Saturday, October 13, 2018

West Side Story (1961)

Dedicated to the memory of my darling Vanessa Marquez (it was her favourite musical besides The Wizard of Oz)

Among the most popular and critically acclaimed movie musicals to emerge from the Sixties is West Side Story (1961). Based on the Broadway musical of the same name, it made $44.1 million at the box office and won ten Academy Awards (including Best Picture). To this day it remains the musical to win the most Oscars.

For those unfamiliar with West Side Story, it was inspired by William Shakespeare's play Romeo and Juliet. It centres on  two warring gangs, the Jets (a gang composed of whites) and the Sharks (a gang composed of Puerto Ricans). Tony (played by Richard Beymer) is a former Jet who falls in love with Maria (played by Natalie Wood with her singing voice provided by Marni Nixon), the younger sister of the leader of the Sharks.

The book for the play West Side Story was written by Arthur Laurents, with the music written by famous conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein and lyrics written by Stephen Sondheim. It was in 1947 that choreographer Jerome Robbins approached Leonard Bernstein and Arthur Laurents about a collaboration that would update Romeo and Juliet to modern times. Initially the conflict would have been between an Irish Catholic family and a Jewish family in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Arthur Laurents wrote his first draft of the script, which he titled East Side Story. It was afterwards that the three men realised that it would be little more than a musical exploration of themes that had been explored in countless plays before, most notably Abie's Irish Rose. The project was then shelved for years.

It was in the mid-Fifties that Arthur Laurents was hired to write a remake of The Painted Veil (1934). At the same time Leonard Bernstein was conducting at the Hollywood Bowl. The two men met at the Bevelry Hills Hotel. Their conversation eventually turned to the phenomenon  of juvenile youth gangs, then a popular topic in various news outlets. It was Leonard Bernstein who suggested that they rework East Side Story so that it was set in Los Angeles, with Chicano youth gangs at the centre of the conflict. Arthur Laurents felt he was more familiar with Puerto Ricans and Harlem, so the story would be set in New York City and would centre on a conflict between a white gang and a Puerto Rican gang. The two men contacted Jerome Robbins and what would soon become West Side Story was in development.

West Side Story opened on September 27 1957 at the Winter Garden Theatre. It received largely positive reviews. It also won the Tony Awards for Best Choreographer for Jerome Robbins and Best Scenic Designer for Oliver Smith. It was nominated for Best Musical, but lost to the juggernaut that was The Music Man.

Given the success of West Side Story, it was inevitable that it would be adapted as a motion picture. Robert Wise, the former film editor who had directed such films as The Body Snatcher (1945), The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), and Run Silent, Run Deep (1958), was hired to direct the feature film adaptation. Robert Wise had no experience directing musicals, so Jerome Robbins was retained on the project to direct the musical sequences. The leads from the Broadway musical, Larry Kent and Carol Lawrence, were deemed by the producers to be too old to play teenagers, so they were not considered for the parts they had originated on stage. It was also decided to cast actors who were not well known, although there would be two exceptions. While Natalie Wood was initially not considered because she was too famous, she was cast in the role of Maria after Ina Balin and Barbara Luna had been considered. Rita Moreno, who was already somewhat familiar to movie audiences, was cast as Anita.

The rest of the major cast was made up of actors who were not yet well-known. Richard Beymer was cast as Tony. He had only made a few films prior to West Side Story, including The Diary of Anne Frank (1959). Russ Tamblyn was cast as Riff, leader of the Jets. He had been a child actor, but as an adult had played primarily supporting roles in films starring older actors. Mr. Tamblyn's singing voice was provided by Tucker Smith. George Chakris had played Riff in the London production of West Side Story, but for the film he was cast as Bernardo, the leader of the Sharks.

West Side Story proved to be smash hit at the box office. In fact, it was the no. 1 movie of the year in the United States. And as mentioned earlier, it won a number of Oscars. In addition to Best Picture, it also won Best Director for Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins, Best Supporting Actor for George Chakris, and Best Supporting Actress for Rita Moreno. Today it is considered a classic and has a 94% rating at the review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes.

I believe I first saw West Side Story when I was in second grade, and I have loved the film ever since. That having been said, I do think it has some flaws. The one that sticks in my mind is the casting. Out of the major cast, only Rita Moreno is actually Puerto Rican. While I adore Natalie Wood and she does well as Maria, to a degree she seems incongruous with the role she is playing. Perhaps more so than any other actor in the cast, it is obvious that she is not a Latina. It was years ago that I developed my own backstory for Maria, in which she was left as an infant on the Nunez doorstep by a Russian family who could not afford to keep her...

Another problem I have with West Side Story is the song "America". Puerto Rico has been a United States territory since 1898. Since 1917 all Puerto Ricans born after April 25 1898 have had United States citizenship. It then seems odd for Puerto Ricans to be singing about America when they are part of the United States, even if Puerto Rico is a territory rather than a state. Beyond the fact that Puerto Rico is technically already part of America (at least if one is using "America" to refer to the United States), the lyrics to "America" seem to me to be somewhat insulting towards Puerto Rico. While I have never been to Puerto Rico, from what I have seen it is beautiful (at least before Hurricane Maria), so I don't think the lyric "Puerto Rico, you ugly island" really fits. Similarly, Puerto Rico has never been plagued by disease any more than most states in the U.S. have been. The lyric "Island of tropic diseases" also does not seem applicable. Oddly enough, as far as I know the song "America" has never been a source of controversy, although I find it a little offensive myself.

That having been said, the casting and the song "America" are the only real problems I have with West Side Story. The cast, whether they are Puerto Rican or not, give good performances over all. The standout for me has always been Rita Moreno as Anita. As played by Miss Moreno, Anita is strong-willed and takes nonsense from no one. She is also sexy and sultry (which explains why I have had a crush on Rita Moreno for most of my life...). Richard Beymer is also impressive as Tony, the Romeo in this variation of Romeo and Juliet, bringing out the character's idealism. George Chakris also gives a good performance as the hot-headed Bernardo, who seems to be the Tybalt of West Side Story.

West Side Story also benefits from good direction, particularly when it comes to its musical scenes. Jerome Robbins truly earned his Academy Award for Best Director (shared with Robert Wise). That having been said, the film would not be particularly easy for Jerome Robbins to make. He came into conflict with screenwriter Ernest Lehman over how the screenwriter had utilised the musical's songs,  moving them in their place in the plot and even putting some of them in different settings. Jerome Robbins did not particularly get along with some of his other co-workers either, wanting everything in the film exactly as it had been on stage.

Another asset of West Side Story is the cinematography of Daniel L. Fapp, for which he won an Oscar. Largely shot on location in New York City, West Side Story is an incredible looking film.

Both a box office hit and a critically acclaimed film upon its release, West Side Story has since become regarded as a classic. In 1997 it was selected for the National Film Registry. The American Film Institute ranked it at no. 2 in its list of AFI's Greatest Movie Musicals. The film remains wildly popular to this day, and there is little doubt to believe it won't continue to be so.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Google Kills Google+

It was this past Monday, October 8 2018, that Google announced it would be shutting down Google+. The service will continued to operate until August 2019 when it will close down. The reason that Google gave was a bug in one of Google+ People APIs that allowed apps access to information in users' profiles that the users had not marked as public. There was no evidence that any developers were even aware of the bug, let alone abused the API. As someone who has used Google+ from the beginning (I have been with it since the beta was only a few days old), I must say that I am sorely disappointed and I think Google is being very short-sighted.

Indeed, if Google+ has not been as successful as Google wished it had been, Google has no one to blame but themselves. The beta version of Google+ launched on June 28 2011 and proved to be very active. Indeed, to this day I have more followers on Google+ than any other social network (even Twitter). Google+ would continue to be a thriving social media platform for quite some time. Unfortunately, it seemed as if Google was intent on undermining the success of Google+.

Over time Google removed some very useful features from Google+. Ripples was a tool that allowed users to see how their posts had been reshared. It was quite useful for those concerned about the reach of their posts on Google+, and fun to play with for the rest of us. Hangouts on the Air was a live-streaming service. Unfortunately Google removed the feature from Google+ and gave it to YouTube. Even with these changes Google+ continued to be a very active and thriving social network.

Sadly, there would be changes in the management at Google+ and this would ultimately hurt G+ in the long run. Vic Gundotra, the executive who had been in charge of Google+ from its inception, left in 2014. It was on November 18 2015 that Google introduced "New Google+", which further deprived Google+ of much of its functionality. No longer did Google+ have an adequate means of curating one's own photos. I assume this was because Google wanted to force users to use Google Photos, which lacked many of the features Google+'s original photo management tools possessed. New Google+ also made it difficult to manage one's circles. For those who have never used Google+, circles are essentially lists into which users can organise people. Each circle has its own stream, making it easy to keep track of posts. Classic Google+ had a fairly efficient tool for organising circles, complete with a "drag-and-drop" interface. Sadly that sort of circle management was  missing from New Google+. Now Google+ continued to prosper as long as Classic Google+ was available. Unfortunately on January 24 2017 Google forced New Google+ on all its users, even though it was clear the majority of their users preferred Classic Google+.

I see New Google+ as the first nail in the coffin of Google+. Once New Google+ was forced upon users, many of them deserted the social network platform. Those of us who remained posted less often. Quite simply, New Google+ was so inferior to Classic Google+ that one has to wonder if Google wasn't intentionally trying to kill Google+ by that point.

While Google+ is not nearly as active as it once was, I still think Google is being short-sighted in killing it.Indeed, G+ could become much thriving and active if they simply restored much of Classic G+'s functionality. For that matter, I don't think they have thought out the impact it might have on their  other products. The only reason I ever used Google Photos was to post to Google+. Once Google+ goes dark I will no longer have any use for Google Photos. As a result, I will be uninstalling it from my phone. I have no reason to believe there aren't other users like me.

I will certainly miss Google+. Classic Google+ was my favourite social media platform. I enjoyed the conversations I had there, which were more sophisticated than most discussion on Twitter and especially on Facebook. I made many friends on G+, and many of them now number among the closest friends I have. What is more, my experience is not unique. I know of many G+ users who can say the same thing. To me that points to the possibility that Google+ could have been a real success if only Google had not constantly undermined its success.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Petition: Add Vanessa Marquez to the "In Memoriam" Segments of the SAG Awards And The Oscars Televised Shows

Yesterday the cast and crew of the classic film Stand and Deliver (1988) gathered at the Los Angeles Theatre Center for a celebration of the life of Vanessa Marquez, best known for playing Ana Delgado in Stand and Deliver and Nurse Wendy Goldman on the hit TV show ER. Most of the cast of Stand and Deliver were present. I would have liked to have been there myself, but I was unable to due to poverty and distance. That having been said, my heart was there. Indeed, Cheryl Hansen read the piece I wrote for Vanessa's memorial in South Pasadena last month.

In other news, someone has set up a petition to include Vanessa Marquez in the "In Memoriam" segments of the telecasts of the SAG Awards and the Oscars. I may be biased, but I believe that Vanessa is more than worthy of inclusion in both (as well as TCM Remembers, for that matter). Vanessa was an immensely talented actress who appeared in more than Stand and Deliver and ER. She appeared in several movies and several TV shows in the Nineties. At the time that she was playing Wendy on ER she was one of the few Latinas appearing regularly on American television. Because of her talent and her importance in the history of Latinos in film and television, I have to agree that Vanessa should be included in both the "In Memoriam" segments of the SAG Awards and the Academy Awards. You can sign the petition here.

As for myself, I am doing better than I was for much of September. That having been said, I still cry regularly, if not every day. And I sometimes feel overwhelmed by grief at having lost Vanessa and anger at what happened to her. I still miss Vanessa so terribly, but then I know that I will for the rest of my life. Our friends knew that we were very close, but I don't think many of them realised just how close. For my part, I loved Vanessa more than anyone else ever in my life, and I still do. I wanted so badly to move out there and be with her, but I never had the money. For the rest of my life, then, there will be this hole where she should be.

If you are one of Vanessa Marquez's many fans, then, please sign the petition for her to be included in the "In Memoriam" of the telecasts of the SAG Awards and the Oscars. Vanessa deserves to be remembered for her devotion to her art and for being the wonderful woman that she was. You would have my eternal gratitude.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

The 80th Anniversary of The Lady Vanishes (1938)

It was eighty years ago today, on October 7 1938, that The Lady Vanishes released in the United Kingdom. The Lady Vanishes would prove significant for several reasons. First, it was the last film that Alfred Hitchcock would make in Britain until Under Capricorn in 1949. It is also numbered among by many as one of Hitchcock's best films. Second, it would mark the first appearance of Charters and Caldicott (played by Naunton Wayne and Basil Radford), two cricket-obsessed characters who would appear in several subsequent films, as well as radio shows. With different actors in the roles, they would also be featured in their own 1985 BBC TV series, Charters and Caldicott. Third, along with Bank Holiday (1938), the film in which she appeared immediately prior to The Lady Vanishes, The Lady Vanishes propelled Margaret Lockwood to stardom in the United Kingdom. Even Hollywood took notice of Miss Lockwood, although they wasted her on a Shirley Temple film Susannah of the Mounties (1939) and the movie Rulers of the Sea (1939).

I wrote a detailed post on The Lady Vanishes several years ago. Rather than revisit old ground, I then recommend that you read that post.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Stand and Deliver (1988) Turned 30

Dedicated to the memory of my dearest Vanessa Marquez

This past March 11 (coincidentally the day after my birthday) marked the thirtieth anniversary of the movie Stand and Deliver (1988). Stand and Deliver was a groundbreaking film in many ways. It was one of the earliest American films to be directed by a Latino (Ramón Menéndez), written by Latinos (Ramón Menéndez and Tom Musca), and to feature a primarily Latino cast. What is more, unlike many films made in the Eighties and earlier, Stand and Deliver did not rely on stereotypes.

Stand and Deliver was based on the true story of Jaime Escalante, a Bolivian immigrant who taught calculus at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles, California from 1974 to 1991. Mr. Escalante had enormous success teaching calculus to his students. By the time of his last year teaching at Garfield High School, 570 students were taking calculus.

It was in 1984 that recent UCLA film school graduate Ramón Menéndez read an article on Jaime Escalante in the newspaper. He turned to his friend Tom Musca to serve as producer and co-writer on a film about Mr. Escalante. It would take the two of them six months to persuade Jaime Escalante to sell them to the rights to do a film about him. A number of different production companies turned down Messrs. Menéndez and Musca, seeing the film as not being commercial enough. The two men finally received a $12,0000 grant from the PBS anthology show American Playhouse.

With the script completed, Ramón Menéndez and Tom Musca were able to hire Edward James Olmost to play the role of Jaime Escalante. At the time he was playing  Lieutenant Martin "Marty" Castillo on the TV show Miami Vice. They were also able to hire Lou Diamond Phillips who was fresh from playing Ritchie Valens in the 1987 film La Bamba. Andy Garcia, who had recently appeared in The Untouchables (1987), was hired to play the small role of Ramirez from the Educational Testing Service. The rest of the cast was largely filled by young unknown actors. At the point that the film was cast, it was still titled Walking on Water.

Initially meant for public television, Stand and Deliver was financed through a variety of sources, including the National Science Foundation and the Atlantic-Richfield Corporation. It was after the film was shown at the Mill Valley Film Festival that Stand and Deliver became a theatrical release. Warner Bros. picked up distribution for the film and released it to theatres on March 11 1988.

Stand and Deliver received largely positive reviews from critics. It also received one Academy Award nomination. Edward James Olmos was nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role. Stand and Deliver swept the Film Independent Awards, winning the awards for Best Feature, Best Director, Best Male Lead (for Edward James Olmos), Best Supporting Female (for Rosanna DeSoto), Best Supporting Male (Lou Diamond Phillips), and Best Screenplay. It won the Imagen Foundation Award for Best Film, and the Nosotros Golden Eagle Award for Best Film as well. At the Young Artists Awards the film's young cast won the Michael Landon Award. In 2011 Stand and Deliver was selected for for preservation in the National Film Registry.

Given that it was originally meant for public television, it should come as no surprise that Stand and Deliver made its television debut on the PBS series American Playhouse on March 15 1989.

Today Stand and Deliver is widely regarded as a classic and there should be little wonder. Ramón Menéndez and Tom Musca not only wrote an script that is free of ethnic stereotypes, but one that is also inspiring without being overly emotional or schmaltzy. The film also benefits from some impressive performances. It is little wonder that Edward James Olmos received an Oscar nomination for his role as Jaime Escalante. He fully committed himself to the role, even having his hair thinned and gaining 40 pounds to more resemble. Mr. Escalante. Lou Diamond Phillips also gave a good turn as Angel Guzman, the rebel who must balance his school studies with life on the streets.

The young cast, many of them newcomers to film, also gave solid performances. Ingrid Oliu did well as Lupe Escobar, who must help raise her siblings while trying to study calculus. Will Gotay is impressive as Pancho, a young mechanic who struggles with calculus more than some of the other students. Stand and Deliver marked the film debut of Vanessa Marquez, and it was an exceptional debut for the then 18 year old actress. Vanessa played Ana Delgado, the exceptionally bright, but shy student who wanted to go to medical school despite her father's insistence she work at his restaurant. In preparation for her role, Vanessa sat in on Jaime Escalante's class for several days.

In real life Jaime Escalante taught at Garfield High School until 1991. Afterwards he taught at Hiram W. Johnson High School in Sacramento, California. Sadly, in 2010 Mr. Escalante developed cancer. Vanessa Marquez, other cast members from Stand and Deliver, and former pupils helped lead fundraising efforts to help with his medical bills. He died on March 30 2010 at the age of 79.

Stand and Deliver was a pioneering film in many respects. It was one of several feature films made by Latinos in the late Eighties that defied stereotypes that had existed in Hollywood for decades. It was one of the earliest American films to be directed, written,, and produced by Latinos, and to feature a primarily Latino cast. It is also an excellent film with a great script and filled with great performances from its cast. It should be little wonder that Stand and Deliver is now regarded as a classic.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

The TV Series Naked City Turns 60

It was on September 30 1958 that the TV series Naked City debuted on ABC. The show would prove to be very innovative. Along with Dragnet it was one of the earliest police procedurals to air on American television. It was also had what was a very popular format from the mid-Fifties into the Sixties. Naked City was a semi-anthology series, essentially a show with continuing characters whose episodes often centred on guest stars rather than the show's main characters. Other examples of semi-anthology shows are Wagon Train, The Fugitive, and Run for Your Life. Naked City would also lead to another popular semi-anthology series of the Sixties, Route 66.

Naked City was developed by writer Stirling Silliphant and based upon the 1948 movie The Naked City. The movie The Naked City was in turn inspired by the 1945 book Naked City by Weegee, which collected Weegee's photographs of New York life. Originally Naked City centred on the same characters as had appeared in the feature film: experienced veteran detective Lt. Dan Muldoon (played on the show by John McIntire) and Detective Jimmy Halloran (played on the show by James Franciscus). As in the film, the two detectives worked in New York City's 65th Precinct. Naked City was one of the earliest TV shows to be shot in location, with the bulk of the show being shot on the streets of New York City. The show was produced by Herbert B. Leonard, who also served as its narrator in its first season.

In its first season, Naked City was a half-hour drama and its original title was The Naked City. Even as the season unfolded the show would undergo one dramatic change. John McIntire was not particularly happy working on the show and wanted to return to his ranch in Montana. It was then in the episode "The Bumper" (which aired March 17 1959) that Lt. Muldoon was killed off when a mob hitman caused Muldoon's car to crash with an oil truck. This made Naked City the first show to ever feature the on-screen death of one of its main characters (previously characters on TV shows usually died off-screen between season, an example being Jean Hagen's character on Make Room for Daddy). Lt. Muldoon was replaced by Lt. Parker (played by Horace McMahon).

The April 28 1959 episode "Four Sweet Corners" would serve as the template for the show Route 66. It centred on George Maharis as Johnny Gary and Bob Morris as Link Ridgeway, two ex-servicemen who decide to travel around the country. A backdoor pilot for a show that would be called The Searchers, Herbert B. Leonard was unable to find a network interested in the concept. It was decided that the title The Searchers was unsuitable for the prospective show as it could lead to confusion with the 1956 John Ford movie of the same name. The concept was then reworked as Route 66, which debuted on CBS on October 7 1960.

Unfortunately, Naked City suffered from disappointing ratings in its first season and ABC cancelled the show at the end of the season. Fortunately, one of the show's sponsors, tobacco company Brown & Williams, as well as the show's production staff, still had faith in the show. They successfully lobbied ABC to return the series to the schedule as an hour-long drama now titled Naked City. The hour long version of the show debuted on October 12 1960.

The hour long version of Naked City would see some changes to the show's cast. While Horace McMahon remained as Lt. Parker, James Franciscus as Detective Halloran was replaced by Paul Burke as Detective Adam Flint. Nancy Malone joined the cast as Detective Flint's girlfriend Libby. While the show as now expanded to an hour, its format very much remained. It was still a police procedural and semi-anthology that often focused on its guest stars. As an hour-long drama Naked City proved much more successful than it had as a half-hour show. It ran for three more seasons with the new format.

Throughout its run Naked City was critically acclaimed. It was also nominated for several Emmy Awards won a few. In 1959 it was nominated for Best Dramatic Series - Less Than One Hour. In 1961 it won the Emmy for Outstanding Achievement in Film Editing for Television and was nominated for Outstanding Program Achievement in the Field of Drama. In 1962 it was Outstanding Program Achievement in the Field of Drama, Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actor in a Series (Lead) for Paul Burke, Outstanding Performance in a Supporting Role by an Actor for Horace McMahon, and Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Drama for Arthur Hiller. That year it won the awards for Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography for Television and Outstanding Achievement in Film Editing for Television. In 1962 it was nominated for Outstanding Program Achievement in the Field of Drama, Outstanding Single Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role for Diahann Carroll, Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actor in a Series (Lead) for Paul Burke, Outstanding Performance in a Supporting Role by an Actress for Nancy Malone, and Outstanding Achievement in Film Editing for Television. That year it won the award for Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography for Television.

Naked City went onto a fairly successful run in syndication and is still seen occasionally today (it recently aired on ME-TV). It is a available on DVD and it has been included on streaming services such as Hulu. The show's continued popularity led to a 1998 TV movie, Naked City: Justice with a Bullet, meant as a reboot of the show. It starred Scott Glenn as Lt. Muldoon and Courtney B. Vance as Detective Halloran. It did not lead to a new series.

Naked City was a truly revolutionary series. Alongside Dragnet, it was one of television's earliest police procedurals. It was also one of the earliest shows to utilise the soon to be popular semi-anthology format. It was one of the earliest shows to be shot on location. It featured the first on-screen death of a major character on  show, a move that caused a bit of an uproar at the time. Naked City also featured top-notch writing, direction, editing, and cinematography, as well as some sterling performances from its leads and guest stars. It should be little wonder that Naked City remains respected to this day.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

The Late Great Geoff Emerick

Geoff Emerick, the legendary audio engineer who worked with The Beatles, The Zombies, Badfinger, Elvis Costello, and others, died yesterday, October 2 2018, at the age of 72. The cause was a heart attack.

Geoff Emerick was born on December 5 1945 in London. He began working as an assistant engineer at EMI when he was only 15. On his first day of work he was placed under the supervision of another assistant engineer, Richard Langham. On his second day of work Richard Langham was assigned to audio engineer Norman Smith, who was the engineer on The Beatles' earliest recordings at EMI. Geoff Emerick was then present at the band's very first recording sessions.

As an assistant engineer Mr. Emerick worked on a number of The Beatles' early recordings. He also served as an assistant engineer on such artists as Judy Garland. He served as the primary engineer on Manfred Mann's single "Pretty Flamingo". When Norman Smith became a producer, it was Sir George Martin who requested Geoff Emerick as their new chief engineer. The first Beatles album on which he served as chief engineer was Revolver. He would go on to serve as the band's chief engineer on the albums Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, and Abbey Road. Prior to Abbey Road he left partway through the recording of The Beatles (better known as The White Album), becoming frustrated with the tensions between the various Beatles.

In the Sixties Geoff Emerick also served as chief engineer for such artists as Peter & Gordon, The Zombies on their album Odessey and Oracle), Tomorrow, and Jackie Lomax. It was in 1970 that Geoff Emerick became a producer, producing the Badfinger album No Dice with Mal Evans. In the Seventies he served as the chief audio engineer for such artists as Badfinger, Stealers Wheel, Fanny, Tim Hardin, Paul McCartney & Wings, America, Robin Trower, Nazareth, and Cheap Trick. He produced such artists as Badfinger, Robin Trower, Split Enz, and Elvis Costello & The Attractions.

In the Eighties Mr. Emerick served as chief engineer for such artists as The Little River Band, Cheap Trick, Paul McCartney, Ultravox, Supertramp, and Art Garfunkel. He produced albums for such artists as Elvis Costello & The Attractions, Nick Heyward, Jackie Leven, Tommy Keene, and Echo & The Bunnymen.

In the Nineties he served as chief engineer for such artists as Split Enz, Paul McCartney, Ultravox, UFO, and Robin Trower. He produced such artists as Elvis Costello & The Attractions and Robin Trower. In the Naughts he served as chief engineer for such artists as The Aerovons, The Syrups, Nellie McKay, Johnny Cash, Paul McCartney, Jeff Beck, and Cheap Trick. He produced such artists as Nellie McKay, The Syrups, Elvis Costello, and Tim Finn.

In the Teens Geoff Emerick served as chief engineer for such artists as Paul McCartney, Chris Bell, and Dweezil Zappa.

Geoff Emerick was definitely one of the greatest audio engineers of all time. He often developed sounds that had never been heard on vinyl records before. It was Mr. Emerick who came up with the ethereal sound of The Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows (the first Beatles song on which he was chief engineer) and Mr. Emerick who assembled the carnival sounds for The Beatles' "For the Benefit of Mr. Kite". Although best known for his work with The Beatles, Geoff Emerick would do groundbreaking work for artists from Badfinger to Elvis Costello.

In addition to being a legendary audio engineer, Geoff Emerick also seemed like an awfully nice guy. I can't say that I knew Mr. Emerick, but I interacted with him on Instagram and other social media outlets. He was always liking posts from Beatles fans and giving them shout-outs. It was clear that he was proud of his work with The Beatles and other artists. And while Mr. Emerick has often been accused of favouring Sir Paul McCartney over the other Beatles, one would never know it from his social media posts. Geoff Emerick was someone who was truly appreciative of his fans.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Margaret Lockwood on TCM This Friday

Margaret Lockwood
This Friday night Turner Classic Movies is airing three movies starring legendary British movie star Margaret Lockwood. Miss Lockwood was the top actress in the United Kingdom during World War II and has a legion of fans on both sides of the Pond to this day. Starting at 7:00 PM Central/8:00 PM Eastern on Friday, October 2 2018, TCM will air Night Train to Munich (1940), The Lady Vanishes (1938), and The Wicked Lady (1945). If you a long-time Margaret Lockwood fan you will want to tune in. If you have never seen a Margaret Lockwood film, you will definitely want to watch TCM this Friday. Not only are Night Train to Munich, The Lady Vanishes, and The Wicked Lady probably Margaret Lockwood's best known films, they are also possibly her best films.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Hammer Horror on TCM This Month

An original British poster for Dracula (1958)
Every October Turner Classic Movies shows horror movies in celebration of Halloween.  This October is no different and as usual a number of those movies were produced by Hammer Films. Here is a schedule of the Hammer Films airing on TCM this month.

October 10
The Devil Rides Out (1968--known as The Devil's Bride in the U.S.) at 7:00 PM Central./8:00 PM Eastern
Dracula (1958--known as Horror of Dracula in the U.S.) at 9:00 PM Central/10:00 PM Eastern
Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966) at 10:30 PM Central/11:30 PM Eastern

October 11
Rasputin: The Mad Monk (1966) at 3:30 AM Central/4:30 AM Eastern

October 21
The Mummy (1959) at 7:00 PM Central/8:00 PM Eastern
The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb (1964) at 8:45 PM Central/9:45 PM Eastern

October 22
The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) at 11:00 PM Central/ 12:00 midnight Eastern

October 23
Frankenstein Created Woman (1967) at 12:30 AM Central/1:30 AM Eastern
Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed! (1970) at 2:15 AM Central/3:15 AM Eastern

October 28
The Mummy's Shroud (1967) at 7:00 PM Central/8:00 PM Eastern
Blood from the Mummy's Tomb (1971) at 9:00 PM Central/10:00 PM Eastern

October 29
The Nanny (1965) at 5:15 PM Central/6:15 PM Eastern

I also have to point out that Carry On Screaming! (1966) airs on October 29 at 7:00 PM Central/8:00 PM Eastern. Although not a Hammer Film, it is a very good parody of Hammer Films that was released when Hammer was still producing its classic films.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Vanessa Marquez Should Be Included in This Year's TCM Remembers

It has been four weeks since actress Vanessa Marquez, best known as Ana Delgado in Stand and Deliver (1988) and as Nurse Wendy Goldman on the TV show ER, died. Vanessa and I were extremely close friends and my grief is still palpable. My mother did not have my brother and I until she was 49, so I am at an age where my parents, my aunts and uncles, several cousins, and even my best friend Brian have died. That having been said, I have mourned none of them as much as I have mourned Vanessa. The fact is that I loved her more than anyone else in my life. I still do.

Even taking that into account, I think a very good argument can be made that Vanessa Marquez should be included in this year's TCM Remembers, the annual "In Memoriam" that Turner Classic Movies does to honour those figures in classic film who have died each year. While Vanessa did not do that many feature films (8 in total), she still had an impact as a movie actress. Stand and Deliver is widely regarded as a classic, and the character of Ana Delgado remains one of the best loved in the film. In a movie filled with great performances, Vanessa's performance is one that stands out for many. Not only is Stand and Deliver widely regarded as a classic, but it was also a pioneering film in Latino cinema. It was one of the first films to have a largely Latino cast to be written and directed by Latinos.

Vanessa made other films besides Stand and Deliver. While Blood In Blood Out (1993--also known as Bound by Honor) received somewhat mixed reviews, it does have a cult following in the Latino community. I think the comedy Twenty Bucks (1993) is a gem just waiting to be discovered. It was well received by critics and contains several good performances, among which is Vanessa's performance. She is not on screen for very long, but she leaves a lasting impression in a movie full of colourful characters. While some of Vanessa's films weren't that good (I don't think Maniac Cop 3: Badge of Silence will be hailed as a classic any time soon...), Vanessa always was.

Of course, Vanessa Marquez worked a good deal in television and her best known role remains that of Nurse Wendy on ER. Nurse Wendy is one of the most popular of the secondary characters on the show, and many people noticed when she disappeared after the third season (myself among them). For many Wendy remains their favourite character on ER. At the time that she was on ER, Vanessa was one of the few Latinas to appear regularly on television. In both television and film, then, Vanessa was something of a pioneering Latina actress. Indeed, I have been told that in the Latino community of Southern California, Vanessa was royalty.

For Turner Classic Movies fans Vanessa Marquez might have even been more familiar as a fellow TCM fan than she was an actress. There was no bigger TCM fan than Vanessa. She was one of the original members of #TCMParty and she often live tweeted to movies on Turner Classic Movies. Vanessa was well loved by her fellow TCM fans and was known for her kindness, her generosity, and her graciousness. Paula Guthat, one of the founders of #TCMParty, called Vanessa "the sweetheart of #TCMParty" and I have to agree with that assessment. When news of her death spread through the TCM fan community, I believe it was the greatest outpouring of grief I have seen since the death of Robert Osborne. 

Between her status as a pioneering Latina actress and one of TCM's biggest fans, I very much believe that Vanessa deserves to be included in this year's TCM Remembers. Indeed, for Vanessa I can think of no higher honour than for her to be memorialised in TCM Remembers, alongside other classic movie stars that she loved.

If like me you believe that Vanessa Marquez should be included in this year's TCM Remembers, you can write them at:

TCM Viewer Relations
1050 Techword Drive NW
Atlanta, GA 30318

You can call TCM Viewer Relations at 404-885-5535. At the bottom of the TCM help page there is also a "Contact Us" link that takes you to a form you can fill out. For my part, I have already emailed TCM and sent a letter to TCM Viewer Relations

Vanessa was immensely talented and I know many of my fellow TCM fans loved her dearly. If we can get her included in this year's TCM Remembers I know that she would be thrilled.  

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The TCM Classic Cruise Is Back

For those of you who were disappointed when Turner Classic Movies discontinued the TCM Classic Cruise, I have some good news. There will be another TCM Classic Cruise from October 22 to October 27 2019. It will be aboard the Disney Magic. For those of you unfamiliar with the TCM Classic Cruise, it is essentially the TCM Classic Film Festival on water. There will be viewings of classic films in the ship's theatres, discussion panels, special presentations, and other classic movie themed events. The Disney Magic will sail from New York to Bermuda. Guest have yet to be announced, but Ben Mankiewicz will host.

To learn more about the cruise, go here

Monday, September 24, 2018

Peter Gunn Turns 60

When it comes to American television in the late Fifties, it is best remembered for the huge number of Westerns that aired during the era. That having been said, there was another cycle on American television that was also notable, one towards detective shows. It was during this period that Richard Diamond, Private Detective; 77 Sunset Strip; Philip Marlowe; Johnny Staccato; and Michael Shayne debuted. Among the most famous detective shows to debut in the late Fifties was Peter Gunn. While the series only ran for three seasons, it has persisted in syndication ever since and remains one of the best known detective shows of the era. It premiered on September 22 1958 on NBC.

Peter Gunn was created by Blake Edwards, the well known movie director responsible for such classics as Operation Petticoat (1959), Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), The Pink Panther (1963), and The Great Race (1965). Blake Edwards had created the radio show Richard Diamond, Private Detective, which debuted on NBC in 1949. It would later be adapted as a TV series in 1957. In 1954 Mr. Edwards had directed an unsold television pilot titled Mickey Spillane's 'Mike Hammer!', starring Brian Keith in the title role. Although Peter Gunn would become Blake Edwards's best known detective show, it was then actually the third time he had visited the genre on television. The show was originally going to be titled Gunn for Hire, but Paramount complained that the tile was too close to that of their 1942 feature film This Gun for Hire.

Peter Gunn centred on the detective of the title, who was played by Craig Stevens. Gunn was a former police officer who worked out of Los Angeles. He frequented a jazz club called Mother's, where his girl friend Edie Hart (played by Lola Albright) worked. The owner of Mother's was simply known as Mother, and had run speakeasies during Prohibition. She was played by Hope Emerson. Among Gunn's friends was Lieutenant Charles "Chuck" Jacoby, played by Herschel Bernardi.  

Peter Gunn was a TV show known for its style. It featured a good deal of modern jazz, numbering among the first TV shows ever to do so. Not surprisingly, prominent jazz musicians occasionally appeared on the show, including trumpet player Shorty Rogers, saxophonist Ted Nash, and drummer Shelly Manne. The show is still remembered for the "Peter Gunn Theme", written by Henry Mancini. It has been covered many times since. In 1959 RCA Victor released a soundtrack album with music from the show titled The Music From Peter Gunn. The theme itself reached no. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100.

The show as also known for its often stylish clothing. Peter Gunn's usual fee was $1000, and this was often reflected in the clothes he was. Lola Albright's gowns were provided by the Jax boutique in Beverly Hills.

Peter Gunn proved to be somewhat successful. For its first season it ranked no. 16 out of all the shows on the air. Unfortunately, ratings for Peter Gunn dipped in its second season and NBC cancelled the show. It was picked up by ABC for its third season. For its third season Peter Gunn ranked no. 29 out of all the shows on the air for the year. Sadly, it would also be its last season. The show ended its run at the end of the 1960-1961 season.

The show was also nominated for several Emmy Awards, all of them in 1959. Craig Stevens, Herschel Bernardi, Lola Albright, and Hope Emerson were all nominated in the acting categories. The series itself was nominated for Best Dramatic Series - Less Than One Hour. Blake Edwards was nominated for Best Direction of a Single Program of a Dramatic Series - Less Than One Hour for the episode "The Kill", as well as the Best Writing of a Single Program of a Dramatic Series - Less Than One Hour for the same episode. Despite the number of Emmy Awards for which it was nominated, Peter Gunn won none of them.

While Peter Gunn ended its network run in 1961, it would not be the end for the private eye. Craig Stevens reprised his role as Peter Gunn and Blake Edwards handled both the directing and writing chores on the 1967 movie Gunn. None of the rest of the original cast appeared in the film. In 1989 a pilot for a new series, also titled Peter Gunn, aired on ABC. It was written and directed by Blake Edwards. The pilot starred Peter Strauss in the title role. More recently, a new Peter Gunn series was in development at the cable channel TNT in 2013. The new series never came to be. Of course, while the show was still on the air there was a novel published in 1960 and comic books published by Dell Publishing, as well as a board game.

Although it ran for only three years, Peter Gunn would prove to be among the most influential detective shows of all time. The initial success of Peter Gunn would lead to further detective shows on American television in the late Fifties and early Sixties. What is more, it prove to have a lasting impact on detective shows and movies released since then. Peter Gunn forged a link between the detective genre and jazz music that has never quite gone away. Peter Gunn persists in reruns to this day. The entire series has been released on DVD and it is also available on the streaming service Amazon Prime. Peter Gunn may have only aired for a few years, but it has proven to be popular for decades.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

The Friends of Vanessa Marquez Memorial

It has been a little over three weeks since actress Vanessa Marquez, who played Ana Delgado in the classic Stand and Deliver (1988) and Nurse Wendy on the TV show ER, has died. Since then I have been reminded just how many fans she has. There has been an outpouring of love for her from around the world. This makes me very happy. I always thought that Vanessa felt she was underappreciated, even forgotten, despite my claims to the contrary. She certainly was not forgotten. Indeed, in his comic strip La Cucaracha acclaimed cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz did a tribute to her. You can see it here. I thanked. Mr. Alcaraz, a man I greatly admire, for paying tribute to a woman I love so.

As to myself, the past three weeks have been hard on me. I have described Vanessa as an extremely close friend or dear friend, but the fact is that she was my best friend. To make things worse, I was and still am very much in love with her. I can't speak for how Vanessa felt, but for me she was the centre of my universe. I miss hearing her voice on the phone, texting with her, and interacting with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I miss her terribly, and I have cried every single day since her death.

Today the Friends of Vanessa Marquez Memorial is being held in Arroyo Park in South Pasadena, California from 10:00 AM PDT to 2:00 PM PDT. It was organised by Cheryl Hansen and others to honour the memory of Vanessa. Being here in Missouri I cannot attend (a fact which causes me no little bit of pain), although I will be present in spirit. The songs "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and "In My Life" will be performed (Vanessa was a huge fan of both The Wizard of Oz and The Beatles) because of my suggestions. I bought flowers that a friend will take to the memorial. I also wrote a short piece that will be read at the memorial. I kept it brief as I know many will want to speak. And because this is Vanessa's memorial, I only addressed my feelings for her in the very last part. It is as follows:

"Vanessa often said that her name meant 'butterfly', and the name certainly fit her. Like a butterfly, Vanessa was beautiful, tiny, and fragile-looking. But also like a butterfly, she had hidden strength that might not be obvious by simply looking at her. Vanessa had the strength to persevere through hardships, through being blacklisted as an actress, and through her terminal illness. She often lent that strength to her friends and that strength was among the many reasons we loved her. She was always there in times of need, always there to support her friends when they were down, and always swift to defend them. When I was sad or depressed, Vanessa was always the first to comfort me. Among her many friends in the Turner Classic Movies fan community she was considered 'the Sweetheart of #TCMParty'. She was a kind, considerate, generous, gracious, and vibrant woman. It was little wonder she had so many friends who loved her so. I count myself among them and I feel lucky to have known her. Vanessa, I don't know if you can hear me, but let me say that I have always loved you and I always will. "

While today I will be here in Missouri come 10:00 AM PDT, my heart will be in California.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The 40th Anniversary of WKRP in Cincinnati

Forty years ago today, on September 18 1978, WKRP in Cincinnati debuted on CBS at 8:00 PM Eastern/7:00 PM Central.  The show would prove to be popular enough to survive being moved to perhaps more time slots than any other show in history (it would at least be in the top five for being moved the most times). It proved extremely popular in syndication, so much so that it became MTM's most popular show as a syndicated rerun, beating out such heavyweights as The Bob Newhart Show and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. It would also become one of my favourite situation comedies of all time and I still watch it to this day. In August 2017 I wrote a detailed history of the show, which you can read here.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Fundraiser for the Friends of Vanessa Marquez Memorial

Vanessa Marquez was a talented actress who played Ana Delgado in the classic film Stand and Deliver (1988) and Nurse Wendy Goldman on the TV show ER. Because of these and other roles she remains a beloved actress with a legion of fans around the world. She was a pioneer with regards to Latina actresses. Stand and Deliver was one of the earliest films to be directed by a Latino as well as one of the earliest with a primarily Latino cast. At the time that she starred on ER, there were very few Latinas who appeared regularly on television. I have been told that in the Latino community of Southern California, she was royalty. That having been said, Vanessa was more than a talented actress, as she was also a kind, gentle, gracious, and generous woman with many friends in the movie, television, classic film, and Star Wars communities around the world. She was very loyal to her friends and was swift to take up for them if any one of them was attacked. She had an open heart and always accepted people for whom they are. As to myself, Vanessa and I were extremely close. I loved her deeply and I always will. To me she was the most wonderful woman in the world. Sadly, Vanessa Marquez died on August 30 2018 at the age of 49.

Vanessa was estranged from her mother and had little in the way of family. As of this writing no funeral for her has been announced. Because Vanessa was so loved by so many, Cheryl Hansen and other friends are holding a memorial to her on September 22 at 10:00 AM in Arroyo Park in South Pasadena, California. Unfortunately, memorials cost money and so Cheryl Hansen has created a fundraiser to help defray costs. If you are one of the many whose lives were touched by Vanessa, please donate and insure that Vanessa receives a memorial worthy of the talented actress and wonderful woman she was. It would mean the world to me and you would have my eternal gratitude.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Joseph Cotten in Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

(This blog post is part of the Joseph Cotten Blogathon hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood)

Over the years Joseph Cotten played a wide array of roles, from heroes to villains to characters that fell somewhere in between. Perhaps the best known villainous role of his career was that of Charlie Oakley in Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt (1943). Not only was Charlie Oakley perhaps the best villain ever played by Joseph Cotten, but many would rank Charlie Oakley among the greatest villains ever portrayed on the silver screen.

Shadow of a Doubt centres on teenager Charlotte "Charlie" Newton (played by Teresa Wright), who is delighted when her Uncle Charlie Oakley comes to her hometown of Santa Rosa, California for a visit. Unfortunately, it turns out that Uncle Charlie is one of two suspects for being the "Merry Widow Murderer". Worse yet, as time passes it turns out Uncle Charlie and the Merry Widow Murderer are one and the same.

Shadow of a Doubt originated a story from Gordon McDonnell, the husband of Margaret McDonell, the head of David O. Selznick's story department, had. It was loosely based on real-life murderer Earle Nelson, who had committed a series of rapes and murders in the Twenties. The screenplay would benefit from the work of two legendary writers, Thornton Wilder (the author of the plays Our Town and Skin of Our Teeth) and Sally Benson (best known as the author of the anthologies Junior Miss and Meet Me in St. Louis). As on most Alfred Hitchcock films, Hitchcock's wife Alma also worked on the screenplay.

Shadow of a Doubt was largely filmed on location in Santa Rosa, with the opening scenes filmed in the Central Ward of Newark, New Jersey. Many of the buildings used in the film are still standing, including the Newton family's house and the railroad station (although it is now a visitor centre). 

Shadow of a Doubt benefited from a sterling cast. Teresa Wright, who had begun her career as an understudy to Dorothy McGuire and Martha Scott for the role of Emily in Our Town, was ideal for the role of Charlie Newton. Henry Travers as Young Charlie's father Joseph and Hume Cronyn (in his screen debut) as the Newton's neighbour Herbie Hawkins, were perfect in their roles as two characters obsessed with true crime stories. Macdonald Carey did a great job as Detective Jack Graham, who was in charge of investigating the Merry Widow Murders. Of course, aside from Teresa Wright, Shadow of a Doubt was very much Joseph Cotten's film. As Charlie Oakley, Joseph Cotten gave one of the greatest performances of his career. Mr. Cotten's Uncle Charlie was at the same time sympathetic and sinister. It is hard not to root for Uncle Charlie, even once one realises that he is pure evil. 

Critics were unanimous in their praise for Shadow of a Doubt, praising both Alfred Hitchcock and the movie's cast. It has maintained its reputation as one of Alfred Hitchcock's best films ever since. It currently holds a score of 100% at the review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes. Despite its critical acclaim, upon its initial release Shadow of a Doubt only did moderately well at the box office. It was far from a flop at the box office, but it was also far from a box office smash as well. Fortunately, audiences have since discovered Shadow of a Doubt, to where it is one of Alfred Hitchcock's best loved films.

Of course, Shadow of a Doubt not only remains one of Alfred Hitchcock's best loved films, but it also gives us one of Joseph Cotten's best performance. It was certainly his best role as a villain. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The Late Great Fenella Fielding

Fenella Fielding, the legendary actress known for her appearances in two "Carry On" films and three of the "Doctor" films, as well as numerous television appearances (including the voice of the unseen louspeaker announcer on The Prisoner), died at the age of 90 following a stroke yesterday.

Fenella Fielding was born Fenella Feldman in London on November 17 1927. Miss Fielding won a scholarship to RADA, but left after one year. Afterwards she attended Saint Martin’s School of Art, worked for actors' agent Al Parker, and she worked in a beauty shop. Despite having left RADA, she still dreamed of pursuing acting. She was an understudy for the play Constant Lover at
Bolton's Theatre in London in 1952 before making her stage debut at the Saville in the play Pay the Piper. In the Fifties she appeared on stage in the productions Jubilee Girl, Love for Life, Valmouth, and Pieces of Eight. She made her television debut in 1957 in an episode of BBC Sunday-Night Theatre. She appeared on the shows Destination Downing Street, Saturday Playhouse, The Adventures of Brigadier Wellington-Bull, International Detective, The Four Just Men, The Strange World of Guerney Slade, and Danger Man. She made her film debut in Sapphire in 1959. She appeared in the films Follow a Star (1959), Doctor in Love (1960), Foxhole in Cario (1960), and No Love for Johnnie (1960). 

Fenella Fielding appeared frequently on stage, on the big screen, and on television throughout the Sixties. She appeared on stage in such productions as Five Plus One, As You Like It, Doctors of Philosophy, Let's Get a Divorce, The High Bid, Lysistrata, Hedda Gabler, and Colette. She appeared in the films No Love for Johnnie (1961), Carry On Regardless (1961), In the Doghouse (1962), Doctor in Distress (1963), The Old Dark House (1963), How to Undress in Public Without Undue Embarrassment (1965), Doctor in Clover (1966), Carry On Screaming! (1966), Drop Dead Darling (1966), and Lock Up Your Daughters (1969). On television she starred in the mini-series Saki. She starred on the TV series Ooo La La!. She was the voice of the loudspeaker announcer and the telephone operator on The Prisoner. She guest starred on such shows as The Avengers, Love Story, Armchair Theatre, Comedy Playhouse, and A Touch of Venus

In the Seventies Fenella Fielding appeared on stage in such productions as Fish Out of Water,
The Second Mrs Tanqueray, Helen, Birds of Paradise, Absurd Person Singular, A Marriage, and Look After Lulu. On television she guest starred on That's Your Funeral.

In the Eighties Miss Fielding appeared on stage in such productions as The Wizard of Oz, Once a Catholic, The Jungle Book, The Ghost Train, A Midsummer Night's Dream, School for Scandal, and Beggar's Opera. On television she guest starred on the show Cribb and the mini-series The Pickwick Papers. She appeared in the TV movie The Zany Adventures of Robin Hood and provided one of the voices in the animated TV special A Winter Story. In 1990 she appeared in the first of four "Uncle Jack" series (Uncle Jack and Operation Green), playing Uncle Jack's  archenemy The Vixen. 

In the Nineties she appeared in three more "Uncle Jack" TV series (Uncle Jack and the Loch Ness Monster, Uncle Jack and the Dark Side of the Moon, and Uncle Jack and Cleopatra's Mummy). She appeared in the movie Guest House Paradisio (1990). She appeared on stage in such productions as Inside Stories, Benefit for Shelter, The Witty One, Hard Time, The Spanish Curate, Lady Windmere's Fan, and Blithe Spirit

In the Naughts Fenella Fielding appeared in the movies Beginner's Luck (2001), The All Together (2007), and Wishbaby (2007). She appeared on stage in Die Fledermaus, The Vagina Monologues, and An Ideal Husband. In the Teens she guest starred on the TV show Skins. She appeared in the film Over the Edge (2011). She appeared in such productions as Dearest Nancy Darling Evelyn, An Evening with Fenella Fielding, Savage Beauty, and Just a Little Murder. From 2016 to this year she appeared on various London stages, reading from her memoirs.

Fenella Fielding was a singular actress, and it wasn't just because of her rather unique voice. For one thing, she was very much an intellectual, often sighted around the London Library doing research. Her intelligence was often displayed in both her performances and her interviews. She was a clever lady with considerable wit. In films she was best known for the much maligned "Carry On" films (particularly Carry On Screaming) and the "Doctor" films, in which she invariably played a comic femme fatale. While the critics may have disdained the "Carry On" films, I don't see how anyone could fault Miss Fielding's performance in either of the two she made. While Fenella Fielding was an all-around talent, she had a particular gift for comedy.

Of course, Miss Fielding could play more than comic vamps. In The Avengers episode "The Charmers" she played an actress who assists Steed in dealing with enemy agents. She appeared on stage in roles from Nora in A Doll's House to Titania in A Midsummer Night's Dream to Nancy Mitford in Dearest Nancy, Darling Evelyn. Fenella Fielding was a actress with considerable range who gave a great many excellent performances. She was certainly more than the comic femme fatale.

Monday, September 10, 2018

The 25th Anniversary of The X-Files

It was 25 years ago today that The X-Files debuted on Fox. The show would run for 218 episodes from September 10 1993 to September 26 2002. During its run The X-Files went from a low-rated, cult show to a hit TV series. It would eventually produce two feature films (The X-Files in 1998 and The X-Files: I Want to Believe in 2008), one spin-off (The Lone Gunmen), three series of novels, several non-fiction books, comic books, and a revival series that ran from 2016 to 2018.

The X-Files centred around FBI special agents Fox Mulder (played by David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (played by Gillian Anderson), initially the only two agents assigned to the X-files unit and charged with investigating cases that deal with the paranormal and other phenomena that is not easily explained. They worked under FBI assistant director Walter Skinner (played by Mitch Pileggi).

The X-Files was created by Chris Carter, who had written for such shows as Rags to Riches and The Disney Sunday Movie. He created the short-lived sitcom A Brand New Life. Wanting to deal with more serious fare than the comedies on which he had been working, Mr. Carter drew upon such childhood favourites as Kolchak: The Night Stalker and The Twilight Zone for inspiration for a new show. Also influencing Mr. Carter's idea for a new show were such sources as diverse as the TV show Twin Peaks, the movie The Silence of the Lambs (1991), and the Watergate scandal. Chris Carter's first pitch for The X-Files was rejected by Fox executives. He then went back to work on the project, fleshing out its characters and further developing the series' concept. He worked with Daniel Sackheim, who had served as a producer on Miami Vice and Law & Order, on the pilot.

David Duchovny, who had appeared in films since 1988 and guest starred on Twin Peaks as cross-dressing DEA Agent Denise Bryson, was cast as FBI Special Agent Fox Mulder. The casting of Gillian Anderson would actually have some opposition from Fox executives, who wanted an actress who was ""taller, leggier, blonder, and breastier" in the role of FBI Special Agent Dana Scully. Fortunately, Chris Carter was convinced that Gillian Anderson was right for the part after several auditions. Prior to The X-Files, Miss Anderson had appeared on only a few television shows and in a few movies, with most of her experience being on stage. Mitch Pileggi, who had played character parts in TV shows from Alien Nation to Get a Life and movies from Three O'Clock High (1987) to Basic Instinct (1992), had actually tried out for two other parts on The X-Files before finally being cast as Walter Skinner.

The X-Files debuted on Friday, September 10 1993. Its ratings for its first season were less impressive, coming in at only no. 105 for the year out of all the shows in prime time during the year. The show avoided cancellation because of two things. The first was that it received fairly positive reviews from critics. The second is that it developed a vocal cult following who took to the then young World Wide Web to express their love for the show. The ratings for The X-Files rose sharply in its second season, to where it ranked no. 63 out of all the shows in prime time for the year. They rose again slightly in its third season, when it ranked no. 55 for all the shows in prime time for the year.

What might have been the major factor in turning The X-Files into a hit was Fox's decision to move the show from Friday night (traditionally one of the lowest rated nights for television) to Sunday night (traditionally one of the highest rated nights for television) in its fourth season. The X-Files leapt to no. 12 in the ratings for the year. While ratings for The X-Files would begin a slow decline in its 7th season, they remained respectable until its 9th and final season.

The success of The X-Files would lead to the feature film The X-Files (also known as The X-Files: Fight the Future), which was released between its fifth and sixth seasons. The film received mostly positive reviews and did relatively well at the box office.

Unfortunately all would not go well for The X-Files during its initial run. It was before the seventh season that David Duchovny entered into a contract dispute with 20th Century Fox. As a result, he only appeared in eight episodes of the eighth season and only in one (the finale) of the ninth season. He was replaced by Robert Patrick as Special Agent John Doggett. During the eighth season the character of Special Agent Monica Reyes (played by Annabeth Gish) was introduced due to fears that Gillian Anderson might leave the series at the end of its eighth season. While Monica Reyes would become one of the main characters, Gillian Anderson remained with the show until the very end.

David Duchovny's departure from The X-Files would have an adverse effect on the series' ratings. Its ratings dipped slightly in the eighth season. In its ninth season its ratings dropped to no. 63 for the year, the lowest they had been since its second season. The X-Files then ended its run with its ninth season.

While The X-Files had been cancelled, it went onto a healthy run in syndication. Its continued success would lead to a second feature film, The X-Files: I Want to Believe, released in 2008 While the first film was directly linked to the show's mythology, the second film was a stand alone story more in keeping with the show's "monster of the week" episodes. The X-Files: I Want to Believe received mixed to negative reviews from critics. It also did poorly at the box office, earning only $68,369,434 worldwide.

Despite the failure of The X-Files: I Want to Believe, The X-Files continued to be popular. It continued to do well in syndication. Comic books based on the show continued to be published. Non-fiction books about the show continued to be published. For several years there would be talk about a third movie. It was in 2015 that Fox confirmed that they were looking to reviving The X-Files as a TV series. It was on April 20 2017 that they officially announced a revival of the show. The 10th season of The X-Files, consisting of six episodes, debuted on Fox on January 24 2016. While the 10th season received mixed reviews from critics, it did well in the ratings. It was then that Fox went forward with an 11th season of 10 episodes. The 11th season was better received by critics, who gave it mostly positive reviews. It also did well in the ratings. Unfortunately, in January 2018 Gillian Anderson announced that the 11th season would be her final with the show. It was in February that Chris Carter said that he could not see the show moving forward without Gillian Anderson. There are then no plans for another season of The X-Files.

The success of The X-Files would lead to other shows. The first, Millennium, is perhaps best defined as a related show set in the same universe rather than a spinoff.  Created by Chris Carter, Millennium centred on criminal psychologist Frank Black (played by Lance Henriksen), who investigates crimes committed by serial killers and other murders. The series ran for three seasons, and its finale aired as the episode "Millennium" on The X-Files. Both Fox Mulder and Dana Scully appeared on Millennium. The second series was a spinoff of The X-Files. The Lone Gunmen centred on three recurring characters from The X-Files. John Fitzgerald Byers (played by Bruce Harwood), Melvin Frohike (played by Tom Braidwood), and Richard "Ringo" Langly (played by Dean Haglund), collectively known as The Lone Gunmen. The Lone Gunmen were conspiracy theorists, initially united by theories regarding John F. Kennedy's assassination, who assisted Mulder and Scully from time to time. On The Lone Gunmen the trio often found themselves facing everything from crimes committed by powerful corporations to government conspiracies. Sadly, The Lone Gunmen suffered from low ratings and was cancelled after 13. Its de facto series finale aired as the X-Files episode "Jump the Shark".

The X-Files would have an impact that is still being felt to this day. When The X-Files debuted on Fox in 1993, its only hit series was The Simpsons (on which Mulder and Scully would eventually appear), with the sitcom Married...With Children a somewhat popular cult show. Alongside The Simpsons, The X-Files proved that Fox could compete with the three older networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC) and was pivotal in turning the struggling, young network into one of the majors.

As the first hit science fiction/horror series in years, The X-Files also opened the doors for similar series. In its wake such shows as Dark Skies, The Burning Zone, The Visitor, and Strange World debuted. Arguably, The X-Files may have even led to somewhat dissimilar genre shows, such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Lost. It could be argued that the mythology arc of The X-Files (the various episodes dealing with the government's efforts to hide evidence of the existence of aliens from other planets) led directly to the serialised format of many television shows that have debuted since. The X-Files has been referenced and even parodied on shows ranging from The Simpsons to NewsRadio to Archer.

In the end it seems likely that The X-Files may be the most popular genre show of all time except for The Twilight Zone and Star Trek. It has had a lasting impact on television that is still felt to this day. While I seriously doubt that there will ever be another season of The X-Files, I have no doubt that it will continue to be seen in reruns for decades to come.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

The Late Great Bill Daily

Bill Daily, best known for playing Major Roger Healy on the classic sitcom I Dream of Jeannie and airline pilot Howard Borden on The Bob Newhart Show, died September 4 2018 at the age of 91.

Bill Healy was born on August 30 1927 in Des Moines, Iowa. His father died when he was very young and as a result Bill Healy was raised by his mother and various other relatives. In 1939 his family moved to Chicago. After graduating from Lane Technical High School, Mr. Daily pursued a career in music as a bassist with various jazz bands. It was during Bill Daily's career as a musician that he began performing stand-up comedy. During the Korean War he was drafted into the United States Army and served in an artillery unit before being transferred to an entertainment movement.

Following his service, Bill Daily studied stage and direction at the Goodman Theatre School in Chicago. He worked at WGN on Chicago Cubs games and was later hired as an announcer and floor manager at WMAQ in Chicago. There he wrote and performed on a daily variety show called Club 60. He continued to perform stand-up comedy during this period. It was at this time that he met Bob Newhart, an accountant who was just starting out in stand-up comedy. He hired Mr. Newhart for a Chicago-area television awards ceremony, where Mr. Newhart performed his famous "Abe Lincoln Press Agent" bit. On his days off Bill Daily would travel to Cleveland to write, direct, and perform on The Michael Douglas Show. Steve Allen appeared on the show in 1963 and, after seeing one of Bill Daily's bits on the show, invited him to appear on his syndicated show. Bill Daily then appeared on The New Steve Allen Show.  His appearance on the show soon led to other job offers.

Following his appearance on The New Steve Allen Show, Bill Daily guest starred on Bewitched, My Mother the Car, and The Farmer's Daughter. It was in 1965 that he began playing one of his most famous roles, that of Captain Roger Healy on I Dream of Jeannie. During the run of the show Roger was eventually promoted to major. In 1969 he appeared in the TV movie In Name Only.

In  1971 Bill Daily starred in an unsold pilot titled Inside O.U.T. In the early Seventies he guest starred on the TV shows Getting Together, The Mary Tyler Moore Show (in an episode that was a backdoor pilot for a show that didn't sell), and Love, American Style. In 1972 he began playing another one of his most famous roles, that of airline navigator (later pilot) Howard Borden on The Bob Newhart Show. He guest starred on the shows Flying High, $weepstake$, CHiPs, and The Love Boat.

In the Eighties, Bill Daily starred on three short-lived shows: Aloha Paradise (playing an assistant manager at a resort in Hawaii), Small & Frye (on which he appeared as Dr. Hanratty), and Starting from Scratch (on which he played veterinarian Dr. James Shepherd). He had a recurring role on Alf as psychiatrist Dr Larry Dykstra. He reprised his role as Roger Healy (now a Colonel) in the TV reunion movie I Dream of Jeannie... Fifteen Years Later. He guest starred on the shows The Powers of Matthew Star, Trapper John M.D.Comedy Factory, Newhart, and The Munsters Today.

In the Nineties Bill Daily guest starred on the TV shows Bob, George & Leo, The Naked Truth, and Caroline in the City. He appeared on The Bob Newhart Show 19th Anniversary Special and the TV reunion movie I Still Dream of Jeannie.

From the Sixties into the Eighties, Bill Daily was a panellist on a number of game shows, including The Hollywood Squares, Tattletales, and Match Game. Aside from The Mike Douglas Show (on which he appeared regularly from 1962 to 1964), he also appeared on several talk shows, including Della, The Dick Cavett Show, Dinah!, and The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. A life-long fan of stage magic, in 1983 he hosted a series of syndicated specials on magic titled Bill Daily's Hocus-Pocus Gang. From 2006 to 2009 he was a guest host on Thursday mornings on Albuquerque radio station KBQI.

It might come as a surprise that while Bill Dailly had a large number of television credits, he only appeared in a few movies. He appeared in The Barefoot Executive (1971), Alligator II: The Mutation (1991), and Horrorween (2011).

Bill Daily was named the director of the New Mexico Film Commission in 1987. 

Bill Daily was a talented comedian with a gift for playing off-the-wall characters. Indeed, he played two of the most memorable characters in television history. On I Dream of Jeannie Roger Healy was a womaniser who always wanted to make a quick buck, and the only person besides Tony Nelson who knew that Jeannie was a genie. On The Bob Newhart Show Howard Borden was good natured, but somewhat inept anywhere except the cockpit of a plane. Over the years he played a number of lovable but slightly absurd characters, everything from a wholly incompetent Minneapolis city councilman on The Mary Tyler Moore Show to Dr. Dykstra on ALF (who was very close in disposition to Dr. Robert Hartley on The Bob Newhart Show). Few actors have the honour of starring in two classic sitcoms and playing a recurring role on a third. Bill Daily was able to do so because he was just so extremely talented.

Friday, September 7, 2018

The Late Great Burt Reynolds

Burt Reynolds, arguably one of the most popular actors of all time, died yesterday at the age of 82. The cause was a heart attack. He appeared in such films as Deliverance (1972), The Longest Yard (1974), Smokey and the Bandit (1977), and Boogie Nights (1997). He starred on such TV shows as Gunsmoke, Hawk, and Dan August.

Burt Reynolds was born on February 11 1936 in Lansing, Michigan. As his father was in the United States Army, Burt Reynolds's family moved frequently when he was a child. They lived in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri for a time. While his father was stationed in Europe, the family lived in his mother's hometown of Lake City, Michigan. It was in 1946 that the family moved to Riviera Beach, Florida, where his father became the chief of police there. Having played football in high school, Burt Reynolds attended Florida State University on a football scholarship where he played halfback on the football team. During his sophomore year he injured his knee in the first game of the football season. Later in the year he was in a car accident that cost him his spleen and injured his other knee. These collective injuries affected his ability to play football, and he ultimately gave up any hopes of having a career in professional football.

Burt Reynolds considered becoming a police officer, but his father suggested that he finish college and become a parole officer instead. He attended Palm Beach Junior College where his English professor, Watson B. Duncan III, encouraged him to try out for the play Outward Bound. Cast in the lead role, Burt Reynolds won the1956 Florida State Drama Award for his role. The Florida State Drama Award included a scholarship to the Hyde Park Playhouse (a summer stock theatre located in Hyde Park, New York). It was while he was there that he met Joanne Woodward, who helped him find an agent.

Burt Reynolds made his television debut on an episode of Flight in 1958. In the late Fifties he guest starred on such TV shows as M Squad, The Lawless Years, Pony Express, Playhouse 90, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. He was one of the two leads (along with Darren McGavin) on the short-lived show Riverboat. In 1961 he appeared on Broadway in Look, We've Come Through.

In the Sixties Burt Reynolds played blacksmith Quint Asper for three years on the TV show Gunsmoke. He played the title roles in the short lived crime dramas Hawk and Dan August. He guest starred on such shows as Michael Shayne, The Aquanauts, Naked City, Ripcord, Route 66, Perry Mason, The Twilight Zone, Flipper, 12 O' Clock High, Gentle Ben, The F.B.I., and Love, American Style. He made his film debut in the movie Angel Baby in 1961. He appeared in the films Armoured Command (1961), Operation C.I.A. (1965), Navajo Joe (1966), 100 Riles (1969), Sam Whiskey (1969), Impasse (1969), Shark! (1969), and Skillduggery (1970).

It was in the Seventies that Burt Reynolds became one of the most popular actors in the world. He starred in such films as Fuzz (1972),  Deliverance (1972), Shamus (1973), The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing (1973), White Lightning (1973), The Longest Yard (1974), At Long Last Love (1975), W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings (1975), Lucky Lady (1975), Hustle  (1975), Gator (1976), Smokey and the Bandit (1977), Semi-Tough (1977), The End (1978), Hooper (1978), Starting Over (1979), Rough Cut (1980), and Smokey and the Bandit II (1980).  In 1980 he returned to the role of Dan August in three television movies.

Burt Reynolds began the Eighties as one of the most popular movie stars in the world, but his popularity began to fade late in the decade after a series of flops. He appeared in such films as The Cannonball Run (1981), Paternity (1981), Sharky's Machine (1981), The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982), Best Friends (1982), Stroker Ace (1983), Smokey and the Bandit Part 3 (1983), The Man Who Loved Women (1983), Cannonball Run II (1984), City Heat (1984), Stick (1985), Heat (1986), Malone (1987), Rent-a-Cop (1987), Physical Evidence (1989), Breaking In (1989), and Modern Love (1990). He was the voice of Charlie B. Barkin in All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989). He starred in the TV series B. L. Styker and later in the decade on the sitcom Evening Shade. He was the voice of Troy Garland on the sitcom Out of This World. He guest starred on The Golden Girls.

In the Nineties he continued to star in the sitcom Evening Shade. He guest starred on the shows Amazing Grace, Hope & Gloria, and Cybill.  He was a guest voice on the animated series King of the Hill. He appeared in the TV movie Hard Time and its two sequels. He appeared in such films as Cop and 1/2 (1993), The Maddening (1995), Citizen Ruth (1996), Striptease (1996), Boogie Nights (1997), Big City Blues (1996), Pups  (1996), Stringer (199), Mystery, Alaska (1999), Waterproof  (2000), The Crew (2000), and The Last Producer (2000).

In the Naughts Burt Reynolds guest starred on such TV shows as Ed, The King of Queens, Freddie, My Name is Earl, and Burn Notice. He was a guest voice on the animated shows Robot Chicken and Duck Dodgers. He appeared in such films as Driven (2001), Tempted (2001), Hotel (2001), Snapshots (2002), Time of the Wolf (2002), Without a Puzzle (2004), The Longest Yard (2005), The Dukes of Hazzard (2005), Cloud 9 (2006), Grilled (2006), Broken Bridges (2006), Deal (2008), and A Bunch of Amateurs (2008).

In the Naughts Mr. Reynolds appeared in the films Not Another Not Another Movie (2011), Pocket Listing (2016), Hollow Creek (2016), Apple of My Eye (2017), Dog Years (2017), Miami Love Affair (2017), Henri (2017), and Shadow Fighter (2018). He starred in the TV series Hitting the Breaks. He guest starred on the TV show In Sanity, Florida. He was a guest voice on the animated shows American Dad and Archer.

Burt Reynolds always took a self-effacing attitude towards his acting, but the fact is that he was a very good actor. While he was known for playing lovable rogues such as Bandit in Smokey and the Bandit, he played many roles that were quite different from Bandit. In Waterproof he played ageing Jewish storekeeper Eli Zeal. In Boogie Nights he played porn movie maker Jack Horner. Even his television roles varied a bit. Burt Reynolds once claimed to Johnny Carson that his character of Dan August only had two means of expression, "mean and meaner". Nearly 20 years after playing Dan August, he played the somewhat good-natured Wood Newton on Evening Shade.  In his guest appearance on Route 66 he played a young punk who harasses a character played by Tuesday Weld. It is likely that many will remember Burt Reynolds best as Bandit, but the fact is that he played a variety of roles and he played all of them well.