Friday, April 19, 2019

Nancy Gates Passes On

Nancy Gates, who appeared in such films as The Spanish Main (1945), Suddenly (1954), and Some Came Running, as well as numerous guest appearances on television, died on March 24 2019 at the age of 93.

Nancy Gates was born on February 1 1926 in Dallas, Texas. She grew up in Denton, Texas. She took to entertaining while very young, performing a soft shoe number at an Easter programme at a local school when she was only about six years old. She would appear in various other local productions while she was still very young, and before she graduated from high school she had her own radio show on Dallas station WFAA.

Miss Gates was only 15 when she signed a contract with RKO. She screen tested for the role of Lucy Morgan in The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), but the part ultimately went to Anne Baxter. Her first credited role was in The Great Gildersleeve (1942), an adaptation of the radio show of the same name. In the Forties she appeared in such films as Hitler's Children (1943), This Land is Mine (1943), Gildersleeve's Bad Day (1943), A Night of Adventure (1944), The Spanish Main (1945), Cheyenne Takes Over (1947), Check Your Guns (1948), and Roll, Thunder, Roll! (1949). 

In the Fifties she appeared in such films as At Sword's Point (1952), The Atomic City (1952), The Member of the Wedding (1952), Hell's Half Acre (1954), Suddenly (1954), Masterson of Kansas (1954), Top of the World (1955), World without End (1956), Magnificent Roughnecks (1956), The Search for Bridey Murphy (1956), The Brass Lengend (1956), The Rawhide Trail (1958), Some Came Running (1958), The Gunfight at Dodge City (1959), and Comanche Station (1960).  Nancy Gates made her television debut in an episode of The Adventures of Ellery Queen in 1952. In the Fifties she guest starred on such TV shows as Four Star Playhouse, The Pepsi-Cola Playhouse, The Lone Wolf, The Man Behind the Badge, Studio 57, Lone Wolf, The Whistler, Science Fiction Theatre, General Electric Theatre, Screen Directors Playhouse, Adventures of the Falcon, Jane Wyman Presents The Fireside Theatre, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Red Skelton Show, Lux Video Theatre, Kraft Television Theatre, The Loretta Young Show, Trackdown, Perry Mason, Wagon Train, 77 Sunset Strip, Maverick, The Millionaire, Men into Space, Bourbon Street Beat, Hawaiian Eye, and Laramie.

In the Sixties Nancy Gates guest starred on the shows Hong Kong, Zane Grey Theatre, The Detectives, Tales of Wells Fargo, Bus Stop, Adventures in Paradise, Gunsmoke, The Lloyd Bridges Show, Wagon Train, The Virginian, Kentucky Jones, Perry Mason, Rawhide, The Loner, Burke's Law, Bonanza, and The Mod Squad.

Nancy Gates was an immensely talented actress. Over the years she played everything from Princess Henriette in At Sword's Point to a mother whose family are terrorised by would-be assassins in Suddenly to the heir of a candy manufacturer in one of her episodes of Perry Mason. And while a lion's share of her films were B-Westerns, even in those oaters she played a variety of roles. In Masterson of Kansas she played a schoolmarm. In The Gunfight at Dodge City she played a saloon owner.  In Comanche Station she played a woman abducted by the Comanche. Nancy Gates was a versatile actress who could play a wide variety of roles. It is little wonder she was so much in demand in films and on television.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

The Late Great Monkey Punch

Monkey Punch, the creator of the manga series Lupin III, died on April 11 2019 at the age of 81. The cause was pneumonia.

Monkey Punch was born Katō Kazuhiko on May 26 1937 in Hamanaka, Hokkaido, Japan. He began drawing at a very young age. He began drawing manga when he was in junior high school, with his comic strips being published in the school newspaper. After graduating from high school he moved to Tokyo where he enrolled in a technical school for electronics. He continued to draw as a hobby and dōjinshi group with other artists (dōjinshi being a Japanese term for self-published works outside the mainstream publishing industry). It was while he was this dōjinshi group that he was recruited by Futabasha Publishers Ltd. to draw yonkoma (gag comic strips, usually consisting of four panels).

It was in 1965 that Katō Kazuhiko made his professional debut with the manga Playboy School, using the pen name Gamuta Eiji. He followed Playboy School with Needless Axle of Wilderness, Pink Guard Man, and The Ginza Whirlwind Child. It was an editor who suggested to Katō Kazuhiko that he use the pen name Monkey Punch. Mr. Katō did not particularly care for the name, but agreed to use it as his next work was only supposed to last for three months. As it turned out, that next project was Lupin III. Lupin III proved to be an enormous success and Katō Kazuhiko was stuck with the pen name Monkey Punch.

Lupin III centred on master thief Arsène Lupin III, the grandson of Arsène Lupin (the master thief of Maurice Leblanc's series of novels). Lupin was assisted in his various capers by expert gunman Daisuke Jigen. The two of them were often joined by Goemon Ishikawa XIII, a master swordsman whose sword could cut through any substance. Lupin was sometimes also assisted by thief and femme fatale Fujiko Mine, who was often at odds with him as well. Lupin and his compatriots were hunted by Inspector Koichi Zenigata of Interpol, who chased the group across the globe.

Lupin III was written for adults as a hard-boiled, crime spoof with explicit portrayals of both sex and violence, as well as a very dark sense of humour. The manga often broke the fourth wall. This combination fuelled the manga's success, so that it would soon be adapted to other media. The first anime series aired for 23 episodes in 1971. It would be followed by anime series in 1977 and several more (the most recent having aired in 2018). Lupin III has also been adapted to animated feature films, the most famous in the West being The Castle of Cagliostro (1979), directed by Hayao Miyazaki. A live action feature film was released in 1974, followed by a more recent feature film in 2014. There has also been a live-action Filipino TV drama that aired in 2007, animated television specials, animated OVA series, and games. Unlike the manga, the various anime series have been family friendly.

At the time Lupin III was created, Japan did not enforce trade copyrights. For this reason Monkey Punch did not ask to use the name "Arsène Lupin". As a result the various releases in the West bore the name Rupan  or Wolf.  It was in 2012 that Arsène Lupin entered into public domain in France, 70 years having passed since the death of Maurice Leblanc. Since then all releases have borne the name Lupin.

Over the years Monkey Punch has worked on several other manga beyond Lupin III, including Western Samurai and Pandora in the Sixties, The Siamese Cat and Little Dracula in the Seventies, Space Adventure Team Mechabunger and Roller Boy in the Eighties, and many, many others. Monkey Punch was very prolific.

In addition to his work as a manga artist, Monkey Punch was also aprofessor of Manga Animation at Otemae University, in their Faculty of Media and Arts, and a visiting professor at Tokyo University of Technology.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Godspeed Georgia Engel

Georgia Engel, best known for playing Georgette on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, died on April 12 2019. She was 70 years old.

Georgia Engel was born on July 28 1948 in Washington, D.C. She attended Walter Johnson High School and the Academy of the Washington Ballet. She received a degree in theatre from University of Hawaii at Manoa in Honolulu. Once she had graduated she appeared in productions by the American Light Opera Company. She appeared in the off-Broadway play Lend an Ear. Miss Engel made her Broadway debut in 1969 in Hello Dolly.

Georgia Engel made her film debut in Taking Off in 1971. In 1972 she made her television debut on The Mary Tyler Moore Show in the recurring role of Georgette Franklin. She would appear on the show for the rest of its run. She also had regular roles on The Betty White Show and Goodtime Girls. She guest starred on the TV shows Rhoda (playing Georgette), The Associates, and Mork & Mindy. She appeared in the film Un homme est mort (1972).

In the Eighties Miss Engel had regular roles on the TV show Jennifer Slept Here. She guest starred on the shows The Love Boat and Fantasy Island. She appeared in the films Papa Was a Preacher (1985) and Signs of Life (1989). She appeared on Broadway in My One and Only.

In the Nineties Georgia Engel had a recurring role on the TV show Coach. She guest starred on Working. She was a guest voice on the animated shows Hercules and Hey Arnold. In the Naughts she she had a recurring role on Everybody Loves Raymond and Passions. She appeared in the films Dr. Dolittle 2 (2001) and The Sweetest Thing (2002). She was the voice of Bobbie in the animated films Open Season (2006) and Open Season 2 (2010). She appeared on Broadway in The Boys from Syracuse and The Drowsy Chaperone.

In the Teens Miss Engel had a recurring role on Hot in Cleveland. She guest starred on the TV shows The Office, UnsupervisedTwo and a Half Men, and One Day at a Time. She appeared in the movie Grown Ups 2.

Georgia Engel was a remarkable actress with a particular gift for comedy. She will always be remembered best as the sweet natured, if at times clueless Georgette on The Mary Tyler Moore. If one needed no further proof of how sweet Georgette was, she married egomaniacal newsman Ted Baxter (it would take a saint to be married to Ted). Miss Engel had a knack for delivering lines in such a way as to maximise their comedy. In her many roles on television it was not unusual for her to play the funniest character in any given episode. It should be little wonder that she had regular or recurring roles on so many TV shows.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

The 25th Anniversary of Turner Classic Movies

It was 25 years ago today, on April 14 1994, that Turner Classic Movies was launched in a ceremony at Times Square in New York City. It was at this ceremony that Ted Turner, then head of Turner Broadcasting, flipped a switch and Turner Classic Movies (now commonly referred to by its initials, TCM) went live. Present at the ceremony were such classic movie stars as Arlene Dahl, Jane Powell, Celeste Holm, and Van Johnson, as well as the channel's host Robert Osborne.The first film it showed was the 1939 classic (and still highest grossing film of all time when adjusted for inflation) Gone with the Wind. Since that time TCM has become the most successful classic film cable channel in the United States and perhaps even the world. I wrote a detailed history of Turner Classic Movies upon the occasion of its 20th anniversary (you can read it here).  The channel has certainly touched the lives of many, and it is how TCM has touched my life that I will be addressing in this blog post.

Contrary to what those fans who would prefer Turner Classic Movies only showed films made before 1960 might think, from the beginning it was planned for TCM to show films from the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, something confirmed by both the channel's promotional materials prior to its launch and its schedules from its earliest days. This suited me just fine, as my loose definition of a "classic" has always been any film that has been around for at least thirty years and is regarded by many to be of high quality.

Here it must be kept in mind that prior to the launch of Turner Classic Movies there was already a cable channel devoted to classic films. The cable channel now known simply as AMC began its life as American Movie Classics. American Movie Classics focused primarily on movies from the Thirties, Forties, and Fifties. Regardless, I was still excited when I first heard about TCM. For one thing, Turner Classic Movies would have access to movies that AMC did not. In 1986 Ted Turner had acquired the pre-1986 MGM library and the Associated Artists Productions library (which included Warner Bros. films made before 1950), as well as the U.S. and Canadian distribution rights to the RKO Pictures library. For another thing, TCM would show movies from the Sixties and Seventies, the former actually being my favourite decade for film. I was then predisposed to like TCM even before it even began airing.

Unfortunately I did not have access to TCM when it first launched. To watch Turner Classic Movies, I would have to visit my best friend Brian's house in a neighbouring town. Fortunately I visited Brian often, so that I would get to see movies on TCM even in its first year of existence. I wish I could remember what the first movie I ever watched on TCM was, but sadly I cannot. If I had known how important TCM would become in my life, I am sure that I would have made more of an effort to remember it! We finally got TCM about a year after its launch, so at last I was able to watch it at home. It quickly became my favourite channel. Never mind that it showed many of my favourite films, but I also enjoyed the intros and outros by Robert Osborne. I was already familiar with Mr. Osborne from his stint as a host on The Movie Channel, as well as his books on the Academy Awards.

As the Nineties progressed, TCM would only get better. It was in 1996 that the Turner Broadcasting System merged with Time Warner. This gave TCM access to even more movies, including the Warner Bros. library, and libraries that Time Warner had acquired, such as the Saul Zaentz and National General Pictures libraries. Over time Turner Classic Movies also added programming of interest to me, such as The Essentials, Private Screenings, and Silent Sunday. Still later they would add TCM Underground and Noir Alley.

I cannot say that Turner Classic Movies introduced me to most of the best known classics. Being of a certain age I had already seen Gone with the Wind (1939), Citizen Kane (1941), Casablanca (1942), Singin' in the Rain (1952), and many others prior to TCM's launch. That having been said, TCM introduced me to many of the lesser known classics, as well as many silent movies I had not yet seen. TCM would be where I would first see Pandora's Box (1929), Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931), Out of the Past (1947), The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), and many others. While I had seen pre-code films and film noirs well before I started watching TCM, the channel would expand the number of pre-code films and film noirs I have seen by a good deal.

Turner Classic Movies would move from merely being a cable channel to a brand all its own. In doing so it also created an entire community of fans. It would be through this community that many TCM fans would find new friends, myself included. Initially this would be through my blogging. It is through this blog that I found such fellow TCM fans as Raquel of Out of the Past and KC of A Classic Movie Blog. Once I joined Twitter I would find even more fellow TCM fans. This would be particularly the case after TCMParty began in 2011. For those who don't know what TCMParty is, it is a collective live tweeting of movies aired on Turner Classic Movies using the hashtag #TCMParty. It would be through TCMParty that I would meet some of my closest friends. Indeed, it would be through TCMParty that I would meet my beloved Vanessa Marquez, who was both my best friend and the love of my life. Eventually on Twitter I would even connect to individuals who work for TCM and even a few of TCM's personalities. More than any other cable channel around, TCM maintains close ties with its fans.

So strong is TCM's connection with its fans that it has even featured fans introducing their favourite films with Ben Mankiewicz. This began with Fan Favourites in 2014. Essentially, through the wonders of video chat, fans would get to introduce a favourite film on TCM with Mr. Mankiewicz. I was lucky enough to be one of those fans. It was on April 11 2015 that I introduced A Hard Day's Night. It is still one of my most cherished memories.

Sadly, never having been to the Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival or on one of the Turner Classic Movies cruises, I never had the opportunity to meet long-time host Robert Osborne. Nevertheless, like many TCM fans it felt almost as if I knew him. After all, I had seen him introduce films on Turner Classic Movies for literally years, all while in the comfort of my own home. In many ways he was the ideal host, and I think there can be no doubt that he was responsible for much of the channel's success. Robert Osborne died on March 6 2017 at the age of 84. There was perhaps no other person ever mourned so greatly by TCM fans, not even big-name classic movie stars. I cried as if Mr. Osborne had been someone I had known personally. In fact, there are only two celebrities I have mourned more than Robert Osborne: John Lennon and, for obvious reasons, my dearest Vanessa (not only the celebrity I have mourned the most, but the person I have mourned the most in my entire life). I was not alone in the extreme grief I felt at the passing of Robert Osborne, as it seems as if every TCM fan mourned his passing as if a beloved uncle or friend had died.

Of course, since Robert Osborne has died Turner Classic Movies has introduced new hosts in addition to Ben Mankiewicz. Tiffany Vasquez started hosting on Saturday afternoons in 2016, before Robert Osborne died. Sadly, Miss Vasquez would no longer be a host in 2018. I have to confess I have missed her, as I always did enjoy her introductions. Last year Dave Karger and Alicia Malone were added as hosts. Both Mr. Karger and Miss Malone are welcome additions to TCM as far as I am concerned. Not only are their introductions informative, as one would expect a TCM host's introductions to be, but they are also very open and friendly to TCM's fans.

My one regret in my many years as a TCM fan is that I have never gotten to attend the Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival. Many of my friends have over the years, so that it almost feels as if I have been there. I always look forward to the Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival every year, as I enjoy watching the videos posted by TCM as well as the many photos and videos posted by my fellow TCM fans. I hope that I can make it to the festival one day.

Over the years Turner Classic Movies has literally changed my life. I found many of my closest friends through TCM's fan community. Indeed, if not for TCM I might never have found the most important person in my life. When she died last year, it was my friends in the TCM fan community who saw me through my darkest days. What is more I know I am not alone when it comes to Turner Classic Movies having been a life-changing experience. I know married couples who met through their mutual love of TCM. I know individuals who have found whole new careers through TCM. I even know a few people whose lives were even saved by TCM (here I am not exaggerating--in the simple act of airing classic movies TCM has given hope to those who are sick or feeling down). Long ago Turner Classic Movies went beyond being a mere cable channel. It went beyond being a mere brand. I has even gone beyond being a way of preserving classic films. Turner Classic Movies has become a means of bringing people together, of providing people a community of like-minded individuals, and even of giving people hope.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

The Original Captain Marvel

The most recent movie in the "Marvel Cinematic Universe" franchise was Captain Marvel (2019), with Brie Larson as Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel. Of course, Carol Danvers was not the first character named "Captain Marvel" to be published by Marvel Comics, nor were any of the various Captains Marvels published by Marvel the original character to bear that name. Instead that honour would go to a character featured DC Comics' most recent movie, Shazam! (2019). While the character in Shazam! is never given a superhero name, he is none other than the first Captain Marvel. The original Captain Marvel was first published by Fawcett Comics in February 1940. For a time he would be the best selling superhero, outselling even Superman. At his peak Captain Marvel's titles were selling more than a million copies a month.

Captain Marvel was created by writer Bill Parker and artist C. C. Beck. Bill Parker had come up with a story involving six heroes, each with a different ability given to them by a mythological character. It was Ralph Daigh, Fawcett Comics' executive director, who made the decision that it would be better to combine the six heroes into one character, who would posses all six special abilities. Bill Parker then created a character called "Captain Thunder".

It was artist C. C. Beck who illustrated Bill Parker's initial Captain Thunder story. Mr. Beck would later admit that he based the character's appearance on actor Fred MacMurray. Fawcett Comics planned for the new anthology title in which Captain Thunder would debut to be titled either Flash Comics or Thrill Comics, and even produced ashcan copies using those titles. Unfortunately for Fawcett Comics, they soon learned they could use neither of those names. All-American Comics had already trademarked an anthology comic book by that title (one that prove to be historic--Flash Comics #1, January 1940 featured the debuts of both The Flash and Hawkman). While Thrill Comics was not in use, it was too similar to Thrilling Comics, the title of a new anthology comic book published by Standard Comics. As to Captain Thunder, one of the characters featured in Fiction House's Jungle Comics was Captain Terry Thunder of the British Army.

It was then that the title of Fawcett's new anthology comic book became Whiz Comics. This title drew upon the history of Fawcett Publications, Captain Billy's Whiz Bang being the first magazine ever published by the company. As to their new superhero, the former Captain Thunder, it was artist Pete Costanza who suggested the name "Captain Marvellous." This was then shortened to simply "Captain Marvel."

Captain Marvel made his debut in Whiz Comics #2, February 1940 (Fawcett counted the ashcan copies of their Flash Comics and Thrill Comics as issue #1). That first issue featured the origin of Captain Marvel, in which 12 year old orphan Billy Batson encounters an ancient Egyptian wizard named Shazam. Shazam tells him that his name is an acronym of six mythological characters and that he possessed the powers of each of them--Solomon (wisdom), Hercules (strength), Atlas (stamina), Zeus (power), Achilles (courage), and Mercury (speed). He also tells Billy that he is old and will soon die. As a result, he passes a portion of his powers to Billy. When Billy Batson shouts the magic word "SHAZAM!", he transforms into the adult superhero Captain Marvel.

It would also be in Whiz Comics #2 that Billy Batson would get a job as an on-air reporter for the radio station WHIZ, and that Captain Marvel first faced his archenemy, Dr. Sivana. Dr. Sivana was a mad scientist intent on evil. Worse yet, he was  so intelligent that he figured out that Captain Marvel was really 12 year-old Billy Batson.

Captain Marvel proved to be a hit immediately upon his debut. Whiz Comics #2 sold over 500,000 copies. It would not be long before Captain Marvel received his own title with Captain Marvel Adventures in 1941. Captain Marvel's success would also lead to him becoming the first superhero to appear in a live-action motion picture. Adventures of Captain Marvel was a 12-chapter serial starring Tim Tyler as Captain Marvel and Frank Coghlan, Jr. as Billy Batson with an official release date of March 28 1941.

The origins of Adventures of Captain Marvel actually owe something to Captain Marvel's archrival in the comic book business, Superman. It was on April 20 1940 that Republic announced that they had obtained the rights to make a Superman serial. Unfortunately, the deal would not last long. National Allied Publications (one of the companies that would become the modern day DC Comics) demanded more control over the serial than Republic was willing to grant. Republic then simply took the script for their "Superman" serial and turned it into the serial entitled The Mysterious Dr. Satan, featuring a hero called Copperhead. Of course, Superman continued to appear in theatrical animated shorts produced by Fleischer Studios for Paramount.

Republic still wanted to make a superhero serial, however, so they obtained the film rights to Captain Marvel. Adventures of Captain Marvel proved to be highly successful at the box office. Since its initial release there have been many who have referred to it as the greatest serial ever made. Sadly, for Fawcett Comics, Adventures of Captain Marvel would have one rather undesirable consequence (more on that later).

The success of Captain Marvel would also lead to various spin-off characters. The first of these were the Lieutenant Marvels. The Lieutenant Marvels were other boys named Billy Batson who Billy befriends. He then revealed to them that he was Captain Marvel. When Dr. Sivana's goons mistakenly kidnaps Billy as well as the boys who share his name, the boys shout, "Shazam!" and transform into variations of Captain Marvel: Tall Marvel, Hill Marvel, and Fat Marvel. Fortunately Captain Marvel and his Lieutenants are able to defeat Dr. Sivana. The Lieutenant Marvels first appeared in Whiz Comics #21, September 1941. They continued to appear periodically during the Forties and Fifties.

The next spin-off character was Captain Marvel Jr. Captain Marvel Jr. originated from editor Ed Herron's desire for a character spun off from Captain Marvel, who at the same time would be distinctive. It was artist Mac Raboy who designed the new character. Captain Marvel Jr. was Freddy Freeman, a boy injured by the supervillain Captain Nazi. Captain Marvel took Freddy to a hospital where he learned he was not expected to live. Captain Marvel then consults with the wizard Shazam, who tells him that can pass Freddy some of his powers so that the boy might live. Not only does Freddie live (although he is lame), but he also has the ability to transform into Captain Marvel Jr. simply by exclaiming "Captain Marvel!" Strangely enough, while Captain Marvel was an adult superhero, Captain Marvel Jr. was a teenager just as Freddy was. Captain Marvel Jr. first appeared in Whiz Comics #25, December 1941 before receiving his own series in Master Comics and still later his own title (Captain Marvel Jr.).

The third major character to be spun off from Captain Marvel was Mary Marvel. Mary Marvel was Mary Bromfield, the long lost twin sister of Billy Batson (her birth name was "Mary Batson"). Billy revealed to Mary that he was Captain Marvel. Mary then wonders if, because they are twins, she would also become a superhero if she yelled, "Shazam!" When Billy Batson and Freddie Freeman try to rescue Mary from kidnappers, she yells, "Shazam!" and is transformed into Mary Marvel. Just as C. C. Beck based Captain Marvel's appearance on Fred MacMurray, so too was Mary Marvel's appearance based on a movie star. Artist Mark Swayze based her appearance on Judy Garland. Mary Marvel first appeared in Captain Marvel Adventures #18, December 1942 and then received her own series in Wow Comics.

There would be yet other spin-off characters from Captain Marvel, so that there was an entire Marvel Family. Uncle Marvel was a non-powered character who initially appeared as a supporting character in Mary Marvel's series and then later stories involving the Marvel Family as well. Eventually Fawcett Comics published a comic titled Marvel Family Comics, that featured the Marvel Family.

There would be even be a funny animal spin-off of Captain Marvel, although it might be more accurate to describe the character as having been inspired by Captain Marvel. It was in 1942 that Fawcett Comics decided to expand into funny animal comics. Chad Grothkopf, who had worked at the companies that would become DC Comics and Marvel Comics, was charged with creating funny animal characters for Fawcett. Among those characters was Hoppy the Marvel Bunny, essentially a funny animal version of Captain Marvel. Hoppy the Marvel Bunny first appeared in Fawcett's Funny Animals #1, December 1942 and would later receive his own short-lived, self-titled comic book. By the early Fifties any ties to Captain Marvel disappeared and the character became just "Hoppy." When Fawcett Publications closed their comic book line, Funny Animals would be bought by Charlton Comics, complete with Hoppy. For reprints of Fawcett's old "Hoppy the Marvel Bunny" stories, Charlton renamed him "Hoppy the Magic Bunny," changed his costume, and changed the magic word he used to turn into a superhero from "Shazam!" to "Alizam!".

Much of the success of Captain Marvel and the Marvel Family over all was perhaps one of the most inventive rogues galleries in the Golden Age of Comics. Besides Doctor Sivana, Captain Marvel and the Marvel Family fought such opponents as Aunt Minerva (an elderly woman who is deadly with a gun and constantly looking for new husbands), Black Adam (an ancient Egyptian and the first granted power by the wizard Shazam), Captain Nazi (a super-soldier created by the Nazis), King Kull (king of the beastmen, who had enslaved Homo spaiens in pre-history), Ibac (a petty crook who became essentially the evil equivalent of Captain Marvel), and Oggar (another one of the wizard Shazam's pupils who had turned against him). Particularly worth mentioning is Mister Mind, the antagonist of the 25 chapter serial "The Monster Society of Evil" that unfolded in the pages of Captain Marvel Adventures. Mister Mind was a criminal genius capable of controlling minds who recruited many of the Marvel Family's other enemies (including Doctor Sivana, Black Adam, Captain Nazi, and Ibac). Ultimately Mister Mind turns out to be a two inch, extremely near-sighted worm. "The Monster Society of Evil" was the longest running serial during the Golden Age.

In addition to a movie serial and several spin-off characters, Captain Marvel would also inspire a short lived radio show. In 1943 there was a short-lived Captain Marvel radio show. The series starred Burt Boyar as Billy Batson. Sadly, neither recordings of the radio show nor any scripts have survived, although it does appear in radio listings of the era.

Yet another mark of Captain Marvel's popularity is that the character had his own fan club. In many respects this was nothing unusual, as several comic book publishers ran fan clubs for their most popular characters. National Allied Publications had the Supermen of America. All-American Comics had the Junior Justice Society of America. MLJ Comics (later known as Archie Comics) had the Shield G-Men Club. That having been said, the Captain Marvel Club was extremely successful. According to Roscoe Fawcett (who was circulation manager of Fawcett Publications in the early Golden Age) in later interviews, after the club was started in August 1941 they had to acquire a whole building for the Captain Marvel Club alone. Around 30 to 35 employees at Fawcett Publications were charged with handling the fan club. In 1944 the club had 573,119 members. In fact, the Captain Marvel Club would even play a role in a feature film in the Forties. The Good Humor Man (1950) starred Jack Carson as an ice cream man who belongs to a local chapter of the Captain Marvel Club along with some of the neighbourhood kids. Fawcett Comics would even publish a movie tie-in, Captain Marvel and the Good Humor Man.

Along with the fan club, Captain Marvel and the Marvel Family were heavily merchandised in the Forties and early Fifties. There were such items on store shelves as a Captain Marvel doll, a Captain Marvel felt pennant, Captain Marvel-Mary Marvel Illustrated Soap, Captain Marvel Lightning Racing Cars, Captain Marvel Tattoo Transfers, a Mary Marvel wrist watch, and Marvel Family statuettes, along with t-shirts, paper planes, a toy flute, and even Captain Marvel tie-clips.

Unfortunately, it would be the success of Captain Marvel that would bring Fawcett Comics into conflict with the publishers of Superman. Historically National Allied Publications had been fiercely protective of the Man of Steel, suing any company that published a character that they thought was too similar to Superman. On March 15 1939 National filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Fox Publications because they thought their character Wonder Man was too similar to Superman. As a result, Wonder Man ceased appearing after his debut in Wonder Comics #1, May 1939. National would also send a cease and desist letter to Fawcett Comics because they felt their character Master Man was too similar to Superman. Master Man stopped appearing after only six issues of Master Comics because of the cease and desist letter.

Curiously given how swiftly National Allied Publications had reacted with regards to Wonder Man and Master Man, they did not sue Fawcett upon Captain Marvel's first appearance or even a few months later. Instead National waited until after the release of the serial Adventures of Captain Marvel to file a cease and desist letter against both Fawcett Comics and Republic Pictures in June 1941. When Fawcett and Republic ignored the cease and desist letter, National filed a lawsuit against Fawcett and Republic in September 1941. It would be years before the lawsuit would even make it to trial, during which time Republic Pictures was dropped from the lawsuit and National had merged with Detective Comics, Inc. and All-American Comics to become National Periodical Publications (the modern day DC Comics).

The core of National's argument was that Captain Marvel was derivative of Superman, including his powers (super-strength, invulnerability, super-agility, et. al.), a skin-tight costume, and his alter-ego as a reporter.  While Fawcett admitted that the two characters were similar, there were sufficient differences between them that Captain Marvel did not infringe upon Superman. The end result of the initial trial was that the judge decided that Fawcett had plagiarised Superman with Captain Marvel, but that National and the McClure Syndicate had failed to give proper copyright notice on several of the Superman newspaper comic strips. Fawcett then won on a technicality.

National appealed the decision, and it was tried in 1951 before the famed Judge Learned Hand and two other judges of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Judge Hand and his fellow judges ruled that National's copyright on Superman was indeed valid, despite the McClure Syndicate having failed to place the proper copyright notice on some newspaper strips. Judge Hand and his fellow judges also ruled that National would have to provide specific instances of infringement with regards to stories or heroic deeds in those stories. The matter was then sent back to a lower court to be decided.

With sales of their superhero titles no longer what they had once been, Fawcett Comics then decided to simply settle the matter out of court with National. Fawcett agreed to pay National $400,000 in damages and to cease publishing all Captain Marvel comic books. Indeed, Fawcett Publications simply closed their comic book division. Whiz Comics ended its run with issue #155, June 1953. Captain Marvel Adventures ended its run with issue #150, November 1953. Captain Marvel last appeared as a character published by Fawcett Comics in Marvel Family #89, January 1954.

While Captain Marvel was gone, he was hardly forgotten. The character was still well known enough in the early Sixties that Gomer Pyle on The Andy Griffith Show (and later in the Sixties his own spin-off, Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C.) not only regularly used "Shazam!" as an exclamation, but even mentioned Captain Marvel by name on occasion. Captain Marvel was among the characters Jules Feiffer discussed in his 1965 book The Great Comic Book Heroes. The serial Adventures of Captain Marvel would return to theatres in 1966. In the 1970 book All in Color for a Dime, there is an essay dedicated to Captain Marvel by Dick Lupoff.

Indeed, the name "Captain Marvel" was well-known enough in the Sixties for other comic book publishers to co-opt it for their own. Not having published Captain Marvel for years, Fawcett Comics let the trademark on the character lapse. It was then in 1966 that M. F. Enterprises published their own comic book titled Captain Marvel. Created by Carl Burgos (best known as the creator of Marvel Comics' original Human Torch), M. F. Enterprises' Captain Marvel was an alien android with laser eyes, super-strength, and the ability to detach his hands, arms, hands, and legs and launch them flying. M. F. Enterprises' Captain Marvel wasn't particularly successful, lasting only four issues. The following year Marvel Comics introduced their first Captain Marvel in Marvel Super-Heroes #12, December 1967. Marvel Comics' first Captain Marvel was Mar-Vell, a Kree warrior assigned to Earth who comes to identify with its inhabitants and thus became a superhero. Mar-Vell would be killed off in the 1982 graphic novel The Death of Captain Marvel, but he would be followed by several more Marvel Comics characters using the name, including Carol Danvers (the current Captain Marvel and protagonist of the movie of the name).

While other characters would take the name and Marvel Comics even trademarked the name "Captain Marvel", this did not mean that Fawcett Comics' Captain Marvel was gone forever. In 1972 DC Comics licensed the Marvel Family and other characters from Fawcett. It was then that DC Comics published the first comic book featuring the original Captain Marvel in nearly twenty years. Titled Shazam! because Marvel held the trademark to the name "Captain Marvel", its first issue was covered dated February 1973.  Unfortunately, this initial revival of Captain Marvel did not prove particularly successful. Shazam! ended its run after only 35 issues with issue #35, May-June 1978.

While Shazam! did not prove very successful, it did lead to a live-action, Saturday morning television show that ran on CBS from 1974 to 1977. The series starred Michael Gray as Billy Batson and Jackson Bostwick (first) and John Davey (second and third seasons) as Captain Marvel. Captain Marvel (played by Garrett Craig) would later appear Hanna-Barbera's notoriously bad, live-action specials titled Legends of the Superheroes that aired in 1979. The first of these specials featured Howard Morris as Dr. Sivana (the first live-action appearance of the character). Still later an animated version of Captain Marvel would air on NBC as part of The Kid Super Power Hour with Shazam!.

DC Comics would eventually buy the rights to the old Fawcett Comics characters and since then have attempted several revivals of Captain Marvel. These included the Eighties mini-series Shazam! The New Beginning, a brief run in Action Comics Weekly (issues #623–626) in 1988, the 1994 graphic novel The Power of Shazam!, which was followed by the regular title The Power of Shazam! (which ran from 1995 to 1999), and yet other attempts to revive the characters. In addition, Captain Marvel would also appear in such DC Comics titles as Justice League of America, JSA, and others. In 2012, after years of Marvel Comics holding the trademark to the name "Captain Marvel", DC Comics simply renamed the character "Shazam", a move which remains controversial among fans to this day.

Since the Eighties Captain Marvel has also appeared in media beyond comic books. Over the years he has appeared in various DC Animated Universe TV series including Justice League Unlimited, Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Young Justice, and Justice League Action. In 2014 Captain Marvel also appeared in one-minute DC Nation interstitials that aired on Saturday morning during Cartoon Network programming.  Captain Marvel also appeared in several of the DC Animated Universe direct-to-video releases.

Of course, most recently the original Captain Marvel appears in the feature film Shazam! (2019). Released on April 5 2019 in the United States, it earned $67.4 million in the United States and Canada. It has also done well outside the United States and Canada. Shazam! has also received largely positive reviews. While the character was originally named "Captain Marvel" and DC Comics later renamed him "Shazam", in the movie the character is not given a superhero name.

The original Captain Marvel left his mark on comic book history long ago. Indeed, despite DC's insistence that Captain Marvel infringed upon Superman, an argument can be made that Captain Marvel has influenced Superman to a large degree. Indeed, it must be pointed out that Captain Marvel flew in comic books well before the Man of Steel did. Originally in the comic books both Superman and Captain Marvel simply used super-leaps to get from place to place (not unlike The Hulk later would). While it is true that Superman flew on the radio show Adventures of Superman and still later in the Fleischer cartoons, in the comic books he still leapt from place to place for years. Precisely when Superman first regularly began flying in the comic books is a matter of some debate, but there is a possibility it might have been Action Comics #65, October 1943. In contrast, Captain Marvel started flying in Whiz Comics #5, June 1940. This pre-dates every instance of Superman flying in various media (including the Fleischer cartoons, in which he originally simply leapt) except for the radio show The Adventures of Superman. When Superman started to fly, then, he was following Captain Marvel's lead.

In another respect Captain Marvel would have an impact on Superman and yet other superheroes in having a family of spin-off characters. Beginning in the Fifties DC Comics would follow the lead of Captain Marvel by giving Batman an extended family that included Batwoman, Ace the Bathound, Bat-Mite, and Bat-Girl. While many of these characters would fall by the wayside, in the Sixties such characters as Batgirl and Man-Bat would be added. Superman would also develop his own equivalent of the Marvel Family. In the Fifties both Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane would receive their own titles, while the character of Supergirl would first appear in 1959. Yet other superheroes would also develop their own families of superheroes, including such characters as Aquaman and Green Arrow.

Captain Marvel would also have an influence on comic books in terms on the quality of the Golden Age Captain Marvel comic books. The artwork in Fawcett's Captain Marvel titles was often far superior to that seen in many other contemporary comic books. What is more, many of the stories appearing in Fawcett's Captain Marvel titles were more sophisticated than those in other contemporary comic books. Certainly "The Monster Society of Evil," which unfolded over two years, was superior to most anything out being put out at the time. Fawcett's Captain Marvel stories combined humour and a good deal of whimsy with action and adventure in such a way that even adults today could enjoy them.

Of course, the $64,000 question is whether Captain Marvel was an infringement of Superman. Having discussed this with many comic book fans over the years (including my late best friend Brian), I would say that he was not. It is true that both characters were quite similar. Both of them were super-strong. Both of them were super-fast. Both of them were invulnerable. That having been said, they both differed in significant ways. Superman's alter-ego was the adult reporter Clark Kent. All Clark had to do to change in to Superman was take off his street clothes. Captain Marvel's alter-ego was twelve year-old Billy Batson. To become Captain Marvel he had to shout the word, "Shazam!" While Superman's origins were rooted in science fiction (originally he was the only survivor of the planet Krypton), Captain Marvel's origins were rooted in mythology. Even their powers differed a bit. For a few years Captain Marvel could fly, while Superman could not. Rather early in his history Superman developed such powers as x-ray vision and yet other abilities that Captain Marvel would never possess. Although the characters were quite similar, I think there was enough difference between Captain Marvel and Superman that I can say the former did not infringe upon the latter.

Captain Marvel would leave his mark on comic book history. For a time in the Golden Age of Comic Books he was the best-selling superhero around, outselling even Superman. He was the first superhero to appear on film. He would have a lasting influence on other superheroes, even Superman. While there have been other characters named "Captain Marvel" and Marvel Comics currently holds the trademark for the name, I believe that for many people Captain Marvel will always be the alter ego of Billy Batson.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Happy 10th Annual TCM Classic Film Festival

The 10th Annual TCM Classic Film Festival begins tomorrow. I want to wish all of my friends who are attending the festival this year (of which there are many) an enjoyable time at the festival. While I know that there are many great movies and great speakers to see there, I am sure that much of the enjoyment that comes from the TCM Classic Film Festival is simply to reconnect with old friends and make new ones.

I would also like to ask those of you who are attending the 10th Annual TCM Classic Film Festival to raise a glass in memory of both Vanessa Marquez and Andrea Rosen at some point. Vanessa was one of the original members of #TCMParty, so beloved that #TCMParty co-founder Paula Guthat referred to her as "the sweetheart of #TCMParty." Of course, by now I think everyone knows how significant she was to me. Andrea Rosen was also a well-loved, long time member of #TCMParty and a frequent attendee of the TCM Classic Film Festival. Many of us knew her best for her tweets during Noir Alley. She is still missed every Saturday night and Sunday morning when Noir Alley rolls around.

As for myself, I eagerly await the various updates on the festival from my many fellow TCM fans. I hope that I will be able to attend next year!

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

The Late Great Agnès Varda

Legendary director, screenwriter, editor, photographer, and artist Agnès Varda died on March 29 2019 at the age of 90. The cause was breast cancer.

Agnès Varda was born Arlette Varda on May 30, 1928, in Ixelles, Belgium. Her father was Greek while her mother was French. In 1940 her family moved to Sète, France. She was 18 when she changed her first name from "Arlette" to "Agnès". Miss Varda studied art history at the École du Louvre and photography at the École des Beaux-Arts. She then went to work as a photographer at the Théâtre National Populaire in Paris.

It was while Agnès Varda was a photographer that she became interested in film making. Her first movie was La Pointe-Courte in 1955. She would make several more feature films throughout her career, including Cléo de 5 à 7 (1962), Le bonheur (1965), Les créatures (1966), Lions Love (1969), L'une chante l'autre pas (1977), Documenteur (1981), Sans toit ni loi (1985), Kung-fu master! (1988), Jane B. par Agnès V. (1988), Jacquot de Nantes (1991), and Les cent et une nuits de Simon Cinéma (1995).

Miss Varda would also make many short subjects throughout her career, including both narrative shorts and documentary shorts. Her first short was "L'opéra-mouffe" in 1958. Her first documentary short was "O saisons, ô châteaux" that same year. Over the years she directed such documentary shorts as "Black Panthers" (1968), "Réponse de femmes: Notre corps, notre sexe" (1975), "Ulysse" (1983), and "Viennale Walzer" (2004). In all she directed twenty different short subjects.

Agnès Varda also directed feature length documentaries. Among her documentaries were Loin du Vietnam (1967), Daguerréotypes (1977), L'univers de Jacques Demy (1995), and Quelques veuves de Noirmoutier (2006). Miss Varda also worked in television, making the TV movie Nausicaa (1970) and the documentary mini-series Agnès de ci de là Varda, among other television projects.

Agnès Varda was a truly groundbreaking director. Indeed, it is possible that without her films the French New Wave would have never taken place. Agnès Varda would have an impact on the French New Wave, the British New Wave, and various other film movements around the world. What is more, her impact is still being felt to this day. Alfonso Cuarón's film Roma (2018) displays her influence. Of course, Miss Varda's influence went beyond narrative cinema. Her documentaries often focused on everyday life.

Of course, Agnès Varda was also a pioneering female film maker. She made her first film at a time when very few women were directing in either Europe or North America. Because she was a woman, at times she had difficulties getting her films made. As a result she became a true auteur, not only directing her films, but often writing, editing, and producing them as well. What is more, she lent a genuinely female voice to her films that was rare in cinema at the time. She utilised female protagonists at a time when they were rare in both European cinema and Hollywood. Agnès Varda was a truly revolutionary film maker, and the world of cinema will be poorer without her.