Saturday, June 1, 2019

Announcing the 6th Annual Rule, Britannia Blogathon

I am proud to announce the 6th Annual Rule Britannia Blogathon, which will take place August 2, August 3, and August 4 2019. 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.

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 2009. 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 ten 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 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 2, August 3, or August 4.

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 gmail.com.

Below is a roster of participants and the topics they are covering. Come August 2 I will make a post that will include all of the posts in the blogathon:

Caftan Woman: The Detective (1954)
The Stop Button: Gregory's Girl (1981)
Realweegiemidget Reviews: I Don't Want to Be Born (1975)
Crítica Retrô: The Queen of Spades (1949)
Cinematic Catharsis: The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961)
Silver Screenings: Fire Over England (1937)
Cinematic Scribblings: The Entertainer (1960)
In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood: The films of Petula Clark
Pale Writer: Pride and Prejudice (2005)
Retromoviebuff:  Gaslight (1940)
MovieRob: The Yellow Rolls-Royce (1964), Robin and Marion (1976) and A Single Man (2009)
Cinema EssentialsHell is a City (1960)
Moon in Gemini: The L-Shaped Room (1961)
A Shroud of Thoughts: Genevieve (1953)
Cinema Essentials: The Iron Maiden (1962)
Silver Scenes: 20 Great Little-Known British Classics"

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

Friday, May 31, 2019

The Late Great Leon Redbone

Leon Redbone, the legendary singer and songwriter who specialised in songs from vaudeville and Tin Pan Valley, died yesterday at the age of 127. No cause of death was given.

Very little is known about Leon Redbone's early life. According to an article in The Toronto Star from the Eighties, he was born Dickran Gobalian in Nicosia, Cyprus on August 26 1949. His family moved to London in 1961 and then to Toronto in 1965. He changed his name under Ontario’s Change of Name Act.

Leon Redbone began performing in Toronto clubs in the early Seventies.  It was in 1972 at the Mariposa Folk Festival that Mr. Redbone met Bob Dylan. Mr. Dylan had been so impressed by Leon Redbone that he referenced him in a 1974 interview with Rolling Stone. This led to Rolling Stone later doing a profile on Mr. Redbone. It was in 1975 that his first album, On the Track, was released by Warner Bros. In 1976 he made the first of several appearances on Saturday Night Live.

Ultimately Leon Redbone would release 12 studio albums and three live albums. Long Way from Home: Early Recordings, released in 2016, collected many of his early recordings. In addition to appearing multiple times on Saturday Night Live, Leon Redbone also appeared multiple times on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, and would later appear on The Tonight Show Starring Jay Leno and Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. He composed the theme song to the Eighties sitcom Mr. Belevedere and the theme song to the Nineties sitcom Harry and the Hendersons. He had a role in the movie Candy Mountain and provided the voice of Leon the Snowman in the movie Elf. He also appeared on television, making guest appearances on Life Goes On, Promised Land, and Sesame Street. His songs would appear in the soundtracks of movies from The Big Fix (1978) to The Film at Lot 15 (2018). He retired on May 19 2015, citing health concerns.

Because of his reticence to talk about his life, Leon Redbone was often described as "mysterious." In fact, very little is known about his early life or his private life. At the same time Leon Redbone used comedy a good deal in his performances. It was not unusual for him to claim to have written songs that existed well before he was born. Jokes about drunkenness were frequent in his performances. It is because of his tendency not to talk about his life and his flare for humour that in the official announcement of his death (of which there can be no doubt that it was written by Leon Redbone beforehand) that his age was given as "127."

That Leon Redbone incorporated comedy into his act should come as no surprise. In many respects he would been perfectly at home on the vaudeville stage over 100 years ago. He was in many ways a man who existed outside of time. At a time when blues and folk music were being revived, Mr. Redbone looked to music forms that had long been neglected: ragtime, early jazz, and songs from both vaudeville and Tin Pan Alley. His first album featured everything from Andy Razaf, Fats Waller, and Harry Brooks's "Ain't Misbehavin'" to Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer's "Lazybones" to the 19th Century song "Polly Wolly Doodle." Years before the music, fads, and fashions of the past became trendy, Leon Redbone was performing songs that were often 100 years old or older. A very good argument can be made that Leon Redbone single-handedly revived ragtime and vaudeville music.

That Leon Redbone was able to re-popularise older song styles was due to a combination of both talent and marketing savvy. If he revealed very little about himself, it was perhaps to ensure that the focus always remained on the songs and not on him. If Leon Redbone incorporated humour into his act, it was perhaps not simply a continuation of vaudeville tradition, but a means of ensuring his performances were always entertaining. Making everything work was the fact that Leon Redbone was a very talented musician and singer. Few performers have ever been as unique as Leon Redbone.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Peggy Stewart Passes On

Peggy Stewart, who starred in a number of B-Westerns and made numerous guest appearances on television, died yesterday, May 29 2019, at the age of 95.

Peggy Stewart was born Margaret "Peggy" O'Rourke in West Palm Beach, Florida on June 5 1923. Her sister was Olympic swimmer Patricia O'Rourke. Her parents eventually divorced and her mother moved the family to Atlanta, Georgia. There she married lawyer John Stewart. Young Peggy took her stepfather's last name. It was in the Thirties that her family moved to California. There she met character actor Henry O'Neil. Mr. O'Neil brought her to the attention of Paramount executives who wanted a young actress to play Joel McCrea's daughter in the movie Wells Fargo (1937). In the film she played the role of Alice McKay.

In the late Thirties Miss Stewart appeared in such films as Little Tough Guy (1938), That Certain Age (1938), Little Tough Guys in Society (1938), Everybody's Hobby (1939), and All This, and Heaven Too (1940). In the early Forties she appeared in such films as Back Street (1941) and Girl in Chains (1943). It was in 1944 that Peggy Stewart signed a contract with Republic Pictures, who cast her in a number of B Westerns. She appeared in such films as Tuscon Raiders (1944), Silver City Kid (1944), Cheyenne Wildcat (1944), Code of the Prairie (1944), Utah (1945), The Vampire's Ghost (1945), Marshall of Laredo (1945), The Tiger Woman (1945), Alias Billy the Kid (1946), Red River Renegades (1946), The Invisible Informer (1946), Trail to San Antone (1947), Messenger of Peace (1947), Son of Zorro (1947), Tex Granger: Midnight Rider of the Plains (1948), Dead Man's Gold (1948), Ride, Ryder, Ride! (1949), The Fighting Redhead (1949), and Cody of the Pony Express (1950). She appeared in three "Red Ryder" movies alone. She made her television debut in 1950 in an episode of The Gene Autry Show.

As B-Westerns became a thing of the past, Peggy Stewart's film career slowed down. In the Fifties she only appeared in four films: The Pride of Maryland (1951), The Black Lash (1952), Kansas Territory (1952), and Montana Incident (1952). While her movie career slowed, Miss Stewart's television career prospered in the Fifties. She appeared in five episodes of The Cisco Kid alone. Miss Stewart guest starred on such shows as Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok (1951), Gang Busters (1952), The Range Rider (1953), The Millionaire (1956), Dr. Hudson's Secret Journal (1956), The Silent Service, Peter Gunn, Yancy Derrigner, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, Hotel de Paree, General Electric Theatre, Gunsmoke, and  Pony Express.

In the Sixties Peggy Stewart guest starred on such shows as The Rebel, Lassie, The Twilight Zone, National Velvet, Have Gun--Will Travel, The Fugitive, Gunsmoke, Daniel Boone, Hondo, The Mod Squad, and Ironside. She appeared in the films When the Clock Strikes (1961), Gun Street (1961), The Clown and the Kid (1961), The Way West (1967), and The Animals (1960).

In the Seventies Miss Stewart guest starred in such shows as Dan August, Sarge, The Smith Family, The Bold Ones: The New Doctors, Baretta, Emergency!, Taxi, and Quincy M.E. She appeared in the films Pickup on 101 (1972), Terror in the Wax Museum (1973), White House Madness (1975), Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw (1976), Black Oak Conspiracy (1977), and Beyond Evil (1980).

In the Nineties Peggy Stewart guest starred on Seinfeld and Beverly Hills 90120. In the Naughts she had a recurring role on the TV show The Riches. She guest starred on such shows as The Norm Show; Popular; Yes, Dear; My Name is Earl; NCIS; Weeds; Flashforward; Justified; The Office; and Community. She appeared in the films Big Chuck, Little Chuck (2004) and The Runaways (2010). In the Teens Miss Stewart guest starred on the TV show Getting On. She appeared in the films Dadgum, Texas and That's My Boy.

Peggy Stewart was always a delight to see on screen. In her many B Westerns she usually did not play the passive damsel in distress in constant need of rescue, but instead the tough, strong-willed, and hot-tempered heroine who could hold her own with any outlaw. It was a role she would sometimes repeat on television, in Westerns from The Cisco Kid to Have Gun--Will Travel. Of course, Miss Stewart could play other types of roles. In the Twilight Zone she played Grace Stockton, the wife of Dr. Bill Stockton, who is quite naturally nervous about an imminent nuclear war. As she grew older she was often cast in the role of sweet old ladies. Peggy Stewart will always be remembered as strong heroines in B Westerns, but she played all of her various roles very well.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

RC Cola and Nancy Sinatra

Yesterday I wrote about how Royal Crown Cola, also known as "RC Cola," used movie stars in their advertising in the Forties. While Royal Crown Cola used more celebrities in their ads in the Forties than any other decade, they would continue to use celebrities in advertising in both the Fifties and the Sixties. Among those celebrities was Nancy Sinatra.

RC Cola sponsored Nancy Sinatra's television special Movin' with Nancy, which aired on December 11 1967. Miss Sinatra appeared in two out of the five RC Cola commercials that aired during the special. What is more, she was not the only celebrity to appear in RC Cola commercials during the special. Art Linkletter, who had been associated with RC Cola for several years, introduced the first spot featuring Miss Sinatra. Robie Porter appeared in a commercial shot in Spain, while Dino, Desi & Billy appeared in one shot at the Hollywood Bowl.

Below are the two commercials featuring Nancy Sinatra.


Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Royal Crown Cola and Movie Stars

Today Royal Crown Cola, also known as "RC Cola," lags far behind Coca-Cola and Pepsi in sales. In fact, I rather suspect that there are some younger people who might never have even heard of RC Cola. While RC Cola might be an also-ran now, from the Forties to the Sixties Royal Crown Cola was a serious competitor to both Coke and Pepsi. In fact, some of the biggest names in Hollywood would appear in advertisements for Royal Crown Cola during the Forties. While both Coca-Cola and Pepsi would use celebrity spokespeople from time to time, neither of them used as many different movie stars as Royal Crown Cola would during that decade. RC Cola would continue to use celebrities in ads during the Fifties and Sixties, but never to the extent that they did in the Forties. What is more, Royal Crown Cola didn't just use celebrities in their magazine ads, but also on calendars and promotional signs as well.

Here I have to point out that Royal Crown's advertisements featuring movie stars promoted more than the cola itself. In every single ad there would also be a plug for the particular movie star's latest film. Below are only a few of the ads for Royal Crown Cola featuring movie stars from the Forties.

This is a Royal Crown ad from 1941 featuring Gary Cooper, who was also promoting his film Ball of Fire (1941).

 This ad from 1942 features Dorothy Lamour promoting Beyond the Blue Horizon (1942).

It was in 1942 that Royal Crown Cola ads began having the stars in the ads announce that Royal Crown was the best (or some variation thereof).  This is one of the earlier versions of those ads, featuring Claudette Colbert who was also promoting The Palm Beach Story (1942).

For the most part Royal Crown Cola seems to have favoured actresses in their advertising during the Forties, but a few actors appeared as well. Here is singer, actor, and radio star Bing Crosby and his horse promoting Road to Utopia (1945).

 
In this ad from 1945 Linda Darnell is promoting her film Fallen Angel (1945).

 Here is another ad from 1945, this one with Gene Tierney promoting A Bell for Adano (1945).

In this ad from 1946 Lizabeth Scott is promoting The Strange Love of Martha Ives (1946)

Barbara Stanwyck appeared in more than one ad for Royal Crown Cola. In this one from 1946 she is promoting her film My Reputation (1946).

So far I have done the various Royal Crown Cola ads by year. These next two are then slightly out of order, but that is because I wanted to save the best for last. Even people who aren't that familiar with classic movies know about Joan Crawford's strong ties to Pepsi. In 1955 she married PepsiCo executive Alfred Steele and afterwards she became Pepsi's fiercest promoter. Miss Crawford would even demand product placement for Pepsi in her movies! It might then come as a surprise to some that in the Forties Joan Crawford was one of the many movie stars who appeared in ads for Royal Crown Cola! What is more, she did it more than once. Here is an ad in which Joan Crawford is promoting Hollywood Canteen (1944).

And here is another ad from 1946 in which Joan Crawford is promoting Humoresque (1946).  I have to think that if Bette Davis had known about the ads Joan Crawford had done for Royal Crown Cola in the Forties, she would have taped them to the Pepsi machine Joan had installed on the set of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane (1962)!

This is only a small sampling of Royal Crown Cola's advertisements featuring movie stars from the Forties. They did many, many more. And as mentioned earlier, some stars would appear in multiple ads. RC Cola continued to use celebrities in advertisements in the Fifties and Sixties. Rhonda Fleming and game show host Robert Q. Lewis appeared in advertising for Royal Crown Cola in the Fifties. In the Sixties RC Cola ads featured Petticoat Junction star Meredith MacRae and singer Nancy Sinatra. While RC Cola would continue to use celebrities in the Fifties and Sixties, it would never be to the extent that they did in the Forties.

Monday, May 27, 2019

"The St, Louis Blues March" by Glenn Miller and the Army Air Force Orchestra

 "America means freedom and there's no expression of freedom quite so sincere as music." Major Glenn Miller, United States Army

During World War II we lost many great men. The majority were ordinary men doing extraordinary things who died in combat. Among those who died in service of the United States during World War II was a music superstar. Trombonist and bandleader Glenn Miller had more top ten hit singles than either Elvis Presley or The Beatles. In 1942 he was making anywhere from $15,000 a week (that would be $233,728.71 today) to $20,000 a week (that would be $311,638.28 today).

That having been said, Glenn Miller wasn't merely a great musician. In 1942 he could have easily continued recording and performing with the Glenn Miller Orchestra and reaping a good deal of success in doing so. Instead he wanted to serve his country in the war effort. At 38 Mr. Miller was too old to be drafted. He then volunteered for the United States Navy. They told them that they had no need of him. Fortunately the Navy's loss would be the Army's gain. He convinced the United States Army to take him so that he could "...be placed in charge of a modernized Army band."

Glenn Miller entered the United States Army with the rank of Captain. Eventually he would form the 50-piece Army Air Force Band. He would also be promoted to the rank of Major. It was then in 1944 that Major Glenn Miller and the Army Air Force Band were sent to England. There they not only gave several performances, but they also made propaganda recordings for the Office of War Information at Abbey Road Studios in London. Glenn Miller's music would be broadcast on the Armed Forces Network, which used the BBC's facilities. Major Miller's contributions to the war effort should not be underestimated, as they helped the troop's morale as well as countered any German propaganda. No less than General Jimmy Doolittle of the United States Army Air Force told Glenn Miller, "Next to a letter from home, Captain Miller, your organization is the greatest morale builder in the European Theatre of Operations."

Sadly, Glenn Miller's life would end all too soon. It was on December 15 1944 that Glenn Miller left RAF Twinwood Farm in Clapham for Paris in order to make arrangements to bring the Army Air Force Orchestra to the troops in France. The plane on which he flew was a single-engine UC-64 Norseman. Unfortunately, it disappeared over the English Channel. To this day Major Miller's disappearance remains a mystery. While there have been plenty of conspiracy theories (none of which are worth considering), given the weather that day and the type of plane in which Major Miller was flying, the most likely explanation is that the fuel intakes simply froze, leading to the plane's crash.

In honour of Major Glenn Miller and all the others who sacrificed their lives during World War II, on this day I would like to share "The St. Louis Blues March" by Glenn Miller and the Army Air Force Orchestra.