Friday, June 4, 2010

A Shroud of Thoughts' 6th Anniversary

It was on June 4, 2004 that I entered the first post on this blog, A Shroud of Thoughts. Today is then the sixth anniversary of the blog. For the past six years I have made a minimum of three entries a week on this blog, and usually more. I have to admit that even now I am a bit surprised at how long A Shroud of Thoughts has been around. Most blogs have lifespans numbered only in weeks, if not days. This blog has been around for years.

As to the source of the blog's name, it is taken from Lord Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage canto iii stanza 113, quoted below:

I have not loved the world, nor the world me;
I have not flattered its rank breath, nor bow'd
To its idolatries a patient knee,
Nor coin'd my cheek to smiles, nor cried aloud
In worship of an echo; in the crowd
They could not deem me one of such; I stood
Among them, but not of them; in a shroud
Of thoughts which were not their thoughts, and still could,
Had I not filed my mind, which thus itself subdued.

Over the years A Shroud of Thoughts has changed. I started this blog with little in the way of a plan, other than writing about things in which I am interested. Since I am primarily interested in pop culture, it was not long before I decided that A Shroud of Thoughts would be a blog about pop culture, all of pop culture. Over the years I have written about movies, TV shows, comic books, pulp magazines, video games, and many other pop culture artefacts. In the earliest days the articles tended to be brief, although over the course of time they would grow longer. It would not be long before I would do entire series of articles. I would say that within its first year, the format of A Shroud of Thoughts had become what it is now.

One more recent change is that I now incorporate more pictures in my articles and I also incorporate video as well. The pictures were an outgrowth of changes to Blogger, which made it easier to add pictures to posts. The video was an outgrowth not simply of video sharing sites like YouTube, but the fact that since this blog was started more and more Americans are accessing the Internet through broadband connections. Given that video loads much more swiftly on broadband than on dial-up, I saw no reason I should occasionally include videos on the blog.

As on past anniversaries, I am including links to what I consider my best posts in the past year. I must admit that I was a bit worried as to how many truly good posts I would have this year, as it seems that this year I have mostly been writing eulogies for those pop culture icons who have passed on. Indeed, the first half of 2010 marks the very first time in the history of A Shroud of Thoughts that the majority of posts have been eulogies. Fortunately, I was able to find more posts that I truly like than I had thought there would be! Anyhow, without further ado, here are the best posts of A Shroud of Thoughts from June 5, 2009 to June 6, 2010.

Why Die Hard is a Classic

The Week of 14 June, 2009 to 21 June, 2009 (includes "Spy Fi: The Long History of Spy Fiction" Parts One, Two, and Three)

Johnny Canuck

The Week of 5 July, 2009 to 12 July 2009 (includes "A History of Music Videos" Parts One, Two, Three, and Four)

The Week of 13 July, 2009 to 19 July, 2009 (includes "A History of Music Videos" Part Five)

The 40th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing

The Week of 26 July, 2009 to  2 August, 2009 (includes "The Invisible Minority: Native Americans on American Television" Parts One, Two, and Three, "North by Northwest Turns 50," and "Superman the 1948 Serial")

The Devil's Business: The Murder of Sharon Tate

Back to the Garden: The 40th Anniversary of Woodstock Part One

Back to the Garden: The 40th Anniversary of Woodstock Part Two

Two Movies About the Alamo

The Twilight Zone Turns 50

The 40th Anniversary of Monty Python's Flying Circus

The Week of Halloween

The Dean Martin Show

Grace Kelly's 80th Birthday

Why The Twilight Saga Will Not Be a Classic

Gone With the Wind Turns 70

Yuletide 2009 (includes "Humphrey Bogart's 110th Birthday" as well as holiday posts)

The Young Women Who Would be Lolita

Mama Told Me Not to Come: the Sixties Party Scene on Film

Disney's Pinocchio Turns 70

The St. Valentine's Day Massacre

Death Dos Not Take Holidays

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police

Davy Crockett: Television's First Fad

Akira Kurosawa's 100th Birthday

Batmania: How Batman Conquered America in 1966 Part One

Batmania: How Batman Conquered America in 1966 Part Two

The Easter Hare or Easter Bunny

All of Your Toys: The Monkees vs. Don Kirshner

The Adventures of Robin Hood Revisisted

The Music Man (The Movie, Not the Play)

Harvey Comic's Dark Secret

The 151st Birthday of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Rue McClanahan Passes On

Rue McClanahan, best known for her roles on the TV shows Maude and The Golden Girls, passed today at the age of 76. The cause was a stroke.

Rue McClanahan was born Eddi-Rue McClanahan in Healdton, Oklahoma. She grew up in Ardmore, Oklahoma. She graduated from the University of Tulsa with a degree in German and theatre arts. She began her career in the late Fifties on the stage. She performed at the Pasadena Playhouse in Pasadena, California. She also studied under Uta Hagen and Harold Clurman in New York. In 1961 she made her film debut in the movie The Grass Eater.

In 1961 she also appeared in an uncredited role in the feature film Five Minutes to Live. In 1963 Miss McClanahan appeared in the movie Five Minutes to Love. The following year she appeared in the film How to Succeed with Girls and made her television debut in a small part in an episode of Burke's Law. She appeared in an off-Broadway production of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. In 1965 she appeared in the film Angel's Flight.

Rue McClanahan made her Broadway debut in 1966 in the play The Best Laid Plans. She also appeared in the off-Broadway play Big Man/Duet For Three. In 1967 she appeared in the Off-Broadway play MacBird. in 1968 she appeared in the film Walk the Angry Beach and on Broadway in the play Jimmy Shine. in 1969 Miss McClanahan appeared in the off-Braodway play Tonight in Living Colour. Later that year she appeared in the off-Broadway play Who's Happy Now. In 1970 she appeared in the film The People Next Door and in a recurring role on the soap opera Another World. She also appeared in the off-Broadway play Dark of the Moon.

Rue McClanahan opened the Seventies appearing in the films They Might Be Giants (1971) and Some of My Best Friends Are (1971). In 1971 she also appeared in roles in the TV shows Love of Life and Where the Heart Is.. She also appeared on Broadway in the comedy Father's Day. In 1972 she guest starred on the series All in the Family, off Broadway in the play Dylan, on  Broadway in the play Sticks and Bones. She was also cast in the role of Vivian on the TV series Maude. Vivian was a sharp contrast to next door neighbour Maude. While Maude was outspoken and often caustic, Vivien was sweet and a tad bit scatter brained. Miss McClanahan remained with the show for its entire run, from 1972 to 1978.

While Maude was still on the air, Rue McClanahan guest starred on Mannix and Having Babies. She also appeared on Broadway in California Suite, and off Broadway in Crystal and Fox. Following Maude, in 1978, she was cast in the lead role in the short lived sitcom Apple Pie. She ended the Seventies with guest appearances on Supertrain and Lou Grant.

In the Eighties Rue McClanahan guest starred on the shows Darkroom, Trapper John M.D., and Newhart. She played the recurring role of Fran on Mama's Family from 1983 to 1984. For the next few years Miss McClanahan guest starred on the shows Alice, Cover Up, Crazy Like a Fox, and Murder She Wrote. In 1985 Rue McClanahan was cast in the role of Blanche Devereaux, the lusty Southern belle of the group. Miss McClanahan would appear as Blanche in 1988 guest appearance on Empty Nest, a 1992 guest appearance on  Nurses, and would reprise the role on the short lived series The Golden Palace (1992-1993).

In 1991 Miss McClanahan appeared in the movie Biosphere. In the Nineties she appeared in such TV movies as Nunsense, Message from Nam, Innocent Victims, and A Saintly Switch  She appeared in the films Dear God (1996),  Out to Sea  (1997), and Starship Troopers (1997), She guest starred on the shows Boy Meets World, Burke's Law, Murphy Brown, Columbo, and Ladies Man. She had recurring roles on the TV shows Safe Harbour and The Lot.

In the Naughts she guest starred on the shows Touched by an Angel, Wonderfalls, Whoopi, King of the Hill, and Law and Order. In 2008 she was a regular on the TV series Sordid Lives: The Series. She appeared in the films Wit's End (2002). On Broadway she appeared in the plays The Women in 2001 and Wicked in 2005. Off Broadway she appeared in the plays After-Play and The Vagina Monologues.

Rue McClanahan was one of the few actors who was fortunate enough to appear in two hit television series, Maude and The Golden Girls. There can be little doubt that she was a large part of the success of both. Whether playing scatter brained Vivian on Maude or the oversexed Blanche on The Golden Girls, she always gave sterling performances. Miss McClanahan had a gift for comedy, with timing that was nearly perfect. With her passing we have lost an actress who was a true rarity, one who had created not one, but two memorable characters in two classic television series.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Late, Great Cinematographer William A. Fraker

William A. Fraker, the legendary cinematographer who shot such movies as The President's Analyst, Rosemary's Baby, and Bullitt, passed Monday at the age of 86. The cause was cancer.

William A. Fraker was born September 29, 1923 in Los Angeles, California. During World War II he joined the United States Navy and served in the Pacific theatre. Following the war he attended the University of Southern California School of Cinema. He took a job as a photographer's assistant. His first assignment was working on a Marilyn Monroe calender.

Mr. Fraker's first work as a cinematographer was on the film Forbid Them Not, released in 1961. In 1962 he began work on the long running sitcom The Adventures of Ozzy and Harriet as a camera operator. He worked on the film Father Goose (1964) before receiving his first cinematographer credit on a feature film, the Leslie Stevens horror movie Incubus (1965). From that point on Mr. Fraker would work exclusively on feature films except for a stint on the TV show Daktari in 1966.

For the remainder of the sixties William A. Fraker would shoot such films as Games (1967), The President's Analyst (1967), Rosemary's Baby (1968), Bullitt (1968), and Paint Your Wagon (1969). The Seventies saw Mr. Fraker work on such films as The Day of the Dolphin (1973), Coonskin (1975), Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1977), and Heaven Can Wait (1978). In the Eighties he shot such film as Sharky's Machine (1981), WarGames (1983), Murphy's Romance (1985), Burglar (1987), and The Freshman (1990). From the Nineties into the Naughts he was cinematographer on such films as Honeymoon in Vegas (1992), Tombstone (1993), The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996),. and Rules of Engagement (2000). In the Naughts he shot the films Town and Country (2001) and Waking Up in Reno (2002). His last film as cinematographer, Section B, is set for release later this year.

William A. Fraker also directed three films, Monte Walsh (1973), Reflection of Fear (1973), and The Legend of the Lone Ranger (1981). He also directed episodes of TV shows, including such series as Wiseguy, The Flash, and Unsub.

William A. Fraker was nominated five times for the Oscar for Best Cinematography.

There can be no doubt William A. Fraker was one of the greatest cinematographers of all time, although it would be difficult to say he had his own style. Mr. Fraker believed that the look of a film should be determined by the film itself, not the cinematographer. As a result, Mr. Fraker used a different style on each film he shot, depending on the mood of that film. For Rosemary's Baby Mr. Fraker used a crisp style reminiscent of cinema verite, while for Tombstone he used a more romantic style as befits an epic Western. Mr. Fraker would also do nearly anything to get the shot he thought fit the scene. For the famous car chase in Bullitt, Mr. Fraker strapped himself to the front of a Mustang and shot the scene while going 100 miles per hour. The result was one of the greatest car chase sequences in film. William A. Fraker was a perfectionist and a professional, and both were reflected in every film he shot.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Happy Memorial Day & Spring Bank Holiday 2010

Since today is Memorial in the United States, I am not going to do a full fledged post, but instead I will wish you a "Happy Memorial Day!" I will also leave you with this, a clip of Jimi Hendrix performing "The Star Spangled Banner" at Woodstock.

Of course, today is also the spring bank holiday in the United Kingdom, so for those across the Pond, "Happy spring bank holiday!" I will leave you with Brian May's performance of "God Save the Queen" at Buckingham on the occasion of Queen Elizabeth II's Golden Jubilee in 2002.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Mysterious Adam Diment

"In the future everyone will be world famous for fifteen minutes." Andy Warhol

The above, often paraphrased quote originated in Mr. Warhol's catalogue for an exhibit at the Moderna Museet, in Stockholm in 1968, but it might as well have been said of the year 1968 itself. Indeed, there may be no better example of someone who was extremely famous for a brief time than author Adam Diment. In 1967 his novel The Dolly, Dolly Spy was published to accolades and a huge amount of press. The book featured a spy as never seen before, the pot smoking, thoroughly Mod Philip McAlpine. Mr. Diment would write three more novels featuring McApine (The Great Spy Race and The Bang, Bang Birds from 1968, Think Inc. from 1971) before disappearing from public view. Since then both he and his books have been largely forgotten.

 Adam Diment was born in 1948, the son of an upper middle class  farmer in Sussex, England. He was educated at Lansing, a private boarding school in West Sussex. According to a newspaper article by Dick Kleiner of the Newspaper Enterprise Association (NEA) published around July 23, 1968, Mr. Diment had worked in both publishing and advertising, but liked neither. It was in 1967 that Mr. Diment's agent sent the manuscript for The Dolly, Dolly Spy to publisher Michael Joseph. Not only did Michael Joseph buy the book, but they did so for an unheard sum of money for a work by an unpublished writer. They also signed Adam Diment to write an entire series of books. What is more, Diment's agent would go onto sell The Dolly, Dolly Spy in 17 other countries, including Australia, Canada, and the United States. The Dolly, Dolly Spy was at the centre of a good deal of publicity. In the years 1967-1968 there was a good deal of newspaper coverage of Adam Diment. Indeed, to promote the publication of The Dolly, Dolly Spy in the United States, Mr. Diment did a book tour across the country. He would even be photographed by Life magazine.

Today it must seem unusual that there would be so much furore over a spy novel, but then it must be pointed out that The Dolly, Dolly Spy was a very  unusual spy novel. Its protagonist was Philip McAlpine, a pot smoking, Chelsea swinger who loves girls and fast cars. McAlpine is blackmailed into working for a rather shadowy part of British Intelligence with the threat he will be arrested for drug dealing. As to his blackmailer, that would be his boss in British Intelligence, a thorough sadist named Rupert Quine. Quine is a complete dandy whose speech pattern is total camp. He consistently refers to McAlpine as "honey" and "sweetie." Quine was as far from M from Ian Fleming's James Bond novels or Mac from Donald Hamilton's Matt Helm as one could get. Philip McAlpine dressed in the latest Mod fashions and used the most up to date slang. In other respects, however, The Dolly, Dolly Spy had all the necessary ingredients of Sixties, Bondian spy fiction: lots of sex and lots of violence. Indeed, the plot of The Dolly, Dolly Spy is similar to other, contemporary spy novels--McAlpine must abduct a former member of the Waffen SS.

Adam Diment
To the press at the time The Dolly, Dolly Spy was published, it seemed clear that Adam Diment had based Philip McAlpine on himself. He was young, only 22 when the book was published. He was also described as tall and good looking. He also dressed the part, wearing Regency suits and frilly shirts. Like McAlpine, Mr. Diment also loved beautiful girls. The two also had a less legal habit in common. By his own admission (the aforementioned article by NEA's Dick Kleiner being an example), Adam Diment smoked marijuana. In the above referenced article, he even expresses surprise that he had "..never been arrested, given the notoriety the book had." Indeed, in the article Mr. Diment also expressed the idea that it should be legalised.

Because its hero and its author both smoked marijuana, The Dolly, Dolly Spy did cause a bit of controversy upon its publication in the United Kingdom. It also proved to be a roaring success, something it would repeat in most of the seventeen countries in which it was published. The Great Spy Race was published in March 1968. The book centred upon Philip McAlpine working to get to a secret microfilm before enemy agents can do so. The novel received the same sterling reviews that the first book did. In fact, it would be in 1968 that Hollywood would come calling upon Mr. Diment's door.

It was in 1968 that United Artists bought the rights to The Dolly, Dolly Spy. The movie was to be produced by Stanley Canter and Desmond Elliot (Adam Diment's agent), and was set to star David Hemmings (of Blowup fame) as McAlpine. The movie did seem to present United Artists with some problems. In the above cited article by Dick Kleiner, Adam Diment discussed whether the movie would include McAlpine's pot habit or not. The movie was even mentioned in a blurb in the Thriller Book Club edition of of the third novel, The Bang Bang Birds. Unfortunately, it would seem that a movie adaptation of The Dolly, Dolly Spy would never materialise. As to why, that remains a mystery to this day.

It was in November, 1968  that the third McAlpine novel, The Bang Bang Birds, was published. In the novel Philip McAlpine's assignment is to investigate the mysterious Aviary Organisation, who own a chain of brothels worldwide. Of course, all of this is a cover for more nefarious activities, such as collecting intelligence through such means as blackmail and murder. The Bang Bang Birds also received good reviews and sold well.

Given the success of the Philip McAlpine books, it might seem odd that The Bang Bang Birds would be the last one for some time. Throughout 1969 very little is heard of Adam Diment or his Mod, superspy hero. Interestingly enough, there were two anonymously letters sent to the Bank of England's Exchange Control Department in March 1969, only recently released by the National Archives. The letters allege that in November 1968 American producer Stanley Canter gave Adam Diment a cheque in the amount of $2,400. In return the letters allege that Adam Diment gave Mr. Canter a cheque for £1000 drawn on Mr. Diment's account at Barclay's Bank in London. The letter goes on to claim that Mr. Canter cashed the cheque and Mr. Diment smuggled the American dollars out of the United Kingdom to Rome, where he stayed for three months. One of the letters alleged that some of the money was for Mr. Diment " spend on the Continent, some of it on drugs."

It is probably important not to make more of these accusations than there actually are. The two letters are remarkably similar in tone and writing style, to the point that it seems in all likelihood they were written by the same person. Indeed, to my admittedly untrained eye they look like they could have been composed on the same typewriter. It seems most likely to me that the letters were written by some individual with an axe to grind against Messrs. Diment and Canter. At any rate, neither Adam Diment nor Stanley Canter were ever arrested for a currency swindle, let alone ever prosecuted for one. It is pretty clear that if either of both of them had, it would have made the news in 1969.

Regardless, there would be only one more book featuring Philip McAlpine and only one more book by Adam Diment. Think, Inc. was published in May 1971. In Think, Inc. McAlpine has been fired from his job as a superspy and soon finds that several different intelligence agencies want him dead. To survive he takes a job with a very exclusive criminal organisation. The author's biography on Think, Inc. claimed Adam Diment was living in Zurich at the time and working on a fifth book. A fifth book never came.

Since then Adam Diment, whose photo was once in Life and whose books were lauded by The Daily Mirror and The New York Times, has largely been forgotten by the general public, as have his books. Among his fans, both those whose read the books when they first published and those who have developed since then, the reason Adam Diment stopped writing remains a mystery. As is often the case with mysteries, rumours have run rampant as to what happened to Mr. Diment. There are those who claim he went to India to live in an ashram. Another rumour is that he settled in Kent and took up farming.  Other rumours are far more darker.

While it is impossible to say if Adam Diment took up farming in Kent without the author himself coming forward, it seems most likely that he simply retired from writing. In the aforementioned article by NEA's Dick Kleiner, published in July 1968, Mr. Diment stated, "I'm getting a little tired of the character now." It seems possible that Adam Diment simply tired of Philip McAlpine and perhaps tired of writing entirely. He may have then simply retired.

Regardless, even though Philip McAlpine and his creator have largely been forgotten, they may have had a lasting impact. It was in 1968 that The Final Programme by Michael Moorcock was published, the first novel to feature superspy and adventurer Jerry Cornelius. While there are considerable differences between McAlpine and Cornelius, it must be pointed out that, like McAlpine, Cornelius is an anti-hero, a post-modern James Bond, and a hipster (at least in The Final Programme). Cornelius parties, does drugs, and has lots of sex (even with his own sister). While McAlpine was probably not an inspiration for Cornelius, he may have certainly paved the way for him.

While Philip McAlpine most likely did not inspire Jerry Cornelius, it seems likely he was a source of inspiration for Grant Morrison's comic book character Gideon Stargrave. Gideon Stargrave was introduced in 1978 in the British anthology title Near Myths. Like both McAlpine and Cornelius, Stargrave was a spy. Like both McAlpine and Cornelius, he took drugs.   Like both McAlpine and Cornelius, he has a lot of sex. Like McAlpine, he is a sharp dresser. Unlike McAlpine, Stargrave may also be bisexual. It seems possible that Philip McAlpine was a source of inspiration for Gideon Stargrave. It is a certainty that Jerry Cornelius was a source of inspiration for Stargrave. Not only has Grant Morrison admitted such, but Michael Moorcock has made statements on more than one occasion that Morrison outright plagiarised Cornelius to create Stargrave.

Another possible legacy of Philip McAlpine is the character of Austin Powers. First introduced in the movie Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997), Austin Powers is a hip superspy who dresses in somewhat exaggerated, Mod fashion, frequently uses Britsh slang from the Sixties, and has lots of sex. In fact, the primary difference between the Philip McAlpine novels and the Austin Powers movies is that the Austin Powers movies are outright spoofs of Sixties spy movies and Swinging London, while the Philip McAlpine novels are serious works of spy fiction. Many have cited the possibility that the TV series Adam Adamant Lives was an inspiration for Austin Powers, while Elizabeth Hurley has said British presenter and DJ Simon Dee was also an inspiration for the character, but given the similarities between Philip McAlpine and Austin Powers it seems likely that McAlpine also inspired Powers.

Upon the publication of The Dolly, Dolly Spy, Adam Diment and his books enjoyed a great deal of publicity. In the years 1967-1968 he was considered one of the great, young authors of the Sixties. And while the books would develop a following and would prove to have a lasting impact on pop culture, both Adam Diment and his creation Philip McAlpine would be forgotten. It would seem that Andy Warhol was wrong. Oh, he was apparently right about everyone being world famous for fifteen minutes, but he was wrong about the time. It would not be in the future. It was in the Sixties.