated they will file lawsuits to stop the dismantling of Net Neutrality. Both Congressmen and Senators are calling for legislation that would insure Net Neutrality is maintained. The ACLU and other groups have vowed to fight the changes. The changes would take literally weeks to take effect, but it seems possible given the looming legal battles that they might take longer to take place, if at all.

If you are an average American and wish to see Net Neutrality maintained, there are things you can do to help try to save it. Write, call, email, or tweet to your Representative and your Senators to let them know you support legislation to make Net Neutrality the law of the land. If your state attorney general has not already filed a lawsuit, contact him or her and ask that they do so. What is more, get the word out for others to do the same. Contrary to some headlines, Net Neutrality is not dead, but it looks like we will have to fight to keep it.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

The Late Great Pat DiNizio

Pat DiNizio, the lead vocalist, rhythm guitarist, and songwriter of The Smithereens, died yesterday at the age of 62. No cause was death has been given, but he had suffered from a series of health problems since 2015.

Pat DiNizio was born on October 12 1955 in Scotch Plains, New Jersey. Pat DiNizio developed an interest in music while still young. He became a lifelong fan of The Beatles upon seeing them on The Ed Sullivan Show. He later became a fan of heavy metal band Black Sabbath and only a little later discovered the work of Buddy Holly. It would be the work of Buddy Holly that would have a particular impact on his music. It was not long before he was writing his own songs.

Pat DiNizio was working in the family's garbage collection business when he placed an advertisement in The Aquarian Weekly for a drummer to play on a demo tape. The advert was answered by drummer Dennis Diken of Carteret, New Jersey. Mr. Diken later introduced Mr. DiNizio to Jim Babjak and Mike Mesaros, with whom he had been playing music since high school. The four of them formed The Smithereens. They made their live debut in March of 1980 at Englander's in Hillside, New Jersey. That same year they released an EP on the small D-Tone label entitled Girls About Town.  A second EP, Beauty and Sadness, was released in 1983.  They also occasionally played as a backing band for the legendary Otis Blackwell.

Eventually Pat DiNizio sent a cassette tape of The Smithereens' material to Enigma Records, an indie label with a distribution agreement with Capitol Records. One of the executives at Enigma had known the band when he was a disc jockey in college. After around five years together, The Smithereens were signed to Enigma Records. Their first LP, Especially for You, was released on March 1 1986. The album peaked at no. 51 on the Billboard album chart. Their first single, "Blood and Roses", reached no. 14 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart. Their second single, "Behind the Wall of Sleep", went to no. 23 on the same chart.

Over the next several years The Smithereens would have modest success. Their second album, Green Thoughts, went to no. 60 on the Billboard album chart. If anything some of the singles from the album performed even better than the LP did. "Only a Memory" went to no. 1 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart. The second single from the album, "House We Used to Live In", went to no. 14 on the same chart. The third single, "Drown in My Own Tears", went to no. 34 on the chart.

It would be with their third album that The Smithereens would reach the peak of their success. The album 11 went to no. 41 on the Billboard album chart. The first single from the album, "A Girl Like You", would prove to be their biggest hit. It peaked at no. 2 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart, no. 3 on the Billboard Modern Rock chart, and no. 38 on the Billboard Hot 100. The following singles from the album also performed relatively well.

Unfortunately, The Smithereens' success would prove to be short lived. Their fourth album, Blow Up, only reached no. 120 on the Billboard album chart, although two of its singles ("Top of the Pops" and "Too Much Passion") performed relatively well. Their fifth album, A Date with The Smithereens, also did poorly, reaching only no. 133 on the Billboard album chart. It produced their last somewhat successful single, "Miles from Nowhere", which reached no. 17 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart.

It would be five years before The Smithereens released their next album, God Save The Smithereens. There would be another eight years before they followed it with Meet The Smithereens!, a Beatles tribute album on which The Smithereens played the songs from The Beatles' album Meet The Beatles. That same year, 2007, the band released a holiday album, Christmas with The Smithereens. In 2008 they released B-Sides The Beatles, in which they covered the B-Sides of various Beatles singles, and in 2009 they released The Smithereens Play Tommy, on which they played The Who's rock opera Tommy. Their last album of all original material, 2011, was released in 2011.

Pat DiNizio recorded four solo albums. The first, Songs and Sounds, was released in 1997. It was followed by This Is Pat DiNizio in 2006 on which he covered songs by The Beatles, Glen Campbell, The Beach Boys, and others. His third solo album, Pat DiNizio, was released in 2007 and saw a return to original material. He released one last solo album, Pat DiNizio Sings Buddy Holly, in 2009.

Mr. DiNizio also directed and starred in the 2004 independent film King Leisure, S.O.B. In 2009 he released an audio book, Confessions Of A Rock Star.

Alongside Cheap Trick and The Posies, The Smithereens are one of my favourite American power pop bands. I am then very saddened by the death of Pat DiNizio. He was an extremely talented songwriter, capable of turning out hook-laden power pop songs that also had a good deal of depth. Indeed, while the music of many bands in the genre tends to be happy, jangly, and upbeat, The Smithereens were known for songs that could be somewhat gloomy in their outlook. Arguably Pat DiNizio wrote some of the greatest power pop songs of all time, including "A Girl Like You", "Drown in My Own Tears", "Behind the Wall of Sleep", "Blood and Roses", and many others. While The Smithereens may have never had a great deal of success on the charts, they developed a cult following that they maintain to this day.

As to Pat DiNizio himself, my brother actually got to meet The Smithereens. According to my brother Mr. DiNizio was very nice and possessed a quick wit and a good sense of humour. He seemed less like a rock star than an ordinary guy who just happened to be very talented at composing and performing music. Pat DiNizio may have achieved stardom in a way most of us never will, but he always remained true to his small town roots.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Godspeed Anthony Harvey

Film editor and director Anthony Harvey died on November 23 2017 at the age of 87.

Anthony Harvey was born on June 3 1930 in London. His father died when he was young and his mother later married actor Morris Harvey. Young Anthony took his stepfather's surname. He entered the film industry as an actor when he was 14, playing Ptolemy in the 1945 film adaption of George Bernard Shaw's Caesar and Cleopatra. As an actor Anthony Harvey was talented enough to win a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, but he soon realised that acting was not for him. He then began work as an assistant film editor. His first film was The Long Memory (1953).  As an assistant film editor he worked on the Boulting brother's films, including Sailor of the King (1953) and Seagulls Over Sorrento (1954).

With Anthony Asquith's short "On Such a Night" (1956) he became a full-fledged editor. He edited the Boulting brothers' films Private's Progress (1956), Brothers in Law (1957), Happy Is the Bride (1958), Carlton-Browne of the F.O. (1959), and I'm All Right Jack (1959).  In the late Fifties he went onto edit the film The Angry Silence (1960) and Anthony Asquith's comedy The Millionairess (1960).

In the Sixties Mr. Harvey edited two of director Stanley Kubrick's best known films, Lolita (1962) and Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964). He also edited The L-Shaped Room (1962), The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965), and The Whisperers (1967). Anthony Harvey became a director with the featurette Dutchman (1966), which he also edited. His first feature was the critically acclaimed screen adaption of the play The Lion in Winter (1968), starring Katharine Hepburn and Peter O'Toole.

In the Seventies Anthony Harvey directed the cult film They Might Be Giants (1971), as well as the movies The Abdication (1974), Players (1979), Eagle's Wing (1979), and Richard's Things (1980). He directed a TV movie adaption of Tennessee Williams's The Glass Menagerie and the Hallmark Hall of Fame Presentation of The Disappearance of Aimee.

In the Eighties he directed Grace Quigley (1984)  and the TV movie Svengali. In the Nineties he directed the TV movie This Can't Be Love.

Anthony Harvey was enormously talented as both an editor and a director. He seemed to have an innate sense of timing, the ability to know how long a shot should last and how that shot should be framed. He certainly worked on some classics in his career. As an editor he worked on Lolita, Dr. Strangelove, and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. As a director he directed The Lion in Winter, They Might Be Giants, and Richard's Things. Even his work on television was impressive. He directed one of the best Hallmark Hall of Fame presentations, The Disappearance of Aimee. As an editor Anthony Harvey worked with some of the best directors in the business and he later became one himself.

Friday, 8 December 2017

The Late Great George Young

George Young, a founding member of The Easybeats and Flash and the Pan, died on October 22 2017 at the age of 70.

George Young was born on February 9 1942 in Glasgow, Scotland.  His older brother Alex would also become a rock star as the bassist of Grapefruit, as would his younger brothers Malcolm and Angus as the founders of the legendary band AC/DC. According to Malcolm Young, all of the males in his family played some sort of musical instrument. It was following the particularly severe winter of 1962-1963 (known as "the Big Freeze of 1963") that the Young family immigrated to Australia. 

It was at the Villawood Migrant Hostel in Sydney that George Young met Dutch immigrant Harry Vanda. The two of them formed The Easybeats in 1964 with Dick Diamonde on bass, Gordon "Snowy" Fleet on drums, and Stevie Wright on lead vocals. George Young played rhythm guitar, while Harry Vanda played lead. 

The Easybeats became the resident band for the Beatle Village Club in Syndey, where they were discovered by the music publisher and producer Ted Albert. Mr. Albert signed them to his own Albert Productions and secured a record deal with EMI/Parlophone. The Easybeats had success early, with their first single "She's a Woman" going to no. 33 on the Australian chart in 1965. That same year they would have major hits with "She's So Fine" and "Wedding Ring". Their first album, Easy, released in September 1965, went to no. 4 on the Australian chart.

In 1966 The Easybeats moved to London, where they would see even more success. Their single "Women (Make Me Feel Alright)" went to no. 4 on the Australian chart. Their single "Come and See Her" went to no. 3. They had their first no. 1 with "Sorry". It would be "Friday on My Mind" that would be the biggest success of their career. "Friday on My Mind" not only went to no. 1 on the Australian chart, but proved to be their first international success. It went to no. 6 on the UK singles chart and no. 16 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States. Their album It's 2 Easy went to no. 7 on the Australian chart.

The Easybeats would not be able to repeat the success of "Friday on My Mind". Their highest charting single in 1967 was "Heaven and Hell", which went to no. 8 on the Australian chart. By 1968 The Easybeats, which had regularly seen their singles reach the top ten and top twenty of the Australian chart, only landed one single, "Land of Make Believe", in the top twenty. They did have some international success with "Hello, How are You", which went to no. 20 on the UK chart, and  "St. Louis", which peaked at no. 100 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Even though The Easybeats saw fewer hits after 1968, they saw several of their songs covered by other bands. "Bring a Little Lovin'" was covered by Los Bravos and "Come In, You'll Get Pneumonia" was covered by Paul Revere & The Raiders. "Good Times", which saw some airplay in the United States and United Kingdom, would later be covered by Shocking Blue. Nearly all of The Easybeats' songs were co-written by George Young, either with Stevie Wright or Harry Vanda.

By 1968 the band was in decline and its members began to drift apart. One last album, Vigil, was released in May 1968. A final album released under The Easybeats' name, Friends, was actually a compilation of demo tracks for other artists written by Harry Vanda and George Young save for the singles "St. Louis" and "Can't Find Love".  Their single "Peculiar Hole In The Sky" only went to no. 53 on the Australian chart in 1969. Their single "I Love Marie" did even worse, only going to no. 93. The Easybeats then broke up in 1969.

In 1970, following the break-up of The Easybeats, George Young and Harry Vanda formed a songwrting and production partnership, Vanda & Young. They both wrote songs for other artists and performed under various stage names Paintbox, Tramp, Eddie Avana, Moondance, Haffy's Whiskey Sour, and Band of Hope. In 1972 George Young and Harry Vanda formed the Marcus Hook Roll Band, which inlcuded George Young's brothers Malcolm and Angus. Vanda & Young would go onto produce AC/DC's early albums, including T.N.T., High Voltage, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and Powerage. George Young alone would produce AC/DC's 2000 album Stiff Upper Lip.

In 1976 Vanda & Young formed the New Wave band Flash and the Pan. The band's first single, , "Hey, St. Peter", went to no. 5 on the Australian singles chart and reched no. 76 on the Billboard Hot 100. Their second single, "Down Among the Dead Men", went to no. 4 on the Australian singles chart and reached no. 54 on the British singles chart. Their self-titled debut album was released in 1978. It would be followed by five more alubms: Lights in the Night, Headlines, Early Morning Wake Up Call, Nights in France, and Burning Up the Night. Their single "Waiting for a Train" proved to be a hit in the United Kingdom, reaching no. 7 on the British singles chart. 

Vanda & Young would also produce songs for such artists as Steve Wright (the formerlead vocalist of The Easybeats), The Angels, John Paul Young (who was not a relation), and Rose Tattoo. They co-wrote Meatloaf's 1995 song "Runnin' for the Red Light (I Gotta Life)". 

George Young retired in the late Nineties. 

Even if the only things George Young had ever done was to co-write "Friday on My Mind" and "Walking in the Rain", he would be notable. As it is he did much more. He co-wrote almost every single one of The Easybeats' songs, including their biggest hits. He also co-wrote almost every Flash and the Pan song. On top of that, he produced several of AC/DC's albums, including some of their best work. He also produced a good deal of work for other artists. On top of all this he was a talented musician, quite good at playing rhythm guitar, bass, and piano. He might not have been as famous as his younger brothers Malcolm and Angus (at least not in the United States), but there is every reason he should be.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

William Frye R.I.P.

Agent and producer William Frye died on November 3 2017 at the age of 96. Mr. Frye served as a producer on such TV shows as Four Star Playhouse and Thriller, and such movies as The Trouble with Angels (1966) and Airport '77 (1977).

William Frye was born October 5 1921 in Salinas, California. During World War II he served in the Merchant Marine. Mr. Frye was only 27 when he became Cary Grant's agent. He would go onto represent such movie legends as Rosalind Russell, Ronald Colman, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Dick Powell, and Joel McCrea, among many others. Mr. Frye entered television production through Four Star Productions, representing two of the four stars of the company's name (Dick Powell and Joel McCrea). William Frye produced one episode of Four Star Playhouse as well as the entire run of Ronald Colman's short-lived comedy The Hall of  Ivy. In the Fifties he also served as the producer on the shows Johnny Staccato, General Electric Theatre, The Deputy, and the classic horror anthology Thriller. He also produced episodes of the shows Star Stage, Suspicion, Schlitz Playhouse, and Startime, as well as the Phil Silvers TV special The Slowest Gun in the West.

In the Sixties it was William Frye who discovered the book What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? by Henry Farrell and brought it to the attention of Bette Davis. He continued to produce the TV series Thriller in the early part of the decade. He produced the 1963 television documentary A Look at Monaco, which centred on Princess Grace Kelly. He produced the TV movie The Other Man (1970) and an episode of the show The Survivors.  Mr. Frye entered feature film production with 1966's The Trouble with Angels. He also produced its sequel Where Angels Go Trouble Follows! (1968).

In the Seventies William Frye produced the films Airport 1975 (1974), Airport '77 (1977), and Raise the Titanic (1980). He produced several TV movies, including The Screaming Woman (1972), She Cried Murder (1973), The Elevator (1974), and Superdome (1978), among others.

William Frye was one of our last surviving links to the Golden Age of Hollywood. Not only did he know and work with many of the legendary stars of the era, but he was also friends with a good number of them. As a television producer he worked on what may be the greatest horror anthology ever made, Thriller. He also produced many fine television movies. 

Mr. Frye retired in 1990. He often wrote about his Hollywood career in Vanity Fair.

Monday, 4 December 2017

Godspeed Rance Howard

Character actor Rance Howard died on November 25 2017 at the age of 89. In addition to appearing in many films and guest starring on many television shows in his long career, he was also the father of director Ron Howard and the actor Clint Howard, as well as the grandfather of actress and director Bryce Dallas Howard and actress Paige Howard.

Rance Howard was born Harold Rance Beckenholdt in Duncan, Oklahoma on November 17 1928. He became interested in acting when he appeared in a Christmas school play in Shidler, Oklahoma when he was in seventh grade. He toured with a children's theatre. He attended the University of Oklahoma where he majored in drama.

Rance Howard toured with Henry Fonda in Mister Roberts before moving to Baltimore to become resident director of The Hilltop Theatre. Mr. Howard made his film debut in 1956 in Frontier Woman. The film also marked the film debut of his son, Ron, who was only two years old at the time. He made his television debut the same year in a guest appearance on the anthology show Kraft Theatre. In the late Fifties he guest starred on such shows as How to Marry a Millionaire, Bat Masterson, Zane Grey Theatre, and Death Valley Days. He guest starred on the Make Room for Daddy episode "Danny Meets Andy Griffith", the pilot for The Andy Griffith Show that also featured his son Ron.

In the Sixties, Rance Howard appeared in the films The Music Man (1962), The Courtship of Eddie's Father (1963), Village of the Giants (1965), The Desert Raven (1965), An Eye for an Eye (1966), Gentle Giant (1967), Old Paint (1969), and Wild Country (1970). He was a regular on the TV show Gentle Ben. He guest starred on such shows as Combat!, The Fugitive, The Andy Griffith Show, The Virginian, The Jean Arthur Show, That Girl, The Monroes, Then Came Bronson, and Dan August.

In the Seventies, Mr. Howard had a recurring role on The Waltons. He guest starred on the shows Night Gallery, Bonanza, Nichols, The F.B.I., Kung Fu, Gunsmoke, The Rookies, Switch, Little House on the Prairie, Battlestar Galactica, Laverne & Shirley, and Happy Days. He appeared in the films Bloody Trail (1972), Chinatown (1974), Eat My Dust (1976), The Legend of Frank Woods (1977), Grand Theft Auto (1977), Un autre homme, une autre chance (1977), and Mr. No Legs (1978).

In the Eighties, Rance Howard appeared in the films Smokey Bites the Dust (1981), Love Letters (1983), Forever and Beyond (1983), The Lonely Guy (1984), Splash (1984), Two Soldiers (1985), Creator (1985), Coccon (1985), Gung Ho (1986), Innerspace (1987), B.O.R.N. (1988), Dark Before Dawn (1988), Trust Me (1989), Listen to Me (1989), Parenthood (1989), and Limit Up (1989). He guest starred on the shows Dynasty; Finder of Lost Loves; Murder, She Wrote; Dallas; Days of Our Lives; Wiseguy; Superboy; B. L. Stryker; and Equal Justice. He appeared in the Andy Griffith Show television reunion movie Return to Mayberry.

In the Nineties, Mr. Howard appeared in such films as 9 1/2 Ninjas! (1991), Don't Buy Kisses Anymore (1992), Far and Away (1992), Universal Soldier (1992), Fearless (1993), The Cowboy Way (1994), Terminal Velocity (1994), Ed Wood (1994), Apollo 13 (1995), Sgt. Bilko (1996), Independence Day (1996), Mars Attacks! (1996), Ghosts of Mississippi (1996), Money Talks (1997), Chairman of the Board (1998), The Night Caller (1998), Happy, Texas (1999), and How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000). He guest starred on such shows as Quantum Leap, Baywatch, Coach, Diagnosis Murder, Tales from Crypt, Seinfeld, Melrose Place, Married With Children, Babylon 5, Clueless, and 7th Heaven.

In the Naughts Rance Howard appeared in such films Joe Dirt (2001), Rat Race (2001), A Beautiful Mind (2001), The Missing (2003), The Alamo (2004), Cinderella Man (2005), Aimee Semple McPherson (2006), Georgia Rule (2007), Drillbit Taylor (2008), Frost/Nixon (2008), Angels & Demons (2009), and Jonah Hex (2010).  He guest starred on such shows as Angel, Cold Case, That's So Raven, Ghost Whisperer, CSI: NY, and ER.

In the Teens Mr. Howard appeared in such films as Rosewood Lane (2011), Let Go (2011), Huff (2013), Nebraska (2013), The Lone Ranger (2013), Junction (2015), and Broken Memories (2017). He guest starred on such TV shows as Grey's Anatomy, NCIS: Los Angeles, Bones, and The X-Files.

Rance Howard may be better known as the father of Ron Howard than he is his acting career. In some respects that is sad, as he was quite a remarkable actor. He was one of the many character actors from the Fifties to the Teens upon whom the American television and film industries depended to fill even the smallest roles. In his long career Mr. Howard played everything from priests to farmers to physicians to the Devil himself. And while many times he might only be on screen for a few minutes, he always gave a good performance. If Rance Howard was extremely prolific in his career, it was because he was just so very good at what he did.

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Jim Nabors In Memoriam

Jim Nabors, the baritone singer best known for playing Gomer Pyle on both The Andy Griffith Show and Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C., died today at the age of 87.

Jim Nabors was born on June 12 1930 in Sylacauga, Alabama. He sang in the choir at his church and in the glee club at his high school. He also played the clarinet in his high school band. He earned a degree in business from the University of Alabama. After graduating Mr. Nabors moved to New York City where he worked as a typist at the United Nations. He then moved to Chattanooga, Tennessee where he worked as a film cutter at a local television station.

Because of his asthma Jim Nabors eventually moved to Los Angeles, California. Once there he became a film cutter at NBC. He also began performing at the Horn, a club in Santa Monica, California. Jim Nabors's monologue was based around a persona not too far removed from Gomer Pyle. He came to the notice of Bill Dana, who managed to get him on The New Steve Allen Show.

Andy Griffith also caught Jim Nabors's act at the Horn and thought he would be perfect for a guest appearance on The Andy Griffith Show. Jim Nabors made his first appearance as none-too-bright service station attendant Gomer Pyle in the episode "The Bank Job" on December 24 1962. Gomer Pyle proved so popular that Jim Nabors became one of the regulars on The Andy Griffith Show. In the 1962-1963 season he would also make guest appearance on Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and I'm Dickens, He's Fenster.

It was at the start of the 1964-1965 season that Gomer Pyle was spun off into his own show, Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C. The show proved to be a hit and ran for five years, ending only because Jim Nabors wanted to move onto other things. It was also in the 1964-1965 season that Jim Nabors had a recurring role on the short lived sitcom Valentine's Day. During the Sixties, Jim Nabors guest starred as Gomer Pyle on The Lucy Show. He also guest starred on Off to See the Wizard. Mr. Nabors was able to show off his rich baritone on an episode of The Andy Griffith Show and sometimes appeared as a singer as well as a comedian and actor on variety and talk shows. In the Sixties he guest starred on such variety and talk shows as The Danny Kaye Show, The Ed Sullivan Show, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, The Joey Bishop Show, The Dean Martin Show, The Carol Burnett Show, The Leslie Uggams Show, and The Mike Douglas Show. In 1969 Jim Nabors received his own variety show, which ran until 1971. It was still doing well in the ratings when it was cancelled as part of the Rural Purge. He appeared in the film Take Her, She's Mine (1963).

As a singer Jim Nabors also had a fairly successful career. He released his first album, :Jim Nabors Sings Love Me With All Your Heart, in 1966. In all he released 28 albums.

In the Seventies Jim Nabors guest starred on such shows as The Ken Berry 'Wow' Show, The David Frost Show,The Flip Wilson Show, The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour, The Muppet Show, and Dinah!. He appeared in the first episode of the every season of The Carol Burnett Show,  Miss Burnett considering Mr. Nabors her good luck charm. He starred in the Saturday morning live-action show The Lost Saucer and in 1978 he had his own syndicated show, The Jim Nabors Show. He guest starred on The Rookies.

In the Eighties Jim Nabors appeared in the films The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982), Stroker Ace (1983) and Cannonball Run II (1984). He reprised his role as Gomer Pyle in the reunion television movie Return to Mayberry in 1986. He guest starred on Knight Rider. In the Nineties Mr. Nabors appeared in a brief revival of The Carol Burnett Show. He guest starred as Gomer Pyle on an episode of Hi Honey, I'm Home.

Much of Jim Nabors's later career he spent touring and singing in nightclubs. From 1972 to 2014 he sang "Back Home Again in Indiana” at the Indianapolis 500 each year.

Jim Nabors was an enormous comic talent. It is with good reason that Gomer Pyle is the most famous character outside of Deputy Barney Fife (played by the great Don Knotts) to emerge from The Andy Griffith Show. Mr. Nabors played the often clueless Pyle with perfect timing and an honesty that made the gas station attendant and later Marine seem like a an authentic character. While Mr Nabors played Gomer for much of his career, not to mention many characters similar to Gomer, he was capable of much more. He was incredible in the skits in which he appeared on The Carol Burnett Show and his own variety show. Of course, Jim Nabors was also a great singer. He had an impressive baritone and made quite a good living as a singer, both recording albums and touring. As both a comedic genius and a very talented singer, Jim Nabors could well have been a great musical comedy star in film had he been born only a few years earlier. He may always be remembered as Gomer Pyle, but Mr. Nabors was much more.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Godspeed Della Reese

Singer and actress Della Reese died on November 19 2017 at the age of 86.

Della Reese was born Delloreese Early in Detroit, Michigan. She was only six years old when she joined the junior choir at her church. She eventually became a soloist and sang at other churches and various events. She also sang on the radio. She was 13 years old when she joined Mahalia Jackson's gospel group. She toured with Mahalia Jackson for five summers. Miss Reese briefly attended Wayne State University, but had to drop out following her mother's death.

Della Reese held down various jobs while still pursuing a singing career. She formed her own group, the Meditation Singers. It was in 1951 that she won a singing contest sponsored by a newspaper while singing at a bowling alley/nightclub. She won a week long engagement at an after hours club. The engagement at the club was later extended. It was an agent who got her a job singing with Erskine Hawkins’ jazz orchestra for nine months. In 1954 she signed her first recording contract. Her first single, "In The Still Of The Night", was released in 1955. She made her television debut in 1956 as a guest vocalist on Stage Show. In 1957 she had her first major hit single, "And That Reminds Me", which peaked at no. 12 on the Billboard singles chart. She would have even more success with her next single, "Don't You Know", which went to no. 2 on the Billboard singles chart 1959. She had one more major hit, "Not One Minute More", in 1960. In the late Fifties she appeared on such shows as The Big Record, The Ed Sullivan Show, Val Parnell's Sunday Night at the London Palladium, and Perry Como's Kraft Music Hall. She appeared as herself in the movie Let's Rock.

In the Sixties Della Reese's music career went in decline. She had several hits reach the Billboard Hot 100, but none entered the top forty. She continued to appear frequently on television, appearing on such shows as The Tonight Show, The Lively Ones, The Hollywood Palace, The Ed Sullivan Show, The Mike Douglas Show, The Jonathan Winters Show, The Dom DeLuise Show, and Playboy After Dark. She hosted her own show, Della, from 1969 to 1970. In 1968 she made her acting debut on an episode of The Mod Squad. She also guest starred on The New Doctors.

In the Seventies Della Reese was a regular on the hit sitcom Chico and the Man. She guest starred on the shows Getting Together, Police Woman, Petrocelli, Police Story, Joe Forrester, The Rookies, McCloud, Medical Centre, Welcome Back Kotter, and Insight. She also appeared in several TV movies. Miss Reese appeared in the feature films Psychic Killer (1975).

In the Eighties Della Reese was a regular on the show It Takes Two and had a recurring role on Charlie & Co. She guest starred on the shows The Love Boat, The A-Team, Crazy Like a Fox, Night Court, 227, and The Young Riders. She appeared in the feature film Harlem Nights (1989).

In the Nighties Della Reese starred on The Royal Family and Touched by an Angel. She guest starred on such shows as MacGyver, Designing Women, L.A. Law, Picket Fences, and Promised Land. She appeared in the films The Distinguished Gentleman (1992) and A Thin Line Between Love and Hate (1996). she was one of the voices in the animated feature film Dinosaur (2000). In the Naughts she guest starred on That's So Raven and The Young and the Restless. She appeared in the films Beauty Shop (2005), If I Had Known I Was a Genius (2007), and A Very Mary Christmas (2010).

In the Teens Della Reese appeared in the feature films Me Again (2012) and Meant to Be (2012). She guest starred on  Signed, Sealed, Delivered.

After the Sixties Della Reese recorded two more albums: Blue Skies in 1994 and Give It to God in 2006.

Although she is now best remembered as an actress, Della Reese was a fine singer. She had a dulcet voice that was very adaptable. She could sing both popular songs and gospel music with ease. Of course, she also had that same adaptability when it came to acting. She did equally well playing both comedic roles and dramatic roles. She could play anything from the matriarch of a family to the owner of a trailer park. In the end Della Reese was one of those rare individuals with multiple talents, both singing and acting.

Monday, 27 November 2017

Godspeed David Cassidy

David Cassidy, the former teen idol best known as Keith Partridge as The Partridge Family, died on November 21 2017. The cause was liver failure. He had also been suffering from dementia for several months.

David Cassidy was born on April 12 1950 in New York City. His parents were actor and singer  Jack Cassidy, who would later play actor Oscar North on the cult sitcom He & She, and actress Evelyn Ward. Since his parents were often occupied with their work, young Mr. Cassidy spent much of his childhood with his maternal grandparents in West Orange, New Jersey. His parents divorced while he was very young and his father later married actress Shirley Jones.

David Cassidy made his acting debut in a guest appearance on the TV show The Survivors in 1969. He guest starred on the shows Ironside, The F.B.I., Marcus Welby M.D., Adam-12, Bonanza, Medical Centre, and The Mod Squad. It was in 1970 that he began playing oldest brother Keith Partridge on The Partridge Family. The show also starred his stepmother Shirley Jones as mother Shirley Partridge. The show, about a family who performed as a band, proved to be a hit with the younger set, and David Cassidy soon became a teen idol. Songs and albums by The Partridge Family were also released, although the instruments were played by session musicians and vocals, except for those of Shirley Jones and David Cassidy, were performed by session vocalists. Regardless, they sold very well. The first single from The Partridge Family, "I Think I Love You", went to number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Four other songs reached the top twenty. Their albums sold well too, with the first three reaching the top ten of the Billboard album chart.

David Cassidy was still on The Partridge Family when he released his first solo album, Cherish. The first single from that album, a cover of The Association's "Cherish" went to no. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100. Mr. Cassidy released three more solo albums while The Partridge Family was still on the air.

The Partridge Family went off the air in 1974. Unfortunately, Mr. Cassidy's music career would go into a bit of a decline in the United States, although he continued to do well in Britain, Europe, and Australia. He continued to release albums until 1976, when his last album for some time, Getting It in the Street, was released. He also continued acting. During the 1978-1979 season he starred in the short-lived series David Cassidy: Man Undercover. He guest starred on Police Story (the backdoor pilot for David Cassidy: Man Undercover), and The Love Boat.

In the Eighties David Cassidy released two studio albums and a live album. In 1981 he toured in a revival of Gorge M. Cohan's Little Johnny Jones for a time. In 1983 he took over the lead role in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. He later appeared on London's West end in Time. On television he guest starred on Matt Houston, Fantasy Island, Tales of the Unexpected, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. He appeared in the films Instant Karma (1990) and The Spirit of '76 (1990).

In the Nineties David Cassidy released two albums. His single "Lyin' to Myself" peaked at no. 27 on the Billboard Hot 100. He hosted the VH1 show 8-Track Flashback. On television he guest starred as The Mirror Master on The Flash, and also guest starred on The Ben Stiller Show, and The John Laroquette Show.

In the Naughts he was a regular on the show Ruby & the Rockets. He was a guest voice on Kim Possible. He guest starred on the shows The Agency, Malcolm in the Middle, and Less Than Perfect. He appeared in the films Popstar (2005) and Alexa Vega: You Are Where I Live (2009). In the Teens he guest starred on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. Next year he will appear in the film Forgiven This Gun4hire (2018).

David Cassidy was hardly the first teen idol, but, short of Davy Jones, he might well have been the biggest. David Cassidy was wildly popular with pre-teen and teenage girls in the Seventies. His posters adorned their rooms. They bought his albums (both The Partridge Family albums and his solo albums). He was regularly featured on the covers of such magazines as Tiger Beat and 16. There have been several teen idols since David Cassidy, but none have really matched him.

Of course, David Cassidy had his male fans as well. I was only about six when The Partridge Family debuted and I watched it faithfully. And while my favourite character was Danny and I had a crush on Shirley, I thought Keith was pretty cool. I also liked the songs on the show. I never quite stopped being a Partridge Family fan, although there was a time that I was not likely to admit it. David Cassidy was responsible for much of the show's success. Never mind that pre-teen and teenage girls found him attractive, he also had a good voice and he was a fairly good actor as well. His acting talent would be on display in his later guest appearances. He turned in a good performance as The Mirror Master on The Flash, and he was quite good as a plastic surgery obsessed, washed-up poker player on CSI. If David Cassidy was one of the biggest teen idols of all time, it was perhaps because he had a good deal of talent as well.

Friday, 24 November 2017

Christmas Movies on Turner Classic Movies

Every December Turner Classic Movies shows a lot of Christmas movies. I know it is true of myself and many of my friends that watching holiday themed movies is a Yuletide tradition. Of course, as busy as most of us are, it is sometimes difficult to keep up with all the holiday movies that TCM shows during the month. Here then is a listing of the Christmas movies they are showing this December. I have to confess that I have included only movies in which the holiday plays a central role in the plot. I have excluded movies in which Christmas plays a role in only a smart part of the over all movie. It's for that reason that I don't list Meet Me in St. Louis (which I dearly love) or any version of Little Women (which, umm, I don't love...) on the list.

Anyway, without further ado, here is the list. All times are Central.

December 1
Period of Adjustment (1962) 7:00 PM
All Mine to Give (1957) 9:00 PM
Bush Christmas (1947) 11:00 PM

December 2
Tenth Avenue Angel (1948) 12:30 AM
Never Say Goodbye (1946) 2:00 AM
Bell, Book and Candle (1958) 1:00 PM

December 3
The Shop Around the Corner (1940) 11:00 AM
In the Good Old Summertime (1949) 1:00 PM

December 5
Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938) 9:00 PM

December 8
A Christmas Carol (1951) 7:00 PM
Scrooge (1938) 8:45 PM
Lady in the Lake (1947) 10:15 PM

December 9
Lady on a Train (1945)  12:15 AM
Fitzwilly (1967) 2:00 AM
Larceny, Inc. (1942) 3:45 AM
3 Godfathers (1949) 11:00 AM
It Happened on 5th Avenue (1947) 1:00 PM

December 10
Holiday Affair (1949) 11:00 AM

December 15
The Shop Around the Corner (1940) 7:00 PM
Holiday Affair (1949) 9:00 PM
It Happened on 5th Avenue (1947) 10:45 PM

December 16
The Man Who Came to Dinner (1941) 1:00 AM
A Christmas Carol (1938) 11:15  AM
Meet John Doe (1941) 12:45 PM
Susan Slept Here (1954) 11:00 PM

December 17
Christmas in Connecticut (1945) 11:15 AM
The Bishop's Wife (1947) 1:15 PM

December 21
Period of Adjustment (1962) 3:15 PM

December 22
Christmas in Connecticut (1945) 7:00 PM
Remember the Night (1940) 9:00 PM

December 23
In the Good Old Summertime (1949) 1:15 AM

December 24
The Man Who Came to Dinner (1941) 7:00 AM
It Happened on 5th Avenue (1947) 9:00 AM
In the Good Old Summertime (1949) 11:15 AM
Holiday Affair (1949) 1:15 PM
Christmas in Connecticut (1945) 3:j00 PM
The Bishop's Wife (1947) 7:00 PM
The Cheaters (1945) 11:15 PM

December 25
A Christmas Carol (1938) 1:00 AM
A Pocketful of Miracles (1961) 2:30 AM
Meet John Doe (1941) 5:45 AM
Babes in Toyland (1934) 8:00 AM
Scrooge (1935) 9:30 AM
Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938) 11:00 AM
Fitzwilly (1957) 1:00 PM
Bundle of Joy (1956) 3:00 PM
The Shop Around the Corner (1940) 5:00 PM

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Happy Thanksgiving 2017

Today is Thanksgiving Day here in the United States. Those of you who follow A Shroud of Thoughts know that it is a custom here to post classic pinups. Without further ado, then, here are this year's pinups.

First up is Noel Neill, who is delivering produce for a Thanksgiving feast!

Next up is Vera-Ellen, who apparently doesn't realise you have to cook the turkey before serving him!

Next up is Forties starlet Peggy Diggins, who prefers to cuddle turkeys!

Here is the lovely Leila Hyams, who is also showing a turkey some love!

Janis Paige seems to want to make her turkey nice and strong with vitamins!

Finally, if I were that turkey I am not sure I would trust Angela Greene, lovely though she may be!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

The 130th Anniversary of Sherlock Holmes

Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes
It is common knowledge that Sherlock Holmes first appeared in the novel A Study in Scarlet, first published in Beeton's Christmas Annual for 1887. As to when exactly the 1887 Beeton's Christmas Annual for 1887 was published, that is a bit more of mystery. Most simply guess that it was published sometime in November or December of that year. That having been said, the website I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere makes a good argument that Beeton's Christmas Annual for 1887 was most likely published on November 21. If that is the case, then today would be the 130th anniversary of Sherlock Holmes.

A Study in Scarlet would be published as a book in July 1888 by Ward, Lock & Co., with a second edition appearing the following year. It was first published in the United States in 1890. Regardless, A Study in Scarlet was not responsible for Sherlock Holmes's enormous success. Neither for that matter, would Sherlock Holmes's second appearance, which was in the novel The Sign of the Four, published in the February 1890 issue of Lippincott's Monthly Magazine. It would be a series of shorts stories published in The Strand Magazine that would ultimately be responsible for turning Sherlock Holmes into a phenomenon. Beginning with "A Scandal in Bohemia" in the July 1891 issue, short stories featuring Sherlock Holmes would appear regularly in The Strand Magazine for a few years.

Indeed, it was not long before author Arthur Conan Doyle and even his creation Sherlock Holmes would begin receiving massive amounts of fan mail. Some fan mail was even addressed to 221B Baker Street, an address that simply did not exist at the time the stories were originally written (Baker Street did not go up to 221 in the Victorian Era).

While Sherlock Holmes was phenomenally popular, as early as November 1991 Arthur Conan Doyle thought of killing the character off, maintaining in a letter to his mother, "He takes my mind from better things." Here it must be pointed out that Mr. Conan Doyle wrote many other works that had nothing to do with Sherlock Holmes. He wrote several historical novels, as well as fantasy and science fiction stories featuring Professor Challenger and humorous stories set in the Napoleonic Era featuring Brigadier Gerard.

Ultimately Arthur Conan Doyle decided to kill off Sherlock Holmes once and for all so he could devote more time to his historical novels. It was in "The Adventure of the Final Problem", published in The Strand Magazine in December 1993, that Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty plunged to their apparent deaths over the Reichenbach Falls. Public outcry over Holmes's death was immediate. Both Arthur Conan Doyle and The Strand Magazine received tonnes of angry letters from Sherlock Holmes fans. Many people cancelled their subscriptions to The Strand Magazine.

Despite the public outcry, Arthur Conan Doyle would not write about Sherlock Holmes for some time. It was eight years before Holmes would appear again, in the novel The Hound of the Baskervilles (serialised in The Strand Magazine from April 1901 to April 1902). The novel was set before Holmes's apparent death. It would be with "The Adventure of the Empty House", published in Collier's Magazine in the United States in September 1903 and in The Strand Magazine in the United Kingdom in October 1903, that Arthur Conan Doyle would resume writing about Holmes. It is in "The Adventure of the Empty House" that it is explained how Sherlock Holmes faked his death in order to confound his enemies.

Following "The Adventure of the Empty House" Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would write several more Sherlock Holmes stories, as well as the novel The Valley of Fear. The last Sherlock Holmes story, "The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place", was published in the March 5 1927 issue of Liberty in the United States and the April 1927 issue of The Strand Magazine.

While the last Sherlock Holmes story was published in 1927, the character has never really been out of the spotlight since the 1890s. Sherlock Holmes would be adapted to the stage multiple times. Indeed, actor William Gillette made a bit of a career out of Holmes, first appearing as the detective in the play Sherlock Homes. Over the years there would be many more plays.

Of course, Sherlock Holmes would appear in several movies over the years, so many that Guinness World Records lists him as the character most portrayed in movies and the most portrayed detective on television as well. The first known film featuring Holmes was the one-reeler Sherlock Holmes Baffled, produced in 1900 by the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company. In 1916 William Gillette, who had played the detective several times on stage, appeared in the film adaptation of his play Sherlock Holmes. His play would be adapted again in 1922 by Goldwyn Pictures. This time it starred John Barrymore as Holmes and is historic as William Powell's film debut.

Perhaps the actors most famous for playing Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson were Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, who first appeared as the par in 20th Century Fox's 1939 adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles. It would be followed the same year by another Holmes film starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. 20th Century Fox had wanted to make more Sherlock Holmes films starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, but talks between the studio and the Conan Doyle estate broke down. Fortunately, Universal obtained the film rights for Sherlock Holmes and launched a new series of films starring Messrs. Rathbone and Bruce starting with Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror. Universal took the then revolutionary step of updating Holmes to the 1940s. Since then many more films starring Sherlock Holmes have been made. In fact, to adequately discuss Sherlock Holmes on the big screen would take and (and has taken) entire books.

Sherlock Holmes has also been adapted for radio several times over. On October 20 1930 The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes debuted on NBC Red. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes would be followed by several more radio shows featuring the great detective in the United States, with the last airing in 1956 on ABC. Notably, Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce played Holmes and Watson in The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Mr. Rathbone would continue until 1946, the role then being taken over by Tom Conway. Even after the demise of Old Time Radio in the United States, there would be many radio adaptations of Sherlock Holmes. The BBC alone has aired several.

Of course, as mentioned earlier, Sherlock Holmes is the most portrayed detective on television. What is more, Sherlock Holmes appeared on television fairly early. In 1937 The Three Garridebs, starring Louis Hector as Sherlock Holmes, aired from the stage of  Radio City Music Hall on NBC as part of a field test before regular television broadcasts began. In 1951 the BBC aired a six episode series entitled Sherlock Holmes. An American series, also titled Sherlock Holmes, aired in syndication in 1954. Since then there have been several more TV shows featuring Sherlock Holmes, including the 1960s series initially starring Douglas Wilmer as Holmes and later Peter Cushing, the Eighties Granada Television series The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes starring Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes, the more recent series Sherlock starring Benedict Cumberbatch, and another recent series, Elementary, starring Jonny Lee Miller.

One hundred and thirty years after his debut, Sherlock Holmes's popularity shows no sign of declining. The character continues to appear in movies and on television regularly. The original books by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (the "canon", as it is known) continues to sell well. The Baker Street Irregulars, an organisation of Sherlock Homes fans founded in 1934, continues to thrive. While other literary characters might see their popularity fade until they are eventually forgotten, it seems that Sherlock Holmes will likely still be popular 130 years from now.

Monday, 20 November 2017

The Late Great Malcolm Young

Malcolm Young, founding member and rhythm guitarist for the legendary rock band AC/DC, died on November 18 2017 at the age of 64. He had been suffering from dementia and a number of other health problems. His brothers were George Young (founding member of The Easybeats), Alex Young (bassist for Grapefruit), and Angus Young (founding member and lead guitarist of AC/DC).

Malcolm Young was born on January 6 1953 in Glasgow, Scotland. He came from a large family, with several brothers and one sister. Of his brothers, two others would become professional musicians besides Malcolm and Angus. George Young was a founding member and rhythm guitarist in the legendary Australian band The Easybeats. Alex Young was a founding member and bassist for the British band Grapefruit. According to Malcolm Young, all of the males in his family played some sort of musical instrument. It was following the particularly severe winter of 1962-1963 (known as "the Big Freeze of 1963") that the Young family immigrated to Australia.

While Malcolm Young's older brothers George and Alex had already achieved rock stardom, his father insisted that Malcolm Young continue to work as a mechanic at bra factory after he had left school at 15. It was inevitable that Malcolm Young would have a career in music, and from 1972 to 1974 he was part of the Marcus Hook Roll Band. The Marcus Hook Roll Band had been formed by his brother George Young and his writing partner Henry Vanda. It also included Malcolm Young's brothers Alex and Angus. The band released one album and three singles. In 1974 Malcolm Young played guitar on Stevie Wright's single "Evie".

It was in 1973 that Malcolm and Angus Young formed AC/DC. It was their sister Margaret who came up with the name after she noticed the abbreviation AC/DC on her sewing machine. The Young brothers then recruited drummer Colin Burges bassist Larry Van Kriedt, and singer Dave Evans. By 1974 Dave Evans would be replaced as lead vocalist by Bon Scott. The band built up a following and in 1974 their first album, High Voltage, was released exclusively in Australia and New Zealand. Its follow up, TNT, was released in 1975, also only in Australia and New Zealand. During this period, AC/DC regularly appeared on the Australian Broadcasting Company music show Countdown.

With a considerable amount of success in Australia, AC/DC was signed by Atlantic Records in 1976. Their first album on Atlantic was actually a compilation of songs from their previous Australian albums, High Voltage and T.N.T. Also titled High Voltage, the album was released internationally. It reached #7 on the French album chart, #31 on the Australian album chart, and #146 on the Billboard 200. Their next album was Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap. The album was released in 1976 in both Australian and international versions. Strangely enough, the American branch of Atlantic rejected the album, and it would not be released in the United States until 1981. The album reached no. 5 on the Australian album chart and no. 15 on the French album chart. Released at the height of AC/DC's success in the United States in 1981, it reached #3 on the Billboard 200.

Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap was followed by Let There Be Rock in 1977. Let There Be Rock performed well, reaching no. 17 on the British album chart, no. 9 on the French album chart, and no. 19 on the Australian album chart. Let There Be Rock was followed by 1978's Powerage and 1979's Highway to Hell. Highway to Hell proved to be the band's first major success in the United States, where it reached no. 17 on the Billboard 200. Its single, "Highway to Hell", peaked at no. 47 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Unfortunately, lead vocalist Bon Scott died on February 19 1980, not long after they had begun work on the album that would become Back in Black. AC/DC considered disbanding, but reconsidered after Mr. Scott's family insisted that he would want them to go on. They ultimately hired Brian Johnson as Bon Scott's replacement. He had been the lead vocalist with the band Geordie. Back in Black would prove to be their most commercially successful album of all time, hitting no. 4 on the Billboard 200 and no. 1 on the UK album chart. The following, album For Those About to Rock We Salute You, also performed very well.

AC/DC would experience a decline in their fortunes with the release of 1983's Flick of the Switch and 1985's Fly on the Wall. Fortunately 1988's album, Blow Up Your Video, would see a return to their former glory. Unfortunately, Malcolm Young would miss most of the tour for the album. Suffering from alcoholism, he checked himself into rehab. His place was taken by his nephew Stevie Young. It was the only time Malcolm Young was absent from AC/DC until his retirement in 2014.

AC/DC maintained their popularity into the 21st Century. Following the release of Blow Up Your Video, their albums regularly topped the album charts in multiple countries. In 1990 their song "Moneytalks" even reached no. 23 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Unfortunately in the Teens Malcolm Young's health began to decline. By April 2014 his health had worsened so much that he could no longer perform. By September 2014 it was reported that he was suffering from dementia. He would later develop lung cancer, with the tumour being successfully removed, and he had to wear pacemaker. Regardless, AC/DC continued according to his wishes.

While front man Angus Young has received most of the attention throughout AC/DC's history, Malcolm Young was a pivotal member of the band. He was in many respects the band's driving force and its leader. Former lead vocalist Brian Johnson described him as "...the man who created AC/DC because he said 'there was no Rock n' Roll' out there." A talented rhythm guitarist who co-wrote nearly all of the band's songs with his brother Angus, he was largely responsible for AC/DC's sound. As the band's rhythm guitarist he had a knack for developing very listenable riffs. In an interview in 2004, Dave Mustaine of Megadeth counted Malcolm Young as among the greatest rhythm guitarists of all time. While Malcolm Young may have shunned the spotlight, AC/DC simply would not have been possible without him.

Friday, 17 November 2017

The Famous Simon Templar: The Saint on Television

 (This post is part of the "It Takes a Thief" blogathon hosted by Moon in Gemini)

The Sixties saw some of the most successful British television shows of all time These were shows that weren't just popular in the United Kingdom but also found success internationally and even in the highly competitive market in the United States. Among the most successful of the British shows of the Sixties was one centred on a literary character who had been around for over thirty years at the time. Simon Templar, also known as The Saint, was a con man and thief who only robbed from those who he felt truly deserved it: criminals, crooked politicians, corrupt businessmen, and so on. The Saint proved extremely popular, so much so that Leslie Charteris would not only write a number of books and short stories about the character, but the character would find success in many other media as well.

For those unfamiliar with The Saint, he was Simon Templar, which may or may not be his given name. It is never revealed why he was given the nickname The Saint, but it is known that he was given the nickname when he was only nineteen. As a thief and a con man, Simon Templar occasionally uses aliases, all of which use the initials S.T.  (Sullivan Titwillow, Sebastian Toombs, Sugarman Treacle, and so on). He also leaves a calling card wherever he has struck, bearing a stick figure with a halo. It is generally assumed that Simon Templar is British (his home is in London, after all), although he obviously spent a good deal of time in the United States given the number of his American friends and acquaintances. As to Simon Templar's modus operandi, he is essentially a modern day Robin Hood. He makes his living fleecing and stealing from those whom he calls "ungodly". When The Saint managed to extract a substantial amount from one of the ungodly, he would keep only a "ten percent collection fee" and either returned the money to its rightful owners or donated it to charity or did something else with it entirely.

The success of The Saint books and short stories would quite naturally lead to the character being adapted in other media. The Saint in New York (1938), starring Louis Hayward as Simon Templar, was based on the novel of the same name. It was successful enough that RKO made seven more Saint movies, the first five starring George Sanders and the last two starring Hugh Sinclair. Louis Hayward, who was unable to star in the RKO series, returned to the role of Simon Templar in The Saint's Return in 1953. The Saint would also see success on radio. Radio Éireann's Radio Athlone aired a Saint radio show in 1940. In 1945 both NBC and CBS would air their own radio shows based on The Saint. The most successful radio incarnation of The Saint would debut in 1947 and initially starred Vincent Price in the title role. Barry Sullivan also filled in a few times when Mr. Price was not available. This version would run on and off until 1951 on CBS, Mutual, and NBC. Eventually Tom Conway would take over the role of Simon Templar. There would also be a fairly successful Saint newspaper comic strip that ran from 1947 to 1961, as well various Saint comic books.

Given the success of The Saint in several different media, it was perhaps inevitable that there would be a television adaption. In fact, in the Fifties Leslie Charteris would be approached more than once for the television rights to Simon Templar. The first occurred in 1951, when advertising firm Stockton, West, Burkhart, Inc. sought the rights to Saint short stories to be used on a proposed show Mystery Writer's Playhouse. Richard M. Dunn of Stockton, West, Burkhart, Inc. was the man sent to convince Leslie Charteris into letting them have the television rights to various short stories, but Mr. Dunn never made a definite offer and so Mr. Charteris never committed. It was the following year that Richard M. Dunn sought to adapt The Saint as its own television show. Nothing came of this either.

Over the years Leslie Charteris would be approached by others who wanted to make a TV show based on The Saint. In fact, in 1961 there would be two attempts at getting the television rights to The Saint alone. That year Harry Alan Towers, the producer now best known for his series of Fu Manchu movies starring Sir Christopher Lee, sought the rights to make a television series. Mr. Towers would not be successful. Others would be in getting a TV series based on The Saint on the air, namely producers Robert S. Baker and Monty Berman.

In 1948 Robert S. Baker and Monty Berman founded Tempean Films, a company that produced B-movies from comedies to horror movies. It was in 1961 that the two men founded a television production company, New World Productions. Fortunately for Messrs. Baker and Berman, they had an advantage over Harry Alan Towers in getting the television rights for The Saint. Quite simply, they were acquainted with director John Paddy Carstairs, who had directed the 1939 film The Saint in London and, more importantly, also happened to be friends with Lesile Charteris.

John Paddy Carstairs arranged a lunch where the two producers could meet Leslie Charteris. Robert S. Baker and Monty Berman were able to convince the creator of The Saint to give them a three month option for a TV series. They offered the proposed TV series The Saint to Associated-Rediffusion (the ITV franchise that provided weekday programming for London), who turned it down due to the proposed series' projected budget of £15,000 per episode. Robert S. Baker and Monty Berman then went to Lord Lew Grade of ITC, who bought the proposed series. It was then that they bought the television rights to The Saint from Leslie Charteris, with the condition that Mr. Charteris would have input on the show's scripts.

As to casting Simon Templar, it might be surprising to many that Sir Roger Moore was not the producers' first choice. The first actor they talked to was Patrick McGoohan, who had just finished the first series of the very popular show Danger Man. It soon became obvious that Mr. McGoohan was not suited to the role.  Quite simply, he objected to the character becoming involved with women, and also lacked the tongue in cheek sort of humour necessary for the show.

Of course, in the end it would be Sir Roger Moore who would be cast as Simon Templar on the TV series. Sir Roger Moore already had a impressive résumé on both sides of the Pond. He had starred in the British swashbuckler TV show Ivanhoe, which aired on both sides of the Atlantic. He had also appeared in the short-lived American TV series The Alaskans and played cousin Beau Maverick on the highly successful Western Maverick.  Having starred on Maverick, Sir Roger Moore had already proven that he had the necessary tongue-in-cheek sense of humour. What is more, he was already a fan of The Saint. He had earlier tried to get the television rights to The Saint on his own.

The Saint debuted on September 30 1962 in ITV regions except the Midlands and Northern in the United Kingdom. It proved very successful, so much so that it was second in popularity among male viewers only to wrestling.  Lord Lew Grade tried to sell The Saint to the American broadcast networks, only to be rebuffed by all three of them. Indeed, Mort Werner, then senior vice president for programming at NBC, commented after viewing two episodes of the show, "I have never seen so much crap in my life." Fortunately  events would unfold that would convince NBC to eventually change their minds about The Saint.

The American broadcast networks' rejection of The Saint would not keep the show off American television screens. Lord Lew Grade simply entered The Saint into syndication in the United States in 1963. It soon became the most popular TV show syndicated in the United States at the time. Perhaps amusingly, among the stations that picked up The Saint in syndication was NBC's flagship station, WNBC in New York City. WNBC aired The Saint at 11:15 PM on Sunday night following their nightly news. In that time slot The Saint proved phenomenally successful. The show would also prove successful on NBC's stations in Chicago and Los Angeles. What is more, the success of The Saint  was not isolated to NBC owned and operated stations.  The show was so successful on television stations throughout the U.S. that it would prove to be one of the most successful syndicated television shows of all time in the United States.

It was in 1965 that the TV show The Saint very nearly came to an end. After 71 episodes, nearly every one of Leslie Charteris's short stories had been adapted. What is more, Robert S. Baker and Monty Berman's contract with Leslie Charteris was set to expire.  Fortunately, The Saint would continue.  Producer Robert S. Baker and star Roger Moore then formed a new company, Bamore, to produce a new series of The Saint in colour. As to Monty Berman, Mr. Baker's partner on the first 71 episodes of The Saint, he went on to produce the short lived TV series The Baron.

It would be the show's move to colour, and probably its phenomenal success in syndication, that would finally interest NBC in the show. After having turned down the show rather harshly years earlier, NBC bought the first colour series of The Saint.

The Saint debuted on NBC on May 21 1967.  It went off the network in September 1967, only to return in February 1968 as a mid-season replacement. The Saint would leave NBC again in September 1968. It returned for one last time as a summer replacement in April 1969. In all NBC broadcast 32 of the 47 colour episodes of The Saint. The colour episodes were aired on ITV in the United Kingdom in black and white, as ITV would not made the transition to colour until late 1969.

It was in 1969, after 118 episodes of The Saint, that Roger Moore decided it was time to stop playing Simon Templar. The final episode of The Saint aired in the United Kingdom on ITV on February 9 1969. The Saint ended its run on NBC on September 12 1969. Reruns of The Saint have persisted in syndication in the United States ever since.

Simon Templar would not remain absent from television screens for long, although in his next TV incarnation he would not be played by Roger Moore. Return of The Saint was originally supposed to be Son of The Saint, with the show following the adventures of Simon Templar's son. Eventually this idea was dropped in favour of the show being about Simon Templar himself, although updated to the Seventies. While the show included Robert S. Baker as its executive producer,  as well as Lord Lew Grade as producers, there was absolutely no continuity between it and the Saint series of the Sixties. Return of The Saint debuted on ITV on September 10 1978 and ran until March 11 1979 for 24 episodes. Return of The Saint would be rerun in the Untied States as part of The CBS Late Movie. While it only lasted one series, Return of The Saint did revive interest in the Sixties version starring Sir Roger Moore.

Since then there have been three more attempts at a Saint TV series. In 1987 a pilot entitled The Saint in Manhattan, starring Andrew Clarke, was produced. Although it did not sell, it did air as part of CBS Summer Playhouse, an anthology series consisting of failed pilots. From 1989 to 1991 London Weekend Television aired six Saint television movies starring Simon Dutton as Simon Templar. The movies were The Saint: Fear in Fun Park, The Saint: The Big Bang, The Saint: The Software Murders, The Saint: The Brazilian Connection, The Saint: Wrong Number, and The Saint: The Blue Dulac. More recently, a failed pilot for a new series based on The Saint was made, starring Adam Rayner as Simon Templar.

In many episodes of the Sixties TV show The Saint starring Sir Roger Moore, Simon Templar differed only a little from many private eyes on other shows. That having been said, there were plenty of episodes in which he acted as the thief and con artist that only robbed the ungodly he had been in the earliest books and short stories. Perhaps the most notable instance of Simon Templar running a con game on the ungodly is one he ran on other con artists in the episode "The Bunco Artists". A husband and wife team of con artists con a church in a small English village out of money the church had saved for its restoration. Fortunately, the vicar's daughter happens to be friends with Simon Templar and alerts him to the two suspicious characters. The Saint then creates his own con game in order to get the church's money back from the con artists.

Of course, Simon Templar ran cons on more than just con artists. In "The Element of Doubt" Simon Templar matches wits with a corrupt defence attorney who does not mind that his clients are guilty and will do anything to get a verdict of "not guilty" for them. Simon Templar then  runs a con on the attorney's current client that certainly won't go well for the attorney. In "The Man Who Was Lucky", The Saint's target was a protection racket. While Simon Templar uses various confidence tricks throughout the series, he also sometimes resorts to outright breaking and entering. In "The Counterfeit Countess', in which Templar takes on counterfeiters, he breaks into one of the counterfeiter's offices and then opens a safe to find some bogus money.

Simon Templar was already a very influential character before the TV series starring Sir Roger Moore debuted. Arguably his influence would only grow even more after the TV show. Arguably the influence of The Saint can be seen in every show that centres on  individuals act as modern day Robin Hoods, using confidence games and sometime outright thievery to see that justice is served. In many ways such shows as Switch, Remington Steele, Hustle, and Leverage all owe something to Simon Templar. It is perhaps a mark of the show's success that after books, feature films, radio shows, a comic strip, comic books, and other television outings, that the Sixties version of The Saint not only remains in syndication, but remains the most familiar and popular incarnation of Simon Templar.

(Thanks to Ian Dickerson for corrections to and additional information for this article.)

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

The Five Best Train Movies

With the recent release of director Kenneth Branagh's adaption of Agatha Christie's novel Murder on the Orient Express, a few venues have compiled their list of the greatest train movies ever made. I have found myself disagreeing with some of these lists, as they often include movies with a few scenes set on trains while excluding movies that are set almost entirely on trains. I then thought I would come up with my own list of the five greatest movies set on trains ever made. My criterion for choosing the films was very simple. A significant amount of the movie had to be set on a train. It is for this reason that such films as Some Like It Hot (1959) and North by Northwest (1959) did not make the list. While both number among my favourite movies of all time, the amount of time spent on a train in either of them is not significant enough. In fact, my favourite scenes from both movies take place away from trains!

Without further ado, here are my top five best train movies.

1. The General (1926): To give you an idea of just how much of a role trains play in Buster Keaton's classic The General, the movie takes its name from a locomotive--the Western & Atlantic Railroad train for which Johnnie Gray (played by Buster Keaton) is the engineer. When Union spies commandeer The General, Johnnie gives chase, using any means of transportation he can to get his train back. Although The General received poor reviews and did badly at the box office upon its initial release, it is now regarded as one of the greatest silent movies ever made. It has also proven very influential. Indeed, a very good argument can be made that The General was one of the earliest blockbuster, action comedies ever made.

2. The Lady Vanishes (1938): I have to admit that it was very hard for to decide whether The General or The Lady Vanishes would occupy the number one spot, as they both number among my favourite movies of all time. I ultimately decided upon The General as I think it was a bit more revolutionary for its time. Of course, I have to admit to some bias where The Lady Vanishes is concerned, as it was the first film in which I ever saw Margaret Lockwood, who numbers among my favourite actresses of all time. And Margaret is certainly fantastic here, playing socialite Iris Henderson. When an elderly, fellow Englishwoman disappears from a train going through Europe, it is up to Iris and musician Gilbert Redman (played by the great Sir Michael Redgrave) to find out what happened to her. Except for the first several minutes, The Lady Vanishes it is set almost entirely upon the train. The film also marks the first appearance of  Charters and Caldicott (played by Naunton Wayne and Basil Radford), two Englishmen who are absolutely obsessed with cricket and would go onto appear in several more films over the years. The Lady Vanishes was directed by Alfred Hitchcock and remains one of his best films.

3. Twentieth Century (1934): Alongside the Orient Express, the 20th Century Limited is one of the most famous trains of all time. For those unfamiliar with it, the 20th Century Limited was a passenger train that ran on the New York Central Railroad from New York City to Chicago in the years between 1902 and 1967. A good portion of Twentieth Century is set aboard the 20th Century Limited, which  Broadway impresario Oscar Jaffe (played by John Barrymore) boards in disguise in order to escape his debtors. Unfortunately for Oscar, his former protegée Lily Garland (played by Carole Lombard) also boards the train. Twentieth Century is one of the best pre-Code comedies, featuring an excellent cast that includes Roscoe Karns, Charles Lane, and Edgar Kennedy. It also happens to be extremely funny.

4. The Train (1964): If there was a Golden Age for World War II movies, it was probably the Sixties. Among the very best of the movies about the Second World War released during the decade was John Frankenheimer's The Train. In The Train, art masterpieces stolen by the Nazis are being shipped by rail to Germany. After the Nazis remove works of art from the Jeu de Paume Museum, its curator turned to the French Resistance to somehow stop the train without damaging the precious works of art it carries. The movie was loosely based on an actual incident that occurred in August 1944 that was detailed in the 1961 book Le front de l'art by Rose Valland. Where the movie departed from history is that in reality the French Resistance managed to delay the train through paperwork, giving the Allies time to immediately seize the train when it was only a few miles away from Paris. While The Train may not be historically accurate, it is among the most exciting action movies to involve a train.

5. Night Train to Munich (1940): British star Margaret Lockwood had the rare, good fortune to star in two of the greatest movies involving trains ever made. In 1938 she appeared in Alfred Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes (discussed above). In 1940 she appeared in Carol Reed's Night Train to Munich. The casting of Margaret Lockwood in Night Train to Munich would seem to be more than coincidence, as it seems likely 20th Century Fox hoped to repeat Gainsborough's success with The Lady Vanishes. Indeed, not only did Miss Lockwood appear in both films, but the screenplays for both films were written by Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder and both feature the characters of Charters and Caldicott. Of course, both films involve trains. That having been said, Night Train to Munich was not a mere imitator of The Lady Vanishes, as in many ways it was a very different movie. In Night Train to Munich Margaret Lockwood plays the daughter of Czechoslovakian scientist who is developing a new type of armour plating. Arrested by the Nazis and sent to a concentration camp, she and another prisoner escape in an attempt to make their way to London and her father (who had escaped there). Night Train to Munich is filled with plenty of twists and turns, as well as some of Carol Reed's best direction.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Godspeed John Hillerman

John Hillerman, who played radio show star Simon Brimmer on Ellery Queen and  Jonathan Higgins on Magnum, P.I., as well as roles in such films as Chinatown (1974) and Blazing Saddles (1974), died on November 9 2017 at the age of 84.

John Hillerman was born on December 20 1932 in Denison, Texas. He went to the University of Texas in Austin before serving in the Air Force for four years. It was while he was in the Air Force that he became interested in acting, auditioning for a production of Death of a Salesman while he was stationed in Fort Worth. While in the Air Force he appeared in around two dozen plays. After his service, Mr. Hillerman moved to New York City where he studied acting at the American Theatre Wing.

Mr. Hillerman made his debut on Broadway in a revival of The Great God Brown in 1959. In 1960 he appeared on Broadway in Henry IV, Part II. In 1963 on Broadway he appeared in The Lady of the Camellias. He ultimately worked on stage for literally years in both New York City and Washington D.C. After years of appearing on stage he found himself with only $700 in his bank account. He then moved to Los Angeles to pursue a more lucrative career in film and television.

John Hillerman made his film debut in 1970 in a bit part as a reporter in They Call Me Mister Tibbs!. The following year he had a slightly more substantial role in the Western Lawman (1971). Mr. Hillerman would play ice cream parlour operator Howard Johnson in Blazing Saddles (1974) and the crooked deputy chief of the water department in Chinatown (1974). In the Seventies he also appeared in such films as The Last Picture Show (1971), Honky (1971), What's Up, Doc? (1972), The Carey Treatment (1972), Skyjacked (1972), The Thief Who Came to Dinner (1973), High Plains Drifter (1973), Paper Moon (1973), The Day of the Locust (1975), Lucky Lady (1975), Audrey Rose (1977), and Sunburn (1979). While he appeared frequently in feature films, John Hillerman would have a more significant career in television. He played Simon Brimmer, the radio detective who matches wits with Ellery from time to time on the cult TV series Ellery Queen. He was also a regular on The Betty White Show, playing Betty's ex-husband and director of the fictional television show Undercover Woman, John Elliott. He played Mr. Connors, Ann Romano's boss, on One Day at a Time. He guest starred on such shows as The Sixth Sense, The F.B.I., Maude, Kojak, Mannix, Wonder Woman, Hawaii Five-O, Little House on the Prairie, Hart to Hart, and Lou Grant.

It was in 1982 that John Hillerman began playing the role of Jonathan Quayle Higgins III, VC on the hit series Magnum P.I. He played Sir Francis Commarty in the mini-series Around the World in 80 Days. He also had a regular role on The Hogan Family starting in its final season. He guest starred on the show Tales of the Gold Monkey; Simon & Simon (on which he played Higgins); The Love Boat, and Murder, She Wrote (on which he appeared as Higgins). He appeared in the films History of the World: Part I (1981), Up the Creek (1984), and Gummibärchen küßt man nich (1989).

In the Nineties John Hillerman appeared in the mini-series Berlin Break and the feature film A Very Brady Sequel (1996). Afterwards he retired from acting.

When it came to erudite, but arrogant characters, no one was better than John Hillerman. Many will remember him as Simon Brimmer on Ellery Queen, the self-important radio detective and friendly rival to Ellery. Many more might remember him as Higgins on Magnum P.I., who was essentially Magnum's pompous and elitist foil on the show. While John Hillerman's two best known characters were fairly similar (enough that it is often said that Jonathan Higgins was based on Simon Brimmer), he did play other sorts of roles. In Paper Moon Mr. Hillerman played two roles as far from Brimmer and Higgns as one can get, bootlegger Jess Hardin and his corrupt brother Deputy Hardin. Yelburton in Chinatown also had little in common with John Hllerman's best known characters. While John Hillerman was very good at playing upper class, erudite, and arrogant characters, he did equally well in a number of other roles as well.