Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Old Settlers Reunion Gets Rained Out

Okay, just to reassure what few people who read this blog, I have not disappeared from the face of the earth. Nor have I been seriously ill, suffered a psychotic break, or been kidnapped by aliens or fairies. Instead my job is entering its peak season. That means long, busy hours spent in front of a PC at work. I really don't care too much for sitting in front of a PC at home afterwards.

Anyhow, this was the weekend of the Old Settlers Reunion and Fall Fair, a three day festival held every year here in Randolph County. This was the 120th one. It was originally created to honour the settlers of Randolph and Macon Counties. And while it has become a Randolph County tradition held here in the county seat of Huntsville, that first Old Settlers was held in Macon. Back then the site of the fair was rotated from town to town with each year. Many of the early reunions were held in Jacksonville (in Randolph County), I suppose because it is the town in Randolph closest to Macon County. Starting in 1896 it would be held several years in a row here in Huntsville. I believe it was held in Moberly in 1901, although it would return to Huntsville in 1902 where it has been ever since. Of course, at some point early in its history Macon County dropped out of the Old Settlers Reunion.

It received its current name, "The Old Settlers Reunion and Fall Fair" sometime in the Thirties. It was in that decade that Randolph County held its first summer fair. After only a few years the summer fair was combined with the Old Settlers Reunion to become the Old Settlers Reunion and Fall Fair.

Now everyone seems to agree that the Old Settlers Reunion is not as big as it once was. I know it is not as big an event as when I growing up. When I was growing up there would be booths and games operated by the various organisations in the county and the senior class from the high school. There seemed to be more events and we usually had a carnival. And from what I understood from my mother and father, it was even bigger when they were young.

Regardless, The Old Settlers Reunion and Fall Fair is still one of the big events of the county, particularly in Huntsville. Sadly, this year it was a washout. The rains started Thursday morning. Fortunately, many of the events Thursday night (such as the queen contest) were not such that would be affected by the rain. Unfortunately, the rains would be much worse on Friday and Friday night, when many of the outdoor events take place. I believe they were cancelled. Today the rains were even worse, again when many of the events take place outside. I believe they were cancelled as well. I know the big event of the Old Settlers Reunion, the parade, was cancelled. Fortunately, they did hold the talent show.

Anyhow, like many Huntsvillians I did not get to enjoy this Old Settlers Reunion. I did go to the Historical Society's silent reunion and picked up a Huntsville Indians cap. But that was the extent of my Old Settlers experience this year. Personally this saddens me as I am sure it did many others. There is something to be said for traditions that are held year in and year out, just as there is something to be said for festivals that are held the same time each year. Traditions connect us to our history, to our roots, to our ancestors. They give us a sense of belonging to a part of something bigger than ourselves. As to yearly festivals, I believe everyone needs those few days when they can simply enjoy themselves, when they can play games, shop at booths, and listen to performers. Particularly as much as Americans work today, we need a break once a while. The rain of the past three days has then done much more than flood roads and sidewalks. It disrupted a tradition and disappointed a good many people.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Silent Star Anita Page Passes On

Anita Page, whose acting career spanned from the Silent Era to the 21st century, passed yesterday, at the age of 98.

Anita Page was born on August 4, 1910 in Flushing, New York. In 1925, when she was only 15, she received her first role in a film, although it was uncredited, in A Kiss for Cinderella. She had gotten the role through silent star Betty Bronson, whose's family was close to Page's family. She played a few more uncredited roles in films until she received her first credited part as the female lead in Telling the World in 1928. She would appear in such silents as Our Dancing Daughters (opposite Joan Crawford), While the City Sleeps (with Lon Chaney), and The Flying Fleet.

In 1929 she starred in her first talkie, The Broadway Melody, the very first Hollywood musical. From 1929 into the Thirties she starred in such films as Free and Easy (opposite Buster Keaton), Skyscraper Souls, War Nurse, Prosperity, and Hitch Hike to Heaven. In 1929, at the height of her fame, she received over 10,000 fan letters a week, surpassed only by Greta Garbo.

Page retired at the height of her fame in 1933, coming out of retirement in 1936 to make the British film Hitch Hike to Heaven. In an interview with Scott Feinberg in 2004, Page claimed her retirement was actually because she would not give into the sexual advances of MGM head of production Irving Thalberg and studio chief Louis B. Mayer. In her retirement Page would marry a Navy pilot and raise a family. Her husband died in 1991.

Page would come out of retirement for the movie Saint Mike in 1960. She made a full fledge return to film in 1996 with a part in the thriller Sunset After Dark. Page would go onto appear in the films Witchcraft XI: Sisters in Blood and Bob's Night Out. Her last film appearance was a cameo in the soon to be released Frankenstein Rising.

Page was one of the very few silent stars to live into the 21st century, let alone act in films. She was also the last living person to attend the first Academy Awards ceremony in 1929.

Anita Page was not only a very beautiful actress, but a talented one whose talent was often underestimated. She had a true gift for comedy, although she was equally talented at drama. Her performance in The Broadway Melody is notable, giving as good a performance as co-star Bessie Love (who received an Oscar nomination, while Page did not). She was truly one of the great stars of the late Silent Era and the early Thirties.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Actor Michael Pate Passes On

Actor Michael Pate, a frequent guest star on American television in the Fifties and Sixties, passed on September 1. The cause was respiratory failure brought on by pneumonia. He was 88 years old.

Michael Pate was born in Sydney on February 26, 1920. He started his career on radio on the Australian Broadcasting Commission (Australia's equivalent of the BBC or PBS) in 1938 as both a writer and a broadcaster. During World War II he served in the Australian Army, eventually becoming part of 1st Australian Army Amenities Entertainment Unit, a special unit which entertained combat troops. He had a small role in the movie 40,000 Horsemenin 1940

Following the war Pate again worked in radio, performing in both radio shows and plays. It was in 1949 that he broke into film once more with the movie Sons of Matthew. The following years he would appear in such films as Bitter Springs, Thunder on the Hill, The Strange Door, The Black Castle, Julius Caesar, Houdini, Hondo, The Court Jester, and The Court Jester.

By the early Fifties Pate was working almost exclusively in the United States. It was here that he made his television debut, in an episode of The Lone Wolf in 1954. His next guest shot on a TV series would be historic. He appeared in the adaptation of the very first 007 novel Casino Royale on the series Climax, playing "Clarence Leiter." "Clarence Leiter" was essentially "Felix Leiter" renamed for American television (why they renamed him I cannot say), hence Michael Pate was the first actor to ever play Felix Leiter! Still working in the movies, Pate would make several guest appearances on television in the Fifties, appearing on the shows Schlitz Playhouse of the Stars, Four Star Playhouse, Broken Arrow, (as Geronimo, no less), The Millionaire, Alcoa Theatre, Sugarfoot, Wanted Dead or Alive, and The Detectives Starring Robert Taylor.

In the Sixties Pate appeared almost exclusively on television. He guest starred on such series as Thriller, Peter Gunn, Have Gun--Will Travel, The Rifleman, Route 66, Rawhide, Perry Mason, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Get Smart, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Daniel Boone, Batman, The Wild Wild West, and Tarzan. He was a regular on the series Hondo, playing Chief Vittoro. Pate was not totally absent from film in the Sixties. He appeared in The Great Sioux Massacre and The Singing Nun, among a few other films.

In 1968 Pate returned to his native Australia. There he guest starred in the series Riptide. He would also be an associate producer on Michael Powell's film Age of Consent. He was a regular on Matlock Police, staying with the show almost its entire run (which was 1971 to 1976) as Detective. Sergeant Vic Maddern. He would guest star on the series Cash and Company and was a regular on Power Without Glory.

For much of the rest of his career Pate returned to movies. He appeared in Mad Dog Morgan, Duet for Four, Death of a Soldier, and The Howling III.

Pate was also a writer. He wrote the story for Escape From Fort Bravo, an episode of Rawhide, and the films The Most Dangerous Man Alive, and Tim (which was also his lone director credit). He also worked in theatre in both Melbourne and Sydney. In the Eighties he and his son Christopher worked together on a stage production of Mass Appeal. He had also published literary and theatrical reviews and short stories in both Australia and the United States.

Michael Pate was a multi-talented actor. His career as what I call a "professional guest star (those actors who seemed to make a living on guest shots on television in the Fifties and Sixties)" emerged largely because he could play nearly any role. He was as convincing as 19th century British serial killer William Hare (who with his partner William Burke killed at least 17 people) on The Alfred Hitchock Hour as he was playing Sitting Bull in The Great Sioux Massacre. That he was also a writer who had a successful career in short stories makes him all the more remarkable. Truly, he was one of the great "professional guest stars" and TV stars of the Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies.