Saturday, June 27, 2009

Since I Don't Have You

I was meaning to write an entry tonight, but today I lost someone very dear to me. Because of that I don't feel much like writing. I will then leave you with a video to the song "Since I Don't Have You" by The Skyliners.

Friday, June 26, 2009

A Video Retrospective of Farrah Fawcett's Career

Given that very little has been reported in the mainstream news on Farrah Fawcett's passing since yesterday, I thought it would be a good idea to take a look back at her career in video, through the miracle of YouTube.

The Dating Game

Farrah Fawcett was a young starlet just beginning her career when she appeared as a contestant on The Dating Game in 1969. In the days when game shows still proliferated on the daytime schedules of the networks, many aspiring actors used game shows as a means of getting noticed. Mel Harris appeared on The $100000 Pyramid in 1973. Kirstie Alley appeared on Match Game in 1979. The Dating Game seemed particularly attractive to aspiring actors, with such one day to be famous names as Steve Martin, Burt Reynolds, Tom Selleck (who went otn the show twice and lost both times)and Suzanne Somers, among others, all appeared on the show.

Logan's Run

By the time Farrah Fawcett appeared in the film Logan's Run she was an established actress. She had guest starred on shows such as The Partridge Family and Owen Marshall: Counsellor at Law. The movie Logan's Run was based on the popular novel of the same name by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson. The film almost entirely did away with the plot of the novel, retaining only the idea of a society in which individuals are put to death at age a certain age (30 in the movie, 21 in the book). Based on a popular novel and with a huge budget, complete with impressive special effects for the time, Logan's Run was heavily promoted by MGM. At the time it seemed as if it was set to be a major hit. Unfortunately, this would not be the case. Logan's Run received mixed reviews. Released too late to take advantage of the success of 2001: A Space Odyssey and too early to take advantage of the success of Star Wars, Logan's Run quietly died at the box office. Still, many noticed Farrah Fawcett in the film, in which she played Holly, assistant to the body reconstructionist Doc at The New You Shop.

Charlie's Angels

"Once upon a time there were three little girls who went to the police academy..." (Charlie's opening narration to Charlie's Angels)

Charlie's Angels proved to be the big break for Farrah Fawcett, catapulting her to fame in a way that few television shows have ever done. In its first season an estimated 59% of all Americans tuned into the series and it ranked number 5 for the year in the Nielsen's ratings. Farrah Fawcett left the show after its first season, making guest appearances on it afterwards.


The movie Extremities was based on the off Broadway play by William Mastrosimone. The play, which involved a violent attempted rape, the culprit's stalking of his victim, and his victim's revenge, proved controversial at the time, although highly successful as well. Farrah Fawcett took over the role of the victim in the play from Susan Sarandon and received some of the best notices of her career. Reprising her role in the movie, Farrah Fawcett would again received great marks from critics.

The Apostle

Producer, director, and lead actor Robert Duvall cast Farrah Fawcett himself in The Apostle, in which she plays a preacher's wife who leaves him for another man. She received critical acclaim for her performance and was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for Best Female Actor.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Farrah Fawcett R.I.P.

Farrah Fawecett, best known for her role on Charlie's Angels, passed today at the age of 62 after a long struggle with cancer.

Farrah Fawcett was born on February 2, 1947 in Corpus Christi, Texas. She attended W.B. Ray High School in Corpus Christi before going on to the University of Texas at Austin. There she majored in painting and sculpture. She entered the entertainment business through an article in Cashbox featuring the ten most beautiful co-eds from the University of Texas in Austin. Seeing the article, a Hollywood publicist gave her a call.

Fawcett left college and signed a contract with Screen Gems. In 1969 She appeared in the Claude Lelouch film Un homme qui me plaît, on the game show The Dating Game, and in small guest bits on I Dream of Jeannie and The Flying Nun. In 1970 she had the misfortune to appear in the movie Myra Breckinridge, long considered one of the worst films of all time. She also made guest appearances on The Partridge Family and The Young Rebels that year. The next several years Fawcett's career would primarily consist of guest appearances on shows such as Owen Marshall: Counselor at Law, The Girl With Something Extra, McCloud, and Marcus Welby M.D.. she also played in such TV movies as The Girl Came Gift-Wrapped and The Feminist and the Fuzz.

Having gone from guest bits on shows to more substantial guest appearances, Farrah Fawcett became a semi-regular on Harry-O in 1975. She was also the original bionic woman on The Six Million Dollar Man, starring then husband Lee Majors. During the early to mid-Seventies she also appeared in many commercials for products including the 1975 Mercury Cougar, Noxema shaving cream, Ultra Brite toothpaste, and Wella Balsam shampoo.

In 1976 Farrah Fawcett appeared in a small but very noticeable role in Logan's Run. The role may have been a sign of bigger things to come. She was signed to appear in the television show Charlie's Angels. Debuting in 1976, Charlie's Angels became a smash hit. Farrah Fawcett became something of a phenomenon, with posters of her selling in the millions. After one season she left the series, although she would continue to make guest appearances on the show for some time.

Following her stint on Charlie's Angels, Farrah Fawcett appeared in feature films: the comedies Somebody Killed Her Husband and Sunburn, and the sci-fi movie Saturn 3. She was also one of a number of stars appearing in Cannoball Run. Farrah Fawcett did not give up on television entirely. She appeared in several television movies over the next several years, including Murder in Texas, The Red Light Sting, Nazi Hunter: The Beate Klarsfeld Story, and Margaret Bourke-White. She received critical acclaim for her role in The Burning Bed, as well as the feature film Extremities.

From the Nineties into the Naughts, Farrah Fawcett continued to appear on both television and in movies. She appeared in telefilms such as Criminal Behaviour, Dalva, Baby, and Jewel. She guest starred on Johnny Bravo and Ally McBeal. She made a series of guest appearances on both Spin City and The Guardian. She appeared in the feature films Man of the House, The Apostle, Dr. T and the Women, and The Cookout.

If the level of her popularity in the Seventies was any indication Farrah Fawcett was the favourite Angel of a good many people (my favourite was always Jaclyn Smith). There was good reason for this. Farrah Fawcett had a girl next door quality that made her seem not only appealing, but approachable. In addition to this, Fawcett proved she was a very good actress. Over the years she won a good deal of acclaim for her roles in telefilms and movies ranging from The Burning Bed to The Apostle. I think this is something many sometimes forget. While they remember her as the girl next door turned detective on Charlie's Angels, they forget that she was also a very talented actress. She deserves to be remembered for that.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Phenomenon of Retrophilia

Nostalgia has probably existed ever since there have been human beings. With the rise of mass media (which I would say started with the invention of the printing press), nostalgia would even become a big business. The Roaring Twenties saw a nostalgic fad towards the 1890's which produced the Hammerstein and Kern musical Sweet Adelaide. The Fifties saw a nostalgic fad for the Twenties which produced The Untouchables and The Roaring Twenties The Seventies saw a nostalgic fad towards The Fifties, which resulted in the TV show Happy Days and the popularity of rock 'n' roll revival group Sha Na Na.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines nostalgia as "1. A bittersweet longing for things, persons, or situations of the past" and "2. The condition of being homesick; homesickness." The word was coined by Johannes Hofer in 1668 to render German heimweh, literally "homesickness." "Homesickness" was the original meaning of nostalgia. In fact, it would not come to mean a "A bittersweet longing for things, persons, or situations of the past" until around 1920. From the fact that the word originally meant "homesickness," it would seem that one could only truly be nostalgic about times in which one had lived. Barring reincarnation, one could not be nostalgic about a time in which one had not lived.

And yet there are many people around the world who long for things, persons, and entertainment of times in which they had not lived. I am a perfect example of this. As anyone who has read this blog knows, I love the culture of the Sixties. That having been said, I lived through part of the Sixties (although I was very young at the time), so I can truly be nostalgic about them. At the same time, however, I love other eras as well: the Napoleonic Era, Victorian England, the Twenties, the Thirties, and the Forties. Since I am pretty certain that I have not been reincarnated, I cannot be nostalgic about those eras in which I did not live.

I am certainly not alone in this. Some of my favourite blogs are dedicated to the past, but written by young people who did not live in those times. Out of the Past is primarily dedicated to films made before 1970, even though its author, Raquelle, was born afterwards. Both Silents and Talkies, which also primarily covers films made prior to 1970, and Flapperdoodle, which features cartoons starring Twenties flappers Eloise and Ramona, are both written by Kate Gabrielle, who like Raquelle was born well after these times (if I can insert an editorial note, I fully recommend these blogs--they are very well written and entertaining). There is even a social networking site, Decades I Love (which I recently joined), dedicated to the love of things past. While many people have lived through their favourite eras at Decades I Love, there are many such as myself who did not.

As a final example, I would like to point out that this love of times in which one had not lived is nothing new. Edward Arlington Robinson wrote about a very tragic case of loving a past era in his poem "Miniver Cheevy," in which town drunk Cheevy longed to be a knight in the Middle Ages. King Edward III of England was so found of the tales of King Arthur (who was a British, rather than English king) that he had his own Round Table built. Of course, King Arthur probably lived in the 5th or 6th centuries, if he existed at all.

Given that the phenomenon of individuals loving past times in which they did not live is a very common one, it seems there should be a word for it. As it turns out, there actually is a word, although I had not heard it before I researched the subject. That term is retrophilia, which derives from Latin retro, a preposition meaning "backward, back, behind" and Greek philia "affection, love." Retrophilia could then be defined as a love of those times left behind. Retrophilia would naturally encompass nostalgia, that condition in which people are homesick for past times in which they lived, but it would also include that condition in which people love past times in which they had not lived. Quite simply retrophilia would be as Wikipedia (not the most reliable source around, but useful in this case) defines it, "A love of things of the past."

As I pointed out above, retrophilia has existed for a long time. Edward III, a king of Angle, Saxon, and Norman heritage longing for the time and milieu of a past British king, is the perfect example of a retrophile. That having been said, I suspect that it was the invention of the printing press around 1436 that made retrophilia more common. Although we like to think of "mass media" as a product of the 20th century, or at most the 19th century, mass media has existed much longer than that. The printing press not only facilitated the mass production of the medium of books, but also allowed for the creation of such media as newspapers and magazines. Mass media grew in the 19th century with the invention of the phonograph, movies, and radio. The 20th century saw the invention of television and the internet.

Among the many things that each of these media have done is create a demand for tales set in the past (often an idealised, romanticised past) or, to put it more simply, to create retrophilia. Sir Walter Scott wrote about adventures set in the Middle Ages. One of the pivotal movies in film history, The Great Train Robbery, was also the medium's first Western. Records (whether we are talking about vinyl or CDs--the technology is different but both are records nonetheless) help preserve the songs of yesteryear--today people can listen to the songs of Billie Holliday (retro) or the songs of Kate Voegele (modern) as they please. There have been numerous motion pictures set in the past, from the Middle Ages of The Adventures of Robin Hood to the Victorian Era of numerous Dracula movies. Television has also fed the fires of retrophilia, with such fare as the Roaring Twenties The Untouchables, the Depression Era The Waltons, and numerous Westerns.

What mass media has basically made possible is not only the presentation of often idealised stories set in the past, but it also preserves the society and culture of the past (again, often idealised). Today one can get an idea of what life was like in the Depression from The Gold Diggers of 1933 and the Sixties (at least in England) from Billy Liar. As might be expected, people who did not live in those eras might well develop a love of those eras from such media. Using myself as an example, I have a love for the Thirties from reprints of pulp magazines ranging from Doc Savage to Weird Tales and movies from that era as well.

Of course, the ultimate question is whether retrophilia is of any importance as a phenomenon. I believe that it is. Retrophiles guarantee that various classic books, records, movies, and so on continue to be produced. The music of The Beatles has not survived simply because of people like me who remember them from when they were recording, but from young people, not born in the Sixties, who have discovered them later. Many of these young people probably became Sixties loving retrophiles who seek out similar groups such as The Who and The Kinks, insuring their music will continue to be produced as well. Much of the reason movies made in the Twenties are still being manufactured is probably retrophiles. Let's face it, many of the people who made up the audiences in that era are probably long dead.

Retrophilia is then important to humanity after a fashion. It insures that pop culture artefacts from the past will continue to be exposed to other generations. If not for retrophiles, the works of Robert E. Howard, Charles Dickens, and perhaps even Shakespeare himself may well have gone out of print long ago.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Ed McMahon R.I.P.

Long time announcer for The Tonight Show, Ed McMahon died today at the age of 86. He was the announcer on the show for thirty years, the longest tenure of any announce on The Tonight Show. He was also well known as the host of the original Star Search.

Ed McMahon was born on March 6, 1923 in Detroit, Michigan. As his father was a vaudevillian, his family moved frequently. By the time he graduated high school, McMahon had attended fifteen different schools. He wanted to be an entertainer from a very young age. After he moved in with his grandmother in Lowell, Massachusetts, he served as a travelling bingo announcer around New England. He took lessons in elocution at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts. During World War II he served as a U.S. Marine fighter pilot, although he spent much of his time as a flight instructor and test pilot. Following World War II he attended Catholic University of America in Washington D.C. and majored in speech and drama. After graduation he was an announcer at a Philadelphia radio station and made his first appearances on local television. He was called back to service in the Marines during the Korean War.

After the Korean War McMahon once more returned to the Philadelphia television market. He eventually moved to New York in hope of breaking into national television. He made his first national appearance on television as a clown on the show Big Top in 1950. In 1952 he became an announcer for Bandstand, later to be known as American Bandstand. He held the position for eight years. His big break came as the announcer on the daytime game show Who Do You Trust, hosted by a young man named Johnny Carson. McMahon narrated the movie Dementia in 1955, then served as the announcer on the game show Do You Trust Your Wife (1957-1962).

It was in 1962 that Johnny Carson was picked to succeed Jack Paar on The Tonight Show. McMahon introduced Carson with his catchphrase, "Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeere's Johnny!" McMahon was also joking called "the Human Laugh Track" for his tendency to laugh out loud at Carson's routines and jokes. Over the years McMahon would do other jobs in addition to The Tonight Show. He was a spokesman for products including Alpo, Budweiser, Breck Shampoo, Mercedes Benz, and Sara Lee foods. He also promoted the now defunct American Family Publishers magazine subscription service and its sweepstakes.

Ed McMahon was the host of the game show Missing Links in 1963 and a regular on Match Game from 1967 to 1968. In 1969 he was the announcer on Concentration; Johnny Carson was the host. From the Sixties into the Nineties McMahon also appeared on such TV shows as What's My Line, Here's Lucy, Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, The Johnny Cash Show, The Flip Wilson Show, The Sonny and Cher Show, Hollywood Squares, Hee Haw, Alf, The Cosby Show, The Larry Sanders Show, The Simpsons, and Scrubs. From 1983 to 1992 he was the host of Star Search. He also a regular on The Tom Show.

McMahon also appeared in many movies. including The Incident, Slaughter's Big Rip-Off, Fun with Dick and Jane, and, most recently, Jelly (to be released later this year).

Ed McMahon may well be the most famous announcer of all time. There is a good reason for this, as he was one of the best in his profession. He had a stentorian voice that could be heard clearly. He was also the perfect sidekick, not only laughing at Carson's jokes and routines, but setting up jokes for Carson. He was the perfect straight man to Carson's gag man. Carson's thirty year tenure on The Tonight Show was not due simply to Carson's talent, but McMahon's as well.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Shop Around the Corner

Say the words "romantic comedy" to the typical, heterosexual male today and he might well run screaming in terror. There is good reason for this. With but a few exceptions (the classic When Harry Met Sally and the underrated Down With Love being two), the typical romantic comedy of the past twenty years has been a "chick flick." Hard as it may be for modern males to believe now, there was a time when romantic comedies were made so that both sexes could enjoy them. They often contained witty dialogue, well developed characters, and a more realistic, if a bit humorous, view of romance than most so called romantic comedies made today.

A case in point is The Shop Around the Corner. Little known today, it is actually one of the best romantic comedies of all time, with a startlingly original idea. Set in an upscale shop in Budapest in the early days of World War II, The Shop Around the Corner centres on co-workers Alfred (Jimmy Stewart) and Klara (Margaret Sullavan) who actively hate each other. Both of them are exchanging love letters to individuals, not realising that their pen pals are actually each other. This makes for some very funny scenes and some of the wittiest dialogue in any movie.

The Shop Around the Corner was based on the Miklós Lázló play Parfumerie, although it was greatly changed by legendary writer Samson Raphaelson (uncle of Monkees creator and director Bob Rafelson) and legendary director Ernst Lubitsch. Lubitsch drew upon his experiences working in his father's shop, the clothing firm of S. Lubitsch and a shop in Budapest with which he was familiar. Lubitsch's experience working in his father's store gives The Shop Around the Corner a feeling of authenticity that many movies set in stores lack. Indeed, he went so far to make the movie look more realistic as to buy a dress off the rack for $1.98, left it out in the sun to fade, and altered it so it would fit poorly!

As might be expected from talents such as Raphaelson and Lubitsch, The Shop Around the Corner is filled with intelligent, humorous dialogue and some very funny situations. Raphaelson did not miss a beat with his screenplay. The Shop Around the Corner moves at a brisk, but appropriate pace, with the perfect mix of comedy and romance. Lubitsch's direction is in top form. Indeed, with The Shop Around the Corner he performed what in my humble opinion was a minor miracle--he brought out a good performance from Margaret Sullavan (to me she was simply "there" in most of her movies). It is the only film I can say I found her likeable!

Of course, Jimmy Stewart could always be counted on for a good performance. And he is in top form in The Shop Around the Corner. Stewart always had a gift for comedy, and here his comedic timing is even better than usual (which says a lot). It amazes me that when people talk about Stewart's performances, they don't include The Shop Around the Corner along side It's a Wonderful Life, Vertigo, and many others.

While it seems as if only film buffs remember The Shop Around the Corner today, the movie received great reviews upon its release in 1940. It was also a smash hit. Ernest Lubitsch himself regarded it as the best film he ever made. Indeed, it was so well regarded and so successful that it would prove to have a lasting influence. It was remade both as the musical In the Good Old Summertime (1949) and You've Got Mail (1998)). It also numbers among the various inspirations for the classic Britcom Are You Being Served.

Today the average person is probably not aware of The Shop Around the Corner. To me this is a grave injustice, as it is a classic deserving of being recognised as such, not simply by film buffs but by everyone. What is more, it would give the modern, heterosexual male a true romantic comedy he could actually appreciate!