Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Dimension X

By the early Fifties, Old Time Radio was in decline. In metropolitan areas where there were already television stations, radio often found itself losing its audience to television. This situation would only grow steadily worse as the Fifties progressed. As more and more television stations opened throughout the United States, Old Time Radio would lose more and more of its audience to the younger medium. That is not to say that classic Old Time Radio shows did not continue to debut in the Fifties. One of the best remembered radio shows of the Fifties was the science fiction anthology series Dimension X.

Prior to the Fifties, most science fiction shows on American radio, such as Buck Rogers in the 25th Anniversary and Flash Gordon, had been made for a juvenile audience. The year 1950 saw the advent of the first American science fiction radio show made for adults when 2000 Plus on the Mutual Broadcasting System on March 15 1950. The following month would see the debut of Dimension X on NBC on April 8 1950. Newspaper radio listings include another adult science fiction show, Beyond Tomorrow, but it is unclear if it ever aired on CBS or if it announced but cancelled before it ever aired. Regardless, only four segments of Beyond Tomorrow (including the audition show were produced).


Fortunately Dimension X would last a bit longer, although for a show that is well remembered by many its run would be brief. The show debuted with an adaptation of Graham Doar's short story "The Outer Limit." This would set the pace for the rest of the series. While Dimension X would feature some original episodes, the majority of its episodes were adaptation of stories by such writers as Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Robert A. Heinlein, H. Beam Piper, and Jack Williamson. A highlight of the show's first season was an adaptation of Robert A. Heinein's novel Destination Moon, in conjunction with the movie of the same name.

The announcer and narrator on Dimension X was Norman Rose, who would provide voices for the Saturday morning cartoon Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales and work on the radio show CBS Mystery Radio Theatre. Its episodes were directed by Edward King and Fred Weihe. Among the actors who appeared on Dimension X were Mason Adams, Ralph Bell, John Di Santis, and Jan Miner.

Dimension X ran from April 8 1950 to January 14 1951. The show was then off the air for five months, but returned on June 3 1951. Its final episode, an adaptation of Isaac Asmiov's "Nightfall," aired on September 29 1951.

While Dimension X had ended its run, it would return after a fashion. On April 24 1955 the science fiction radio show X Minus One debuted on NBC. X Minus One began as a revival of Dimension X, so that its first 15 episodes were new versions of old Dimension X episodes. While X Minus One, like Dimension X before it, would continue to features episodes based on stories by famous science fiction writers, with its sixteenth episode it began adapting new material. Over all, X Minus One would prove to be more successful than Dimension X. It would run for 126 episodes until January 9 1958. Dimension X only ran for 50 episodes.

While Dimension X only ran for 17 months in total, the show remains well remembered to this day. Most of its episodes still exist and are available both online and on CD. While it was short-lived, Dimension X proved science fiction could be more than juvenile entertainment.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Happy 4th of July 2020

Here at A Shroud of Thoughts I realise that there are many who would appreciate some cheesecake with their fireworks. On this 4th of July, then, I am posting pinups as I traditionally do. Without further ado, then, here they are:

Rita Moreno

Lynn Bari and Esther Brodet

Joan Blondell

Dawn Wells

Martha Hyer

Ann Miller

Happy Easter!

Friday, July 3, 2020

Linda Cristal Passes On

Linda Cristal, who starred as Victoria on the classic Western television series The High Chaparral and appeared in such movies as The Perfect Furlough (1958) and The Alamo (1960), died on June 27 2020 at the age of 89.

Linda Cristal was born Marta Victoria Moya Peggo Burges on February 23 1931 in Rosario, Santa Fe, Argentina. Her father was a French immigrant and a magazine publisher. Her mother, the former Rosario Pego, was Italian The family eventually moved to Montevideo, Uruguay after coming into conflict with a gang of criminals. Sadly, her parents both died when Miss Cristal was 13 from carbon monoxide poisoning while in their car. She studied Conservatorio Franklin in Uruguay.

It was during a trip to Mexico with her older brother that she was discovered by producer Miguelito Alemán. He gave her a bit part in his film Cuando levanta la niebla (1952). In the early to mid Fifties, she appeared in such films as El lunar de la familia (1953), Genio y figura (1953), Con el diablo en el cuerpo (1954), and El 7 leguas (1955).  Linda Cristal made her English language film debut in Comanche in 1956. In the late Fifties she appeared in the movies Enemigos (1956), El diablo desaparece (1957), The Last of the Fast Guns (1958), The Fiend Who Walked The West (1958), The Perfect Furlough (1958), Siete pecados (1959), Cry Tough (1959), Le legioni di Cleopatra (1959), The Alamo (1960), and La donna dei faraoni (1960). On television she guest starred on the show Rawhide.

In 1967 Linda Cristal began playing the role of Victoria Cannon, the strong-willed, independent wife of rancher John Cannon (played by Leif Erickson), on the Western TV show The High Chaparral. During its run Miss Cristal was twice nominated for an Emmy, one for Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Drama in 1968 and one for Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Dramatic Series in 1971. The High Chaparral ran for four seasons and is still regularly seen in syndication. In the Sixties she guest starred on The Tab Hunter Show, Alcoa Premiere, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, T.H.E. Cat, and Iron Horse. Linda Cristal appeared in the movies Two Rode Together (1961), Le verdi bandiere di Allah (1963), and Panic in the City (1968).

In the Seventies Linda Cristal played a regular role on El chofer. She guest starred on the shows Cade's County, Bonanza, Search, Police Story, and Barnaby Jones. Miss Cristal appeared in the mini-series Condominium. She appeared in the movies Mr. Majestyk (1974) and Love and the Midnight Auto Supply (1977).  In the Eighties she played the lead on the TV show Rossé. She had a recurring role on the soap opera General Hospital in 1988. She guest starred on Love Boat and Fantasy Island.

Linda Cristal was a remarkable actress. A sex symbol early in her career,  she went onto play substantial roles. Victoria Cannon (née Montoya) was not only one of the most remarkable characters on TV Westerns in the Sixties, but one of the most remarkable female characters in television shows of any genre. Victoria was strong willed, passionate, intelligent, and independent. While female characters on other Westerns might wait for the male characters to rescue them, Victoria often devised her own escape. Linda Cristal would play a variety of roles throughout her career, from movie star Sandra Roca in The Perfect Furlough to radiologist Dr. Paula Stevens in  Panic in the City. She was an actress of considerable talent.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

The Late Great Carl Reiner: The Very Definition of a Mensch

There are those artists whose influence is so great on individuals that it is impossible me to measure. For me one of those artists is Carl Reiner. Until today I had never known life without Mr. Reiner. The Dick Van Dyke Show is not only one of my all-time favourite sitcoms, but it is also one of the earliest television shows I can remember watching. As a child I delighted to Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks's comedy sketch "2000 Year Man;" movies such as The Comic and Oh, God!; his short-lived series Good Heavens; and his appearances in such films as The Thrill of It All and The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming. Carl Reiner was still a force to be reckoned with as I grew older, making such films as Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid and Summer School, and in television guest appearances in such shows as Hot in Cleveland and Parks and Recreation. As an adult I would discover his wonderful work on Your Show of Shows. More recently I have enjoyed his many idiosyncratic tweets on Twitter. Carl Reiner has always been one of my heroes, ever since childhood. Sadly, Carl Reiner died last night, June 29 2020, at the age of 98.

Carl Reiner was born on March 20 1922 in the Bronx, New York City. His father, Irving, was a watchmaker. His mother, Bessie (née Mathias), was a homemaker. Following his graduation from Evander Childs High School in the Bronx, he worked as a machinist's helper. His older brother Charlie referred to Carl Reiner to a newspaper article about a free acting class that was being given by the Works Progress Administration. Carl Reiner proved to have a gift for acting and so he decided to go into acting.

During World War II Mr. Reiner served in the Army Air Forces. He trained as a radio operator, but following a three month bout with pneumonia he was trained as a French interpreter. He served as a teleprint operator before being transferred to Special Services to serve as an entertainer. Carl Reiner performed all around the Pacific Theatre.

After receiving an honourable discharge from the military, Carl Reiner joined the road company for the musical revue Call Me Mister. He made his debut on Broadway in Inside U.S.A. in 1948 and in 1950 he appeared on Broadway in Alive and Kicking. On television he was a regular on The Fifty-Forth Street Revue and the host of Floor Show. He appeared on such shows Texaco Star Theatre Starring Milton Berle, Cavalcade of Stars, The Kate Smith Hour, and The Arthur Murray Party. It was in 1950 that producer Max Liebman cast Carl Reiner on the legendary variety show Your Show of Shows. Although part of a cast that included Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, and Howard Morris, Mr. Reiner also worked as a writer on the show. It would be on Your Show of Shows that Carl Reiner met his comedy partner and best friend Mel Brooks. Your Show of Shows received both critical acclaim and high ratings. It ran for four seasons.

In the Fifties, after Your Show of Shows ended its run, Carl Reiner again appeared with Sid Caesar on Caesar's Hour. He once more worked as a writer on the show, alongside Mel Brooks. Later in the decade Carl Reiner served as the host of the game show Keep Talking and was a regular for one season on The Dinah Shore Chevy Show. He appeared on such shows as Campbell Playhouse, Kraft Television Theatre, The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, Playhouse 90, and Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse. It was in 1959 that Carl Reiner developed the television pilot Head of the Family. It aired on Comedy Spot, collection of sitcom pilots. For whatever reason, CBS did not like Carl Reiner in the lead and rejected the pilot. It would be recast with Dick Van Dyke as the lead and became The Dick Van Dyke Show. Carl Reiner made his movie debut in Happy Anniversary in 1959. In the late Fifties he also appeared in the film The Gazebo (1959).  In 1958 his autobiographical novel Enter Laughing was published. The book 2000 Years With: Carl Reiner & Mel Brooks, co-written by Mel Brooks, was published in 1960.  In 1960 the comedy album, 2000 Years with Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks, was released

It was in 1961 that The Dick Van Dyke Show debuted. Carl Reiner was not only the show's creator, but its producer and head writer. He also played the recurring role of the egocentric and overbearing Alan Brady, star of The Alan Brady Show. It was on the series that he began his directorial career. The Dick Van Dyke Show proved to be a hit in the ratings in its second season, and it also received a good deal of critical acclaim. It won 15 Emmy Awards and was nominated for a total of 25. The Dick Van Dyke Show would have a lasting impact on television comedy and can still be seen today on local television stations, cable channels, and streaming services.

In the Sixties Carl Reiner also appeared on the television special The Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner, Howard Morris Special, which essentially a Your Show of Shows reunion. He also wrote on the special. He was the voice of Billie the Bird on the Saturday morning cartoon Linus the Lion Hearted. Carl Reiner was also the host of the game show The Celebrity Game and appeared on the shows The New Steve Allen Show,Burke's Law, The Hollywood Palace, Good Morning World, The Andy Williams Show, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, The Joey Bishop Show, That Girl, The Dick Frost Show, and Laugh-In. He also directed his first feature film, Enter Laughing (1967). He followed it with The Comic (1969) and Where's Poppa? (1970). He appeared in the films Gidget Goes Hawaiian (1961), The Thrill of It All (1963), It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963), The Art of Love (1965), The Russians Are Coming The Russians Are Coming (1966), A Guide for the Married Man (1967), The Comic (1969), and Generation. The comedy album 2000 and One Years with Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks was released in 1961 and Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks at the Cannes Film Festival was released in 2001. He appeared on Broadway in Enter Laughing (based on his own novel) and Something Different.

In the Seventies Carl Reiner created the television shows The New Dick Van Dyke Show, and Lotsa Luck!. Mr. Reiner and Mel Brooks wrote the animated television special The 2000 Year Old Man, based on their comedy sketch of the same name. He also wrote the failed pilot Flannery and Quilt. He directed the movies Oh, God! (1977), The One and Only (1978), and The Jerk (1979). He starred as Mr. Angel on the television series Good Heavens. He guest starred on the TV shows The New Doctors, The New Dick Van Dyke Show, The Carol Burnett Show, and Medical Story.He appeared in the movies Oh, God! (1973), The End (1978), and The Jerk (1979). Archival footage of Mr. Reiner appeared in the movie Ten from Your Show of Shows (1973), a compilation of sketches from Your Show of Shows. He was the voice of the interviewer in the television special The 2000 Year Old Man. He appeared on Broadway in Tough to Get Help; So Long, 174th Street, and The Roast. In 1973 the record 2000 and Thirteen with Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks was released.

In the Eighties Carl Reiner directed the movies Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982), The Man with Two Brains (1983), All of Me (1984), Summer Rental (1985), Summer School (1987), Bert Rigby, You're a Fool (1989), and Sibling Rivalry (1990). He was the voice of God in Mel Brooks's movie History of the World: Part I (1981) and provided the voice of the narrator of a newsreel (reprising his role as Alan Brady at the same time) in the movie In the Mood (1987). He appeared in the films Dead Men Don't War Plaid (1982), Summer School (1987), and The Spirit of '76 (1990). On television he appeared in various TV movies, and guest starred on Faerie Tale Theatre.

In the Nineties Carl Reiner directed the movies Fatal Instinct (1993) and That Old Feeling (1997). He guest starred on the shows Frasier, Mad About You (reprising his role of Alan Brady), The Larry Sanders Show, Beggars and Choosers, and Family Law. He was a guest voice on the animated shows Duckman: Private Dick/Family Man, Hercules, and King of the Hill. He appeared in the movies Fatal Instict (1993), Slums of Beverly Hills (1998), and The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle (2000). During decade his books All Kinds of Love, Continue Laughing, How Paul Robeson Saved My Life (and Other Mostly Happy Stories), and The 2000 Year-Old Man in the Year 2000: The Book. His comedy albums Excerpts from The Complete 2000 Year Old Man and The 2000 Year Old Man in the Year 2000 were also released during the decade.

In the Naughts Carl Reiner wrote the television specials The Alan Brady Show and The Dick Van Dyke Show Revisited. He provided a voice for The Alan Brady Show and appeared on The Dick Van Dyke Show Revisited as well. Mr. Reiner had recurring roles on Life with Bonnie, The Bernie Mac Show, and Two and a Half Men. He voiced the recurring character Murray on The Cleveland Show and voiced the regular character Sarmoti on King of the Pride. He guest starred on Crossing Jordan, Ally McBeal, Boston Legal, and House M.D. He appeared in the movies Ocean's Eleven (2001), Ocean's Twelve (2004), and Ocean's Thirteen (2007). He provided the voice of a studio executive in The Majestic (2001). He provided voices for the animated films Good Boy! (2003) and Khan kluay (2006). He wrote the books My Anecdotal Life: A Memoir, NNNNN: A Novel, Tell Me Another Scary Story... But Not Too Scary! (with James Bennett), Just Desserts: A Novellelah, and Tell Me a Silly Story (with James Bennett).

In the Teens Carl Reiner wrote an episode of The Cleveland Show. He had a recurring role on Hot in Cleveland and continued to appear on Two and a Half Men. He guest starred on the shows Parks and Recreation, Young & Hungry and Angie Tribeca. He was a guest voice on such shows as Bob's Burgers, American Dad!, Wordgirl, Shimmer and Shine, Jake and the Never Land Pirates, Justice League Action, and Family Guy. He appeared in the movie Dumbbells (2014). He provided voices for the animated films Duck Duck Goose (2018) and Toy Story 4 (2019). He wrote the books I Remember Me, I Just Remembered, What I Forgot, Why & When The Dick Van Dyke Show Was Born, Carl Reiner, Now You're Ninety-Four: A Graphic Diary, and You Say God Bless You for Sneezing and Farting!.

In the past decade Carl Reiner has also been active on social media, particularly Twitter. He was closely associated with Turner Classic Movies. At the 2017 TCM Classic Film Festival he attended a hand print ceremony with his son Rob Reiner at Grauman's Chinese Theatre and he was a guest at other TCM Classic Film Festivals. He also worked with MeTV, appearing in promos for the channel and even hosting marathons of his favourite episodes of The Dick Van Dyke Show.

Even if creating, writing, and producing The Dick Van Dyke Show had been the only thing Carl Reiner had done, he would be remembered. Nearly sixty years after its debut, The Dick Van Dyke Show remains regarded as one of the greatest shows ever made. Its influence can be felt on everything from Murphy Brown to Parks and Recreation. It made both Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore stars. Carl Reiner's contributions to popular culture would go far beyond The Dick Van Dyke Show. He was both one of the cast and one of the writers on Your Show of Shows, which would have an impact on every sketch comedy show and variety show made ever since. He directed a number of highly regarded films, including Enter Laughing, Where's Poppa?, The Jerk, and Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid. He and Mel Brooks created one of the greatest comedy sketches of all time, The 2000 Year Old Man. He wrote books, recorded comedy albums, and even appeared on Broadway.

While Carl Reiner is best remembered as a writer and director, he was also an actor of considerable talent. Mr. Reiner had not planned to appear on screen as Alan Brady on The Dick Van Dyke Show, but in doing so he made an already great show that much greater. He made many notable guest appearances on many shows and played many  roles in movies, playing a wide array of characters and making even lesser movies worth watching. And while Carl Reiner was best known for his comic roles, he could handle more serious roles, including guest appearances on such shows as The New Doctors and House M.D.

If Carl Reiner had something of an ego, no one could have blamed him given his achievements. Despite this, he remained humble. When asked how he would like to be remembered, he simply said something to the effect of, "He made a difference. He made people laugh." Carl Reiner was not simply a humble man of considerable talent, but he was also a man who was warm, open, friendly, and kind. While I never met Mr. Reiner myself, I know people who have and I even know one person who corresponded with him. Every one of them had the same thing to say of Carl Reiner, that he was one of the nicest, warmest, funniest men one could ever hope to meet. Carl Reiner was passionate about human rights and equality, often addressing those issues on his Twitter account.

Carl Reiner was utterly unique. He was an incredible talent, equally adept at writing, directing, and performing. He created TV shows and movies that have had a lasting impact to this day. Mr. Reiner was effortlessly funny, extremely nice, and passionate about justice and equality. Carl Reiner was a true gentleman and the very definition of a mensch. There will never be another like him.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Thoughts on Ray Harryhausen's 100th Birthday

It was 100 years ago today that Ray Harryhausen was born in Los Angeles, California. Not only is Mr. Harryhausen known as the inventor of the form of stop-motion animation known as "Dynamation," but many consider the greatest stop-motion animator of all time. In many respects, Mr. Harryhausen could be considered an "auteur" in the same way that many directors are. It was Ray Harryhausen who initially conceived the movies on which he worked and, even when he did not come up with the initial idea, he often had considerable input in the films' screenplays given how integral his Dynamation and other effects were to the films. He would have a lasting impact on a long list of filmmakers, including such names as Tim Burton, Joe Dante, Peter Jackson, John Landis, and Sam Raimi. George Lucas has said that without Ray Harryhausen, there would be no Star Wars. Of course, Ray Harryhausen would also have an impact on movie fans around the world. I can be counted among them.

Before I even turned 18 I saw many of Ray Harryhausen's films, and I would see yet more once I reached adulthood. In fact, the first movie I can ever remember watching all the way through was Jason and the Argonauts (1963). I am not absolutely sure when I saw it, but I know I was very young and I know that it was on one of CBS's movie anthology shows. I also believe it was in the autumn, but I cannot be certain of that fact. Jason and the Argonauts aired on Thanksgiving night, November 24 1966, on The CBS Thursday Night Movies. It was repeated later in the season on July 28 1967 on The CBS Saturday Night Movies. While I cannot remember the exact date of when I first saw Jason and the Argonauts, the climactic battle with skeleton warriors would stick with me ever since. When I saw it again when I was a little older, it was as if I was younger again.

Of course, there is little wonder that I should remember Jason and the Argonauts from my early childhood. Ray Harryhausen regarded it as his best film, and it received critical acclaim. The review from the December 31 1962 issue of Variety stated, "The $3 million film has a workable scenario and has been directed resourcefully and spiritedly by Don Chaffey, under whose leadership a colourful cast performs with zeal" and praised Ray Harryhausen's creations. What might surprise many is that, despite the many good reviews Jason and the Argonauts received, it did not do well at the box office. It only made $2.1 million, far short of its $3 million budget. A planned sequel never emerged for that reason.

I am not sure what was the next Ray Harryhausen movie that I saw. During my childhood, before the days when sports over took weekend afternoons, it was not unusual for television stations to show movies on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Given the popularity of Ray Harryhausen's films, they were often shown on weekend afternoons. This is how I first saw many of his movies. Among them was The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958). I must have been around 9 years old at the time and, like Jason and the Argonauts before it, the movie had an impact on me. The cylcops, the Roc, and the cobra woman all made an impression on me. The 7th Voyage of Sinbad would receive good reviews. Unlike Jason and the Argonauts, it also performed well at the box office.

It was also on a Sunday afternoon that I first saw The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953). Not only was it one of the first Ray Harryhausen movies I ever saw, but it was also one of the first giant monster movies I ever saw, along with King Kong (1933) and the "Godzilla" movies. As a kid I was very impressed with The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, particularly the sequence with the lighthouse. At the time I was not aware of who Ray Harryhausen was and that he had made other movies that I loved. I was also not aware that it was based on a short story by Ray Bradbury, who was also a lifelong friend of Ray Harryhausen.

By the time I saw The Valley of Gwangi (1969) I was well aware of who Ray Harryhausen was. In fact, I was looking forward to it when it aired on one of our local stations on a Sunday afternoon. Like many boys of Generation X I had a love of dinosaurs, monster movies, and Westerns, and The Valley of Gwangi combined all three. Producer Charles Scheer, who worked with Ray Harryhausen throughout his career, called it "...probably the least of the movies Ray and I made together." I disagree with Mr. Scheer's assessment, as it remains one of my favourite Ray Harryhausen films of all time.

It would be in the late Seventies that I would see The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973) and its sequel, Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977). I thoroughly enjoyed The Golden Voyage of Sinbad. It was a throwback to Ray Harryhausen's earlier films, such as The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and Jason and the Argonauts. It also received generally favourable reviews. Unfortunately, I was disappointed by Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger. While Ray Harryhausen's Dynamation was as good as ever, I thought its plot was weaker than many of his films. It remains one of the few Ray Harryhausen films that actually disappointed me.

Sadly, as much as I love Ray Harryhausen's movies. There is only one that I have seen in the theatre. I saw Clash of the Titans (1981) on its opening weekend. I enjoyed the film a good deal and it was great to finally see Ray Harryhausen's work on the big screen. For whatever reason the film received mixed reviews upon its release. Robert Ebert gave Clash of the Titans three and a half stars out of four and praised Ray Harryhausen's stop-motion animation techniques. In contrast, Variety called the film, "...an unbearable bore of a film that will probably put to sleep the few adults stuck taking the kids to it." Fortunately, I think most people who have seen it ever since tend to agree with Roger Ebert's assessment. In fact, I know a few people who count it among Ray Harryhausen's best films.

Regardless, Ray Harryhausen has had a lasting impact on movie fans around the world and has influenced a number of movies. As I mentioned earlier, George Lucas said that it were not for Ray Harryhausen there would not be a Star Wars. Sam Raimi has spoken of the influence of Ray Harryhausen's movies (particularly The 7th Voyage of Sinbad) on his movie Army of Darkness. Peter Jackson has said, "The Lord of the Rings is my Ray Harryhausen movie." Even the "Godzilla" movies owe something to Ray Harryhausen, the first film, Gojira (1954), having been inspired by The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. Ray Harryhausen's work would have an impact on many, from classic film buffs like myself, to producers and directors throughout the years.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Lawsuit for Shooting Death of Vanessa Marquez

Below is a press release from the law offices of of Vicki I. Sarmiento; Schonbrun Seplow Harris Hoffman & Zeldes LLP; and the Law Office of Dale K. Galipo regarding the filing of a wrongful death action over the shooting death of my dearest Vanessa Marquez on August 30 2018. While the action was filed yesterday, I had known about it for sometime beforehand, from both Vanessa's mother Delia and her lawyer Vicki Sarmiento. As mentioned in the press release, friends and supporters of Vanessa gathered at South Pasadena City Hall to announce the filing. A protest, organized by London Lang, was also held by South Pasadena Youth for Police Reform. I only wish that I could have been there.

I must say that I am very happy that a wrongful death action has been taken on behalf of Vanessa's mother Delia. I know the past 20 months have been difficult for her. I know for myself that losing Vanessa has been made all the more worse by the fact that there has been no justice for her. I do not believe for a moment that the Los Angeles County District Attorney Office's report on  Vanessa's death was fair, unbiased, or truthful. I honestly believe that the City of South Pasadena, the South Pasadena Police Department, and the police officers present in her apartment on that day showed depraved indifference to Vanessa's life and used excessive force in killing her. Since the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office was derelict in their duty to see that Vanessa received justice, then perhaps she can receive justice in the civil courts.

Anyway, below is the press release.

PRESS RELEASE

LAWSUIT FOR SHOOTING DEATH OF VANESSA MARQUEZ


The Law Offices of Vicki I. Sarmiento; Schonbrun Seplow Harris Hoffman & Zeldes LLP; and the Law Office of Dale K. Galipo announce the filing of a wrongful death action over the killing of Vanessa Marquez by South Pasadena police officers in August 2018. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Ms. Marquez’ mother Delia McElfresh this morning in Los Angeles Superior Court.

Ms. Marquez achieved fame as an actress in the popular 1988 movie Stand and Deliver. Ms. Marquez was living in South Pasadena when a friend asked paramedics to check on her. The paramedics brought South Pasadena police officers who disregarded the paramedic’s decision that Ms. Marquez had a right to refuse to be taken to thehospital and instead created a confrontation that led to her unnecessary death.

“This is exactly the kind of lethal and unnecessary police action,” said Vicki Sarmiento, one of the lawyers in the case, “that has led so many in the country to call out for police reform”. This was a situation in which Ms. Marquez was in her home minding her own business and instead of receiving assistance from medical professionals she was shot to death.”

Ms. McElfresh was hesitant in initiating litigation and had hoped that police officers who killed her daughter would be held accountable. However, seeing that this will not happen she is filing suit against the police because her daughter deserves justice and her day in court. This is a time when the killing of innocent people by police officers must be investigated fully and the officers held accountable.

Supporters of Ms. Marquez, including actor Richard Montoya and members of the cast of Stand and Deliver, Patrick Baca, Will Gotay, Ingrid Oliu and Daniel Villarreal will gather on the grounds of the South Pasadena City Hall at 2PM on Wednesday June 24th.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

The Late Great Sir Ian Holm

Sir Ian Holm, who starred in such movies as Alien (1979), Chariots of Fire (1981), Brazil (1985), and two of the three films in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, died on June 19 2020 at the age of 88.

Sir Ian Holm was born on September 12 1931 in Goodmayes, Essex. His father was a psychiatrist and superintendent at the West Ham Corporation Mental Hospital. His mother was a nurse. He attended Chigwell School in Essex. He took an interest in acting while very young. He trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, with his studies there interrupted by National Service in the British Army. He graduated from RADA in 1953. He went on to the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford and became part of the Royal Shakespeare Company when it was founded in 1960.

Sir Ian Holm made his London stage debut in 1956 in a production of Love Affair. He  made his television debut in 1957 in episodes of ITV Play of the Week.  In the late Fifties he appeared in television productions of Robert's Wife and A Midsummer Night's Dream. In the Sixties he appeared in the mini-series The War of the Roses, playing Richard of Gloucester. He appeared on the TV series Theatre Night, The Power Game, Mystery and Imagination, The Wednesday Play, ITV Saturday Night Theatre, and Armchair Theatre. He appeared in the movies The Bofors Gun (1968), The Fixer (1968), A Midsummer Night's Dream (1969), and Oh! What a Lovely War (1969). He appeared on Broadway in 1967 in The Homecoming.

In the Seventies Mr. Holm appeared in the mini-series Napoleon and Love, Conjugal Rights, The Lives of Benjamin Franklin, Jesus of Nazareth, and We, the Accused. He appeared on the TV shows Review, ITV Playhouse, The Man from Haven, The Frighteners, Orson Welles' Great Mysteries, Masquerade, BBC Play of the Month, Jubilee, and The Lost Boys. He appeared in the movies A Severed Head (1971), Nicholas and Alexandra (1971), Mary, Queen of Scots (1971), Young Winston (1972), The Homecoming (1973), Juggernaut (1974), Robin and Marian (1973), Juggernaut (1974), Robin and Marian (1976), Shout at the Devil (1976), March or Die (1977), and Alien (1979).

In the Eighties Sir Ian Holm appeared in the movies Chariots of Fire (1981), Time Bandits (1981), The Return of the Soldier (1982), Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984), Laughterhouse (1984), Brazil (1985), Wetherby (1985), Dance with a Stranger (1985), Dreamchild (1985), Another Woman (1988), Henry V (1989), and Hamlet (1990). He appeared on the TV series The Bell, Tales of the Unexpected; Play for Today; Artists and Models; and Game, Set, and Match. He appeared in the mini-series The Endless Game.

In the Nineties Mr. Holm appeared in the movies Kafka (1991), Naked Lunch (1991), Blue Ice (1992), The Hour of the Pig (1993), Frankenstein (1994), The Madness of King George (1994), Big Night (1996), Loch Ness (1996), Night Falls on Manhattan (1996), The Fifth Element (1997), The Sweet Hereafter (1997), A Life Less Ordinary (1997), eXistenZ (1999), Simon Magus (1999), Shergar (1999), The Match (1999), Joe Gould's Secret (2000), Esther Kahn (2000), Beautiful Joe (2000), and Bless the Child (2000). On television he appeared in the mini-series The Borrowers.  He appeared in the TV series Screen Two, Chillers, The Return of the Borrowers, and Performance. He was the voice of Squealer in a TV movie adaptation of Animal Farm.

In the Naughts Sir Ian Holm appeared in the movies From Hell (2001), The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003), Garden State (2004), The Day After Tomorrow (2004), The Aviator (2004), Strangers with Candy (2005), Chromophobia (2005), Lord of War (2005), The Treatment (2006), and O Jerusalem (2006). He provided voices for the animated films The Emperor's New Clothes (2001) and Ratatouille (2007).  In the Teens he appeared in the films The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014).

Sir Ian Holm was an actor of incredible talent who gave a number of impressive performances and played a diverse number of roles. Among his best was lawyer Mitchell Stephens in The Sweet Hereafter, whose relationship with his drug addict daughter was very strained. Among his best known roles is Ash in Alien, the relatively emotionless and logical science officer of the Nostromo. In Brazil he was the anxiety-ridden Kurtzmann. He played some very famous figures from both history and literature. He played Napoleon multiple times, in the TV mini-series Napoleon and Love and the movies Time Bandits and The Emperor's New Groove. And, of course, he was Bilbo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies. In Robin and Marian he played King John. Sir Ian Holm won multiple BAFTA awards, as well as numerous other awards. Given his talent in delivering great performances in multiple roles, there should be little wonder why.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Announcing the 7th Annual Rule, Britannia Blogathon

I am proud to announce the 7th Annual Rule Britannia Blogathon, which will take place on September 25, 26, and 27 2020. Many of you might remember that the blogathon has traditionally taken place the first week of August, but I have two reasons for moving it. The first is that it totally slipped my mind to announce the blogathon, which I usually do in late May or early June. Since it is now early June, I thought a later date would give participants more time to choose the movie they want to write about. The second is that August is a truly difficult month for me, as many of you may well know. Given both these reasons, it seems to me that a late September date is better.

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 2010. 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 September 25, 26, and 27 .

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
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Below is a roster of participants and the topics they are covering. Come September 25 I will make a post that will include all of the posts in the blogathon:

Liberal England: Canterbury Tales
Caftan Woman: I See a Dark Stranger (1946)
Wide Screen World: Black Narcissus (1947)
 A Scunner Darkly: Oliver Tobias in The Stud (1979)
Realweegiemidget Reviews:  Deadly Strangers (1975)
Taking Up Room: A Yank at Oxford
Silver Screenings: Rich and Strange (1931) 
Dubsisim: ffolkes (1980)
 
Below are several banners for participants in the blogathon to use (or you can always make your own):


Friday, June 19, 2020

The Late Great Dame Vera Lynn

Dame Vera Lynn, who buoyed the spirits of Britain during World War II with her songs, died yesterday, December 18 2020, at the age of 103.

Dame Vera Lynn was born Vera Margaret Welch on March 20 1917 in East Ham, Essex. Her father was a plumber and her mother was a dressmaker. She was only seven years old when she began performing. For her stage name, when she was eleven she took her grandmother Margaret Lynn's maiden name. She made her debut on radio with the Joe Loss Orchestra in 1935. She also appeared on the Joe Loss Orchestra's records. In 1936 her first solo record, "Up the Wooden Hill to Bedfordshire," was released by Crown Records. The Crown label would become part of Decca Records in 1938. She moved form the Joe Loss Orchestra to Charlie Kurtz's band. In 1937 she moved onto Bert Ambrose & His Orchestra. For much of this period she also worked as an administrative assistant to the head of a shipping management company in the East End of London. It was in 1937 that Dame Vera had her first hits with "The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot" and "Red Sails in the Sunset."

It was in 1939 that Dame Vera Lynn's signature song, "We'll Meet Again," was released. Not only did the song become a huge hit, but it also became an anthem of hope for the United Kingdom during World War II. It was during the Phoney War (the eight month period at the start of World War II when very little was happening) that British servicemen named Vera Lynn as their favourite performer in a poll conducted by the Daily Express. She was afterwards known as "the Forces' Sweetheart." It was in 1940 that she became a solo act, making her debut as such in Conventry.

It was in 1941 that Dame Vera Lynn received her own radio show, Sincerely Yours. The show proved enormously popular, attracting 20% of the British population and receiving 2000 requests a week, and resonated with Britain's troops abroad. Unfortunately, some blamed sentimental popular music following losses in Southeast Asia and North Africa, claiming that such music was bad for the troops' morale. In 1942 Sincerely Yours was then cancelled 18 months, although Dame Vera Lynn's popularity with the British and their military guaranteed she would return to radio.

Regardless of the cancellation of her radio show, Dame Vera Lynn continued to perform songs requested by servicemen and visited new mothers in hospitals to send messages to their husbands overseas. She joined the e Entertainments National Service Association and entertained the troops abroad, even British guerillas in Japanese-occupied Burma. Her second major hit, "The White Cliffs of Dover," was released in 1943. During the war years, Dame Vera appeared in the movies We'll Meet Again (1943), Rhythm Serenade (1943), and One Exciting Night (1944).

Although Dame Vera Lynn would remain identified with World War II, her career would continue strong after the war. She would become one of the earliest British artists to have hits on the Billboard singles chart. She hit no. 9 on the chart with "You Can't Be True Dear" in 1949. In 1953 she became the first British artist to have a number one record in the United States with "Auf Wiederseh'n, Sweetheart," also a top ten hit in Britain. Her first album, Sincerely Yours, was released in 1949. Throughout the Fifties Dame Vera Lynn continued to have hits, including "Forget-Me-Not," "The Horning Waltz," "My Son, My Son," and "A House with Love in It." She would also hit the Billboard chart in the United States with "Yours (Quiéreme Mucho)," "If You Love Me (Really Love Me)," and "My Son, My Son."

With the arrival of rock 'n' roll, Dame Vera Lynn would no longer have much in the way of hit singles, although she continued to release albums on a regular basis. She would ultimately release over twenty studio albums. Dame Vera retired in the early Nineties, but it would not last long. To mark the 50th anniversary of VE Day she performed outside of Buckingham Palace. She then began performing again. In 2005 she performed at a concert in Trafalgar Square marking the 60th anniversary of VE Day. It was in 2009 that she became the oldest person to have a number 1 album on the UK album chart when her compilation album, We'll Meet Again: The Very Best of Vera Lynn, hit no. 1. In 2010 her final studio album, Unforgettable, was released.  A new compilation album, Vera Lynn 100, was released just three days before her 100th birthday in 2017. She became the first centenarian to have a hit album.

It was in 1975 that Dame Vera Lynn was knighted in the Queen's Birthday Honours. She had also been awarded the War Medal 1939-1945 and the Burma Star. Dame Vera Lynn was devoted to various charities. In 1954 she founded the Stars Organisation for Spastics, originally part of the cerebral palsy charity the National Spastics Society, which was later renamed Scope. In 1976 she founded the Vera Lynn Charity Breast Cancer Research Trust. In 2001 she became president of The Dame Vera Lynn Trust for Children with Cerebral Palsy. She was a patron of the Forces Literary Organisation Worldwide for ALL, the Dover War Memorial Project, and Projects to Support Refugees from Burma/Help 4 Forgotten Allies.

Americans may find it difficult to fully know the importance of Dame Vera Lynn. She was not simply the first British artist to have a number one record in the United States. It is with good reason that in 2000 she was named the Briton who best exemplified the spirit of the 20th Century. Dame Vera Lynn brought hope to the United Kingdom during their darkest hours. Her songs during World War II not only comforted and buoyed the British at home, but their armed forces fighting abroad. Dame Vera Lynn devoted herself to keeping up the troop's morales, even travelling to entertain them in war-torn areas. Dame Vera Lynn was still there for the British on her 103rd birthday, when she once more issued a message of hope for the United Kingdom amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. So strong was the hope that Dame Vera Lynn gave the British that when Her Royal Majesty Queen Elizabeth II addressed the United Kingdom while it was under lockdown, she evoked Dame Vera's signature song, "We'll Meet Again."

There can be little argument that Dame Vera Lynn's songs were overly sentimental, but she delivered them with such sincerity and honesty that all but the greatest cynics could not be moved. Furthermore, she sang with perfect pitch and perfect English enunciation. If Dame Vera Lynn's appeal has lasted for over eighty years, it was because she was not only gifted with a remarkable voice and remarkable talent, but because she had that rare ability to bring hope even when it seemed as if there were none.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

The Late, Great Denny O'Neil

Legendary comic book writer Denny O'Neil, who also worked under his given name of Dennis O'Neil, died on June 11 2020 at the age of 81. The cause was cardiopulmonary arrest. Mr. O'Neil was best known for returning Batman to his roots as the Dark Knight and bringing social relevance to comic books through Green Lantern/Green Arrow.

Dennis O'Neil was born on May 3 1939 in St. Louis, Missouri. His father ran a grocery store, while his other was a housewife. Like most children of the era, young Denny O'Neil read comic books. He listened to such radio shows as Adventures of Superman and Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy. He attended St. Louis University and received a Bachelor of Science in 1961. After graduating from college he enlisted in the United States Navy and took pat in the blockade of Cuba that took place during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Following his service, Mr. O'Neil returned to St. Louis where he worked as a substitute teacher for a year. He then took a job with a newspaper in Cape Girardeau, Missouri as a reporter. There he worked on a bi-weekly column on youth. Noticing the increasing popularity of comic books, he wrote some articles on the medium for the column. These articles came to the attention of comic book superfan and an editor at Marvel Comics Roy Thomas, whose parents subscribed to the newspaper. Roy Thomas asked Mr. O'Neil to take the Marvel writing test, which consisted of adding dialogue to four pages from the Fantastic Four Annual (illustrated by Jack Kirby). Stan Lee then offered him a job at Marvel Comics.

At Marvel Comics, Mr. O'Neil worked on such titles as Daredevil, Strange Tales (featuring Doctor Strange), Millie the Model, Rawhide Kid, and The Two-Gun Kid, Chamber of Darkness, and X-Men. It was on The Uncanny X-Men that he first worked with artist Neal Adams, with whom he would work on Green Lantern/ Green Arrow and Batman. It was Messrs. O'Neil and Adams who returned Professor Xavier to the pages of The Uncanny X-Men no. 65 (February 1970) , after the character had been killed off in The Uncanny X-Men no. 42 (March 1968).

Dennis O'Neil then took a job with Charlton Comics, using the pen name Sergius O'Shaugnessy. He worked under editor Dick Giordano. At Charlton, he worked on the titles Thunderbolt, Abbott and Costello, and Space Adventures. Mr. O'Neil worked at Charlton Comics for about a year when Dick Giordano was hired by National Periodical Publications (now known as DC Comics). Mr. Giordano took several of Charlton's writers with him, including Denny O'Neil. Among his earliest work at DC was on the title Beware the Creeper, featuring the character The Creeper created by artist Steve Ditko. Denny O'Neil then worked on Wonder Woman, on which he made the controversial decision to strip Wonder Woman of her powers, cut her off from Paradise Island (home of the Amazons), and turn her into an international adventurer. Stripping Wonder Woman of her powers would prove very unpopular with the character's fans.

Fortunately, Mr O'Neil found more success at Justice League of America. He began introducing stories with social and political themes. Following  introduction of the character's new costume, designed by Neal Adams, Brave and the Bold no. 85 (September 1969), he also revamped The Green Arrow as a liberal, socially aware crusader on behalf of the underprivileged. He also worked on such titles as Bat Lash, Green Lantern, and Showcase.

It was in 1970 that Denny O'Neil and artist Neal Adams returned Batman to his roots as the Dark Knight following the camp approach that had come about with the classic 1966 TV show. Robin was sent off to college, so that Batman once more operated solo. He introduced archvillain Ra's al Ghul and his daughter Talia. He revived the villain Two-Face, who had been absent from comic books since 1954. After the character had become a practical joking clown, it was also Dennis O'Neil who returned The Joker to being a homicidal psychopath. It was during this period that Bruce Wayne also moved out of Wayne Manor and into the penthouse of the Wayne Foundation Building. Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams's retooling of Batman as something closer to the original Dark Knight would have a lasting impact on the character. Without Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams, there might not have been Frank Miller's graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns (which Mr. O'Neil edited), Tim Burton's two Batman movies, or "The Dark Knight Trilogy."

While Denny O'Neil's work on Batman would prove to be influential, so too would his work on Green Lantern. It was with Green Lantern vol. 2, no. 76 (April 1970) that Mr. O'Neil teamed Green Lantern up with Green Arrow, with the later character providing a liberal point of view and a voice for the underprivileged.  It would be the first American comic book to significantly deal with the social issues of the day. Through the next several issues, Green Lantern tackled such issues as racism, pollution, income inequality, and overpopulation. Perhaps the most memorable storyline occurred in Green Lantern vol. 2 no 85 (August 1971) and vol. 2 no. 86 (October 1971), in which Green Arrow discovers his former sidekick, Speedy, has become addicted to heroin. Unfortunately, sales for Green Lantern were poor and the title was cancelled with vol. 2 no. 89 (April 1972). Green Lantern would continue as a back-up feature with The Flash no. 217 (September 1972).

Although not as well remembered as his retooling of Batman, Denny O'Neil was also involved in a revamp of Superman. Kryptonite was entirely eliminated from Earth and Superman's powers were decreased. Much of Superman's mythos was also eliminated, including  the villains Mr. Mxyzptlk, Bizarro, and Titano, as well as Superman's dog Krypto. This reboot of Superman lasted only briefly. It began with Superman no. 233 (January 1971). Superman no. 243 (October) saw the return of a more traditional Superman.

Denny O'Neil continued to work on both Batman and Green Lantern for several years. From 1972 to 1975 he had a notable run on The Shadow, featuring the pulp character of the same name. He also wrote the four issues of the short-lived Justice Inc., based on the pulp character The Avenger. In the Seventies at DC, Mr. O'Neil worked on such titles as Adventure Comics, All-Star Western, The Joker, Shazam!, Superman, Sword of Sorcery, Richard Dragon Kung Fu Fighter, Tarzan, Time Warp, and Weird Worlds.

In 1980 Dennis O'Neil returned to Marvel Comics. He worked on The Amazing Spider-Man for a year. Afterwards he worked on Iron Man for four years. Among the most significant storylines he wrote for Iron Man was one in which Tony Stark must come to grips with his alcoholism. He also wrote Daredevil for two years. At Marvel he also worked on such titles as Deadly Hands of Kung Fu, the Dominic Fortune back-up feature in The Hulk, Moon Knight, and Power Man and Iron Fist.

In 1986 Dennis O'Neil returned to DC Comics as the editor of the Batman titles. He continued as their editor until 2000. He wrote The Question as well as Green Arrow. As might be expected, he continued to write Batman stories from time to time. He worked on such titles as Azrael, JLA, and Nightwing.

In addition to his work in comic books, Dennis O'Neil also wrote several novels, including The Bite of Monsters (1971) and Dragon's Fists – Richard Dragon, Kung Fu Master (with Jim Berry, 1974), as well as novels based featuring Batman and Green Lantern. Over the years he also wrote several stories and novellas published in such magazines as Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Fantastic Stories, and Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction. Dennis O'Neil also did some work in television, writing episodes of Logan's Run, Superboy, and Batman: The Animated Series.

Few writers have ever had the impact that Denny O'Neil had comic books. With Neal Adams, he returned Batman to the Dark Knight he originally was. There have very few incarnations of Batman in various media that have not been influenced by Mr. O'Neil's interpretation of Batman. The character of Ra's al Ghul, created by Mr. O'Neil, would become a permanent part of the Batman mythos. He also reintroduced Two-Face, who had been absent from comic books for over a decade. Through Green Lantern/Green Arrow he introduced social relevance into comic books, taking what had been considered a medium for children for much of the Sixties into more adult territory.  It would be Denny O'Neil who would set the stage for everything from The Dark Knight Returns to the various Batman movies.

Here I also have to say that Denny O'Neil may have had more of an influence on me than an other comic book writer save Bill Finger and Gardner Fox. The first comic book I ever read was Batman no. 234 (August 1971). Although I didn't realise it at the time, it was a historic issue. The main story, "Half an Evil," marked the first appearance of Two-Face in 17 years. A fan of the classic TV series Batman, I found the darker character written by Denny O'Neil much more appealing. I have been a fan of the Dark Knight ever since. My second favourite superhero is Green Lantern (although these days I prefer Alan Scott to Hal Jordan), and I have no doubt that much of this is because of Denny O'Neil's work with the character. If I became an avid reader of comic books (which led me to become a writer), I owe much of it to Dennis O'Neil.

Monday, June 15, 2020

The Apartment Premiered 60 Years Ago Today

It was sixty years ago today that The Apartment (1960) premiered at the Astor and Plaza theatres in New York City. The movie proved to be a hit at the box office. It also won the Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director (for Billy Wilder), Best Original Screenplay (for Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond), Best Art Direction – Black-and-White (for Alexandre Trauner and Edward G. Boyle), and Best Film Editing (for Daniel Mandell). It was also nominated for the Oscars for Best Actor (for Jack Lemmon), Best Actress (for Shirley MacLaine), Best Supporting Actor (for Jack Kruschen), Best Cinematography – Black-and-White (for Jack LaShelle), and Best Sound (for Gordon E. Sawyer).

I am not sure when I first saw The Apartment, but I know I was still young at the time. It has since become not only my favourite Billy Wilder movie, but my second favourite movie of all time (after Seven Samurai). As to why it is my second favourite movie of all time, much of it is because I consider it nearly perfect. Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond's screenplay is very sophisticated, equally comedy and drama, and is filled with complex characters. Indeed, even characters that only appear briefly on screen are fully realized human beings rather than cardboard cut-outs. Of course, even the best screenplay won't save a movie if the cast's performances are bad, but fortunately everyone in The Apartment turns in bravura performances. I honestly believe Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, and Jack Kruschen all deserved to win the Oscars for which they were nominated. Everything about the movie, from Billy Wilder's direction to Jack LaShelle's cinematography to Adolph Deutsch's score, is extraordinary.

I also have to admit that the story appeals to me. It is essentially the story of C. C. Baxter in his journey from a bit of a pushover (particularly when it comes to his superiors at Consolidated Life) to a mensch. When I was younger I think I was a bit like C. C. Baxter, but with a few more limits to my behaviour (I don't think I would let anyone borrow my house) so I can identify with the character. I also have to admit that the developing relationship between Baxter and Fran Kubelik has always held great appeal to me. People can describe movies such as An Affair to Remember and Titanic as romantic all they want. To me the most romantic movie of them all is The Apartment.

Of course, as much as I love The Apartment, it hasn't always been the easiest movie for me to watch. After I went through a bad break-up in the early Nineties, I couldn't watch it for six months. Ever since Vanessa's death in August 2018, I find that I cannot watch the movie without breaking down sobbing. We both loved the movie and, I have to confess, I thought of Vanessa as my Miss Kubelik.

Over the years I have written a lot about The Apartment, perhaps more than any other film. I won't post every single blog entry I have made dealing with The Apartment as there have been many, but here are three of them for you to read on its 60th anniversary.

"Billy Wilder's The Apartment (1960)"
"Jack Lemmon in The Apartment (1960)"
"Why The Apartment (1960) is a Christmas Movie"

Thursday, June 11, 2020

HBO Max and the Curation of Movies

It was earlier this week that the streaming service HBO Max pulled Gone with the Wind (1939) from their catalogue. This move proved to be controversial, with some individuals decrying it as censorship, some individuals applauding the decision, and yet others striking a stance somewhere in between. It was earlier today that HBO Max announced that it will be returning Gone with the Wind to its catalogue with an introduction from an African American scholar to place the movie in historical context.

While Gone with the Wind remains the highest grossing film of all time when adjusted for inflation, the movie has proven problematic from when it was first released. The depiction of African Americans in the film, as well as its romanticization of the antebellum South, have proven controversial for years. Many of my fellow Turner Classic Movies fans and I then support HBO Max's decision to provide an introduction to the film to place it in historical context.  In fact, like many of my fellow TCM fans, I believe that it was a mistake for HBO Max to raid TCM's content, but to provide none of the films with introductions of the sort that we see on Turner Classic Movies.

If you are a long-time reader of this blog, you know that I love the Golden Age of Hollywood. Despite this, I know how problematic films from the Golden Age can be with regards to depictions of ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation. Many films from the era portray stereotypes that would be considered offensive in the extreme today. Blackface can be seen in movies from The Jazz Singer (1927) to Holiday Inn (1942). While I love Westerns, there are some from the era I actively avoid as their depictions of Native Americans offend me as someone of Cherokee descent. And here I want to point out that offensive content with regards to ethnicity is not limited to films released during the Golden Age of Hollywood. Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961) featured Mickey Rooney in yellowface playing a very offensive Japanese stereotype. Twenty three years later Sixteen Candles (1983) featured an Asian actor, Gedde Watanabe, playing another offensive Asian stereotype.

Given the history of Hollywood, then it should come as no surprise that Gone with the Wind is hardly the only movie with offensive content on HBO Max. When I had my free trial of HBO Max, I noticed that the service features The Searchers (1956), considered by some to be John Ford's greatest film (I am not among them). While the film does not condone the racism of the settlers in the film (particularly that of its lead character, Ethan Edwards), its portrayal of the Comanches as "savage Indians" makes the movie extremely problematic. From my standpoint, The Searchers should be provided with an introduction by a Native American scholar to place it in historical context.

Indeed, to me providing problematic movies with introductions to place them in historical context should be de rigueur for both streaming services and cable channels. It is a much better solution than the way Disney has handled Song of the South (1946), which was to simply pull it form circulation entirely. Song of the South is simply available nowhere. It never received a VHS release or a DVD release in the United States, and it has never been released on any streaming service. While I am aware that the film contains some offensive content, I think this is a mistake. Entirely removing a film from circulation is effectively erasing history. What is more, making a film with offensive stereotypes unavailable is no guarantee that similar offensive stereotypes won't continue to appear in the media. What will reduce the continuation of offensive stereotypes is education, which means providing films featuring such stereotypes (The Searchers, Song of the South) with introductions to put them in context.

While I love the Golden Age of Hollywood, I will not pretend that everything in films released during the era is pretty. At the same time, I do not want to see these films removed from circulation as they are part of our collective history. Providing films with introductions or making audio commentary available on DVDs to add historical context insures that these films can continue being seen, while at the same time educating the viewer. To quote George Santayana, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Twitter Should Allow Users to Disable Autorefresh

It was on June 1 2020 that Twitter finally shut down its old layout. For those of you who may have never used Twitter or have forgotten, on the old Twitter layout whenver one had new tweets in their feed, there was a message at the top of the feed letting you know there were "(fill in the blank) New Tweets. When one was ready, then, they could click on the message and the new tweets would load. Unfortunately, this is not the case with the new layout that was rolled in July 2019. The new layout introduced autorefresh, so that one might be reading a tweet only to have their feed suddenly refresh. Then one has to scroll down and find the tweet that they were reading.

Twitter's new layout has hardly been a roaring success (many, like myself, actively dislike it), and among the biggest complaints about the new layout has been autorefresh. To wit, a few days ago I was about to reply to a tweet when the feed suddenly refreshed. I was forced to scroll down my feed in order to find the tweet again. Sadly, looking at people's tweets, I am not the only one who objects to autorefresh. In fact, people have been complaining about it since July 2019.

Here I have to point out there are complaints from people who use the web version of Twitter (like myself), the Android version, and the iPhone version. I have read that one can access "Accessibility" under Settings, and click on "Reduce Motion" to minimise autorefresh on Twitter. Unfortunately, while it might work on the mobile apps, it appears to have no effect on the web version of Twitter.

The past few years Twitter has been all about engagement, even though in my ten plus years of using Twitter I have never noticed a lack of engagement on the social media service. What Twitter might be missing is that autorefresh (like the algorithm they seem to want to force on everyone) actually makes engagement more difficult. After all, I have to suspect that here have been plenty of times when people were about to reply to a tweet when the feed refreshed. In many cases they may have scrolled down to find the tweet again, and failing to do so, simply gave up. It then behooves Twitter to fix the autorefresh problem.

My suggestion to Twitter is simply to allow people to disable autorefresh. There could be a place in settings (perhaps under Display or Accessibility) where one could simply check a box labelled "Disable Autorefresh." Once disabled, Twitter would no longer autorefresh and would instead display the old message at the top of one's feed when there are new tweets. I know I would be very happy about that. And I know that it would make many other people happy too.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Godspeed Sweet Bassist Steve Priest

Steve Priest, the long time bassist for glam rock/power pop band Sweet, died yesterday, June 4 2020, at the age of 72. No cause of death has been given.

Steve Priest was born on February 23 1948 in Hayes, Middlesex. He was a fan of such groups as The Shadows, The Rolling Stones, and The Who. He was still a teenager when he built his own bass guitar. He played for time with The Countdowns. In the mid-Sixties he joined the band The Army. Mr. Priest was still with The Army when he formed The Sweetshop with vocalist Brian Connolly, guitarist Frank Torpey, and drummer Mick Taylor. In 1969 Frank Torpey was replaced by Mick Stewart. It after Mick Taylor left that Andy Scott took over on guitar in 1970. With the addition of Andy Scott, the classic line-up of Sweet was formed.

The Sweetshop's name would be shortened to The Sweet and it was under that name that their first album, Funny How Sweet Co-Co Can Be was released in 1971. It was that same year that The Sweet had their first hit with "Funny Funny", which went to no. 13 on the UK singles chart. Their following single "Co-Co" would perform even better, reaching no. 2 on the chart. The Sweet would have several more hits on the UK singles chart from 1972 to 1973, including "Little Willy," "Wig Wam Bam," "Blockbuster!," and "Hell Raiser." "Little Willy" would be their first in the United States, going to no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. Perhaps their best known song and their biggest hit in the United States, "The Ballroom Blitz," was released in September 1973 in Europe and in July 1975 in the United States. It went to no. 2 on the UK singles chart and no. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100.

It was with their second album, Sweet Fanny Adams, that the band's name was shortened to "Sweet." Originally performing near bubblegum in their early days before shifting to a glam rock/power pop song, with Sweet Fanny Adams Sweet moved to a harder power pop sound. They would continue to have hits in the United Kingdom and the United States, including "Teenage Rampage," "Fox on the Run," and "Action." Both "Fox on the Run" and "Action" would reach the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States as well.

Unfortunately, Sweet's popularity would decline in 1976. Their single "Lies in Your Eyes" only went to no. 35 in the United Kingdom. Following singles did not chart at all. A tour of the United States in 1976 to increase their popularity there was not financially successful. Their 1977 album Off the Record failed to chart in the UK and only reached no. 151 in the United States. Their following album, Level Headed would give Sweet one last hit. "Love Is Like Oxygen" reached no. 9 on the UK singles chart and no. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100.

In 1978 lead vocalist Brian Connolly left Sweet. The band continued as a trio, with Steve Priest assuming most of the vocals. While Steve Priest would prove to be a good vocalist, Sweet would continued to struggle. Two more albums (Cut Above the Rest, Waters Edge) failed to chart in the United Kingdom and did poorly elsewhere as well. Sweet broke up in 1981 and their final album, Identity Crisis, was released only in Mexico and Germany in 1982.

In the wake of Sweet's break up, Steve Priest formed the band Allies, but the group proved to be short-lived. In 1985 he was invited by Andy Scott to join a reformed Sweet, but Mr. Priest declined. In 1988 the classic line-up of Sweet, including Steve Priest, held a demo session in Los Angeles to possibly reform and release a new album. The project fell through when the band members could not come to an agreement.

In 1994 Steve Priest published his autobiography, Are You Ready Steve?. His album, Priest's Precious Poems, was released in 2006. Owning the rights to the name "Sweet" in the United States, in 2008 Steve Priest formed his own version of Sweet. Steve Priest's Sweet recorded a cover of The Beatles' "Ticket to Ride" for Cleopatra Records' tribute record Abbey Road, released in 2009. A live album, Live in America, was released that same year.

In his tribute to him, guitarist Andy Scott referred to Steve Priest as "...the best bass player I ever played with." Certainly, Mr. Priest was among the best bassists in rock music. Few bassists ever played with the power that Steve Priest did. He would inspire future generations of bassists. Steve Priest was also a fairly good vocalist, sharing vocals on "The Ballroom Blitz" and some other songs. He was certainly responsible for much of Sweet's success and their continued popularity.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

The 16th Anniversary of A Shroud of Thoughts

If A Shroud of Thoughts was a human being, it would now be old enough to drive. It was sixteen years ago that I launched this blog. At the time I did not realize I would be writing this blog so long. In fact, I have been writing A Shroud of Thoughts longer than any job I have held outside of writing. In some ways this blog has become my life's work.

For those of you who may have forgotten or are simply too young to remember, between 2002 and 2005 blogging was something of a fad at the time. Blogs had actually been around for a while. Jorn Barger coined the term weblog in December 1997 and Peter Merholz shortened weblog to blog in the spring of 1999. It was in the years between 2002 and 2005 that the media really began to take notice of blogging. Eventually it seemed as if everyone and their brother had a blog.


Among the people who had a blog at the time was a lady friend of mine. It looked like fun so I decided to start my own blog. At the time the fashion in blog titles was to have some variation of the word thought in them. I took the phrase A Shroud of Thoughts from a line in Lord Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage canto iii stanza 113 (I won't quote here, as over the years I think I have quoted it enough). If I had it all over to do again I would have settled on a name more fitting for a blog dedicated to pop culture and nostalgia. Had I known of the word retrophilia at the time (which Collins Dictionary defines as "a strong liking for things from the past"), I probably would have named it that. While I would eventually consider changing the blog's name, by that time A Shroud of Thoughts had something of a readership and I worried it would confuse people if I changed the name.

Of course, here I must point out that A Shroud of Thoughts is not the only blog that has been around for years.  Immortal Ephemera is older than this blog, going back to 2002. Inner Toob is about a month and a half older, starting in April 2004. Both The Stop Button and Laura's Miscellaneous Musings date to 2005. The Rap Sheet dates to 2006. My friend Raquel started Out of the Past in 2007.  Blogs older than a decade are hardly common, but they are not as uncommon as some people might think!  By the way, I strongly recommend that you visit all of these fine blogs (they've lasted so long for a reason).

A good deal has happened in my life the past year. It was in July that I travelled to Los Angeles to scatter the ashes of my dearest Vanessa Marquez with her mother Delia and a few friends. While there I also attended a screening of Stand and Deliver (1988).  In September, Turner Classic Movies held their TCM in Your Hometown event in St. Louis, with a special showing of Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) at the Tivoli Theatre there. I got to attend a Meet and Greet at the Moonrise Hotel where I met Margaret O'Brien herself and Ben Mankiewicz in person. I also got to meet Diana Bosch of TCM and Yacov Freedman of TCM Backlot. Of course, I also finally got to meet some of my fellow TCM fans in person, including Annette of Hometowns to Hollywood and Jeff, who is another TCMParty member. In December I was featured in TCM Backlot's Member Spotlight. Sadly, not all of my memories of the past year are happy. In March (curiously, the day before the Los Angeles District Attorney election) the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office released their report on Vanessa's death. To say that I was angered and upset by the report would be an understatement. There are many things about the report that do not make sense to me and for me it creates more questions than it offers answers. It certainly contradicts some of what I know to be true. As a freelance writer and an introvert, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has had little impact on me other than being unable to get Dr Pepper for a month. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year's TCM Classic Film Festival was cancelled, but Turner Classic Movies scheduled a TCM Classic Film Festival: Special Home Edition from April 16 to April 19 2020. I enjoyed that immensely, particularly as I got to host the TCMParty for A Hard Day's Night (1964). I figure it will be as close as I will get to hosting the screening of a film at the TCM Classic Film Festival!

Anyway, each year I pick my favourite posts from the past year. Here are my favourites for this year.

"The 75th Anniversary of D-Day," June 6 2019
"The 50th Anniversary of Judy Garland's Death," June 22 2019
"The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)," July 1 2019
"The Radio Show Revival of the Seventies," July 19 2019
"Genevieve (1953)," August 3 2019
"The 50th Anniversary of Sharon Tate's Death," August 9 2019
"The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984)," August 15 2019
"The Phantom of the Opera (1925)," August 24 2019
"One Year Later," August 30 2019
"The Count of Monte Cristo," September 7 2019
"The 60th Anniversary of Bonanza," September 12 2019
"ER Turns 25," September 19 2019
"Border Incident (1949)," September 22 2019
"The 60th Anniversary of Dobie Gillis,"  September 29 2019
"The 60th Anniversary of The Untouchables," October 15 2019
"Horror Hosts," October 26 2019
"The Crow (1994), Putting the Wrong Things Right," October 28 2019
"Aniki Bóbó (1942)," November 12 2019
"The 60th Anniversary of Rocky and Bullwinkle," November 19 2019
"The 70th Anniversary of Holiday Affair (1949)," December 17 2019
"The 51st Birthday of My Beloved Vanessa Marquez," December 21 2019
"A Charlie Brown Christmas," December 23 2019
"Marvel Comics Westerns Part One: The Beginning," January 8 2020
"Marvel Comics Westerns Part Two: The Fifties," January 9 2020
"Marvel Comics Westerns Part Three: Riding Off into the Sunset," January 10 2020
"The 70th Anniversary of What's My Line?," February 2 2020
"Maverick: 'Shady Deal at Sunny Acres," February 3 2010
"A Brief History of the Fantastic Comedies of the Sixties Part One," February 21 2020
"A Brief History of the Fantastic Comedies of the Sixties Part Two," February 22 2020
"A Brief History of Fantastic Comedies of the Sixties Part Three," February 23 2020
"In Defence of Vanessa Marquez," March 6 2020
"The 30th Anniversary of Twin Peaks," April 8 2020
"The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)," April 16 2020
"The Ziegfeld Follies (1946)," May 15 2020
"The 40th Anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back," May 21 2020

Monday, June 1, 2020

For the Victims of Police Violence


A photo by Gordon Parks of a protest in Harlem in 1963

 "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." Martin Luther King, Jr.

"Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot un-educate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid any more." Cesar Chavez

The killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, who knelt on Mr. Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes, has brought attention to the often unjustified killings of minorities by police officers. Unfortunately, the unjustified killing of minorities by police officers is nothing new and has been going on for literally decades. What is more, it is not simply a matter of concern for the African American community. Latinos and Native Americans are also killed in disproportionate numbers when compared to white people. It is a subject with which I am all too familiar, having lost the person dearest to me to police violence.  As someone who is part Cherokee and has paid an all too high price because of police violence, I then stand with the African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans who are affected by such brutality.

What follows is a list of African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans who were the victims of police violence. There are around 100 names, but it is important to remember that the actual number of minorities killed unjustifiably by police officers is much, much greater.

Matthew Ajibade - Edgar Alvarado - Tanisha Anderson
Anthony Ashford - Julio Bald Eagle -Sandra Bland - Freddie Blue
Jamie Lee Brave Heart - Rumman Brison - Michael Brown
Robert Carillo- Paul Castaway - Philando Castille
William Chapman III - Miguel Chavez-Angles - Alexia Christian
Jamar Clark - Stephon Clark - Terence Crutcher
Anthony Jose Vega Cruz - Michelle Cusseaux - Albert Joseph Davis
Renee Davis - Rolando Delgado - Manuel De La Cruz - Manuel Diaz
Jordan Edwards - Salvado Ellswood - Andrew Esquivel
Joseph Finley Jr. - George Floyd - Ezell Ford - Peter Gaines
Eric Garner - Brendon Glenn - Vincente Gonzalez - Akai Gurley
Mya Hall - Eric Harris - Richard Herrera Jr. - Osmon Hernandez
Anthony Hill - Sherrisa Homer - Corey L. Jones - India Kager
Corey Kanosh- Victor Manuel Larosa - Chassady LeClair
Allen Locke - Andy Lopez - Guzman Lopez - Marcelo Luna
George Mann -  Joseph Mann - Vanessa Marquez
Laguan McDonald - Natasha McKenna - Lance McIntire - Carolos Mehia
Gustavo Nujera - Anthony Nunez - Paul O'Neal -
Abraham Ortiz  - Dante Parker - Jaso Pero - Nathaniel Harris Pickett
Baltazar Ramos - Michael Ramos -  Eric Reason
Jerame Reid - Danny Rendon - Tamir Rice
Tatanka Iyotanka (Sitting Bull) - Tony Robinson - Jesse Romero
Michael Sabbie - Phillip Salazar - Jacquline Salyers - Magdiel Sanchez
Nicolas Sanchez - Jonathan Sanders - Frank Smart - Walter Scott
Alvin Silversmythe - Alozno Smith -  Syville Smith - Alton Sterling
Breonna Taylor - Terrill Thomas - Willie Tillman - Mario Torres
Mary Truxillo - Loreal Tsingine - Carlos Valencia - Phillip White
Alteria Woods - Antonio Zambrano-Montes - George Zapata
Ricardo Diaz Zeferino