Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Hammer Horror on Turner Classic Movies in October

Every October means one thing on Turner Classic Movies: lots and lots of horror movies! Naturally many of those horror movies shown during the month on TCM will have been produced by Hammer Films. This October Peter Cushing is the Star of the Month, so there will certainly be several Hammer horror movies airing next month. In fact, the only oversight I can see is that once more TCM is not showing The Brides of Dracula (1960), which is the best film Peter Cushing ever made for Hammer in my humble opinion. Here are the Hammer horrors airing on TCM this October. All times are Central.

Monday, October 19
7:00 PM The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)
8:30 PM Dracula (1958, AKA Horror of Dracula)
10:15 PM The Mummy (1959)

Tuesday, October 20
12:00 Midnight The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)
1:45 AM Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)
3:30 AM Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed! (1970)

Tuesday October 27
2:15 AM The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973)
3:45 AM Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972)

Friday, October 30
10:00 PM The Devil Rides Out (1968)

Since Peter Cushing is the Star of the Month, TCM will be showing Hammer movies other than their horror movies. I highly recommend Cash on Demand (1961), a crime thriller that is also one of the best films Mr. Cushing ever made for Hammer, airs on October 5 at 7:00 PM Central/8:00 PM Eastern. On October 12 TCM is showing  Sword of Sherwood Forest (1960) at 7:00 PM Central/8:00 PM Eastern, and She at 11:30 AM/12:30 Midnight.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Thank You for a Successful Blogathon!

I wanted to thank all of the participants for a successful 7th Annual Rule, Britannia Blogathon. This year's entries covered films from the Twenties to the Naughts, with a good number of genres covered as well. So far it has been a hectic week for me, but in the next few days I will be commenting on your various posts!

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Sink the Bismarck! (1960)

 (This post is part of the 7th Annual Rule, Britannia Blogathon hosted by A Shroud of Thoughts)

If there was a Golden Age of World War II movies, it would have to be the period from the Fifties to about the mid-Seventies. It was during this period that some of the all-time classic World War II films were released. It should come as no surprise that many of these films were British productions or, at least, co-productions made by the United Kingdom with other countries. Among the classic World War II movies produced or co-produced by Britain were The Dam Busters (1955), The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), The Guns of Navarone (1961), and The Dirty Dozen (1967). Sink the Bismarck! (1960) numbers among the best of the British World War II movies made during this period, although today it is largely forgotten by many.

Sink the Bismarck! was based on the 1959 novel The Last Nine Days of the Bismarck  by C. S. Forester. The novel in turn was based on the real-life events behind the British Royal Navy's pursuit of the German battleship Bismarck. The novel had actually begun as a screen treatment that C. S. Forester had written for 20th Century Fox. Sink the Bismarck! then began life as a screen treatment before being turned into a novel before the novel was adapted for the screen.

The screenplay for Sink the Bismarck! was written by Edmund H. North, who had previously written such movies as Young Man with a Horn (1950) and The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). Edmund H. Noth worked closely with C. S. Forester in adapting Mr. Forester's novel as a film. Sink the Bismarck! was directed by Lewis Gilbert, who would go onto direct several more World War II movies as well as three James Bond movies. Edmund H. North and Lewis Gilbert decided that the movie should be made in the style of a documentary, with the action movie back and forth from an Admiralty war room to the battles at sea. To add even more realism, Edward R. Murrow recreated his broadcasts from World War II.

To add even more realism to the film, Sink the Bismarck! used actual World War II era ships. That they were able to do so was largely due to producer John Brabourne, who was Lord Mountbatten's son-in-law. Lord Mountbatten was then Chief of the Defence Staff, so Sink the Bismarck! had access to the Admiralty in a way that few movies would. The H.M.S. Belfast was used to portray the cruisers that were hunting the Bismarck, including the Dorsetshire, Norfolk, Sheffield, and Suffolk. The destroyers involved in the battle were portrayed using the HMS Cavalier. The H.M.S. Victorious briefly appeared as herself in one scene. Every scene involving aeroplanes launching from carriers were filmed using the HMS Centaur.  For any scenes showing the various ships' 15-inch guns, the HMS Belfast was used.

Of course, not every scene in the movie could be filmed using actual ships, necessitating the use of miniatures. The miniatures would have to be particularly realistic to be convincing, and so Howard Lydecker of the renowned special effects team the Lydecker Brothers was hired. With his brother Theodore Lydecker, Howard Lydecker has worked on various Republic productions for decades. He had been twice nominated for the Academy Award for Best Effects, Special Effects, first for Women in War (1940) and then for Flying Tigers (1942). Special effects cinematographer L. B. Abbott shot the miniatures using a spherical lens so as to make the miniatures look larger and spread more apart.

Special attention was paid to historical accuracy in the making of Sink the Bismarck! and it is regarded as among the most historically accurate World War II movies ever made. That having been said, it did depart from history in some respects. The character of Captain Shephard (played by Kenneth More) was entirely fictional and was in no way meant to represent the real-life Director of Operations at the time, Captain R.A.B. Edwards. This was acknowledged in the film's epilogue. Similarly, the timeline of the hunt for the Bismarck was compressed so as to make for a tighter film. Other instances in which the film departs slightly from history is due to the fact that much of the information regarding the hunt for the Bismarck was still classified in the Fifties. It would not be until 1975, when much information was declassified, that much of the truth behind the hunt for the Bismarck was known. For instance, many of the hunches that Captain Shephard has in the movie were actually backed up by British intelligence.

Perhaps the biggest and most unfortunate historical inaccuracy in Sink the Bismarck! is its portrayal of German Admiral Günther Lütjens as a stereotypical, dyed-in-the-wool, fanatical Nazi. In truth Admiral Lütjens disagreed with Nazi policies. He condemned the crimes committed against Jews during Kristallnacht. When Adolph Hitler visited the Bismarck, he refused to give Hitler the Nazi salute, and instead gave him the traditional navel salute. While Sink the Bismarck! portrays Admiral Lütjens as believing the Bismarck was unsinkable, in reality Admiral Lütjens had serious doubts about the Bismarck's mission. Sink the Bismarck departs from history with regards to Admiral Lütjens's role in the battle between the Bismarck and the British ships the HMS Hood and the HMS Price of Wales. The movie depicts Admiral Lütjens as ordering the Bismark's captain, Ernst Lindemann, to open fire on the two ships. In reality, Admiral Lütjens not to engage the HMS Hood. Captain Lindemann disregarded Admiral Lütjens's orders and opened fire on the Hood anyway.

Ultimately, Sink the Bismarck! is very different from other World War II movies made in the Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies, and not simply because it focuses on naval battles rather than battles on land. In focusing primarily on the events in an Admiralty war room, Sink the Bismarck! largely plays out as a military procedural in much the same way that The Naked City (1948) and He Walked By Night (1948) are police procedurals. It takes us within the war room so we can see step by step how the Bismarck was tracked and ultimately defeated. The suspense in the movie comes not from its action scenes, but instead from the battle of wits between the British Admiralty and the German Navy.

Sink the Bismarck! is one of the best World War I I movies ever made and really deserves to be better known than it is. While many films portray the military in the field, it is one of the very few that actually portrays what goes on behind the scenes in a war room. It is a suspenseful film, made all the more so by the film's realism. And while it departs from history a bit, it is still more historically accurate than most World War II movies.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

The 50th Anniversary of The Patridge Family

It was 50 years ago yesterday, on September 25 1970, that The Partridge Family debuted on ABC. The show centred on a family, consisting of a widowed mother and her five children, who begin a successful music career. The Partridge Family proved successful, so much so that it produced hit records and a good deal of merchandise. It turned David Cassidy, who played oldest son Keith, into a teen idol. In addition to Shirley Jones and David Cassidy, the show also starred Susan Dey as oldest daughter Laurie Partridge, Danny Bonaduce as middle son Danny Partridge, Jeremy Gelbwaks and later Brian Forster as youngest son Chris Partridge, Susan Crough as youngest daughter Tracy Partridge, and Dave Madden as their manager, Reuben Kinkaid.

The Partridge Family was created by Bernard Slade, who had earlier created The Flying Nun and Love on a Rooftop. The show was inspired by The Cowsills, six siblings who became a successful singing group with such hits as "The Rain, the Park & Other Things" and "Indian Lake." From the beginning creator Bernard Slade and producer Bob Claver wanted Shirley Jones for the lead role of Shirley Partridge, the widow who becomes a singer in her children's band. From the Fifties into the Sixties, Shirley Jones had a successful film career, appearing in such notable movies as Oklahoma! (1955), Elmer Gantry (1960), The Music Man (1962), and The Courtship of Eddie's Father (1963). By the mid-Sixties she had turned to television. By the time of The Partridge Family she had already appeared in three pilots that had not been picked up by a network: For the Love of Mike, Dream Wife, and Out of the Blue. The previous year she had been offered the role of Carol Brady in The Brady Bunch, but turned it down.

As Shirley Partridge's offspring, Bernard Slade and Bob Claver initially considered the Cowsill children themselves. There are at least two different reasons given that this did not take place. According to Messrs. Slade and Claver, the Cowsill children had no background in acting and were too old for the parts as scripted. According to members of the Cowsill family, their father insisted that their mother Barbara Cowsill be cast in the lead role of the mother. Bernard Slade and Bob Claver would refused, as they wanted Shirley Jones in the lead role.

Not only did The Partridge Family originally have a different title (Family Business), but its pilot also differed substantially from the show as it was broadcast. The original name of the lead character was not Shirley, but instead Connie. Rather that the fictional city of San Pueblo, California, in the pilot the Partridges live in Ohio. In the pilot Connie dated a man played by Shirley Jones's real-life husband, Jack Cassidy. 

Much like The Monkees before it, The Partridge Family featured musical sequences. While the music on The Monkees was usually featured in what the producers called "romps" comparable to the music promotional clips of the time and later music videos, the music on The Partridge Family was featured in performances at  various places or simply their garage.

The Partridge Family debuted on September 26 1970 and proved to be a hit. It was the top rated show on ABC on Friday for that season, a line up that included The Brady Bunch, Nanny and the Professor, That Girl, Love American Style, and This is Tom Jones. Like The Monkees before it, The Partridge Family also generated several hit records. Unlike The Monkees, only Shirley Jones and David Cassidy participated in recording singles and albums, and even then their participation was limited to providing vocals. The music on the Partridge Family's records was provided by the group of session musicians known as The Wrecking Crew. Regardless, their first single, "I Think I Love You," hit no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. It would be followed by several other hit singles, including "Doesn't Somebody Want to Be Wanted (no. 6 on the Hot 100)," "I'll Meet You Halfway (no. 9 on the Hot 100)," and "I Woke Up in Love This Morning (no. 13 on the Hot 100)." Their albums did well, with their debut album The Partridge Family Album going to no. 4 on the Billboard album chart, their second album Up to Date reaching no. 3 on the chart, and their third album Sound Magazine going to no. 9.

The success of The Partridge Family would see a short lived spinoff from the show. The final episode of the first season, "A Knight in Shining Armour," was a backdoor pilot for the show Getting Together. Just as The Partridge Family was inspired by The Cowsills, Getting Together  was based on real life songwriters and performers Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, who had written hits for The Monkees and other groups as well as having their own recording career. It starred Bobby Sherman as Bobby Conway and Wes Stern as Lionel Poindexter. Unfortunately, Getting Together aired opposite the smash hit All in the Family on CBS and ended after only 14 episodes.

The Partridge Family would see some changes in its second season. Jeremy Gelbwalks, who played youngest son Chris, was not happy on the show. For the second season he was replaced by Brian Forster. Another change was in the nature of the show's episodes. In the first season episodes often saw the Partridges on tour. With the second season episodes more often took place in their hometown.

The success of The Partridge Family would prove difficult on David Cassidy, who did not particularly like the fact that he had become a teen idol. To get away from his image as Keith Partridge, he appeared in a new photo taken by legendary photographer Annie Leibovitz on the cover of a May 1972 issue of Rolling Stone. In the interview inside Rolling Stone Mr. Cassidey did much to distance himself form his teen idol image. David Cassidy also released his first solo albums while the show was still on the air, the first being Cherish in 1972. Earlier in 1971, he had a hit with the song "Cherish," which went to no. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100.

The success of The Partridge Family did not last. The show ranked no. 16 for the year in its second season and no. 19 for the year in its third season. That having been said, by 1972 the Partridge Family albums no longer hit the top 20 of the Billboard album chart, and their last hit was a cover of Gene Pitney's "Looking Through the Eyes of Love," also in 1972. For the show's fourth season ABC moved The Partridge Family  to Saturday night, where its ratings collapsed. It was cancelled at the end of the season.

While The Partridge Family had been cancelled, the characters did not disappear from television screens. On September 7 1974 an animated spinoff, Patridge Family 2200 A.D., produced by Hanna-Barbera, debuted on CBS. The cartoon did not explain how the Partridges came to be living in 2200, nor did it explain why. The character of Reuben Kinkaid did not appear on the show. Added to the cast was a robot dog named Orbit, a Martian named Marion, and a Venusian named Veenie. Shirley Jones and David Cassidy did not reprise their roles on the show. Susan Dey provided the voice of Laurie for only two episodes before being replaced by Sherry Alberoni. Danny Bonaduce, Suzanne Crough, and Brian Forster reprised their roles as Danny, Tracy, and Chris. Micky Dolenz, then as now best known for The Monkees, provided the voices of assorted characters on the show. Partridge Family 2200 A.D. only lasted one season before going into syndication as part of the package Fred Flintstone and Friends.

It was only three years after The Partridge Family had been cancelled that a reunion special aired on ABC on November 25 1977. Thanksgiving Reunion with The Partridge Family and My Three Sons was an odd special in that The Partridge Family and My Three Sons were in no way connected (in fact, they produced by entirely different companies). Danny Bonaduce, David Cassidy, Suzanne Crough, Susan Dey, and Shirley Jones all appeared on the show. In 1999 ABC aired a "behind the scenes" TV movie titled Come On Get Happy: The Partridge Family Story. Of the original cast, only Danny Bonaduce participated in the TV movie, serving as its narrator.

It was in 2004 that VH1 produced a  pilot of a reboot of The Partridge Family titled The New Partridge Family with Suzanne Sole as Shirley Partridge and Leland Grant as Keith Partridge. A new show failed to materialize. Today the pilot is most notable for featuring future star Emma Stone as Laurie Partridge. French Stewart of Third Rock from the Sun played Reuben Kinkaid.

The success of The Partridge Family continues to this day. The show had a respectable run in syndication and can still be seen on such streaming services as Crackle and Amazon Prime. Such songs produced for the show as "I Think I Love You" and "I Woke Up in Love This Morning" are still played to this day. For many younger Baby Boomers and older Gen Xers, The Partridge Famiy remains one of the most memorable shows of the early Seventies.

Friday, September 25, 2020

The 7th Annual Rule, Britannia Blogathon

The Seventh Annual Rule, Britannia Blogathon has arrived! The Rule, Britannia Blogathon is meant to celebrate classic, British films. While many think of Hollywood when they think of movies, the fact is that many classic films originated in the United Kingdom. From the Gainsborough melodramas to the Ealing comedies to the Hammer Horrors, the United Kingdom has made many contributions to classic film. The British Invaders Blogathon will last from today (September 25) through Sunday (September 27).

Without further ado, here are this year's entries:

Realweegiemidget Reviews: Deadly Strangers (1975)

Silver Screenings: "The Misery of Getting What You Asked For"

Caftan Woman: I See a Dark Stranger (1946)

The Wonderful World of Cinema: "A Mystery in Paris: So Long at the Fair (1950)

Diary of a Movie Maniac: The Devils (1971 Uncut Version)

Liberal England: "Derailed by A Canterbury Tale"  

Dubsism: "Sports Analogies Hidden In Classic Movies – Volume 91: ffolkes

Wide Screen World: Black Narcissus

Crítica Retrô: "British Film Pioneers"
18 Cinema Lane: "Take 3: Nicholas Nickleby (2002)" 

Cinema Essentials: The Belles of St. Trinian's (1954)

Poppity Talks Classic Film: "Celebrating Britain in Film with Alfred Hitchcock's The Manxman (1929)"

Taking Up Room: "We Can Take It" 

Moon in Gemini: Howard's End (1992)

 Lorna Dupree: "Film review: The Draughtsman's Contract (Peter Greenaway, 1982)"

A Shroud of Thoughts: Sink the Bismarck! (1960) 

A Scunner Darkly: "A Mug's Game--The Stud (1978, Quentin Masters)"

Thursday, September 24, 2020

The TV Show The Odd Couple Turns 50

"On November 13, Felix Unger was asked to remove himself from his place of residence; that request came from his wife. Deep down, he knew she was right, but he also knew that some day he would return to her. With nowhere else to go, he appeared at the home of his friend, Oscar Madison. Several years earlier, Madison's wife had thrown him out, requesting that he never return. Can two divorced men share an apartment without driving each other crazy?" (the first season opening narration of The Odd Couple)

It was fifty years ago today, on September 24 1970, that The Odd Couple debuted on ABC. The show would ultimately go onto be nominated for several Emmy Awards, wining three. It would also become one of the best remembered sitcoms of the Seventies, and continues to be seen in syndication and on streaming services.

The Odd Couple centred on commercial photographer Felix Unger (played by Tony Randall) and sportswriter Oscar Madison (played by Jack Klugman), who become roommates after Felix's wife kicks him out. In some ways the situation was a precarious one. Felix was almost obsessively neat and clean, while Oscar was a total slob. Felix was cultured, while Oscar was not. Despite this, the two men made the situation work and remained close friends.

The Odd Couple was based on Neil Simon's play of the same name, which premiered on Broadway on March 10 1965 with Walter Matthau as Oscar and Art Carney as Felix. The play would prove to be a success, and won Tony Awards for Best Actor (for Walter Matthau), Best Author  (for Neil Simon), Best Direction of a Play, and Best Scenic Design (for Oliver Smith). The play led to the 1968 film adaptation starring Walter Matthau as Oscar and Jack Lemmon as Felix. Like the play, the movie proved to be a hit. Not only did it received positive reviews from critics, but it was the third highest grossing film at the box office for 1968.

The success of the movie version of The Odd Couple led producer Garry Marshall (who had produced the sitcom Hey, Landlord) and writer Jerry Belson (who had written for such TV shows as Make Room for Daddy, The Dick Van Dyke Show, and The Lucy Show) to bring The Odd Couple to the small screen. Although now Tony Randall and Jack Klugman are identified with the roles of Felix and Oscar more than any other actors, in the beginning various other actors were considered for the parts. Dean Martin (who then starred in his own variety show on NBC every Thursday night) and Art Carney (who had originated the role on Broadway) were considered for the role of Felix. Jack Kruschen, Martin Balsam, Jack Carter, and Mickey Rooney were all considered for the role of Oscar. That having been said, from the beginning Garry Marshall knew he wanted Tony Randall as Felix and Jack Klugman as Oscar. While it might seem unusual looking back, both actors were reluctant to do the show at first. That having been said, there should be little surprise that they would be. Tony Randall had a successful movie career that included Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957), the Doris Day and Rock Hudson sex comedies, Boy's Night Out (1962), and many others. Jack Klugman also had a highly successful career. He had appeared in such movies as 12 Angry Men (1967), Days of Wine and Roses (1962), and Goodbye, Columbus (1962), as well as numerous guest appearances. Fortunately, both Tony Randall and Jack Klugman decided to appear in the show.

As bizarre as it might seem now, a major concern of ABC was that viewers would think Felix Unger and Oscar Madison were homosexuals living together. This is the reason for the show's opening narration, which makes it clear that Felix and Oscar are two divorced men. It is also the reason that the name of Felix's ex-wife was changed from Frances to Gloria, the feminine name Frances being pronounced the same as the masculine name Francis. ABC's fear that people would think Felix and Oscar were gay would lead Tony Randall and Jack Klugman to film scenes with homoerotic dialogue and send them to ABC as a prank about once a year.

In addition to Felix and Oscar, The Odd Couple included supporting characters, some of who were played by actors who would go onto even more success. Felix's ex-wife Gloria was played by Janis Hansen, while Oscar's ex-wife was played by Jack Klugman's real life wife Brett Somers. Al Molinaro, who would later play Al on Happy Days, Officer Murray Greshler, one of Felix and Oscar's regular poker buddies. Penny Marshall played Oscar's secretary Myrna Turner. Of course, Penny Marshall went onto success as Laverne on the hit sitcom Laverne & Shriley, as well as career as a director of feature films. Penny Marshall was producer Garry Marshall's sister, although he did not show her any favouritism on The Odd Couple (or Laverne & Shirley, for that matter). Felix and Oscar's poker buddies rounded out the cast, including Garry Walberg as Homer "Speed" Deegan,and Larry Gelman as Vincent "Vinnie" Barella. Eventually Felix and Oscar would have steady girlfriends. Oscar dated Dr. Nancy Cunningham (played by Joan Hotchkis). Felix's steady girlfriend was Miriam Welby (played by Elinor Donahue). Felix and Oscar's regular physician was Dr. Melnitz. A colleague of Oscar's girlfriend Nancy, he tended be a bit of a curmudgeon.

In addition to its regular cast, The Odd Couple frequently featured celebrity guest stars. Both sportscaster Howard Cosell and Roone Arledge of ABC Sports appeared on the show as themselves. Among the other celebrities who played themselves were Richard Dawson, Hugh Hefner, Deacon Jones, married couple Allen Ludden and Betty White, Bubba Smith, and David Steinberg. Other celebrities played various roles in individual episodes of The Odd Couple. Jean Simmons played the princess of the fictional country of Liechtenberg, who dates Oscar. Roy Clark played Willie Boggs, one of Oscar's old friends who loved playing practical jokes. Reta Shaw played a former Army Colonel who serves as Felix and Oscar's housekeeper, when Oscar is sick and Felix is preoccupied with other things. Albert Brooks played a photographer with whom Felix is acquainted. Marilyn Horne played a co-worker of Oscar who turns out to have a talent for Oscar.

The Odd Couple would see a few changes from its first to second season. The first season was shot using a single-camera and used the same set for the apartment as used in the 1968 film. Beginning with the second season, The Odd Couple was shot with multiple cameras in front of a live studio audience. In the show's first season, its on screen title was Neil Simon's The Odd Couple, even though Mr. Simon really did not have anything to do with the show aside from writing the play upon which it based. With the second season its on-screen title was simply The Odd Couple. Neil Simon would later appear in the episode "Two on the Aisle" as himself.

The Odd Couple received its share of critical acclaim upon its debut. It was also nominated for several Emmy Awards throughout its run. In its first season it won the Oscar for Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Comedy Series for Jack Klugman. In its third season Jack Klugman won for The Odd Couple a second time. In its fifth season Tony Randall took home the Emmy for Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Comedy Series.

While The Odd Couple received a good deal of acclaim, it was never a hit in the ratings. During no season did it finish in the top thirty shows for the season. Fortunately, it did well enough in the ratings to be renewed each year. It also developed a very loyal fan base. The show ultimately lasted five seasons. While The Odd Couple had only received middling ratings in its network run, it proved to be a hit in syndication. The show remains in syndication to this day and is available on various streaming services.

Unlike many shows in the mid-Seventies, The Odd Couple would have a series finale. In the final episode Felix, having apparently broken up with his steady girlfriend Miriam, remarried his wife Gloria. 

The popularity of The Odd Couple would lead to further television shows based on the original play. In fact, the first debuted the season after The Odd Couple went off the air. The Oddball Couple was a Saturday morning cartoon centred on an neat freak cat named Spiffy and a slovenly dog named Fleabag who are roommates. The Oddball Couple ran for two seasons on ABC. Another revival of The Odd Couple debuted on ABC in 1982. The New Odd Couple cast African Americans in the lead roles. Ron Glass (who had earlier appeared on Barney Miller and would later appear on Firefly) played Felix while Desmond Wilson (who played Lamont on Sanford and Son) played Oscar. The New Odd Couple did not prove to be a success and only ran one season. Yet another revival of The Odd Couple debuted on CBS in 2015. It starred Matthew Perry (best known as Chandler on Friends) as Oscar and Thomas Lennon as Felix. It ran for three seasons.

Tony Randall and Jack Klugman would reprise the roles of Felix and Oscar in stage revivals of the play The Odd Couple over the years. In 1993 they appeared in the television reunion movie The Odd Couple: Together Again. In the movie Felix's wife Gloria temporarily kicks him out because he keeps interfering in the wedding plans for their daughter. Felix then moves back in with Oscar. TheTV  movie also saw Gary Walberg return as Speed and Penny Marshall (then a highly successful director) return as Myrna.

Although The Odd Couple might not seem as edgy as some of its contemporaries (such as All in the Family), in some ways it was a revolutionary show. Prior to The Odd Couple divorce was rarely even mentioned on American sitcoms. The 1967 sitcom Accidental Family had featured Lois Nettleton as divorcée Sue Kramer, the first divorced, regular character on an American sitcom. Debuting the same season as The Odd Couple, Mary Richards on The Mary Tyler Moore Show was originally going to be a divorcée, but CBS rejected the idea. In centring on two divorced men, The Odd Couple was then breaking new ground.

While The Odd Couple might not have been as edgy as some of the socially relevant sitcoms of the era (such as All in the Family and Maude), it left a more lasting imprint than most of them. The Odd Couple would have a very successful run in syndication and remains available on streaming services. It also inspired three different revivals. And while many actors have played Felix and Oscar over the years, I have to suspect when most people picture the characters in their heads it is Tony Randall and Jack Klugman that they see. The reason for the show's success is not hard to find. Its leads were two of the greatest actors of all time, and the two men had genuine affection for each other. They remained friends for the rest of their lives. The show also boasted a great supporting cast, including everyone from Penny Marshall to Gary Walberg. It also featured some of the best scripts of any sitcom in the history of American television. The Odd Couple was a genuinely funny show and remains so fifty years later. I have to think people will still be watching it fifty years from now.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

The Mary Tyler Moore Show Turns 50

It was fifty years ago today, on Saturday, September 19 1970, that The Mary Tyler Moore Show debuted on CBS. It would go onto become one of the most successful shows of the Seventies and has persisted in syndication ever since it ended its run in 1977. It won  29 Emmy Awards, a record that was not broken until Fraser took its 30th Emmy in 2002. It was nominated many more times.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show centred on Mary Richards (played by Mary Tyler Moore), a single woman who, after a broken engagement, moved to Minneapolis. Initially applying for a secretarial position at TV station WJM, she instead becomes the associate producer of the station's six o'clock news. Her boss was the somewhat grumpy, but soft hearted news director Lou Grant (played by Ed Asner). Working with her was head news writer Murray Slaughter (played by Gavin MacLeod), who was Mary's closest friend at work and known for his humorous quips. The anchorman on WJM's six o'clock news was the inept Ted Baxter (played by Ted Knight), who was known for his many on-air errors. Mary's best friend was her neighbour Rhoda Morgenstern (played by Valerie Harper), who was single yet sardonic and had a sense of humour about her love life. Her landlady was Phyllis Lindstrom (played by Cloris Leachman, who was a bit snobbish and could be arrogant.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show was created by James L. Brooks and Allan Burns. James L. Brooks had written for such shows as My Mother the Car That Girl, The Andy Griffith Show, and My Three Sons, and had created the show Room 222.  Allan Burns had written for Jay Ward's animated shows, and with Chris Hayward he had created The Munsters and My Mother the Car. With Chris Hayward he would later serve as a story editor on the sitcom He & She, and Get Smart.

As originally conceived, Mary Richards would have been a divorcee starting a new life. This met with disapproval from CBS, their research department declaring that American audiences would not tolerate a divorced lead character. The network's objection to Mary Richards being divorced was made worse by the fact that with the casting of Mary Tyler Moore CBS was worried that viewers might confuse Mary Richards with Mary Tyler Moore's earlier character of Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show and think that Laura had divorced Rob Petrie. It was then that it was decided that Mary Richards would be a woman making a new life following a broken engagement. Initially Mary Richards was to have been the assistant to a gossip columnist loosely based on Joyce Haber, then the gossip columnist for The Los Angeles Times. James L. Brooks and Allan Burns later reworked this so that Mary worked in a newsroom in Minneapolis.

Among the most famous aspects of The Mary Tyler Moore Show is its theme song, "Love is All Around." The song was written and performed by Sonny Curtis, who had been one of The Crickets, and had written The Everly Brothers' "Walk Right Back" and The Crickets' "I Fought the Law" (later covered by The Bobby Fuller Four). In the first season the lyrics reflected a woman just starting a new life. The lyrics changed with the second season to better reflect the fact that Mary had become established in her new life.

CBS gave a commitment to The Mary Tyler Moore Show without ordering a pilot episode. That did not mean it would be smooth sailing for the show.  While The Mary Tyler Moore Show would become regarded as a classic, it did not fare well when a live version of the show was performed in front of a test audience. They did not like the fact that Mary was over 30 and still single. The audiences disliked Rhoda and thought Phyllis was abrasive. They didn't care for Lou Grant either. Unfortunately, The Mary Tyler Moore Show fared only a little better with further test screenings.  If it seems unusual that The Mary Tyler Moore Show fared poorly with a test audience, consider the fact that other classic shows also fared poorly with test audiences. Batman, The Monkees, and Seinfeld all received disastrous ratings from test audiences.

Fortunately, Grant Tinker, then Mary Tyler Moore's husband and head of her production company MTM Enterprises, was able to persuade CBS vice president in charge of programming, Michael Dann, to still give the show a chance. Initially, Mr. Dann placed the show on Tuesday nights, where it would be sandwiched in between The Beverly Hillbillies and Hee Haw. Furthermore, CBS only ordered thirteen episodes. Fortunately for The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Michael Dann would leave CBS for the Children's Television Workshop. Fred Silverman was then promoted to vice president in charge of programming. With then CBS President Robert Wood, Fred Silverman was one of the architects of what became known as the Rural Purge, in which CBS cancelled nearly all of its show with rural appeal. With its urban setting, The Mary Tyler Moore Show then became much more attractive to CBS.

Fred Silverman watched the pilot episode as well as rough cuts of the show's second and third episodes. He really liked what he saw. Realizing that it was scheduled in a poor time slot, Mr. Silverman moved Green Acres from its Saturday night time slot to the Wednesday night time slot in which The Mary Tyler Moore Show was originally scheduled, and then placed The Mary Tyler Moore Show on Saturday night. The Mary Tyler Moore was sandwiched between two top rated shows, My Three Sons (which ranked no. 19 for the year) and Mannix (ranked no. 17 for the year). It should come as no surprise, then, that The Mary Tyler Moore Show was a success. It ranked no. 22 for the season.

Throughout its seven seasons, The Mary Tyler Moore Show would have very little in the way of changes in its cast. Valerie Harper left the show following its fourth season when Rhoda received her own spin-off show. Despite this, she would continue to make guest appearances as Rhoda until The Mary Tyler Moore Show ended its run. Cloris Leachman left the show after is fifth season after Phyllis received her own spin-off. She would make guest appearances in the seventh season of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. In the show's third season Georgia Engel was added as Ted Baxter's scatterbrained girlfriend Georgette. Ted and Georgette would eventually marry. In the fourth season Betty White was added to the cast as Sue Ann Nivens, the host of the WJM show The Happy Homemaker. Although on The Happy Homemaker Sue Ann was relentlessly upbeat and perky, in real life she tended to be sardonic, competitive, and very man hungry.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show proved to be very successful. From its second to fourth seasons it ranked in the top ten of the Nielsen ratings for each year. In its fifth season it ranked at no. 11 and in its sixth season at no. 19. In its final season it still came in at a respectable no. 39 in the Nielsen ratings for the year.

Given it success, it should come as no surprised that The Mary Tyler Moore Show was not cancelled, but simply ended production. After seven seasons, Mary Tyler Moore found the show was no longer as challenging as it once was and had decided to move onto other things. Since The Mary Tyler Moore Show was ended on its producers' terms rather than being cancelled by the network, it was able to have something that was very rare in 1977, a series finale. In the appropriately titled "The Last Show," WJM's station manager decided to fire everyone on the six o'clock news except for the one person responsible for its low ratings, anchorman Ted Knight. It would become regarded as one of the greatest series finales of all time.

The success of The Mary Tyler Moore Show would result in three spin offs. Rhoda saw Rhoda Morgenstern return to New York City. Debuting in 1974, it ran for five seasons. Phyllis saw Phyllis and her daughter move to San Francisco following the death of her husband. It proved less successful than Rhoda, running only two seasons. Following the end of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Lou Grant was spun off into his own show, Lou Grant. In the show Lou had become the city editor for The Los Angeles Tribune after he had been fired from WJM. While The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rhoda, and Phyllis had all been sitcoms, Lou Grant was a drama. It ran for five seasons.

CBS would produce two retrospectives of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Mary Tyler Moore: The 20th Anniversary Special aired in 1971 and The Mary Tyler Moore Reunion aired in 2002. Of course, the show has persisted in syndication ever since it left the air and is widely available on streaming services.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show would prove to be a historic show. Of course, there had been shows centred on single women before. Both Private Secretary and The Ann Sothern Show as single women, although they almost entirely centred on her characters' professional lives. That Girl starred Marlo Thomas as Ann Marie, a single woman who moves from her hometown to her New York City. Unlike Mary Richards, however, was engaged throughout the show's run. The Mary Tyler Moore Show centred on both Mary's career and her private life, and she remained unattached throughout the show's run. The Mary Tyler Moore Show was then largely responsible for changing the depiction of women on television.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show was also historic as the first show produced by MTM Enterprises. MTM Enterprises would become one of the most successful independent television production companies in the Seventies and early Eighties. It would produce such classic shows as The Bob Newhart Show, WKRP in Cincinnati, Hill Street Blues, Remington Steele, and St. Elsewhere.

Fifty years after its debut, The Mary Tyler Moore Show still has an impact.  Every sitcoms that featuring sharp dialogue and well defined characters largely owe something to The Mary Tyler Moore Show. The Mary Tyler Moore Show marked a shift from the sometimes gimmicky sitcoms of the Sixties to a more sophisticated form of character driven comedy still seen today. While The Mary Tyler Moore Show did not deal with issues the way such "relevant" sitcoms as All in the Family did, it did address subjects rarely, if ever, addressed in sitcoms before. The show featured what might have been the first ever positive portrayal of a homosexual ("My Brother's Keeper") and even used death as a source of humour ("Chuckles Bites the Dust"). The gap between men and women's salaries and the birth control pill were among the subjects almost never mentioned on sitcoms prior to The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Along with He & She a few years before it, The Mary Tyler Moore Show would point the way for sitcoms for years to come.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Why I Don't Like the New Blogger Interface

In  April 1985 Coca-Cola Company introduced a reformulation of Coca-Cola that would become known as "New Coke." There had been no demand for Coca-Cola to do away with the old formula, so it should come as no surprise that public outrage was swift and immediate. By July 1985 Coca-Cola announced the return of the old formula, now called Coca-Cola Classic. As to New Coke, it struggled in the soda market until Coca-Cola Company finally discontinued it in 2002.

Right now Blogger has found itself in a "New Coke" situation. It was in May 2020 that Blogger announced "a  better Blogger experience on the web." As it turns out, reaction to the new interface has largely been negative. Many long-time bloggers noticed glitches in the new interface, from posting images to how it dealt with html. Most absolutely hate the way the new interface looks and functions. Despite this, it was in the past few days that Blogger replaced the old interface (termed "Legacy Blogger") with New Blogger. To say bloggers are not happy is a bit of understatement.

As someone who has operated a blog on Blogger for 16 years, I number among the bloggers unhappy with the new interface. To begin with, there was simply no demand for it. Legacy Blogger was not perfect, but it was functional and easy to use. While many of the glitches that plagued New Blogger upon its introduction have since been fixed, it is still largely inferior to Legacy Blogger, which makes Blogger's choice to replace Legacy Blogger both puzzling and infuriating.

Indeed, my biggest objection to New Blogger is everything is just too darn big. This is especially true of the post list, where not only is the font much too large, but Blogger insists on displaying an image with every single post. On Legacy Blogger I could see up to nine posts in the list on my screen. On New Blogger that number is down to five. With regards to the Comments section, depending on the length of the comments, I could see anywhere from eight to ten comments on Legacy Blogger. I can only see four to five comments on New Blogger. Throughout New Blogger the fonts are too large, meaning items take up too much space on the screen. This is complicated by New Blogger's insistence on using images. Sadly, there is no way on New Blogger to reduce the font size of the interface or hide images.

Another problem with New Blogger is its reliance on drop down menus. For instance, when one was making a post on Legacy Blogger, all they had to do to switch to HTML is click the HTML button. On New Blogger the only one can switch to HTML is by clicking on the Compose icon to bring down a drop down menu. Another example is the Comments page. On Legacy Blogger to access comments for moderation, one just clicked on Awaiting Moderation in the menu to the left. On New Blogger one must click on (you guessed it) a drop down menu. This is also true of the Stats page. On Legacy Blogger one simply clicked on Now, Day, Week, or All time for the time period of stats one wanted to view. On New Blogger one has to use a drop down menu to do this.

Of course, the Stats page on New Blogger is incredibly inferior to the Stats page on Legacy Blogger as it is. On Legacy Blogger everything is right there on one screen. Do you want to look at your Stats for Posts for the week? Just click on See More on Posts. Want to look at them for the Day? Just click on Day, then click on See More on Posts. With New Blogger one must scroll down an incredibly large graph of the stats for one's latest post and then an incredibly large graph of the stats for one's blog for the past seven days before he or she even reaches the stats for posts. I rarely look at the stats for my latest post or the overall stats for A Shroud of Thoughts for the past week, but I regularly check the daily stats for individual posts. The New Blogger Stats page is then incredibly annoying to me.

Ultimately, the biggest problem with New Blogger aside from the fact that everything is so darn big is that it is not nearly as intuitive as Legacy Blogger. A perfect example of this is the New Comments page. It is not immediately obvious that one has to click a down menu to access Comments Awaiting Moderation. On the list of posts, it is not immediately obvious that one can hover over a post in order to edit, view, or delete it.

All of this makes me wonder why Blogger thought it was necessary to replace Legacy Blogger and why they somehow think New Blogger is an improvement. From their original blog post announcing New Blogger in May, it would seem that they think that New Blogger is easier to use on mobile devices. That may well be the case, but in making it easier to use on mobile devices, they have made it harder to use on desktops. I think this is a big mistake, as I know of no blogger who uses Blogger who makes their posts from a phone or a tablet. Every single one of us uses a desktop or laptop computer. Let's face it, trying to make a post from one's smart phone would literally take forever. My typing speed on a desktop keyboard is 180 words per minute. My texting speed on a phone is much, much less.

Like Coca-Cola Company before it, I am hoping that Blogger realizes that they have made a mistake and restore Legacy Blogger. They could keep New Blogger available for anyone who actually like it. As it is they have simply irritated long time users with something that they did not want and that is actually inferior to what we had all these years.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Kevin Dobson Passes On

Kevin Dobson, who played Detective Crocker on Kojak and Mack MacKenzie on Knots Landing, died on September 6 2020 at the age of 77.

Kevin Dobson was born on March 18 1943 in Jackson Heights, Queens, New York. Before beginning his acting career, he worked as a trainman, brakeman, and conductor for the Long Island Rail Road. He also served in the United States Army.

Kevin Dobson made his acting debut in a guest appearance on the soap opera The Doctors in 1969. He would make several more guest appearances on the show in small roles until 1971. In the Seventies he guest starred on the shows The Mod Squad, The Rookies, Emergency!, Ironside, Cannon, Police Story, Captain Kangaroo, Greatest, and Heroes of the Bible. In 1973 he began playing Detective Crocker on Kojak, a role he played for the show's entire run. He appeared in the movies Klute (1971) and Midway (1978).

In the Eighties he starred on the short lived show Shannon and the TV show Knots Landing. He guest starred on the shows CBS Afternoon Playhouse and Tales of the Unexpected. He reprised his role as Crocker in the television reunion movie Kojak: It's Always Something. He appeared in the movie All Night Long (1981).

In the Nineties Mr. Dobson continued to appear on Knot's Landing. He played Detective Leo McCarthy on the syndicated show F/X: The Series. He guest starred on Burke's Law, Touched by an Angel, The Commish, Early Edition, Chicken Soup for the Soul, and Nash Bridges. He appeared in the movie Restraining Order (1999).

In the Naughts Kevin Dobson had recurring roles on the soap operas One Life to Live and The Bold and the Beautiful. He guest starred on the show Cold Case. He appeared in the movies She's No Angel (2002), Crash Landing (2005), 1408 (2007), and April Moon. In the Teens he had a recurring role on House of Lies. He guest starred on the series Hawaii Five-0 and Anger Management. He appeared in the movies The Representative (2011) and Dark Power (2013).

Kevin Dobson was always a reliable presence on television. It should be little wonder that he had recurring roles on so many television shows, as he consistently gave good performances. He was believable as Detective Crocker on Kojak and as prosecutor Mack Mackenzie on Knots Landing. He played a variety of roles throughout his career, including famed detective Mike Hammer in the television movie Margin for Murder. He was an actor of considerable talent who consistently gave good performances.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Mrs. Peel, We're Needed: The Late Great Dame Diana Rigg

It was on a rainy Sunday afternoon in late 1969, when I was only six years old, that I was looking for something to watch on television. I fell upon a rerun of The Avengers on one of the Kansas City stations, the episode "The House That Jack Built" to be exact. I immediately developed a crush (my very first) on Emma Peel. She was beautiful, intelligent, charming, independent, and strong. I never have gotten over that first crush, although as time passed my admiration for Dame Diana Rigg as an actress and a human being has only grown. Eventually I would see her in other roles beyond that of Emma Peel on The Avengers. She was Edwina Lionheart in Theatre of Blood (1973), Tracy di Vicenzo in On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969), Diana Smythe on the sitcom Diana, and Sonya Winter in The Assassination Bureau (1969). In interviews Miss Rigg was always witty, charming, and self-deprecating. My decades long admiration of Dame Diana Rigg makes today a very sad day for me. It was today that Diana Rigg died at the age of 82 from cancer.

Diana Rigg was born on July 20 1938 in Doncaster, West Riding of Yorkshire. From when she was two years old to when she was eight years old she lived in Bikaner, Rajasthan, India, where her father worked as a railway executive for the Bikaner State Railway. She returned to England to attend Fulneck Girls School, a boarding school near Pudsey. She trained as an actress at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art from 1955 to 1957. She made her stage debut in 1957 in The Caucasian Chalk Circle at the Theatre Royal in York.

Although best known for her work in television and film, Diana Rigg would have a prolific stage career. She was part of the Royal Shakespeare Company from 1959 to 1964. In 1964 she toured the United States and Europe with the company as Cordelia in King Lear. In 1966 she appeared as Viola in Twelfth Night. She would continue to appear frequently on stage in the Seventies, including Abelard and Heloise at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre in New York City in 1971 (having first appeared in the play at the Wyndham Theatre in London in 1970), Macbeth and Jumpers at the Old Vic in London in 1972, The Misanthrope at the Old Vic in 1973, Pygmalion at the Albery Theatre in London in 1974, and Night and Day at the Phoenix Theatre in London in 1978.

She continued to appear frequently on stage in the Eighties. She appeared in Colette in a tour of the United States in 1982. She appeared in Heartbreak House at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in London in 1983. She played Cleopatra in Anthony and Cleopatra at the Chichester Festival Theatre in 1985. She appeared in Follies at the Shaftesbury Theatre in London in 1987. In 1990 Diana Rigg played Melissa in Love Letters at the Stage Door Theatre in London.

Miss Rigg spent much of the early Nineties playing the title role of Medea at various theatres. She appeared in Mother Courage and Her Children at the National Theatre in 1995. She played Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?  at both the Almeida Thetre and the Aldwych Theatre in London. From the Naughts into the Teens, Diana Rigg appeared in such productions as Humble Boy at the National Theatre in London in 2001, Honour at the Wyndham's Theatre in London in 2006, The Cherry Orchard at the Chichester Festival Theatre in 2008, Pygmalion at the Garrick Theatre in London in 2011, and My Fair Lady at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre in New York City in 2018.

Of course, Dame Diana Rigg may be best known for her television career. She made her television debut in 1959 when NBC aired the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. In the early Sixties she appeared in episodes of Theatre Night, The Sentimental Agent, Festival, and ITV Play of the Week. It was an episode of Armchair Theatre, "The Hothouse," would lead to her most famous role. Honor Blackman, who had played Mrs. Cathy Gale, had left The Avengers and so the show's producers had to find a new partner for John Steed. Initially, actress Elizabeth Shepherd was cast as Emma Peel, but she turned out to be unsuited for the role. The producers then had to find a new actress to fill the role. Casting director Dodo Watts suggested a young actress she had just used on Armchair Theatre. Producers Brian Clemens and Albert Fennell watched "The Hothouse" and decided Diana Rigg could be their new Emma Peel. Miss Rigg thought she was wrong for the part, but decided to audition anyway "for a giggle." It was then that Diana Rigg, only 26 years old, became Emma Peel.

Just as Honor Blackman had caused a sensation as Cathy Gale in the United Kingdom a few years earlier, Diana Rigg caused a sensation as Emma Peel not only in the United Kingdom, but in the United States and worldwide. Like Cathy Gale before her, Emma Peel was an intelligent, witty, charming, independent, and strong woman who was also a skilled combatant. As such she proved to be role model for little girls around the world who had been looking for a character who was not a mere love interest or damsel in distress whom they could look up to. Of course, as Emma Peel, Diana Rigg also became a sex symbol.  Just as little girls idolized her, little boys developed crushes on her. Emma Peel's fashions would prove to have an influence on fashion of the mid-Sixties, with the character quickly became a style icon. Diana Rigg did not particularly enjoy her time as a sex symbol, stating in a 2016 interview that it felt to her like "an intrusion."

Dame Diana Rigg left The Avengers in 1968. While she would have a film career, she continued to appear on television in the late Sixties and early Seventies. In 1970 she guest starred on an episode of ITV Saturday Night Theatre. From 1973 to 1974 she appeared on the short-lived sitcom Diana. She appeared in various roles on the comedy series Three Piece Suite and in the title role in the mini-series Oresteia. She appeared in the TV movie The Marquise in 1980.

In the Eighties, Diana Rigg appeared in the mini-series Bleak House and Mother Love. She guest starred on the shows BBC Play of the Month and The Play on One. She appeared in such TV movies as Hedda Gabler, Witness for the Prosecution, King Lear, The Worst Witch, and Mrs. 'Arris Goes to Paris. From 1989 to 2003 Dame Diana Rigg was the host of the PBS television series Mystery!.

In the Nineties Dame Diana Rigg played the title role on the TV series The Mrs. Bradley Mysteries. She appeared in the mini-series Rebecca and In the Beginning. She guest starred on the TV show The Road to Avonlea. Miss Rigg appeared in the TV movies Zoya and The American.

In the Naughts Miss Rigg guest starred on the TV series Victoria & Albert, Murder in Mind, and Extras. She appeared in the mini-series Charles II: The Power & the Passion. In the Teens Dame Diana Rigg was a regular on the TV shows Game of Thrones, Detectorists, and Victoria. She guest starred on Doctor Who and All Creatures Great and Small. She appeared in the TV movies Professor Branestawm Returns and A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong. Dame Diana Rigg is set to appear in the mini-series Black Narcissus.

Of course, Diana Rigg also had a highly successful film career. She made her movie debut as Helena in A Midsummer Night's Dream in 1968. In the late Sixties she played Sonya Winter in The Assassination Bureau (1968), Tracy in On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969), and Portia in Julius Caesar (1970). In the Seventies she appeared in Paddy Chayefsky's The Hosptial (1971). She played opposite Vincent Price in Theatre of Blood (1973) and appeared in A Little Night Magic (1977).  In the Eighties Miss Rigg played Lady Holiday in The Great Muppet Caper (1981) and Arlena Stuart Marshall in Evil Under the Sun (1982). She played the Evil Queen in Snow White (1987).

In the Nineties Dame Diana Rigg appeared in the movies Genghis Cohn (1993), A Good Man in Africa (1994), and Parting Shots (1998). From the Naughts into the Teens, she appeared in the films Heidi (2005), The Painted Veil (2006), and Breathe (2017). She is set to appear next year in the film Last Night in Soho.

Miss Rigg was Patron of a International Care & Relief for many years.

There are those actors who have such an impact on our lives that it is immeasurable. Dame Diana Rigg is one of those actors for me. The Avengers is my favourite TV show of all time and (with the exception of a certain nurse on a certain show) Emma Peel is my all time favourite television character. If I have always believed in equality of the sexes, that is largely due to Emma Peel. For that matter, I think even my personal tastes in women have been shaped to a degree by Emma Peel. Of course, Dame Diana Rigg played much more than Emma Peel and I have followed her career ever since that rainy day in 1969. I have never seen Dame Diana Rigg give a bad performance. Indeed, if Emma Peel made such an impression on me at such a young age, it is because of the strength of Miss Rigg's performance as the character.

Indeed, Dame Diana Rigg leaves behind a career filled with impressive performances. What is more, she excelled in playing strong, independent women that some actresses might have found challenging. As Sonia Winter she was delightful as the young women intent on bringing down the Assassination Bureau in the movie of the same name. In On Her Majesty's Secret Service she it all too believable that the elusive James Bond would fall in love with Tracy. She was impressive as Edwina Lionheart, the daughter of actor Edward Lionheart (played by Vincent Price), in Theatre of Blood. Dame Diana Rigg could play nearly anything and was impressive in comedy as she was in drama. She was excellent as Lady Holiday in The Great Muppet Caper. And while Dame Diana Rigg was best known as Emma Peel, she could play villains. She was chilling as Mrs. Danvers in the 1997 version of Rebecca and as Mrs. Gillyflower in "The Crimson Horror" was one of the best Doctor Who villains ever.

Much of Dame Diana Rigg's success may largely be due to that while she took her craft seriously, she never took herself too seriously. She was known for her self deprecating humour. Even decades later she found it incredulous that she had been considered a sex symbol. After he heart had stopped beating during a medical procedure in 2017, she joked, "My heart had stopped ticking during the procedure, so I was up there and the good Lord must have said, 'Send the old bag down again, I'm not having her yet!'" Dame Diana Rigg once said, "If you get serious about yourself as you get old, you are pathetic." The fact that Dame Diana Rigg never took herself too seriously was much of her charm. After all, Miss Rigg was arguably one of the most beautiful women to have ever lived and certainly one of the most talented actresses of all time, and yet she constantly joked about herself.

While Dame Diana Rigg never took herself seriously, those who knew her certainly did. Patrick Macnee adored her. Tributes to Miss Rigg have ranged from her On Her Majesty's Secret Service co-star George Lazenby to her co-stars on Game of Thrones to her many fans. Dame Diana Rigg was a remarkable woman, intelligent, funny, and not willing to suffer fools. In the late 20th Century and early 21st Century, there is simply no acting talent to compare to her. Dame Diana Rigg was unique.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

TCM Should Show A Weekend of Rock Musicals

This Labour Day Week there was the TCM End of Summer Tour, which featured several classic concert films every night. I thoroughly enjoyed it, particularly as I got to revisit old favourites (The Decline of Western Civilization and The Song Remains the Same), as well as films I had never seen before (Monterey Pop). It was a time when two of my favourite things, rock 'n' roll and classic movies, intersected. This got me to thinking, Turner Classic Movies could devote another three day weekend to rock musicals. There is no shortage of them. Indeed, they could devote a three day weekend to Elvis Presley's musicals alone. An added bonus would be that I think those few who did not like the concert films on TCM this weekend might be more amenable to rock musicals. Of course, here I wouldn't want TCM to pre-empt Noir Alley, but I have a solution for that below.

Below are my suggestions for some of the movies Turner Classic Movies could program during such a weekend. Here I have to say that I wouldn't consider some of these movies "classics" (some of them are pretty bad), but they all have great music. I have put them in chronological order.

The Girl Can't Help It (1956): This was one of the movies that started it all. Intended as a vehicle for Jayne Mansfield, the end result was a movie featuring some of the biggest names of 1950s rock 'n' roll. Little Richard, Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, Fats Domino, and The Platters are among the artists in the movie.

Jailhouse Rock (1957): I really don't have to say anything about this film. As far as I am concerned it is the Elvis Presley movie.

Summer Holiday (1963): Cliff Richard was considered the United Kingdom's answer to Elvis Presley, and like Elvis he did movies. Summer Holiday is a fun movie that is a little different from many rock musicals in that it incorporates dance in its music scenes. The dance scenes were choreographed by Herbert Ross.

Viva Las Vegas (1964): I would say that Viva Las Vegas is my second favourite Elvis movie, save that I think of it as an Elvis Presley and Ann-Margret movie! It is easily the best of Elvis's Sixties movies in my humble opinion.

A Hard Day's Night (1964): Okay, my love for this film is well-known. I am pretty much the default TCMParty host on Twitter for it! A Hard Day's Night is the Citizen Kane of rock musicals, the one that broke the mould. Before it, there wasn't really a whole lot to separate rock musicals from traditional musicals. A Hard Day's Night was dramatically different. It was a nearly plotless film that used documentary techniques and was shot in black-and-white.

Catch Us If You Can (1965): For a time The Dave Clark Five were The Beatles' chief rivals. Naturally then, they had to do a movie. Like A Hard Day's Night, Catch Us If You Can is dramatically different from many rock musicals. For one thing, The Dave Clark Five don't play themselves, but stuntmen. For another, it is a rather dark film with some substance to it. This should come as no surprise, as it was John Boorman's feature film debut.

Help! (1965): While it is available on DVD, sadly The Beatles' second film, Help!, is not available on streaming and is not shown on television very often. Indeed, TCM has never shown it. That having been said, it would be worth Turner Classic Movies' while to get the rights. While it is a very different film from A Hard Day's Night, it is still a classic in its own right, a fast and loose comedy that draws in equal measure from the Marx Brothers' movies and the contemporary spy films.

Hold On! (1966): Starring Herman's Hermits, Hold On! is a very American film. Indeed, it plays largely like an American situation comedy. That having been said, it is a whole lot of fun and features some of Herman's Hermits' best work.

The Ghost Goes Gear (1966): Okay, The Ghost Goes Gear is not a very good film. That having been said, it is worth it seeing The Spencer Davis Group in their prime, not to mention some more obscure British groups.

Head (1968): If A Hard Day's Night broke new ground for rock musicals, Head went even further. It is an almost entirely plotless movie that deconstructs The Monkee's pre-fabricated image. It features some of The Monkees' best songs, as well as some truly incredible sequences, including a giant Victor Mature.

Tommy (1975): Tommy is based upon The Who's 1969 rock opera and directed by Ken Russell. While it is a bit uneven and way over the top, it is worth it for some great performances (both acting and music).

Rock 'n' Roll High School (1979): If you know me, you know I would have to include this one. Rock 'n' Roll High School centres on rock 'n' roll loving high school students who want to meet The Ramones in person. While made in the late Seventies, in many ways it feels like a throwback to the Fifties rock 'n' roll musicals. It also features some of The Ramones' best songs, including the title track.

Quadrophenia (1979): Okay, Quadrophenia is a not a rock musical per se. No one breaks into song in the film. That having been said, it is based on The Who's 1973 rock opera and music figures prominently in the film. And while there are a good number of anachronisms and inaccuracies in the film, Quadrophenia does a good job of capturing the Mod subculture in mid-Sixties London.

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains (1982): While some of these films centre on real-life bands, Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains centres on a fictional, all-girl punk band. The film never received a wide release, but it found an audience after repeated airings on the TV show Night Flight. It would prove to an influence on the riot grrl subculture of the Nineties.

This is  Spinal Tap (1984): Okay, This is Spinal Tap is a mockumentary about a fictional heavy metal band, but as a razor sharp parody of rock documentaries it is a must when discussing rock 'n' roll films. Ever since the movie it has become fashionable to compare rock bands considered bad to Spinal Tap (as Henry Collins of Black Flag once did with the band Venom) or to reference Spinal Tap when discussing bands that have gone through many drummers (Pearl Jam themselves actually referenced Spinal Tap with regards to the number of drummers they have had).

Of course, one caveat many Noir Alley fans had with the TCM End of Summer Tour is that it pre-empted the 11:00 PM Central/12:00 AM Eastern, Saturday showing of Noir Alley. Now as I much as I love the idea of a programming block of rock musicals, I wouldn't want TCM to pre-empt the Saturday night airing of Noir Alley (I am not a morning person). My solution for this is to show Noir Alley, but air a noir in which music plays a central role. There is any number to chose from, including Gilda (1946), The Man I Love (1947), and Sweet Smell of Success (1957).

Thursday, September 3, 2020

The Late Great Chadwick Boseman

Chadwick Boseman, who played Jackie Robinson in 42 (2013), James Brown in Get On Up (2014), Thurgood Marshall in Marshall (2017), and T'Challa/The Black Panther in Black Panther (2018) and related Marvel Cinematic Universe films, died on August 28 2020 at the age of 43. The cause was stage IV colon cancer.

Chadwick Boseman was born on November 29 1976 in Anderson, South Carolina. It was during his junior year at T. L. Hanna High School that he wrote and staged his first play, Crossroads. He attended Howard University in Washington, D.C. and graduated in 2000 with Bachelor of Fine Arts. Among his teachers was Phylicia Rashad, who also served as his mentor. Chadwick Boseman was among the students who had been accepted into the British American Drama Academy's Midsummer program, but could not attend because they couldn't afford it. Phylicia Rashad contacted her friend Denzel Washington, who paid money so that Mr. Boseman and other students could attend the program.

Chadwick Boseman made his television debut in an episode of Third Watch in 2003. In the Naughts he was a regular on the TV shows Lincoln Heights and Persons Unknown. He guest starred on Law & Order, CSI: NY, ER, Cold Case, Lie to Me, and The Glades. He made his film debut in The Express in 2008. He continued work as a playwright. His Deep Azure was performed at the Congo Square Theatre Company in Chicago. He also wrote the plays Rhyme Deferred and Hieroglyphic Graffiti.

In the Teens, Chadwick Boseman guest starred on the TV shows Castle, Detroit 1-8-7, Justified, and Fringe. It was in 2013 that he appeared in his first lead role, playing baseball legend Jackie Robinson in 42. The following year he starred as music legend James Brown in Get On Up (2014). He first appeared as T'Challa in the movie Captain America: Civil War (2016). He reprised the role in Black Panther (2018), Avengers: Infinity War (2018), and Avengers: Endgame (2019). In 2017 he appeared as Thurgood Marshall in Marshall, which centred around an early case from Thurgood Marshall's career, State of Connecticut v. Joseph Spell. He also appeared in the movies The Kill Hole (2012), Draft Day (2014), Gods of Egypt (2016), Message from the King (2016), 21 Bridges (2019), and Da 5 Bloods (2020). He is set to appear in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, which will premiere on Netflix.

That Chadwick Boseman was an incredible actor can be seen by his performances in a variety of roles. He was totally convincing as baseball player Jackie Robinson. As soul music legend James Brown his dance moves were virtually the same as the genuine article. He was impressive as lawyer Thurgood Marshall. As to his best known role, T'Challa, King of Wakanda and the superhero known as The Black Panther, it is hard to see anyone else in the role. Chadwick Boseman was also incredibly devoted to his craft. He was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2016. In the intervening years he made nine movies. There can be no doubt that many times he was in pain and suffering from chemotherapy.

Chadwick Boseman was not simply an incredible actor, but he was also an incredible human being. He was known for raising awareness and money for children's charities. In 2018 he bought hundreds of movie tickets for underprivileged children in his hometown of Anderson. He continued to visit children in hospitals even as he was dying from a terminal illness. Chadwick Boseman not only played a superhero on screen. He was a superhero in real life too.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

A Letter to Vanessa Marquez

It was two years ago today that officers from the South Pasadena Police Department shot my dearest Vanessa Marquez in the back and killed her. For obvious reasons this is an anniversary that is very difficult for me. Vanessa and I were never in a relationship, but we were very, very close friends. She once told me that I was her favourite friend and I considered her my best friend. We were in touch on nearly a daily basis for literally years. For my part, I was and still am in love with her.

Regardless, my feelings for Vanessa make writing a blog post on the anniversary of her death very difficult. I could have foregone writing a blog post on the anniversary of her death entirely, but that simply did not seem right to me. I certainly don't want to address her death as I have done that often on this blog. I have also addressed both Vanessa's career and our friendship at length on this blog before. Given there were things left unsaid between us when she died, it then occurred to me that I could write a letter to Vanessa, even though she might not be able to read it (I have no idea what they have access to in the afterlife). I have to admit that I was hesitant to write such a letter and post it to my blog. Some might think it a bit self-serving. After all, a letter from me to Vanessa would be as much about me as it would Vanessa. I also have to admit that I am a bit uncomfortable addressing my feelings in a public forum. For most of my life I have been a very private person. That having been said, after two years I am still working through my grief over Vanessa's death. A part of grief is regret over things left unsaid, and there was so much more I wanted to tell Vanessa. The second anniversary of her death then seems as good a time as any to write a letter to my beloved Vanessa Marquez.

Dearest Vanessa,

It has been two years since you've died and I wanted to let you know that I am doing fine. I can now make it through most days without breaking down crying and I have learned to enjoy myself again. I am doing much better than I was a year ago and much, much better than I was in the days following your death. That having been said, I still miss you very much. There is a hole in my life where you belong and that hole will never be filled. And there are so many things left that I wanted to tell you.

Indeed, perhaps the greatest regret of my life is that I never told you, "I love you."  I am fairly certain that you knew anyway. Looking back, it was fairly obvious. Let's face it, I doted upon you. I always worried about you when you were sick, to the point that I sometimes went into a blind panic. When someone attacked you, I always defended you. I remember when Twitter suspended your first account, I not only tweeted at Twitter Support, but I filled out a support ticket and eventually I even wrote Jack Dorsey himself. I always told you that you were beautiful, even when you didn't think so yourself. On more than one occasion I told you that you were the most wonderful woman in the world. It really would not surprise me if you knew I was in love with you before I did. The simple fact is that I loved you more than anyone else I have ever known. Still, I should have told you so.
Regardless, I told our friend Paula after your death that you were very easy to love. And you certainly were. The only downside to our friendship was the distance between us. I live in Missouri and you lived in Los Angeles County. I'm sure you remember  how often we wound up talking about Los Angeles, both of us being history buffs and classic movie buffs. I'm sure you also remember that as fascinated as I am by the history of Los Angeles, I was a bit intimidated by its sheer size. How could I ever get around if I visited there?  I remember how when you would ease my mind about how big Los Angeles was, you would say, "If you ever move here..."  Once you even said, "When you move here...." Vanessa, I wanted to move there more than anything, just to be near you. I'm sure you remember that we talked a lot about the day I could visit and I would tease you that if I ever got to go to the TCM Classic Film Festival I would drag you along, even if I had to carry you. Since your death I have been to Hollywood and I loved it. I can see why you never wanted to move from Los Angeles County.

Of course, there should be little wonder that I loved you. I know some people might think it was because you were drop dead gorgeous or because you were a famous actress, but it wasn't that at all. It wasn't even because we had so much in common, everything from a love of science fiction to a love of classic movies. It was because you were one of the warmest, sweetest, and gentlest people I have ever known, if not the absolutely warmest, sweetest, and gentlest. One of the first things I learned about you is that when Jaime Escalante had cancer you were relentless in raising money for his medical bills. I remember you volunteered at one of the Pasadena animal shelters. You were always there for your friends, expressing sympathy when something sad happened to them or joy when something happy happened to them.

I know you were always there for me, and I regret that I never thanked you enough for that. I think sometimes you worried over me when I was sick more than my own family.  You were always happy when I had something momentous happen. You watched me when I introduced A Hard Day's Night (1964) with Ben Mankiewicz on TCM as part of their Fan Favourites series, and you made sure to tell me how good I was. When I won the 50 States in 50 Movies contest on TCM Backlot for Missouri you kept asking me what I had won. Sadly, my prize arrived the day you died. It was the TCM Classic Quotes coffee mug for 42nd Street (1933). It is still in the box on a shelf simply because I can't bear to open it. I remember that you called me "cute" and even said that I was "handsome" once. I can't tell you what a beautiful, Hollywood actress telling a fellow that he is "cute" or "handsome" does for his ego, but I appreciated it very much.  You were always very defensive of me. If anyone crossed me, you were always swift to take up for me. I have to thank you for always supporting me.

A lot has happened since you died. I have to think you know that Turner Classic Movies included you in the TCM Remembers for 2018. What is more, they gave you something of a place of honour. It is the most I have ever cried during a TCM Remembers segment. I also have to think you know that there was a campaign to include you in the on-air In Memoriam segment of the Academy Awards ceremony. Ultimately, they didn't, but it showed just how much people love you. The petition for you to be included in the televised In Memoriam segment on the Oscars reached around 9000 signatures.

Since your death you probably realize that the most important event in which I took part was scattering your ashes  at the Hollywood Sign on Mount Lee. I even got up early to do so. It was an incredible honour to be able to take part, and it was in some ways overwhelmingly emotional for me. For the first time in my life I broke down crying in front of people who were not my immediate family.  I am sure you know I am now friends with some of your co-stars from Stand and Deliver (1988). You probably also know that your mother and I have become very close.

I think you also know that last September I went to St. Louis for TCM Backlot's "TCM in Your Hometown" event. They showed Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) at the Tivoli in University City. Before the movie they had a VIP Meet and Greet at the Moonrise Hotel that I attended. You would love the Moonrise Hotel. It is filled with all kinds of sci-fi memorabilia, including items from Star Wars and Space 1999. Anyway, the VIP Meet and Greet was a lot of fun. I got to meet Yacov Freedman of TCM Backlot and we talked for a while. He agrees with me--one can never have enough pinback buttons! After having talked to him on video chat for the Fan Favourites series, I got to meet Ben Mankiewicz in person. Ben is so very nice. He remembered you and he remembered that you and I were close friends. Of course, I also got to meet Margaret O'Brien, who is, along with June Lockhart, the last surviving member of the cast of Meet Me in St. Louis. She is so sweet, very funny, and totally cool. She was delighted when I brought up her guest appearance on Perry Mason. As to Meet Me in St. Louis, you know I have always loved that film and it was incredible on the big screen. Of course, I cried a little given I can't see Judy Garland without thinking of you. Anyway, I am sure you also know that I set up an ofrenda for you on Dia de Muertos last year. I do hope you appreciated it. I plan to set up another one this year.

Since your death I have sometimes heard from your many fans. I sometimes got the impression from you that you thought you would only be remembered for Stand and Deliver, but that certainly isn't the case. The fans who reach out to me want to let me know how sad they are that you're gone and how much they appreciated and admired you. They have cited everything from Stand and Deliver to ER to Twenty Bucks (1993) to Blood In Blood Out (1993). Vanessa, you have fans from all over the world. I heard from one young man in Italy. I was particularly touched by a young lady from Mexico who found out you died through my social media and was very upset by it. She loved the movie Blood In Blood Out.  Dearest one, I always told you that people loved you and you have legions of fans. I learned that to be true ever since you died.

I am sure you are aware that I am still very angry at the way you died and that to this day I cry over you regularly. Despite the grief I have experienced since your death, I have to tell you that I feel lucky to have even known you, let alone to have been as close to you as I was. You were an altogether remarkable woman. It wasn't simply because you were an extremely talented and well known actress. It wasn't even because you were an incredibly beautiful woman blessed with a mellifluous voice. It was because you were blessed with a keen wit, a great sense of humour, and, most of all, a warm and loving heart. I have never known anyone who cared as much for her friends as you did. I have never known anyone who cared as much for me as you did. Despite the vagaries of your life, you were never bitter, and it showed in how you treated other people. You were always sweet, gentle, warm-hearted, and loving. That is the reason I love you and it is the reason I miss you so much. Vanessa, I will never forget you and I will miss you until the day I die.

Yours Always,

Friday, August 28, 2020

Noir Alley Returns to TCM in September

Like most Turner Classic Movies fans, I love Summer Under the Stars, the month-long block during which each day is devoted to a single star. If I am honest, however, I have to admit that there is one thing I don't like about Summer Under the Stars. For the entire month of August Noir Alley does not air. Of all the programming on TCM, Noir Alley is my favourite.

It is for that reason that I always look forward to the first weekend of September, when Noir Alley returns. What is more, this September looks to be a good one for Noir Alley. That having been said, I do have one caveat. On September 5 2020 the 12:00 AM Eastern/11:00 PM Central airing of Noir Alley is being pre-empted by the TCM End of Summer of Tour. As much as I love The Decline of Western Civilization (1981), I would rather see a film noir in that time slot! I suppose I will have to drag myself out of bed Sunday morning and undergo heavy caffeination or set the DVR.

Regardless, Noir Alley returns on September 6 2020 at the early hour of 9:00 AM Central with Night Editor (1946). I have never seen it, but it is based on an episode ("Inside Story") of the radio show of the same name that ran from 1934 to 1948. Noir Alley is back at 12:00 AM Eastern/11:00 Central on September 12 for Danger Signal (1945), which features Faye Emerson and Zachary Scott. September 19 Noir Alley is airing one of the most famous noirs of all time, Gilda (1946), with Rita Hayworth in her signature role. Finally, on September 26 2020 there's They Won't Believe Me with Robert Young and Susan Hayward.

Like other noiristas I am eager for the return of Noir Alley. In the meantime I will continue watching film noirs on my DVR, on On Demand, and on DVD every Saturday night until it comes back!

Thursday, August 27, 2020

The TCM End of Summer Tour

From Friday, September 4 2020 through Sunday, September 6 2020, Turner Classic Movies is airing the TCM End of Summer Tour, a collection of music oriented movies. They are featuring several classic rock documentaries and concert films that I dearly love. The only downside is that Saturday night the TCM End of Summer Tour is pre-empting Noir Alley (fortunately, it will air on Sunday morning--I guess we night owls will have to DVR it).

As I mentioned above, Turner Classic Movies is airing several rock documentaries and concert films that I love. Below are my picks for the TCM End of Summer Tour. All times are Central.

Friday, September 4 2020
11:00 Elvis: That's the Way It Is (1970)

Saturday, September 5 2020
7:00 PM The Kids Are Alright (1979)
11:15 PM The Decline of Western Civilization (1981)
1:15 AM The Decline of Western Civilization Part Two: The Metal Years (1988)

Sunday, September 6 2020
7:00 PM The Song Remains the Same (1976)
9:30 PM Jimi Hendrix (1973)