Friday, February 14, 2020

Happy Valentine's Day 2020

Okay, for reasons that should be obvious to those who know me and regular readers of this blog, Valentine's Day is not a particularly happy day for me. That having been said, I know that there are others out there who are probably happy for a day to celebrate with their sweethearts. I also know that there are those who would probably appreciate some cheesecake to go along with their bouquets of roses and boxes of chocolates. Here then are this year's Valentine's Day pinups.

Arlene Dahl wants to be your queen of hearts.

Nancy Carroll has her Valentine ready!

A box containing Cyd Charisse is better than a box of candy!

Martha Vickers is ready for her Valentine!

Claire Kelly is giving Cupid some target practice!

And I think many would like Ann Miller for their Valentine!

Happy Valentine's Day!

Thursday, February 13, 2020

TCM's March Star of the Month: Joe E. Brown

Turner Classic Movies' Star of the Month for March is Joe E. Brown. Today many people haven't heard of Joe E. Brown and classic movie buffs know him best from his supporting role in Some Like It Hot (1959), but in the 1930s and 1940s he was among the most popular comedic actors in the world. In fact, in the years 1932, 1935, and 1936 Mr. Brown ranked in the Motion Picture Herald's Top Ten Money Making Stars poll.

Every Wednesday night in March, TCM viewers will have a chance to familiarise themselves with Joe E. Brown's career. His turn as Star of the Month begins on March 4 with The Circus Clown (1934) at 8:00 PM Eastern/7:00 PM Central. That night TCM also shows The Tenderfoot (1932), Bright Lights (1935), Pin-Up Girl (1944), On with the Show (1929), Sally (1930), and Show Boat (1951). It continues on March 11 with Fireman Save My Child (1932), Elmer the Great (1933). At 9:45 PM that night TCM is showing one of Mr. Brown's most popular movies, Alibi Ike (1935). Joe E. Brown stars as the baseball player of the title, who makes so many excuses for his various actions that he is called "Alibi Ike." The movie features Olivia de Havilland as his love interest in an early role. It is followed by Local Boy Makes Good (1931), 6 Day Bike Rider (1934), You Said A Mouthful (1932), Top Speed (1930), and Eleven Men and a Girl (1930).

On March 18 Shut My Big Mouth (1942) and Beware Spooks (1939)  are scheduled. On March 27. They are followed by one of Joe E. Brown's most popular films, Earthworm Tractors (1936), in which he plays a tractor salesmen. It is followed by The Daring Young Man (1942), Son O' Guns (1935), Son of a Sailor (1933), Going Wild (1931), and A Very Honorable Guy (1934). Joe E. Brown's final night as Star of the Month, March 25, sees TCM air Some Like It Hot (1959), A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935), It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963), The Comedy of Terrors (1964), and Around the World in 80 Days (1956).

Despite the sheer number of Joe E. Brown movies airing on TCM in March, I did notice one huge omission. For whatever reason Turner Classic Movies is not showing The Gladiator (1938). The Gladiator is one of Joe E. Brown's funniest comedies, as well as one of his better known ones. In the movie Joe E. Brown plays an ordinary, middle-aged man who returns to college and is then given a drug that turns him into the strongest man in the world. It might surprise many that the movie is very loosely based on a novel that served as one of the inspirations for the character of Superman, Philip Wylie's Gladiator. While Gladiator is a very serious novel, The Gladiator is a thoroughly madcap comedy. I really wish TCM would show The Gladiator, not simply out of historical interest, but because it is one of Joe E. Brown's finest films.

Today Joe E. Brown is best known for Some Like It Hot, but he did so much more. March will be a chance for TCM viewers to learn about one of the most popular comedic actors of the Thirties and Forties.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Godspeed Orson Bean

Orson Bean, the veteran actor who was a long-time panellist on To the Truth and a regular on Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman and Desperate Housewives, was killed Friday, February 7 2020, after being hit by two cars in Venice, Los Angeles. He was 91 years old.

Orson Bean was born Dallas Frederick Burrows on July 22 1928 in Burlington, Vermont. His father, a Harvard College campus police officer, was a co-founder of the American Civil Liberties Union. His mother committed suicide when he was 16, after which he left home. He enlisted in the United States Army. Following his service, he worked as a stage magician and then shifted to stand-up comedy. He eventually moved to Manhattan and played at the nightclub the Blue Angel for  half a year.

Orson Bean made his television debut in an episode of Goodyear Television Playhouse in 1952. He hosted the variety series The Blue Angel. In the Fifties he guest starred on the TV shows Broadway Television Theatre, Robert Montgomery Presents, The Best of Broadway, The Elgin Hour, Omnibus, Studio One, Kraft Television Theatre, Playhouse 90, The Phil Silvers Show, The Millionaire, The Twilight Zone, and Play of the Week. Mr. Bean was also a guest on many talk shows and variety shows in the Fifties, including Strike It Rich, I've Got a Secret, The Ed Sullivan Show, The Vic Damone Show, The Ben Hecht Show, and Tonight Starring Jack Paar. He made his film debut in How to Be Very, Very Popular (1955). He appeared in the film Anatomy of a Murder (1959). He made his Broadway in Men of Distinction in 1953. In the Fifties he appeared on Broadway in John Murray Anderson's Almanac, Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, and Nature's Way.

It was in 1963 that Orson Bean joined the panel of the game show To Tell the Truth. He remained with the show until its network run ended in 1968. He would also be a regular panellist on the Seventies revival of the show and the Nineties revival. He was both a frequent guest and guest host on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. He also appeared on such game shows and variety shows as What's My Line?, The Joey Bishop Show, The Jackie Gleason Show, The Match Game, The Dean Martin Show, and The David Frost Show. He guest starred on The DuPont Show Starring June Allyson; Naked City; The United States Steel Hour; Vacation Playhouse; Love, American Style; and NET Playhouse. He appeared on Broadway in Subways Are for Sleeping, Never Too Late, I Was Dancing, The Roar of the Greasepaint - The Smell of the Crowd, and Illya Darling. He appeared in the movie Twinky (1970).  In 1964, along with author John McCabe, cartoonist Al Kilgore, TV personality Chuck McCann, and John Municino, Orson Bean co-founded the Sons of the Desert, the fraternal organisation dedicated to Laurel & Hardy.

In the Seventies Orson Bean was a panellist on Tattletales and Match Game. He continued to appear frequently on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. He appeared on such game shows and talk shows as The David Frost Show, The Mike Douglas Show, Dinah!, Break the Bank, The $10,000 Pyramid, and The Alan Thicke Show. He guest starred on the shows The Wide World of Mystery, Ellery Queen, Forever Fernwood, and The Love Boat. He was the voice of Bilbo Baggins in the TV movie The Hobbit and the voices of Frodo and Bilbo in the TV movie The Return of the King.

In the Eighties Orson Bean continued to appear frequently on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. He appeared on the game shows Body Language and Classic Concentration. He appeared on the PBS show Reading Rainbow. He guest starred on One Life to Live; The Fall Guy; The Facts of Life; Murder, She Wrote; and Monsters. He was a guest voice on Tiny Toon Adventures. He appeared in the movies Forty Deuce (1982), Smart Alec (1986), Innerspace (1987), and Instant Karma (1990).

In the Nineties, Orson Bean was a regular on the shows Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman and Normal, Ohio. He guest starred on the shows California, Diagnosis Murder, Ellen, Thanks, Ally McBeal, The King of Queens, Family Law, Will & Grace, and Manhattan, AZ. He appeared in the movies One of Those Nights (1997), Being John Malkovich (1999), and Unbowed (1999).

In the Naughts he had a recurring role on the TV show Desperate Housewives. He guest starred on Becker, 7th Heaven, Cold Case, Two and a Half Men, Commander in Chief, The Closer, The Minor Accomplishments of Jackie Woodman, Women's Murder Club, How I Met Your Mother, Safe Harbour, and The Sarah Silverman Program. He appeared in the movies Burning Down the House (2001), Frank McKlusky, C.I. (2002), Myron's Movie (2004), Soccer Dog: European Cup (2004), Yesterday's Dreams (2005), Alien Autoposy (2006), The Lather Effect (2006), The Novice (2006), Game of Life (2007), Mattie Fresno and the Holoflux Universe (2007), and Ashley's Ashes (2010).

In the Teens Mr. Bean guest starred on Hot in Cleveland, Mistresses, Modern Family, The Bold and the Beautiful, Another Period, The Guest Book, Teachers, Superstore, and Gracie and Frankie. He appeared in the movies Wake Up, America! (2016) and The Equalizer 2 (2018).

Orson Bean called himself a "neo-celebrity," someone famous simply for being famous. I believe that was far from the truth, as I suspect he was famous for his enormous talent instead. He certainly played a wide variety of roles throughout his career: a psychiatrist in Anatomy of a Murder; the bumbler of the title in the Twilight Zone episode "Mr. Bevis;" a murder suspect crazy about plants in the Ellery Queen episode "The Adventure of the Chinese Dog." and a retired steak salesman on Desperate Housewives. As great as Orson Bean was in his acting roles, however, he may be best remembered a a panellist on To Tell the Truth and other games shows, as well as a guest host on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. He was an incredible raconteur with a quick wit and a great sense of humour. No one could tell a story better than Orson Bean. Droll and a bit off the wall, Orson Bean wasn't simply a character actor. He was a real character himself. 

Monday, February 10, 2020

The 92nd Academy Awards

Last night was the 92nd Academy Awards ceremony. This was absolutely the earliest that the awards have ever been held (those of you who are my age might remember when they fell in March or April). Having only seen one of the nominated films (Once Upon a Time..in Hollywood), I cannot speak of the winners and losers, but I have to say that the ceremony itself was a hot mess. Sadly, this has been true of the past many Oscars ceremonies.

To begin with, I think the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences really should rethink not having a host. Both last year and this year the Oscars ceremony did not have a host and as a result both seemed to me to be a bit disjointed. While the Academy Awards have had some truly great hosts and some truly bad ones, the one thing all hosts have done is insure that the ceremony flows smoothly. In my opinion both last year's Oscars and this year's Oscars just seemed to go from one thing to another without much rhyme or reason. A host could have alleviated that problem to a large degree.

As to the ceremony itself, I have to say that I really enjoyed the opening number with Janelle Monáe and Billy Porter. They are both consummate performers and they really helped bring the Oscars alive. I also liked the opening monologue by Steve Martin and Chris Rock, who were both truly funny. As to the presenters, Salma Hayek and Oscar Isaac were among those who stood out for me. The two of them simply radiated charm and an Old Hollywood vibe. I also enjoyed Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus presenting the awards for Best Cinematography and Best Editing. I found the two absolutely uproarious. Finally, I have to single out Penelope Cruz for presenting Best International Feature Film (formerly Best Foreign Language Film). Not only was she entrancing, but she also wore what I thought was the best gown of the night. Of course, there were those presenters I thought were, well, bad. Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig are both very funny ladies, but I thought their presentation of the awards for Best Production Design and Best Costume Design just fell flat. It was so unfunny that for possibly the first time in my life I was anxious for Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig to leave the stage!

As far as the acceptance speeches go, I thought the best were given by Parasite (2019) director Bong Joon-ho. Even after winning multiple Oscars, he was able to deliver a sterling acceptance speech for Best Director, in which he gave shout outs to Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino. I also have to mention his interpreter, Sharon Choi, who as his interpreter throughout this awards season. While many interpreters are somewhat robotic, Miss Choi was able to quickly interpret what Bong Joon-ho was saying while at the same time retaining the emotion behind what he was saying as well. Here I must mention that she is a filmmaker in her own right and she is currently working on her own feature length script. I was also impressed by Laura Dern's acceptance speech. She acknowledged her two legendary parents, actors Diane Ladd and Bruce Dern.

This Academy Awards ceremony continued the trend of the past few years of fewer clips, although there was a notable montage of music from the movies during last night's ceremony. Sadly, this montage was poorly done and did not acknowledge some of the most iconic songs in movies. "Over the Rainbow" from The Wizard of Oz (1939) was missing. "As Time Goes By" from Casablanca (1942) was missing. There were no songs from the classic musicals of the Golden Age of Hollywood. In fact, the oldest clips seemed to date no earlier than 1967. To make matters worse, following the montage viewers were subjected to Eminem. Now I know Eminem has his fans, but I am not one of them. In fact, to understand how unhappy I was that Eminem performed at the Oscars, picture being forced to listen to your least favourite artist from your least favourite genre ever. I also have to add, that if they did not have Eminem's performance during the ceremony, they could have had a longer In Memoriam reel...

As to this years In Memoriam reel, I don't think it was quite as bad as last year's reel, in which Aretha Franklin, Julie Adams, and Carol Channing were left out, as well as my beloved Vanessa Marquez despite a petition that ultimately exceeded 12,000 signatures. That having been said, last night's on-air In Memoriam left a lot to be desired. First, while it is one of my all time favourite songs, I am not sure "Yesterday" is suitable for an In Memoriam. After all, the song is about lost love, not grief due to a loved one who has died. Second, I think Billie Elish's rendition of the song may be one of the worst renditions of "Yesterday" I have ever heard (and I have heard some pretty bad ones). Third, the whole In Memoriam was shot at odd angles, making it difficult at times to see the screen (which is, after all, how we see who is being honoured during the In Memoriam).

Fourth, while it seemed to me that last night's In Memoriam was more inclusive than last year when it came to stars viewers truly love, there were some beloved artists who were left out. This year they omitted Tim Conway, Carol Lynley, René Auberjonois, Luke Perry, Herman Wouk, and Larry Cohen. In fact, those omitted from the In Memoriam reel make for a very long list. For a more complete list, please visit Sister Celluloid's excellent post. Of course, to make matters worse, while omitting such big names as Tim Conway and Carol Lynley, the Academy saw fit to honour Kobe Bryant in the In Memoriam reel. Now Mr. Bryant did win an Oscar for Best Animated Short for "Dear Basketball," but that seems to be the extent of his contribution to film history. I also realize that Kobe Bryant was a well loved NBA player and he has a legion of fans around the world. That having been said, to me honouring Kobe Bryant in the In Memoriam reel at the Oscars while leaving out people who made a lasting contribution to cinema would be a bit like honouring Doris Day in the In Memoriam reel at the ESPY Awards while leaving out Bart Starr, Jim Bouton, Don Larsen, and, well, Kobe Bryant.

Now I know the Academy is always pointing out that they have a longer, more inclusive In Memoriam on their website, but the plain truth is that most film fans want to see their favourites honoured during the broadcast. They could easily do a longer In Memoriam reel (TCM Remembers, Turner Classic Movies' end-of-the-year In Memoriam, always runs about four minutes) by simply cutting out some of the unnecessary musical performances and cutting out some of the banter. Besides which, why is the Academy so concerned about shortening the Oscars ceremony? Quite frankly, I enjoyed the ceremony much, much more when it was longer!

I am truly hoping that next year's Academy Awards ceremony will be better. I really think that next year they should have a host, as the Oscars traditionally have. I really think the only musical numbers should be an opening number and the performances of the Best Song nominees (no Eminem unless he is nominated for Best Song). And, as for the In Memoriam, make sure that viewers at home can see the whole screen and make it longer and more inclusive. Last night's Academy Awards ceremony reached a new low in the ratings, only 23.6 million viewers. If they would try to make the Oscars ceremonies as good as those of old, I think they might find they will get more viewers.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

The Late Great Robert Conrad

Robert Conrad has been a part of my life for nearly as long as I can remember. Like many in my generation I first encountered him as Secret Service agent James West in reruns of The Wild Wild West. He would later play World War II Marine fighter pilot Major Pappy Boyington on Baa Baa Black Sheep. Although very few people remember it, I have fond memories of a short-lived show called A Man Called Sloane, on which he played secret agent Thomas R. Sloane. He also played Pasquinel in the mini-series Centennial. I was always happy to see Robert Conrad on the screen and enjoyed him in the many TV shows in which he starred. Sadly, Robert Conrad died yesterday, February 8 2020, at the age of 84 from heart failure.

Robert Conrad was born Konrad Robert Falkowski on March 1 1935 in Chicago. Mr. Conrad attended various schools around Chicago, and played football. His first job was loading trucks for Consolidated Freightways and Easter Freightways. He later drove milk wagons for Bowman Dairy in Chicago. Robert Conrad had a short stint in boxing, but left the career because there wasn't a lot of money in it at a time. He then began his career as a nightclub singer at various hotels around Chicago. His friend, actor Nick Adams, persuaded him to move to Hollywood. Nick Adams got him a bit part in the movie Juvenile Jungle (1958), which marked Robert Conrad's film debut. That same year he appeared as Lt. Robert "Tiger Bob" Kiley in the movie Thundering Jets.

It was the following year that Robert Conrad made his television debut in the Bat Masterson episode "One Bullet from Broken Bow." Over the next few years he guest starred on such shows as Maverick, Highway Patrol, Lawman, Colt .45, Sea Hunt, The Man and the Challenge, and Lock Up. It was in 1959 that Robert Conrad was cast in the lead role of Tom Lopaka on Hawaiian Eye, one of the many clones of 77 Sunset Strip that Warner Bros. cranked out for ABC in the late Fifties. Hawaiian Eye centred on Tracy Steele (Anthony Eisley) and Tom Lopaka, who operated a security firm and private detective agency based out of Honolulu, Hawaii. Robert Conrad also appeared as Tom Lopaka in crossover episodes with 77 Sunset StripHawaiian Eye proved to be successful, so much so that it was the most successful of the 77 Sunset Strip clones. It ran for four seasons.

Following Hawaiian Eye, Robert Conrad guest starred on The Gallant Men, Temple Houston, and Kraft Suspense Theatre. In the Sixties he continued to appear in films, including Palm Springs Weekend (1963), La nueva Cenicienta (1965), Young Dillinger (1965), Ven a cantar conmigo (1967), The Bandits (1967), and Keene (1969). What may have been his biggest claim to fame also came in that decade when he was cast as Secret Service agent James West on the hit TV series The Wild Wild West. Created by Michael Garrison, The Wild Wild West combined the then current craze for Bondian spy dramas with the Western. The Wild Wild West centred on two Secret Service agents, tough guy James West and master of disguise Artemus Gordon (played by Ross Martin), who were assigned to protect the United States' interests in the far West. To this end, James West and Artemus Gordon faced a succession of diabolical masterminds with technology that was decidedly advanced for the Victorian Era. The most notable of their opponents was their archenemy, Dr. Miguelito Loveless (played by Michael Dunn), who returned again and again to face the pair. The Wild Wild West proved to be a hit and when CBS cancelled the show it was not due to its ratings. Instead it was cancelled as a scapegoat in the then current moral panic over violence on television. In 1969 he guest starred on an episodes of Mission: Impossible and Mannix.

Robert Conrad went from playing a Secret Service agent to playing Deputy District Attorney Paul Ryan on the short-lived 1971 drama The D.A. He went almost immediately from The D.A. to another series, Assignment Vienna, on which he played spy hunter Jake Webster, who owned Jake's Bar & Grill in Vienna all the while he was working for American intelligence in fighting spies and international criminals in the city. Unfortunately, Assignment Vienna only lasted one season. His next television series would be somewhat more successful. Baa Baa Black Sheep was loosely based on the real life exploits of Marine Attack Squadron 214, known as "the Black Sheep," during World War II. Robert Conrad played their commander, Major Pappy Boyington. Baa Baa Black Sheep was retitled Black Sheep Squadron with its second season. NBC cancelled the show after only two season. Given it was a consistent target of anti-violence watchdogs, there are many (including Robert Conrad) who believe it was cancelled due to its allegedly violent content.

Following Baa Baa Black Sheep, Robert Conrad appeared as French Canadian trapper Pasquinel in the mini-series Centennial. This was followed by two short-lived shows, The Duke, on which he played a boxer turned private eye and the aforementioned A Man Called Sloane. During the Seventies Robert Conrad also guest starred on the TV shows Adam-12 (as Deputy D. A. Ryan from The D.A.), Columbo, and Laugh-In. He reprised his role of James West in two TV reunion movies, The Wild Wild West Revisited (1979) and More Wild Wild West (1980). He appeared in the films Murph the Surf (1975), Sudden Death (1977), and The Lady in Red (1979).

In the Eighties Robert Conrad starred on the short-lived series High Mountain Rangers, which also featured his son Christian Conrad. The show, centred on rangers in the Sierras, lasted only a single season. It was followed by a spin-off/sequel TV show titled Jesse Hawkes. On Jesse Hawkes Robert Conrad reprised his role from High Mountain Rangers, with the character tracking down criminals in San Francisco. Mr. Conrad's two sons, Christian Conrad and Shane Conrad, also appeared on the show. It only lasted six episodes. During the Eighties Mr. Conrad also guest starred on the show J. J. Starbuck and appeared in such TV movies as Will: The Autobiography of G. Gordon Liddy, Hard Knox, The Fifth Missle, Charley Hannah, and One Police Plaza. He appeared in the movies Wrong is Right (1982) and Moving Violations (1985).

In the Nineties Robert Conrad starred on the short-lived series High Sierra Search and Rescue. The show centred on volunteers who conducted rescues in the Sierras. He guest starred on the shows Just Shoot Me and Nash Bridges, as well as the TV movies Mario and the Mob, Sworn to Vengeance, and Two Fathers: Justice for the Innocent. He appeared in the movies Samurai Cowboy (1994), Jingle All the Way (1996), and Dead Above Ground (2000).

In 2008 he began hosting the twice-weekly radio show The PM Show with Robert Conrad on CRN Digital Radio. The show ran until July 18 2019. On the who Mr. Conrad talked about his career and talked with such guests as Angie Dickinson and Barbara Bain.

There can be no doubt that Robert Conrad will always be remembered as James West on The Wild Wild West. The show proved to be a hit as a syndicated rerun and it is still shown in syndication to this day. And given the nature of most of his roles, Mr. Conrad will probably always be viewed as a tough guy. Indeed, a series of Energizer battery commercials in the Seventies capitalized on that image. That having been said, he was a talented actor capable of more than tough guys. He was very impressive as Pasquinel in the mini-series Centennial (I am told by Canadian friends that his accent, contrary to popular belief, was dead on). And while he played mostly good guys, he could play bad guys very well. He was Pretty Boy Floyd in the movie Young Dillinger and John Dillinger himself in the movie The Lady in Red. Of course, he was famous for performing his own stunts, so much so that he is one of the few actors to be inducted into the Hollywood Hall of Fame. Of course, here it must also be remembered that he starred in a succession of television shows, some of which are remembered to this day. Hawaiian Eye, The Wild Wild West, and Baa Baa Black Sheep remain popular even now.

Of course, Robert Conrad was known as a tough guy off screen much as he was on screen. He was well known for the various fistfights he got into over the years. In an interview in 2008 he commented, "I am only 5-feet-8 and only weight 165 pounds as of this morning, so I'm not the world's meanest guy. If you treat me nicely, I'll treat you nicer. If you're rude to me, put on your headgear. Here it comes." Despite his image as a tough guy, from many reports he was truly a nice guy. In an interview in 2000, Phoebe Dorin (who was Michael Dunn's singing partner and played Dr. Loveless's companion Antoinette on The Wild Wild West) said of both Robert Conrad and Ross Martin, "Oh, I adored them both." She said specifically of Mr. Conrad, "Part of the reason I liked Bob Conrad was because Bob Conrad adored Michael. He adored him. So that anybody who was with Michael or working with Michael was treated in kind. He catered to us--he treated us like royalty."

Miss Dorin's words are confirmed by people I know who have met and worked with Robert Conrad. When he liked you no one could be better to you. He was a man who was fiercely loyal to his friends and very protective of them. Robert Conrad may have been a tough guy, but he was one with an enormous heart. I suppose one could expect nothing less of James West himself.