Saturday, May 2, 2009

Geocities Bites the Dust

Earlier this week Yahoo announced that they will be shutting down GeoCities, the web hosting service which has been in existence since 1994. In a note on the GeoCities web site Yahoo announced that new GeoCities would no longer be available. They also announced that they had decided to close GeoCities and that further details would be provided this summer. Of course, the disappearance of GeoCities means that numerous web sites on various topics, fan sites, and so on will simply disappear sometime this summer.

In many ways the imminent closure of GeoCities is very sad. When GeoCities opened there were not many web hosting services and free web hosting services were largely unknown. GeoCities was also significant for another reason. When it first opened GeoCities was organised into "neighbourhoods" into which users would place their web sites. Every user had his or her own profile with whatever information they wished to provide. GeoCities also had bulletin boards, chat, email, and other community oriented features. In some respects this is very similar to the social networking sites of today. Quite simply, GeoCities could be considered a forerunner of MySpace, Facebook, and other social networking sites.

David Bohnett and John Rezner founded GeoCities in late 1994 as Beverly Hills Internet (BHI). By July 1995 the service had grown so large that even more neighbourhoods were added. On December 15, 1995 what had been called BHI now became known as GeoCities. GeoCities continued to grow over the next few years. In May 1997 GeoCities began placing advertisements on its web sites. By June 1997 it was the fifth most popular site on the Web. GeoCities hit its millionth user in October 1997. It was in August 1998 that GeoCities became a public company, listed on NASDAQ.

It was in 1999 that something occurred which would change GeoCities forever. Yahoo bought the web hosting service for $3.57 billion. At the time it was the third most popular site on the Web. Yahoo also made drastic changes to GeoCities. Over time Yahoo did away with the neighbourhoods, using instead URL consisting of http;// and the member's name. They also did away with the bulletin boards, chat, and other communal features of GeoCities. In 2001 Yahoo introduced a pay web hosting service for GeoCities, while at the same time limiting bandwidth and data transfer for free sites to 4 GB. With these changes GeoCities began a downhill slide, with many users simply abandoning their GeoCities pages.

GeoCities was historic as one of the first free web hosting services. And as I pointed out, it was also a forerunner of the social networking sites of today. Indeed, in an article in the Business Standard entitled "Yahoo Writes Geocities' Obituary," Indian internet and cyber security expert Vijay Mukhi noted that GeoCities was a missed opportunity for Yahoo, saying "They could have made it a Facebook if they wanted." Speaking for myself, I think it would have taken very little to have turned GeoCities into both a web hosting service and a social networking site. It is sad enough that many good web pages, devoted to everything from rock bands to movie stars, will disappear. The fact that Yahoo could have made GeoCities even more successful than it was as an early social networking site makes it even sadder.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Actor Peter Dennis Passes On

Actor Peter Dennis, well known for his one man shows in which he read from “Winnie-the-Pooh” and other A.A. Milne works passed on April 18 at the age of 75. The cause was cancer.

Peter Dennis was born in Dorking, Surrey on October 25, 1933. His early education was in a Roman Catholic convent. His education was continued at the North Kensington Secondary School in London. At age 14 he left school to train as a surveyor and an accountant. He was working at the T.S. Appleton & Son Ltd. when he was inducted into the British Army. He served for six years in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps and Royal Army Service Corps. After leaving the military Dennis worked as Personal Assistant to Harry Arkle, European Managing Director, Canadian Pacific Railway and Bill Nicol, Deputy Chairman of Guest, Keen & Nettlefolds, Birmingham.

His life was forever changed when on his 29th birthday he saw his first play, a production of Look Back in Anger starring Derek Jacobi. He quit his job the very next day. That fall (the year was 1963) he enrolled at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Over the next few years Dennis would perform at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, the Everyman Theatre, Liverpool, the Liverpool Repertory Theatre, and eventually the West End of London.

Peter Dennis also appeared on television. He made his television debut in a guest appearance on the series No Hiding Place in 1965. He would go onto guest star on such shows as The Rat Catchers, The Avengers, The Troubleshooters, and Detective. The Seventies would see Dennis guest star in such shows as New Scotland Yard, Dial M for Murder, and The Famous Five. He was a regular as the character Sutton on the series Hadleigh. He also appeared in the movies Confessions of a Window Cleaner and The Stud.

It was in 1969 that Peter Dennis would first encounter the works of A. A. Milne, an experience as life changing as seeing Derek Jacobi in Look Back in Anger. It was on October 14. 1976, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Winnie the Pooh, that Peter Dennis gave an impromptu reading of Milne's work at Cambridge University. That reading became the show "Bother!" Over the years he would perform it in both North American and the United Kingdom, including such venues as Westminster Palace and the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles.

In the Eighties Peter Dennis appeared in such shows as Grange Hill, Crown Court, Kit Curran, and C.A.T.S. Eyes. He also appeared in the movie Scandalous. The Nineties saw Dennis move to the United States. He appeared in shows such as Prime Suspect, Murder She Wrote, Murphy Brown, Friends, Melrose Place, The Adventures of Brisco County Jr., The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones, Friends, and Seinfeld. He appeared in the movies Emissary: A Biblical Epic, and The Effects of Magic. The Naughts saw Peter Dennis appear on the shows Star Trek: Voyager and Alias. He also appeared in such films as Hellborn, Sideways, and Man in the Chair. He also began doing voice work, lending his talents to Shrek, Eragon, and Beowulf

I never got to see Bother, but I am guessing it was impressive given Peter Dennis' talent. While he spent much of his career on television and on film in small parts, he always gave an impressive performance. And when he had a larger part he was a sheer pleasure to watch. I remember him best as Reginald, Bowler's butler on the late, lamented Adventures of Brisco County Jr. The part wasn't much, but Dennis made it memorable. It is sad to know he is gone.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Bea Arthur Passes On

Beatrice Arthur, often known simply as "Bea Arthur," passed yesterday at the age of 86. The cause was cancer. She was probably best known for playing Maude on the sitcom of the same name and Dorothy on The Golden Girls.

Bea Arthur was born on May 13, 1922 Bernice Frankel in New York City. While still very young her family moved to Cambridge, Maryland. Even as a child she wanted to be an actress and singer. She all tended Linden Hall High School, a girls only school in Lititz, Pennsylvania. After high school she enrolled in Blackstone College in Blackstone, Virginia, where she studied to be medical technician. There she was active in plays. Eventually she moved to New York City where she studied drama at the Dramatic Workshop of the New School for Social Research. Among her fellow students were Tony Curtis, Walter Matthau, and her future husband Gene Saks.

Bea Arthur married writer Robert Alan Aurthur. While the marriage did not last, Arthur took her the last name of her stage name from him, although with a modified spelling. As to a first name of her stage name, she disliked the "Bernice" even as child. She soon insisted on being called simply "B," which she later expanded to Beatrice because she thought it would look good on a theatre marquee.

Arthur started her dramatic career at the Cherry Lane Theatre, currently the oldest running off Broadway theatre in New York City. She made her debut on television as a regular on the series Once Upon a Tune in 1951 and appeared in episodes of Studio One and Kraft Television Theatre that same year. She would appear on both shows a few more times in the Fifties. She was also a regular on Caesar's Hour, Washington Square and The Seven Lively Arts.

Beatrice Arthur not only appeared on television in the Fifties, but also frequented the stage as well. She made her Broadway debut as Lucy Brown in a revival of Threepenny Opera in 1954. During the Fifties she would go onto appear in Seventh Heaven, Nature's Way, and another revival of Threepenny Opera.

The Sixties would see Arthur primarily active on the stage. She originated the role of Yente in Fiddler on the Roof and Vera Charles in Mame, for which she won a Tony Award. On television she appeared only in The Sid Caesar Show. In 1971 her friend Norman Lear asked to make a guest appearance on All in the Family as Edith Bunker's liberal cousin Maude Findlay. The character proved so successful that Maude was spun off into her own series, Maude. Maude won an Emmy for Bea Arthur for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series was nominated for several others. The show ran for six seasons. It also generated a good deal of controversy, particularly over an episode in which Maude has an abortion.

In the Seventies Bea Arthur would also appear in the movies Lovers and Other Strangers and Mame (recreating her role as Vera Charles). On television she appeared in the notorious Star Wars Holiday Special. After Maude left the air Arthur returned to Broadway in The Floating Light Bulb in 1981. In movies she appeared in History of the World: Part I. On television she made guest appearances on Soap and a.k.a. Pablo. In 1983 she was the lead on the short lived series Amanda's, one of the attempts to adapt the Britcom Fawlty Towers as an American sitcom.

It was in 1985 that Beatrice Arthur was cast as Dorothy Petrillo Zbornak in the series The Golden Girls, appearing the show alongside fellow Maude co-star Rue McClanahan, television legend Betty White, and comic actress Estelle Getty. The show proved to be incredibly successful, more successful than Maude. The show ran seven seasons, ending only because Arthur decided it was time for her to do other things. It has remained in reruns ever since.

Arthur would return to the stage, even creating her own solo show Bea Arthur on Broadway. She appeared in the movies For Better or Worse and Enemies of Laughter. Arthur guest starred on the shows Dave's World, Malcolm in the Middle, and Futurama.

As a comic actress Beatrice Arthur was a genius. Her delivery was impeccable. No one could deliver a put down(more often than not done deadpan), nearly as well as Arthur could. She was also definitely not afraid to take roles that at the time were revolutionary. In Maude she played a strong willed, acerbic, middle aged woman with a mind of her own. The series made a big leap in what women could play on television. The Golden Girls dealt with characters older than the usual television demographic, characters who still had active love lives. Bea Arthur once said of Maude, "I think we made television a little more adult." The same could be said of The Golden Girls. The two shows certainly expanded what television could be, and the talent of Bea Arthur was a large part of that success.