Saturday, November 13, 2010

TV Writer Coleman Jacoby Passes On

Television writer Coleman Jacoby, who with his partner Arnie Rosen wrote material for Jackie Gleason and later wrote for The Phil Silvers Show, passed at the age of 95 on October 20, 2010. The cause was pancreatic cancer.

Coleman Jacoby was born Coleman Jacobs on April 16, 1915 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His mother died when he was still a child and his father deserted his family, so that Mr. Jacoby was placed in the Jewish Home for Babies and Children at age 7. He studied art and when he was 16 years old moved to New York City. He made a living painting murals for nightclubs and later started writing material for stand up comedians. It was gossip columnist Earl Wilson who suggested he change his surname to Jacoby because he thought it sounded well.

Coleman Jacoby broke into radio writing material for Bob Hope. He later wrote for Fred Allen and The Gay Nineties Review. Mr. Jacoby entered television writing for the legendary Your Show of Shows. He then teamed up with Ernie Rosen and together the two were hired to write material for Cavalcade of Stars, starring Jackie Gleason, on the DuMont network. Messrs. Jacoby and Rosen created many of Mr. Gleason's signature characters, including playboy Reginald Van Gleason III, Joe the Bartender, the Poor Soul, and others. It would be Messrs. Jacoby and Rosen who would team up Gleason and Carney, a partnership which lasted for decades. It was on the first skit featuring Reginald Van Gleason, who was being shot for a magazine advert for alcohol. In the role of the photographer, the two writers suggested Art Carney. Messrs Jacoby and Rosen continued to write for Jackie Gleason after he left DuMont for CBS.

Coleman Jacoby and Ernie Rosen would later write fifty episode of The Phil Silvers Show (AKA You'll Never Get Rich or Sgt. Bilko). The two wrote for Jackie Gleason and His American Scene Magazine in 1962. The partnership dissolved when Mr. Rosen became producer on The Carol Burnett Show. Afterwards Mr. Jacoby produced children's television specials with his wife.

Coleman Jacboy was a gifted television writer who would have an enormous impact on the history of television. Indeed, with Coleman Jacoby and Arnie Rosen, The Honeymooners might never have come to be, as it was the two writers who first team up Jackie Gleason and Art Carney, who would go onto create the legendary series. In addition to working with Mr. Gleason, Mr Jacoby also wrote for the classic Your Show of Shows and The Phil Silvers Show. He had a natural gift for comedy, adept at creating funny situations as well as writing one liners. Because of this, he created a good deal of classic television comedy.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Dino De Laurentiis R.I.P.

Movie producer Dino De Laurentiis passed on November 11, 2010 at the age of 91.

Dino De Laurentiis was born on August 8, 1919 in Torre Annunziata, Campania, Italy. The first film he produced was L'Amore Canta in 1941. During World War II he produced no films, but following the war he began movie production again with Aquila Nera (1946). It was early in his career that he began producing movies that would be part of the Italian New Wave, including Riso amaro (1949), Europa '51 (1952), Fellini's La Strada (1954), and Fellini's Le notti di Cabria (1957). Even early career as a producer, Mr. De Laurentiis' output could be diverse. While producing Italian neorealist films, he also produced comedies featuring Toto (Totò terzo uomo in 1951 and Totò a colori in 1952), as well as sword and sandal epics such as Ulysses (1954) and Attila (1954). Later in the Fifties Mr. De Laurentiis would expand into English language films, including an adaptation of War and Peace (1956) and This Angry Age (1958).

The Sixties would see Dino De Laurentiis continue to produce a variety of films. He produced such sword and sandal films as Maciste contro il vampiro (1961), Barabbas (1961), Le pillole di Ercole (1962).  He also continued to produce comedies, including The Fascist (1961), Il re di Poggioreale (1961), and Il diavolo (1963). He also produced spy and sci-fi films such as Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die (1966), Danger: Diabolik (1968), and Barbarella (1968). In the Seventies Dino De Laurentiis moved away from Italian language films and more into English language films. He produced the films Serpico (1973), Tough Guys (1974), Death Wish (1974), Mandingo (1975), Three Days of the Condor (1976), the ill fated and ill advised remake of King Kong (1976), The Brinks Job (1978), and the cult classic Flash Gordon (1980).

In the Eighties Dino De Laurentiis; output slowed, but he still produced several films,  including Ragtime (1981),  Conan the Barbarian (1982), The Dead Zone (1983), Dune (1984), Manhunter (1986-the first film to feature Hannibal Lecter), and King Kong Lives (1986). From the Nineties Mr. De Laurentiis produced such films as Army of Darkness (1992), U-571 (2000), Red Dragon (2002), and The Last Legion (2007).

Unlike many producers, Dino De Laurentiis produced a diverse number of films. He produced everything from neorealist classics (La Strada) to high camp (Barbarella). He also had his share of flops (Hurricane in 1979). He also produced films for which the critics lost no love (the most obvious example being his remake of King Kong). Regardless, he produced an extraordinarily large number of films, many of which are regarded as classics today.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Gene Shalit Retires from the Today Show

After 40 years with the show, movie critic 84 year old Gene Shalit retired from The Today Show. His run on the show is among the longest of anyone in broadcast history. Indeed, he may well have been with Today longer than any other on the air personality.

Prior to his stint with Today, Mr. Shalit had been the senior movie critic for Look magazine and wrote the "What's Happening" column for Ladies Home Journal. He joined Today in 1970, replacing Joe Garagiola at the desk in 1973. He also wrote a daily radio essay for,"Man About Anything," for NBC Radio from 1969 to 1982. Mr. Shalit did not simply review movies for Today in his "Critic's Corner" segment, but he also reviewed books and plays, as well as covering everything from professional baseball to passenger trains. Reportedly Gene Shalit is not entirely retiring, but is leaving Today  to "pursue other activities."

With his "Critic's Corner" on The Today Show, Gene Shalit became one of the most recognisable critics in the United States Even had it no been for his status as a regular contributor to Today, he would have been easily recognisable, with his curly hair, heavy glasses, handlebar moustache, and often colourful bowties.

My family having watched Today regularly when I was a child, Gene Shalit was the first movie critic to whom I was ever exposed. While I did not always agree with his reviews of movies (most notably, I disagreed with his review of Flash Gordon in 1980), I always understood why he liked or disliked any given film. And unlike some movie critics, Gene Shalit truly loves movies, a love which showed throughout every review he did for Today. He had an enthusiasm for film that only a few other critics possess. It is for this reason that I always enjoyed Mr. Shalit's reviews, as well as his extensive use of puns. While many of Mr. Shalit's puns were, well, bad, they were always funny.

Today will simply not be the same without Gene Shalit in his "Critic's Corner." And he will be a hard act to follow for any critic who takes his place. Gene Shalit was always one of the few critics whose opinion I value, and one of the few who seemed to share my love for film.

Monday, November 8, 2010


The past few weeks PBS aired the three episodes of Sherlock on their anthology series Masterpiece (under that show's Mystery! heading, once its own series). For those of you who have never heard of Sherlock, it is a show which updates Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson to the 21st century. It aired on BBC One in July and August. This October and November it made its American debut on Masterpiece.

Of course, Sherlock is not the first time that the characters of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson have been updated to contemporary times. There was a time when nearly every adaptation of Sherlock Holmes movie was set in the modern era; then again, given Arthur Conan Doyle wrote the last Holmes story in 1927 ("The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place", only those films made in the Thirties can truly be said to be anachronistic. It would not be until 20th Century Fox's classic adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939), starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce,. that Sherlock Holmes would be placed in the Victorian milieu with which we generally identify him. Surprisingly, Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce would also star in the first movie in which Holmes and Watson were truly updated to the contemporary era. Beginning with Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror (1942), the classic Universal Sherlock Holmes series placed the pair to the World War II era. Since that time nearly every adaptation of Sherlock Holmes, either to film or television, has placed the detective in the Victorian Era. In fact, Sherlock is the first TV show to place Holmes and Watson in a contemporary milieu.

Sherlock was developed by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, both veterans of Dr. Who. Mr. Moffat had also written for the series Coupling, while Mr. Gatiss has written for The League of Gentlmen and adapted H. G. Wells' First Men in the Moon for the BBC. It was during their train trips from London to Cardiff (where production for Dr. Who is located) that the two, both Holmes fans, discussed updating the detective. Finally they discussed idea with producer Sue Vertue, Mr. Moffat's wife. The series was produced by Hartswood Films, BBC Wales, and WGBH (the Boston PBS station responsible for Masterpiece). Benedict Cumberbatch, who has appeared in films from Amazing Grace (2006) to Creation (2009) was cast as Holmes. Martin Freeman, who had played Arthur Dent in the movie adaptation of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (2005), was cast as Dr. Watson.

For those who may be doubtful about the success of a Holmes updated to the 20th Century, there is no need for concern. In many respects Sherlock is more loyal to the Holmes of the Canon than most of the recent adaptations in the Victoria Era. Benedict Cumberland's Sherlock Holmes is bohemian in the same way the Holmes of the Canon was, his flat at 221B Baker Street is a bit of a mess, while Holmes himself clearly dresses for comfort and practicality rather than fashion. Like the Holmes of the Canon, the Holmes of Sherlock is also sorely lacking in interpersonal skills. He is cold and unemotional, displaying little concern for his fellow man. He is forthright in his words to the point of being rude. The only thing that keeps Holmes from being an egomaniac is that he is quite right that he has a keen intellect sharper than the average police officer. At the same time, however, there can be no doubt that Holmes is a brilliant detective. In an instant he can pick up on details that the average person misses, and in a matter of no time come to a conclusion based on those details. His skill at deduction is unmatched.

Just as the Holmes of Sherlock is very much in keeping with the Canon, so too is Mr. Freeman's Watson. Just as the Dr. John Watson of the Canon, the Watson of Sherlock served in the military and was wounded in battle. Just as the Watson of the Canon was intelligent and capable, so too is the Watson of the Canon. Both tend to be much more ethical and moral in their outlook than Holmes, and both have the compassion for their fellow man that Holmes sorely lacks. Just as the Dr. Watson of the Cannon published accounts of Holmes' adventures as short stories, the Dr. Watson of Sherlock chronicles the pair's adventures on his blog.

One of the taglines of the series is "Other detectives have cases, Sherlock Holmes has adventures," and in this respect the show is much loyal to the Canon than previous Holmes series. The three episodes aired so far adapted two of the classic Holmes stories, "A Study in Scarlet" and "The Dancing Men," while the third is an original episode that captures the flavour of Arthur Conan Doyle's stories perfectly. Each of the three stories feature a bizarre, seemingly unsolvable mystery, a nefarious plot, and villains who would make the average Bond villain seem pale in comparison. Over all, Sherlock does very well in capturing the bigger than life feel of Mr. Conan Doyle's work.

A second series of three episodes of Sherlock is set to air in the United Kingdom in autumn 2011. There is no word yet on when they will air Stateside (although that they will is pretty much a given). In the meantime the series is available to watch at PBS' Masterpiece site until December 7. The series is also available on DVD in both Regions 1 and 2. If you are a fan of Sherlock Holmes, a fan of good mysteries, or a fan of rousing adventure stories, I urge you to check Sherlock out. You won't be disappointed.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Jill Clayburgh R.I.P.

Actress Jill Clayburgh passed on November 5 at the age of 66. The cause was chronic leukaemia.

Jill Clayburgh was born in New York City on April 30, 1944. She attended Brearley School and graduated from Sarah Lawrence College with a degree in theatre in 1966. She made her debut on Broadway two years later in 1968 in The Sudden & Accidental Re-Education of Horse Johnson. Miss Clayburgh would appear again on Broadway several times, in the plays The Rothschilds (1972), Pippin (1972), Jumpers (1985), Design for Living (1984), A Naked Girl in the Appian Way (2005), and a revival of Barefoot in the Park (2007).

Jill Clayburgh made her television debut on an episode of N.Y.P.D. in 1968. Her film debut was in The Wedding Party (1969). In the Seventies she appeared in such films as The Telephone Book (1971), Portnoy's Complaint (1972), The Thief Who Came to Dinner (1973), The Terminal Man (1974), Gable and Lombard (1976), Silver Streak (1976), An Unmarried Woman (1978), Starting Over (1979--for which she was nominated for an Oscar), and It's My Turn (1980). She appeared in such shows as Medical Centre, Maude, and The Rockford Files.

In the Eighties Miss Clayburgh appeared in the movies First Monday in October (1981), I'm Dancing as Fast as I Can (1982), Shy People (1987), and Beyond the Ocean (1990). In the Nineties she appeared in the movies Pretty Hattie's Baby (1991), Whispers in the Dark (1992), Rich in Love (1992), Naked in New York (1993), Going All the Way (1997), and Fools Rush In (1997). She appeared on the shows Law and Order and Frasier. She was a regular on the show Everything's Relative. In the Naughts she appeared in the films Never Again (2001), Falling (2001), Running with Scissors (2006), and Love and Other Drugs (2010). In the Teens she will appear in the film Bridesmaids (2011), her final film. She was a regular on the shows Leap of Faith and Dirty Sexy Money. She appeared in the shows Ally McBeal, The Practice, and Nip/Tuck.