Friday, September 22, 2017

The 60th Anniversary of Maverick

"Who is the tall, dark stranger there?
Maverick is the name. ..."'
( David Buttolph and Paul Francis Webster, "The Maverick Theme"

It was 60 years ago today that the TV Western Maverick debuted on ABC. Maverick would prove to be one of the most successful Western TV shows of all time. During its initial run it performed very well in ratings, ranking in the top twenty shows for the year for two of its five years. After it ended its run in 1962 Maverick went onto a highly successful run in syndication. The show would see two revivals and it would be adapted to a feature film. The entire run of Maverick has also been released on DVD.

Maverick was created by legendary writer and producer Roy Huggins, who also created 77 Sunset Strip, The Fugitive, and The Rockford Files. On more than one occasion Mr. Huggins described Maverick as "an anti-Western", and it was a very apt description. Initially the series centred on professional gambler Bret Maverick (played by James Garner). Bret was a sharp contrast to the many stalwart lawmen and drifters on other Western shows of the time (they often differed from each other in that the lawmen were professionals). He preferred to get out of situations using his wits rather than guns or fists. In fact, Bret generally avoided fighting whenever possible. Despite his chosen profession, Bret was honest to a fault, although he was not below using deception against those who were not particularly honest themselves. Bret often quoted bits of wisdom from his Pappy, who like his sons apparently preferred to avoid violence whenever possible. Midway through the first season another Maverick was added, Bret's brother Bart (played by Jack Kelly). Bart was much like Bret, only slightly more serious. Still later cousin Beau (played by Roger Moore) would appear on the show for a season.

Prior to Maverick Roy Huggins had already done considerable work on Warner Bros.' television shows. A staff writer at Columbia, he moved to Warner Bros. in 1955. He was immediately put to work as producer on the studio's first TV Western, Cheyenne, and charged with overhauling the show. He moved from Cheyenne to the studio's short lived anthology series Conflict. It was in November 1956 that Roy Huggins presented his concept for Maverick to Warner Bros.

As to casting the role of Bret Maverick,  Roy Huggins had already worked with James Garner on both Cheyenne and Conflict (on which he played a con man similar to Bret Maverick in the episode "The Man from 1997"). Mr. Garner had just finished filming what was his first major film role in the movie Sayonara, which would be released on December 3 1957, about three months after the debut of Maverick. It was largely watching the dailies for Sayonara that convinced Roy Huggins to cast Mr. Garner in the role.

It was in August 1957 that ABC found a sponsor for Maverick in the form of Kaiser Steel Company, who paid $6 million for thirty nine original episodes and thirteen reruns. Maverick debuted on September 21 1957. By the show's tenth week it was clear that ABC and Warner Bros. had a hit on their hands. That having been said, Maverick did present both ABC and Warner Bros. with a slight problem. It took eight days to shoot a single episode of Maverick. It seemed clear that with a new episode airing every week, pretty soon ABC would run out of new episodes of Maverick to air before the season had ended.

It was when Maverick had been on the air for eight weeks that a solution was found in the form of giving Bret Maverick a brother, who would alternate weeks with Bret. Warner Bros. auditioned several actors for the role of Bret's brother, who would eventually be called "Bart", including Stuart Whitman, Rod Taylor, and Richard Jaeckel. The role eventually went to Jack Kelly, who had starred in Warner Bros.' ill-fated TV show based on the movie King's Row. Like Bret, Bart avoided violence whenever possible and was honest to a fault, but not below using underhanded methods against conmen and thieves. Unlike Bret, Bart was slightly more serious.

Maverick did well in the ratings in its first season, although it did not rank in the top thirty for the year. Its second season it reached its peak, coming in at number six for the year. At times it even beat its competition on CBS--The Jack Benny Program and The Ed Sullivan Show. Much of the reason that Maverick probably did so well is that it was unlike any other Western on the air. It was not a simple case of the Mavericks being decidedly different from the many courageous and violence-prone lawmen and drifters on other Westerns, but that it also incorporated a good deal of humour. In fact, many episodes of the show were often played entirely for comedy. Maverick would even parody other TV shows from time to time. Among the best known episodes of Maverick was its parody of Gunsmoke, "Gun-Shy", in which Bret encountered parodies of Marshal Dillon, Chester, Miss Kitty, and Doc Adams. Maverick also parodied Dragnet (in the episode  "A Cure for Johnny Rain") and Bonanza ("Three Queens Full").

Maverick also differed from other Westerns featuring heroes who drifted from place to place in that it actually had a large cast of recurring characters. While the Maverick brothers generally travelled alone or with each other, they often encountered many of the same people in their travels. Among these was Samantha Crawford (played by Diane Brewster), a beautiful and charming confidence artist who was one of the few people to get the best of the Mavericks (one has to suspect both Bret and Bart were a little bit in love with her, which might explain how she was able to best them). Samantha Crawford actually first appeared on another Warner Bros. Western, Cheyenne, in the episode "The Dark Rider". Dandy Jim Buckley (played by Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. ) was a fellow gambler and Bret's friendly rival. Big Mike McComb (played by Leo Gordon) was the Maverick's rather large Irish friend who sometimes helped them. Gentleman Jack Darby (played by Richard Long) was a fellow gambler and Bart's friendly rival. Over the years Maverick featured several other recurring characters. Nearly every recurring character at the time, as well as both Maverick brothers, appeared in what is largely considered the show's best episode (indeed, one of the greatest TV show episodes of all time), "Shady Deal at Sunny Acres".

Not only did Maverick feature many recurring characters, but it also existed as part of a shared universe that included every single Warner Bros. TV Western and quite possibly their detective shows as well. Bret Maverick appeared in the December 10 1957 episode of Sugarfoot, "Misfire". Bart would appear in the Sugarfoot episode "Price on His Head". Tom "Sugarfoot" Brewster (played by Will Hutchins) of Sugarfoot would in turn appear on Maverick. Every hero on Warner Bros.' Westerns then on the air would have cameos in the Maverick episode "Hadley's Hunters", including Cheyenne Bodie (played by Clint Walker) of Cheyenne, Marshall Dan Troop (played by John Russell) and Deputy Johnny McKay of Lawman, Tom Brewster of Sugarfoot, and Bronco Lane (played by Ty Hardin) of Bronco. Edd Brynes, who played Kookie on 77 Sunset Strip even had a cameo as a stableboy working at "77 Cherokee Strip". One had to wonder that he wasn't Kookie's grandfather....

At the height of the popularity of Maverick (and TV Westerns in general), James Garner had a cameo in the Bob Hope movie Alias Jesse James (1959). Other TV Western heroes with cameos in the film were James Arness as Matt Dillon from Gunsmoke, Gail Davis as Annie Oakley from the show of the same name, Hugh O'Brian as Wyatt Earp from The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, Fess Parker as Davy Crockett, and Jay Silverheels as Tonto. Western movie actors Gary Cooper and Roy Rogers (with Trigger) also had cameos. Because of concerns over copyright, the various cameos of TV Western heroes are often cut from the film when aired on television.

While Maverick proved to be a hit, things would not always go smoothly for the show. As the show's creator, producer, and one of its writers, Roy Huggins worked long and hard on the show. It was not unusual for him to rewrite episodes by other writers on the show (something he confessed to doing in the case of frequent contributor Marion Hargrove). Often he worked eighteen hour days. Eventually he found himself in hospital with double pneumonia. It was at that point that Roy Huggins decided to leave Maverick. At the end of its second season Maverick was without its creator at its helm.

Maverick continued to be popular in its third season, coming in at no. 19 for the year.  Unfortunately it would see yet another change.  Despite the show's success, James Garner was only being paid $500 a week for the show and any feature films in which he appeared (this was later increased to $600 and then $1250 a week) . Worse yet, any money he made from personal appearances went entirely to Warner Bros. He finally persuaded the studio to make no bookings without his permission and to give him half the money from any appearances he might make. Unfortunately James Garner would still lock horns with the studio now and again. Everything would come to a head with the 1960 Writers Guild of America strike.

Despite the fact that the WGA was on strike, both James Garner and Jack Kelly continued to receive scripts, many of which were credited to W. Hermanos. The writer's credit was essentially a reference to the studio itself--W. for "Warner" and "Hermanos" being Spanish for "brothers". What the studio was doing to continue production on their various shows was taking scripts from episodes on other shows and simply using them for episodes on yet other shows, simply changing a few names and a few details. This did not sit well with James Garner and Jack Kelly, both of who walked out on the show. The two of them hired an attorney to fight Waner Bros. in court. Eventually Jack Kelly met with Jack Warner himself, who offered him a raise in pay if he would come back to Maverick. Mr. Kelly accepted as he did not want to pursue a costly lawsuit. James Garner refused and proceeded with his lawsuit against Warner Bros. over the working conditions at the studio. Mr. Garner won his lawsuit and was released from his contract. He also left Maverick.

James Garner as Bret Maverick would be replaced by Sir Roger Moore as cousin Beau Maverick. Sir Roger Moore had starred on the British TV show Ivanhoe and later the Warner Bros. show The Alaskans. He had already guest starred on Maverick in the episode "The Rivals". Sir Roger Moore would play cousin Beauregard "Beau" Maverick (apparently named for Bret and Bart's Pappy, whose given name was also Beauregard), who had been banished to England by Pappy for becoming a hero and thus tarnishing the Maverick name. It was Beau's time in England that explained his slight English accent. Beau always claimed that he became a hero entirely by accident. Taken as a prisoner by the Union Army during the Civil War, he was playing poker with a Union general when the Confederate Army attacked. After losing yet another hand of poker, the general exclaimed, "Son, I give up!" The Confederates wrongly credited Beau with getting the Union general to surrender.

While Beau may have "tarnished" the Maverick name, he was cut from much the same cloth as the other Mavericks. He avoided violence. While honest he was not below conning those who were dishonest themselves. He perhaps differed from Bret and Bart in having a bit more of an eye for the ladies. Sir Roger Moore would not remain with Maverick for long. Beau Maverick first appeared in the first episode of the fourth season, "The Bundle from Britain". As the season progressed Sir Roger Moore became increasing dissatisfied with the deteriorating quality of the scripts. He was able to leave the show without suing Warner Bros. as James Garner did. Mr. Moore would later remark that had he received the same quality of scripts that James Garner had, he would have stayed with the show.

One last Maverick would appear before the show ended its run. Late in the fourth season Robert Colbert, who later starred in the TV series The Time Tunnel, was cast as brother Brent Maverick. Warner Bros. meant for Brent Maverick to essentially be a substitute for Bret. Robert Colbert resembled James Garner, although he did not sound like him. Robert Colbert's costume also duplicated the one most frequently worn by James Garner as Bret. Mr. Colbert was under contract to Warner Bros. and had already guest starred on Maverick in the episode "Hadley's Hunters". Robert Colbert was not particularly eager to play Brent, knowing that he would be compared to James Garner. He complained to the studio, "Put me in a dress and call me Brenda, but don't do this to me!"

Warner Bros. apparently had big plans for Brent. Before Sir Roger Moore left, publicity photos of Bart, Beau, and Brent were taken. In the end, Brent would only appear in two episodes of Maverick, both airing in March 1961: "The Forbidden City" and "Benefit of the Doubt". Warner Bros. apparently decided that Brent Maverick simply wasn't working, and Robert Colbert was never called back for the show. For the fifth season of Maverick, new episodes starring Jack Kelly as Bart would rotate with reruns starring James Garner as Bret.

Ratings for Maverick began a decline from which it never recovered following James Garner's departure at the end of the third season. It was then at the end of its fifth season that Maverick was cancelled. Its last original episode aired on April 22 1962.

That is not to say that Maverick was over. The show entered syndication that fall as a rerun, and it proved extremely successful there. In fact, the show proved so successful in syndication that it would spawn two sequel series. The first of these was Young Maverick. It was in 1978 that a TV movie entitled The New Maverick aired on CBS. The movie featured James Garner as Bret, Jack Kelly as Bart, and Charles Frank as Ben Maverick, the son of their cousin Beau. The movie proved successful enough that it led to a new series entitled Young Maverick. Young Maverick followed the adventures of Ben and his girlfriend Nell (played by Susan Blanchard). The show debuted on November 28 1978 and would not last long. It ended its run after only eight episodes.

Slightly more successful was Bret Maverick, which starred James Garner once more in the role that had made him famous. In Bret Maverick, Bret had finally settled down in the Arizona Territory, where he owned a ranch and co-owned the Red Ox Saloon in Sweetwater. Bret's partner at the Red Ox Saloon was Sweetwater's former sheriff Tom Guthrie (played by Ed Bruce). The cast also included  Richard Hamilton as Bret's ranch foreman Cy Whitaker, Ramon Bieri as the town's banker Elijah Crow, and Darleen Carr as newspaper editor Mary Lou "M.L." Springer. Jack Kelly appeared as Bart towards the end of the season and was set to become a regular in the show's second season. Unfortunately, NBC would unexpectedly cancel Bret Maverick at the end of its first season. While its ratings were respectable, they were apparently not high enough for the Peacock Network.

Jack Kelly would make one last appearance as Bart Maverick in the 1991 TV movie The Gambler Returns: The Luck of the Draw. The Gambler Returns: The Luck of the Draw featured Western TV show heroes from Hugh O'Brian as Wyatt Earp from The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp to David Carradine as Caine from Kung Fu.

Regardless of the failures of Young Maverick and Bret Maverick, Maverick would continue to be popular in syndication. In 1994 a big budget adaptation of the series was released starring Mel Gibson as Bret Maverick and James Garner as Marshal Zane Cooper. In interviews Mr. Garner maintained he was playing Bret Maverick and Mel Gibson was playing his son, although the film leaves this open to debate.

Maverick continues to be popular to this day. It currently airs on both the Heroes and Icons channel and the nostalgia broadcast network ME-TV. Despite having appeared in several highly successful films over nearly six decades, when James Garner died on July 19 2014, it was more often than not the TV show Maverick that was cited in headlines regarding his death. Although it might not have run as long as Gunsmoke or Bonanza, Maverick still numbers among the most successful TV Westerns of all time. With heroes that were a far cry from the usual lawmen, drifters, and ranchers of most Westerns, and episodes that often included humour alongside the action, it should be little wonder if Maverick isn't still being watched 60 years from now.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The TV Show Perry Mason Turns 60

"Who can we get on this case?
We need Perry Mason
Someone to put you in place
Calling Perry Mason again."
(Ozzy Osbourne,  John R W Purdell, Zakk Wylde, "Perry Mason")

It was sixty years ago today, on September 21 1957, that the TV show Perry Mason debuted on CBS. Perry Mason was historic not only for bringing the character to the small screen, but also as the first hour long crime drama to air on American television. Starring Raymond Burr as the defence attorney of the title, it would prove to be an enormous success. The show lasted for nine seasons and ranked in the top twenty shows each year for much of its run. When it ended its run in 1966, Perry Mason went onto highly successful run in syndication that lasts to this day.

Perry Mason starred Raymond Burr as the title character, a criminal defence lawyer who defends those who are wrongly accused of crime. He was assisted by his highly capable secretary Della Street (played by Barbara Hale) and detective Paul Drake (played by William Hopper). He usually found himself at odds with homicide detective Lt. Arthur Tragg (played by Ray Collins), who was always arresting the wrong person for murder. In court he usually faced district attorney Hamilton Burger (played by William Talman).  The show definitely had a formula that it used in most of its episodes. A murder would occur, after which both the police and Perry Mason would investigate. The final part of the episode would be set in the courtroom, where Perry Mason would eventually reveal the actual culprit.

Of course, the character of Perry Mason was hardly new when the TV series debuted in 1957. Perry Mason first appeared in the novel The Case of the Velvet Claws by Erle Stanley Gardner in 1933.  He would go onto appear in 81 more novels. The final one, The Case of the Postponed Murder, was published not long after Erle Stanely Gardner's death. Perry Mason also appeared in four short stories by Erle Stanley Gardner. The series of "Perry Mason" novels proved very successful. To this day it is the third highest selling book series of all time, third only to the "Harry Potter" and "Goosebumps" series.

The success of the "Perry Mason" novels would guarantee that the series would be adapted to other media. Six "Perry Mason" movies were released by Warner Bros. in the Thirties. The first few starred Warren William as Perry and various actresses as his faithful secretary Della Street. The penultimate "Perry Mason" movie starred Ricardo Cortez as the attorney and the last one starred Donald Woods in the role. The movies departed a good deal from the novels and are not highly regarded by "Perry Mason" fans today.

Fortunately, the fact that the movies were largely unfaithful to the "Perry Mason" novels did not hurt the character's success in other media. In 1943 the highly successful radio show Perry Mason debuted on CBS radio. Various actors portrayed Perry Mason, his secretary Della Street, his friend and the detective he often employed Paul Drake, and his usual antagonist on the police force Lt. Tragg over the years. The radio show was 15 minutes long and ran every weekday. The radio show Perry Mason had a semi-serial format and often emphasised action over courtroom theatrics. Unlike the novels and the later TV show, it was not unusual for Perry to engage in gunfights with criminals. Regardless, it proved very successful, running until 1955. Over the years there have also been "Perry Mason" comic books and even a short-lived newspaper comic strip that ran from 1950 to 1952.

While the radio show had been fairly successful, a TV show based on the "Perry Mason" novels would be some time in coming. Erle Stanley Gardner had been disappointed in Warner Bros.' movies from the Thirties and was loathe to license the character without some guarantee of creative control. CBS Television had wanted to bring the "Perry Mason" radio show to television. in the early to mid-Fifties. Like the radio show, this version of Perry Mason would have aired weekdays and would have had a serialised format. Unfortunately, CBS insisted that Perry Mason have a love interest, something which Erle Stanely Gardner baulked at. Negotiations between CBS and Erle Stanley Gardner then broke down. This did not mean that all of the work done on the proposed TV show would go to waste. Irving Vendig, who had been a writer on the radio show, retooled the idea and turned it into The Edge of Night. Essentially a daily mystery serial (as opposed to a soap opera), The Edge of Night debuted in 1956 and ran until 1984.

As to how Perry Mason would eventually come to television, that was due to Gail Patrick Jackson. If the name "Gail Patrick" sounds familiar, it is because she had once been an actress who had appeared in such films as Death Takes a Holiday (1934),  My Man Godfrey (1936), Stage Door (1937), and My Favourite Wife (1940).  Gail Patrick Jackson's husband, Cornwell Jackson, was an advertising executive and for many years had been Earl Stanley Gardner's literary agent. Gail Patrick Jackson would sometimes talk to Erle Stanley Gardner about what he would want a Perry Mason TV show to look like and how much creative control he would want. Eventually Earle Stanley Gardner, Gail Patrick Jackson, and Cornwell Jackson decided to go forward with a Perry Mason TV series and formed a production company, Paisano Productions, for that purpose. Gail Patrick Jackson was president of Paisano Productions and would serve as executive producer on Perry Mason for much of its run.

Initially CBS had wanted Perry Mason to be a live hour long drama, something that Gail Patrick Jackson knew to be impossible. Fortunately CBS reconsidered this idea, as they had learned the value of reruns through the success of I Love Lucy. Regardless, Paisano Productions had to finance the pilot. Ultimately CBS announced the new series Perry Mason in February 1956 and that it would debut that fall. As it turned out, casting Perry Mason proved to be difficult so that the show ultimately would not debut until 1957. For the series CBS purchased the rights to 272 stories by Erle Stanley Gardner, many of which featured Perry Mason.

Several actors were considered for the all-important role of Perry Mason, including Richard Carlson, Mike Connors, Richard Egan, William Holden, and Efrem Zimbalist Jr. In April 1956 it was reported that CBS was in negotiations with Fred MacMurray to play the role. Among the actors to try out for Perry Mason was Hedda Hopper's son William Hopper. While he did not get the part of Perry Mason, he was cast as detective Paul Drake. Of course, Raymond Burr was also among the actors to try out for the role of Perry Mason. Gail Patrick Jackson had admired his role as an attorney in the movie A Place in the Sun (1951), but thought he was too heavy for the role. Mr. Burr went on a crash diet and was ultimately cast as Perry Mason.

The other roles on the show were somewhat easier to cast than Perry Mason. Barbara Hale was already an established film star with a high successful career. That having been said, by 1956 she was a mother with young children and wanted to avoid being away from them on long movie shoots. She asked about the role of Della Street and was cast in the role. Gail Patrick Jackson had seen William Talman in Ida Lupino's film The Hitch-Hiker and was impressed with his performance. He was cast as district attorney Hamilton Burger. Ray Collins, a character actor with a long career that included work with Orson Welles's Mercury Theatre, was cast as Lt. Arthur Tragg.

For a long running show Perry Mason would see very few changes in its cast over the years, although amazingly enough Raymond Burr would be largely absent for some episodes. During the 1962-1963 season Mr. Burr went into the hospital for "minor corrective surgery". His place in four episodes during that season was then taken by big name guest stars playing other attorneys, including Bette Davis (in "The Case of Constant Doyle"), Michael Rennie ("The Case of the Libellous Locket"), Hugh O'Brian ("The Case of the Two-Faced Turn-a-bout"), and Walter Pidgeon ("The Case of the Surplus Suitor"). Raymond would miss two more episodes during the show's run:  "The Case of the Bullied Bowler" (where his place was taken by Mike Connors) and  "The Case of the Thermal Thief" (where his place was taken by Barry Sullivan) during the 1964-1965 season. The four episodes Raymond Burr missed during the sixth season would not be included in the show's syndication package until TBS bought the rights to air them in the mid-Eighties. They have been seen as part of the syndication run of Perry Mason ever since.

William Talman as Hamilton Burger would also miss several episodes, including most of the first half of the show's fourth season. On  March 13 1960 sheriff's deputies raided a private home at which William Talman was present on suspicion of marijuana possession. Everyone was arrested for possessing pot (charges which were later dropped) and were also charged with lewd vagrancy. The municipal judge would also drop the charges of lewd vagrancy for lack of proof. While William Talman had essentially been cleared of any crime, CBS still fired him, although they never gave a reason. A massive letter writing campaign by Perry Mason fans gave Gail Patrick Jackson just what she needed to convince CBS to rehire Mr. Talman.

Another change in the cast would result because of Ray Collins's declining health. Once able to memorise entire scripts with ease, by 1960 Mr. Collins found he had difficulty remembering his lines. Eventually his health declined to the point that he could no longer continue with the series. He last appeared as Lt. Tragg in the January 16 1964 episode, "The Case of the Capering Camera." He died on  July 11 1965 from emphysema. Although he was no longer on the show, as executive producer Gail Patrick Jackson insisted that his name continue to be listed on the show's credits until his death. Wesley Lau as Lieutenant Andy Anderson took Ray Collins's place during the 1963-1964 season. When Wesley Lau left the show at the end of its eighth season, he was replaced by Richard Anderson as Lt. Steve Drumm.

Perry Mason spent its first several seasons on Saturday night, where it consistently ranked in the top twenty shows for the year except for its first season. The show reached its peak in the ratings in its fifth season, when it ranked no. 5 for the season. Strangely enough given its high ratings, CBS moved Perry Mason to Thursday night in its sixth season. It remained there until its ninth and final season, when it was moved to Sunday night.

Like the vast majority of shows from the Fifties, Perry Mason was shot in black and white. It would continue to be shot in black and white for the entirety of its run with the exception of one episode. In its final season   "The Case of the Twice-Told Twist" was shot in colour primarily because the head of CBS, William Paley, wanted to see what the show would look like in colour. The final episode, "The Case of the Final Fade-Out", featured many members of the Perry Mason crew in cameos, as well as Perry Mason's creator Erle Stanley Gardner as a judge.

Perry Mason ended its run in 1966, only to begin one of the most successful runs in syndication of all time. It aired on many local stations for literally years. KPTV in Portland, Orgeon picked up reruns of Perry Mason in 1966 (the first year they were available) and continued to air the show until 2012, a full 42 years. The show has since aired on such cable channels as TBS, TV Land,  and  Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, among others. It has aired on the classic television broadcast network ME-TV for literally years.

The continued success of Perry Mason in syndication led CBS to attempt a reboot of the show during the 1973-1974 season. The New Perry Mason starred Monte Markham as the crime solving lawyer, and debuted only seven years after the original series had left the air. It lasted only fifteen episodes. While The New Perry Mason failed, Raymond Burr would once more see success in the role. The continued success of Perry Mason in syndication led to the 1985 reunion movie Perry Mason Returns (although personally I think The Case of Perry Mason's Return would have been a better title), starring Raymond Burr as Perry Mason and Barbara Hale as Della Street. He would appear in 26 more television movies until his death in 1993. Following Raymond Burr's death there would be four more movies, each without the character of Perry Mason, that aired under the heading A Perry Mason Mystery. Barbara Hale appeared in each of these films as Della Street.

In addition to a highly successful syndication run, the entire run of Perry Mason is available on DVD. It has also been available on various streaming services, including Netflix. It is currently available on CBS's own streaming service, CBS All Access and the first two seasons are available on the network's website.

Perry Mason would have an impact on popular culture even while it was first airing. In the 1961 Jack Benny Program episode "Jack On Trial for Murder", Raymond Burr appears as Perry Mason in a dream that Jack has. The show has also been parodied in everything from Mad to The Flintstones. A song about the famous defence attorney, "Perry Mason", appeared on Ozzy Osbourne's 1995 album Ozzmosis and was also released as a single. Perry Mason would even produce at least one imitator on television. Matlock starred Andy Griffith as Ben Matlock, a Southern lawyer who, much like Perry, defends people falsely accused of murder.

Perry Mason would even have an impact on the United States' judicial system. "Perry Mason syndrome" is a term used for the way in which jurors who have watched the programme perceive criminal trials. Quite simply, they expect one attorney or the other at some point to come out with a big revelation, much as Perry did on the show. The term first entered usage in the Sixties, when Perry Mason  was still on the air.

Perry Mason was the first hour long crime drama. It was also the first hour legal drama. Between its original run and its syndication run, it seems likely it is the most successful legal drama of all time. Perry Mason first aired sixty years ago and it seems quite likely people will still be watching it sixty years ago.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Sophia Loren: Movie Star Italian Style by Cindy De La Hoz

Today is the birthday of Sophia Loren, screen legend and quite possibly the most famous Italian movie star internationally. Running Press in conjunction with Turner Classic Movies recently came out with a new book about her. Sophia Loren: Movie Star Italian Style by Cindy De La Hoz is a must read book for any fan of the actress.

It is also in many respects a rather singular book. The first half is a biography of Sophia Loren. The second half is perhaps the most complete filmography of the legendary star I have ever seen. Both the biography and the filmography are very well done. The biography traces Miss Loren's life from her beginnings in poverty in Naples to her rise as a star in Italy to her success as a truly international star. The filmography is very extensive and includes Sophia Loren's early films made in Italy that often go ignored in American filmographies of the star. While the filmography does not offer in-depth analyses of Miss Loren's films, it more than makes up for this in the fact that it is so complete. I am sure that all but the most absolutely avid fans of Sophia Loren will learn something about her early work, much of which still isn't available in the United States.

Of course, one of the most wonderful things about Sophia Loren: Movie Star Italian Style is the sheer number of photos in the book. What is more, I am sure many of the photos are ones that most Americans have never seen before. They range from a photo taken of young Sophia when she was nine years old for her first communion to photos taken only a few years ago. What is more, the pictures range from photos from Sophia's private life to publicity photos to photos from movie shoots.

Ultimately, Sophia Loren: Movie Star Italian Style is a wonderful tribute to one of the screen's greatest international stars. It would also serve as a good introduction to Sophia Loren for anyone wishing to learn more about the star. I believe that whether one is relatively new to classic film or a fan of classic film for many years, he or she will enjoy Sophia Loren: Movie Star Italian Style immensely.

(I want to thank Running Press for giving me the opportunity to review this book.)

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Godspeed Frank Vincent

Frank Vincent, who appeared in the film Goodfellas (1990) and the TV show The Sopranos, died on September 12 2017 at the age of 80. The cause was complications from heart surgery following a heart attack.

Frank Vincent was born Frank Vincent Gattuso Jr on April 15 1937 in North Adams, Massachusetts. He grew up in Jersey City, New Jersey. He worked as a drummer playing in nightclubs. He also played drums on records by Paul Anka and Trini Lopez.

He made his film debut in 1976 in The Death Collector. Martin Scorsese was impressed by his performance in the film and as a result he was cast in Raging Bull (1980). In the Eighties Mr. Vincent appeared in such films as Dear Mr. Wonderful (1982), Baby It's You (1983), The Pope of Greenwich Village (1984), Stiffs (1985), Wise Guys (1986), Lou, Pat & Joe D (1988), Do the Right Thing (1989), Last Exit to Brooklyn (1989) and Goodfellas (1990). He guest starred on the TV show The Paradise Club.

In the Nineties Frank Vincent appeared in the films Jungle Fever (1991), Men Lie (1994), Federal Hill (1994), Animal Room (1995), Casino (1995), She's the One (1996), Made Men (1997), The Deli (1997), Entropy (1999), and The Crew (2000). He guest starred on such shows as Civil Wars; The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles; Walker, Texas Ranger; Cosby; New York Undercover; Law & Order; and NYPD Blue.

In the Naughts he appeared in such films as Snipes (2001), A Tale of Two Pizzas (2003), Coalition (2004), The Last Request (2006), and The Tested (2010). He provided a voice for the animated film Shark Tale (2010). On television he played Phil Leotardo on the show The Sopranos. He guest starred on Stargate: Atlantis. He provided the voice of mob boss Salvatore Leone in the series of video games Grand Theft Auto.

In the Teens he guest starred on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit He provided a voice on the animated show Mr. Pickles. He appeared in the film Spy (2011).

Throughout his career Frank Vincent played mobsters. And there can be no doubt that he was very good at playing mobsters. There should be little wonder that his best known roles are from Goodfellas and The Sopranos. That having been said, he could play other roles as well. He played a Catholic bishop in an episode of Law & Order: SVU. It wasn't the first time he played a man of the cloth either. He was Father Brice in the comedy The Last Request. In Jungle Fever he played a father who has mixed feelings (to put it mildly) about his daughter's interracial romance. Frank Vincent was certainly good at playing mobsters, but he had the talent to play other roles as well.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Late Great Harry Dean Stanton

Character actor Harry Dean Stanton died on September 15 2017 at the age of 91.

Harry Dean Stanton was born on July 14 1926 in West Irvine, Kentucky. During World War II he served in the United States Navy in the Pacific Theatre. After the war he attended the University of Kentucky. He dropped out of college after three years and moved to Los Angeles, California. In California he studied acting at the Pasadena Playhouse.

Harry Dean Stanton made his television debut in an episode of Inner Sanctum in 1954. He made his motion picture debut in an uncredited role in Revolt at Fort Laramie in 1956. During the Fifties he appeared in the films The Wrong Man (1956), Tomahawk Trail (1957), The Proud Rebel (1958), Voice in the Mirror (1958), Pork Chop Hill (1959), The Jayhawkers! (1959), and A Dog's Best Friend (1959). In the Sixties he guest starred on such TV shows as Suspicion, Panic!, The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, Man with a Camera, Disneyland, Bat Masterson, The Rifleman, Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse, The Man from Blackhawk, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

In the Sixties Harry Dean Stanton appeared a good deal on television. He guest starred on such shows as The Roaring 20s, Zane Gray Theatre, The Untouchables, The Lawless Years, Have Gun--Will Travel, Combat!, Laramie, Bonanza, Rawhide, The Fugitive, The Big Valley, The Wild Wild West, The Andy Griffith Show, The Virginian, The High Chaparral, Mannix, Gunsmoke, Daniel Boone, Adam-12, and Petticoat Junction. He appeared in the films Hero's Island (1962), How the West Was Won (1962), The Man from the Diners' Club (1963), Ride in the Whirlwind (1966), In the Heat of the Night (1967), A Time for Killing (1967), The Hostage (1967), Cool Hand Luke (1967), Day of the Evil Gun (1968), The Mini-Skirt Mob (1968), The Rebel Rousers (1970), and Kelly's Heroes (1970).  As the Sixties progressed the size of Mr. Stanton's roles grew larger. He played the lead role in the short "Lanton Mills" (1969).

Harry Dean Stanton continued to get larger roles in the Seventies, and his career shifted from television to film. He appeared in such films as Two-Lane Blacktop (1971), Cisco Pike (1972), Cry for Me, Billy (1972), Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973), Dillinger (1973), Where the Lilies Bloom (1974), Zandy's Bride (1974),  The Godfather: Part II (1974), Rafferty and the Gold Dust Twins (1975), Rancho Deluxe (1975), Farewell, My Lovely (1975), The Missouri Breaks (1976), Wise Blood (1979), Alien (1979), The Rose (1979), Death Watch (1980), and Private Benjamin (1980). On television he had a recurring role on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman and guest starred on Young Maverick.

The Eighties saw Harry Dean Stanton go from supporting roles in films to more central roles, including the occasional lead. He played the lead in the cult classic Repo Man (1984) and the same year played the lead in the classic Paris, Texas (1984). He also appeared in the films Escape from New York (1981), One from the Heart (1981), Young Doctors in Love (1982), Christine (1983), The Bear (1984), Red Dawn (1984), UFOria (1985), One Magic Christmas (1985), Fool for Love (1985), Pretty in Pink (1986), Slam Dance (1987), Stars and Bars (1988), Mr. North (1988), The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), Dream a Little Dream (1989), Twister (1989), Stranger in the House (1990), The Fourth War (1990), and Wild at Heart (1990). On television he guest starred on Laverne & Shirley, Faerie Tale Theatre, The French as Seen By (1988), The Jim Henson Hour, and Beyond the Groove.

In the Nineties Mr. Stanton appeared in the films Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992), Man Trouble (1992), Cruise Control (1992), Gentleman Who Fell (1993), Blue Tiger (1994), One Hundred and One Nights (1995), Never Talk to Strangers (1995), Nothing to Believe In (1996), Playback (1996), Down Periscope (1996), Midnight Blue (1997), She's So Lovely (1997), Fire Down Below (1997), Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998), The Mighty (1998), Ballad of the Nightingale (1999), The Straight Story (1999), The Green Mile (1999), and The Man Who Cried (2000). On television he guest starred on the show Hotel Room and appeared in the mini-series Dead Man's Walk.

In the Naughts Harry Dean Stanton appeared in the films The Pledge (2001), The Animal (2001), Sonny (2002), Ginostra (2002), Anger Management (2003), Chrystal (2004), The Big Bounce (2004), The Wendell Baker Story (2005), Alpha Dog (2006), Alien Autopsy (2006), You, Me and Dupree (2006), Inland Empire (2006), The Good Life (2007), Open Road (2009), On Holiday (2010), and Athena (2010). On television he was the star of the show Big Love. He guest starred on Two and a Half Men as himself, and also guest starred on Chuck.

In the Teens Mr. Stanton was the voice of Balthazar in the animated film Rango (2011). He appeared in the films This Must Be the Place (2011), Marvel's The Avengers (2012), Seven Psychopaths (2012), The Last Stand (2013), 9 Full Moons (2013), Carlos Spills the Beans (2013), The Pimp and the Rose (2014), Sick of it All (2017), and Lucky (2017). On television he guest starred on Getting On. He reprised his role as Carl Rodd from the film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me in the revival of Twin Peaks.

I was aware of Harry Dean Stanton before he attained fame in the Eighties, although into the late Sixties he was usually billed as "Dean Stanton" in order to avoid confusion with Harry Stanton (the actor who played Dr. Zenta in When Worlds Collide). He was a frequent guest star on many of the reruns I watched as a child and he could play nearly anything. He could play a hillbilly in the midst of a feud, as was the case with the Gunsmoke episode "Love Thy Neighbour". On The Lawless Years he played a mob hitman. On Adam-12 he was an abusive husband. Over the years he appeared on many TV Westerns, appearing eight times on Gunsmoke, four times on Rawhide, and twice on Bonanza alone.

The variety of roles Mr. Stanton played were also seen in his film career. Even his best known roles were a varied lot. He was the engineering technician Brett in Alien. In Escape from New York he played Brain, a genius and the advisor to the Duke. In Repo Man he played Bud, the "repo man" of the title. Perhaps the best role of his career was in Paris, Texas, in which he played an amnesiac drifter attempting to rebuild his life. Harry Dean Stanton was an extremely talented actor who could play a wide variety of roles and play all of them well. Over the years he played cowboys, military officers, preachers, doctors, and police officers. Even when he was young he had a bit of a weather beaten look that would have kept him from playing romantic leads, but was perfect for various character roles. Harry Dean Stanton was a prolific actor who continued acting until his death. His career spanned over sixty years. If he was always in demand, it was perhaps because he was just that talented.