Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Online Friends Are Real Friends

I have had internet access since 1995. In that time I have made many friends online, most of whom I have never met in person. Many of these friends number among my very closest friends, among them the dearest friend I have ever had. Many of my friends, both those I have met in person and those I have met online, have had similar experiences. Despite this, there are those who will insist that online friends are not "real friends." Indeed, there is even the phrase "real life friends," which seems to say that what occurs online somehow is not real.

Given the World Wide Web has existed for nearly 28 years, I am not sure why some people have this attitude that online friends are not real friends or, at the very least, are somehow lesser in quality than people one meets in person. Making friends online can go well beyond simply chatting with people on Facebook or Twitter. Today there is no shortage of video chat software, from Skype to Zoom. Some of my online friends have my phone number and we have texted and talked on the phone. There are several different ways one can bond with friends one has made online. And often this bonding can be every bit as strong as the bonding one has with those friends they have met in person.

Now I do realize it is fully possible for someone online to pretend to be someone or something they are not. There is the phenomenon of catfishing, whereby someone creates a fake persona online, whether for attention or some more nefarious ends. And I have had the sad experience of befriending people online, only to learn later they are not what they initially appeared to be. In one case I knew someone for a year before they turned on me, something that took me by surprise. That having been said, I have had this happen offline with people I have met in person as well. In fact, I daresay it has happened many more times to me with people I have met in person than it has people I have met online. There are always going to be those insincere or unscrupulous people who will behave nicely when they want something from an individual and then turn on that individual when they are through with them.

Fortunately, in my experience, such people are the exception to the rule. It seems to me that most people behave the same online as they do offline. I think most people online are honest about who and what they are. Over the years I have gotten to meet friends I have made online and in each case they behave the same offline as they do online. What is more, we did not suddenly become friends because we met in person. Quite simply, we were already friends and behaved as such.

For those not willing to take my word for it, a study conducted by the University of California Irvine in 2017 revealed that online friendships are just as meaningful as face-to-face friendships for teens.  There is no reason to assume that the same is not true for many adults. Ultimately I don't think the means through which people connect (online vs. in person) is nearly is as important is as how strong that connection is.

As I said earlier, I won't pretend to understand why some people think online friends are not real friends or think that online friends are somehow lesser in quality than those one has met in person. Maybe they haven't spent that much time online or maybe they just never "clicked" with someone online. That having been said, for many of us our online friendships are every bit as real and every bit as meaningful as our face-to-face friendships. To say, "Too bad you never met so-and-so in person" of someone's online friend is then not only rude, but wholly unwarranted and can be downright cruel. For years now people have connected through multiple platforms beyond in person, through the telephone, through ham radio, and now through the internet. It is not the means through which two people connect that is important. It is the fact that they connected at all and how strong that connection is that is important.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Actress and Singer Martha Stewart Passes On

Martha Stewart, the actress and singer who appeared in such films as Daisy Kenyon (1947) and In a Lonely Place (1950), died on February 17 2021 at the age of 98.

Martha Stewart was born Martha Haworth on October 7 1922 in Bardwell, Kentucky. She was very young when her family moved to Brooklyn, New York. She graduated from New Utrecht High School there. After graduating from high school, she entered a singing contest which led to a career as a professional singer. During World War II she sang on NBC radio shows Glenn Miller, Harry James and Claude Thornhill. It was at an engagement at the Stork Club that she was spotted by Hollywood talent scout.

Martha Stewart made her film debut in Doll Face in 1945. She appeared in the films Johnny Comes Flying Home (1946) and I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now (1947). In Daisy Kenyon (1947) she played a friend of the title character (played by Joan Crawford). She appeared in Are You With It? (1948) with Donald O'Connor before playing hat-check girl and murder victim Mildred Atkinson in In a Lonely Place (1950). She appeared in only a few movies following In a Lonely Place, those being Convicted (1950), Aaron Slick from Punkin Creek (1952), and Surf Party (1964).

Miss Stewart appeared on Broadway in Park Avenue in the late Forties and Guys and Dolls in the early Fifties. Martha Stewart made her television debut on Texaco Star Theatre Starring Milton Berle in 1950. She was a co-host of the variety show Those Two. In the Fifties she guest starred on Footlights and Klieglights, Cavalcade of Stars, Songs for Sale, The Jackie Gleason Show, The Colgate Comedy Hour, The Arthur Murray Party, The Red Skelton Show, The Stork Club, and Musical Chairs. In the Sixties she guest starred on Our Man Higgins, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, and My Three Sons

Martha Stewart was a talented singer with a lovely voice, as anyone who has seen her musicals knows. She also displayed a good deal of talent as an actress. She played a variety of roles, from singer Frankie Porter in Doll Face to an older rich woman in Surf Party. She was equally at home in musicals and in dramas, and she always gave good performances.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Comic Book Legend Dwayne McDuffie

It was ten years ago that comic book and animated TV series writer Dwayne McDuffie died at age 49 following complications of emergency heart surgery. Mr. McDuffie was born during the Silver Age and his career in comic books would not begin until the Modern Age of Comic Books, yet he had an impact on the medium as few other writers have. Quite simply, if comic books today include more diversity than they once did, Dwayne McDuffie deserves much of the credit.

Dwayne McDuffie was born on February 20 1962 in Detroit. It was following Mr. McDuffie's death that Keegan-Michael Key of Key & Peele fame learned he was his half-brother through their father. Like many young boys in the Seventies, Dwayne McDuffie read comic books. He attended the Roeper School in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. He later attended the University of Michigan, where he received a degree in English, and then a master's degree in physics at the same school. He moved to New York City where he attended New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. He was a copy editor at Investment Dealers Digest when a friend recommended him for a job as an assistant editor at Marvel Comics.

At Marvel Dwayne McDuffie wrote the limited series Damage Control, the limited series Deathlok, and specials and one-shots related to such characters as She-Hulk, Captain Marvel, and Spider-Man. He later wrote a few issues of The Demon for DC Comics and a few issues of Back to the Future: Forward to the Future for Harvey Comics. It would be in 1993 that Dwayne McDuffie would make his mark in comic book history with the founding of Milestone Media.

Milestone Media was founded in 1993 by Dwayne McDuffie, Denys Cowan, Michael Davis, and Derek T. Dingle, with the goal of addressing the lack of diversity in American comic books at that time. Dwayne McDuffie served as the editor-in-chief at Milestone and also created several of its characters. Milestone Media's titles were published through DC Comics, although Milestone retained full ownership of their characters. Dwayne McDuffie co-created several of Milestone's most popular characters, including Hardware, Blood Syndicate, Icon, Static, and The Shadow Cabinet. Dwayne McDuffie also wrote the Milestone's titles Hardware and Icon.

Milestone Media was a major break from previous comic book companies in that they had people of colour had much greater representation there than any other comic book company at the time. Hardware, Icon, and Static were all Black. Xombi was Korean American. Kobalt was of Cuban descent. Both Blood Syndicate and The Shadow Cabinet featured characters of various ethnicities and sexual orientations. What is more, the various Milestone titles, particularly Icon, often addressed real world issues. Icon presented a conflict before the more economically and socially conservative Icon and his more progressive sidekick Rocket. In the pages of Icon, Rocket became the first unwed mother in the history of comic books. Other topics covered by Milestone Media's title included drug addiction, alcoholism,  gang warfare, sexuality, and, as might be expected racism.

Sadly, Milestone Media was founded at a time when there was a boom in new comic book publishers. Between the late Eighties and the early Nineties such companies as Malibu Comics, Valiant Comics, Image, and yet others were founded. Most of these publishers introduced their own lines of superheroes. As a result, there was a glut on the market of new superhero titles. Milestone's chances may have also been hurt by the speculator boom of the Nineties, whereby speculators would buy various titles in hopes that they would be valuable later. The speculator boom peaked just as Milestone was founded and then ended only a few years later. As a result, comic book sales dropped dramatically. With sales of its titles in decline, Milestone Media ceased publishing comic books in 1997, although the company still exists today as a licensing company for its characters.

It would be Milestone Media that would lead Dwayne McDuffie into animation. Even though Static had ended its run in 1997, the character of Static was licensed for the animation Static Shock in 2000. Michael McDuffie would go onto write episodes not only of Static Shock, but Justice League, Justice League Unlimited, various Ben 10 series, and Young Justice. He served as a producer on Justice League, Justice League Unlimited, Ben 10: Alien Force, and Ben 1: Ultimate Alien. He also wrote direct-to-video features for DC comics, including Justice League: Starcrossed, Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, All-Star Superman, and Justice League: Doom. He would return to comic books, writing the mini-series Beyond for Marvel, as well as Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight, Fantastic Four, and Justice League of America.

During his lifetime Dwayne McDuffie received nominations for the Eisner Award for Best Writer, Best Editor, and Best Continuing Series. He won the Golden Apple Award from the Roeper School (his alma mater) for "use of popular art to promote and advance human worth and dignity." He won the Humanitas Award for in Children's Animation for the Static Shock episode "Jimmy." Two awards are named for him, the Dwayne McDuffie Award for Diversity in Comics and the Dwayne McDuffie Award for Kids' Comics.

Both as a founder of Milestone Media and as a writer, Dwayne McDuffie did much to advance diversity in comic books. Even after the introduction of several important African American characters in the Seventies (The Falcon and Luke Cage at Marvel, John Stewart and Black Lightning at DC), there were still few Black superheroes to be found in comic books in the early Nineties. There were also few Asian, Latino, or Native American superheroes. In co-founding Milestone Media, Dwayne McDuffie did much to change that. He wrote Black characters and characters of other ethnicities as human beings, not caricatures or stereotypes. What is more, Dwayne McDuffie's characters were ones that anyone could identify with, regardless of ethnicity. Hardware is an inventor who found he was being used by his criminal patron. Static is an intelligent teenager and pop culture geek who just happened to get superpowers. Rocket is a teenage aspiring writer who fell in with the wrong crowd until she met Icon. In writing characters that were wholly relatable, often dealing with issues that the average person might face in their everyday life, Dwayne McDuffie helped advance diversity in comic books in a way that few writers before him had.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Sounds of the City: A Seventies Radio Show

In the Seventies there was a revival of radio drama that lasted for much of the decade. The revival produced such memorable programs as NPR's Earplay and CBS Radio Mystery Theatre. One show that is not particularly remembered today would have an impact despite its short time on the air. Sounds of the City was a fifteen minute soap opera that centred on Black characters. It focused on an African American family from the South and their efforts to transition to life in the North.

Sounds of the City was creation of Byron Lewis, president of UniWorld Group Inc., a multicultural advertising agency. Founded in 1969, UniWorld Group Inc. first made its mark handling the promotional campaign for the movie Shaft (1971). Unfortunately, the Seventies were not a particularly good time for minority-owned advertising agencies, and by 1974 UniWorld Group Inc. was struggling. The agency was in real need of something that would improve their fortunes. Byron Lewis remembered how his family listened to soap operas such as Stella Dallas and Our Gal Sunday on the radio. He then came up with the idea of a Black radio soap opera, Sounds of the City.

A sponsor for Sounds of the City was found in Quaker Oats, who would remain a client of UniWorld Group Inc. even after the show went off the air. In course of  the run of Sounds of the City, both actors that were already famous and some that soon would be appeared on the show, including Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Robert Guillaume, and Adam Wade. Scripts were written by Shauneille Perry, who had already a career as a director of plays such as Black Girl and the author of the play Mio. The characters on Sound of the City ranged from a minister to a police officer to the head of a numbers racket.

Sounds of the City debuted on May 1 1974 on the Mutual Black Network. It ultimately lasted 39 weeks. While Sounds of the City did not last long, it was successful in saving UniWorld Group Inc. In fact, it was Sounds of the City that earned UniWorld Group Inc. its first million dollars. The advertising agency started producing television commercials in 1975, with its first being for Avon. As to Sounds of the City itself, Robert Guillaume was among its regular cast, playing the part of Calvin. Within a few years he would be playing Benson on Soap and later on the spinoff Benson. While Sounds of the City lasted only briefly, it did leave its mark.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Christopher Pennock Passes On

Christopher Pennock, who played various roles on Dark Shadows (including Leviathan leader Jeb Hawkes and astrologer Sebastian Shaw), died on February 12 at the age of 76. He had been diagnosed with melanoma last summer.

Christopher Pennock was born on June 7 1944 in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. He attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. He was an understudy for the part of Jack Hunter in the Broadway production The Rose Tattoo. In the late Sixties he appeared on Broadway in A Patriot for Me. He first appeared as Jeb Hawkes on Dark Shadows in 1970. Until the end of the run of the series, he played various characters in various timelines, including Cyrus Longwoth, Sebastian Shaw, and Gabriel Collins.

Mr. Pennock continued on Dark Shadows in the early Seventies. Later in the decade he appeared on the soap operad General Hospital and Days of Our Lives. He also guest starred on Cannon and the soap opera Somerset. He appeared in the TV movies The Court-Martial of George Armstrong Custer and The Women's Room. He appeared in the movie Night of Dark Shadows (1971), playing the role of Gabriel Collins. He also appeared in the movies Savages (1971), The Great Texas Dynamite Chase (1976), and California Suite (1978). He appeared on Broadway in Abelard and Heloise.

In the Eighties Christopher Pennock appeared on the soap operas The Young and the Restless and The Guiding Light. He guest starred on the TV shows The Love Boat, Strike Force, Tucker's Witch, Cagney & Lacey, The A-Team, Dynasty, Riptide, Hotel, Houston Knights, Simon & Simon, High Mountain Rangers, and Knot's Landing. He appeared in the movies Frances (1982), Basic Training (1985), and Caged in Paradise (1990).

In the Nineties Mr. Pennock guest starred on Melrose Place, Baywatch, and Silk Stalkings. He appeared in the movie Running Woman (1998). In the Naughts he appeared in the movies High (2009) and Legacy (2010). In the Teens he appeared in the movies Lost on Purpose (2013), Doctor Mabuse: Etiopomar (2014), A Journey to a Jorney (2016), and The Night-Time Winds (2017). He was a regular on the TV series Theatre Fantastique and High.

Mr. Pennock also wrote a series of comic books based on his experiences on Dark Shadows.

Christopher Pennock was an immensely talented actor capable of playing a wide variety of roles. On Dark Shadows alone he played the Leviathan leader Jeb Hawkes, the astrologer Sebastian Shaw, and the Dr. Jekyll inspired Cyrus Longworth and his Hyde inspired alter ego John Yaeger. In shows from The A-Team to Melrose Place, he played a wide variety of characters, from essentially good characters to outright villains. Throughout his career he displayed an enormous amount of talent.

Monday, February 15, 2021

St. Louis Blues (1958)

In 1958 African Americans had made considerable strides in Hollywood since its Golden Age. That having been said, movies with primarily Black casts were still rare. That alone makes St. Louis Blues (1958) remarkable. What makes it even more remarkable is that the movie featured some of the most famous Black performers of the time, including Nat King Cole, Earth Kitt, Cab Calloway, Pearl Bailey, Ruby Dee, Mahalia Jackson, and Ella Fitzgerald, among others.

The opening credits of St. Louis Blues state that it is based on the life and music of W. C. Handy. That having been said, viewers should take that statement with a grain of salt. Just as Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) departed considerably from the life of George M. Cohan and Stormy Weather (1943) departed considerably from the life of Bill "Bojangles" Robinson (even with Mr. Robinson playing himself), so too does St. Louis Blues depart considerably from the life of W. C. Handy. While I won't go into detail about how the movie departs from Mr. Handy's life for fear of spoilers, I will point out that among other things, there was never anyone named Gogo Germaine (Earth Kitt) in Mr. Handy's life.

Of course, I am guessing some of you may be asking, "Who is Mr. Handy?" W. C. Handy was a composer and a musician who is often called "the Father of the Blues." While W. C. Handy did not invent the blues, he was the first composer to actually publish Delta blues compositions. Among his many songs are "Beale Street Blues," "St. Louis Blues," "Chantez Les Bas,"and "The Storybook Ball."

As mentioned earlier, St. Louis Blues has a remarkable cast. Even the young actor who plays William Christopher Handy is to be noted; he is none other than musician Billy Preston. Nat King Cole was at the height of his fame when he played W. C. Handy in St. Louis Blues. It was after Mr. Cole was cast that he visited W. C. Handy at the legendary composer's 84th birthday to discuss the film with him. Sadly, W. C. Handy died on March 28 1958, not long before the premiere of St. Louis Blues on April 10 1958 in St. Louis. While critics at the time dismissed Nat King Cole as W. C. Handy, I thought his performance was quite solid. 

Nat King Cole was not alone in giving a good performance in St. Louis Blues. Earth Kitt does a great job as Gogo Germaine, as does Ruby Dee as Mr. Handy's love interest Elizabeth. Many might find the casting of Pearl Bailey as W. C. Handy's Aunt Hagar unusual given she was only a year older than Nat King Cole, but she is entirely convincing in the role. Juano Hernandez gives a great performance as W. C. Handy's father, a Methodist minister who disapproves of his son playing secular music (something in the film that is based on fact). Cab Calloway does well in a largely unsympathetic role as a none-too-honest club owner.

As might be expected with such a cast, much of the appeal of St. Louis Blues is its music. There are performances from Nat King Cole, Eartha Kitt, Mahalia Jackson, and Pearl Bailey. And while many of the songs are those written by W. C. Handy, the soundtrack also includes such traditional works as "Open Up the Window" and "Hush the Wind." For those of you who may be wondering, I have to point out that while he is one of the cast, Cab Calloway does not perform any of the songs in St. Louis Blues. I am sure even Mr. Calloway's biggest fans won't be disappointed, however, given the number of great performers in the movie.

Of course, St. Louis Blues does not simply have a great cast and several good musical performances, it also has a good script. While it does depart considerably from W. C. Handy's life, the film's plot is engaging and gives the actors ample opportunity to flex their dramatic muscles.

St. Louis Blues did not perform particularly well at the box office. Sadly, today it is not as well remembered as other biopics. That having been said, it is well worth watching given its cast and its musical performances.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Happy Valentine's Day 2021

For reasons that should be obvious to anyone who knows me, Valentine's Day is not a particularly happy day for me. That having been said, it wasn't always that way and I have fond memories of Valentine's Days past. It is a nice day for individuals to celebrate with people they love. And while candy and roses are the traditional gifts for Valentine's Day, I also know that there are those who might prefer some cheesecake for the day. Here, then, are this year's Valentine's Day pinups.

First up is Peggy Castle from a photo spread in Look magazine in the Fifties. She's apparently resting after a busy day of playing Cupid!

Next up is Lynn Merrick, reminding people of the date!

Not a Valentine's Day pinup per se, but as a promotional photo of Debbie Reynolds for the movie I Love Melvin it does fit the holiday!

What better Valentine's Day gift could there be than Cyd Charisse?

Sue Carol wants a Valentine!

And finally, you can't have Valentine's Day without Ann Miler!

Happy Valentine's Day!