Thursday, January 21, 2021

Rod Perry Passes On

Rod Perry, who appeared in the The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman and was a regular on the TV show S.W.A.T., died on December 17 2020 at the age of 86.

Rod Perry was born on July 30 1934 in Coatesville, Pennsylvania. He received a track scholarship to Penn State and while he was there he set the world record in the 200-meter hurdles in 1957. He also played on the basketball team. Following his graduation he enlisted in the United States Army and served from 1958 to 1960. He then moved to New York City to pursue acting as a career. He appeared on Broadway in Leonard Sillman's New Faces of 1968.

Rod Perry made his film debut in 1970 in The Evil Within. He went onto appear in the movies The Black Godfather (1974), The Black Gestapo (1975), and S.W.A.T. (2013).  He had a small role in Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979). He made his television debut in the TV movie The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman in 1974). The same year he appeared in the movie Trapped Beneath the Sea. He guest starred on Barney Miller before becoming a regular on the TV series S.W.A.T., playing Sergeant David "Deacon" Kay. He later made guest appearances on the shows Project U.F.O., Good Times, and Babylon 5.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

The 80th Anniversary of Captain America

Most of Marvel Comics' well known characters, such as Spider-Man, Iron Man, Thor, and so on, only date to the Sixties. This is not the case with Captain America, who goes all the way back to the Golden Age of Comic Books.  Captain America Comics no. 1 hit newsstands on  December 20 1940, so that Captain America is now 80 years old. Aside from Wonder Woman, he may well be the most famous patriotically themed superhero of all time.

Here it must be kept in mind that Captain America was not the first patriotically themed character. That honour would go to The Shield, first published by MLJ Comics (now Archie Comics) in Pep Comics no. 22 (January 1940). The Shield was chemistry student Joe Higgins, whose superpowers derived from a formula that gave  people super-strength for the United States military. He followed by the largely forgotten character Captain Freedom in Speed Comics no. 13 (May 1941), published by what would become Harvey Comics. A third patriotic superhero was Uncle Sam himself. Uncle Sam first appeared in National Comics no. 1 (July 1940), published by Quality Comics, several months ahead of Captain America. While at least three patriotically themed superheroes preceded Captain America, he would be the one that would have the most impact.

What separated Captain America from the patriotic superheroes before and after him was that he was an openly politically character as originally conceived. The Thirties marked the rise of Nazi Germany. It was on September 1 1939 that Nazi Germany invaded Poland, beginning World War II. In the United States in the Thirties, groups like the German American Bund encouraged a sympathetic view of Nazi Germany and were openly anti-Semitic.  None of this was lost on Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, both sons of Jewish immigrants. It was then that Joe Simon conceived a character he initially called, "Super-American." He decided against the name, as "There were too many 'supers' around," and decided to call the character Captain America. He also provided Captain America with a youthful sidekick he called "Bucky," after a friend on his high school basketball team.  Captain America was then created as a blatantly anti-fascist superhero.

To a small degree the origin of Captain America resembles that of MLJ Comics' The Shield. Captain America was Steve Rogers, a tall, frail, young man born to a poor family on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Disturbed by the rise of Nazi Germany, he tried to enlist in the United States Army but was rejected as being too thin. Steve then volunteered as a test subject for a top secret project that would transform him into a super-soldier. Injected with a special serum, Steve Rogers found he had super-strength and enhanced reflexes. He then became Captain America, fighting the Axis powers in a red, white, and blue costume. He was equipped with a bullet-proof shield. Helping him in his fight against fascism was his sidekick Bucky Barnes, the mascot of Camp Lehigh in Virginia.

Martin Goodman, publisher of the companies that would become Marvel Comics, not only approved of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby's new character, but directed that he should make his debut in his own magazine. This was historic, as Captain America would be the first superhero to debut in his own title. Captain America Comics no. 1 proved to be a success when it hit newsstands. In fact, it sold nearly one million copies. That having been said, it was not popular with everyone. The cover of the first issue featured Captain America punching Adolf Hitler. Those sympathetic to Nazi Germany were  angry about this new, openly anti-fascist superhero. The offices of Martin Goodman's comic book company were inundated with angry letters and hateful phone calls. Eventually suspicious, threatening-looking men were seen outside their offices, to the point that employees were afraid to go out for lunch. The threats were reported to the NYPD and soon the offices of Martin Goodman's publishing company were being patrolled by New York City cops. It was not long after the police guard had arrived that they received a call from Mayor Fiorello La Guardia himself. He spoke on the phone to Joe Simon, telling him, "You boys over there are doing a good job. The City of New York will see that no harm will come to you."

Captain America Comics no. 1 would present Martin Goodman, Joe Simon, and Jack Kirby with one other problem beyond threats from the Radical Right. As mentioned earlier, to a small degree Captain America's origin resembled that of MLJ's earlier, patriotic themed superhero The Shield. Indeed, Captain America's kite-shaped shield resembled the breastplate on The Shield's costume. John Goldwater, co-founder, co-owner, and editor of MLJ Comics, then called Martin Goodman, Joe Simon, and Jack Kirby to his offices to threaten a lawsuit, believing Captain America infringed on The Shield. It was Joe Simon who suggested that they could change the shape of Captain America's shield. That seemed to satisfy John Goldwater.

Captain America continued to be a popular character for much of the Golden Age, appearing in such titles as All Select Comics, Al Winners Comics, Marvel Mystery Comics, and U.S.A. Comics, in addition to his own title. He appeared in the 1944 movie serial Captain America, making him the first Marvel character to appear in a theatrical release (more on that later). He was one of the members of the All-Winners Squad, Marvel Comics' first superhero team. The team consisted of Captain America and Bucky, the Human Torch and his sidekick Toro, The Sub-Mariner, The Whizzer, and Miss America. It would only appear twice in the Golden Age, first in All Winners Comics no. 19 (fall 1946) and then in All Winners Comics no. 21 (winter 1946).

With the end of world War II Captain America no longer faced off against Nazis, except his archenemy, The Red Skull. It was with Captain America Comics no. 66 (April 1948) that Bucky was shot and wounded, and Steve Rogers's love interest Betty Ross took over as his new sidekick Golden Girl. Following World War II, superheroes gradually declined in popularity. Captain America proved to be no exception. With issue no. 74 (October 1949) Captain America Comics became Captain America's Weird Tales. Captain America was still the lead feature, but the rest of the magazine was filled out by horror stories. With the final issue, no. 75 (February 1950), Captain America did not appear at all. It consisted entirely of horror stories.

Captain America would be absent from newsstands until 1953 when the character was re-introduced in Young Men no. 24 (December 1953). The same issue saw the revival of two other Golden Age Marvel superheroes, The Human Torch and The Sub-Mariner. Captain America appeared in Young Men no. 25 (February 1954), Young Men no. 26 (March 1954), Young Men no. 27 (April 1954), and Young Men no. 28  (May 1954).  He also appeared in Men's Adventures  no. 27 (May 1954) and no. 28 (July 1954). Captain America Comics was revived under the shortened title Captain America with issue no. 76 (May 1954). As it turned out, Marvel's revival of Captain America, The Human Torch, and The Sub-Mariner was short-lived. Captain America ended its run with no. 78 (September 1954). Captain America's opponents during this brief revival differed from what he fought during the Golden Age. With the Second Red Scare underway, in the Fifties Captain America fought Commies. Even The Red Skull was portrayed as a Communist during the brief revival.

Captain America was gone, but hardly for good. National Periodical Publications (now DC Comics) sparked the Silver Age with a new version of their character The Flash in Showcase no. 4 (October 1956). While National Periodical Publications would introduce new versions of other Golden Age characters in the coming years, it would take awhile before Marvel would get back into the superhero business. They finally did with Fantastic Four no. 1 (November 1961), which featured a new version of their Golden Age character The Human Torch. The Sub-Mariner was revived in Fantastic Four no. 4 (May 1962), but rather than reviving Golden Age characters, Marvel instead introduced such new characters as The Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, Spider-Man, and Daredevil. It was in Strange Tales no. 114 (November 1963) that Johnny Storm, the Silver Age Human Torch, faced an impostor Captain America who had been described as a 1940s and 1950s hero who had come out of retirement. A caption in the last panel of the story stated that it was a test to see if readers would be interested in the return of Captain America. As it turned out, response was enthusiastic. The stage was set for the return of the real Captain America.

It was in Marvel's The Avengers no. 4 (March 1964) that Captain America returned after an absence of nearly ten years. In the issue Captain America was found in suspended animation, having been frozen in a block of ice in the North Atlantic in the last days of World War II during 1945. His sidekick Bucky was killed. Of course, this contradicted the publication history of Captain America, who had been continuously published from 1941 to 1949 and then revived briefly in the mid-Fifties. Over the years the appearance of Captain America in the late Forties and then again in the Fifties would be explained by Marvel Comics. In What If... vol. 1 no. 4 (August 1977) it was explained that in 1945 William Naslund, formerly the superhero called The Spirit of '76, was appointed by President Truman to succeed Steve Rogers as Captain America. William Naslund was killed in action in 1946, whereupon Jeffrey Mace, formerly the superhero called The Patriot, took over the mantle of Captain America. He retired in 1949.

It had been earlier, in Captain America no. 153 (September 1972) that an explanation was provided for the Captain America of the Fifties. William Burnside took over the identity of Captain America, with the teenager Fred Davis taking over the identity of Bucky, in the Fifties. They did this as part of a government program to combat the "Red Menace." The two were treated with a version of the super soldier formula that had given Steve Rogers his powers. Unfortunately, their treatment left out the necessary Vita-Ray portion of the treatment. As a result the two became increasingly psychotic. Placed in suspended animation, they were later revived and fought Steve Rogers and his partner The Falcon.

Following his revival in Marvel's The Avengers no. 4, Captain America became a mainstay of that team for much of The Avengers' history. Captain America made a guest appearance in an Iron Man story in Tales of Suspense no. 58 (Oct. 1964), after which Tales of Suspense would feature an Iron Man story and a Captain America story. With issue no. 100 (April 1968), Tales of Suspense was retitled Captain America.

Captain America no. 117 (September 1969) introduced the character of The Falcon. The Falcon was Sam Wilson, who after an encounter with The Red Skull was encouraged by Steve Rogers to become a superhero. Captain America and The Falcon formed a partnership that lasted until Captain America no. 222 (June 1978). The Falcon was historic as the first African American superhero in mainstream comic books. He would also become a popular character on his own.

It was with Captain America vol 5 no. 1 (November 2005) that it was revealed that Captain America's sidekick from World War II, Bucky Barnes, had not died. Instead his frozen body had been discovered by a Russian submarine. He was revived and brainwashed by the Soviets to become the Winter Soldier, a trained assassin. After a confrontation with Captain America, Bucky regained his memories.

Steve Rogers, the original Captain America, would be killed off as part of the aftermath of the crossover event "Civil War." His death took place in Captain America vol. 5 no. 25 (April 2007). Bucky Barnes then took over as the new Captain America. Steve Rogers would be revived in Captain America: Reborn no. 1 (August 2009). Following Bucky's death in Fear Itself no. 3 (August 2011), Steve Rogers once more resumed the identity of Captain America.

After the super soldier serum in his body was neutralized in Captain America vol. 7 no. 22 (September 2014), Steve Rogers handed the mantle of Captain America over to Sam Wilson, the former Falcon. Steve Rogers returned as Captain America in Marvel's The Avengers vol. 8 no. 1 (July 2018).

As arguably the most popular Marvel character of the Golden Age and one of the most popular characters ever since, Captain America has appeared in other media. As mentioned earlier, he was the first Marvel character to appear in a theatrical release. That having been said, Captain America (1944) departed a good deal from the comic book. In the movie Captain America is district attorney Grant Gardner, who uses a gun rather than his iconic shield. The publisher of Captain America was not particularly happy with the ways Republic Pictures departed from the comic book and let the studio know. In response Republic claimed the samples that they had provided did not show that Captain America was serviceman Steve Rogers or that he did not use a gun. At this point shooting on the serial was well underway so that Republic could not go back and change the serial so that it was more loyal to the comic book without costly retakes.

The reasons for the changes to Captain America in the serial are unknown, but it is widely believed that the script had originally been meant for a different character from Captain America. Jim Harmon and Donald F. Glut, authors of The Great Movie Serials, theorized that the script could have originally been written as a sequel to Mysterious Doctor Satan, which featured a hero called The Copperhead. Of course, Mysterious Doctor Satan itself originated as a reworking of a serial meant to star Superman after they failed to get the rights to the character. Eric Stedman, the silent film and serial film preservationist, thinks it is more likely the script was meant for the Fawcett Comics character Mr. Scarlet, whose secret identity was district attorney Brian Butler. Republic had earlier released serials based on Fawcett characters Captain Marvel and Spy Smasher. Unlike Captain Marvel and Spy Smasher, Mr. Scarlet did not prove particularly popular, so that if Republic could have aborted a planned serial about him and then simply reused the script.

Captain America next appeared in the syndicated animated television cartoon The Marvel Super Heroes in 1966. Each episode of The Marvel Super Heroes featured animated segments devoted to Captain America, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, and The Sub-Mariner. While The Marvel Super Heroes adapted stories directly from the comic books, its animation was extremely limited.  For that reason it would be rarely seen since the sixties. Here it should be noted that in the 1969 movie Easy Rider, the nickname of Wyatt (Peter Fonda), who had an American flag on the back of his leather jacket, was "Captain America."

Captain America made his first live-action appearance in 35 years when he appeared in the CBS television movie Captain America. It was followed the same year by Captain America II: Death Too Soon. Both television movies departed a good deal from Captain America as portrayed in the comic books. Both also received mixed reviews.

It was in 1980 that Captain America appeared in an animated PSA for energy conservation for the United States Department of Energy. The following year, 1981, he guest starred on two animated series featuring Spider-Man, the syndicated Spider-Man and the NBC Saturday morning cartoon Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends.

Nineteen  ninety two saw the release of the first feature film based on Captain America, Captain America (1990). The rights having originally been bought in 1984 by the Cannon Group founders Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, the film would spend a good deal of time in development. In 1989 Menahem Golan left the Cannon Group and took Captain America with him. The film was eventually produced by Mr. Golan's company, 21st Century Film Corporation. Captain America was originally intended for theatrical release in August 1990 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Captain America. Its theatrical release was then moved to fall 1990 and winter 1991. Ultimately it would not be theatrically released, but was instead released direct to video in 1992. Captain America (1990) was faithful to the character insofar as it portrayed Captain America as gaining his powers from the super soldier serum in World War II and later  being frozen in suspended animation, in other ways it departed from the comic books. For instance, The Red Skull is not a Nazi, but instead an Italian Fascist. Captain America (1990) received overwhelmingly negative reviews.

In the Nineties Captain America would make guest appearances on the animated TV series X-Men (in the episode "Old Soldiers" in 1997), Spider-Man (in the 1997 episode "The Cat," the four episode story arc "Six Forgotten Warriors" in 1997, and the 3 episode story arc "Secret Wars"), Iron Man (in the 1995 episode "Distant Boundaries"), and The Avengers: United They Stand (in the 1999 episode "Command Decision").

Captain America continued to appear in Marvel animated projects in the Naughts. He appeared in the 2002 X-Men: Evolution episode "Operation Rebirth." He also appeared in the Marvel comedy series The Super Hero Squad Show. He appeared as the lead character in the direct to video features Ultimate Avengers and Ultimate Avengers 2.

Of course, Captain America's biggest impact in film and television would be in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) portrayed Captain America's origin and his being frozen in suspended animation. It was followed by Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) and Captain America: Civil War (2016). As one of Marvel's Avengers, he appeared in The Avengers (2012),  Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015),  Avengers: Infinity War (2018), and Avengers: Endgame (2019). It was at the end of Endgame that he handed the mantle of Captain America to The Falcon, Sam Wilson. He also had a cameo in Ant-Man (2015) and appeared in Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017). There have been references to Captain America in other Marvel Cinematic Universe movies and TV series.

During the Teens, Captain America was one of the main character in the animated TV series The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes and the streaming animated film Iron Man and Captain America: Heroes United. Through the years he has appeared in other projects too numerous to mention.

If Captain America has been more successful than other patriotic characters, it is perhaps because he had some depth to him as opposed to some other patriotic characters of the time. He wasn't simply a superhero wrapped in the flag. Much of the appeal behind Captain America may have been that he started out as an underdog. In his origin story, "Meet Captain America" from Captain America Comics no. 1, we learn that Steve Rogers is a frail young man who was rejected for military service because he was not physically fit enough. While it was never expressed directly, from street scenes in early issues of Captain America Comics that Steve Rogers's roots were in the lower East Side of Manhattan, something that would be made official in later years. The lower East Side was home to Captain America's creators, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, and was known for its Jewish and Irish population. At the time that Steve Rogers was growing up in the 1920s, it was a working class neighbourhood. Captain America then began as a frail youth raised in poverty. Before he became Captain America, he was very much an underdog, something that is made clear in the movie Captain America: The First Avenger. Captain America then appeals to anyone who has always wanted to make something more of themselves, to anyone who has sought to overcome adversity.

Of course, much of the appeal of Captain America is also because he was very much a product of his time. When compared to other Golden Age characters, Captain America was an openly political character. As mentioned earlier, he was blatantly anti-fascist. What is more, while  at no point in Captain America Comics did he offer political commentary, the stories featured in its pages are steeped in New Deal idealism. In other words, even though it was never expressed outright, it seems likely that Steve Rogers is a FDR Democrat.  After all, on the cover of Captain America Comics no. 1, he can be seen punching Hitler, this at a time when many opposed the U.S. entering World War II.  In Captain America Comics no. 2 he fought two corrupt bankers who had been evading Federal taxes.  In Captain America Comics no. 5, Captain America fought the German-American Bund. During World War II Captain America was very much tied to anti-fascism and the policies of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Captain America brought his New Idealism with him  when he was was revived in 1964. The Captain America of the Silver Age, Bronze Age, and beyond still believes in equal opportunity for all, still opposes racism, and still believes all American should be able to speak freely, worship as they please, free from want, and free from fear (the Four Freedoms FDR outlined in his 1941 State of the Union address). As strange as it might sound, Captain America's New Deal idealism translated quite well to the Sixties and beyond. This is perhaps because many of Franklin D. Roosevelt's policies were based in ideas that remain timeless. Indeed, Captain America is still an anti-fascist. As a product of his time and yet one who is timeless, Captain America is set  apart from other patriotic characters of the era in which he originated. Ultimately, Captain America was not only timely in 1941. He is still timely now.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Godspeed Peter Mark Richman

Peter Mark Richman, who starred on the Sixties TV series Cain's Hundred and had regular roles on Longstreet and Dynasty, died on January 14 2021 at the age of 93.

Peter Mark Richman Marvin Jack Richman was born on April 16 1927 in Philadelphia. For the first part of his career he was billed as Mark Richman. He added "Peter" to his name around 1970. He worked as a pharmacist before he decided to take up acting. He joined the Actors Studio in New York City and began a career on stage. He made his television debut in 1953 in an episode of Suspense. During the Fifties he appeared in such shows as Studio One, Justice, The Philco Television Playhouse, Armstrong Circle Theatre, Playwrights '56, The United States Steel Hour, Studio 57, Goodyear Television Playhouse, Jane Wyman Presents The Fireside Theatre, Playhouse 90, Schlitz Playhouse of Stars, Kraft Television Theatre, Rawhide, Zane Grey Theatre, The DuPont Show with June Allyson, Hotel de Paree, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Moment of Fear, and Play of the Week. He made his debut on Broadway in 1953 in End as a Man. In the Fifties he also appeared on Broadway in A Hatful of Rain and Masquerade. He made his film debut in a bit part in Friendly Persuasion in 1956. He appeared in the movies The Strange One (1957), Girls on the Loose (1958), and The Black Orchid (1958).

In the Sixties Peter Mark Richman starred as Nick Cain in the single season series Cain's Hundred. He guest starred on the shows The United States Steel Hour, Stoney Burke, Breaking Point, The Nurses, Ben Casey, The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, Profiles in Courage, The Wild Wild West, The F.B.I,, 12 O'Clock, Seaway, Combat!, The Loner, Blue Light, The Fugitive, T.H.E. Cat, Jericho, Irony House, The Felony Squad, Daniel Boone, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Gunsmoke, The Invaders, Bonanza, My Friend Tony, It Takes a Thief, Hawaii Five-O, Lancer, The Name of the Game, Mannix, Land of the Giants, Insight, and The Silent Force. He appeared in the movies Dark Intruder (1965), Agent for H.A.R.M. (1966), and For Singles Only (1968).

Peter Mark Richman began the Seventies with a regular role in the short-lived series Longstreet. He had a recurring role on Three's Company as regular character Chrissie Snow's father Reverend Snow. He guest starred on the shows Banacek, Mission: Impossible, Marcus Welby M.D., Search, The New Perry Mason, The Streets of San Francisco, Hawkins, The F.B.I., Apple's Way, The Wide World of Mystery, Get Christie Love!, McCloud, Ironside, Caribe, Petrocelli, Medical Story, Barnaby Jones, Police Story, Switch, Cannon, Bert D'Angelo/Superstar, Baretta, Family, Electra Woman and Dyna Girl, Dog and Cat, Quincy M.E., The Bionic Woman, The Six Million Dollar Man, Dallas, Sword of Justice, Wonder Woman, 240-Robert, Starsky and Hutch, Greatest Heroes of the Bible, Charlie's Angels, B.J. and the Bear, Vega$, and Galactica 1980. He appeared in the movie Psi Factor (1980).

In the Eighties Peter Mark Richman had regular roles on the daytime soap opera Santa Barbara and the nighttime soap opera Dynasty. He was the voice of The Phantom on the animated series Defenders of the Earth. He guest starred on the shows The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo, The Incredible Hulk, Hart to Hart, The Fall Guy, Fantasy Island, The Love Boat, Finder of Lost Loves, Knight Rider, Crazy Like a Fox, Hardcastle and McCormick, T.J. Hooker, Too Close for Comfort, Wildfire, Murder She Wrote, Hotel, Supercarrier, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Matlock, and Swamp Thing. He appeared in the movies Judgement Day (1988) and Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989).

In the Nineties Peter Mark Richman had a recurring role on Beverly Hills 90120. He guest starred on the shows My Secret Summer and Nothing Sacred. He was a guest voice on the animated shows Swat Kats: The Radical Squadron, Batman: The Animated Series, Spider-Man, Superman, and Batman Beyond. He appeared in the movie The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear (1991). In the Naughts he appeared in the movie Poolhouse Junkies (2002). In the Teens he appeared in the movies After the Wizard (2011) and Mysteria (2011).

If Peter Mark Richman had regular roles on multiple shows and guest starred on many, many more, it was perhaps because he was that good. He could play a wide variety of roles. As Nick Cain on Cain's Hundred he was a heroic figure, but he could play villains as well. In the Incredible Hulk episode "Triangle" he played a jealous and controlling lumber baron. On Dynasty he was the level-headed legal counsel for Blake Carrington, but then in the Wonder Woman episode "Gault's Brain" he played an unethical doctor about to perform brain transplant surgery. While Mr. Richman was best known for appearing in action/adventure shows and dramas, he was equally good at drama. As Reverend Snow on Three's Company, he could be very funny while still giving a very respectful portrayal of a clergyman. In the camp Saturday morning show Electra Woman and Dyna Girl, he played the recurring villain Pharaoh. If Peter Mark Richman was prolific, it was perhaps because he was just that good.

Friday, January 15, 2021

O Pátio das Cantigas (1942)

 (This post is part of the Luso World Blogathon hosted by Crítica Retrô and Spellbound

O Pátio das Cantigas (1942) is a popular Portuguese comedy from the Forties. It proved to be very popular upon its initial release, so much so that the line "Evaristo, tens cá disto? ("Evaristo, do you have any of this?") even became a popular catchphrase in 1940s Portugal, much the same way "Do you feel lucky, punk?" from Dirty Harry (1971) became a popular catchphrase in the United States in the Seventies. O Pátio das Cantigas (1942) has remained highly regarded in Portugal ever since.

It was in 1933 that Estado Novo, the period of authoritarian rule in Portugal that lasted until 1974, began. During this period most motion pictures did take much in the way of chances. During the Thirties and Forties, most Portuguese films belonged to only a few genres, the most popular being comedies and historical dramas. Similarly, most movies avoided anything that could be construed as contradicting the ideology of Estado Novo. Conventional morality was emphasized and authority figures were respected. That having been said, it would be a mistake to think that O Pátio das Cantigas (1942) is a slight film with nothing in the way of depth, even though it is a comedy that contained nothing that would upset the Portuguese regime at the time.

Indeed, O Pátio das Cantigas (1942) runs a bit over two hours in length, with a somewhat episodic structure. Its title in English translates to "The Courtyard of Songs," and it centres on a relationships of people living in a Lisbon neighbourhood. Those relationships can sometimes be complicated. Young widow Rosa (Maria das Neves) finds herself at the middle of a romantic triangle with her suitors Narciso (Vasco Santana), a hard-working man her own age, and Evaristo (António Silva), the older, local grocer. Evaristo's daughter, Celeste (Laura Elves), is spoiled and self-centred. The young woman Suzana (Graça Maria) is in love Alfredo (Carlos Otero), whose brother Carlos (Antonio Vilar) has a flirtation with Suzana's sister Amália (Maria Paula).  Rufino (Francisco Ribeiro) is Narciso's partner when it comes to running the cafe. He is also a bit of an alcoholic and plays the guitar. O Pátio das Cantigas (1942) has a large cast of many characters, so these are not the only subplots in the film by any stretch of the imagination.

If O Pátio das Cantigas (1942) was a success upon its initial release and remains well-respected, it is perhaps because of the talent involved in making the film. O Pátio das Cantigas (1942) was directed by Ribeirinho (the birth name of Francisco Carlos Lopes Ribeiro), a well respected actor. Ribeirinho also appeared as the lead in the classic O Pai Tirano (1941), directed by his brother António Lopes Ribeiro. In O Pátio das Cantigas (1942) he played the drunk guitarist Rufino. António Lopes Ribeiro served as the producer on the movie. The writing credits on the film were shared by the two brothers, with actor Vasco Santana providing additional dialogue.  Both actors António Silva and Vasco Santana had long careers in the theatre before moving into the cinema.

While O Pátio das Cantigas (1942)  is not a musical, music plays a large role in the film. The movie is set during the popular festival of St. Anthony, when dancing and singing in the streets is not unknown. The sources for music are varied, from a ham radio to various musical instruments. So too are the genres of music, everything from opera to fado, a popular Portuguese music genre originating in the 19th Century. At one point Rufino even parodies popular Hollywood actress Carmen Miranda (who was born in Portugal, but grew up in Brazil). One has to suspect much of the success of O Pátio das Cantigas (1942) rests with the persistence of music in the film.

O Pátio das Cantigas (1942) was remade in 2015, although the remake failed to recapture the magic of the original. While O Pátio das Cantigas (1942) would remain the only film directed by Ribeirinho, he would appear as an actor in many more films. His brother, António Lopes Ribeiro, continued to direct films into the Fifties. Out of the films the two brothers made, O Pátio das Cantigas (1942) remains one of the best remembered. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

How Bewitched and Batman Saved ABC in the Sixties

Today ABC, the American Broadcasting Company, is considered one of the major broadcast networks. This was not always the case. Throughout the Fifties and into the Sixties, ABC was always a distant third in the ratings to the two older networks, CBS and NBC. ABC had fewer affiliates than either CBS or NBC. What is more, many of ABC's affiliates were on UHF stations and lower powered VHF stations. This made it difficult for ABC to compete with either CBS or NBC. Many markets lacked an ABC affiliate, so that ABC's shows would air on the local NBC or CBS affiliate at odd times of the day (KRCG in Jefferson City, MO aired them after 10 PM).  After having experienced some success with Westerns and detective shows (such as Maverick and 77 Sunset Strip) in the late Fifties and the early Sixties, in the mid-Sixties there were those who doubted that ABC would survive.

Of course, ABC's dire circumstances might not seem obvious to someone looking at the top thirty shows in the Nielsen ratings for the 1964-1965 season. After all, the second highest rated show for that season was Bewitched. Airing on ABC, Bewitched was brand new, having debuted that season. What is more, ABC had a total of six shows in the top thirty (Bewitched, The Fugitive, Combat!, My Three Sons, Peyton Place, The Addams Family, McHale's Navy, and The Lawrence Welk Show). While ABC had six shows in the top thirty, however, it also had several shows in the bottom thirty of the Nielsen ratings. What is more, in the mid-Sixties ABC had more than its share of financial woes. It lacked the money to adequately compete with CBS and NBC. It was the target of takeover attempts by such companies as General Electric, Gulf and Western Industries, International Telephone and Telegraph, Litton Industries, and Norton Simon.

ABC was then in real trouble when its fall 1965-1966 schedule was a catastrophic failure. Of the 11 new shows that ABC debuted that fall, only three would survive to a second season. Out of the 15 lowest rated shows airing during the first two weeks of the fall 1965-1966 season, seven of them aired on ABC. Worse yet, out of the ABC shows that had ranked in the top thirty for the 1964-1965 season, only two would remain in the top thirty for the 1965-1966 season, Bewitched and The Lawrence Welk Show. My Three Sons also remained in the top thirty, but it had been snatched up by rival CBS.

Certainly the success of Bewitched propped ABC up during the 1964-1965 season. The show ranked no. 2 during the 1964-1965 season, a rare feat for a brand new show. What is more, it maintained high ratings into its second season. For the 1965-1966 season it came in at no. 7 in the ratings, tied with The Beverly Hillbillies on CBS.  Given how catastrophic the start of the 1965-1966 season had been for ABC, however, the network was clearly in need of another hit.

To prevent the 1965-1966 season from being a total washout, ABC then elected to dramatically retool its schedule in January. Failing shows would either have their time slot changed or be cancelled outright. A number of brand new shows would debut. The changes to their schedule were so drastic that ABC hired Grey Advertising to promote those changes. It was copywriter Irwin Fredman who came up with the slogan "the Second Season," based on the idea that the changes ABC were making were so great that they constituted a whole new season. Here it must be pointed out that the idea of mid-season replacements was nothing new at the time. In the Fifties, Dragnet, The Bob Cummings Show, and Rawhide had all debuted as mid-season replacements. That having been said, ABC debuted more mid-season replacements in January 1966 than any network ever had before.

Among those replacements was Batman, on which ABC pinned its hopes. It debuted on January 12 1966. ABC began promoting Batman in December 1966 with the slogan, "Batman is Coming!" The network aired promos for the show nearly every hour on the hour. There was a large number of newspaper ads and billboards for the show. ABC even hired a skywriter to emblazon the slogan "Batman is Coming" above the Rose Bowl. Given the amount of promotion Baman received, it should perhaps be no surprise that it was a smash hit upon its debut. The debut episode, "Hi Diddle Riddle" achieved a phenomenal 27.3/49 rating in the Nielsen ratings. The show aired twice a week, and its second episode the next day also received phenomenal ratings. What is more, Batman maintained phenomenal ratings for the remainder of the season. It also became an outright fad, perhaps the biggest in television history. In 1966 Batman was everywhere, from tons of merchandise in stores to magazine covers.

For the fall 1965-1966 season, ABC would only have three shows in the top thirty: Bewitched, the two episodes per week of Batman, and The Lawrence Welk Show. That having been said, both Batman and Bewitched were in the top ten. Ultimately, while Bewitched had helped ABC survive the lean years of the mid-Sixties, Batman gave it the shot in the arm it needed.

The phenomenal success of Batman would not last. When it returned in the fall of 1966, its ratings were respectable, but not nearly what they once were. Throughout the season its ratings gradually fell, so that there was even some question as to whether or not it would be renewed for a third season. Indeed, while it was a top ten hit in its first season, in its second season it did not even rank in the top thirty. Batman would ultimately be renewed for a third season, which would also turn out to be its last. Its last original episode aired on March 14 1968.

That having been said, Batman did what ABC meant for it to do. It breathed new life into a network that was failing. The 1966-1967 season would be better for ABC, with five shows in the top thirty. For the rest of the Sixties, ABC would have anywhere form three to six shows in the top thirty of the Nielsens for each season. What is more, in the 1970-1971 season ABC had the no. 1 show on the air, Marcus Welby, M.D. This marked the first time ever ABC would have a no. 1 show.

Of course, there would be other factors that would help ABC improve its fortunes as the Sixties progressed. ABC would pick up new affiliates during the decade and into the Seventies. For example, KCBJ (now KMIZ) in Columbia, MO opened on December 5 1971. That having been said, Bewitched and Batman helped ABC survive what was a difficult decade for the network. Had it not been for those two shows, it is possible that the network might not have survived, at least not in any form as we have known it. As it was, ABC would continue to grow in the Seventies until it would become the number one network in the 1978-1979 season, a first for the network.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

The 55th Anniversary of Batman '66: A Personal Recollection

Fifty-five years ago today, on January 12 1966, the television show Batman debuted. The show was inspired by Batman, the comic book superhero who at that point had been published for 27 years. William Dozier intended Batman to be adventure for kids, but comedy for adults. The show's combination of action for children and humour for adults is perhaps the reason it became an over-night sensation. Batman would become a phenomenon in its first few months, perhaps the biggest television-related fad of all time.

I have already written about Batman extensively on this blog, including a two-part post on its history (you can read it here). In celebration of its 55th anniversary, then, I have decided to discuss the impact the show had on me. On January 12 1966 I was only around two months shy of my third birthday. For that reason I certainly don't remember anything about the premiere of Batman, nor do I remember watching the show's first season episodes when they first aired. My earliest memories of watching Batman came from when I was around four years old, by which time the show was nearly coming to an end. That having been said, it is one of the earliest shows I can remember watching. It was also one of my favourites, along with Underdog and The Monkees.

While I remember very little of the original network run of Batman, I do remember the huge amount of merchandise for the show. I remember my Uncle J.E. had a Montgomery Ward catalogue that contained a whole two pages of nothing but Batman toys. I also remember seeing Batman goods in stores. And there was certainly a large number of Batman merchandise to be had in the Sixties, everything from toy versions of the Batmobile to Batman's utility belt. It seems likely to me that Batman and Robin were the first superheroes of which I was aware, even before Superman.

Of course, Batman was cancelled in 1968, its last original episode airing on March 14 1968 (four days after my fifth birthday). This is not to say the show was not still popular with the younger set. I remember in kindergarten and first grade, the favourite show of the boys in my class was generally either going to be Batman or Daniel Boone. I remember many of my classmates had Batman lunchboxes and many of them dressed as Batman for Halloween. Given its continued popularity with children around the United States, not to mention many adults probably still enjoyed it as well, it should come as no surprise that Batman would have a very successful run as a syndicated rerun. Indeed, it is still being shown today on local channels, cable channels, and streaming services.

It may well be impossible for me to entirely assess the impact that Batman had on me. Batman became my favourite superhero, even after exposure to other superheroes (Superman, Aquaman, Spider-Man, et. al) in Saturday morning cartoons. In fact, the first comic book I ever read was a Batman comic book and I remember what it was. It was Batman no. 234 (August 1971), which featured the story "Twice an Evil." "Twice an Evil" is significant as it marks the first appearance of the villain Two-Face since 1954. Of course, the Batman that appeared in "Twice an Evil" was very different from the Batman of the 1966 TV show. "Twice an Evil" was part of the run of writer Denny O'Neil and artist Neal Addams on the character Batman. Messrs. O'Neil and Addams returned Batman to being a grim avenger who fought crime at night, quite a contrast to the camp of the Sixties. If anything, I loved this version of Batman even more than the Batman of the 1966 TV series.

Of course, my love of Batman led me to a love of comic books in general. Within a few years I had hundreds of comic books and I decided that I wanted to write them when I grew up. I even wrote and illustrated my own comic books with my own original characters as a kid. Eventually I would begin writing prose short stories and a bit later non-fiction. If I became a writer, it is then in a large part because of Batman. Had I not been exposed to the 1966 series Batman, it is possible that my life might have unfolded very differently.

Here I have to say my experience is not at all isolated. I know several people my age or even younger who saw Batman as children and remain huge fans of the show to this day. I know among DC Comics fans the show remains popular, even among those who prefer the current Dark Knight to the Caped Crusader of the TV show. One of the many things my dearest Vanessa Marquez and I had in common was a love of the TV show Batman. Of course, having been born on December 21 1968, Vanessa had to discover the show in reruns.

I have remained a fan of the 1966 Batman television show my entire life. Even now I sometimes watch episodes of the show on the Roku Channel. In fact, the very first movie I watched this year was the 1966 movie spun off from the TV show, now often called Batman: The Movie. Batman opened me up to a whole new world, not just comic books, but the world of writing as well. I then owe the TV show more than I could possibly repay. It is for that reason that the debut of Batman on January 12 1966 is an important date for me, even though I can't remember it.

Friday, January 8, 2021

Tanya Roberts Passes On

Tanya Roberts, who appeared in movies such as Sheena (1984) and TV shows such as Charlie's Angels and That '70s Show, died on January 4 2021 at the age of 65. The cause was a urinary tract infection.

Tanya Roberts Victoria Leigh Blum was born on October 15 1955 in the Bronx, New York. She spent her early years in New York City and later moved to Mississauga, Ontario to live with her mother. She eventually returned to New York City where she began a career as a model. She studied acting at the Actors Studio under Lee Strasberg and Uta Hagen. It was at this point that she took the stage name "Tanya Roberts."

Tanya Roberts appeared in ads for such brands as Excedrin, Clairol, and Ray-Ban and on off-Broadway productions such as Picnic and Antigone. During this period she also worked as a dance instructor for Arthur Murray Dance Studios. She made her film debut in Forced Entry in 1976. In the late Seventies she appeared in the movies The Yum Yum Girls (1976), The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover (1977), Fingers (1978), Tourist Trap (1979), California Dreaming (1979), and Racquet (1979). She made her television debut in the TV movie Zuma Beach (1978). She appeared in the TV movie Pleasure Cove (1978) and guest starred on Greatest Heroes of the Bible and Vega$. Starting in 1980 she played Julie Rogers on the final season of Charlie's Angels.

In the Eighties Tanya Roberts's career was dominated by movie appearances. During the decade she appeared in the films The Beastmaster (1982), I paladini - Storia d'armi e d'amori (1983), Sheena (1985), A View to the Kill (1985), Body Slam (1986), Purgatory (1988), Twisted Justice (1990), and Night Eyes (1990). She guest starred on The Love Boat and Fantasy Island. She appeared in the Mike Hammer TV movie Murder Me, Murder You.

In the Nineties Tanya Roberts appeared in the films Inner Sanctum (1991), Legal Tender (1991), Sins of Desire (1993), and Deep Down (1994). She was a regular on the TV show Hot Line and later had a regular role on That 70's Show. She provided a voice on The Blues Brothers Animated Series. She guest starred on Burke's Law, Silk Stalkings, and High Tide. In the Naughts she continued to appear on That 70's Show. She guest starred on Eve and Barbershop.

Tanya Roberts was always a pleasure to see on the screen, even when a particular show or movie was not especially good. She lit up the screen not simply with her looks, but also with enthusiasm she brought to her roles. Whether playing Mike Hammer's secretary or Midge Pinciotti on That '70s Show, she was always enjoyable to watch.