Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy 4th of July 2009

Since today is a holiday, I will not be doing an entry. Instead I thought I would simply wish everyone from the United States a happy 4th of July!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Karl Malden and Mollie Sudgen Pass On

Karl Malden

Oscar and Emmy winning actor Karl Malden has passed yesterday. He has appeared in such films I Confess, Baby Doll, and Birdman of Alacatraz, as well as the TV series The Streets of San Francisco. He was 97 years old.

Karl Malden was born Mladen Sekulovich in Chicago on March 22, 1912. When he was five his family moved to Gary, Indiana. Until he was in kindergarten, Malden's primary language was Serbian and he spoke very little English. His father would produce plays for local churches and Serbian organisations, in which young Malden sometimes appeared. In high school he both played basketball and participated in the drama club. After graduating from Emerson High School he worked the steel mills in Gary, Indiana. After three years he enrolled in the Goodman School of Drama at the Art Institute of Chicago.

After graduation and a period during which he worked as a milkman in Gary, Malden left for New York City. There he met Elia Kazan and Harold Clurman, then with the Group Theatre. He made his debut in the play Golden Boy on Broadway in 1937. In the Forties and the Fifties Malden would be a regular on the Broadway stage, although some of the early plays in which he appeared lasted less than a month. He appeared in such plays as Key Largo, Winged Victory, A Streetcar Named Desire, Peer Gynt, and The Desperate Hours. He also appeared occasionally on radio. During World War II Malden was stationed in the States in the Army Air Forces.

Karl Malden made his film debut in 1940 in the film They Knew What They Wanted. He reprised his role as Adams in the movie version of Winged Victory. He appeared in the classic film noir Kiss of Death, The Gunfighter, and Halls of Montezuma. In 1951 he reprised his role as Mitch Mitchell in A Streetcar Named Desire. For the part he won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. A Streetcar Named Desire launched Malden on a very successful career in the Fifties and Sixties. He appeared in such films as On the Waterfront, Ruby Gentry, I Confess, Baby Doll, The Great Impostor, Birdman of Alacatraz, Billion Dollar Brain, and Patton.

Even though he is well known today in his role on The Streets of San Francisco, Karl Malden did not appear frequently on television. In 1950 he guest starred on an episode of Armstrong Circle Theatre and in the Omnibus adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire in 1955. Afterwards he would be absent from television until taking his role as Lt. Mike Stone in The Streets of San Francisco. He would later star in the series Skag. He made a guest appearance on the TV show The West Wing in 2000. He also appeared in a number of television movies.

Karl Malden's career slowed in the Seventies. Appearing in various telefilms, he appeared less frequently on the big screen than he had previously. From the Seventies into the Naughts he appeared in the films Il gatto a nove code, Wild Rovers, Un verano para matar, Meteor, Twilight Time, and The Sting II.

In addition to the Oscar he won for A Streetcar Named Desire, he also won several Emmys, four of them for Streets of San Francisco.

Quite simply, Karl Malden was one of the greatest actors of our time. He played a wide variety of roles and played all of them well. He played a priest in On the Waterfront. He played a police inspector in I Confess. He played a sex crazed older man with a teenage wife in Baby Doll. He played General Omar Bradley in Patton. The roles were vastly different, and yet he did all of them extremely well. Perhaps the most surprising thing about Karl Malden is that he did not win more awards. Regardless, he will be remembered.

Mollie Sudgen

Mollie Sudgen, best known for playing Mrs. Slocombe on Are You Being Served, passed Tuesday at the age of 86. She had been in hospital with a long illness.

Mollie Sudgen was born in Keighley, Yorkshire on July 21, 1922. She developed a love of performing while still young. World War II started just as she graduated from school, so she went to work at a munitions factory in Keighley. After losing her job she enrolled in the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. For many years she worked in the Swansea Rep at the Grand Theatre. She made her television debut in the British series Suspense in 1962. She also made appearances that year in Benny Hill and First Night. It was also in 1962 that she received her first regular role on a TV series, as Mrs. Crispin in Hugh and I. For the next many years Sudgen was a regular on British television, appearing on such shows as Steptoe and Son, Coronation Street, Armchair Theatre, Z Cars, Jackanory, Oh, Brother, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, and Up Pompeii.

It was in 1972 that she was cast as Mrs. Betty Slocombe, the head of ladies wear at Grace Brothers Department Store, Are You Being Served. Although it would go onto be regarded as a classic in the United Kingdom and its Colonies, in the beginning Are You Being Served was not a phenomenal success. Airing opposite Coronation Street, it received very few viewers. When it was reran later that year, however, its audience increased dramatically. There were times in the United Kingdom when the show received around 22 million viewers.

Even while on Are You Being Served, Sudgen appeared on other shows. She appeared on Son of the Bride, Love Thy Neighbour, and Three Comedies of Marriage. After Are You Being Served ended, Sudgen starred in That's My Boy, My Husband and I, and the Are You Being Served sequel/spinoff Grace & Favour. She also became a regular on The Liver Birds. Her last appearance was on the long running The Bill in 2003.

Mollie Sudgen worked in only two movies in her career. She appeared in the movie version of Are You Being Served in 1977 and provided one of the voices in the animated adaptation of Roald Dahl's The BFG.

Much of the reason for the success of Are You Being Served was its brilliant cast, and Mollie Sudgen was one of the best in that stellar cast. Whether talking about her cat, Tiddles (which she referred to as "my pussy"), her attempts to sound posh despite traces of a very Northern accent, or her odd night life (frequenting roller rinks, discos, and, more often than not, pubs), Mrs. Slocombe was one of the most hilarious characters on a sitcom of all time. As Mrs Slocombe Mollie Sudgen made a perfect team with John Inman as Mr. Humphries, the two creating some of the most memorable moments in television comedy. Mollie Sudgen possessed a gift for comedy to such a degree that very could match. She is one of the very few actresses I can honestly say was funny in most everything in which she appeared.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Johnny Canuck

Before anything else, I would like to wish my friends in Canada a happy Canada Day! In keeping with this day, I thought I would address the subject of the national personification of Canada--their equivalent of John Bull or Uncle Sam: Johnny Canuck. Quite simply, Johnny Canuck is a national personification of Canada.

Johnny Canuck developed around 1869 in political cartoons in Canada, where he was most often represented as resisting the bullying of Uncle Sam. He most often appeared as a burly lumberjack (the logo familiar from the Vancover Canucks), although he was also portrayed as a farmer, a rancher, and even a soldier. Unlike John Bull and Uncle Sam, whose appearances rarely varied (both of whom are almost always wearing a top hat and tailcoat), Johnny Canuck's appearance did sometimes vary.

Here I should note the use of the term Canuck for Johnny's last name, which might seem odd to those of us who don't live in Canada. Many outside Canada think the word is only used of French Canadians or that it is derogatory. This doesn't seem to be the case. The word Canuck was coined in the 18th or centuries, although its etymology is unclear. According to The Random House Dictionary it was an Americanism first recorded around 1835, specifically referring to French Canadians. While the term Canuck may have originally been used of French Canadians, however, since the 19th century it has been used of any Canadian. This explains why it would be used as Johnny's last name or, for that matter, the name of Vancouver's hockey team (the majority of British Columbia being English in descent, rather than French). As to the term being derogatory, that varies according to how it is used and who's using it. Among Canadians it is safe to say that the term is not offensive, but among other peoples from other nations it can be used in such a way that it is a derogatory term.

As to Johnny Canuck himself, he featured prominently in political cartoons for thirty years. It was towards the end of the 19th century that he gradually fell out of use. It is difficult to say why this happened, as the use of other national personifications would continue unabated until after World War II. It would take the superhero craze of the late Thirties and early Forties to revive the character.

In 1938 Action Comics featuring Superman was published by Detective Comics Inc. (one of the companies which would become DC Comics). The phenomenal success of Superman would create a demand for superheroes that would insure that comic books would be filled with them for the next ten years. The superhero craze did not simply affect comic books in the United States, but in Canada as well. And just as Will Eisner turned Uncle Sam into a superhero for Quality Comics, so too did Johnny Canuck become a superhero. It was in 1941 that the manager of Toronto based Bell Features threw down a challenge for cartoonist Leo Bachle (then only fourteen): he had to create an exciting feature for the company's comic book line.

To this end young Bachle took the old national personification Johnny Canuck and transformed him from a burly lumberjack into a young fighter pilot, complete with leather headgear, goggles, flight jacket, and high topped boots. A captain in the Royal Canadian Air Force, Johnny had no superpowers, but had excellent athletic ability and was a great aviator. Johnny Canuck debuted in Dime Comics #1, February 1942. The character proved a roaring success, perhaps the most successful Canadian superhero save for Nelvana of the Northern Lights. His adventures continued for 28 issues of Dime Comics, ending in 1946. In 1995 Canada Post issued stamps commemorating the superheroes of the past, including Seventies hero Captain Canuck, Eighties heroine Fleur de Lys, Golden Age heroine Nelvana of the Northern Lights, Superman, and, of course, Johnny Canuck. Johnny was portrayed as he was in the comic books, with his aviator's cap and flight jacket.

In 1965 Johnny Canuck would be revived again, this time by American mystery writer James Moffatt. Strictly speaking Moffatt's version of Johnny was not the personification of Canada, but merely a Canadian private eye (who is one quarter Sioux) who changed his name to Johnny Canuck out of patriotism. Moffatt's Johnny Canuck adventures appeared only in paperback and are more or less forgotten, which may be a good thing. Reportedly they were poorly written and about as Canadian as the movie Rose Marie with Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald.

It was in 1970 that the Vancouver received a National Hockey League expansion team named the Canucks. Signed to the Canucks in 2006, Roberto Luongo's face mask featured Johnny Canuck in his guise as a lumberjack. In the 2008-2009 Johnny Canuck was used as one of the shoulder logos for their jerseys, although again as a lumberjack (although one proposed shoulder logo portrayed him as the pilot of Bell Features' comic books). Sadly, the team's official mascot is Fin, an anthropomorphic killer whale (while I realise orcas are found frequently in the north Pacific, I must confess I don't particularly identify them with British Columbia myself...), rather than Johnny Canuck himself. Curiously, the mascot of junior ice hockey team the Vancouver Giants, Jack, resembles Johnny Canuck to a large degree.

Over the years Johnny would figure in a few songs. Composer Henry Herbert Godfrey wrote two of the more famous songs. In 1900 he wrote both "Johnny Canuck's the Lad" and "When Johnny Canuck Comes Home." The drama "The Yellow Bag" from 1907 featured a song simply entitled "Johnny Canuck." The character would also be the subject of a few plays. In 1978 there was a play entitled Hurray for Johnny Canuck, loosely based on the comic book hero. In January 2006 the play Johnny Canuck and the Last Burlesque debuted in Montreal, positing that after World War II Johnny became a burlesque star. More recently, a professional wrestler took the name of "Johnny Canuck," again portraying him as a lumberjack.

Although not as well known outside Canada as Uncle Sam or John Bull, Johnny Canuck has had a long history. Although appearing infrequently after World War II, the character still resurfaces from time to time in plays and other media. I have seen arguments that Johnny Canuck should be the official mascot of the Vancouver Canucks rather than Fin (with which I would agree) and even that he should have been the mascot of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. And while his appearance has varied over the years (he has been a lumberjack, a farmer, a rancher, and an aviator), he has survived through it all. I have no doubt he will be around for quite some time to come.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Television Shows Based on Commercials

As popular as many advertising mascots are, it seems as if television shows based on commercials should be more common. After all, Tony the Tiger, Cap'n Crunch, Snap, Crackle, and Pop, and others are immensely popular, to the point that there has even been merchandise has been based on them. Indeed, in 1939, Snap, Crackle, and Pop even appeared in their own theatrical animated short, "Breakfast Pals."

It would seem even more likely that there would have been more television shows based on commercials given the history of American broadcast television. As powerful as the influence of advertisers is on television today, in the first several years of broadcast television in the United States their influence was even greater. This was due more to the fact that at the time a single sponsor would buy advertising time on an entire show. Indeed, there was a time when advertising agencies actually developed and produced television shows, overseeing every detail from the hiring of the cast to the scripts for episodes. The control which advertisers wielded over television was often questioned in the early days of broadcast television, but would not erupt into full scale controversy until the quiz show scandal of the late Fifties. It would be because of the quiz show scandal and critics such as FCC chairman Newton Minow that the networks would eventually take charge of their own programming. Gone for the most part were the days when a single advertiser would sponsor an entire programme; gone for good were the days when advertising agencies would actually conceive television shows.

Despite the popularity of various advertising mascots and the power advertisers once wielded over the networks, television shows based on commercials have been very, very rare. Not only have they been very rare, but the first TV show based on a series of commercials would not be developed until network broadcast television had operated in the United States for over a decade and a half.

Even before the debut of the first show based entirely on commercials, there would be a series of segments within a TV show which would feature an advertising mascot as its lead character. In this instance, however, there is a bit of a chicken and an egg question. That is, were the segments developed because the character and her commercials were particularly popular, or were they planned all along as a means of promoting the product? In 1960 General Mills unveiled a new cereal called Twinkles. Its mascot was a baby flying elephant, also called Twinkles. Twinkles was historic for three reasons. The first is that it was the first cereal to be named for its advertising mascot, pre-dating Cap'n Crunch, Frankenberry, and all the others. The second is that in its early days a storybook was built into the back of its box.

The third reason is that Twinkles would be the first advertising mascot to appear as a character in a TV show segment. In the Fifties General Mills was not only a leading cereal maker, but one of the most powerful advertisers in television. By 1960 General Mills had already sponsored such shows as The Lone Ranger and The Burns and Allen Show. They provided much of the backing of Jay Ward Studios in the production of their classic shows (The Bullwinkle Show and Hoppity Hooper). Eventually General Mills approached their advertising agency, Dancer Fitzgerald Sample about sponsoring another children's show. The project was assigned to W. Watts "Buck" Biggers was the account executive for General Mills, Chester "Chet" Stover was the copy supervisor on the account, and Joseph "Joe" Harris was the supervisor of animation for General Mills (he created the Trix Rabbit for them). To produce the new show, a production company called Total Television Productions Inc. or TTV for short, was founded.

The show that TTV produced was King Leonardo and His Short Subjects. Not only was the series the first show produced by TTV (who would go onto produce both Tennessee Tuxedo and his Tales and Underdog), but the second Saturday morning cartoon to air on NBC (Hanna-Barbera's Ruff and Reddy was the first to air on the network). Among the segments aired during the show were very brief, educational segments featuring Twinkles the Elephant. While other segments from King Leonardo and His Short Subjects would be recycled in TTV's other shows, Twinkles only appeared on King Leonardo and His Short Subjects. What is more, it also did not appear on King Leonardo and His Short Subjects when it was syndicated. Much of this may be because Twinkles the Elephant did not prove particularly popular as an advertising mascot. By 1965 the story book built into the box had disappeared and Twinkles himself was replaced by a fireman called The Twinkles Sprinkler. Eventually, the cereal would disappear itself. Regardless, given the fact that both the cereal and the cartoon were conceived in 1960, it is difficult to say that the Twinkles cartoons were created due to the success of the commercials or as part of an over all strategy on the part of General Mills.

While it is questionable whether the Twinkles segments were indeed based on the Twinkles commercials, the first series to clearly be based on a series of commercials would emerge from a cereal company. In 1962 Post Cereals introduced a new cereal, Crispy Critters. Its spokesman was a lion named Linus, voiced by Sheldon Leonard. The Crispy Critters commercials proved popular enough that Post Cereals decided to create an animated series based on the characters appearing in their commercials. Post Cereals cut no corners in production the new series, entitled Linus the Lionhearted. Its vocal talent was impressive for a Saturday morning cartoon, then as it would be now. Not only did Sheldon Leonard continue to voice Linus, but Carl Reiner voiced his friend Billie Bird. Other voices on the show were Bob McFadden (as Lovable Truly, the mascot for Alpha-Bits, So-Hi, the mascot of Rice Krinkles, and Rory Raccoon, the mascot of Post Toasties and Post Sugar Sparkled Flakes), Ruth Buzzi (as Granny Goodwitch in the Sugar Bear segments), Jerry Stiller, Jesse White, Jonathan Winters, and others. The segments of the show centred on Linus, Lovable Truly, So-Hi, and Rory Raccoon. The animation was also top notch, better than most Saturday morning cartoons of the day. The various Post cereals were never mentioned within the cartoons themselves. Indeed, the level of writing on the show was such that adults could enjoy it as well as children.

Linus the Lionhearted debuted on CBS on September 24, 1964. Its first season was shot in black and white, while its second season was shot in colour. The show lasted on CBS until 1966, whereupon it moved to ABC. Unfortunately, the show would fall victim to the Federal Communications Commission. In 1969 the FCC ruled that children's show characters could not appear in commercials aired during the same show. ABC then cancelled Linus the Lionhearted. Time would not be kind to the advertising mascots who appeared on the series either. So-Hi, who could be considered a Chinese stereotype, was replaced as the mascot for Rice Krinkles in 1969 by Krinkles the Clown. Lovable Truly ceased to be the mascot for Alpha-Bits in 1971. Even Linus himself was not immune. Although popular enough in the Sixties to inspire both a Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon and an animated cartoon, Post would eventually stop making Crispy Critters in the Seventies. Out of the various advertising mascots who appeared on the show, only Sugar Bear has lasted, serving as the mascot of his cereal (whose name has changed from Sugar Crisp to Super Sugar Crisp to Super Golden Crisp to Golden Crisp) to this day.

It is perhaps largely due to the FCC's ruling in 1969 that TV shows based on commercials have been fairly rare since then. In fact, another show based on commercials would not appear until the Eighties. Shortly before that show debuted, however, there would be another that many would mistakenly believe was based on commercials. The character of Max Headroom, an artificial intelligence played by Matt Frewer, made his debut on the British TV show The Max Headroom Show, which aired from 1985 to 1986 on Channel 4. The Max Headroom Show was a music video show, on which Max on served as the veejay. The character proved popular enough to inspire a television movie made for Channel 4, Max Headroom: 20 Minutes into the Future. The movie featured Matt Frewer as reporter Edison Carter in a cyberpunk world in which his mind is digitally recorded to create the artificial intelligence Max Headroom. It is from this movie that the short lived American TV show was developed. It debuted on ABC in 1985 and lasted for fourteen shows. While Max would serve as the spokesman for Coca-Cola, the show itself was based on the British telefilm, not the commercials. Max would later appear in a comedy-talk show on Showtime entitled The Original Max Talking Headroom Show, which ran in 1987.

While Max Headroom may have been best known in the United States for his commercials, he was not created as an advertising mascot. This was not the case for Ernest P. Worrell, the star of several commercials, a TV series, and many movies. Portrayed by Jim Varney, Ernest was created by Nashville advertising agency Carden and Cherry. He began life as a spokesman for local ad campaigns, the first being a advert for an appearance of the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders at Kentucky amusement park Beech Bend Park in 1980. Ernest proved very popular as an advertising spokesman, appearing in spots for Purity milk in the southeast and Cerritos Auto Square in the Los Angeles area. Ernest proved popular enough to inspire the movie Ernest Goes to Camp (1987) and a Saturday morning children's show, Hey Vern, It's Ernest. Produced and directed by John Cherry, the creator of Ernest. The series only lasted one season on CBS. This would not be the end of Ernest P. Worrell. He would not only appear in national advertising campaigns for Sprite and Mello Yello, but in eight more movies.

Here I must digress from this discussion of TV shows based on commercials to address a bit of an urban legend that has existed for years. The Simpsons was not based on the characters' appearances on Butterfinger commercials. The Simpsons originated as segments on The Tracey Ullman Show in 1987. The success of those segments led to The Simpsons, which debuted in 1989. The Simpsons would not appear in Butterfinger commercials until the show had been on for some time.

Indeed, after Hey Vern, It's Ernest there would not be another television series based on commercials until Baby Bob debuted in 2002 on CBS. Baby Bob had been created in 1997 by the Los Angeles advertising firm Siltanen and Partners for a national campaign for Federal Way's (a free internet service provider). Baby Bob was a talking baby played by a number of different infants and voiced by Ken Hudson Campbell. In 2000 ceased service, leaving Baby Bob an advertising mascot without a sponsor. The character was then developed into sitcom starring Adam Arkin, Joely Fisher, and Elliot Gould and retaining Ken Hudson Campbell as Bob's voice. Debuting in 2002, the series received largely hostile reviews. It lasted only its brief first season (six episodes) and a brief second season (five episodes, although three episodes were unaired). Despite the failure of his sitcom, Baby Bob would make a comeback as an advertising mascot when Quiznos started using him in a new advertising campaign.

The last show based on TV commercials is a recent one, airing during the 2008-2009 season. The Martin Agency, a Richmond based ad firm, created the GEICO cavemen for a campaign for the insurance company GEICO in 2004. The commercials proved popular enough that they were adapted into a television series, created by Joe Lawson (the same man who wrote the commercials). The show proved to have a difficult production. Jeff Daniel Phillips and Ben Weber, who played the cavemen of the commercials, were not to be part of the show. Its pilot episode had only a limited screening which provoked controversy in that some critics thought that it was racist, with the cavemen substituting for other minorities. When Cavemen debuted, it received largely atrocious reviews. Ultimately, Cavemen only lasted six episodes (with seven unaired). Despite this, the cavemen continue to appear in commercials for GEICO to this day.

Ultimately, there have been only a very few TV shows based on commercials. Much of this may well be due to concerns over confusing entertainment with advertising. This was certainly the reason that in 1969 the FCC made its ruling that stars of children's programmes could not appear in commercials during their own shows. Much of it may also be due to the fact that advertising mascots are valuable commodities to companies. A successful advertising mascot can increase a product's visibility and actually encourage people to buy the product. If a television show is based on an advertising mascot, that mascot's viability could be threatened if the show is badly received. It could then be companies do not want to risk their advertising mascots.

Of course, given the history of television shows based on commercials, it might seem foolhardy for any producer to even attempt a series based around adverts. After all, with the exception of Linus the Lionhearted, every show based on commercials has failed. That having been said, it seems possible that they did not fail simply because they were based on commercials. Both Baby Bob and Cavemen received horrible reviews--Baby Bob has even appeared on a few Worst TV Shows of All Time lists. This can be contrasted with Linus the Linushearted, which to this day is cited as one of the wittiest cartoons of the Sixties. The moral of the story would then seem to be that if one is going to base a TV show on commercials, then make sure that TV show is good.

Of course, there could be another reason for the failure of some shows based on commercials as well. Despite the fact that he starred in many commercials, one show, and several movies, Ernest P. Worrell was considered annoying by many. While Baby Bob created a good deal of traffic for, there were those who consider him creepy (I'm among that number myself). Before basing a show around an advertising mascot, then, one might want to make sure that the mascot is universally well liked. If Linus found success in a TV show, perhaps it was because he was truly popular.

Given the close relation between broadcast television and advertising, it is probably inevitable that there will be more TV shows based on commercials. History shows, however, that there will probably be very few. What is more, their survival may not be guaranteed, especially if the shows are not high in quality. It would seem it takes more than the popularity of an advertising mascot to create a successful show, but good writing and direction as well.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Gale Storm R.I.P.

Movie and sitcom star Gale Storm passed Saturday at the age of 87. She was perhaps best known as the star of My Little Margie.

Gale Storm was born Josephine Owaissa Cottle on April 5, 1922 in Bloomington, Texas. In both junior high and high school she appeared a number of plays, and in many of them played the lead. When she was a senior in high school at 17, two of her teachers encouraged her to enter the Gateway to Hollywood contest, which would be broadcast over CBS Radio. The grand prize winners would win a contract to a movie studio for a year, as well as stage names. The actress who won would be Gale Storm. The actor who won would be Terry Belmont. Along with Lee Bonnell from Indiana University, Storm won the competition. She also married Bonnell, whose film career was short. He later became an insurance executive. The two remained married until Bonnell's death in 1987.

Gale Storm made her film debut in 1950 in Tom Brown's School Days. Unfortunately, RKO dropped her after only six months and two movies. This did not stop Storm's career. For the next twelve years she would appear in 36 different movies. Most of them were B-movies, ranging from Westerns to musicals to horror, including Man From Cheyenne, Rhythm Parade, Revenge of the Zombies, The Dude Goes West, and The Kid From Texas. By the Fifties Storm's film career had slowed. She made her television debut on Bigelow Theatre in 1950 and guest starred on The Unexpected. It seemed as if her career was over until producer Hal Roach Jr. offered her a role in a prospective TV series, My Little Margie.

My Little Margie debuted as the summer replacement for I Love Lucy in 1952. Storm played Margie Albright, a 21 year old living with her father (Charles Farrell, vice president at the investment firm Honeywell and Todd, in an apartment in the Carlton Arms Hotel. With her next door neighbour, Mrs. Odetts (Gertrude Hoffman), with whom she often became involved in the sort of schemes seen in other sitcoms of the period, such as I Love Lucy and I Married Joan. The show lasted for three years and 126 episodes. My Little Margie would be one of the few television shows to make the transition to radio. On CBS Radio a radio version of the sitcom aired concurrently with the TV show, albeit with all new episodes.

Storm followed up her success on My Little Margie as host of the short lived The NBC Comedy Hour and with The Gale Storm Show, on which she played cruise director, Susanna Pomeroy. The show lasted for four years and 143 episodes. In the Fifties Storm also made guest appearances on Robert Montgomery Presents and The Ford Television Theatre. Storm's career declined in the Sixties, and she would only make a three guest appearances on television after The Gale Storm Show ended, on Burke's Law, The Love Boat, and Murder, She Wrote.

Gale Storm also had a recording career. Her first hit was a cover of the classic rhythm and blues song "I Heard You Knockin'." It went to #2 on the Billboard chart. She also had hits with "Dark Moon," a country song originally performed by Ned Miller, "Ivory Tower, ""Memories Are Made of This," Teenage Prayer," and "Why Do Fools Fall in Love."

Although My Little Margie is largely forgotten today, in her time Gale Storm was one of the best loved sitcom stars. The reason was simply that Storm had a flair for comedy which can also be seen in the comedies she made during her film career. She also had a flair for slapstick that only a few television stars (Lucille Ball, Dick Van Dyke) possessed. She will certainly be remembered.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Sky Saxon of The Seeds Passes On

Sky Saxon, lead singer and co-founder of Sixties garage rock band The Seeds, passed yesterday. The cause was an undiagnosed infection in his internal organs.

Sky Saxon was born Richard Elvern Marsh in Salt Lake City, Utah. The year of his birth has been stated to be anywhere from 1937 to 1946.

Under his given name of Little Richie Marsh, Saxon started performing doo-wop tunes in the early Sixties. On 1962 he changed his name to Sky Saxon and formed the Electra-Fires and later Sky Saxon and the Soul Rockers. It was in 1965 that he formed The Seeds with Rick Andridge (keyboards), Darryl Hooper (drums), and Jan Savage (guitar). The Seeds released three singles in 1966. "Can't Seem to Make You Mine" made it to #41 on the Billboard charts, "Mr. Farmer" made it to #86, and "Pushin' Too Hard" made it to #36. Their self titled debut album, released in 1966, was pure garage rock, and is thought by many to have an influence on the punk rock which would arise ten years later.

Following their first album, The Seeds varied their style a bit. Their third album, A Full Spoon of Seedy Blues, was recorded as the Sky Saxon Blues Band and concentrated on the blues. Their fourth album, Future, was pure psychedelia. Unfortunately, their subsequent efforts were not as successful as their first album. Having gone through personnel changes, the band's name was changed to Sky Saxon and the Seeds" in 1969. The band continued in some form until 1972.

Once The Seeds had ended, Sky Saxon joined the Source Family religious community. He released albums under the name of Yahowha 13 in the early to mid-Seventies. Over the years Saxon would record using bands with such names as The Starry Seeds Band, Sky Saxon and Firewall, King Arthur's Court, and Shapes Have Fangs. With varying line ups, Saxon reformed The Seeds for albums in 1982 and 1993. He also collaborated with Redd Kross and The Chesterfield Kings. With varying line ups, Saxon reformed The Seeds for albums in 1982 and 1993, and in 1989 for a tour which included Arthur Lee and Love, Big Brother and the Holding Company, The Music Machine, and Strawberry Alarm Clock. Sky Saxon and original guitarist Jan Savage reformed The Seeds in 2003. Saxon had to depart the group due to declining health mid way through the European tour that year. In 2008 he collaborated on new songs with Billy Corgan.

Debate has raged since The Seeds debuted as to whether Saxon's singing was merely an Americanised imitation of Mick Jagger or something more. Regardless, there can be little doubt that, along with British garage band The Troggs, The Seeds had an impact on the evolution of punk rock. Given that Sky Saxon wrote the vast majority of The Seeds' songs, it can be argued that Saxon was to some degree the grandfather of punk rock.