Saturday, June 4, 2011

A Shroud of Thoughts' 7th Anniversary

It was seven years ago today that I first began writing A Shroud of Thoughts. In the mid-Naughts, before the days of social networking sites, blogging had become a bit of a fad. I had a girlfriend who had multiple blogs and so I decided to start my own. In those early days I was not quite sure what I wanted A Shroud of Thoughts to be. There were pop culture oriented posts from the very beginning, but there were also personal posts as well. After several months, noticing that I wrote primarily about pop culture anyway, I did away with the personal posts and devoted A Shroud of Thoughts to pop culture in all its forms.

For those of you wondering where the blog gets its title, 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 evolved. In the early days posts tended to brief, but they soon grew. Eventually I would start writing series of articles that could (and have) last as long as a week. Another big change is that in the early days there were nearly no pictures featured in the blog. Fortunately Blogger made it easier to incorporate pictures into blogs. Even more recently the advent of YouTube and other video sharing sites made it possible for me to actually include video on A Shroud of Thoughts.

I must say that in many ways I am disappointed in this past year of A Shroud of Thoughts. First, it seems as if more often than not I was eulogising some celebrity who has died. While this is hardly my fault (if it was up to me many of them would live forever), eulogising celebrities does prevent me from writing happier, in depth posts on pop culture. Another problem is that I have written less this year than in the past few years. This was largely due to my job (which I no longer have--our office was made redundant), which was fairly busy much of this year. This prevented me from getting much writing done.

As I have done ever since A Shroud of Thoughts' first anniversary, I am including links to what I consider my best posts for the past year, from 5 June 2010 to today. I generally list them in chronological order, but this year I decided to list my three favourite posts first and then the rest. So here are my three favourite posts for the past year:

An Interview with Actress Scarlett O'Neil 01/04/2011

The Avengers Turns 50 07/01/2011

Happy 100th Birthday, Vincent Price 27/05/2011

And here are the rest!

Kids' Afternoon Programming on American Television Part One 11/06/2010

Kids' Afternoon Programming on American Television Part Two 12/06/2011

Kids' Afternoon Programming on American Television Part Three 13/06/2010

Television Series Backdoor Pilots 28/06/2010

In Defence of "The Star Spangled Banner" 04/07/2010

Homosexuality and Hollywood 09/07/2010

1961: The Year Anime Arrived in America 25/07/2010

The Knack...and How to Get It 01/08/2010

The CBS Late Movie 13/08/2010

British Rock Musicals of the Sixties 21/08/2010

Defining Reality Television 02/09/2010

In Honour of John Lennon's 70th Birthday 09/10/2010 This one is historic as the first blog post I signed my given name to!

Lights Out 26/10/2010

The Horror Movies of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford 30/10/2010

Little Red Riding Hood 14/11/2010

Miscast: How Some Classic Films Could Have Been Very Different 21/11/2010

Jimmy the Raven: Frank Capra's Avian Star 11/12/2010

The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late) 23/12/2010

Facebook Blows It Again with Their New Profile 13/01/2011

In Defence of Remakes 06/03/2011

St. Patrick's Day Movies 17/03/2011

When Stars Go Bad 22/03/2011

Sir Dirk Bogarde's 90th Birthday 28/03/2011

The 10th Anniversary of Joey Ramone's Death 15/04/2011

Every Movie is NOT Like Funny Girl 21/04/2011

Marilyn Monroe Turns 85 01/06/2011

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Late Great James Arness

James Arness, who played Marshall Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke and the title creature in The Thing (1951), passed today at the age of 88.

James Arness was born James Aurness in Minneapolis, Minnesota on 26 May 1923. He was followed three years later, Peter Aurness, who would also become a famous actor under the name Peter Graves. He was a freshman at Beloit College in Wisconsin when he was drafted into the Army and assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division. He was one of the men who made the landing at Anzio, Italy in 1944. Later he was on patrol and walked into a German machine gun nest. The resulting fire fight resulted in wounds to Mr. Arness's lower right leg. He spent months at a stateside hospital before he was honourably discharged in January 1945.

At the suggestion of his brother Peter, James Aurness attended school to become a radio announcer. He would be a disc jockey for only a few months to accompany a friend to California. He had only meant to stay a short while, but eventually decided to remain to take up acting. He trained in acting at the Bliss-Hayden Theatre in Beverly Hills, California. It was there that he was discovered by his agent.

Mr. Aurness would make his screen début in The Farmer's Daughter in 1947. He had small roles in such films as Battleground (1949) and Wagon Master (1950). Fittingly enough, he made his  début on television in a Western, in a 1950 episode of The Lone Ranger. For the next several years James Arness (he had simplified the spelling of his last name) would appear in such films as Stars in My Crown (1950), Double Crossbones (1951), Carbine Williams (1952), Horizons West (1952), The Veil of Baghdad (1953), Her Twelve Men (1954), and Flame of the Islands (1956). He would become a favourite of science fiction fans, appearing in two classic sci-fi films: The Thing From Another World and Them! (1954).  Under contract to John Wayne's production company, James Arness would appear in four films with The Duke: Big Jim McClain (1952), Island in the Sky (1953), Hondo (1953), and The Sea Chase  (1955).

Even though it was the role for which he was best known, James Arness was reluctant to test for the role of Marshall Matt Dillon in the television version of the hit radio show Gunsmoke. He worried that starring in a TV series could hamper his career in motion pictures. Even after CBS awarded him the role, James Arness was hesitant to take it. It was John Wayne himself who urged him to take the role, pointing out that it was a big break. Mr. Wayne would even introduce the first episode of Gunsmoke.

Gunsmoke was not the first adult Western. When it premiered in 1955 it was beaten to that title by The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, which had premiered four days before it. But Gunsmoke would prove to be the more successful of the two and as a result the more influential of the two. Gunsmoke would run for twenty seasons, a record matched only by Law and Order and surpassed by The Simpsons.  James Arness would appear in one of many cameos by television Western stars in the Bob Hope comedy Alias Jesse James (1959).

Following the epic run of Gunsmoke, James Arness would appeaer as a mountain man in the television movie The Macahans. He also starred in the short lived Western television seris How the West Was Won and the short lived police drama McClain's Law. He would appear in the mini-series The Alamo: Thriteen Days to Glory, a television adaptation of Red River and, starting in 1987, five Gunsmoke televison movies.

James Arness will forever be rememberd as Matt Dillon. And while that role occupied a large portion of his career, it must be pointed out that it was not the full extent of his career. If James Arness is fondly remembered by science fiction fans for his role in The Thing, it is not simply because he would later become Matt Dillon, but because he played the role so well. James Arness was flexible enough an actor that he could be an Indian scout, a pilot, or a mountain man and be convincing as all of them.

Of course, it must also be pointed that Mr. Arness must have had an enormous sense of commitment. After all, he starred on Gunsmoke for twenty years at a time even then when actors would leave series after five or seven years. He was definitely a consummate professional. For James Arness it was not the size of his own role that was important, but the show itself. He urged the writers and the producers to take the spotlight off Matt Dillon so that the other regular characters and even guest stars could have their own episodes. On the set of Gunsmoke, Mr. Arness was known for his easy going manner, his sense of humour, and a fondness for practical jokes.

Indeed, it must be pointed out that James Arness was not only a hero on screen, but off screen as well. During World War II he was awared the Bronze Star, Medals, the World War II Victory Medal and the Combat Infantryman Badge. He was by all accounts a quiet man who genuinely cared about people. In fact, it is a mark of his greatness that in the event of his demise Mr. Arness had written a letter to his fans for his wife to post to his official web site in the event of his demise. Sadly, that letter appeared today. So great was James Arness that he thought of the fans who had supported him in his career in the event of his death. Until the very end he was a total gentleman.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

"Love is the Thing" by The 88

Have you ever had a song get stuck in your head? Right now I have "Love is the Thing" by The 88 stuck in my head. The song is somewhat historic as The 88 actually recorded it on an IPhone, of all things. Here is a video clip of The 88 performing the song live in Los Angeles.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Marilyn Monroe Turns 85

It was several years ago when I rented Some Like It Hot (1960) that my mother mentioned Marilyn Monroe was her favourite actress (well, besides Maureen O'Hara anyway). This was a fact that I had not known about my mother all those years. That having been said, my mother was not alone in favouring Marilyn. Marilyn was the favourite actress of many people. Indeed, such is her status in pop culture that it must be said she went beyond being a legend long ago. Marilyn Monroe is an icon.

It was 85 years ago today that Marilyn Monroe was born Norma Jeane Mortenson in Los Angeles, California. She was baptised Norma Jeane Baker, the name she would use for most of her life. As an adult she would become a model, and it was her modelling career that brought her to the attention of 20th Century Fox. Born Norma Jeane Mortenson, christened Norma Jeane Baker, it would be at this point that she would take the name with which she would become famous. She took her stage from Marilyn Miller, the Broadway actress of the Twenties, and her mother's maiden name, Monroe. Unfortunately, Marilyn would not meet with success immediately. Her  film début in The Shocking Miss Pilgrim (1947) was the first of several uncredited or extremely small roles in films. Fortunately, 1950 would bring Marilyn success at last, appearing in a small, comedic role in All About Eve and as a criminal's mistress in The Asphalt Jungle. From that point onwards Marilyn's star would continue to rise. Indeed, it can be argued that it has continued to rise ever since her untimely death on 5 August 1962.

Whether or not Marilyn's death contributed to her continuing popularity is debatable. It must be pointed out that Marilyn Monroe was still phenomenally popular at the time of her death. I rather suspect that if her career had stalled (and it is quite possible it could have), she would have still continued to be an extremely popular actress, much in the same way the recently deceased Elizabeth Taylor had. I very seriously doubt, then, that Marilyn's death at such a young age is very much of a contributing factor to her continued popularity. Instead, I think the popularity of Marilyn Monroe after her death is largely due to the same things that made her popular in her death.

There can be no doubt that much of Marilyn's popularity even today was due to her obvious sex appeal. Marilyn Monroe was not necessarily the most beautiful actress to ever appear on screen (that may well have been Audrey Hepburn or Grace Kelly), nor did she necessarily have the best figure of any movie actress (that may well have been Ava Gardner), but she was certainly among the most sexiest women to appear on screen. Beyond a beautiful face and a fantastic figure, Marilyn knew how to use what Providence had given her. She knew how to move, how to pose, how to even glance to maximise her sexuality. When Marilyn Monroe walked, men would turn their heads.

Sex appeal alone does not account for Marilyn's popularity when she was alive and her continued popularity in death. While it may be cliché to say so, it would seem much of Marilyn's success was due to the vulnerability she projected both on screen and in her personal life.  Marilyn appeared so vulnerable both on screen and off that men and even women wanted to protect her, even to save her. It was that vulnerability that not only made Marilyn non-threatening to other women in a way other sex symbols never had been, but also made her sex appeal relatively safe at a time when sex in American society was largely demonised. Marilyn was not a femme fatale who might kill one in his sleep. She was not a seductress who might lure men away from their wives. Instead Marilyn Monroe was an innocent, barely aware of her own sex appeal, whom men and women both wanted to care for and protect.

Beyond Marilyn Monroe's sex appeal and vulnerability, however, one must also take into account her sheer energy on screen. Perhaps it was her combination of sexuality and vulnerability, perhaps it was due to some other factors, but Marilyn Monroe lit up the screen with the intensity of thousands of light bulbs. She could easily dominate any scene in which she appeared, to the point that one of the greatest actors of all time, Lord Laurence Olivier, was certain she stole every scene in which they both appeared in The Prince and the Showgirl (1957). When Marilyn Monroe appeared on screen, she took the lion's share of the audience's attention. Only a very few actors could actually compete with her when it came to dominating a scene (the recently deceased Jane Russell being one of them).

Even if Marilyn Monroe had lived, even if her career had entirely stalled, even if she had ceased acting, I suspect these qualities--the sexuality, the vulnerability, and the sheer energy--would have insured that her popularity would never had faded even she had not died so young. I rather suspect that regardless of what happened in her career, Marilyn Monroe would have remained a popular icon throughout her lifetime. Strangely enough, Marilyn's death could be used as evidence of such. Her passing was one of those in which years later individuals would ask, "Where were you when you learned Marilyn Monroe had died?" It is a question generally reserved for heads of state. similar political figures, and Beatle John Lennon. That this question is asked by older people of each other demonstrates Marilyn Monroe in her own lifetime had gone beyond a mere actress. In her own life she had become an icon.