Friday, May 18, 2012

The 100th Anniversary of Perry Como's Birth

It was 100 years ago today that Perry Como was born in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania. He made his first recording in May 1936 with the Ted Weems Orchestra. The song was "You Can't Pull the Wool Over My Eyes."  The final, original album he recorded for RCA Victor, Today, was released in 1987. He hosted his first radio show, Columbia Presents Como, in 1943. His last radio show, Weekend with Perry, debuted in 1989 and he hosted it until his death in 2001. Perry Como had his own television show for fifteen years, after which he continued to do periodic television specials for another 31 years. All in all, he had a remarkably long and very successful career.

In honour of Perry Como, then, here is his version of "Some Enchanted Evening," which went to #1 on the Billboard singles chart for five weeks in 1949

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Digby Wolfe R.I.P.

Digby Wolfe, an actor who appeared in films and television and a writer who helped develop Laugh-In, passed on 2 May 2012 at the age of 82. The cause was lung cancer.

Digby Wolfe was born in London on 4 June 1929. He was 15 years old when he left school and took a job as an assistant scene designer. He made his film debut in The Weaker Sex in 1948. From the late Forties into the Fifties he appeared in such films as The Outsider (1948), Adam and Evelyn (1949), Stage Fright (1950), Little Big Shot (1952), The Final Twist (1953), and The Big Money (1958). In 1957 he was a regular on the series Sheep's Clothing.

In 1959 he moved to Australia where he was the host of the variety shows Revue '61 and Revue '62.  He also wrote for the BBC's satirical comedy show That Was the Week That Was. In 1963 he moved to Los Angeles, California. He appeared on such shows as The Munsters, The Farmer's Daughter, I Dream of Jeannie, and The Monkees. He provided the voice of Ziggy in Disney's animated version of The Jungle Book. He wrote an episode of The Wild Wild West ("Night of the Cadre"). He met producer George Schlatter at a cocktail party. He would help Mr. Schlatter develop Laugh In and wrote frequently for the show. It was also Mr. Wolfe who came up with the name "Laugh-In."

Mr. Wolfe would go onto write several television specials, including Sid & Marty Kroft's Fol-de-Rol, The Shirley MacLaine Special: Where Do We Go from Here?, and The Goldie Hawn Special. He also taught at the Watts Writers Workshop and at the University of New Mexico.

While the matter of who actually created Laugh-In has always been a matter of debate, there can be no doubt that Digby Wolfe made very significant contributions to the show. In fact, it is notable that the previous show that Laugh-In resembled the most was That Was the Week That Was (both the British and American versions).  Both shows were fast paced, satirical programmes (although TW3 was more pointedly satirical) that tended to defy the establishment. The primary differences between the two is that Laugh-In was perhaps more fast paced and was a pure comedy show (there were no real musical segments). Regardless, Laugh-In shows that it was influenced by That Was the Week That Was and that influence most likely came from Digby Wolfe.

Regardless of Mr. Wolfe's role in Laugh-In, he was a very funny man, both as a writer and an actor. Even in small bits he could get laughs, as in The Monkees episode "Monkees Get Out More Dirt," in which he plays the "Man with a Paper" in April Conquest coin operated laundry. He was also funny as the director of a children's show on The Munsters. Digby Wolfe was a man with a natural gift for comedy. He had perfect timing and a very expressive face. Both as a comedy actor and comedy writer, Digby Wolfe was very talented.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Yale Summers Passes On

Yale Summers, an actor perhaps best known as conservationist Jack Dane on Daktari, passed on 6 May 2012 at the age of 78. The cause was chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Yale Summers was born on 26 July 1933 in New York City. He earned a bachelors degree in business at Cornell University. Following his graduation he served in the United States Army, where he attained the rank of lieutenant.

Mr. Summers made his film debut in a bit part in Mad Dog Coll (1961). He made his television debut in a 1962 episode of The Dick Powell Theatre. Throughout the Sixties he would guest star on such shows as The Gallant Men, Cheyenne, The Untouchables, The Donna Reed Show, Channing, The Lieutenant, My Favourite Martian, The Outer Limits, 12 O'Clock High, The Bold Ones, and Land of the Giants. From 1964 to 1965 he was a regular on General Hospital. It was in 1966 that he was cast as Jack Dane on Daktari. He remained with the show until 1968. In the Seventies Yale Summers appeared on such shows as The Smith Family, O'Hara-U.S. Treasury, McMillan & Wife, My Three Sons, The Blue Knight, Quincy M.E., and 240-Robert. From 1972 to 1974 he was a regular on Return to Peyton Place.

Yale Summers was very active in the Screen Actors Guild. He was a founding member of the Screen Actors Guild Awards Committee. He served as a producer of the Screen Actors Guild Awards ceremony from 1995 to 2008. He was also very active in the the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Maurice Sendak R.I.P.

Maurice Sendak, the children's author best known for Where The Wild Things Are, passed on 8 May 2012 at the age of 83. The cause was complications from a stroke.

Maurice Sendak was born in Brooklyn, New York on 10 June 1928. As a child he read vociferously and he took to drawing while quite young. As a child he was also frequently ill and experienced the Great Depression and then his extended family in Poland dying in the Holocaust. Mr. Sendak decided to become an illustrator when he was only twelve and saw Fanstasia. He was still a teenager when he first worked professionally as an artist. He drew backgrounds for the Mutt & Jeff comic strip for All-American Comics (one of the companies that would become DC Comics).  In 1947 he illustrated a textbook titled Atomics for the Millions by Dr. Maxwell Leigh Eidinoff.

When he was 20 years old he got a job at F. A. O. Schwartz creating window displays. The store's children's book buyer introduced him to Ursula Nordstrom, the children's book illustrator at Harper & Row. As a result Mr. Sendak illustrated his first children's book, The Wonderful Farm by Marcel Aymé, published in 1951. He would go onto illustrate such children's books as A Hole is to Dig by Ruth Krauss, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's Farm by Betty MacDonald, Singing Family of the Cumberlands by Jean Ritchie, and The Wheel on the School by Meindert DeJong. He also illustrated "The Little Bear" series by Else Holmelund Minarik.

The first book Maurice Sendak wrote and illustrated was Kenny's Window in 1956. He would follow it with Very Far Away (1957), The Sign on Rosie's Door (1960), and "The Nutshell Library" series. It was in 1963 that his most famous work, Where The Wild Things Are, was published. He would follow Where the Wild Things Are with several other books, including Higglety Pigglety Pop! or There Must Be More to Life (1967), In the Night Kitchen (1970), Seven Little Monsters (1977), Outside Over There (1981), We Are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy (1993), and Mommy? (a pop up book, 2006).

In addition to illustrating and writing his own books, Maurice Sendak would also serve as a producer on the animated series Little BearGeorge & Martha, and Seven Little Monsters, as well s the feature films The Little Bear Movie (2001) and Where the Wild Things Are (2010). He served as a production designer on Nutcracker (1986). He wrote and served as art designer on the animated special Really Rosie (1975).

If Maurice Sendak is one of the best known and most celebrated children's authors and illustrators of the late 20th Century, it is perhaps because he was not afraid to portray the darkness inherent in the human condition. The protagonists of his works were never well behaved and often naughty. Indeed, when we meet Max, the protagonist of Where the Wild Things Are, he is sent to bed without supper after wreaking havoc about the house in a wolf costume. In Outside Over There the heroine Ida is jealous of her baby sister, although she does set out to rescue the baby when she is kidnapped by goblins. Not only were Mr. Sendak's protagonists almost never the well behaved children of past children's books, but they were often filled with the stuff of nightmares. Wild things, giants monsters, goblins, and other assorted beasties often filled Maurice Sendak's books. In Mommy?, Maurice Sendak's only pop-up book, a toddler searching for his mother in a haunted mansion encounters monsters loosely inspired by those from the old Universal horror movies.

Of course, it was not simply the fact that Maurice Sendak wrote children's books that were much darker than many that had come before them, but also the fact that he was a very different illustrator from many that had come before him. While his style had a great deal of variety, it often showed an influence from the comic books and comic strips of his youth. At the same time that Maurice Sendak's art echoed comic books from the 1930s and 1940s, his art could also have a Victorian quality about it. Some of his illustrations looked as if they could have been watercolours from the 1890s. His style was uniquely his own, alternately whimsical and frightening.

In the end the success of Maurice Sendak can be chalked up to his enormous talent and that he recognised that children are often enthralled by the darker and scarier parts of life. While many American children's writers before him wrote stories through rose coloured glasses, Mr. Sendak followed the course set by the fairy tales of old, introducing children who were not always well behaved and monsters who were not always frightening into American children's literature. It is for this he will be remembered.