Friday, August 6, 2010

Actor Dan Resin R.I.P.

Actor Dan Resin, perhaps best known to audiences as the Ty-D-Bol Man in a series of commercials and Dr. Bleeper in Caddyshack passed on July 31 at the age of 79. The cause was complications from Parkinson's disease.

Dan Resin was born in South Bend, Indiana on February 22, 1931. He attended Indiana University in Bloomington. After graduation he was drafted into the Army. After his service he moved to New York City to pursue acting. He made his debut on Broadway in Once Upon a Mattress around 1960. He would appear on Broadway frequently, in the plays as The Young Abe Lincoln (1961), Fade Out-Fade In (1964), On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1965), and Don't Drink the Water (1966).

Mr. Resin made his film debut in Deadhead Miles in 1972. He would go onto appear in such films as Richard (1972), Hail (1973), The Happy Hooker (1975), The Sunshine Boys (1975), God Told Me To (1976), The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover (1977), Soggy Bottom U.S.A. (1980), and Wise Guys (1986). His best known film role was perhaps that of Dr. Beeper, the stuck up physician and member of the Bushwood Country Club in Caddyshack.

Dan Resin also appeared on television. He was a regular on The Edge of Night for a time, as well as  a regular on the short lived sitcom On Our Own (1977 to 1978). Mr. Resin also appeared on Captain Kangaroo, Till We Meet Again, New York Undercover, and Remember WENN. With regards to television, Mr. Resin may have been best known for the hundreds of commercials in which he appeared. He was one of six actors to portray the Tid-D-Bol Man in adverts for the toilet bowl cleaner. He was one of six actors to appear in the role. Dan Resin  also appeared in commercials for Birds-Eye and the New York State Lottery.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Hitchcock Film Designer Robert F. Boyle Passes On

Robert F. Boyle, art director and  production designer on many films, passed on August 1 at the age of 100. He had worked on over 80 films.

Robert F. Boyle was born in Los Angeles, California on October 10, 1909. He grew up on a ranch in the San Joaquin Valley. He attended the University of Southern California where he majored on architecture. Following graduation he found little demand for his chosen field during the Great Depression, and so he took a job a bit player at RKO Pictures. It was while there he became interested in set design. He talked with RKO's art director, who sent him to Paramount, where he went to work for art director Han Drier. He worked on The Plainsmen (1936), You and Me (1938), Union Pacific (1939), and Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1935). He received his first major screen credit in 1941 as associate art director on the classic Universal horror film The Wolf Man. His first credits as art director were not long in coming. He was first credited as art director on the movie serial Don Winslow of the Navy (1942). He would receive credit as associate art director on the films Private Buckaroo (1942) and Invisible Agent (1942). He first worked with director Alfred Hitchcock on the film Saboteur (1942) as an associate art director. He would work again with the director on his film Shadow of a Doubt (1943).

Over the next several decades, Robert F. Boyle would serve as art director or production designer on several films, including Flesh and Fantasy (1943), Nocturne (1946), The Milkman (1950), Ma and Pa Go on Vacation (1953), It Came from Outer Space (1953), The Private War of Major Benson (1955), and Buchanan Rides Alone (1958). In 1959 Mr. Boyle received a production credit for the film that would change his career. Alfred Hitchcock's  North by Northwest brought him more attention that he had ever had, including a nomination for the Oscar for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Colour. Mr. Boyle would work with Alfred Hitchcock several again on the films The Birds (1963) and Marnie (1964). Over the next two decades Robert F. Boyle would work on such films as Cape Fear (1962), The Thrill of It All (1963), How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1967), In Cold Blood (1967), The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), Leadbelly (1976), Winter Kills (1979), Private Benjamin (1980), Table for Five (1983), Explorers (1985), and Dragnet (1987). In addition to North by Northwest, Mr. Boyle was nominated for Oscars for his work on the films Gaily, Gaily (1969), Fiddler on the Roof (1971), and The Shootist (1976).

Robert F. Boyle also worked in television, as a an art director on episodes of The Web, Casey Jones, The Donna Reed Show, and Alcoa Theatre.

If Robert F. Doyle is considered among the greatest art designers of all time, it is perhaps because of his amazing attention to detail. Indeed, when Mr. Doyle was working on In Cold Blood he used the actual Kansas farm house where the murders, portrayed in the both the movie and Truman Capote's book upon which the film was based, took place. Robert F. Doyle cold recreate 1900s Czarist Russia in Yugoslavia, as he had done with Fiddler on the Roof, or the North Carolina setting of Cape Fear using such diverse places as the Universal backlot, Ladd's Marina (in Stockton, California), and Savannah, Georgia). Not many art directors could capture the feel of a film so perfectly as Robert F. Doyle.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz Passes On

Tom Mankiewicz, who wrote the screenplays of James Bond films and two Superman films, passed on July 31 at the age of 68. He had recently gone through a bout with pancreatic cancer.
Tom Mankiewicz was born on July 1, 1942, in Los Angeles, California. He grew up in New York City. His mother was Rosa Stradner, an actress. His father was director Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz was a paternal uncle. He attended Philips Exter Academy and Yale University, where he majored in drama. He graduated from Yale in 1963. In 1960 he first worked on a feature film, as a production assistant on The Comancheros. In 1964 he worked as a production assistant on The Best Man. In 1966 he did his first writing in television, on an episode of Bob Hope Presents Chrysler Theatre. For television in the late Sixties he also wrote the speciasl Movin' With Nancy (1967), starring Nancy Sinatra, and The Beat of the Brass (1968), starring Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. His first screenplay for a feature film was for The Sweet Ride, released in 1968. He also wrote the book for the failed Broadway musical Georgy (1970), based on the film Georgy Girl.

In the Seventies Mr Mankiewicz wrote his first screenplay for a James Bond film, Diamonds Are Forever (1971). He would also write the screenplays for Live and Let Die (1973) and The Man with the Golden Gun (1974). He also wrote the screenplays for The Cassandra Crossing (1976) and The Eagle Has Landed (1976). He was brought in as a script doctor for Superman (1978) and Superman II (1980). Although he did not receive a writing credit on the films (despite having worked on them for more than a year), he was given a creative consultant. In television he wrote the telefilm Mother, Juggs, and Speed and episodes of Hart to Hart.

In the Eighties Tom Mankiewicz wrote the screenplays to Ladyhawke (1985) and Dragnet (1987). He also directed episodes of Hart to Hart and Tales From the Crypt, as well as the films Dragnet and Delirious (1991).

Tom Mankiewicz would write several good movies. Although Diamonds Are Forver is perhaps the least of the Sean Connery Bond films, he wrote what are possibly the two best Roger Moore Bond films: Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun. And while it is difficult to gauge his contributions to Superman and Superman II, from reports it would seem that he totally reworked both scripts, neither of which was filmable. He also wrote Ladyhawke, one of the best fantasy films of the Eighties. As a screenwriter Mr. Mankiewicz both wrote good screenplays and made important contributions to others.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Television Writer Bernie West Passes On

Bernie West, who began as an actor and went onto write for such shows as All in the Family and The Jeffersons, passed July 29 at the age of 92. The cause was complications from Alzheimer's disease.

Bernie West was born Bernard Wessler in New York City on May 30, 1918. He graduated from Baruch College in New York City. After graduation he was a stand up comic in night clubs. During World War II he did not have to serve in the military due to medical reasons, but performed in U.S.O. shows in the South Pacific. He also toured the Borsch Belt and other resort areas as part of the comedy team of Ross and West with Ross Martin (now best known as Artemus Gordon on The Wild Wild West). After Ross Martin left the team he was replaced by a college friend of Mr. West, Mickey Ross.

In 1956 he made his television debut on The Frankie Laine Show. He also made his Broadway debut that same year, in the play Bells Are Ringing. In the late Fifties he would also appear on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Hallmark Hall of Fame, and in a television adaptation of Bells Are Ringing.

In the Sixties Mr. West appeared on Broadway in All American, The Beauty Part, Children from Their Games, Poor Bitos, The Wayward Stork, and A Teaspoon Every Four Hours. On television he appeared on The Garry Moore Show, Car 64 Where Are You, The Trials of O'Brien, and Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C.

It was in 1971 that Bernie West, with his partner Mickey Ross, submitted a script to All in the Family. Mr. West would go onto write over thirty episodes for the show. He also served as a story editor on the show from 1972 to 1975 and as a producer from 1974 to 1975. With Mickey Ross and Don Nicholl, Mr. West created the All in the Family spin off The Jeffersons. He served as a producer on The Jeffersons from 1975 to 1978 and as script supervisor from 1976 to 1977. Along with Don Nicholl and Mickey Ross, Bernie west adapted the British series Man About the House as Three's Company in 1977. He served as a producer on the series from 1976 to 1980. He also produced the two spinoffs from Three's Company, The Ropers and Three's a Crowd.

Along with his partners Don Nichol and Mickey Ross, Bernie West was part of one of the most talented writing teams in television. The shows on which they worked are now regarded as classics. And they contributed several great episodes to those shows, including "The Bunkers and The Swingers" for All in the Family, which won an Emmy Award. Very few television writers have had as notable a career as Bernie West.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Mitch Miller Passes On

Mitch Miller, musician, music producer, and host of the TV series Sing Along with Mitch, passed Saturday at the age of 99. He had a short illness.

Mitch Miller was born on July 4, 1911 in Rochester, New York. As a young child Mr. Miller took piano lessons. It was in junior high that he discovered the oboe, which would become his instrument of choice for the rest of his life. He was only 14 years old when he was taking oboe lessons at Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester. At age 15 he played his first professional performance as a musician, with the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra. Mr. Miler also played the English horn and sang as well. Following his graduation from high school, he attended Eastman School of Music full time on a scholarship.

From 1930 to 1933 Mitch Miller was a member of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. He graduated from the Eastman School of Music in 1932. For a single season he played at the Metropolitan Museum of Art concerts in New York City. In 1935 he toured as part of the orchestra for Porgy and Bess. It was in 1935 that he was offered the position of soloist oboist with the CBS Symphony Orchestra, then directed by Bernard Hermann. He remained with the CBS Symphony Orchestra until 1947, at which point Mercury Records hired Mitch Miller as an A&R man for classical recordings at the company. It was while he was at Mercury that Mitch Miller made the shift from classical music to popular music. It was while at Mercury that Mitch Miller sought to recreate the sound a singer has in a ballroom. This spurred engineer Robert Fine to develop the echo chamber. It was also during this period that Mitch Miller also acted as musical director of Simon and Schuster's children's recording branch, Little Golden Records. While at Mercury Mr. Miller produced Frankie Laine (who would follow him when he left Mercury) and Patti Page.

Mitch Miller left Mercury Records for Columbia Records in 1950. At Columbia he worked with such artists as Rosemary Clooney, Johnny Ray, Tony Bennett, and Guy Mitchell all early in their careers. While an A&R man with Columbia, Mr. Miller produced several hits, including "Come On-a My House" by Rosemary Clooney, "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" by Jimmy Boyd, "Que Sera Era (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)" by Doris Day,and others. Despite producing a string of hits at Columbia, Mr. Miller would be a source of controversy among some artists at the label. While artists such as Frankie Laine and Tony Bennett credited Mitch Miler with much of their success, others resented him. Rosemary Clooney and Frank Sinatra were two artists who did not care for Mr. Miller. In fact, Frank Sinatra even blamed him for a brief decline in his popularity while at Columbia. Ultimately the singer would leave the label because of his disagreement with the producer. Many pop music purists would criticise Mitch Miller for his love of novelty tunes. Mr. Miller would also resist the rise of rock 'n' roll, passing up chances to sign both Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly. Despite this, his techniques would have a heavy influence on rock music, as well as some of the singers he produced (particularly Frankie Ray).

Mitch Miller would not simply have success as a producer at Columbia Records, but also as a recording artist. Starting in the early Fifties he made albums with Columbia resident band as "Mitch Miller and His Orchestra." He also produced albums with singers under the name "Mitch Miller and the Gang." It was in 1958 that he recorded his first "Sing Along with Mitch" album, which contained such old standards as "That Old Gang of Mine," "You Are My Sunshine," and "Don't Fence Me In," to which listeners were expected to sing along. The album proved so successful that Mr. Miller would produce several more "Sing Along..." albums.

The "Sing Along with.." albums would also lead to a TV series.Sing Along with Mitch debuted in 1961 on NBC. Its format was simple. Mitch Miller led a chorus of singers in the same old fashioned songs that had appeared on the albums. Before the songs was always encouragement from Mr. Miller to "sing along." The songs themselves would be accompanied by their lyrics superimposed on the screen and a bouncing ball to guide the viewer along (a technique first used by the Fleischer Brothers in their animated "Song Car-Tunes" series in the Twenties). Even in 1961 critics regarded Sing Along with Mitch as corny and old fashioned. In fact, Steve Allen brutally brutally  parodied Sing Along with Mitch on his show and Stan Freberg offered an even more savage parody of the show on on a February 1962 special on ABC, The Chow King Chow Mein Hour. Despite the many critics of Sing Along with Mitch, the show proved to be a huge success in the ratings. Mr. Miller would also be one of the first to break the colour barrier on American television by featuring young singer Leslie Uggams as a regular on the show. Today many regard Mitch Miller as the inventor of karaoke, even though it was the Fleischer Brothers who introduced the whole idea of singing along to words projected on a screen.

Unfortunately for Mitch Miller, the genre of music against which he had so often railed against, rock 'n' roll, would finally catch up with him. In 1964, with the British Invasion upon American shores, Sing Along with Mitch dropped in ratings and NBC cancelled the show. Following the cancellation of the show, Mitch Miller continued to make "Sing Along with..." albums and also conducted "sing along" tours. Eventually he would return to symphony work as a guest conductor of various orchestras.

Arguably Mitch Miller was one of the most influential music producers of all time. He produced a string of hits that made then minor label Mercury a major label and took Columbia from the fourth ranked label to the top ranked label. He also introduced many recording techniques, such as the echo chamber and sound effects (as in Frankie Laine's first hit, "Mule Train") that has had an influence on music ever since then. Even on television he was an innovator. While the idea of singing along to a bouncing ball dated back to the Twenties, Mr. Miller was one of the first television producers to integrate his cast, featuring Leslie Uggams on the show. It is safe to say music would not be the same today without Mitch Miller.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Knack.. and How to Get It (1965)

I have been in love with Swinging London since I was a child. In those years I have decided there are two quintessential films about that time and place. One is Blowup (1966). The other is The Knack...and How to Get It (1965). What is remarkable is that no two movies could be more different. Blowup is a very serious examination of the darker side of Swinging London. The Knack...and How to Get It is a comedic look at the Swinging London, more precisely the Sexual Revolution as it took place there.

That The Knack...and How to Get It could be considered one of the quintessential movies about Swinging London should come as no surprise. It was directed by Richard Lester, who also directed The Beatles' movies A Hard Day's Night (1964) and Help! (1965). Having captured the spirit of Swinging London so well in those two movies, it is to be expected that he should be able to catch in the film he made in between them.

The Knack...and How to Get It was based on the play by Ann Jelicose, although Mr. Lester made major changes in bringing it to the screen. Indeed, he brought the same style he used on The Beatles' movies to The Knack...and How to Get It. Characters break the fourth wall, and there are both humorous titles and some rather surreal sequences. In addition to these elements present in The Beatles movies, Mr. Lester added a Greek chorus of London's older generations, often expressing their disapproval of the younger generation.

The Knack...and How to Get It has two basic strengths. The first is its cast. Rita Tushingham, a mainstay in Swinging London, plays Nancy Jones, a naive Northern girl who finds herself in the big city for the first time. Michael Crawford, years before he originated the lead role in the musical version The Phantom of the Opera, played Colin, a rather high strung teacher. He is not only frustrated in his love life, but in his job as well.  Ray Brooks played Tolen, a womaniser who plays drums. Tolen may well be a Mod, although he is never called such in the film. He dresses impeccably and listens to Thelonius Monk. Of course, he also rides an Ariel Arrow--a motorcycle, which seems an odd choice for a Mod to ride (the motorscooter was their chosen mode of transport). Donal Donnelly plays Tom, a rather eccentric artist. Indeed, he cannot resist painting and redoing any place he lives in. The cast brings these four characters to life quite well, and it is through them that the changing sexual morality in England in the Sixties is examined.

The movie's strength is Richard Lester's direction. Any single frame of The Knack...and How to Get It could make a good photograph. What is more, the film is filled with the sort of surreal sequences, funny titles, and humorous asides found in both Beatles movies, although to a greater extreme than either. Indeed, although A Hard Day's Night is often cited as an influence on the TV series The Monkees and hence rock video, it seems to me that it The Knack...and How to Get It and Help! were far greater influences.

Added to the appeal of The Knack...and How to Get It is the fact that it was filmed on location in London. Colin's house was one located at 1 Melrose Terrace at Shepherd’s Bush Road in London.Victoria Coach Station on Buckingham Palace Road also puts in an appearance, as do some well known sites. There is Buckingham Palace and the Royal Albert Hall. Most of the street scenes were filmed along Shepherd's Bush Road and Notting Hill Gate.Seeing London as it was in the mid-Sixties is much of what makes the film enjoyable.

While The Knack...and How to Get It is one of my favourite films, I do have to warn viewers that this film is largely a product of its time. Although there is very little that I would consider objectionable in the film, I must admit that the film has some attitudes of the early to middle Sixties that most people (including myself) would find objectionable.

Although dated at times, The Knack...and How to Get It is a very enjoyable fun. It is funny, intelligent, and captures a time and place in a way few other films could.