Friday, January 21, 2022

The Jokers (1967)

 (This post is part of the Odd or Even Blogathon hosted by Reelweegiemidget Reviews and Taking Up Room)

Heist movies (movies about the planning and execution of robberies) emerged in the Fifties with such films as The Asphalt Jungle (1950) and Armoured Car Robbery (1950). Most of the early heist films tended to be serious in tone, but by the Sixties many heist movie elected to follow the lead of the comedies The Lavender Hill Mob (1951) and The Ladykillers (1955). Such heist films done with a comedic tone are known as "caper movies." If there was Golden Age for caper movies, it was likely the Sixties. The decade saw the release of such caper movies as Topkapi (1964), How to Steal a Million (1966), Who's Minding the Mint (1967), and The Italian Job (1969). Among the many caper films released during the Sixties was The Jokers (1967). Although not as well remembered as some of the caper films of the era, there is every reason it should be.

The Jokers centres on the brothers Michael (Michael Crawford) and David Tremayne (Oliver Reed). The two of them are dissatisfied with their lives and long for recognition, even though they don't want to work for it. The two of them then decide to commit a crime as sort of "grand gesture" that will bring them fame. Realizing that one can't be charged with theft unless they mean to permanently deprive an owner of their property, Michael and David set their sights on robbing the British crown jewels and then returning them.

The Jokers was directed by Michael Winner and based on a story by Michael Winner, with a screenplay by Ben Arbeid and Maurice Foster. In the mid-Sixties Winner was on a bit of a roll. His two movies before The Jokers were The System (1964) and You Must Be Joking! (1965). He would follow The Jokers up with I'll Never Forget What's'isname (1967). He would go onto the film as Death Wish (1974). Sadly, while Michael Winner displayed some talent as a director during his career, it seems that he was not a particularly nice guy. Following his death, in October 2017, three different women accused him of demanding that they show him their breasts. In 2019 actress  Marina Sirtis intimated that she had been abused by Winner.

Winner was not the only person working on The Jokers who was on a bit of a roll in the Sixties. Although now best known for the musical The Phantom of the Opera, in the Sixties Michael Crawford established himself with roles in such films as The War Lover (1962), The Knack …and How to Get It (1965), and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum  (1966). By the time he appeared in The Jokers, Oliver Reed could already be considered to be a big name. He established himself with several Hammer Films, among them The Curse of the Werewolf (1961), The Pirates of Blood River (1962), and Captain Clegg (1962). He also appeared in The System. Much of the rest of the cast of The Jokers is notable as well. James Donald, who plays Colonel Gurney-Simms, will be recognized by viewers from such movies as Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) and The Great Escape (1963). Rachel Kempson, who had appeared in such films as Tom Jones (1963) and Georgy Girl (1966), played Michael and David's mother. British actor Peter Graves, who appeared in the films Give Us the Moon (1944), I'll Be Your Sweetheart (1945), and Alfie (1966), played their father.

The Jokers was shot on location in London, with many of the city's best known tourist spots appearing the film. Among the locations in the film are the Albert Memorial, the London Zoo, the Stock Exchange, Piccadilly Circus, the Old Bailey, and the Tower of London. In shooting The Jokers, Michael Winner would cause some problems for directors wanting to film in London in the future. A smoke bomb was set off during a scene shot at Piccadilly Circus, resulting in chaos around the area. Worse yet, Michael Winner took off in a taxi and left other crew members to be arrested. Because of this incident no movies were allowed to be filmed in Piccadilly Circus until An American Werewolf in London (1981).

The Jokers premiered in New York City on May 15 1967 in New York City. It premiered in London on June 15 1967. It received largely positive reviews. Seen today The Jokers still holds up. For fans of Swinging London, the film offers a great look at many of the famous locations in the city at that particular time. As a caper film it features a particularly original heist. Indeed, while many caper movies see a team assembled for the robbery, in The Jokers it is only the Tremayne brothers who pull it off. As a comedy it is a funny send-up of the British aristocracy, media overkill, and even Swinging London itself.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Godspeed Yvette Mimieux

Yvette Mimieux, who appeared in the movies The Time Machine (1960), Where the Boys Are (1960), and The Light in the Piazza (1962), died on January 17 2022 at the age of 80.

Yvette Mimieux was born on January 8 1942 in Los Angeles. Prior to her acting career Miss Mimieux had done some professional modelling. She was only 15 when publicist Jim Byron discovered her on a Hollywood Hills bridle path. She took classes in singing and dancing, and she also acted in local theatre before she was signed by MGM in 1959.

Yvette Mimieux made her television debut in an episode of Yancy Derringer in 1959. In 1960 she guest starred on One Step Beyond and Mr. Lucky. Her first credited role in a film was in Platinum High School in 1960. That same year she appeared in her breakout role as Weena in The Time Machine (1960). She followed it with the movie Where the Boys Are (1960).

Yvette Mimieux began the Sixties with the movie The Light in the Piazza (1962). During the decade she appeared in the films The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1962), The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962), Diamond Head (1962), Toys in the Attic (1963), Looking for Love (1964), Joy in the Morning (1965), The Reward (1965), Monkeys, Go Home! (1967), The Caper of the Golden Bulls (1967), The Mercenaries (1968), Three in the Attic (1968), The Picasso Summer (1969), and The Delta Factor (1970). On television she guest starred on Dr. Kildare and appeared in the TV movie The Desperate Hours. In the 1970-1971 season she was part of the cast of the short-lived series The Most Deadly Game.

During the Seventies Yvette Mimieux appeared in the movies Skyjacked (1972), The Neptune Factor (1973), Journey into Fear (1975), Jackson County Jail (1976), and The Black Hole (1979). On television she appeared in the TV movies Death Takes Holiday; Black Noon; Hit Lady; The Legend of Valentino; Bell, Book and Candle; Snowbeast; Ransom for Alice; Outside Chance; Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell; and Disaster on the Coastliner.

In the Eighties Yvette Mimieux was a regular on the short-lived show Berrenger's. She guest starred on the shows The Love Boat and Lime Street. She appeared in the movies Forbidden Law, Night Partners, Obsessive Love, The Fifth Missile, and Perry Mason: The Case of the Desperate Deception. In 1992 She appeared in the TV movie Lady Boss.

I sometimes think Yvette Mimieux was underrated as an actress. She gave an incredible performance in Where the Boys Are as Melanie, whose story took a turn to the tragic. She also did well as Olivia de Havilland's mentally disabled daughter in The Light in the Piazza. Even in her lesser known films, such as Three in the Attic and The Picasso Summer, she could be impressive. Yvette Mimieux's appearance has often been commented on, but I think her talent was much, much more remarkable.

Monday, January 17, 2022

Life with Elizabeth Starring Betty White

Today would have been the 100th birthday of Betty White. She was not simply a beloved actress and comedian whose career spanned 80 years, but also a true television pioneer. It was in 1951 that she appeared in her first sitcom, Life with Elizabeth. She was not only the star of the show, but she was also one of its producers. This made Betty White one of the first women to ever produce a sitcom in American television. Life with Elizabeth would prove to be a groundbreaking show in other ways as well.

Life with Elizabeth centred on a married couple named Elizabeth (Betty White) and Alvin (Del Moore). Elizabeth was a mischievous sort and would often find herself in various misadventures. Usually after one of Elizabeth's various bits of mischief, announcer Jack Narz would ask her, "Elizabeth, aren't you ashamed?" Elizabeth would shake her head, before an impish grin would emerge on her face, showing that she was not ashamed at all. Each episode was divided into three plots, referred to as "incidents," of eight to ten minutes each.

Life with Elizabeth originated as a series of sketches on the talk and variety show Hollywood on Television that aired on KLAC in Los Angeles. The sketches featured Betty White as Elizabeth and her fellow host Al Jarvis as Alvin. Al Jarvis would leave Hollywood on Television in 1951 to be be replaced by Eddie Albert. Eddie Albert would leave after six months when he took another job. It was then in 1951 KLAC station manager Don Fedderson decided to spin-off the Elizabeth and Alvin sketches into their own show. Betty White, George Tibbles (who had been Betty's accompanist on Hollywood on Television), and Don Fedderson formed Bandy Productions to produce the new show.

Initially Life with Elizabeth aired live on KLAC on Saturday night at 8:30 PM Pacific. The show certainly attracted attention, with Betty White receiving the Emmy for Best Actress in 1951. Despite this, Life with Elizabeth was not picked up by any of the networks. While the networks did not pick  up Life with Elizabeth, distribution and production company Guild Films approached Betty White, George Tibbles, and Don Fedderson about launching Life with Elizabeth into nationwide syndication. Ultimately, Bandy Productions and Guild Films entered into an agreement that would bring Life with Elizabeth to the entire United States.

While Life with Elizabeth aired live in front of a studio audience at KLAC, the syndicated version of Life with Elizabeth would be filmed with a single camera. These episodes would then be shown in front of an audience, whose reactions would then be recorded. In this way the episodes of Life with Elizabeth would feature the genuine laughter of an audience rather than a laugh track. Life with Elizabeth proved attractive to television stations, with 27 stations signing up to air the series.

Life with Elizabeth entered syndication in the fall of 1953. It ended its run in 1955 and after 65 episodes. While the show was still popular, Guild Films thought ending the show while it was still popular would help maximize profits for the existing episodes. The show would  be rerun on local stations for years to come.

Although largely forgotten today, Life with Elizabeth was a pioneering sitcom. It certainly gave Betty White her first national exposure and thus launched her long career. As Betty White as also a co-producer on the show, with Life with Elizabeth she also became one of the first women in television to produce a show. Indeed, Betty had nearly total creative control over the show, something that was unusual in the early Fifties. Life with Elizabeth was also groundbreaking in breaking with the standard sitcom format, well-established on radio even before the first television sitcoms aired. Being divided into three "incidents" per show, it was a sharp contrast to such contemporary sitcoms as I Love Lucy and My Little Margie, which concentrated on one plot per episode.

Life with Elizabeth was also the first nationwide show produced by Don Fedderson, who would o onto a long career in television. He would also produce Betty White's next sitcom, Date with the Angels. He would go onto produce such shows as The Millionaire, My Three Sons, and Family Affair, .

Life with Elizabeth deserves to be better known than it is. It is a very funny show, demonstrating that Betty White had wit and comic timing from the very beginning. And it is every bit as much a pioneering sitcom as I Love Lucy is. Episodes of Life with Elizabeth are readily available on various streaming services as well as the Internet Archive. Anyone who loves Betty White, 1950s sitcoms, or classic television is encouraged to check it out.

Friday, January 14, 2022

The 50th Anniversary of Sanford and Son

It was 50 years ago today, on January 14 1972,  that the sitcom Sanford and Son debuted on NBC. Sanford and Son centred on junk dealer Fred G. Sanford (Redd Foxx) and his son Lamont (Demond Wilson). Fred was a bit lazy, sarcastic, and prone to get rich schemes. As to Lamont, he simply wanted to expand his horizons beyond his father's junkyard. The conflict between the two fuelled the plots of many of the show's episodes throughout the show's run. Sanford and Son proved to be a hit upon its debut and ranked no. 6 for the year in the Nielsens during its first season. Ultimately Sanford and Son remained in the top ten shows each year for five of its six seasons.

Sanford and Son was based on the hit British sitcom Steptoe and Son. Debuting in 1962 on BBC 1, Steptoe and Son was phenomenally successful in the Untied Kingdom. At its height, up to 25 million viewers (around half the population of Britain) tuned into Steptoe and Son. Such success did not go unnoticed in the United States, so that movie producer Joseph E. Levine bought the rights to do an American version of the show. Produced in 1965, the pilot featured Lee Tracy as Albert Steptoe and Aldo Ray as his son Harold. The pilot ailed to sell and never aired in the United States. One further attempt at another American pilot got no further than the planning stages.

Joseph E. Levine retained the rights to an American version of Steptoe and Son until 1971. Once Mr. Levine's rights had lapsed, Norman Lear and Bud Yorkin bought the rights to do an American version of the show. At the time Mr. Lear was fresh from his success with All in the Family, itself an adaptation of the hit British sitcom Till Death Do Us Part. With Norman Lear preoccupied with All in the Family, Bud Yorkin brought Aaron Ruben, a veteran of such sitcoms as The Phil Silvers Show and The Andy Griffith Show, onto the project. A pilot was shot with Bernard Hughes as an Irish American junk dealer and Paul Sorvino as his son who favoured his mother's Italian side. This pilot never made it to series.

It was then decided that their junk dealer and son in their American version of Steptoe and Son should be Black. Messrs. Yorkin and Ruben approached Cleavon Little about doing the pilot, but he declined due to other commitments. While Mr. Little was unable to do the pilot, he did suggest to them comedian Redd Foxx. Redd Foxx had appeared in the movie Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970) with Cleavon Little. He played the character of junk dealer Uncle Budd. Redd Foxx was a comedian with a successful nightclub act and was even one of the first Black comedians to play the Las Vegas Strip.

Redd Foxx would have an enormous impact on shaping Sanford and Son. He even gave the show its name. Redd Foxx was born James Elroy Sanford. His older brother, Fred Sanford, Jr. provided his character's first name. While the majority of first season episodes were based directly on Steptoe and Son scripts, it differed from the British sitcom in that Redd Foxx brought a strong dose of Black comedy to Sanford and Son. Race was never too far from the forefront on Sanford and Son. For the role of Fred's son Lamont, Demond Wilson was cast. Mr. Wilson had played a burglar in the All in the Family episode ""Edith Writes a Song."

Rehearsals for the pilot began in August 1971 at CBS's Fairfax Studio. Given All in the Family had been a success for CBS, Norman Lear and Bud Yorkin tried to interest that network's executives in attending rehearsals, but none of them did. Bud Yorkin then contacted his old friend Herb Schlosser, then NBC's vice president in charge of West Coast programming. Curiously, Mr. Schlosser had made the deal to get the rights to Steptoe and Son for the earlier pilot produced by Joseph E. Levine and starring Lee Tracy and Aldo Ray. Being familiar with both Steptoe and Son and Redd Foxx's comedy, Herb Schlosser was immediately interested. He then arranged for Mort Werner, NBC's senior vice president for programming, to attend the taping of the pilot. Messrs. Schosser and Werner then had to venture onto their archrival network's territory, the pilot being shot at CBS. In the end NBC committed to picking up 17 episodes of Sanford and Son, set to start in January 1972.

Sanford and Son debuted on January 14 1972 to generally positive reviews. Joan Crosby in the "TV Scout" syndicated newspaper column wrote of the show, "Good news: Sanford and Son is a funny program." Joyce Haber, columnist for The Los Angeles Times, wrote, "And if my opinion means anything, it's warm but stingingly hilarious, sharply written (by Aaron Ruben) and timed show which deserves the top honour." The New York Daily News named Sanford and Son, "...a warm, funny show." This is not to say that some did not have a negative view of the show, especially in the Black community. Walter Burrell, columnist for Soul magazine, was particularly critical of how Lamont treated Fred in the early episodes, writing, "To say the younger man was disrespectful would be an understatement." As late as June 17 1973, after which the show had seen considerable success, Eugenia Collier wrote in The New York Times, "For in spite of Redd Foxx's jokes and Demond Wilson's black beauty, Sanford and Son remains white to the core."

Audiences obviously agreed with the majority of positive reviews rather than the minority of negative ones. For the week ending January 16 1972, the premiere of Sanford and Son came in at no. 5 in the Nielsen ratings. Over the following weeks it continued to be successful, ultimately ranking no. 6 for the 1971-1972 season. It would be even more successful in its second season, ranking no. 2 for the year, right behind All in the Family.

While Sanford and Son was a hit from the beginning, it would take some time for it to become the show that most of us remember. In the first season Lamont could be rather hard on his father, and could even be perceived as disrespectful at times. Lamont even referred to Fred's girlfriend Donna Harris (Lynn Hamilton) as "the barracuda" and would even go so far as to try to sabotage Fred and Donna's relationship. Among the critics of Lamont's attitude towards his father were no less than Redd Foxx and Desmond Wilson themselves. Fortunately Aaron Ruben softened Lamount's attitude towards Fred and their relationship became a warmer, more loving one. Lamont's attitude towards Donna was even changed, to where he was even friendly towards her. In the end, Lamont became a character who, while at times annoyed by his father's behaviour, was still devoted to him.

Another way in which the first season of Sanford and Son differed from the show most of us remember is that many of its most memorable characters were not yet on the show. The first season would see the introduction of only three of the show's best known characters. The first was Officer "Smitty" Smith (Hal Williams), a Black police officer whose beat includes Fred's neighbourhood. Smitty's original partner on the show was Officer "Swanny" Swanhauser (Noam Pitlik), who would speak in police jargon that Smitty would have to translate for Fred. He was replaced early in the second season by Officer Howard "Hoppy" Hopkins, who would  not only speak in police jargon, but would always get slang terms wrong (for instance, "right up" instead of "right on").  Also appearing in the first season was Fred's girlfriend Donna Harris, a practical nurse who tended to be sweet natured that she was even able to tolerate Fred's antics for the most part.

It was the second season that would see the arrival of Fred's best known foil, Aunt Esther (LaWanda Page). In the first season Fred's primary antagonist was Aunt Ethel (Beah Richards), who was constantly expressing her disapproval of the junk dealer. It was in the second season that she was replaced by Aunt Esther. Aunt Esther was the sister of Fred's late wife Elizabeth and had never approved of the marriage. While Esther loves her nephew Lamont and he loves her as well, she has nothing but disdain for Fred. A devout Christian, she often calls him, "You old heathen!" Despite being a devout Christian, it was not unusual for her to threaten Fred with violence and she would even hit him with her purse from time to time. LaWanda Page, who played Esther, had met Redd Foxx when they were both still in elementary school in St. Louis. And like Redd Foxx, she would have a successful career in stand-up comedy. She had actually decided to leave show business when Redd Foxx asked her to audition for the role of Esther.

Lamont's friend Rollo (Nathaniel Taylor) was also introduced in the second season. Rollo had spent time in jail, and so Fred remained convinced he was a criminal. What is more, Fred never missed a change to remind Rollo of that fact. Nathaniel Taylor was also a former resident of St. Louis, and it was in part due to this fact that he was cast in the role of Rollo. It was also in the second season that Fred's friend Bubba (Don Bexley) was introduced. Bubba was jovial fellow who would eagerly take part in any of Fred's get-rich-quick schemes. He always greeted Fred with a loud, bellowing, "Hey, Fred!," something that not only got on Lamont's nerves, but Fred's as well. Like Redd Foxx and LaWanda Page, Don Bexley was also a stand-up comedian and he and Mr. Foxx had met while working as stand-up comedians.

Even thought he is now closely associated with the show, Fred's best friend Grady Wilson (Whitman Mayo) would not join Sanford and Son until the second episode of the third season. Grady was good-natured and easy going, but, not terribly bright. Like Bubba, he also often became involved in Fred's get-rich-quick schemes. Grady was a devoted friend and his feelings could be easily hurt. Grady became one of the most popular characters on the show, so much he would eventually received his own spin-off series. Although Grady was in his sixties, at the time Whitman Mayo was playing him, he was only in his forties.

Among the other recurring characters was Julio Fuentes (Gregory Siera), Fred and Lamont's Puerto Rican next door neighbour and fellow junk dealer. Fred would often hurl ethnic slurs at Julio and even say that he should return to Puerto Rico (even though Julio was from New York City). In contrast, Julio always remained friendly towards Fred. Despite constantly insulting Julio, Fred does seem to like him deep down in side. When a local elementary school wants Julio's nephew to demote him to a lower grade because he is not proficient in English, it is Fred who takes up for him. May Hopkins (Nancy Kulp), Officer Hoppy Hopkins's mother, started appearing in the fifth season. She rents a room at the Sanford Arms, the boarding house that Fred and Lamont opened after Julio sold them his property and moved away.

Sanford and Son featured its share of famous guest stars. George Foreman, Lena Horne, B. B. King all guest starred as themselves. The show also featured such well known guest stars as Jack Carter, Scatman Crothers, Greg Morris, Frank Nelson, and Mary Wickes.

Sanford and Son continued to be a hit in its third season, coming in at no. 3 for the year. All would not run smoothly for NBC during that season. Despite being a show centred on a Black junk dealer and his son, the majority of writers on Sanford and Son were white. At the same time, the show was a huge hit and Redd Foxx was only receiving $19,000 per episode. Redd Foxx then demanded 25% ownership of the show. When his demands weren't answered, he walked out. For the remaining six episodes of the third season, it was explained that Fred had gone to St. Louis to attend his cousin's funeral. Grady then took over the running of the Sanford household. The success of these episodes featuring only Grady and Lamont would be part of the reason that Grady would receive his own spin-off. Grady had the character move in with his daughter's family who lived in Westwood. The show debuted on December 4 1974. It did not repeat the success of Sanford and Son, lasting only ten episodes. After the spin-off ended, Grady returned to Sanford and Son.

As to Redd Foxx's salary dispute, it resulted in a lawsuit from Tandem Productions. Eventually the salary dispute was resolved, with Redd Foxx receiving a raise of $25,000 per episode and 25% of the producers' net profits. Redd Foxx then returned to the show for its fourth season.

That fourth season proved to be more successful than its third, with the show rising once more to no. 2 in the Nielsen ratings for the year. Sanford and Son would not maintain that level of successful for long. It dropped to no. 7 for the year in its fifth season. In its sixth season it dropped to no. 27 for the year. Of course, coming in at no. 27 for the year was more than enough for NBC to renew the show, but circumstances would ultimately result in the show's end. ABC drew Redd Foxx away from NBC with an offer of a multimillion dollar contract and his own variety show. Sanford and Son then ended with its sixth season. As it turned out, Redd Foxx might have wished he had remained with Sanford and Son. The Redd Foxx Comedy Hour only lasted from September 15 1977 to January 26 1978.

In attempt to salvage the situation, NBC decided to continue Sanford and Son after a fashion. Initially it was planned for Demond Wilson to star, but he left following a salary dispute. A new lead character was then introduced, Phil Wheeler (Theodore Wilson), an old friend of Fred, who bought the Sanford property after Fred and Lamont had moved to Arizona. Still appearing on the show were Esther, Bubba, and Grady. The focus of the show was shifted to the boarding house that Fred and Lamont had opened, the Sanford Arms. Sanford Arms did not last long. Although eight episodes were made, only four episodes aired before the show was cancelled.

While Sanford Arms was a failure, it was not the last that television would see of Fred Sanford. By 1979 NBC had fallen in its fortunes. It was perhaps for that reason that then President of NBC Fred Silverman decided to lure Redd Foxx back to the network to play Fred Sanford once again. While Redd Foxx would return as Fred, Demond Wilson was not returning as Lamont. The new series, simply titled Sanford, then gave Fred a new partner in the junk business. Cal Petite (Dennis Burkley) was jovial Texan and eternal optimist. Of characters from the original show, only Rollo (who now worked for Fred) and Officers Smitty and Hoppy appeared in the first season. The second season saw Esther join the show as a regular character, and Grady appeared in two episodes. Sanford was ultimately not the success that Sanford and Son was, and it ended its run on July 10 1981.

In many ways Sanford and Son was a groundbreaking series. Prior to its debut only a few sitcoms had centred on Black characters. In the Fifties there was Amos and Andy and Beulah, both of which featured offensive stereotypes. Julia debuted in 1968 and broke new ground in centring on a Black woman who was not portrayed as a stereotype. It was followed in 1969 by The Bill Cosby Show, which marked the first time an African American starred in his own self-titled show. While both Julia and The Bill Cosby Show saw some success, it would be Sanford and Son that would lead to the creation of several sitcoms centred on Black characters during the Seventies. Good Times, The Jeffersons, What's Happening!!, and others owed their existence largely to the success of Sanford and Son.

Beyond spurring the creation of other sitcoms centred on Black characters, Sanford and Son also brought Black comedy into the mainstream. Prior to Sanford and Son, the only exposure much of the United States might have to Black comedy was appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show and other variety shows of such comedians as Moms Mabley, Pigmeat Markham, Slappy White, and even Redd Foxx himself, as well as others. Redd Foxx was able to incorporate a good deal of his own comedy into Sanford and Son. He also consistently cast his fellow Black comedians on the show, including Don Bexley, Leroy & Skillet, LaWanda Page, and Slappy White. The show would eventually use Black writers as well. Richard Pryor wrote episodes, as did Paul Mooney. Along with The Flip Wilson ShowSanford and Son may well have been the first exposure many white people had to Black humour.

Prior to its debut, Sanford and Son was often touted as NBC's answer to All in the Family. While Sanford and Son was never overtly political the way that All in the Family was (Fred did not stand around talking about politics), various issues of concern to its Black viewers were addressed on the show. Indeed, Sanford and Son was set in Watts in Los Angeles. As a result there were occasional reference to the Watts Uprising of 1965 and social unrest in general. The Los Angeles Police Department was at times satirized through the characters of Smitty and Hoppy. The poverty in which Fred and Lamont lived was always close to the forefront of episodes. For much of the Sixties sitcoms portrayed people firmly belonging to the middle class. Even Julia on the TV Show Julia and Chet Kincaid on The Bill Cosby Show were part of the middle class. In contrast, the Sanfords were poor. While Fred owned his own business, the two of them often had to make due with regards to food. There were times they couldn't pay their bills. One often got the feeling that Fred was always in danger of losing his business. Many Americans, not just African Americans, could probably more identify with Fred and Lamont than they could the Bradys on The Brady Bunch or even the Bunkers on All in the Family, let alone the various other middle class families on television in the early Seventies. 

Sanford and Son proved to be a hit upon its debut and it would have a highly successful run in syndication. It currently airs on TV One and can be seen on several streaming services. What is more, its success sees no chance of ending. It is safe to say Sanford and Son will be around for another fifty years.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

The Late Great Ronnie Spector

Ronnie Spector, best known as the lead singer of The Ronettes, died today, Wednesday, January 12 2022, at the age 78 after a short battle with cancer.

Ronnie Spector was born Veronica Bennett on August 10 1943 in New York City. Her mother was of African American/Cherokee descent and her father was Irish American. Young Ronnie, along with her sister Estelle and their cousin Nedra Talley, would go to their grandmother's house on Saturday where much of their time was spent singing. It as in 1957 that she formed her own girl group, consisting of Estelle, Nedra, and their other cousins Diane and Elaine. Eventually a male cousin, Ira, was added to the group. The group performed at a Wednesday amateur night at the Apollo Theatre, at which Ira was to be the lead singer. When he failed to sing, it was Ronnie who took over the lead vocals.

Following that amateur night at the Apollo, Ira, Diane, and Elaine left the group. The remaining members (Ronnie, Estelle, and Nedra) started taking singing lessons The three of them performed at sock hops and bar mitzvahs. Under the name Ronnie and the Relatives, they were eventually signed to Colpix Records. The label issued the singles "I Want a Boy" and "I'm Gonna Quit While I'm Ahead," neither of which charted. Renamed The Ronettes, their next single was a cover of The Rays "Silhouettes." Both it and a reissue of "I'm Gonna Quit While I'm Ahead" failed to chart.

Unhappy with Colpix, it was Estelle who got in touch with producer Phil Spector. The Ronettes auditioned for Spector. Initially he wanted to sign only Ronnie, but Ronnie's mother made it clear that he had to sign the whole group or there would be no deal. Regardless, The Ronette recorded the single "Chubby Danny D"/"Why Don't They Let Us Fall in Love," which was released under Ronnie's given name "Veronica." It failed to chart. The Ronettes would record more songs for Phil Spector, including covers of "The Twist", "The Wah-Watusi," and "Mashed Potato Time," but the songs were credited to another one of Spector's groups, The Crystals.

It was finally in July 1963 that The Ronettes recorded the song "Be My Baby." The song proved not only to be their first hit, but their biggest hit ever. It reached no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. It would be followed by the hits "Baby, I Love You," "(The Best Part of) Breakin' Up," "Do I Love You?," and "Walking in the Rain." They were also featured on the classic Christmas album A Christmas Gift for You from Philles Records, performing the songs "Frosty the Snowman," "Sleigh Ride," and .    "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus."

Unfortunately, by early 1965 The Ronettes' fortunes had begun to change. Their single "Born to Be Together" only reached no. 52 on the Billboard Hot 100. Their next few singles performed even more poorly. It was then in 1967 that The Ronettes broke up.

In 1969 Ronnie Spector recorded "You Came, You Saw, You Conquered," which was released on A&M Records and credited to The Ronettes Featuring the Voice of Veronica, even though none of the other Ronettes appeared on the record. It was in 1971 that Ronnie Spector recorded the song "Try Some, Buy Some," which was written by George Harrison and released on The Beatles' label Apple Records. It was in 1972 that Ronnie Spector, who had married Phil Spector in 1968, left him after years of abuse. Unfortunately, in the 1974 settlement between the two she gave up all of her future record earnings. It would not be until the Nineties that Ronnie Spector was able to receive $1 million in royalties from Phil Spector after years of legal battles.

It was in 1973 that  Ronnie Spector formed a new version of The Ronettes, with two new members. They recorded as Ronnie and The Ronettes. They released two singles ("Lover Lover" and "I Wish I Never Saw the Sunshine") on Buddah Records, neither of which charted. By 1975 Ronnie Spector had returned to being a solo act and over the next few years released the singles "You'd Be Good for Me," "Paradise," "Say Goodbye to Hollywood," "It's a Heartache," and "Darlin'." 

In 1976 she sang a duet with Southside Johnny on Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes' song"You Mean So Much to Me." In 1980 her first solo album, Siren, was released. In 1986 she sang on Eddie Money's single "Take Me Home Tonight." In 1987 her second solo album, Unfinished Business, was released. It was in 1988 that she began performing Ronnie Spector's Christmas Party each Christmas season at B.B. King Blues Club & Grill in New York City. In 1999 her EP She Talks to Rainbows was released. It was produced by Joey Ramone and Daniel Rey. She released two more EPs (Something's Gonna Happen in 2003 and Best Christmas Ever in 2010) and two more albums The Last of the Rock Stars and English Heart. English Heart proved to be a hit, reaching no 6 on the Billboard Top Heatseekers Chart. Ronnie Spector also sang backing vocals on The Raveonettes' song "Ode to LA" from their album 2005 Pretty in Black.

The word "legend" is sometimes overused, but it is certainly appropriate to call Ronnie Spector a legend.  She had an incredible voice, absolutely powerful and one of a kind. She could convey joy, sorrow, and every emotion in between with ease. With The Ronettes she also changed girl groups forever. While previous girl groups tended to be nearly virginal, The Ronettes were open in their sex appeal. As Ronnie Spector said in her memoir, Be My Baby: How I Survived Mascara, Miniskirts, and Madness, "We weren't afraid to be hot. That was our gimmick." Ultimately, Ronnie Spector and The Ronettes would have a lasting impact on future music artists. Artists from The Ramones to The Raveonettes to Amy Winehouse were all influenced by them. Ronnie Spector's success on the charts may have been short-lived, but their impact on music will last forever.

Monday, January 10, 2022

The Late Great Peter Bogdanovich

Film historian, director, and actor Peter Bogdanovich died on January 6 2022 at the age of 82. The cause was complications from Parkinson's disease.

Peter Bogdanovich was born on July 30 1939 in Kingston, New York. He grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Both his father and mother were immigrants. His father was Serbian and his mother was Austrian. When he was young his father would take Peter Bogdanovich to see silent movies at the Museum of Modern Art. He was still very young when he fell in love with the cinema, so much so that by the time he was 12 he would keep a file of index cards in which he would assess the movies he had seen. He was a teenager when he studied acting under Stella Adler. He acted Off Broadway and in summer stock. In 1958 he made his television debut in an episode of Kraft Television Theatre. He directed an Off Broadway revival of The Big Knife when he was 20.

It was around the same time that he started writing about the cinema. He was published in such venues as Esquire, The Saturday Evening Post, and even the French magazine Cahiers du Cinéma. He served as a film programmer for both the New Yorker Theatre and the Museum of Modern Art. It was in 1961 that his first book, The Cinema of Orson Welles, was published. Over the decades it would be followed by The Cinema of Howard Hawks, The Cinema of Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford, Fritz Lang in America, Allan Dwan, and other books on the cinema. His early articles on film were collected in the 1973 book Pieces of Time. He recorded several hours of conversation with Orson Welles, which would ultimately result in the 1992 book This is Orson Welles. He also wrote the book Killing of the Unicorn: Dorothy Stratten 1960–1980, which dealt with his relationship with actress Dorothy Stratten, and A Year and a Day Engagement Calendar 1992: A Desk Diary Adapted From the Works of Robert Graves.

It was in 1964 that Peter Bogdanovich moved to Hollywood to break into the film industry. There he met Roger Corman, who gave him a job. He served as an assistant director on Mr. Corman's The Wild Angels (1966). Roger Corman produced Peter Bogdanovich's first film, Targets (1968). Targets was followed by the American International Pictures movie Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women, which Mr. Bogdanovich directed under the name Derek Thomas.

It was in 1971 that Peter Bogdanovich's breakthrough movie was released, The Last Picture Show. It received eight Academy Award nominations and won the Oscars for Best Supporting Actor for Ben Johnson and Best Supporting Actress for Cloris Leachman. Mr. Bogdoanovich followed it with the hit screwball comedy What's Up, Doc? (1972) and the period piece Paper Moon (1973). Unfortunately, Mr. Bogdanovich's next few movies would not be successful. Daisy Miller (1974), At Last Long Love (1975), and Nickelodeon (1976) did poorly at the box office and poorly with critics. His lower budget 1979 film Saint Jack was better received.

To a degree the Eighties would be better for Peter Bogdanovich as a director than the late Seventies had been. They All Laughed (1981) received some good reviews, but ultimately failed at the box office. In contrast, Mask (1985) proved to be a box office hit and to be critically acclaimed. Unfortunately his next two films, Illegally Yours (1988) and Texaville (1990) would be both critical and box office failures.

In the Nineties Peter Bogdanovich turned to directing television. During the decade he directed episodes of Picture Windows, Fallen Angels, and The Wonderful World of Disney. He directed the TV movies Prowler; To Sir, with Love II; The Price of Heaven; Rescuers: Stories of Courage: Two Women; and Naked City: A Killer Christmas. He directed two feature films during the decade: Noises Off (1992) and The Thing Called Love (1993). In the Naughts he directed the film She's Funny That Way (2001). On television he directed an episode of The Mystery of Natalie Wood and an episode of the TV show The Sopranos. He directed the TV movie Hustle. In the Teens he directed the documentary The Great Buster (2018), about Buster Keaton.

While much of Peter Bodanovich's life was dedicated to writing and directing, he continued to act from time to time. He appeared in the film Lion's Love in 1969. He also played a role in his own film Saint Jack. In the Eighties he guest starred as himself on an episode of Moonlighting. In the Nineties he guest starred on the TV shows Northern Exposure (playing himself)), Picture Windows, and Cybil  (playing himself). He in the TV movies Bella Mafia and Rated X. In 2000 he started playing the recurring role of Dr. Kuperferberg, the psychiatrist to Tony Soprano's psychiatrist, Dr. Melfi. He appeared in the movies Mr. Jealousy (1997),  Highball (1997), 54 (1998), Coming Soon (1999), and The Independent (2000).

In the Naughts Mr. Bogdanovich continued to appear on The Sopranos. He appeared in the mini-series Out of Order. He guest starred on the shows 8 Simple Rules, The Simpsons, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, and How I Met Your Mother (as himself). He appeared in the movies Festival in Cannes (2001), The Definition of Insanity (2004), Infamous (2006), Dedication (2007), Broken English (2007), The Dukes (2007), The Fifth Patient (2007), The Doorman (2007), Humboldt County (2008), and Queen of the Lot (2010).

In the Teens he guest starred on the show Rizzoli & Isles. He had a recurring role on the show Get Shorty. He appeared in the movies Don't Let Me Go (2013), Cold Turkey (2013), Are You Here (2013), While We're Young (2014), Pearly Gates (2015), Durant's Never Closes (2016), The Tell-Tale Heart (2016), Between Us (2016), Six LA Love Stories (2016), Los Angeles Overnight (2018), Reborn (2018), The Other Side of the World (2018), The Creatress (2019), It Chapter Two (2019), and Willie and Me (2020).

Peter Bogdanovich was closely associated with Turner Classic Movies. In 2005 he hosted their program The Essentials. He also attended multiple TCM Classic Film Festivals. In 2020 he was the subject of TCM's podcast The Plot Thickens.

Peter Bogdanovich has long been one of my favourite directors. In fact, it is fully possible that What's Up, Doc? was the first screwball comedy I ever saw. When I was older was able to see such comedies as Bringing Up Baby and The Awful Truth, and I realized just how much What's Up, Doc? had drawn upon the screwball comedies of the Golden Age for inspiration. They All Laughed is another favourite of mine. When I first saw it I thought that critics and audiences had seriously undervalued it. Paper Moon captured the Depression very well, while remaining very funny. Of course, while Mr. Bogdanovich was good at comedy, he was equally adept at drama. The Last Picture Show remains a classic to this day.

Of course, if Peter Bogdanovich was a great director, it is perhaps because he knew so much about the Golden Age of Hollywood. Mr. Bogdanovich was an excellent film historian, writing several books and making documentaries about the subject. Through  it all his love of classic film showed through. More so than many, he did a good deal to spread love for classic film. He was certainly remarkable as both a director and film historian.

Sunday, January 9, 2022

Godspeed Dwayne Hickman

Dwayne Hickman, best known for playing Dobie Gillis in the sitcom The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, died today, January 9 2022, at the age of 87. The cause was complications from Parkinson's disease.

Dwayne Hickman was born on May 18 1934 in Los Angeles. His older brother was actor Darryl Hickman, who appeared in such films as The Grapes of Wrath (1940) Leave Her To Heaven (1947). Dwayne Hickman received his first credited role when he was nine years old with the film Captain Eddie (1945). In the late Forties he appeared in several movies, including The Return of Rusty (1946), The Secret Heart (1946), The Boy with Green Hair (1948), and The Happy Years (1950). He appeared in six of Columbia's eight "Rusty" films, which followed the adventures of a dog named Rusty.

Dwayne Hickman made his television debut in an episode of The Lone Ranger in 1951. It was in 1955 that he began playing the regular role of Chuck McDonald, the girl crazy, teenage nephew of Bob Collins (Bob Cummings) on The Bob Cummings Show. It was his role on The Bob Cummings Show that would lead him being cast in the title role on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. While Mr. Hickman played the teen-aged Dobie on the show, he was 25 years old at the time. During the Fifties Dwayne Hickman guest starred on such shows as Public Defender, The Loretta Young Show, Lux Video Theatre, The Stu Erwin Show, Waterfront, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, and Men of Annapolis. He appeared in the movie Rally 'Round the Flag, Boys! (1958) and provided the voice of Mr. Magoo's nephew in the animated feature 1001 Arabian Nights (1959).

In the Sixties Dwayne Hickman continued to star on Dobie Gillis. After the show's end he guest starred on such shows as The Greatest Show on Earth, Valentine's Day, Wagon Train, Combat!, Vacation Playhouse, Ironside, Insight, The Flying Nun, My Friend Tony, Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Colour, The Mod Squad, and Love, American Style. Mr. Hickman appeared in several of American International Pictures' "Beach Party" movies and films related to the "Beach Party" films, including Ski Party (1965), How to Stuff a Wild Bikini (1965), Sergeant Dead Head (1965), and Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965). He played the con man Jed in the classic Cat Ballou (1965) and also appeared in the movie Doctor, You've Got Be Kidding! (1967).

In the Seventies Dwayne Hickman guest starred on the TV shows Love, American Style; Karen; Kolchak: The Night Stalker; and Ellery Queen. He reprised his role as Dobie Gillis in the failed pilot Whatever Happened to Dobie Gillis?. In the Seventies he worked for a time as entertainment director for Howard Hughes’ Landmark Hotel in Las Vegas. From 1977 to 1988 he was a programming executive at CBS.

In the Eighties Dwayne Hickman reprised his role as Dobie Gillis in the television reunion movie Bring Me the Head of Dobie Gillis in 1988. He also appeared in the TV movie High School U.S.A. and he guest stared on the show Murder, She Wrote. In 1989 he began directing TV shows. From the Eighties into the Nineties, Dwayne Hickman directed such shows as Duet, Charles in Charge, Open House, Designing Women, Get a Life, Head of the Class, Harry and the Hendersons, and Sister, Sister.

In the Nineties Dwayne Hickman played the recurring role of Tripp Mariens, the father of the character Amber (Elisa Donovan) on the TV show Clueless. He reprised his role as Dobie Gillis in a guest appearance on the show Hi Honey, I'm Home. He appeared in the movies Cops n Roberts (1995) and A Night at the Roxbury (1998). He made a cameo in the 2001 TV movie Surviving Gilligan's Island: The Incredibly True Story of the Longest Three Hour Tour in History in 2001. His last appearance was a cameo in the movie Angels with Angles (2005).

Later in life Dwayne Hickman developed painting as a hobby.

I have been a fan of Dobie Gillis since I first saw it in reruns when I was young. Dwayne Hickman was perfect in the role of Dobie, the at times scheming teenager who wants money, popularity, and, to paraphrase the show's theme song, a girl to call his own. Mr. Hickman's was convincing as Dobie, which was remarkable given he was 25 at the time. Dwayne Hickman also did well in the role of Bob's nephew Chuck on The Bob Cummings Show. Chuck was always trying to get his Uncle Bob's attention, not to mention having his head turned by some pretty girl or another.

Of course, while Dwayne Hickman will always remain best known as Dobie Gillis, he played other roles. In Cat Ballou he played Jed, the con man who disguises himself as a preacher to spring his nephew from jail. In Doctor, You've Got Be Kidding, he played a shoe salesman who is an actor on the side. As an actor he specializes in death scenes.In the Ellery Queen episode "The Adventure of the Wary Witness," he played one of Ellery's old school chums accused of murdering a mobster. Dwayne Hickman could play a variety of roles and he had a real gift for comedy. His timing was perfect. While he'll always be remembered as Dobie Gillis, he did so much more.