Saturday, October 18, 2008

Edie Adams Muriel Cigars Commercials

In tribute to the great Edie Adams, who recently passed, I thought I would treat my readers to some of her commercials for Muriel Cigars.

This commercial, aired in 1965, has Edie performing with legendary saxophonist Stan Getz. My apologies for the video quality.

In this particular commercial we are treated to Edie as a blonde, brunette, and redhead (she looks good as all three) in a take off on the Andrews Sisters. It's one of the later adverts, shot in colour.

Another late commercial, this one from 1971. Edie performs "Big Spender." Also appearing in the commercial is boxing champ Joe Frazier and his mom. Edie was 44 when this one was made, and she was still sexier than women half her age. Susan Anton could never replace her!

Another commercial from 1971 with Edie performing "Big Spender." It includes the classic catchphrase "Pick one up and smoke it sometime."

And, as a special treat, here is Edie Adams and the great Ernie Kovacs' appearance on What's My Life. Both are in top form!

Okay, I know I paid tribute to Edie Adams yesterday with a eulogy, but this was EDIE ADAMS!!!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Edie Adams R.I.P.

Chanteuse, comedian, and actress Edie Adams passed Wednesday at the age of 81. She had fought a long battle with cancer before succumbing to pneumonia.

Edie Adams was born Edith Enke in Kingston, Pennsylvania on April 16, 1927. She grew up in Grove City, Pennsylvania and Tenafly, New Jersey. She was drawn into singing by her mother, who being of Welsh descent believed a woman should be able to sing. She received a degree from the Juilliard School of Music and attended the school of drama at Columbia University in Manhattan. In 1950 she won the "Miss U.S. Television" beauty contest. As a prize she won an appearance with Milton Berle in a performance in Minneapolis. Afterwards she made an appearance on his TV show.

This would in turn lead to what may have been the most pivotal part of her career. She was one of the cast of Ernie in Kovacsland, with the great Ernie Kovacs, in 1951. She was also a regular on The Ernie Kovacs Show in 1952. She and Kovacs would marry on September 12, 1954. Adams appeared in a variety of TV shows in the Fifties. She appeared in such dramas as Suspense, Appointment with Adventure, Suspicion, and General Electric Theatre. She played the Fairy Godmother in the TV special Cinderella in 1957. She appeared on such talk shows and variety shows as The Colgate Comedy Hour, The Steve Allen Show, The Tonight Show with Jack Paar, The Perry Como Show, The Ed Sullivan Show, and The Dinah Shore Chevy Show. In the Fifties she appeared on Broadway twice, in Wonderful Town in 1953 and as Daisy Mae in Li'l Abner in 1956 (for which she won the Tony for Best Featured Actress in a Musical).

The Sixties saw Adams make her feature film debut in The Apartment. She would appear in several more movies during the decade, including Call Me Bwana, Under the Yum Yum Tree, Lover Come Back, It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, and Love with the Proper Stranger. Throughout the decade she also appeared on such shows as What's My Line, The Dean Martin Show, The Jackie Gleason Show, The Hollywood Palace, The Carol Burnett Show, and The Lucy Show. In 1963 she would have her own variety show, Here's Edie. September 13, 1962 would be one of the most tragic days of her life, her husband Ernie Kovacs dying in a car crash on that day. The two had worked together from Ernie in Kovacsland, appearing together on such shows as What's My Life, The U. S. Steel Hour, The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, and The Perry Como Show.

From the Seventies to the Naughts Adams appeared less frequently in movies, although she did appear in Up in Smoke, The Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood, and Boxoffice. On television she appeared in shows such as The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, Hollywood Squares, McMillan and Wife, Harry O, Bosom Buddies, Murder She Wrote, and It's Garry Shandling's Show.

While well known as a singer and comedian, and as Kovacs' wife and partner, Edie Adams was also well known for her 19 year stint as the spokesman for Muriel cigars. Her sex appeal on full display, in slinky dresses and the highest heels possible, she would ask viewers, "Why don't you pick one up and smoke it sometime?" They were probably some of the sexiest commercials of all time.

I must confess that I have had an enormous crush on Edie Adams since childhood. She was the epitome of the blonde sexpot. But what set her apart from many other beautiful singers and actresses was that Adams had real talent. She'd been classically trained as a singer and it showed in every one of her performances. She was an incredible comedian, with an impeccable sense of timing. She was also a talented actress, often overshadowing better known talents in some of her films (an example, the all star cast in It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World). It is no wonder that Ernie Kovacs fell in love with her and married her. Forget about her beauty. She was one of the few women intelligent enough and talented enough to keep up with his genius. Indeed, if Kovacs is still a legend today, much of that is due to Edie Adams. She was a rare performer with multiple talents, able to sing, act, and crack jokes with ease. While she was incredibly sexy, it was her talent and her intelligence that set her above every other Hollywood blonde.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Compser Neal Hefti Passes On

Composer Neal Hefti, best know for the theme to the TV series Batman, passed Saturday at the age of 85.

Hefti was born October 29, 1922 in Hastings, Nebraska. He started playing trumpet while at age eleven in school. By the time he was he was a teenager he was playing in a variety of local bands during the summers. Living near Omaha, Nebraska, he had the chance to see such artists as Count Basie and Dizzy Gillespie. Hefti was only a junior in high school when he broke into the music industry, writing arrangements for local bands. It was only two days before he graduated high school that he received an offer from the Dick Barry band to tour with them. He only worked with them for a short time before being fired. He made his way back from New Jersey to Nebraska where he joined the Bob Astor's band. He remained with the Astor band for a few years before an injury forced him to leave.

Staying in New York, Hefti starting playing with Bobby Byrne and later saxophonist Charlie Barnet, for whom he wrote the arrangement of "Skyliner." He would eventually leave New York to play with the Les Lieber rhumba band in Cuba. Upon returning from Cuba, he joined the Charlie Spivak band. It was when the Spivak band was touring California that he left the band to remain in the state.

It was in Los Angeles in 1944 that Hefti joined up with clarinetist, alto and soprano saxophonist, and band leader Woody Herman's First Herd. The First Herd was more jazz oriented than most swing bands and was among the first to embrace bebop. It was while Hefti was with the First Herd that he started writing bebop influenced ensembles. For the First Herd he composed "Wild Root" and "The Good Earth." Hefti would leave the First Herd in 1946. He wrote for a time Buddy Rich and later Billy Butterfield. He also did arrangements for Henry James's bands. In 1961 he performed with Frank Sinatra on the album Sinatra and Swingin' Brass. He received credit as the album's arranger and conductor.

It would be in 1950 that he started arranging for Count Basie. Eventually Basie would release an album of nothing but Hefti compositions, called Basie: E=MC²=Count Basie Orchestra+Neal Hefti Arrangements or better known as Atomic Basie. While still working with Basie in the Fifites, Hefti also led big bands of his own. He also began to work in Hollywood, composing the score for the movie Jamboree, released in 1957. In 1960 he was the orchestra leader on The Kate Smith Show.

Hefti would be the musical director and composer on the film Sex and the Single Girl, released in 1964. He was also the composer on the Jack Lemmon comedy How to Murder Your Wife. The height of his success may well have come with a TV show that was a national phenomenon from the moment it debuted. Hefti was the musical director on the TV show Batman, which debuted in 1966, and composed its famous themes song. The Batman theme has appeared on lists of the greatest TV show theme songs ever since. Neal Hefti composed the soundtracka for the movies Barefoot in the Park, released in 1967, and The Odd Couple, released in 1968. He would later work upon the TV shows based upon the movies as well. Hefti served as the musical director on the TV series The Fred Astaire Show which debuted in 1968. He would go on to compose music for the movies A New Leaf, Last of the Red Hot Lovers, The 500 Pound Jerk, Conspiracy of Terror, and Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood. Well into the Seventies Hefti would perform with various big bands.

Throughout his career Neal Hefti performed with some of the biggest names in the music business, including Tony Bennett, Doris Day, Mel Torme, and, as mentioned previously, Frank Sinatra. Despite this, Hefti said that his most satisfying work was for the cinema and television.

Neal Hefti was arguably one of the greatest arrangers and composers in the genres of swing and jazz. He had a profound influence on big bands, having moved the First Herd from swing more towards bebop. He also wrote several well known jazz tunes, including "Wild Root," "Apple Honey," and "Little Pony." He also wrote the Bobby Vinton hit "Lonely Girl." That having been said, his greatest legacy may be the Batman theme. Simple, yet undeniably catchy, it is one of the most famous TV theme songs of all time and is often found on lists of the greatest TV theme songs of all time. To this day, even after several movies, the theme song is identified with the Dark Knight. It is Neal Hefti that people hear when they think of Batman, not Danny Elfman or Hans Zimmer. This may well be the greatest testament to Hefti's skill as a composer and arranger.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Gil Stratton R.I.P.

Actor Gil Stratton passed Saturday from congestive heart failure. He was 86 years old.

Stratton was born Gil Stratton Jr. in Brooklyn on June 2, 1922. He went to school at Poly Prep Country Day School in Brooklyn. He received a bachelor's degree at St. Lawrence University in Canton, NY. He had started acting while still in his teens. By age 19 he debuted on Broadway in Best Foot Forward. In 1943 he appeared in the film adaptation of Best Foot Forward and Girl Crazy. His acting career was interrupted by World War II, during which he joined the Army Air Corps.

After World War II ended, Stratton resumed his acting career. He appeared frequently on radio, including on such shows as My Favourite Husband, Broadway is My Beat, Dragnet, and Gunsmoke. He was a regular on Life of Riley, Fibber McGee and Molly, This is Your FBI, Yours Truly Johnny Dollar, and My Little Margie.

Stratton also resumed his film career. He appeared in such films as Kilroy Was Here, Mr. Belvedere Goes to College, Here Come the Marines, Monkey Business, and Stalag 17 (in which played "Cookie" Cook and provided the narration). He also appeared on television, making his debut in a skit on Your Show of Shows. He would go onto appear in Dragnet, Shower of Stars, Damon Runyon Theatre, and The Red Skelton Show. He was a regular on the series That's My Boy. As the Fifties progressed he appeared in such films as The Wild One, The Girl Rush, and Bundle of Joy.

During the Sixties Stratton put his acting career on hold. He had joined KNXT, Channel 2, in Los Angeles in the mid-Fifties. He would work on television and radio as an announcer and sportscaster well into the Nineties. Despite being a television personality in Los Angeles, he was one of the many Brooklynites who opposed the move of the Dodgers to Los Angeles. He told his viewers that if the Dodgers did move, he would jump off the Santa Monica pier. When the Dodgers did move, Stratton remained true to his word and jumped off the pier.

Stratton would resume his acting career in the late Seventies, appearing on the TV shows Police Story, The Nancy Drew Mysteries, Wonder Woman, and Remington Steele. He also appeared in movies, including The Cat from Outer Space, Inside Moves (playing himself as a sportscaster), and Dismembered.

For Los Angelenos Gil Stratton may be best remembered as a long time sportscaster. For the rest of the United States, however, he is probably better remembered as an actor. While Stratton rarely played major roles, he always gave his best in any part in which he was cast. Indeed, Cookie is one of the characters I remember best from Stalag 17. He was also blessed with an impressive voice, trained not by his years in sportscasting, but more likely from the many years he spent on radio shows. Indeed, he not only played Cookie in Stalag 17, he narrated the movie! Gil Stratton was a talented man with a great voice. He will certainly be missed.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Slanted Screen

Today I watched The Slanted Screen, a documentary directed by Jeff Adachi which addresses the portrayal of Asian Americans in American cinema from the silent era to the modern era. It originally aired on PBS in 2007 and was released on DVD the same year.

The Slanted Screen covers material that is probably unfamiliar to the casual white movie goer; namely, the stereotypes of Asian Americans that have proliferated in American movies for most of film history and the absence of Asian American characters in most mainstream, Hollywood films. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the history of Asian Americans in Hollywood, I think it may well be true that of all the minorities they may have been mistreated the most. When they weren't being portrayed as stereotypes, they were simply invisible, not appearing in American films at all. At least Hispanic Americans and we Native Americans appeared in Westerns, albeit in very offensive, stereotypical roles.

The Slanted Screen then covers a good deal of ground, from the silent era when Asian Americans (such as both Sessue Hayakawa and Anna May Wong)could actually play romantic leads to the Thirties, Forties, and beyond, when Asian Americans on the screen have largely been either portrayed as villains (the infamous Fu Manchu), submissive and subservient (the large number of Asian servants on film), or for laughs (the exceedingly offensive and insulting Mr. Yunioshi of Breakfast at Tiffany's and Long Duk Dong of Sixteen Candles). As might be expected, the documentary devotes a great deal of time to the stereotypes of Asians and Asian Americans that have proliferated in American cinema, addressing the issue of yellowface (yellowface being when a European or European American actor plays an Asian or Asian American role in make up). For positive portrayals of Asian Americans on film, The Slanted Screen focuses on the careers of some of the actors I have long admired, including Sessue Hayaykawa, Mako, Bruce Lee, and James Shigeta.

One of the best things about The Slanted Screen are the interviews with Asian Americans working in the industry, from Terence Chang to Bobby Lee. Perhaps the most insightful comments come from Mako (who after his long career was all too familiar with Hollywood's treatment of Asian Americans) and playwright Frank Chin (who has some very interesting things to say about the hatred of their own race on the part of Chinese American writers in the old days). Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa gives some good insight on why an Asian American would play a bad guy, as he did in Mortal Kombat. Quite simply, in his view it's better to play a strong bad guy than a weak stereotype!

The Slanted Screen does offer up some surprises, even for experienced film goers knowledgeable in the history of Asian Americans on screen, such as the question of whether Bruce Lee challenged stereotypes or merely created new ones. For the most part, the interviewees come down on the side of Bruce Lee, arguing that he paved the way for Asian American males to portray strong characters. Indeed, as the movie points out, Bruce Lee was the first Asian American action hero, although sadly he had to go to China to become such. Particularly interesting is the discussion of Bruce Lee as Kato on The Green Hornet. On the one hand it presented Kato as a strong Asian American male, capable of holding his own in a fight. On the other hand, he was still the valet and sidekick of a European American hero.

While I enjoyed The Slanted Screen and I believe it is a good overview of the portrayal of Asian Americans on films, I do have some problems with it. I must admit I must object to Charlie Chan being mentioned alongside such negative stereotypes as Mr. Yunioshi and Long Duk Dong. It is not as if some Asian Americans have not questioned whether Charlie Chan was truly a stereotype. As Keye Luke, who played Chan's Number One son in the films, once pointed out, "Demeaning to the race? My God! You've got a Chinese hero!" I can't remember if it was Keye Luke or Victor Sen Yung (who played the Inspector's Number Two Son) who pointed out in an interview on Today many, many years ago, the villains Chan defeated were always white! As for myself, I can see why Charlie Chan can be seen as offensive. He was always played by European or European American actors (Warner Oland was from Sweden, Sidney Toler was from Missouri, and Roland Winters was from Boston) in yellowface. He also spoke in the stereotypical, pidgin English with which Hollywood burdened characters of Chinese descent. He could be overly polite, much observant of etiquette than any of the characters of Europeans in the cast (with the possible exception of Englishmen...). At the same time, however, I must point out that Chan was over all a strong character. While he could be overly polite, he was hardly submissive. It was not unusual for him to bark commands at European and European American characters, to argue with them, and even flirt with them or tease them. In a few of the films Chan also defends his ethnicity, showing defiance towards racists. For me Charlie Chan is not an outright stereotype, but what I call a "hemistereotype" or "half stereotype." That is, he was a transitional character necessary for even more positive portrayals of the ethnicity to come. Chan has some features of the stereotype--he is played by white actors in yellowface, speaks in pidgin English, and can be overly polite--but in most ways he defies the stereotype as a brilliant, strong, and forceful Chinese American. For me he is to Asian Americans what Tonto is for we Native Americans, a transitional character who largely broke with the previous stereotype.

Beyond my disagreeing that Inspector Chan is an outright stereotype, I also had problems with omissions in The Slanted Screen. The biggest of these is that it focuses almost exclusively on Asian American males. When discussing the silent era Anna May Wong is only mentioned in passing, even though she was the first Asian American to ever play the lead in a film. Neither the Dragon Lady stereotype nor the sexualised, submissive Asian woman stereotype are addressed. Miyoshi Umeki, Rosalind Chao, and Kim Miyori are never mentioned, as are a good number of other Asian American actresses. To me, by not including the portrayal of Asian American women in Hollywood cinema, The Slanted Screen is then incomplete. It could have easily been another hour longer (the documentary is only an hour long) by addressing Asian American women in American cinema.

The documentary also omits some important figures in the history of Asian Americans on screen. Among these is George Takei. Mr. Sulu on Star Trek was a pivotal role for Asian Americans on television. While Kato on The Green Hornet was a strong character, he was still the valet and sidekick of a white hero. On the other hand, Mr. Sulu was one of the commanding officers on the starship Enterprise--in fact, I believe he was fourth in command (after Kirk, Spock, and Scotty). He broke with stereotypes in being portrayed as a three dimensional character--his interests ranged from botany to fencing to ancient weapons (like firearms...). Spock once said of Sulu that he was " heart a swashbuckler out of the 18th century." As a strong and fully developed character whose ethnicity was wholly irrelevant, he should have been mentioned, particularly since characters who would not have been possible without him (such as Harry Truman Ioki from 21 Jump Street) were.

Another omission is Pat Morita. As Arnold on Happy Days he was perhaps the first Asian American male character on an American sitcom who was not played as a stereotype. He would go onto star in the first American sitcom to centre on an Asian American character, the short lived Mr. T and Tina. There he played Taro Takahashi, a Japanese immigrant and inventor who takes in European American Tina Kelly as a boarder. Like Arnold, Mr. Takahashi was hardly a stereotype. The Slanted Screen also omits the second American sitcom to focus on an Asian American character and the first to focus on an Asian American family. All American Girl is briefly mentioned, but it should have gotten more time on the documentary. For those of you who have never heard of this sitcom, All-American Girl focused on Korean American Margaret Kim (played by Margaret Cho) and her family. All-American Girl did suffer from tampering from the producers and the network, who not only altered the premise of the show but advised Margaret Cho at different times "she wasn't acting Asian enough" or "she was acting too Asian." Still, as the second American sitcom to focus on an Asian American character and the first to focus on an Asian American family, All-American Girl would seem significant.

While I do disagree with the way the documentary addresses Charlie Chan and its obvious omissions, The Slanted Screen is a very good overview of Asian Americans in American cinema, at least Asian American males. It covers a good deal of ground in an hour and gives us some very insightful commentary from such actors as Mako, Jason Scott Lee, and James Shigeta. Whether you are familiar with the history of Asian Americans in film or unfamiliar with it, The Slanted Screen is a documentary everyone should see. I suspect it will take more than more positive roles in Hollywood films to change the portrayal of Asian Americans in movies--it will take more good documentaries on Asian Americans in film, such as The Slanted Screen, to do so as well.