Friday, March 13, 2009

Tullio Pinelli Dead at 100

Tullio Pinelli, who wrote on over eighty movies and worked with director Federico Fellini on some of his most famous works, passed on March 7 at the age of 100.

Pinelli was born in Turin, Piedmont, Italy. His father was a judge. Pinelli served in the a cavalry regiment in the Italian Army before going onto a career as a civil lawyer. By night he would write plays. Eventually his stage dramas began to attract attention, and Pinelli broke into screen writing. His first screenplay was for the 1944 film In cerca di felicita. Pinelli soon found himself regularly writing screenplays, including such movies as Il Bandito. His career would take a turn when on day he in 1946 he was at the Piazza Barberini in Rome reading a newspaper in a kiosk. He struck up a discussion with another young man reading the same paper. That young man was Federico Fellini, also a young screenwriter. Naturally, their conversation veered towards film. It was perhaps inevitable that the two would work together.

Indeed, one of the first projects on which Pinelli and Fellini worked together would cause a bit of a stir. They co-wrote the segment "Il Miracolo" of the movie L'Amore, (1948). "Il Miracolo" would prove to be historic for more than being the first screenplay produced by Pinelli and Fellini. Considered sacrilegious, "Il Miracolo" was initially banned in New York City cinemas by Commissioner of Licences Edward McCaffrey. While McCaffrey's ban would be overturned in court, the New York State Board of Regents (the official censorship board of the state) itself revoked the licence of L'Amore on the grounds that "Il Miracolo" was a "...mockery or profaning of religious beliefs..." The legal battle would to overturn the ban would eventually make its way to the United States Supreme Court, who in 1952 finally ruled that motion pictures are protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, just as books and newspapers are. As a result "Il Miracolo" nor any other film could be banned on religious grounds or any other grounds that would violate freedom of speech.

Like "Il Miracolo," Fellini and Pinelli's early work would be for other filmmakers: Senza pieta, Il Passatore, and Il Mulino del Po. Eventually, however, the two would work on films which Fellini would direct. Nineteen fifty three would see the two men write screenplays for I Vitelloni and a segment of L'Amore in citta, directed by Fellini. For the next several years, then, Tullio Pinelli and Federico Fellini would write the screenplays for Fellini's greatest films: La Strada, Le Notti di Cabiria, La Dolce Vita, 8 1/2, and Giulietta degli spiriti. The partnership between Tullio Pinelli and Federico Fellini came to an end in 1965 when the two disagreed over the nature of the title character of Giulietta degli spiriti.

His collaboration with Fellini ended, Pinelli would go onto work with Pietro Germi on such films as L'Immorale, Alfredo, Alfredo, and Amici miei. Pinelli would also work on such films as Serafino, Per le antiche scale, and La Voce. He would work with Fellini again. The two were reunited when Federico Fellini visited Tullio Pinelli to ask him to help with Ginger e Fred. The two men would not only work on Ginger e Fred together, but also on La Voce della luna, Fellini's final film as director, and the screenplay for the upcoming film Viaggio a Tulum.

There can be no doubt that Tullio Pinelli was one of the greatest screenwriters of all time. As director Federico Fellini was often credited with the quality of such classics as La Dolce Vita and 8 1/2. It must be pointed out that those films might not have been as great as they were if not for the skill of Tullio Pinelli as a writer. Both with and without Federico Fellini, he wrote some of the greatest films of all time. It was perhaps not enough that he was a great writer, it must be also be pointed out that Pinelli was prolific as well. He wrote well over 70 films in his life, in a career that spanned sixty five years. It is the rare screenwriter who can boast of a career so long and so filled with classic films. Tullio Pinelli was such a screenwriter.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Jimmy Boyd Passes On

Jimmy Boyd, who at the age of twelve gained fame singing "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus," passed on March 7 at the age of 70. The cause was cancer.

Jimmy Boyd was born January 9, 1939 in on a farm near McComb, Mississippi. His family would eventually settle in Riverside, California. Boyd was exposed to music early. His grandfather was a fiddler well know in the McComb area. His father started teaching to play guitar and harmonica when he was only four. By age seven Boyd was already performing at dances. Country band leader Texas Jim Lewis was present at one of Boyd's performances and immediately signed him up for his radio show. Boyd would eventually win The Al Jarvis Talent Show on KLAC-TV, Los Angeles. This lead to regular appearances on Al Jarvis's daily talk show (which also numbered Betty White among its regulars).

It was shortly afterwards that Boyd recorded "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus." The song proved to be one of the smash hits of 1952, selling 2.5 million copies in only a matter of weeks. Surprisingly, the song originally provoked some controversy. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston condemned the song for blending sex with Christmas, at least until it was made obvious that "Santa Claus" was actually Daddy in a suit. "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" would give Boyd a brief bit of stardom. He appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, Space Patrol, and shows hosted by everyone from Dinah Shore to Perry Como.

Boyd's success would lead to appearances in both movies and on television shows. He appeared in the films Racing Blood and The Second Greatest Sex before being cast as Huckleberry Finn in two episodes of The United States Steel Hour ("Tom Sawyer" and "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" respectively). He guest starred on the show Date With the Angels and appeared in the films Platinum High School, Inherit the Wind, High Time, and The Two Little Bears. From 1958 to 1962 he was a regular on Bachelor Father as Howard Meachum. Boyd would go onto make guest appearances on My Three Sons, Broadside, and Batman. He would appear in the movies Norwood, That's the Way of the World, and Brainstorm.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The 50 Anniversary of the Death of Lester Dent

To the average person the name "Lester Dent" may not sound familiar, but it is a name that is very familiar to pulp fans around the world. After all, Lester Dent was the man who, alongside Street and Smith's business manager Henry Ralston and editor John Nanovic, created Doc Savage. It was on this day fifty years ago that the prolific and one day legendary pulp writer would pass from this world.

Lester Dent was born on October 12, 1904 in La Plata, Missouri. And while he would spend some time as a child in both Wyoming and Oklahoma, it would ultimately be to La Plata that his family would return and that Mr. Dent would spend most of his life. He would graduate from high school there, going on to attend Chillicothe Business College in Chillicothe, Missouri in nearby Livingston County.

It was in 1929 that Mr. Dent made his first sale, the story "Pirate Cay" to Top Notch magazine. Lester Dent would find success in the pulp magazines. It was in late 1930 that he received an offer to write exclusively for Dell Publishing. It was also in these days before the Man of Bronze entered his life that Mr. Dent created yet other characters. By 1931 he had created his very first character, Curt Flagg, a large man working for a detective agency out of New York City. He would go onto create the gadgeteer Lynn Lash (a prototype for Doc Savage), investigator of the macabre Lee Nace, and the "crime specacularist" Foster Fade.

It would be Lynn Lash who would lead Mr. Dent to Doc Savage. The character first appeared in the story "The Sinister Ray" in Detective-Dragnet Magazine, March 1932. "The Sinister Ray" attracted the attention of of Streeth and Smith business manager Henry Ralston and editor John Nanovic, who decided Mr. Smith could be the right man to write their new character Doc Savage. While Messrs. Ralston and Nanovic laid much of the groundwork for the Man of Bronze, it would be Mr. Dent who would fully realise the character. Indeed, in many ways Mr. Dent plagiarised his own character, Lynn Lash, in doing so. Like Doc, Lash used gadgets extensively. Like Doc, Lynn had his own fully equipped laboratory in which to do research. And like Doc, Lynn had his own team of assistants. As to Doc's assistants, Renny resembles Curt Flagg to the point that the two could nearly be the same character, while an ape like character called "Monk" also appeared in the course of Lynn Lash's adventures!

While other writers would also pen Doc Savage novels, it was Lester Dent who wrote the bulk of them, 161 in all. Mr. Dent would continue to write elsewhere as well. He created the humorous hero Click Rush "the Gadget Man" for stories appearing in Crime Busters magazine, as well as prizefighter turned private eye Ed Stone appearing in the same magazine. For a series of novels published by Doubleday Crime Club Mr. Dent created the hard boiled detective Chance Malloy.

In 1949 Street and Smith cancelled Doc Savage along with the majority of its remaining pulp magazines. During the Fifties Mr. Dent oversaw two farms in the La Plata area and ran an aerial photography service called Airviews for a time. He continued to write both short stories and novels. His final sale was the novel Lady in Peril to Ace Books.

It was in February 1959 that Mr. Dent suffered a massive heart attack. He was taken immediately to Grim-Smith Hospital in Kirksville, Missouri where he remained a patient until his death. Lester Dent, the creator of Doc Savage and one of the most prolific pulp writers of all time, died at 11:30 AM on Wednesday, February 11, 1959.

Although the average person probably would not recognise his name, Anglo-American pop culture owes an enormous debt to Lester Dent. Doc Savage was not simply a successful pulp hero, perhaps surpassed only by The Shadow, but one of the first superheroes. He would influence heroes and superheroes to come, from Superman to Batman to James Bond. Mr. Dent featured gadgets such as thermite hidden in clothing and gas grenades before 007 ever saw print or the men from U.N.C.L.E. ever graced a television screen. Along with Walter Gibson, the creator of The Shadow, and Norvell Page, the creator of The Spider, Mr. Dent changed pop culture forever.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Superhero Movie Through the Ages: A Video Journey

Since today is my birthday, rather than doing a full fledged entry I thought I would present a video journey of superheroes on the big screen, from the Golden Age to the present. As usual, the vids are courtesy YouTube.

First up is the trailer for The Adventures of Captain Marvel, the 1941, twelve chapter serial produced by Republic Pictures and based on the popular superhero from Fawcett Publications. I am not absolutely certain, but it may well have been the first time a superhero appeared in a live action film (Superman beat Captain Marvel to the big screen in the classic Fleischer cartoons by about a year). Sadly, Superman could have been the first, but negotiations broke down between National Comics and Republic Pictures. Republic then went to Superman's archrival, Captain Marvel...

From the Golden Age we go to the Silver Age. This was the age of camp and the era of the enormously successful Batman TV series, which debuted in 1966. The following scene is not from the TV show, but rather from the 1966 feature film. The movie was originally going to be released in theatres in the summer of 1966 to launch the TV show which would debut in the fall, but then the American Broadcasting Company decided to debut the new series that January. The movie then premiered between the first and second seasons of the show.

Those few of you unfamiliar with the show will notice that it is largely played for comedy. As I stated earlier, this was the era of camp, which is essentially the appreciation of that which can be considered outrageous, kitschy, or corny. The Batman TV series was an attempt to create camp for the Sixties television audience.

By the late Seventies superheroes were being taken a little more seriously, allowing for the existence of the first two Superman movies. I have always thought the second Superman movie was superior to the first. Indeed, even after nearly thirty years and many superhero movies since, I still think the battle between Superman and General Zod's gang ranks as one of the greatest superhero fight scenes on screen. Sadly, I couldn't find the fight scene itself online, but I did find its opening (with the best line of any Superman movie).

By 1989 Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns had been published. Superheroes were being taken a lot more seriously than they had been. As a result, in the 1989 movie Batman, the Caped Crusader was not played for camp. Indeed, this is the first movie in which we get a rather darker look of the superhero than we had before, if not as dark as that of The Dark Knight or, well, Watchmen. Here is the trailer.

Finally, we have a trailer to Watchmen. Watchmen is not only darker than the 1989 Batman, but even The Dark Knight. It is rated R for violence and sex, and features heroes who make Batman look downright sane. Indeed, I think even Heath Ledger's Joker would be scared of Rorschach....

Monday, March 9, 2009

Sixteen Going on Seventeen

As anyone who has read this blog regularly for the past few years knows, I enjoy strange cover versions of songs. One of the strangest recent covers of a song emerged from a rather unexpected source: a television commercial. I am sure that most people living in the States have seen the State Farm advert with teenagers visiting the DMV (well, here in Missouri it would be the Department of Revenue, but you know what I am talking about). The song in the background is none other than a cover version of "Sixteen Going On Seventeen" from The Sound of Music. For those of you unfamiliar with the musical, the original song is a duet between Rolf, the young messenger boy, and Liesl, the eldest daughter of the Von Trapps.

For the commercial State Farm utilised the talents of Modern Music. No, Modern Music is not a rock band. They are a music company made up of composers, producers, bands, and so on that specialise in making music for commercials. It was Modern Music who provided the various versions of "Hello, Goodbye" for Target commercials among other bits of music for commercials. In the case of their remake of "Sixteen Going On Seventeen," I think they may have topped everything they have ever done. Indeed, it carries a whole level of sexual menace that I never caught in the original song, perhaps because it is not done as a duet. One voice sings everything, with Liesl's lines suitably rewritten. The complete song is available at State Farm's Better Teen Driving site.

For those of you who don't want to bother going to the State Farm site, below is a mashup video someone did on YouTube featuring the complete song.