Saturday, June 23, 2018

Koko the Gorilla Passes On

Koko and Dr. Patterson
Koko the Gorilla, who was known for having learned quite a few hand signs from a modified version of American Sign Language, died on June 19 2018 at the age of 46.

Koko was born Hanabiko (literally "fireworks child" in Japanese) on July 4 1971 at the San Francisco Zoo. She was loaned to Francine "Penny"  Patterson at a young age and subsequently lived her life at The Gorilla Foundation's preserve in Woodside, California. Koko was only one year old when Dr. Patterson began learning hand signs. Dr. Patterson claimed that Koko knew more than 1000 signs, and even learned to give people "the finger".

On Koko's birthday in 1984 she was given a male kitten which she named "All Ball". Sadly, All Ball got outside and was hit by a car later that year. Fortunately she would have better luck with other pet cats. Over the years Koko would also get to meet several human celebrities. A fan of Mister Rogers since she was only a year old, Koko had the opportunity to actually meet Fred Rogers. In 2004 she met Betty White, who would even go onto write an entire chapter in her book If You Ask Me about Koko. She met Robin Williams one afternoon and the two played together. She also met Leonard DiCaprio, William Shatner, Sting, and even primatologist Dame Jane Goodall. Many of the celebrities made tweets upon learning of Koko's death and Dr. Goodall even wrote a post on their meeting on her blog.

There has always been debate over the extent to which Koko knew and understood sign language, and the extent to which her handlers read things into what Koko signed. While this controversy may never subside, I think one thing can be certain: Koko was a gentle creature who had a special bond with other animals. She took very good care of her kittens over the years, caring for them much as she would a baby gorilla. She clearly enjoyed the company of humans, and she charmed the many that she met. Indeed, Betty White, who served on The Gorilla Foundation’s Board from 2004 to 2016, regarded Koko as a friend. It was largely because of Koko's gentle and giving nature that humanity's perception of gorillas changed. Previously portrayed as aggressive creature in many films (such as the classic King Kong), Koko showed that they were actually kind, caring creatures.

Friday, June 22, 2018

The 30th Anniversary of Who Framed Roger Rabbit

It was thirty years ago today, on June 22 1988, that Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) was released. The film would turned out to be the blockbuster that summer and ultimately became the second highest grossing film for 1988 (after Rain Man). It would also revive interest in the American Golden Age of Animation and help revive the American animation industry. To this day it is still highly regarded, and maintains a 97% approval rating on the review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit was based on Gary K. Wolf's 1981 novel Who Censored Roger Rabbit?. The novel centred on comic strip character Roger Rabbit, who hires detective Eddie Valiant to find out why the comic strip syndicate who employs him went back on their promise to give him his own comic strip and sell him to a mysterious buyer. The novel differed from the motion picture in many ways, not the least of which was the fact that it was set in present day (Who Framed Roger Rabbit is set in the Forties) and most of its characters are comic strip characters rather than animated cartoon characters. Ultimately the movie would centre on animated cartoon character Roger Rabbit, who is framed for the murder of powerful businessman Marvin Acme (yes, he owns Acme Corporation). It is detective Eddie Valiant who must prove Roger's innocence.

It was not long after the publication of Who Censored Roger Rabbit? that Walt Disney Productions bought the movie rights to the novel. Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman, who would write the screenplay for the movie Trenchcoat (1983), were hired to write the script. Roger Zemeckis, who had at that time directed I Wanna Hold Your Hand (1978), 1941 (1979), and Used Cars (1980), offered to direct the movie for Walt Disney, but they declined as both I Wanna Hold Your Hand and Used Cars had flopped at the box office(the latter would later become a popular cult film). Unfortunately, progress on the project was slow, with test footage being made between 1981 and 1983 with Darrell Van Citters as animation director and Paul Reubens as Roger Rabbit, Peter Renaday as Eddie Valiant, and Russi Taylor as Jessica Rabbit.

It was Michael Eisner, then the newly appointed CEO of Disney, who revived the project in 1985. He asked Amblin Entertainment (the production company of Steven Spielberg)  to co-produce the film with Disney. The original budget was estimated at $50 million. Disney thought this was too high and ultimately the budget was set at $30 million. Not only were Jerry Price and Peter S. Seaman brought back onto the project to write the script, but Roger Zemeckis (who had since directed the hits Romancing the Stone and Back to the Future) was hired as the film's director. Canadian animator Richard Williams was hired as the director of animation on the film. At the time Mr. Williams may have been best known for his Academy Award winning adaptation of A Christmas Carol. Mr. Williams did not particularly trust Disney and refused to work in Los Angeles, so much of the production of the animation was done at the legendary Elstree Studios in England, as well as a unit in Los Angeles headed by Dale Baer (a long time Disney animator).

The casting of Who Framed Roger Rabbit would prove to be no simple matter. Even though he was best known for action movies at the time, Harrison Ford was initially who Steven Spielberg wanted to play Eddie Valiant. As it turned out, Mr. Ford's price was too high for the production. Among the actors also considered for the role were Bill Murray (whom they couldn't get in contact with), Eddie Murphy (who turned the role down), Chevy Chase, Robert Redford, Jack Nicholson, Sylvester Stallone, Charles Grodin, and a few others. Ultimately, Bob Hoskins, who had appeared in such movies as The Cotton Club (1984) and Brazil (1985) was cast as Eddie Valiant. Christopher Lloyd, who had worked with Roger Zemeckis on Back to the Future, was hired to play the film's antagonist. The voice of Roger Rabbit was provided by comedian Charles Fleischer (apparently no relation to the Flesichers of animation fame) and the voice of Jessica Rabbit was provided by an uncredited Kathleen Turner.

Of course, Who Framed Roger Rabbit is well known for the many cameos of classic animated characters. Indeed, it would be the first time ever that characters from Disney and Warner Bros. appeared together. Among the famous cartoon characters with cameos were Betty Boop (Fleischer Studios), Bugs Bunny (Warner Bros.), Daffy Duck (Warner Bros.), Donald Duck (Disney), Droopy (MGM), Goofy (Disney), Mickey Mouse (Disney), Sylvester (Warner Bros.), and Porky Pig (Warner Bros.). In some cases the classic animated characters were voiced by the people most famous for voicing them. Mel Blanc voiced Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Sylvester, Porky Pig, and Tweety Bird. Mae Questel voiced Betty Boop. The legendary June Foray voiced two characters original to the film, Wheezy and Lena Hyaena. As amazing as it sounds, there could have been even more cameos by legendary animated characters in the film, but Disney and Ambin were unable to get permission to use them. They were denied the use of Casper the Friendly Ghost (created at Paramount, but then owned by Harvey Comics), Heckle and Jeckle (Terrytoons, owned by CBS), Little Lulu (created by Marjorie Henderson Buell, animated by Paramount, and then owned by Western Publishing), Mighty Mouse (Terrytoons, owned by CBS),  Popeye (King Features Syndicate, although the classic cartoons had been animated by Fleischer Studios and then Paramount), and Tom & Jerry (MGM).

Because it combined live action and animation (something previously done in Anchors Aweigh, Mary Poppins, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, and a few other films), Who Framed Roger Rabbit would have a long time in post production. In fact, post production ultimately lasted 14 months. Because digital compositing did not yet exist and computer animation was in its infancy, the animation in Who Framed Roger Rabbit had to be done through old fashioned cel animation and optical compositing. This was a painstaking process that took a good deal of time.

The finished film would run into some trouble with both Michael Eisner and Roy E. Disney, then Vice Chairman at Disney, who felt the film was too risqué for a Disney film. Ultimately, Robert Zemeckis had final cut and refused to make any changes to the film. It was finally decided that Who Framed Roger Rabbit? would be released through Touchstone Pictures, Disney's division for films that appeal primarily to adults and often feature more mature themes than those found in most Disney films of the time.

While Messrs. Eisner and Disney worried about the film being risqué,  history shows that they shouldn't have been. Who Framed Roger Rabbit proved to be a smash hit at the box office. It made $329.8 million at the box office, making it the second highest grossing film of the year. It also  received overwhelmingly positive reviews.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit would also prove to be influential. It revived interest in the characters from the American Golden Age of Animation. It has also been credited with revitalising the American animation industry. Arguably it also revived the American animation industry. While Warner Bros. had been producing new shorts since shortly before Who Framed Roger Rabbit, they continued to do so well after the release of the film. Walt Disney itself would produce three Roger Rabbit shorts. There are those who believe it helped spark the Disney Renaissance of the late Eighties and Nineties that produced such films as Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1994), and Mulan (1998). In the Nineties other studios would also release cel animated features, including 20th Century Fox's Anastasia (1997) and Warner Bros. Animation's The Iron Giant (1999).

Today Who Framed Roger Rabbit remains a remarkable achievement in animation and live action, particularly given it was made in an era before CGI was common place. It would help revitalise animation in the United States and revive interest in the Golden Age of Animation. It also remains a remarkably good movie, one that can be watched and enjoyed over and over again. While it might have been too soon to have called Who Framed Roger Rabbit a classic earlier, it now clearly is one.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Why I Am Disappointed in the New Watch TCM App

I  have been a fan of Turner Classic Movies very nearly since the channel first went on the air. And I am happy to say it is very rare that I am ever disappointed by TCM. Unfortunately, last night when the Watch TCM mobile app updated on my phone is one of those few times when TCM disappointed me. Quite simply, the Watch TCM app (which I had given a sterling review a while back) has lost a lot of its functionality.

Indeed, the first thing I noticed when I opened the new version of the Watch TCM app is that it was missing the schedule. For me this is very nearly a deal breaker. The schedule was the one thing I used the most on the Watch TCM app. In fact, I checked it very nearly every day. It was convenient as I could check what was on Turner Classic Movies at any given time when I was away from home or if I simply wanted to check the schedule without walking over to my computer to go to the Turner Classic Movies web site or checking the cable menu on the TV.

The Watch TCM app also appears to be missing some other features it had previously as well. Earlier versions of the app had an archive of clips and trailers that one can watch. If it still has an archive of clips and trailers, I could not find it. It also had an image gallery with posters, lobby cards, production photos, and publicity photos. That appears to be gone as well. The old version of the app also had various notes on films, complete with trivia and details about the movies' productions. This feature also appear to be missing from the new version.

Now, as might be expected,  one can still watch Turner Classic Movies live on the app. And I cannot deny that this is very useful to have. A couple of times when TCM was out on our cable system for whatever reason, I simply pulled up the Watch TCM app and mirrored my phone to my television set. Because of this I did not miss any programming on TCM. That having been said, I only used the watch live option a couple of times. It is not something I use regularly.

With the Watch TCM app one also still has access to TCM On Demand. This is something I have never used as I have access to On Demand through my cable system. Given I can simply watch TCM On Demand on my television set, I have no reason to watch it on the app, although others might find it useful.

Now the new Watch TCM App does have some new features. There is a Watchlist to which one can add films to one's queue to watch later. That having been said, since I have TCM On Demand through my cable provider, I really can't see using this very often. One can also browse movies through TCM's various themes, such as Star of the Month, Silent Sunday Nights, 31 Days of Oscar, and so on Again, I can't see using this very often as I have access to TCM On Demand on my television set.

Regardless, I do not appear to be alone in my unhappiness with the new Watch TCM App. Of the reviews for the new app on The Google Play Store, the majority of them are negative (keep in mind the reviews for older versions of the app were overwhelmingly positive). The biggest complaint appears to be the lack of the schedule on the new version of the Watch TCM app. There have also been a few people on Twitter who have complained about the new app (myself included). There too most people seem to be complaining about the schedule missing from the app.

In the end I would say that if you want to watch movies on your phone or tablet or if you think you might have reason to at some point (for instance, TCM is out on your cable system), the Watch TCM app is still worth downloading if you don't already have it. If you do already have the Watch TCM app and it has not yet updated, I would immediately disable automatic update on the app and simply keep the old app as long as you can. I am sincerely hoping that Turner Classic Movies listens to viewer's complaints about the new version of the Watch TCM app and restores much of the functionality it once had to the next version of the app (the schedule at least) . I also hope they do so as soon as possible.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The 70th Anniversary of The Ed Sullivan Show

Seventy years ago today, on June 20 1948, Toast of the Town debuted on CBS. If you don't recognise the title Toast of the Town, then you will probably recognise the title by which it would be later called: The Ed Sullivan Show. For the next 23 years it would remain a Sunday night staple on CBS. When it was cancelled it was not due to its ratings, but because its audience was considered "too old".

The Ed Sullivan Show would not only prove to be popular, but it would also prove to be influential. The show was notable for the first television American performances of many legendary performers, most notably Martin & Lewis and The Beatles. At a time when African Americans only rarely appeared on television, Ed Sullivan featured black performers regularly. Harry Belafonte, James Brown, Cab Callway, Diahann Carroll, Sam Cooke, Lena Horne, Eartha Kitt, Moms Mabley, The Miracles, Richard Pryor, andThe Supremes all appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show.

I wrote a detailed post on The Ed Sullivan Show on the occasion of its 60th anniversary. You can read it here.

Friday, June 15, 2018

The Doris Day-Rock Hudson Movies

 (This post is part of the Sex! (now that I have your attention) Blogathon hosted by MovieMovieBlogBlog)

When people think of on-screen couples, they might think of Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, or Tyrone Power and Linda Darnell. Among those on-screen couples that might come to people's minds are Doris Day and Rock Hudson. Not only do they number among the best known on-screen couples, but it is sometimes difficult to think of one without thinking of the other as well. Amazingly enough, while Doris Day and Rock Hudson were lifelong friends, they only three films together.

Doris Day and Rock Hudson first starred together in the classic Pillow Talk (1959).  According to the "Rambling Reporter" column in the August 28 1959 issue of Variety, Pillow Talk originated as a screenplay by Russell Rouse and Clarence Greene, which RKO bought in 1942. RKO never made a movie based on the screenplay, so Messrs. Rouse and Greene bought it back in 1945. Eventually they sold the unproduced script to Arwin Productions, a company owned by Doris Day's husband Martin Melcher. Russell Rouse and Clarence Greene's original screenplay would be rewritten by Stanley Shapiro and Maurice Richlin, a writing team who had previous worked on the sitcoms Where's Raymond? and The Real McCoys and would go onto work on the movies Operation Petticoat (1959) and Come September (1961).

As might be expected, Doris Day was set to play the lead in Pillow Talk. As to Rock Hudson, he had previously worked with producer Ross Hunter on several films, including Magnificent Obsession (1954) and All That Heaven Allows (1955). Both stars were nervous about starring in Pillow Talk. For Doris Day it was simply a case that some of her recent films had not been particularly successful. In Rock Hudson's case it was because he had never starred in a comedy. Fortunately various factors would help put Mr. Hudson's mind at ease with regards to the film. Producer Ross Hunter, whom Mr. Hudson regarded as a friend, reassured him with the words, "Play it straight, and let the audience find the comedy." Doris Day, who already had a good deal of experience playing comedy, also proved to be helpful to Rock Hudson. The two of them hit it off the moment they met and became fast friends on the set of Pillow Talk. Doris Day and Rock Hudson even created nicknames for each other. Miss Day was "Eunice Blotter" and Mr. Hudson was "Roy Harold" (his actual given first name and middle name).

Pillow Talk saw Doris Day playing interior decorator Jan Morrow and Rock Hudson playing composer Brad Allen. The two are constantly fighting over the telephone party line which they share, with Brad tending to tie it up with phone calls from his many female friends. The nature of the conflict changes when Brad finally sees Jan in person and sees that she is rather attractive. He then creates a new persona, Rex Stetson, so he can woo her.

Pillow Talk would be the first "Sixties sex comedy" (even though it was released in 1959). There were those, including Rock Hudson himself, who worried that the film might just be too racy. Surprisingly, the biggest problem Pillow Talk had with the Production Code Administration was its title. Martin Melcher suggested to Ross Hunter that they could simply change the title from Pillow Talk to Any Way the Wind Blows, the title of a song he had recently published. Fortunately Ross Hunter stuck to his guns and ultimately the Production Code Administration allowed the film to be released as Pillow Talk.

Pillow Talk proved to be a hit at the box office, making $9.670 million, which made it the 5th highest grossing film of 1959. There should be little wonder that the film should be such a success. The chemistry between Doris Day and Rock Hudson as friends in real life was readily visible on screen, and the film benefited from a stellar script. Quite simply, Pillow Talk achieved the remarkable feat of appearing racy without really being dirty. It was a sex comedy notable for the fact that no sex actually takes place in the film! The film also benefited from the presence of Tony Randall, who played Brad's friend Jonathan, who also happens to be Jan's client (and also happens to have a crush on her), as well as Thelma Ritter, playing Jan's alcoholic, gossipy housekeeper Alma.

With its misunderstandings, false identities, and innuendoes, Pillow Talk would provide the template for many Sixties sex comedies to come. In fact, it would start a cycle of sex comedies that would last very nearly until 1967. As might be expected, the success of Pillow Talk naturally led to another film that would team Doris Day up with Rock Hudson. Stanley Shaprio returned to co-write the next Doris Day and Rock Hudson movie, this time with Paul Henning, now best known as the co-creator of The Beverly Hillbillies. In many respects Lover Come Back (1961) offers more of the same as Pillow Talk: an attractive woman and man in conflict, mistaken identity, misunderstandings, and innuendos. That having been said, Lover Come Back also had quite a bit that was quite different from Pillow Talk. In fact, there are those who consider it the best of the Doris Day and Rock Hudson comedies.

In Lover Come Back Doris Day plays advertising executive Carol Templeton. Even though the two have never met, her archrival is advertising executive Jerry Webster (played by Rock Hudson), who has stolen a few clients from Carol simply by wining and dining them with liquor, good food, and pretty girls. When Carol learns that Jerry has created commercials for a product that doesn't even exist, VIP, she thinks she finally has the evidence necessary to put an end to his career. Unfortunately for Carol, Jerry has a few more tricks up his sleeve, and one of them turns out to be wooing her using a false identity.

Like Pillow Talk before it, Lover Came Back proved highly successful. It was the seventh highest grossing film in the United States in 1961. The reasons for its success aren't hard to find. Like Pillow Talk, Lover Come Back offered more antagonism between characters played by Doris Day and Rock Hudson, whose chemistry was still palpable on screen. Like Pillow Talk, Lover Come Back also offered more misunderstandings and cases of mistaken identity. That having been said, Lover Come Back differed from Pillow Talk in many ways. Indeed, it functioned as much as a satire of the advertising industry (then considered one of the sexiest occupations around) as much as it did a sex comedy. If anything, the humour in Lover Come Back was even more outrageous than the humour in Pillow Talk. The film also benefited from a sterling supporting cast. Tony Randall was back, this time playing Brad's neurotic boss Pete Ramsey. Edie Adams played Rebel Davis, an ambitious chorus girl who wanted very badly to break into acting. Ann B. Davis played Carol's secretary, Millie.

Given the success of Lover Come Back, it should come as no surprise that Doris Day and Rock Hudson would be teamed up a third time. Send Me No Flowers (1964) was based on a play by Norman Barasch and Carroll Moore that had run on Broadway from December 5 1960 to January 7 1961. The play was rewritten for the screen by Julius J. Epstein, who with his brother Philip had written the screenplay for the classic The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942) as well as other classics. It was directed by a young director named Norman Jewison, who had directed Doris Day's movie The Thrill of It All (1963).

Send Me No Flowers presented a sharp contrast to the previous two Doris Day and Rock Hudson outings. In Send Me No Flowers they played a married couple, Judy and George Kimball. George is an incurable hypochondriac who becomes convinced that he is going to die when he over hears his doctor (played by Edward Andrews) discussing another patient's case. Concerned for his wife Judy's welfare after he is gone, George then sets out to find a man that she can marry after he has died. He is assisted in this by his best friend and neighbour, Arnold Nash (played by Tony Randall). While Send Me No Flowers included no instances of mistaken identity such as those in Pillow Talk or Lover Come Back, it featured plenty of misunderstandings, as well as a good deal of slapstick and verbal humour. Like the two previous films it also had a sterling supporting cast, including Paul Lynde as a salesman at a cemetery and Hal March as a playboy who preys upon women separated from their husbands.

Send Me No Flowers was not quite as successful as Pillow Talk or Lover Come Back, but it did very well at the box office. What is more, Doris Day, Rock Hudson, and Tony Randall all enjoyed working with each other very much. Given the success of the film and the fact that the leads loved working together, it would have made sense for there to have been a fourth film starring Doris Day and Rock Hudson. Unfortunately, it would not come to pass. For the next twenty years Doris Day and Rock Hudson tried finding another project on which they could work together, but they never found the right script. They even discussed starring together in a TV movie. Sadly, on October 2 1985 Rock Hudson died from AIDS-related illness, putting an end to the chance of the two of them ever working together again. While Doris Day and Rock Hudson never worked together after Send Me No Flowers, they remained close friends until Mr. Hudson's death.

It was the friendship between Doris Day and Rock Hudson that accounted for much of the success of the three movies they made together. It was not long before his death that Rock Hudson commented on his work with Doris Day and why it was successful, saying, "First of all, the two people have to truly like each other, as Doris and I did, for that shines through. Then, too, both parties have to be strong personalities--very important to comedy--so that there's a tug-of-war over who's going to put it over on the other, who's going to get the last word, a fencing match between two adroit opponents of the opposite sex who in the end are going to fall into bed together." The chemistry between Doris Day and Rock Hudson was arguably among the best that had ever been seen on screen, and much of that was due to the fact that Miss Day and Mr. Hudson truly liked each other and enjoyed each other's company. Watching the three films today, one would never guess that Rock Hudson was homosexual and Doris Day was married at the time--on screen they truly seemed like a couple who was very much into each other.

Of course, much of the reason for the success of Pillow Talk, Lover Come Back, and Send Me No Flowers can be summed up in one word: sex. The Fifties saw the Production Code Administration loosen up a bit as to what was actually permitted in films. This meant that movies could feature much more innuendo and far racier situations than they would have in the late Thirties and throughout the Forties. Pillow Talk took advantage of this fact, to the point that there were those who were concerned that it might just be too racy. Of course, it has been remarked more than once that  there is no sex in any of the three movies (not even Send Me No Flowers, where Doris Day and Rock Hudson play a married couple). The fact that the three films only hinted at something untoward made them acceptable to both those who had no objections to sexual content in films and those who did. Quite simply they were movies that hinted at being dirty without actually being dirty movies.

While some aspects of the Doris Day and Rock Hudson comedies seem dated to this day, they remain as popular as ever. The movies are still regularly shown on television (particularly on Turner Classic Movies) and they are even available on DVD and Blu-Ray (often in box sets containing all three movies). They remain the best known Sixties sex comedies of all time. They also established Doris Day and Rock Hudson as one of the best known and best loved screen couples of all time. That is a remarkable feat given they only made three films together!

Thursday, June 14, 2018

When Anime Was a Dirty Word

Today anime or Japanese animation is very much a part of the mainstream in American pop culture. A whole generation has grown up watching such animated TV series as Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball Z, Pokémon, and Yu-Gi-Oh!. Not only have anime feature films been nominated for the Oscar for Best Animated Feature several times, but Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away won in 2003. Since the Naughts anime has gained a good deal of acceptance in the United States, so much so that it is hard to picture a time when when it wasn't always accepted. That having been said, there was a time in the mid to late Nineties when anime fans were at times very cautious about admitting their love for the medium to some people.

Astro Boy
Animation has a long history in Japan. The earliest verified examples of Japanese animation go back to 1917, although there is one short animated film ("Katsudō Shashin") that might date back to 1907. In 1945 the first Japanese animated feature, Momotaro's Divine Sea Warriors, was released. Following World War II Japan saw a boom in animation. The well known studio Toei Animation was founded in 1948. With the emergence of television in Japan also came animated TV series, the first of which was Otogi Manga Calendar in 1961. It would be followed by the highly successful TV series Tetsuwan Atomu (known in the United States as Astro Boy). Tetsuwan Atomu would be followed by many more animated TV series.

With the animation industry prospering in Japan following World War II, it would not be long before Japanese animation would find its way to the United States, although it would be literally decades before Americans would start calling it "anime". In 1961 Toei Animation's feature Shōnen Sarutobi Sasuke was released in the United States as Magic Boy, making it the first anime feature to be released in America. It was followed a month later by Hakujaden, retitled Panda and the Magic Serpent in the United States. Saiyu-ki, retitled Alakazam the Great in the United States, was released in America not long after Panda and the Magic Serpent. None of these features did particularly well at the box office, and at the time it might have seemed as if American audiences had no taste for Japanese animation.

While the earliest anime features released in the United States failed at the box office, anime would eventually see a good deal of success on American television. The highly successful animated TV series Tetsuwan Atomu would come to the United States under the title Astro Boy (a literal translation of the show's Japanese title, "Mighty Atom", was not possible because DC Comics already had a character called "The Atom"). Debuting in Japan in January 1963, Astro Boy was first syndicated to American television stations in September 1963. Unlike some of the early feature films, no secret was made regarding the Japanese origins of Astro Boy, which were publicised upon its debut in newspaper articles.

Astro Boy proved highly successful on American television, It often won its time slot in the various markets around the country where it aired. It also spurred the import of yet more anime television shows to the United States. Astro Boy was followed by several other Japanese animated series that would see a good deal of success in the United States, including 8th Man (Eitoman), Gigantor (Tetsujin 28-go), Kimba the White Lion (Janguru Taitei), Prince Planet (Yūsei Shōnen Papī), Marine Boy (Kaitei Shōnen Marin), and Speed Racer (Mahha GōGōGō). Unlike Astro Boy, the American distributors of some of these cartoons went to great pains to hide their Japanese origins (this was particularly true of 8th Man). Regardless, many of these animated series would prove highly successful and would still be seen on American television stations throughout the Seventies and Eighties.

Despite the success of these Japanese anime TV series, the market for anime TV shows dried up in American syndication around 1968. The reasons were threefold. The first was the switch of the American networks and local stations to colour broadcasting in the mid-Sixties. After the switch to colour, even local stations displayed a marked preference for shows shot in colour as opposed to those filmed in black-and-white. This meant that many of the early anime shows, such as Astro Boy (which was shot in black and white), were in less demand as the Sixties progressed. The second was the proliferation of reruns of American Saturday morning cartoons in syndication. Given a choice between reruns of the American Saturday morning cartoon King Leonardo and His Short Subjects and the anime TV series Gigantor, many local TV station managers may have elected to air the former. The third was that following the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, concerns arose over violence on television, including children's programming. Since many of the Japanese cartoons were more violent than their American counterparts, demand for Japanese cartoons decreased as concerns over television violence grew.

While some of the Japanese animated shows of the Sixties would continue to be rerun in the Seventies, then, there would be very little in the way of new anime on television for much of the decade. As to anime features, when they were released in the United States at all it was either to the children's matinee circuit or straight to syndication on American television stations. Despite this, American anime fandom began to emerge in the Seventies. The first American anime fan club, the Cartoon/Fantasy Organisation, was founded in Los Angeles in 1977. It was in 1978 that Carl Grafford, who worked as a colourist for both DC and Marvel Comics, coined the term "Japanimation" to be used of Japanese animation.

It was also in the late Seventies, just as anime fandom was beginning to organise, that anime developed a slightly higher profile in the United States. In 1978 an adaptation of Kagaku Ninjatai Gatchaman entitled Battle of the Planets debuted in syndication on television stations throughout the United States. That same year an English subtitled version of Uchū Kaizoku Kyaputen Hārokku (Space Pirate Captain Harlock) aired on stations in Honolulu, and the following year on stations in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York. A dubbed version of the show would have a limited release in the United States in 1981. In 1979 Uchū Senkan Yamato was syndicated in the United States under the title Star Blazers. Particularly in the case of Star Blazers, the Japanese origins of these shows were fairly well known in the United States at the time.

The Eighties would see the import of anime series to the United States become much more common, due in a large part to the growth of cable television. Both Nickelodeon and the Christian Broadcasting Network Cable (which would eventually evolve into Freeform) aired their share of children's anime series. Voltron (which was an adaptation of Hyaku Jūō Goraion in its first season and of Kikō Kantai Dairagā Fifutīn, "XV" in its second season), debuted in American syndication in 1984. It was followed by Robotech in 1985. Robotech combined the TV shows Chōjikū Yōsai Makurosu, Chō Jikū Kidan Sazan Kurosu, and Kikō Sōseiki Mosupīda into one show. In 1989 the feature film Akira (1988) would see a limited release in North America and would ultimately develop a cult following.

It was around 1985 that the Japanese word anime would be borrowed into English for use by fans to refer to Japanese animation. The word anime derived from the Japanese word animēshon, which itself was a borrowing of the English word animation. As to why the term anime would replace the word Japanimation, the primary reason was rather simple. It was far too easy for Japanimation to be pronounced as an ethnic slur, "Jap animation". As to the term anime, in Japanese it is used to refer to animation from any country, so that not only is Speed Racer anime, but so too is Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). It is only outside Japan that anime refers exclusively to Japanese animation. Regardless, the term anime would appear in American newspaper articles as early as 1990, although most people in the press were either using the term Japanimation or simply the phrase "Japanese animation" at the time.  It would not be until 1992 that the term anime would begin to be widely used in the press to refer to Japanese animation.

Unfortunately, it would be in 1993 that an event would occur that would cause many people to totally misinterpret the meaning of the word anime in the English language. Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend originated as a 1987 original video animation series (that is, it was released direct to video) in Japan. It was based on the 1986 manga Chōjin Densetsu Urotsukidōji.  The OVA series was later edited into a feature film, which was then dubbed into English and released in the United States. Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend was shockingly violent and overtly sexual, to the point that it is often regarded as pornography. Indeed, it would be the film that would introduce Americans to the concept of tentacle porn.

Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend would prove successful as a midnight movie in the United States. In 1993 it set house records at one New York City theatre, where it sold out 24 weeks in a row. It was followed by the release of other, similar feature films and OAV anime series in the United States. Later in 1993, the 1987 OAV feature Wicked City was released to American theatres. Unlike Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend, Wicked City was not outright pornography, although it contained images that were no less shocking. Several other anime with often shocking, sometimes violent, and overtly sexual imagery would be released direct to video, such as La Blue Girl and Demon Beast Invasion (which was based on the manga which is believed to have introduced the world to tentacle porn).

Here it must be pointed out that at the time such anime as Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend represented a very small portion of the anime imported to the United States, let alone produced in Japan. In fact, works such as Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend and Demon Beast Invasion were rare even among pornographic anime films and series (referred to as hentai by English speaking fans), which dealt with more mundane fare than naughty tentacles. What is more Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend was not even the first adult anime released in the United States. That was A Thousand and One Nights (1969), which was released in the United States in 1970. Regardless, the press that Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend and Wicked City received in 1993 were enough to convince many that anime was overly violent and overly sexual. They became convinced that anime, a term used by English speaking fans to refer to everything from children's TV series such as Heidi, Girl of the Alps to more adult fare such as Cream Lemon, referred exclusively to violent, pornographic animated films and OAV series.

Indeed, a 1997 article in USA Today, about epileptic seizures induced in a number of Japanese children by an episode of  Pokémon, claimed, "The Cartoon Network does air Japan's Speed Racer, made 30 years ago, and Voltron, about 10 years old, but neither show is in the style of anime." In a 1998 article in Variety  on the American release of Hayao Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke (1997), Michael Johnson, president of Buena Vista Home Entertainment (Disney's home video division), said of the film, "This is not anime, it's not effects-driven or violence driven." A 1998 article in The New York Times, "At Mickey's House, A Quiet Welcome for Distant Cousins", mistakenly asserted, "These days, anime refers strictly to 'adult' Japanese animation, aimed primarily at young men."

The misconception that anime somehow referred exclusively to violent, often sexual, adult anime was so prevalent in the mid to late Nineties that it would even have an impact on dictionary definitions of anime. The American Heritage Dictionary defines anime as "A style of animation developed in Japan, characterized by stylized colorful art, futuristic settings, violence, and sex."  To say this definition is wildly inaccurate would be an understatement. Of course, it did not help the matter that if one searched for "anime" on Alta Vista or any of the other search engines on the World Wide Web in the mid-Nineties, he or she would come up with results largely composed of porn sites instead of sites devoted to Astro Boy, Voltron, or even Akira.

As might be expected, in the mid to late Nineties anime fans sometimes had problems explaining their interest to others, who might well look askance at them if they came right out and said that they liked "anime". In the late Nineties my best friend told me of an experience he had in explaining anime to a woman. He mentioned that he was a fan of anime. Her reaction was, "You mean those Japanese animated porn movies?" My best friend then explained to her that Speed Racer and Robotech were anime. Her reaction was, "Speed Racer can't be anime!" My best friend ultimately gave up trying to explain anime to her. For a brief period there was an assumption on the part of many that if one was an anime fan, then he must be into violence, pornography, and naughty tentacles.

Of course, the whole attitude that anime referred to adult animation that was often violent and sexual was wrong-headed in the extreme. When it was borrowed into the English language in the mid-Eighties, anime was meant to refer to any Japanese animation, whether it was made for children or adults. What is more, anime fans continued to use the term to refer to everything from Kimba the White Lion to Wicked City even as many in the general public were using it to refer exclusively to material like Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend. What is more, many in the general public were mistakenly thinking that anime was a style rather than a medium. Indeed, The American Heritage Dictionary's definition of anime begins, "a style..." Of course, to a degree this was nothing new. For a time from the Seventies to the early Eighties, many thought Japanimiation (as it was called at the time) was all characters with doe eyes. While this was true of the great Osamu Tezuka's work, it was hardly representative of anime as a whole.

Fortunately the misconception that anime referred to adult, often violent, often sexual animated works would begin to fade as the Nineties progressed. Much of this was due to the continued influx of anime into the Untied States. The Nineties saw the release of Hayao Miyazaki's earlier works, including My Neighbour Tortoro (1988) and Kiki's Delivery Service (1989), in the United States, as well as the release of his new film Princess Mononoke (1997). Several important anime TV series would be imported to the United States in the late Nineties, some of which were highly successful. In 1995 Sailor Moon began airing in syndication on American television stations. It was followed in syndication in the United States in 1996 by Dragon Ball Z. In 1998 Pokémon debuted in the United States. Neither Hayao Miyazaki's movies nor the TV shows Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball Z, and Pokémon matched many Americans' preconceived notions about anime. All this time anime fans were continuing to use the term anime to refer to any and all Japanese animation, and not simply the violent, sexual animation that many thought it referred exclusively to. In the end the general public, with a few exceptions, learned that anime was not all violent or pornographic, and embraced a wide array of styles and genres. When Spirited Away was released in the United States in 2002, the press referred to it as anime.

Since the mid to late Nineties, when many thought anime was the same thing as Japanese animated pornography, anime has gained greater acceptance in the United States. Spirited Away (2002) even won the Academy Away for Best Animated Feature in 2003. So many anime TV series aired in the United States throughout the Naughts and the Teens that it would be difficult to list all of them. In 1997 anime fans might be somewhat embarrassed to use the term anime around non-fans. Today there is no embarrassment in using the term at all.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Godspeed Jerry Maren

Jerry Maren, who played a member of the Lollipop Guild in the classic The Wizard of Oz (1939) and appeared on TV shows from Lidsville to Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, died on May 24 2018 at the age of 98. He had been the last surviving member of the cast of The Wizard of Oz with a singing or speaking part.

Jerry Maren was born Gerard Marenghi in Boston, Massachusetts. He was twelve years old when he began taking dance lessons alongside one of his sisters. By age 18 he was performing with a vaudeville act called Three Steps and a Half (as might be expected, Mr. Maren was the "half"). A scout for MGM took notice of Jerry Maren and he was soon cast as one of the Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz. His talent for singing and dancing won Mr. Maren the plumb role of the Lollipop Munckin, who hands Dorothy Gale (played by Judy Garland) a lollipop in the film.

Over the next several years Jerry Maren played bit parts in movies that called for a little person. He appeared in such films as Maisie Was a Lady (1941), Flesh and Fantasy (1943), Duffy's Tavern (1945), and Superman and the Mole Men (1951). In the late Forties he appeared as Buster Brown in advertisements for the popular brand of children's shoes. In the Fifties he played Little Oscar, the spokesman for Oscar Mayer, and travelled around the country in that company's Wienermobile.

He made his television debut in 1954 in an episode of Smilin' Ed's Gang. He also guest starred on the show Producer's Showcase and continued to play Buster Brown in television commercials. In the Sixties he guest starred on The Beverly Hillbillies, Bewitched, The Wild Wild West, The Bob Hope Show, Julia, Get Smart, and Here's Lucy.

The Seventies saw Mr. Maren playing the regular roles of Boris and Rah-Rah on the Saturday morning show Lidsville. He also had a recurring role on the comedy Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. On the game show The Gong Show he was also a regular, rushing out to throw confetti everywhere before the show's big finish. He also guest starred on the shows The Odd Couple, When Things Were Rotten, and Switch. He played Mayor McCheese in commercials for McDonald's.

In the Eighties Jerry Maren had a regular role on the show No Soap Radio. He guest starred on the shows Lou Grant, Wizards and Warriors, The Twilight Zone, and Short Ribbs. He appeared in the TV movies Side Show, High School U.S.A., Petronella, and The Dreamer of Oz. In the Nineties he guest starred on Seinfeld.

In 1957 with fellow little person Billy Barty, Jerry Maren founded Little People of America, an advocacy group for little people.

Jerry Maren had a knack for bringing joy to people. Those who met him always described how nice he was. He was well known for his generosity, particularly with regards to his fellow little people. He was also known for his patience with fans, even when they sometimes asked insensitive questions about his height. Of course, Jerry Maren was talented. He could sing and he had a gift for comedy that came in useful in his various guest appearances and as a spokesman for Buster Brown and Oscar Mayer. Of all the Munchkins to appear in The Wizard of Oz, some believe that he might well have been the most beloved of all.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Eunice Gayson Passes On

Eunice Gayson, who appeared as Sylvia Trench in the first two James Bond movies, appeared in Hammer Films' Revenge of Frankenstein, and guest starred on such shows as Danger Man, The Avengers, and The Saint, died on June 8 2018 at the age of 90.

Eunice Gayson was born Eunice Sargaison on March 28 1928 in Purley, Surrey. She made her film debut in a bit part in the movie My Brother Jonathan (1948). In the late Forties she appeared in such films as It Happened in Soho (1948), The Huggetts Abroad (1948), Melody in the Dark (1949), and Dance Hall (1950). She made her television debut in 1948 in the TV movie Between Ourselves. In the late Forties she appeared in such TV productions as Lady Luck (1948), Dick Whittington (1949), and Treasures in Heaven (1950).

In the Fifties Miss Gayson guest starred on such TV shows as Douglas Fairbanks Presents, The Vise, BBC Sunday-Night Theatre, and The New Adventures of Charlie Chan. She appeared in such movies as To Have and to Hold (1951), Miss Robin Hood (1952), Count of Twelve (1955), Carry On Admiral (1957), and The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958).

In the Sixties she was cast as Sylvia Trench in the James Bond movie Dr. No (1962). Initially Miss Gayson was going to appear as Miss Moneypenny, while Lois Maxwell would have played Sylvia Trench. Eunice Gayson and Lois Maxwell each preferred the other's character and a result the two switched roles. Sylvia Trench was to have been James Bond's steady girlfriend in London and appeared again in From Russia with Love (1963). The director of Goldfinger (1964), Guy Hamilton, decided James Bond did not need a steady girlfriend, and so Eunice Gayson appeared in no more James Bond movies. From Russia with Love would be Miss Gayson's last appearance. Eunice Gayson guest starred on such TV shows as Danger Man, The Avengers, The Saint, Before the Fringe, The Dick Emery Show, The World of the Beachcomber, and Albert and Victoria. Her last appearance was in the TV show The Adventurer in 1972.

Miss Gayson also appeared on stage, playing Baroness Elsa Schraeder in The Sound of Music and appearing productions of The Grass is Greener and Into the Woods.

Eunice Gayson was not the first Bond Girl. That would actually be Linda Christian in the 1954 television adaptation of Casino Royale that aired as an episode of the TV show Climax!. Furthermore, she did not provide her own voice in the two Bond movies in which she appeared, as she was dubbed by Nikki van der Zyl. This was a standard practice on the early Bond films, with every female character being dubbed by Nikki van der Zyl except for Miss Moneypenny and the characters played by Honor Blackman and Dame Diana Rigg (since Honor Blackman and Dame Diana Rigg had played Cathy Gale and Emma Peel on The Avengers, their voices were probably considered too familiar to be replaced). Regardless, Eunice Gayson played an important role in the history of James Bond. She was the first Bond Girl in Eon Productions' series of films featuring 007. Here it must be noted that people familiar with Miss Gayson from the Rank Organisation movies of the Fifties and TV guest appearances must have been puzzled by her voice in the Bond movies!

Of course, Eunice Gayson played many more roles than Sylvia Trench. She played Margaret, the assistant at the hospital who has the misfortune of meeting Baron Frankenstein, in The Revenge of Frankenstein. On The Avengers she played Lucille Banks, the evil head of a dance school in the episode "Quick-Quick Slow Death". In "The Invisible Millionaire", an episode of The Saint, she played Nora Prescott, who goes to her friend Simon Templar when her employer makes a strange request. Over the years Miss Gayson played a variety of roles and did well in all of them. She was an actress of considerable talent.

Friday, June 8, 2018

The 100th Anniversary of Robert Preston's Birth

This week I contracted a particularly vicious strain of of the norovirus, which is why I did not make a post Wednesday or yesterday. I am still feeling under the weather, but I wanted to observe the 100th birthday of Robert Preston. He has always been one of my favourite performers. Early in his career he appeared in such films as Beau Geste (1939) and This Gun for Hire (1942). His everlasting fame would come with the stage musical The Music Man in 1957. He would reprise his role as Professor Harold Hill in the 1962 film adaptation. Later in his career he would play Carole "Toddy" Todd in Victor Victoria (1982), for which he was nominated for the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Gen Xers might remember him best for his final film role, playing Centauri  in The Last Starfighter (1984).

Here in honour of Mr. Preston's centenary are two videos. First up is "(Ya Got) Trouble", from The Music Man.

Next up is "Chicken Fat", a song that requires a little bit of explanation. "Chicken Fat" was written by Meredith Wilson of The Music Man fame. It was commissioned by President John F. Kennedy's President's Council on Physical Fitness. Two versions were recorded: a shorter version for radio airplay and a longer version that would be sent to schools where it would be played while students performed callisthenics. I am guessing that if you are a Baby Boomer, you might remember it.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The 5th Annual Rule, Britannia Film Blogathon (formerly the British Invaders Blogathon)

Okay, I know what you are thinking. "You have never held a Rule, Britannia Film Blogathon, so how can this be the 5th annual one?" Well, the Rule, Britannia Film Blogathon is essentially my old British Invaders Blogathon with a new name. I have never really cared for the name "British Invaders" as it really would not be applicable to those living in the United Kingdom. When I finally realised there has never been a "Rule, Britannia" blogathon, I simply decided to rename the blogathon with something much cooler!

Anyway, beyond the new name the blogathon is pretty much the same. It is a celebration of British films. While many people think of Hollywood when they think of classic movies, the fact is that the United Kingdom made many significant contributions to film over the years. From the Gainsborough melodramas to Hammer Films to the British New Wave, cinema would be much poorer without the British.  I've scheduled this year's British Invaders Rule, Britannia Blogathon  for August 3, August 4, and August 5 2018.

Here are the ground rules for this year's blogathon:

1. Posts can be about any British film or any topic related to British films. For the sake of simplicity, I am using "British" here to refer to any film made by a company based in the United Kingdom or British Crown dependencies. If you want to write about a film made in Northern Ireland or the Isle of Man, then, you can do so. Also for the sake of simplicity, people can write about co-productions made with companies from outside the United Kingdom. For example, since 2001: A Space Odyssey is a British-American co-production, someone could write about it if they chose.

2. There is no limit on subject matter. You can write about any film in any genre you want. Posts can be on everything from the British New Wave to the Gainsborough bodice rippers to the Hammer Horrors. I am also making no limit on the format posts can take. You could review a classic British film, make an in-depth analysis of a series of British films, or even simply do a pictorial tribute to a film. That having been said, since this is a classic film blogathon,  I only ask that you write about films made before 1993. I generally don't think of a film as a classic until it has been around for thirty years, but to give bloggers more options I am setting the cut off point at twenty five years ago.

3. I am asking that there please be no duplicates. That having been said, if someone has already chosen to cover From Russia with Love (1963), someone else could write about another James Bond movie or even the James Bond series as a whole.

4. I am not going to schedule days for individual posts. All I ask is that the posts be made on or between August 3, August 4, or August 5.

5. On August 3 I will set up the page for the blogathon. I ask that you link your posts to that page.

If you want to participate in the Rule, Britannia Blogathon, you can simply comment below or get a hold of me on Twitter at mercurie80 or at my email:  mercurie80 at

Below is a roster of participants and the topics they are covering. Come August 3 I will make a post that will include all of the posts in the blogathon:

The Stop Button: Stormy Monday

Realweegiemidget Reviews: Withnail and I (1987) 

 Caftan Woman: The Mudlark

In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood: The Elephant Man 

Phyllis Loves Classic Movies: The Smallest Show on Earth (1957)

The Hitless Wonder Movie Blog: The Ghoul (1933)

Moon in Gemini: The Crying Game

Taking Up Room: Chariots of Fire 

The Stop ButtonBrief Encounter

Cinematic Scribblings: The Go-Between

The Midnite Drive In: Morons from Outer Space

Cinematic CatharsisYellow Submarine 

A Scunner Darkly: The Master of Ballantrae

The Wonderful World of Cinema: The Rocky Horror Picture Show

Below are banners for participants in the blogathon to use (or you can always make your own):

Monday, June 4, 2018

The 14th Anniversary of A Shroud of Thoughts

It was 14 years ago today that I launched A Shroud of Thoughts. At the time I had no idea I would still be writing this blog 14 years later. And in that time things have changed a great deal. In 2004 mobile phones were rather common, but the vast majority of them were feature phones. Smartphones existed, but they were well out of reach for the average person and I doubt most people at the time even knew they existed. Streaming media existed in 2004, but given most Americans still accessed the World Wide Web through dial-up, it really was not practical. Television was still dominated by the broadcast networks, with HBO producing some notable contributions. The era of such cable shows as Mad Men and Breaking Bad was still a few years away.

As to A Shroud of Thoughts, blogs were a bit of a fad in the years from 2003 to 2005. The news was all abuzz about them and it seems as if everyone and his or her brother had his or her own blog. It was a lady friend of mine who had her own blog that led to the creation of A Shroud of Thoughts. Looking at her blog I thought writing a blog might be fun and so I decided to launch my own blog. As to the title, at the time it was popular to give one's blog a title containing variations on the word "thoughts", "musings", and so on. I took the phrase "a shroud of thoughts" from Lord Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage canto iii stanza 113 (I won't quote it here, but you can look it up). I later thought seriously about changing the name to something more fitting a blog dedicated to popular culture and nostalgia, but by that time the blog already had a few readers and I feared a title change might confuse them!

Over the years A Shroud of Thoughts has changed a bit. In the early days, in addition to posts about popular culture and nostalgia, I also included posts of a more personal nature. I soon cut those out, as I figured people were much interested in my personal life (not to mention I am a fairly private person). In the first many years of the blog I also wrote reviews of and articles about more recent movies and TV shows. I never made a conscious decision to stop writing such posts. It was simply a case that I am much more interested in older movies, TV shows, and so on.

Here I should point out that A Shroud of Thoughts is not the only old blog around, as there are several that over ten years still being published. Among these are Immortal EphemeraInner Toob, The Stop Button, Laura's Miscellaneous Musings, The Rap Sheet, Thrillling Days of Yesteryear, and Out of the Past, among others. While it might be unusual for a blog to be 14 years old (the vast majority of blogs last only a few months, sometimes only a day), A Shroud of Thoughts is hardly unique in having been around for several years!

Every year on the blog's anniversary I post what I think were the best blog posts of the past year. Here then are what I consider my best posts from 2017-2018.

"The 100th Anniversary of Dean Martin's Birth" June 7 2017

"Richard Boone: A Knight Without Armour..." June 18 2017

"Les Diaboliques (Diabolique to We English Speakers)" July 21 2017

"Rural Variety Shows of the Late Sixties" August 10 2017

"WKRP in Cincinnati" August 18 2017

"The 50th Anniversary of He & She" September 6 2017

 "The 60th Anniversary of Have Gun--Will Travel" September 14 2017

"The TV Show Perry Mason Turns 60" September 21 2017

"The 60th Anniversary of Maverick" September 22 2017

"The Cisco Kid Was a Friend of Mine" October 7 2017

"Mad Monster Party? (1967)" October 27 2017

"The Devil and Daniel Mouse: A Canadian Made Halloween Special" October 30 2017

"The 50th Anniversary of The Moody Blues' Days of Future Passed" November 10 2017

"The 130th Anniversary of Sherlock Holmes" November 21 2017

"The 50th Anniversary of The Who Sell Out" December 15 2017

"William Schallert: A Man of Many Faces" December 16 2017

12/17/2017-12/23/2017 (A week of Yuletide posts and Audrey Tooter's 100th Birthday

"The 50th Anniversary of The Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour" December 26 2017

"The Military Sitcoms of the Sixties" January 30 2018

"The 100th Anniversary of Ida Lupino's Birth" February 4 2018

"The Planet of the Apes Craze Remembered" February 8 2018

"The Hazel Scott Show" February 21 2018

"The Monkees: 'The Devil and Peter Tork'" March 24 2018

"Planet of the Apes (1968) Turns 50" April 3 2018

"Flash Gordon (1980)" April 13 2018

"The Superman Phenomenon in the Late Thirties and Early Forties" April 19 2018

"Our Miss Brooks" April 30 2018

"The Band Wagon (1953)" May 17 2018

"The Road to Hope & Crosby" May 19 2018

"The 50th Anniversary of The Prisoner's Debut in the United States" June 1 2018

"Captain Kronos--Vampire Hunter (1974)" June 2 2018

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Captain Kronos--Vampire Hunter (1974)

(This post is part of the Hammer-Amicus Blogathon hosted by Realweegiemidget Reviews and Cinematic Catharsis)

By the late Sixties and early Seventies, Hammer Films was not nearly as successful as it once had been. In an effort to revitalise their horror films they began experimenting with movies that were decidedly different from the classic Gothic horrors for which they were best known. They released the "Karnstein Trilogy"--The Vampire Lovers (1970), Lust fora Vampire (1971), and Twins of Evil (1971). The "Karnstein Trilogy" differed a good deal from earlier Hammer Films, containing nudity and explicit lesbianism. Hammer Films also released such oddities as Vampire Circus (1971), which features an entire circus filled with vampires, and Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971), in which Dr. Jekyll transforms into a beautiful, but evil woman upon drinking his potion. Among these oddities that Hammer Films released in its later years was Captain Kronos--Vampire Hunter (1974). While it was not a success upon its initial release, Captain Kronos--Vampire Hunter has since developed a considerable cut following.

Captain Kronos--Vampire Hunter is set in the village of Durward, where young women are dying under mysterious circumstances. Dr. Marcus (played by John Carson) then looks to his friend, Captain Kronos (played by Horst Janson) and his sidekick Professor Grost (played by John Cater), for help. Captain Kronos and Professor Grost happen to be vampire hunters. They soon conclude that a vampire is indeed at work in the village of Durward, but it was one quite unlike those traditionally seen in horror films. 

Captain Kronos--Vampire Hunter was the creation of Brian Clemens, who would produce, direct, and write the film. Earlier he and his partner Albert Fennell had produced Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde for Hammer Films, and Brian Clemens wrote the script for the film. If the names Brian Clemens and Albert Fennell sound familiar, it is perhaps because they had served as producers on the cult classic British spy show The Avengers. Not surprisingly, then, quite a few veterans from The Avengers worked on Captain Kronos--Vampire Hunter. Ian Hendry had been the star of The Avengers in its first series, playing Dr. David Keel. Actors John Cater, John Carson, John Hollis, Julian Holloway, and Wanda Ventham had all appeared on the show. Individuals in the crew ranging from composer Laurie Johnson (who had composed the theme used by The Avengers from its fourth season onward) to production designer Robert Jones (who had served as the production designer on The Avengers) to assistant director Richard F. Dalton had all worked on The Avengers.

From the beginning Brian Clemens set out to create something different from Hammer's previous releases. As he says on the DVD's audio commentary, he basically stood Hammer's vampire conventions on their heads. The main character, Captain Kronos, is not a vampire, but instead a vampire hunter. What is more, Kronos takes a more dynamic role in killing vampires than Van Helsing ever did. He is a master swordsman capable of killing several men in a matter of minutes. To further set him apart from Van Helsing and earlier vampire slayers, Kronos smokes an "herb from the Orient" and practises meditation. Not only was Kronos different from previous vampire hunters in Hammer Films, but so too were the vampires in Captain Kronos--Vampire Hunter. They can venture forth in the daylight. What is more, it is not the blood of their victims for which they thirst, but their youth.  Further setting Captain Kronos--Vampire Hunter apart from previous Hammer films is that it combined various genres. It was obviously a vampire movie, although a very different one. That having been said, Brian Clemens also drew upon John Ford's Westerns and classic swashbuckler movies as well. There is much more swordplay than in most Hammer Films!

Brian Clemens had some difficulty casting Captain Kronos--Vampire Hunter. Reportedly he had offered the role of Captain Kronos to Simon Oates, who had not only guest starred on such shows as The Avengers and Department S, but played John Steed in the short-lived 1971 stage adaptation of The Avengers. Mr. Oates turned him down. The part then went to Horst Janson. In interviews Ingrid Pitt has said that Brian Clemens had offered her the role of Lady Durward, but she turned him down. The role then went to Wanda Ventham. As it would turn out, Brian Clemens probably would have been better off if Simon Oates had accepted the role of Kronos. Horst Janson's German accent was so noticeable that every bit of his dialogue had to be dubbed by Julian Holloway, best known for his work in the "Carry On" films. While Horst Janson's voice would prove unsuitable for Kronos, he found the ideal actress for the role of the gypsy Carla in the form of Caroline Munro. She was under contract to Hammer Films for two films. The first was Dracula AD 1972 (1972). Captain Kronos--Vampire Hunter would be her second. Mr. Clemens would later help Miss Munro get her famous role in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973), for which Mr. Clemens co-wrote the script.

Brian Clemens had planned for Captain Kronos--Vampire Hunter to be the first in a series of films centred on the vampire hunter. Subsequent films would have seen Captain Kronos battling different species of vampires in different parts of the world. Given Kronos's name (which is often confused with Khronos, the personification of time in Green mythology), it should come as no surprise that time travel may have played a role in Kronos's future adventures, with the vampire hunter travelling to different eras in history.

Unfortunately, Mr. Clemens's idea for an entire series devoted to Captain Kronos would not come to be. As shooting progressed on Captain Kronos--Vampire Hunter, Michael Carreras, the head of Hammer Films, became dissatisfied with the way Captain Kronos--Vampire Hunter was taking shape. Ultimately, although it was shot in 1972, Captain Kronos--Vampire Hunter would not be released in the United Kingdom until April 7 1974. It did poorly at the box office. It was released a few months later in the United States, on June 12 1974, on a double bill with Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell. It did a little bit better in the United States than it had in the United Kingdom, although it was still a far cry from a box office hit.

The failure of Captain Kronos--Vampire Hunter at the box office meant there would be no series of movies featuring Captain Kronos. It would also be the only film directed by Brian Clemens. I have always found this sad myself, as I think Captain Kronos--Vampire Hunter is one of the best of the latter day Hammer Horrors. It is decidedly different from any other Hammer vampire movie,with a plot that could have been used on The Avengers blended with elements of Westerns and swashbucklers. As might be expected of movie written by Brian Clemens, Captain Kronos--Vampire Hunter contains the sort of clever and witty dialogue for which he was well known. It also features some impressive fight scenes, particularly the sword fight that marks the climax of the film. As a director Brian Clemens may not have been as impressive as Terence Fisher or Roy Ward Baker, but he did very a good job for it being his first (and only) film.

While it failed at the box office, Captain Kronos--Vampire Hunter would develop a cult following. It would also prove to be a bit ahead of its time. In the years since Captain Kronos--Vampire Hunter was released, monster hunters have proven extremely popular, from Marvel Comic's Blade to Buffy the Vampire Slayer to the Winchester brothers of Supernatural. The continued popularity of Captain Kronos--Vampire Hunter would eventually lead to a revival of sorts. Last year Titan launched the comic book Captain Kronos Vampire Hunter as part of its Hammer Comics imprint. This only goes to prove that it is not only vampires who can return from the dead. Vampire hunters can as well. 

Friday, June 1, 2018

The 50th Anniversary of The Prisoner's Debut in the United States

It was fifty years ago today, on July 1 1968, that British cult classic TV show The Prisoner debuted on CBS in the United States. The Prisoner first aired anywhere on CTV in Canada on September 5 1967. It premiered in the United Kingdom on September 29 1967 on ATV Midlands. On both sides of the Pond The Prisoner would become something of a phenomenon, developing a cult following that it maintains to this day.

For those unfamiliar with The Prisoner, it centres on a British secret agent (played by Patrick McGoohan) who, after handing in his resignation, is captured and taken to a mysterious place called the Village. There his captors use various means in an attempt to find out what he knows. The secret agent's name is never given. He is known in the Village simply as "Number Six". In fact, nearly everyone in the Village is identified only by a number. While the show has been called a spy drama, in fact The Prisoner is much more. Through the course of its 17 episodes it utilised allegory and satire to comment on such themes as the individual versus the collective. The Prisoner could be surreal and psychedelic at times, making it often difficult to tell what was real on the series.

The Prisoner originated in the final days of Patrick McGoohan's previous series, Danger Man (the hour long version of which aired on CBS in the United States under the title Secret Agent).  CBS had decided to order no more episodes of Secret Agent (as the show was called in U.S.), while the show's producer and creator Ralph Smart had decided that he would be involved with no further series of Danger Man. As to Patrick McGoohan, he felt that the show had run its course. As it was, it seems likely that Mr. McGoohan was developing the themes of The Prisoner for some time. In an article in October 9-15 1965 issue of The TV Times, he commented, "You know, I fear by A.D. 2000 we'll all have numbers, no names." He also mentioned his idea for a film of life in A.D. 2000, "...of a day when workmen 'will be able to operate their lathes by push-button from their beds..."  Patrick McGoohan may have received some inspiration from the 1964 episode of Danger Man, "Colony Three". It dealt with a recreation of an English village in the Eastern Bloc being used to train Communist spies to appear totally British. It was on April 16 1966 that Patrick McGoohan pitched his idea for The Prisoner to Lew Grade, managing director of ATV. It was at that same meeting that Lew Grade greenlit what would be The Prisoner.

Despite this, there have been claims that it was story editor George Markstein, who had been story editor on Danger Man very late in that show's run, who actually originated the idea for The Prisoner. It was claimed that Mr. Markstein's inspiration came from Inverlair Lodge, an estate near Inverness where individuals who knew too much classified information during World War II , but were not quite suited to being spies, were detained. Aside from the fact that Patrick McGoohan had mentioned ideas that would form the basis of The Prisoner in the aforementioned interview from 1965, well before Geroge Markstein was story editor on Danger Man, there are some other good reasons to doubt that George Markstein played a role in the creation of The Prisoner. First, it is doubtful that very many in the general public in 1965 or 1966 even knew about Inverlair Lodge. Inverlair Lodge was mentioned very briefly in the 1966 book SOE in France. An Account of the Work of the British Special Operations Executive by M.R.D. Foot, but it was not published until April 28 1966, twelve days after the meeting at which Patrick McGoohan pitched The Prisoner to Lew Grade. Second, in interviews individuals who worked on the show, including Bernie Williams (production manager on the show) and David Tomblin (producer on the show), make it fairly clear that The Prisoner was largely a product of Patrick McGoohan's mind. Third, claims that George Markstein was the mind behind The Prisoner did not emerge until the Seventies. Newspapers and magazine articles in the late Sixties treat Patrick McGoohan as the man responsible for The Prisoner.

Regardless, it is quite clear from various sources that it was Patrick McGoohan who pitched The Prisoner to Lew Grade. According to Mr. McGoohan himself, he had initially wanted to make only seven episodes  of The Prisoner as a serial. Lew Grade wanted there to be 26 episodes, as it would make The Prisoner easier to sell to CBS (in the Sixties, 26 or so episodes was the standard run of most American shows). They eventually compromised at 17 episodes. Interestingly enough, according to an August 1967 article by Dorothy Manners published in The Washington Post, CBS requested 36 episodes of The Prisoner.

Of the characters on The Prisoner, only Number Six appears in every single episode. The Butler (played by played by Angelo Muscat) appears in most episodes and served the Number Two of the moment (more on that in a bit). Another recurring character on the show as the Supervisor (also called the Controller), played by Peter Swanwick. The Supervisor is in charge of the Village's control room. Supervisors played by other actors occasionally appear, but given the Village's control room would be run 24 hours a day, seven days a week, it makes sense that there would be different supervisors for different shifts.  Announcements would regularly be made over the loud speaker in the Village, and the voice of the loud speaker announcer was provided by Fenella Fielding, best known for her work in the "Carry On..." films. She also provided the voice of the telephone operator in the Village. The loud speaker announcer never appeared on screen.

Of course, every week Number Six would face off with a new Number Two (from the show it was obviously not a permanent position). Number Two was essentially the chief administrator of the Village. Most Number Twos attempted to get information out of Number Six. Others would try to convince Number Six to accept his life in the Village or to get Number Six to take an active role in the Village. The Number Twos varied widely in temperament, from those who were friendly and well mannered to those who were hostile towards Number Six to those who were downright sadistic. In the course of The Prisoner only two actors played Number Two more than once. Colin Gordon played Number Two in "A. B. and C." and "The General", but it seems possible these two Number Twos were different people despite being played by the same actor. Quite simply, Number Two in "A. B. and C." has a noticeable inferiority complex, while Number Two in "The General" has a much more forceful personality. Leo McKern played Number Two in "The Chimes of Big Ben", "Once Upon a Time", and "Fall Out" (the latter two being the final episodes of the show). In the case of Leo McKern, it is made quite clear that his Number Two is the same character every time. While the fates of the various Number Twos may have varied (we are not informed what happened to most of them), it seems clear from Leo McKern's character that one could hold the office more than once.

Regardless of any other characters, in some respects the Village itself was very much a character on the show. As to the unusual setting for The Prisoner, it seems likely that Patrick McGoohan had Portmeirion, a tourist village in Gwynedd, North Wales, in mind from the very beginning. The 1960 episode of Danger Man, "View from the Villa", had been shot there. With its unusual architecture and set on the coast, Portmeirion was ideal to serve as the Village in The Prisoner. Of course, while the Village was beautiful, it was also essentially a prison. There would naturally have to be a means to keep its inmates from escaping. This took shape in the form of Rover, which resembled a large balloon (little wonder, as its appearance was inspired by weather balloons). Originally Rover was to be a more robotic , mechanical device. Unfortunately the original Rover did not behave as it should and ultimately sank in the waters outside Portmeirion very early in the filming of the first episode.

As to the character of Number Six, a popular theory among fans is that he is none other than John Drake, Patrick McGoohan's character from Danger Man. To a degree this would seem reasonable given that both characters are played by the same actor and both were secret agents. That having been said, it does not appear to be the case. In a 1966 interview with The Los Angeles Times, Patrick McGoohan stated, "John Drake ... is gone, but we're not foolish enough to change the image we've established with TV audiences." A 1967 ITC press release also makes it clear that the protagonists of Danger Man and The Prisoner are two different characters, with Patrick McGoohan saying of Number Six, ".. the character is not John Drake."  In interviews since the series Mr. McGoohan consistently denied that Number Six and John Drake were one and the same. Here it must be pointed out that while the two look a good deal alike, John Drake and Number Six have notably different personalities. John Drake was always cool, calm, collected, and generally congenial towards people (even his opponents). Number Six is often emotional, often temperamental, and can be downright hostile when he is provoked.

As mentioned earlier, The Prisoner made its worldwide debut on CTV in Canada on September 5 1967. It debuted on ATV Midlands in the United Kingdom on September 29 1967.  In the United Kingdom, its final episode, "Fall Out", aired on February 1 1968. When it first aired in Britain, "Fall Out" would leave many viewers unhappy. The episode answered no questions about the Village or why Number Six was there. In fact, it seemed to open more questions than it answered. Worse yet, some viewers, apparently expecting a Bondian showdown with Number One (the never seen head of the Village), found "Fall Out" incomprehensible. Legend has it that viewers jammed ITC's switchboards with calls complaining about the episode. Whether true or not, "Fall Out" has mystified viewers of The Prisoner for the past five decades.

The Prisoner would finally reach the United States on June 1 1968 on CBS on Saturday at 7:30 PM Eastern/6:30 PM Central. It would be pre-empted on June 8 1968 due to coverage of the funeral of Robert F. Kennedy, who had been assassinated on June 6 1968. Of the 17 episodes of The Prisoner CBS would ultimately only air 16 in the summer of 1968, leaving out the episode "Living in Harmony". It has been claimed that CBS chose not to air the episode because it involved the use of hallucinogenic drugs (even though several other episodes of the series involve their use as well). Others have claimed that it was not because of the use of hallucinogenic drugs, but instead because CBS saw in the tale of Number Six as a Sheriff in the Old West who refuses to carry a gun a veiled statement against the Vietnam War. In truth, neither of these are likely to be the reasons that CBS did not air "Living in Harmony". As mentioned earlier, on June 8 1968 The Prisoner was pre-empted by coverage of Robert F. Kennedy's funeral. To stay on schedule, this meant that CBS could only air 16 of the 17 episodes of The Prisoner. As to why CBS chose "Living in Harmony" as the episode not to air, it is probably because it is quite unlike any other episode of the series. It opens with an entirely different opening sequence and largely plays out as a Western. It is not until towards the end of the episode that the Village appears at all. Had CBS not planned to air "Living in Harmony" at all, the press at the time would have reported that CBS was airing only 16 of the 17 episodes of the show, and the exclusion of "Living in Harmony" would likely have been publicised. Here it must be pointed out that when ABC aired the fourth series of The Avengers (the first aired in the U.S.), it was announced that they would only be airing 21 episodes while acknowledging that 26 episodes had been produced.

As an intellectual British import airing on Saturday night, The Prisoner was not necessarily a ratings smash, but it earned largely positive reviews when it first aired in the United States. It also developed a cult following even as it initially aired on CBS. The network would show The Prisoner again in the summer of 1969. It would later go into syndication and would even air on PBS stations throughout the country. The Prisoner would even return to CBS, airing on CBS Late Night beginning in 1990. If anything, it is possible that it is more popular now than when it first aired.

Indeed, it would have a huge impact on popular culture. It provided some of the inspiration for several other TV shows over the years, from The X-Files to Nowhere Man to Lost. Several television shows have paid tribute to The Prisoner, including its contemporary The Avengers (in the 1969 episode "Wish You Were Here"), The Simpsons (in multiple episodes, one guest starring Patrick McGoohan as a caricature of Number Six), Coupling, Person of Interest, and several others. Even movies as diverse as The Matrix (1999) and  Shrek (2001) have referenced The Prisoner. The Prisoner has even been paid tribute in song, the most obvious example being the song "The Prisoner" by Iron Maiden. In 2009 a remake of the series aired as a mini-series on ITV in the United Kingdom and AMC in the United States. Unlike the original series, it was poorly received by critics and audiences alike.

While it ran for only 17 episodes, The Prisoner proved to be one of the most popular and influential shows of all time. It developed a cult following even as it first aired and maintains a cult following to this day. Several reams have been written on the show, from articles to entire books to, well, blog posts. I think it is safe to say that 50 years from now people will still be watching, talking about, and writing about The Prisoner.

(Credit Where Credit is Due Department: This post was made with the help of the excellent blog Number Six Was Innocent and sources from the era. By all means check out Number Six is Innocent, a must read for fans of The Prisoner)