Thursday, June 21, 2018

Why I Am Disappointed in the New Watch TCM App

I  have been a fan of Turner Classic Movies very nearly since the channel first went on the air. And I am happy to say it is very rare that I am ever disappointed by TCM. Unfortunately, last night when the Watch TCM mobile app updated on my phone is one of those few times when TCM disappointed me. Quite simply, the Watch TCM app (which I had given a sterling review a while back) has lost a lot of its functionality.

Indeed, the first thing I noticed when I opened the new version of the Watch TCM app is that it was missing the schedule. For me this is very nearly a deal breaker. The schedule was the one thing I used the most on the Watch TCM app. In fact, I checked it very nearly every day. It was convenient as I could check what was on Turner Classic Movies at any given time when I was away from home or if I simply wanted to check the schedule without walking over to my computer to go to the Turner Classic Movies web site or checking the cable menu on the TV.

The Watch TCM app also appears to be missing some other features it had previously as well. Earlier versions of the app had an archive of clips and trailers that one can watch. If it still has an archive of clips and trailers, I could not find it. It also had an image gallery with posters, lobby cards, production photos, and publicity photos. That appears to be gone as well. The old version of the app also had various notes on films, complete with trivia and details about the movies' productions. This feature also appear to be missing from the new version.

Now, as might be expected,  one can still watch Turner Classic Movies live on the app. And I cannot deny that this is very useful to have. A couple of times when TCM was out on our cable system for whatever reason, I simply pulled up the Watch TCM app and mirrored my phone to my television set. Because of this I did not miss any programming on TCM. That having been said, I only used the watch live option a couple of times. It is not something I use regularly.

With the Watch TCM app one also still has access to TCM On Demand. This is something I have never used as I have access to On Demand through my cable system. Given I can simply watch TCM On Demand on my television set, I have no reason to watch it on the app, although others might find it useful.

Now the new Watch TCM App does have some new features. There is a Watchlist to which one can add films to one's queue to watch later. That having been said, since I have TCM On Demand through my cable provider, I really can't see using this very often. One can also browse movies through TCM's various themes, such as Star of the Month, Silent Sunday Nights, 31 Days of Oscar, and so on Again, I can't see using this very often as I have access to TCM On Demand on my television set.

Regardless, I do not appear to be alone in my unhappiness with the new Watch TCM App. Of the reviews for the new app on The Google Play Store, the majority of them are negative (keep in mind the reviews for older versions of the app were overwhelmingly positive). The biggest complaint appears to be the lack of the schedule on the new version of the Watch TCM app. There have also been a few people on Twitter who have complained about the new app (myself included). There too most people seem to be complaining about the schedule missing from the app.

In the end I would say that if you want to watch movies on your phone or tablet or if you think you might have reason to at some point (for instance, TCM is out on your cable system), the Watch TCM app is still worth downloading if you don't already have it. If you do already have the Watch TCM app and it has not yet updated, I would immediately disable automatic update on the app and simply keep the old app as long as you can. I am sincerely hoping that Turner Classic Movies listens to viewer's complaints about the new version of the Watch TCM app and restores much of the functionality it once had to the next version of the app (the schedule at least) . I also hope they do so as soon as possible.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The 70th Anniversary of The Ed Sullivan Show

Seventy years ago today, on June 20 1948, Toast of the Town debuted on CBS. If you don't recognise the title Toast of the Town, then you will probably recognise the title by which it would be later called: The Ed Sullivan Show. For the next 23 years it would remain a Sunday night staple on CBS. When it was cancelled it was not due to its ratings, but because its audience was considered "too old".

The Ed Sullivan Show would not only prove to be popular, but it would also prove to be influential. The show was notable for the first television American performances of many legendary performers, most notably Martin & Lewis and The Beatles. At a time when African Americans only rarely appeared on television, Ed Sullivan featured black performers regularly. Harry Belafonte, James Brown, Cab Callway, Diahann Carroll, Sam Cooke, Lena Horne, Eartha Kitt, Moms Mabley, The Miracles, Richard Pryor, andThe Supremes all appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show.

I wrote a detailed post on The Ed Sullivan Show on the occasion of its 60th anniversary. You can read it here.

Friday, June 15, 2018

The Doris Day-Rock Hudson Movies

 (This post is part of the Sex! (now that I have your attention) Blogathon hosted by MovieMovieBlogBlog)

When people think of on-screen couples, they might think of Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, or Tyrone Power and Linda Darnell. Among those on-screen couples that might come to people's minds are Doris Day and Rock Hudson. Not only do they number among the best known on-screen couples, but it is sometimes difficult to think of one without thinking of the other as well. Amazingly enough, while Doris Day and Rock Hudson were lifelong friends, they only three films together.

Doris Day and Rock Hudson first starred together in the classic Pillow Talk (1959).  According to the "Rambling Reporter" column in the August 28 1959 issue of Variety, Pillow Talk originated as a screenplay by Russell Rouse and Clarence Greene, which RKO bought in 1942. RKO never made a movie based on the screenplay, so Messrs. Rouse and Greene bought it back in 1945. Eventually they sold the unproduced script to Arwin Productions, a company owned by Doris Day's husband Martin Melcher. Russell Rouse and Clarence Greene's original screenplay would be rewritten by Stanley Shapiro and Maurice Richlin, a writing team who had previous worked on the sitcoms Where's Raymond? and The Real McCoys and would go onto work on the movies Operation Petticoat (1959) and Come September (1961).

As might be expected, Doris Day was set to play the lead in Pillow Talk. As to Rock Hudson, he had previously worked with producer Ross Hunter on several films, including Magnificent Obsession (1954) and All That Heaven Allows (1955). Both stars were nervous about starring in Pillow Talk. For Doris Day it was simply a case that some of her recent films had not been particularly successful. In Rock Hudson's case it was because he had never starred in a comedy. Fortunately various factors would help put Mr. Hudson's mind at ease with regards to the film. Producer Ross Hunter, whom Mr. Hudson regarded as a friend, reassured him with the words, "Play it straight, and let the audience find the comedy." Doris Day, who already had a good deal of experience playing comedy, also proved to be helpful to Rock Hudson. The two of them hit it off the moment they met and became fast friends on the set of Pillow Talk. Doris Day and Rock Hudson even created nicknames for each other. Miss Day was "Eunice Blotter" and Mr. Hudson was "Roy Harold" (his actual given first name and middle name).

Pillow Talk saw Doris Day playing interior decorator Jan Morrow and Rock Hudson playing composer Brad Allen. The two are constantly fighting over the telephone party line which they share, with Brad tending to tie it up with phone calls from his many female friends. The nature of the conflict changes when Brad finally sees Jan in person and sees that she is rather attractive. He then creates a new persona, Rex Stetson, so he can woo her.

Pillow Talk would be the first "Sixties sex comedy" (even though it was released in 1959). There were those, including Rock Hudson himself, who worried that the film might just be too racy. Surprisingly, the biggest problem Pillow Talk had with the Production Code Administration was its title. Martin Melcher suggested to Ross Hunter that they could simply change the title from Pillow Talk to Any Way the Wind Blows, the title of a song he had recently published. Fortunately Ross Hunter stuck to his guns and ultimately the Production Code Administration allowed the film to be released as Pillow Talk.

Pillow Talk proved to be a hit at the box office, making $9.670 million, which made it the 5th highest grossing film of 1959. There should be little wonder that the film should be such a success. The chemistry between Doris Day and Rock Hudson as friends in real life was readily visible on screen, and the film benefited from a stellar script. Quite simply, Pillow Talk achieved the remarkable feat of appearing racy without really being dirty. It was a sex comedy notable for the fact that no sex actually takes place in the film! The film also benefited from the presence of Tony Randall, who played Brad's friend Jonathan, who also happens to be Jan's client (and also happens to have a crush on her), as well as Thelma Ritter, playing Jan's alcoholic, gossipy housekeeper Alma.

With its misunderstandings, false identities, and innuendoes, Pillow Talk would provide the template for many Sixties sex comedies to come. In fact, it would start a cycle of sex comedies that would last very nearly until 1967. As might be expected, the success of Pillow Talk naturally led to another film that would team Doris Day up with Rock Hudson. Stanley Shaprio returned to co-write the next Doris Day and Rock Hudson movie, this time with Paul Henning, now best known as the co-creator of The Beverly Hillbillies. In many respects Lover Come Back (1961) offers more of the same as Pillow Talk: an attractive woman and man in conflict, mistaken identity, misunderstandings, and innuendos. That having been said, Lover Come Back also had quite a bit that was quite different from Pillow Talk. In fact, there are those who consider it the best of the Doris Day and Rock Hudson comedies.

In Lover Come Back Doris Day plays advertising executive Carol Templeton. Even though the two have never met, her archrival is advertising executive Jerry Webster (played by Rock Hudson), who has stolen a few clients from Carol simply by wining and dining them with liquor, good food, and pretty girls. When Carol learns that Jerry has created commercials for a product that doesn't even exist, VIP, she thinks she finally has the evidence necessary to put an end to his career. Unfortunately for Carol, Jerry has a few more tricks up his sleeve, and one of them turns out to be wooing her using a false identity.

Like Pillow Talk before it, Lover Came Back proved highly successful. It was the seventh highest grossing film in the United States in 1961. The reasons for its success aren't hard to find. Like Pillow Talk, Lover Come Back offered more antagonism between characters played by Doris Day and Rock Hudson, whose chemistry was still palpable on screen. Like Pillow Talk, Lover Come Back also offered more misunderstandings and cases of mistaken identity. That having been said, Lover Come Back differed from Pillow Talk in many ways. Indeed, it functioned as much as a satire of the advertising industry (then considered one of the sexiest occupations around) as much as it did a sex comedy. If anything, the humour in Lover Come Back was even more outrageous than the humour in Pillow Talk. The film also benefited from a sterling supporting cast. Tony Randall was back, this time playing Brad's neurotic boss Pete Ramsey. Edie Adams played Rebel Davis, an ambitious chorus girl who wanted very badly to break into acting. Ann B. Davis played Carol's secretary, Millie.

Given the success of Lover Come Back, it should come as no surprise that Doris Day and Rock Hudson would be teamed up a third time. Send Me No Flowers (1964) was based on a play by Norman Barasch and Carroll Moore that had run on Broadway from December 5 1960 to January 7 1961. The play was rewritten for the screen by Julius J. Epstein, who with his brother Philip had written the screenplay for the classic The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942) as well as other classics. It was directed by a young director named Norman Jewison, who had directed Doris Day's movie The Thrill of It All (1963).

Send Me No Flowers presented a sharp contrast to the previous two Doris Day and Rock Hudson outings. In Send Me No Flowers they played a married couple, Judy and George Kimball. George is an incurable hypochondriac who becomes convinced that he is going to die when he over hears his doctor (played by Edward Andrews) discussing another patient's case. Concerned for his wife Judy's welfare after he is gone, George then sets out to find a man that she can marry after he has died. He is assisted in this by his best friend and neighbour, Arnold Nash (played by Tony Randall). While Send Me No Flowers included no instances of mistaken identity such as those in Pillow Talk or Lover Come Back, it featured plenty of misunderstandings, as well as a good deal of slapstick and verbal humour. Like the two previous films it also had a sterling supporting cast, including Paul Lynde as a salesman at a cemetery and Hal March as a playboy who preys upon women separated from their husbands.

Send Me No Flowers was not quite as successful as Pillow Talk or Lover Come Back, but it did very well at the box office. What is more, Doris Day, Rock Hudson, and Tony Randall all enjoyed working with each other very much. Given the success of the film and the fact that the leads loved working together, it would have made sense for there to have been a fourth film starring Doris Day and Rock Hudson. Unfortunately, it would not come to pass. For the next twenty years Doris Day and Rock Hudson tried finding another project on which they could work together, but they never found the right script. They even discussed starring together in a TV movie. Sadly, on October 2 1985 Rock Hudson died from AIDS-related illness, putting an end to the chance of the two of them ever working together again. While Doris Day and Rock Hudson never worked together after Send Me No Flowers, they remained close friends until Mr. Hudson's death.

It was the friendship between Doris Day and Rock Hudson that accounted for much of the success of the three movies they made together. It was not long before his death that Rock Hudson commented on his work with Doris Day and why it was successful, saying, "First of all, the two people have to truly like each other, as Doris and I did, for that shines through. Then, too, both parties have to be strong personalities--very important to comedy--so that there's a tug-of-war over who's going to put it over on the other, who's going to get the last word, a fencing match between two adroit opponents of the opposite sex who in the end are going to fall into bed together." The chemistry between Doris Day and Rock Hudson was arguably among the best that had ever been seen on screen, and much of that was due to the fact that Miss Day and Mr. Hudson truly liked each other and enjoyed each other's company. Watching the three films today, one would never guess that Rock Hudson was homosexual and Doris Day was married at the time--on screen they truly seemed like a couple who was very much into each other.

Of course, much of the reason for the success of Pillow Talk, Lover Come Back, and Send Me No Flowers can be summed up in one word: sex. The Fifties saw the Production Code Administration loosen up a bit as to what was actually permitted in films. This meant that movies could feature much more innuendo and far racier situations than they would have in the late Thirties and throughout the Forties. Pillow Talk took advantage of this fact, to the point that there were those who were concerned that it might just be too racy. Of course, it has been remarked more than once that  there is no sex in any of the three movies (not even Send Me No Flowers, where Doris Day and Rock Hudson play a married couple). The fact that the three films only hinted at something untoward made them acceptable to both those who had no objections to sexual content in films and those who did. Quite simply they were movies that hinted at being dirty without actually being dirty movies.

While some aspects of the Doris Day and Rock Hudson comedies seem dated to this day, they remain as popular as ever. The movies are still regularly shown on television (particularly on Turner Classic Movies) and they are even available on DVD and Blu-Ray (often in box sets containing all three movies). They remain the best known Sixties sex comedies of all time. They also established Doris Day and Rock Hudson as one of the best known and best loved screen couples of all time. That is a remarkable feat given they only made three films together!


Thursday, June 14, 2018

When Anime Was a Dirty Word

Today anime or Japanese animation is very much a part of the mainstream in American pop culture. A whole generation has grown up watching such animated TV series as Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball Z, Pokémon, and Yu-Gi-Oh!. Not only have anime feature films been nominated for the Oscar for Best Animated Feature several times, but Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away won in 2003. Since the Naughts anime has gained a good deal of acceptance in the United States, so much so that it is hard to picture a time when when it wasn't always accepted. That having been said, there was a time in the mid to late Nineties when anime fans were at times very cautious about admitting their love for the medium to some people.

Astro Boy
Animation has a long history in Japan. The earliest verified examples of Japanese animation go back to 1917, although there is one short animated film ("Katsudō Shashin") that might date back to 1907. In 1945 the first Japanese animated feature, Momotaro's Divine Sea Warriors, was released. Following World War II Japan saw a boom in animation. The well known studio Toei Animation was founded in 1948. With the emergence of television in Japan also came animated TV series, the first of which was Otogi Manga Calendar in 1961. It would be followed by the highly successful TV series Tetsuwan Atomu (known in the United States as Astro Boy). Tetsuwan Atomu would be followed by many more animated TV series.

With the animation industry prospering in Japan following World War II, it would not be long before Japanese animation would find its way to the United States, although it would be literally decades before Americans would start calling it "anime". In 1961 Toei Animation's feature Shōnen Sarutobi Sasuke was released in the United States as Magic Boy, making it the first anime feature to be released in America. It was followed a month later by Hakujaden, retitled Panda and the Magic Serpent in the United States. Saiyu-ki, retitled Alakazam the Great in the United States, was released in America not long after Panda and the Magic Serpent. None of these features did particularly well at the box office, and at the time it might have seemed as if American audiences had no taste for Japanese animation.

While the earliest anime features released in the United States failed at the box office, anime would eventually see a good deal of success on American television. The highly successful animated TV series Tetsuwan Atomu would come to the United States under the title Astro Boy (a literal translation of the show's Japanese title, "Mighty Atom", was not possible because DC Comics already had a character called "The Atom"). Debuting in Japan in January 1963, Astro Boy was first syndicated to American television stations in September 1963. Unlike some of the early feature films, no secret was made regarding the Japanese origins of Astro Boy, which were publicised upon its debut in newspaper articles.

Astro Boy proved highly successful on American television, It often won its time slot in the various markets around the country where it aired. It also spurred the import of yet more anime television shows to the United States. Astro Boy was followed by several other Japanese animated series that would see a good deal of success in the United States, including 8th Man (Eitoman), Gigantor (Tetsujin 28-go), Kimba the White Lion (Janguru Taitei), Prince Planet (Yūsei Shōnen Papī), Marine Boy (Kaitei Shōnen Marin), and Speed Racer (Mahha GōGōGō). Unlike Astro Boy, the American distributors of some of these cartoons went to great pains to hide their Japanese origins (this was particularly true of 8th Man). Regardless, many of these animated series would prove highly successful and would still be seen on American television stations throughout the Seventies and Eighties.

Despite the success of these Japanese anime TV series, the market for anime TV shows dried up in American syndication around 1968. The reasons were threefold. The first was the switch of the American networks and local stations to colour broadcasting in the mid-Sixties. After the switch to colour, even local stations displayed a marked preference for shows shot in colour as opposed to those filmed in black-and-white. This meant that many of the early anime shows, such as Astro Boy (which was shot in black and white), were in less demand as the Sixties progressed. The second was the proliferation of reruns of American Saturday morning cartoons in syndication. Given a choice between reruns of the American Saturday morning cartoon King Leonardo and His Short Subjects and the anime TV series Gigantor, many local TV station managers may have elected to air the former. The third was that following the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, concerns arose over violence on television, including children's programming. Since many of the Japanese cartoons were more violent than their American counterparts, demand for Japanese cartoons decreased as concerns over television violence grew.

While some of the Japanese animated shows of the Sixties would continue to be rerun in the Seventies, then, there would be very little in the way of new anime on television for much of the decade. As to anime features, when they were released in the United States at all it was either to the children's matinee circuit or straight to syndication on American television stations. Despite this, American anime fandom began to emerge in the Seventies. The first American anime fan club, the Cartoon/Fantasy Organisation, was founded in Los Angeles in 1977. It was in 1978 that Carl Grafford, who worked as a colourist for both DC and Marvel Comics, coined the term "Japanimation" to be used of Japanese animation.

It was also in the late Seventies, just as anime fandom was beginning to organise, that anime developed a slightly higher profile in the United States. In 1978 an adaptation of Kagaku Ninjatai Gatchaman entitled Battle of the Planets debuted in syndication on television stations throughout the United States. That same year an English subtitled version of Uchū Kaizoku Kyaputen Hārokku (Space Pirate Captain Harlock) aired on stations in Honolulu, and the following year on stations in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York. A dubbed version of the show would have a limited release in the United States in 1981. In 1979 Uchū Senkan Yamato was syndicated in the United States under the title Star Blazers. Particularly in the case of Star Blazers, the Japanese origins of these shows were fairly well known in the United States at the time.

The Eighties would see the import of anime series to the United States become much more common, due in a large part to the growth of cable television. Both Nickelodeon and the Christian Broadcasting Network Cable (which would eventually evolve into Freeform) aired their share of children's anime series. Voltron (which was an adaptation of Hyaku Jūō Goraion in its first season and of Kikō Kantai Dairagā Fifutīn, "XV" in its second season), debuted in American syndication in 1984. It was followed by Robotech in 1985. Robotech combined the TV shows Chōjikū Yōsai Makurosu, Chō Jikū Kidan Sazan Kurosu, and Kikō Sōseiki Mosupīda into one show. In 1989 the feature film Akira (1988) would see a limited release in North America and would ultimately develop a cult following.

It was around 1985 that the Japanese word anime would be borrowed into English for use by fans to refer to Japanese animation. The word anime derived from the Japanese word animēshon, which itself was a borrowing of the English word animation. As to why the term anime would replace the word Japanimation, the primary reason was rather simple. It was far too easy for Japanimation to be pronounced as an ethnic slur, "Jap animation". As to the term anime, in Japanese it is used to refer to animation from any country, so that not only is Speed Racer anime, but so too is Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). It is only outside Japan that anime refers exclusively to Japanese animation. Regardless, the term anime would appear in American newspaper articles as early as 1990, although most people in the press were either using the term Japanimation or simply the phrase "Japanese animation" at the time.  It would not be until 1992 that the term anime would begin to be widely used in the press to refer to Japanese animation.

Unfortunately, it would be in 1993 that an event would occur that would cause many people to totally misinterpret the meaning of the word anime in the English language. Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend originated as a 1987 original video animation series (that is, it was released direct to video) in Japan. It was based on the 1986 manga Chōjin Densetsu Urotsukidōji.  The OVA series was later edited into a feature film, which was then dubbed into English and released in the United States. Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend was shockingly violent and overtly sexual, to the point that it is often regarded as pornography. Indeed, it would be the film that would introduce Americans to the concept of tentacle porn.

Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend would prove successful as a midnight movie in the United States. In 1993 it set house records at one New York City theatre, where it sold out 24 weeks in a row. It was followed by the release of other, similar feature films and OAV anime series in the United States. Later in 1993, the 1987 OAV feature Wicked City was released to American theatres. Unlike Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend, Wicked City was not outright pornography, although it contained images that were no less shocking. Several other anime with often shocking, sometimes violent, and overtly sexual imagery would be released direct to video, such as La Blue Girl and Demon Beast Invasion (which was based on the manga which is believed to have introduced the world to tentacle porn).

Here it must be pointed out that at the time such anime as Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend represented a very small portion of the anime imported to the United States, let alone produced in Japan. In fact, works such as Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend and Demon Beast Invasion were rare even among pornographic anime films and series (referred to as hentai by English speaking fans), which dealt with more mundane fare than naughty tentacles. What is more Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend was not even the first adult anime released in the United States. That was A Thousand and One Nights (1969), which was released in the United States in 1970. Regardless, the press that Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend and Wicked City received in 1993 were enough to convince many that anime was overly violent and overly sexual. They became convinced that anime, a term used by English speaking fans to refer to everything from children's TV series such as Heidi, Girl of the Alps to more adult fare such as Cream Lemon, referred exclusively to violent, pornographic animated films and OAV series.

Voltron
Indeed, a 1997 article in USA Today, about epileptic seizures induced in a number of Japanese children by an episode of  Pokémon, claimed, "The Cartoon Network does air Japan's Speed Racer, made 30 years ago, and Voltron, about 10 years old, but neither show is in the style of anime." In a 1998 article in Variety  on the American release of Hayao Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke (1997), Michael Johnson, president of Buena Vista Home Entertainment (Disney's home video division), said of the film, "This is not anime, it's not effects-driven or violence driven." A 1998 article in The New York Times, "At Mickey's House, A Quiet Welcome for Distant Cousins", mistakenly asserted, "These days, anime refers strictly to 'adult' Japanese animation, aimed primarily at young men."

The misconception that anime somehow referred exclusively to violent, often sexual, adult anime was so prevalent in the mid to late Nineties that it would even have an impact on dictionary definitions of anime. The American Heritage Dictionary defines anime as "A style of animation developed in Japan, characterized by stylized colorful art, futuristic settings, violence, and sex."  To say this definition is wildly inaccurate would be an understatement. Of course, it did not help the matter that if one searched for "anime" on Alta Vista or any of the other search engines on the World Wide Web in the mid-Nineties, he or she would come up with results largely composed of porn sites instead of sites devoted to Astro Boy, Voltron, or even Akira.

As might be expected, in the mid to late Nineties anime fans sometimes had problems explaining their interest to others, who might well look askance at them if they came right out and said that they liked "anime". In the late Nineties my best friend told me of an experience he had in explaining anime to a woman. He mentioned that he was a fan of anime. Her reaction was, "You mean those Japanese animated porn movies?" My best friend then explained to her that Speed Racer and Robotech were anime. Her reaction was, "Speed Racer can't be anime!" My best friend ultimately gave up trying to explain anime to her. For a brief period there was an assumption on the part of many that if one was an anime fan, then he must be into violence, pornography, and naughty tentacles.

Of course, the whole attitude that anime referred to adult animation that was often violent and sexual was wrong-headed in the extreme. When it was borrowed into the English language in the mid-Eighties, anime was meant to refer to any Japanese animation, whether it was made for children or adults. What is more, anime fans continued to use the term to refer to everything from Kimba the White Lion to Wicked City even as many in the general public were using it to refer exclusively to material like Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend. What is more, many in the general public were mistakenly thinking that anime was a style rather than a medium. Indeed, The American Heritage Dictionary's definition of anime begins, "a style..." Of course, to a degree this was nothing new. For a time from the Seventies to the early Eighties, many thought Japanimiation (as it was called at the time) was all characters with doe eyes. While this was true of the great Osamu Tezuka's work, it was hardly representative of anime as a whole.

Fortunately the misconception that anime referred to adult, often violent, often sexual animated works would begin to fade as the Nineties progressed. Much of this was due to the continued influx of anime into the Untied States. The Nineties saw the release of Hayao Miyazaki's earlier works, including My Neighbour Tortoro (1988) and Kiki's Delivery Service (1989), in the United States, as well as the release of his new film Princess Mononoke (1997). Several important anime TV series would be imported to the United States in the late Nineties, some of which were highly successful. In 1995 Sailor Moon began airing in syndication on American television stations. It was followed in syndication in the United States in 1996 by Dragon Ball Z. In 1998 Pokémon debuted in the United States. Neither Hayao Miyazaki's movies nor the TV shows Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball Z, and Pokémon matched many Americans' preconceived notions about anime. All this time anime fans were continuing to use the term anime to refer to any and all Japanese animation, and not simply the violent, sexual animation that many thought it referred exclusively to. In the end the general public, with a few exceptions, learned that anime was not all violent or pornographic, and embraced a wide array of styles and genres. When Spirited Away was released in the United States in 2002, the press referred to it as anime.

Since the mid to late Nineties, when many thought anime was the same thing as Japanese animated pornography, anime has gained greater acceptance in the United States. Spirited Away (2002) even won the Academy Away for Best Animated Feature in 2003. So many anime TV series aired in the United States throughout the Naughts and the Teens that it would be difficult to list all of them. In 1997 anime fans might be somewhat embarrassed to use the term anime around non-fans. Today there is no embarrassment in using the term at all.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Godspeed Jerry Maren

Jerry Maren, who played a member of the Lollipop Guild in the classic The Wizard of Oz (1939) and appeared on TV shows from Lidsville to Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, died on May 24 2018 at the age of 98. He had been the last surviving member of the cast of The Wizard of Oz with a singing or speaking part.

Jerry Maren was born Gerard Marenghi in Boston, Massachusetts. He was twelve years old when he began taking dance lessons alongside one of his sisters. By age 18 he was performing with a vaudeville act called Three Steps and a Half (as might be expected, Mr. Maren was the "half"). A scout for MGM took notice of Jerry Maren and he was soon cast as one of the Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz. His talent for singing and dancing won Mr. Maren the plumb role of the Lollipop Munckin, who hands Dorothy Gale (played by Judy Garland) a lollipop in the film.

Over the next several years Jerry Maren played bit parts in movies that called for a little person. He appeared in such films as Maisie Was a Lady (1941), Flesh and Fantasy (1943), Duffy's Tavern (1945), and Superman and the Mole Men (1951). In the late Forties he appeared as Buster Brown in advertisements for the popular brand of children's shoes. In the Fifties he played Little Oscar, the spokesman for Oscar Mayer, and travelled around the country in that company's Wienermobile.

He made his television debut in 1954 in an episode of Smilin' Ed's Gang. He also guest starred on the show Producer's Showcase and continued to play Buster Brown in television commercials. In the Sixties he guest starred on The Beverly Hillbillies, Bewitched, The Wild Wild West, The Bob Hope Show, Julia, Get Smart, and Here's Lucy.

The Seventies saw Mr. Maren playing the regular roles of Boris and Rah-Rah on the Saturday morning show Lidsville. He also had a recurring role on the comedy Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. On the game show The Gong Show he was also a regular, rushing out to throw confetti everywhere before the show's big finish. He also guest starred on the shows The Odd Couple, When Things Were Rotten, and Switch. He played Mayor McCheese in commercials for McDonald's.

In the Eighties Jerry Maren had a regular role on the show No Soap Radio. He guest starred on the shows Lou Grant, Wizards and Warriors, The Twilight Zone, and Short Ribbs. He appeared in the TV movies Side Show, High School U.S.A., Petronella, and The Dreamer of Oz. In the Nineties he guest starred on Seinfeld.

In 1957 with fellow little person Billy Barty, Jerry Maren founded Little People of America, an advocacy group for little people.

Jerry Maren had a knack for bringing joy to people. Those who met him always described how nice he was. He was well known for his generosity, particularly with regards to his fellow little people. He was also known for his patience with fans, even when they sometimes asked insensitive questions about his height. Of course, Jerry Maren was talented. He could sing and he had a gift for comedy that came in useful in his various guest appearances and as a spokesman for Buster Brown and Oscar Mayer. Of all the Munchkins to appear in The Wizard of Oz, some believe that he might well have been the most beloved of all.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Eunice Gayson Passes On

Eunice Gayson, who appeared as Sylvia Trench in the first two James Bond movies, appeared in Hammer Films' Revenge of Frankenstein, and guest starred on such shows as Danger Man, The Avengers, and The Saint, died on June 8 2018 at the age of 90.

Eunice Gayson was born Eunice Sargaison on March 28 1928 in Purley, Surrey. She made her film debut in a bit part in the movie My Brother Jonathan (1948). In the late Forties she appeared in such films as It Happened in Soho (1948), The Huggetts Abroad (1948), Melody in the Dark (1949), and Dance Hall (1950). She made her television debut in 1948 in the TV movie Between Ourselves. In the late Forties she appeared in such TV productions as Lady Luck (1948), Dick Whittington (1949), and Treasures in Heaven (1950).

In the Fifties Miss Gayson guest starred on such TV shows as Douglas Fairbanks Presents, The Vise, BBC Sunday-Night Theatre, and The New Adventures of Charlie Chan. She appeared in such movies as To Have and to Hold (1951), Miss Robin Hood (1952), Count of Twelve (1955), Carry On Admiral (1957), and The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958).

In the Sixties she was cast as Sylvia Trench in the James Bond movie Dr. No (1962). Initially Miss Gayson was going to appear as Miss Moneypenny, while Lois Maxwell would have played Sylvia Trench. Eunice Gayson and Lois Maxwell each preferred the other's character and a result the two switched roles. Sylvia Trench was to have been James Bond's steady girlfriend in London and appeared again in From Russia with Love (1963). The director of Goldfinger (1964), Guy Hamilton, decided James Bond did not need a steady girlfriend, and so Eunice Gayson appeared in no more James Bond movies. From Russia with Love would be Miss Gayson's last appearance. Eunice Gayson guest starred on such TV shows as Danger Man, The Avengers, The Saint, Before the Fringe, The Dick Emery Show, The World of the Beachcomber, and Albert and Victoria. Her last appearance was in the TV show The Adventurer in 1972.

Miss Gayson also appeared on stage, playing Baroness Elsa Schraeder in The Sound of Music and appearing productions of The Grass is Greener and Into the Woods.

Eunice Gayson was not the first Bond Girl. That would actually be Linda Christian in the 1954 television adaptation of Casino Royale that aired as an episode of the TV show Climax!. Furthermore, she did not provide her own voice in the two Bond movies in which she appeared, as she was dubbed by Nikki van der Zyl. This was a standard practice on the early Bond films, with every female character being dubbed by Nikki van der Zyl except for Miss Moneypenny and the characters played by Honor Blackman and Dame Diana Rigg (since Honor Blackman and Dame Diana Rigg had played Cathy Gale and Emma Peel on The Avengers, their voices were probably considered too familiar to be replaced). Regardless, Eunice Gayson played an important role in the history of James Bond. She was the first Bond Girl in Eon Productions' series of films featuring 007. Here it must be noted that people familiar with Miss Gayson from the Rank Organisation movies of the Fifties and TV guest appearances must have been puzzled by her voice in the Bond movies!

Of course, Eunice Gayson played many more roles than Sylvia Trench. She played Margaret, the assistant at the hospital who has the misfortune of meeting Baron Frankenstein, in The Revenge of Frankenstein. On The Avengers she played Lucille Banks, the evil head of a dance school in the episode "Quick-Quick Slow Death". In "The Invisible Millionaire", an episode of The Saint, she played Nora Prescott, who goes to her friend Simon Templar when her employer makes a strange request. Over the years Miss Gayson played a variety of roles and did well in all of them. She was an actress of considerable talent.

Friday, June 8, 2018

The 100th Anniversary of Robert Preston's Birth

This week I contracted a particularly vicious strain of of the norovirus, which is why I did not make a post Wednesday or yesterday. I am still feeling under the weather, but I wanted to observe the 100th birthday of Robert Preston. He has always been one of my favourite performers. Early in his career he appeared in such films as Beau Geste (1939) and This Gun for Hire (1942). His everlasting fame would come with the stage musical The Music Man in 1957. He would reprise his role as Professor Harold Hill in the 1962 film adaptation. Later in his career he would play Carole "Toddy" Todd in Victor Victoria (1982), for which he was nominated for the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Gen Xers might remember him best for his final film role, playing Centauri  in The Last Starfighter (1984).

Here in honour of Mr. Preston's centenary are two videos. First up is "(Ya Got) Trouble", from The Music Man.



Next up is "Chicken Fat", a song that requires a little bit of explanation. "Chicken Fat" was written by Meredith Wilson of The Music Man fame. It was commissioned by President John F. Kennedy's President's Council on Physical Fitness. Two versions were recorded: a shorter version for radio airplay and a longer version that would be sent to schools where it would be played while students performed callisthenics. I am guessing that if you are a Baby Boomer, you might remember it.