Friday, March 9, 2012

The Late Great Sheldon Moldoff

Golden Age comic book artist Sheldon Moldoff, who drew superheroes from the original Green Lantern to Batman, passed on 29 February 2012 at the age of 91. The cause was complications from kidney failure.

Mr. Moldoff was born on 14 April 1920 in New York City, New York. He took to drawing early and was fortunate enough to live in the same apartment as fellow future comic book artist Bernard Baily (co-creator of The Spectre). One day Sheldon Moldoff was drawing with chalk on the sidewalk when the slightly older Mr. Baily came upon him. He asked the young Mr. Moldoff if he would like to learn to draw cartoons. Sheldon Moldoff took Bernard Baily up on his offer. By the time that Sheldon Moldoff was 17 he was already contributing freelance work to Detective Comics Inc. (one of the three related companies, along with National Comics Inc. and All-American Comics Inc., that would evolve into DC Comics). In fact, his first work appeared in the historic Action Comics #1 (June 1938), which featured the first appearance of Superman. Mr. Moldoff's contribution to the historic magazine was a sport filler on the inside back cover.

Sheldon Moldoff would go onto contribute not only to Detective Comics Inc., but also to All-American Comics Inc. and National Comics Inc. as well. In fact, he would create the iconic cover of Flash Comics #1 (January 1940) for All American Comics Inc., featuring the original Flash catching a bullet. He would also draw the first cover to feature the original Green Lantern, All-American Comics (April 1940). At Detective Comics Inc. he created the character of The Black Pirate, who first appeared in Action Comics #23 (April 1940).  One of Mr. Moldoff's greatest claims to fame would begin with Flash Comics#4 (April 1940). It was with that issue that he became the primary artist on the "Hawkman" feature. Drawing the character in the style of "Flash Gordon" cartoonist Alex Raymond, he became so identified with the character that many thought he co-created Hawkman with Gardner Fox rather than Dennis Neville.  For rival comic book company Quality Comics, Mr. Moldoff worked on Kid Eternity.

In 1944 Sheldon Moldoff was drafted in the United States Army. He was demobilised in 1946. Unfortunately, he was unable to find any work at National Periodical Publications (essentially the modern day DC Comics), so he sought work elsewhere. At Fawcett he worked on Captain Midnight, Tex Ritter, and Don Winslow of the Navy. It would also be for Fawcett that he would create one of the earliest horror comic books, This Magazine is Haunted. At E. C. Comics he once more worked with Gardner Fox, this time on the "Moon Girl" feature. At Pines he worked on "The Black Terror" feature. 

After he was demobilised in 1946, Mr. Moldoff went to work for Fawcett (where he did Captain Midnight, Tex Ritter,  Don Winslow of the Navy,and This Magzine is Haunted), Pines (where he worked on Tigra), and E. C. Comics (Moon Girl). In 1953 he became one of Bob Kane's ghost artists on "Batman." Working on the "Batman" feature when it was at its most bizarre in the Fifties, Mr. Moldoff would take part in the creation of such characters as Mr. Freeze (originally Mr. Zero--he was renamed for the TV series), Bat-Mite, and Ace the Bat Hound. In addition to working on the "Batman" feature, he would also do storyboards for Bob Kane's syndicated animated series Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse. With writer Robert Kanigher he created the supervillain Poison Ivy. Mr. Moldoff worked on "Batman" until 1967. In the process he became one of the artists most identified with the character (along with Dick Sprang), although because he was a ghost no one would know about his work on the character until much later.

Mr. Moldoff also did work on the "Sea Devils," "Superboy," and "the Legion of Superheroes" for National Periodical Publications. He created the syndicated animated series Marco Polo Jr. in 1972 and served as its producer and storyboard director. Mr. Moldoff also did work for the Big Boy restaurant chain, the Red Lobster restaurant chain, and Blockbuster Video.

Although he now best known as one of Bob Kane's many ghost artists on "Batman," Sheldon Moldoff's best work was arguably at All-American Comics Inc. On the "Hawkman" feature he created art that was very much like that of Alex Raymond. Mr. Moldoff's Hawman was fluid and dynamic, with plenty of detail. He brought the same sensibility to his covers for All-American Comics and Flash Comics. Some of the most memorable images of the original Green Lantern and the original Flash were created by Sheldon Moldoff. For "Batman" Mr. Moldoff had to emulate Bob Kane's somewhat cartoony style and he did so admirably. Like fellow "Batman" ghost artist Dick Sprang, Sheldon Moldoff's work could be seen even when it was signed "Bob Kane." There was a simple elegance to Mr. Moldoff's Batman, a charm that was sometimes lacking Bob Kane's early work on the character (which was rather brief).

Here I must also say that Sheldon Moldoff was more than a great artist. He was also a consummate gentleman. While I never got to meet Mr. Moldoff, from everyone who did meet him I have heard that he was one of the nicest men one could meet. He always had time for his fans, who knew him by his nickname "Shelly." Sheldon Moldoff was a great artist who created the image of Batman that many Baby Boomers still carry in their heads to this day. He was also one of the nicest men to ever work in the comic book business.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

TV Writer Richard Carpenter R.I.P.

Richard "Kip" Carpenter, who created the cult shows Catweazle and Robin of Sherwood, passed on 26 February 2012 at the age of 78. The cause was a pulmonary embolism.

Richard Carpenter was born 14 August 1933 in Kings Lynn, Norfolk. As a child Mr. Carpenter was interested in both the works of Shakespeare and Greek mythology. He studied the history of art at an art school in Cambridge. He did his national service in the British Army. After his national service, Richard Carpenter attended the Old Vic Theatre School in London. He worked in repertory theatre before making his television debut in an episode of The Silver Sword in 1957. In the late Fifties he appeared in such shows as Big Guns, The Black Arrow, Armchair Theatre, The Lost King, and BBC Sunday Night Theatre. He was a regular on Knight Errant Limited as Peter Parker (not to be confused with the Marvel Comics character of the same name) and on The Citadel as Dr. Philip Hope.

In the Sixties Mr. Carpenter appeared in such shows as Hancock, ITV Television Playhouse, Suspense (the BBC series), Espionage, ITV Play of the Week, Gideon C.I.D., ITV Play of the Week, The Baron, Out of the Unknown, Dixon of Dock Green, and Z Cars. He appeared in such films as Damn the Defiant (1962), Tarnished Heroes (1962), The Password is Courage (1962), Wings of Mystery (1963), Escape by Night (1964), and The Terrornauts (1967).

It was in 1970 that Richard Carpenter created the children's show Catweazle. Catweazle followed the misadventures of an 11th Century magician (the title character) who finds himself transported to the 20th Century. Catweazle received critical acclaim and became a popular success, so much that Mr. Carpenter would retire from acting to write full time. There were two series of Catweazle. Following Catweazle, Richard Carpenter became the lead writer on the ITV series The Adventures of Black Beauty. For the remainder of the Seventies he would write for such series as The Ghosts of Motley Hall and Famous Five. In 1979 he created the series Dick Turpin, very loosely based the historical highwayman of the same name. Dick Turpin had two series.

Richard Carpenter followed Dick Turpn with another swashbuckling series, Smuggler. Set in 1802, it followed the adventures of a former British naval officer turned smuggler. There was one series of Smuggler,, which aired in 1981. Following Smuggler Richard Carpenter wrote for the series The Baker Street Boys, about a group of street urchins who helped Sherlock Holmes. There was one series of The Baker Street Boys. It was in 1984 that Richard Carpenter created what was his greatest international success. Robin of Sherwood would not only become a hit series in the United Kingdom, but in the United States and Canada as well. Starring Michael Praed and later Jason Connery, the series blended the Robin Hood legend with paganism and real life history. Robin of Sherwood ran for three series and ended only because Goldcrest (who produced the show with HTV) had a slump in their feature film productions arm.

For the rest of the Eighties Richard Carpenter wrote for the shows Adventurer (a follow up to Smuggler), Hannay, and Pulaski: The TV Detective. In the Nineties, Mr.Carpenter wrote the series The Borrowers, The Return of the Borrowers, a revival of The Famous Five, and The Scarlet Pimpernel.

I do not think it would be an exaggeration to say that Richard "Kip" Carpenter was one of the greatest television writers and producers of all time. He created television shows that were intelligent yet at the same time exciting. His speciality was in focusing on outsiders, individuals who must largely lead their lives outside society. Examples are not hard to find in his series: Catweazle (tossed into a time not his own), Dick Turpin (an outlaw), Robin Hood (another outlaw), and the Borrowers (the six inch high Clock family driven from their own home). While Mr. Carpenter's series at times involved fantastic elements (the magic of Catweazle and Robin of Sherwood, as well as the six inch Borrowers themselves), they were very often set in worlds that were all too real. In the end Richard Carpenter created intelligent shows that would last and would appeal to in people of all ages, even if in some cases they had been written for children. To this day and I have no doubt in the future people will be watching Catweazle and Robin of Sherwood.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Late Great Robert B. Sherman

Robert B. Sherman, who with his brother Richard M. Sherman wrote songs for movies ranging from Mary Poppins to The Tigger Movie, died on 6 March 2012 at the age of 86.

Robert B. Sherman was born in Brooklyn, New York on 19 December 1925. His father was songwriter Al Sherman. His mother was Rosa Dancis, who appeared in silent films. His brother Richard was born two years later. While Mr. Sherman was still young the family moved to Southern California. He attended high school in Beverly Hills, California. During World War II he enlisted in the United States Army at the age of 17.  He received several medals, including two Battle Stars, a Combat Infantryman Badge, an American Campaign Medal, a World War II Victory Medal, a European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, a Good Conduct Medal, and a Purple Heart. The Purple Heart he received when he was shot in the knee. He recuperated in Taunton, Somerset and Bournemounth, Dorset. It was during this period that he became fascinated with English culture.

Following World War II both Robert and Richard Sherman attended Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York. Robert majored in English Literature, while his brother Richard majored in Music. After graduation the two brothers shared an apartment in Los Angeles Robert wrote stories and novels (in fact, he completed two novels--The Best Estate and Music and Candy & Painted Eggs). Richard wrote songs. It was their father who bet them that they could not team up and write a song that a kid would buy. The two brothers then teamed up to write a song. That song, "Gold Can Buy Anything (but Love)" was recorded by Gene Autry.

In 1958 Robert Sherman founded a music publishing company, Music World Corporation. It was also in 1958 that the Sherman Brothers would have their first real hit, "Tall Paul," sung by Annette Funicello. Their success brought them to the attention of Walt Disney. The Sherman Brothers composed additional music for the Disney series Zorro and then songs for The Parent Trap (1961), Big Red (1962), Summer Magic (1963), and The Sword in the Stone (1963). They composed the song "It's a Small World (After All)" for the Disney exhibit at the 1964 New York World's Fair in 1964. It would later be used for the attraction "It's a Small World" at Dinseyland, Disney World, and other Disney resorts.  It would also become one of their most famous songs.

Nineteen sixty four would also see the release of what was perhaps their greatest accomplishment, the music and lyrics for Mary Poppins (1964). The movie included some of their most famous compositions, "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious", and "Chim Chim Cher-ee (which won the Oscar for Best Song).  They also won the Oscar for Best Score for Mary Poppins. Released the same year, The Misadventures of Merlin Jones also included songs by the Sherman Brothers.

The Sherman Brothers would go onto write songs for the "Winnie the Pooh" shorts, The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin (1967), The Jungle Book (1967), and The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band (1968). The first movie not produced by Disney for which they provided music and lyrics was Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in 1968. They went onto write songs for Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971), Snoopy Come Home (1972), Charlotte's Web (1973), Tom Sawyer (1973), Huckleberry Finn (1974), The Slipper and the Rose: The Story of Cinderella (1976--Margaret Lockwood's final movie appearance), The Magic of Lassie (1978), Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland (1989), and The Tigger Movie (2000).

The Sherman Brothers also wrote songs outside of films. They composed the music and lyrics for the Broadway play Over Here (1974). They also composed several pop songs, including the hit "You're Sixteen." 

With his brother Richard, Robert B. Sherman had a gift for creating lively songs that stuck easily in the mind. Indeed, several of their songs have become standards over the years, including nearly everything from Mary Poppins, "The Bare Necessities" from The Jungle Book, the "Winnie the Pooh" theme, "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" from the movie of the same name, "Let's Get Together" from The Parent Trap, and many more. It is very doubtful that anyone born in the second half of the Twentieth Century did not hear several of the Sherman Brothers' songs as children. In fact, while Rogers and Hammerstein may be better known, I rather suspect will be Robert B. Sherman and Richard M. Sherman who will have the more lasting success.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Jan Berenstain R.I.P.

Jan Berenstain, who with her husband Stan created the popular series of "Berenstain Bears" children's books, passed on 24 February 2012 at the age of 88.

Jan Berenstain was born Jan Grant on 26 July 1923. It was on her first day at the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art that she met Stan Berenstain. At the time they were both 18.  During World War II Miss Grant served as a draftsman in the Army Corps of Engineers and as an aircraft riverter. Mr. Berenstain served as a medical illustrator in an Army hospital. Following World War II they married in 1946. It was also following World War II that the Berenstains started submitting gag cartoons to such publications as Colliers and The Saturday Evening Post. Eventually they would illustrate covers for Colliers.

The Berenstains published their first book in 1951. The Berenstain's Baby Book was written for parents who were either expecting or already had a baby. From 1953 to 1956 they produced the comic strip Sister. From 1956 to 1989 the Berenstains produced the cartoon It's All in the Family for McCall's. Both It's All in the Family and their earlier cartoons would be collected into books. It was in 1962 that they published their first "Berenstain Bears" book, The Big Honey Hunt.  Their first editor at Random House was none other than Dr. Seuss himself, Theodore Geisel. The Berenstains credited him with achieving the style of the books, which consisted of simple language and simple illustrations. In all over 300 "Berenstain Bears" books would be published.

The Berenstain Bears would expand beyond the printed page. In 1985 a Christmas special was produced, The Berenstain Bears' Christmas Tree. This would be followed by four more specials and two regular television series. A feature film is still in pre-production.

There can be no argument that with her husband Stan Berenstain, Jan Berenstain created one of the most successful children's book franchises of all time. With over 300 copies in print, the "Berenstain Bears" books have sold literally in the millions. Their success is perhaps threefold. First, as Theodore Geisel directed the Berenstains, the text and illustrations are very simple. This made the "Berenstain Bears" books very easy to read for beginning readers. Second, each book dealt with basic life lessons, such as being kind to others or keeping one's room clean. There can be no doubt that this made the books popular with parents. Third, the stories in the books are all told with a very gentle sense of humour. I have to confess, both as a child and as an adult I have never found any of the "Berenstain Bears" books to be overly preachy.

While best known for the "Berenstain Bears," it must be kept in mind that Jan and Stan Berenstain were not only children's books authors. They were also  very prolific cartoonists. Indeed, It's All in the Family ran in McCalls  for decades. Jan and Stan Berenstain's cartoons were very funny. They often possessed a wry sense of humour and plenty of wordplay. I have to wonder that if the Berenstain Bears had no become a phenomenon that they would not have become better known as cartoonists. They actually did some of the best work in cartooning in the mid-20th Century. Regardless, as both children's author and a cartoonist for adults, Jan Berenstain will be remembered.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

A Blog You Must Read: Culture in a Cold Climate

There are probably no more ardent readers of blogs than we bloggers ourselves. This all means that it is usually up to we bloggers to point out blogs of note that people should read. That's what I am taking time to do now. If you are not already following Culture in a Cold Climate, then I really think you should be.

Culture in a Cold Climate is written by my friend Lyndsy. Lyndsy has an intelligent and witty, yet brisk and very readable writing style. In Culture in a Cold Climate she explores the beauty of Northern Ireland in its natural surrounding and the many old structures there. Her posts are detail the various places around Northern Ireland, often going into the history of those places.  Her post are also usually accompanied by numerous photographs of these places. If you love the beauty of nature and love such architecture as churches, castles, and manor houses, you'll enjoy Culture in a Cold Climate very much.