Saturday, June 16, 2012

Platters Founder Herb Reed R.I.P.

Herb Reed, one of the founding members of The Platters, passed on 4 June 2012 at the age of 83. The cause was lung disease.

Herb Reed was born on 7 August 1928 in Kansas City, Missouri. Both of his parents died when he was 13. When he was 15 years old he moved to Los Angeles California. There he started singing in church choirs and later participated in amateur talent contests. It was in 1953 that Herb Reed formed The Platters with David Lynch and lead singer Tony Williams. It was Herb Reed who was credited with naming the group, the term "platters" being slang at the time for records.

The Platters released their first two singles through Federal Records. Unfortunately, both singles failed. Eventually songwriter, producer, and arranger Buck Ram took The Platters under his wing. He would also manage The Penguins, who had a hit single with the song "Earth Angel. When Mercury Records wanted to sign The Penguins, Mr. Ram insisted that they take The Platters as well. In the end The Platters would be the more successful of the two groups. In 1955 they had their first hit with the song "Only You," which went to #5 on the Billboard singles chart. It was followed by the hit single "The Great Pretender,' which went to #1 on the Billboard singles chart.

The Platters would continue to have several hit singles in the late Fifties, including "(You've Got) the Magic Touch," "My Prayer," "You'll Never Know," "Isn't It Right," "I'm Sorry," "Twilight Time," "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," and "Harbour Lights." Unfortunately, as the Fifties became the Sixties, The Platters went into decline. After the song "Harbour Lights," The Platters would not hit the top twenty on the Billboard singles chart until 1967 with "With This Ring." From 1961 to 1968 only four of their songs made even to the top 40. While the line up of The Platters changed over the years, Herb Reed remained a constant with the band, staying with the group well into the Sixties.

Once The Platters' recording career ended Herb Reed would continue performing. In the Seventies he toured with a group called The Platters. Unfortunately, other groups calling themselves "The Platters" would eventually spring up, some with no real ties to the original group. Herb Reed would find himself embroiled in a long legal battle to the rights to the name. Eventually, as the lone survivor of the original Platters, Herb Reed would win the rights to the name.

The Platters were one of the most legendary R&B vocal groups of all time with a string of hits, many of which became standards. The Platters were also one of the first groups to break the colour barrier, as their manager Buck Ram encouraged Mercury Records to market the group to both blacks and whites. Herb Reed was a large part of the group's success. He was gifted with a melodious bass voice that lent strength to the group's many songs. Beyond his singular talent as a singer, Mr. Reed was also the original member who remained with The Platters the longest, from the group's founding into the Sixties. With the passing of  Herb Reed, a part of  R&B history has also passed.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

120 Years Ago Basil Rathbone Was Born

Even today it is rare for an actor to play both heroic and villainous roles. From John Wayne to Tom Cruise, most actors either stick to wearing white hats or black hats. That having been said, from the Twenties to the Sixties there was an actor who became famous for playing both heroes and villains. He not only played some of the screen's most famous good guys, but some of its most famous bad guys as well. That actor was none other than Basil Rathbone. He was born 120 years ago today on 12 June 1892.

Of course, the most famous role that Basil Rathbone would ever play was a heroic one, that of Sherlock Holmes. He first played the detective in 20th Century Fox's adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939). The film proved successful enough that it was followed by 20th Century Fox's production of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939). The success of both movies would lead to a series produced by Universal Studios, starting with Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror in 1942 and ending with Dressed to Kill in 1946. A total of 12 films were made in Universal's "Sherlock Holmes" series. Not only would Basil Rathbone be so successful in the role of Holmes that he became typecast to some degree, but he would be so successful in the role that to this day he remains for many the quintessential movie version of Sherlock Holmes.

In many ways Basil Rathbone was ideal for the role of Sherlock Holmes, and not simply because he looked the way many people pictured the great detective. The fact is that like Sherlock Holmes, Basil Rathbone was a master of disguise and camouflage. During World War I he had served as an intelligence officer and was so skilful that he once scouted enemy positions in broad daylight!

Basil Rathbone would play other heroic roles besides Sherlock Holmes. One of his more famous roles was that of Baron Wolf von Frankenstein, the son of Henry Frankenstein (creator of the Creature), in Son of Frankenstein (1939). In the film Wolf von Frankenstein attempts to redeem his father's reputation while crossing wits with evil blacksmith Ygor (played by Bela Lugosi). Basil Rathbone would also play detective Philo Vance in one film, The Bishop Murder Case (1929), ten years before he first appeared as Sherlock Holmes. Mr. Rathbone would play heroes in the films The Dawn Patrol (1938--the only film in which he was Errol Flynn's ally) and International Lady (1941).

Of course, while Basil Rathbone played Sherlock Holmes in many films and occasionally played heroes in a few others, beyond playing Holmes he is perhaps best known for playing the villain in many swashbucklers. In fact, his most famous role besides that of Sherlock Holmes may well be that of Sir Guy of Gisbourne in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938). The Adventures of Robin Hood would not be the only film in which Basil Rathbone and Errol Flynn fought each other. Mr. Rathbone had also been the villain of Captain Blood (1935). Mr. Rathbone was also the villain in the classic swashbucklers The Mark of Zorro (1940). He would go onto play the villain in the parodies of the old swashbuckler films Casanova's Big Night (1954) and The Court Jester (1955).  Basil Rathbone was not only the villain in swashbuckler movies, but in adaptations of classic literature  such as David Copperfield (1935) and  A Tale of Two Cities (1935). He would play sinister figures in such horror movies as Tower of London (1939), The Mad Doctor (1940), and Tales of Terror (1962).

Just as Basil Rathbone shared skills with Sherlock Holmes, he also shared a skill with the villains he played in his swashbuckler movies. Quite simply, Basil Rathbone was a master fencer. While Errol Flynn won their battles in Captain Blood and The Adventures of Robin Hood, in truth Mr. Rathbone could have beaten Mr. Flynn in matter of minutes, if not seconds. Ironically given his skill in real life and his many on screen sword duels (including ones in Tower of London and The Court Jester), he only won one fight in a movie, playing Tybalt in the 1936 version of Romeo and Juliet!

Ultimately, Basil Rathbone was a singular talent, capable of playing both heroic and villainous roles. In fact, off the top of my head I can only think of one actor who was as capable of playing both good guys and bad guys: Vincent Price. Interestingly enough, Vincent Price's career paralleled that of Basil Rathbone in many ways. Both appeared in costume dramas early in their career and would later appear in horror movies. The two appeared together in Tower of London (1939), Casanova's Big Night (1954), Tales of Terror (1962), and Comedy of Terrors (1963).

Sadly, Basil Rathbone would die of a heart attack at the age of 75 in 1967. He left behind an amazing legacy of films in which he often played the villain, but also films in which he played the hero as well. He was an actor of such skill that he was convincing in playing both good guys and bad guys. Indeed, he played Sherlock Holmes for the first time in the year following his famous turn as Guy of Gisborne! There are very few actors who get to play the hero and the villain in various films. There are still fewer who can do both well. Basil Rathbone was one of those very few.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Late Great Ann Rutherford

Film star Ann Rutherford, star of films ranging from Pride and Prejudice (1940) to The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947) , passed yesterday, 11 June 2012, at the age of 94.

Ann Rutherford was born 2 November 1917 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Her father, John Rutherford had been a tenor at the New York Metropolitan Opera. Her mother, Lucille Mansfield, had been a silent film actress. The family moved to California, first to San Francisco and then to Los Angeles. On her way home from school each day Miss Rutherford would stop by the radio stations in Los Angeles to watch the actors in radio dramas perform. It was after she was criticised by her English teacher that she decided she would become an actress. Within a month of her decision Miss Rutherford was employed at Los Angeles station KFAC in the radio drama Nancy and Dick: The Spirit of 76.

Ann Rutherford made her film debut in 1935 in Waterfront Lady at Mascot Pictures (soon to become Republic). For the next few years she would star in B Westerns featuring such actors as John Wayne and Gene Autry, including Melody Trail (1935), The Oregon Trail (1936), The Lawless Nineties (1936), The Lonely Trail (1936), and Public Cowboy No. 1 (1936).  She then moved from Republic to MGM. Her first movie shot at MGM would be The Bride Wore Red (1937), in which she had a small, uncredited role. It was in 1937 that she made a debut as Polly Benedict, Andy Hardy's girlfriend, in You're Only Young Once. From 1938 to 1942 Miss Rutherford would appear in twelve more movies in the popular "Andy Hardy" series, which starred Mickey Rooney. She also appeared in Of Human Hearts (1938), Dramatic School (1938), A Christmas Carol (1938--as the Ghost of Christmas Past), and These Glamour Girls (1939).

It would be in 1939 that Ann Rutherford would appear in what could be her most famous role, that of Scarlett O'Hara's youngest sister, Carreen, in Gone With the Wind (1939). She very nearly did not get the role. Miss Rutherford was under contract to MGM, the head of which was Louis B. Mayer, who also happened to be the father in law of David O. Selznick (the producer of Gone With the Wind). Mr. Selznick had approached Mr. Mayer about borrowing Ann Rutherford for Gone With the Wind, but Mr. Mayer told Miss Rutherford that it was a "nothing part" and he intended to refuse to loan her to Mr. Selznick. Ann Rutherford was a huge fan of the novel and wanted to be in the film so badly that she broke down in tears, something highly unusual for her. Louis B. Mayer then relented and loaned her to David O. Selznick.

Following Gone with the Wind, Ann Rutherford appeared in such films as Pride and Prejudice (1940), Whistling in the Dark (1941), Whistling in Dixie (1942), Happy Land (1943), Whistling in Brooklyn (1943), Bedside Manner (1945), Inside Job (1946), The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947), and The Adventures of Don Juan (1948).   She would take over the title role in the radio show Blondie in the late Forties.

Miss Rutherford would retire from film in 1950, but she had a healthy career in television ahead of her. In the Fifties she guest starred in such shows as Suspense, Robert Montgomery Presents, General Electric Theatre, Climax, Playhouse 90, The Donna Reed Show, and Perry Mason. Except for a guest appearance on Perry Mason in 1964, Ann Rutherford would not appear on screen again until 1969 in a guest appearance on Love American Style. She would guest star twice more on Love American Style, and she would guest star on The Bob Newhart Show, playing the mother of Emily Hartley (Suzanne Pleshette). She also appeared in the films They Only Kill Their Masters (1972) and Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976). Her later years Ann Rutherford spent attending many special screenings and conventions for Gone With the Wind. Aside from Olivia de Havilland, she was the final surviving major cast member from the film.

The first thing that anyone would notice about Ann Rutherford is that she was beautiful. I have often said my first classic film crush was Vivien Leigh, an event which occurred when I saw Gone With the Wind for the first time. That having been said, my crush on Ann Rutherford was not far behind. I always thought she was incredibly beautiful, whether in the B Westerns I watched when I was young or the major feature films she made in the Forties. Indeed, I could never understand why Polly Benedict remained faithful to Andy Hardy in all those films when his head was constantly being turned by other girls (Judy Garland and Lana Turner among them). As a lad I always thought that as pretty as Polly was she could easily find another boyfriend who wouldn't even look at another girl!

Of course, as I got older I learned that Ann Rutherford was not just beautiful, but she was also a very good actress. More often than not she played girl friends and fiancées in her movies, but she endowed them with life and character that a less talented actress might not be able to. When she did receive a role that worth her talent, Miss Rutherford showed just how good of an actress she really was. Indeed, despite being on screen for what is actually only a few minutes, Ann Rutherford made a big impression as Carreen O'Hara, Scarlett's overly optimistic, younger sister. She was also quite good as the impulsive and headstrong Lydia Bennett in the 1940 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. One of her best roles was also one of her less sympathetic. She was impressive in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty as Walter's none too bright, yet still nagging fiancée Gertrude. 

Not only was Ann Rutherford one of Hollywood's great beauties and a very fine actress, but from my fellow Gone With the Wind fans who had the opportunity to speak to her, even briefly, I have heard that she was one of the sweetest women one could meet, a true lady. She always made time for her fans and always had kind words for them. Not only did she frequently appear at various Gone With the Wind events, but she also donated many things to the Gone With the Wind museum in Atlanta, Georgia, including an original script. She was known for her generosity and was always helping others. In the end Ann Rutheford was not simply a talented and glamorous actress, she was a woman who was a beautiful on the inside as she was on the out.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Frank Cady Passes On

Frank Cady, the prolific character actor best known for playing Sam Drucker on Petticoat Junction, Green Acres, and The Beverly Hillbillies, passed on 8 June 2012 at the age of 96.

Frank Cady was born on 8 September 1915 in Susanville, California. He made his film debut in a bit part as a farmer in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town in 1936. He studied drama at Stanford University in Stanford, California. Following his graduation from Stanford University, Mr. Cady studied acting at Westminster Theatre in London, England. He would return to Stanford University in 1939 to accept a position as a teaching assistant and to pursue his post-graduate studies. He would eventually leave Stanford to work as an announcer at various radio stations throughout California. In 1943 he joined the United States Army Air Forces and served in the European Theatre during World War II.

Following World War II Frank Cady returned to work in radio and also acted in various plays in Southern California. In 1947 he made his first film appearance following World War II, in the movie Violence. From the late Forties into the Fifties he appeared in such films as Sarge Goes to College (1947), The Vicious Circle (1948), The Sky Dragon (1949), Flamingo Road (1949), The Great Rupert (1950), D.O.A. (1950), The Asphalt Jungle (1950), Father of the Bride (1950),  Ace in the Hole (1951), Dear Brat (1951), When Worlds Collide (1951), Rear Window (1954), The Bad Seed (1956), The Girl Most Likely (1958), and The Man Who Understood Women (1959). He made his television debut in an episode of Life With Luigi in 1953. From the Fifties into the Sixties he would play the recurring role of Doc Williams on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, starting in 1954. Throughout the Fifties he appeared in such shows as December Bride, You Are There, Maverick, Make Room for Daddy, 77 Sunset StripTrackdown, and The Alaskans.

In the Sixties Mr. Cady appeared in such shows as Rawhide, Perry MasonThe Untouchables, Cheyenne, The Virginian, Wagon Train, Gunsmoke, and The Andy Griffith Show. It was in 1963 that he joined the cast of the new sitcom Petticoat Junction. On the show Frank Cady played Sam Drucker, owner of the general store in the town of Hooterville. Frank Cady would also appear as a regular character on Green Acres, which also took place in the vicinity of Hooterville. He would later make guest appearances as Sam Drucker on The Beverly Hillbillies (the Clampetts would visit Hooterville).  Frank Cady was one of the few actors in the history of television to play the same character on multiple shows. He also appeared in the movies The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964) and The Gnome-Mobile (1967).

In the Seventies Mr. Cady guest starred on such shows as Hawaii Five-O, Monster Squad, and Eight is Enough. He appeared in the movies The Million Dollar Duck (1971), Zandy's Bride (1974), and Hearts of the West (1975).  In the Eighties he guest starred on the show AfterM*A*S*H and the TV reunion movie Return to Green Acres.

In retrospect it should be little wonder that Frank Cady should be cast as the Nelsons' friendly neighbour Doc Williams on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet and congenial general store clerk and postmaster Sam Drucker on Petticoat Junction, Green Acres, and The Beverly Hillbillies. It was early in his career that Mr. Cady was cast in the role of friendly, small town court clerks, hotel clerks, store owners, and other similar roles. That is not to say that Frank Cady was not versatile. He was very much so. In the Alan Hale Jr. comedy Sarge Goes to College (1947) he convincingly played a college professor. He played a drunk on more than one occasion, including guest shots on Make Room For Daddy and The Andy Griffith Show. In He Walked by Night (1948) Mr. Cady was even one of the suspects in a murder. He played officers of the law more than once, in such films as The Crooked Way (1949) and Atomic City (1952). Generally these roles were not very big, but Mr. Cady was convincing in all of them. It must also be pointed out that Frank Cady was one of the busiest actors of his time. From 1963 to 1965 he appeared in regular roles in two different sitcoms (Doc Williams on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet and Sam Drucker on Petticoat Junction). In the late Sixties he appeared as Sam Drucker in three different sitcoms, Petticoat Junction, Green Acres, and The Beverly Hillbillies (although it was only on the former two that he was a regular).

While Frank Cady played much more than clerks of various types and he appeared on more than just Petticoat Junction and Green Acres, it is as Sam Drucker that he is best known. This is perhaps for good reason. Not only did Sam Drucker appear on Americans' TV screens two times a week (three when he guest starred on The Beverly Hillbillies), but Frank Cady took the character well beyond that of a typical sitcom character. Like other great sitcom characters, from Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show to Mrs. Slocombe on Are You Being Served, Sam Drucker was the sort of person one might actually know. He was the sort of store clerk that one might encounter in any small town in almost any of the United States. Although intelligent, he would nonetheless overlook the eccentricities of his friends and neighbours, perhaps choosing to see the best in people. He accepted the wealthy, educated Oliver Wendell Douglas (Eddie Albert) and he accepted the not so wealthy, uneducated Fred Ziffel. Frank Cady made Sam Drucker, apparently the only sane resident of Hooterville, seem real and everyone loved him for it. While Frank Cady should probably be remembered for many of his either fine roles as well, he can certainly be proud for playing the role of Sam Drucker. He certainly won't be forgotten.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Judy Garland's 90th Birthday

Like many member of Generation X, Judy Garland may well have been the first actor from the Golden Age of Hollywood that I ever encountered. For those of you who were either too young to remember or were not born yet, there was a time, from the Fifties into the Nineties, when The Wizard of Oz (1939)  was shown every year on  American network broadcast television (CBS for most of that time). It did not matter whether you had cable or satellite television, as long you had a TV aerial you could still be guaranteed of seeing The Wizard of Oz once every year.

It is for that reason that The Wizard of Oz was probably the first classic film ever seen by many Americans (and I suspect many Canadians) of my generation. As a result, Judy Garland was the first classic movie star to whom many of us were exposed on a regular basis. In fact, I cannot even remember the first time I watched The Wizard of Oz. My earliest memory of The Wizard of Oz comes from when I was five years old, and even then I remember that I had seen it before. Regardless, I was aware of Judy Garland before I was Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, Bette Davis, or even John Wayne (which is really saying something given I came from a household of Western fans).

That having been said, Judy Garland was not my first classic movie star crush (that would be Vivien Leigh), although I would eventually develop a crush on her. Having seen The Wizard of Oz while very young, as I grew older I would see yet more of Miss Garland's films, including Babes in Arms (1939),  Meet Me in St. Louis (1944),  the "Andy Hardy" movies she made with Mickey Rooney, and others. As I got yet older I saw her in more mature roles, such as Ziegfield Girl (1941), Presenting Lily Mars (1943), The Harvey Girls (1946), Summer Stock (1950) , and so on. It was upon seeing Judy Garland in her more mature role, no longer the ingénue, that I realised she was very attractive.  I developed a crush on Miss Garland that has lasted to some degree or another to this day.

Of course, even in her more mature roles Judy Garland did not have the glamour that, say, Vivien Leigh, Hedy Lamarr, Gene Tierney, or Margaret Lockwood had. At least to me she was not one of Hollywood's great love goddesses. That having been said, she held her own sort of attraction to me that was in some ways more assessable than that of such beauties as Vivien Leigh or Hedy Lamarr. Quite simply, she was the ideal girl next door. This was the role she played in the film that shot her to stardom, The Wizard of Oz. After all, Dorothy Gale was the sort of girl one would expect to find on a Kansas farm, although prettier and smarter than most. Miss Garland's roles that followed The Wizard of Oz would vary a good deal, from the daughter of a Missouri businessman (Meet Me in St. Louis) to a Harvey Girl (The Harvey Girls) to a movie star (A Star is Born), but in most cases Miss Garland played women who were still girls with American, small town values in their heart. Pretty, intelligent, talented, and yet Judy Garland played the sort of women one might see walking down the street of one's hometown. In many ways this made Judy Garland every bit as attractive, emotionally and spiritually if not physically, as Hollywood's reigning goddesses of glamour.

I know that I am not alone in having had a crush on Judy Garland in my youth. I know of many red blooded, American men who count Judy Garland as one of their first crushes. I am not sure if the reasons for their crushes on Judy Garland are the same as mine. There may be many who find Judy Garland glamorous and sexy in the same way that Hedy Lamarr and Ava Gardner are. For myself, however, Judy Garland remains the idealised, American small town girl, someone who combined wholesomeness, morals, and sex appeal together in one very attractive package. Given The Wizard of Oz continues to air on TCM and other cable channels, as well as seeing the occasional re-release to theatres, I have no doubt that it will be the first classic film many will ever see in their lives. I also have no doubt that for may Judy Garland will still remain among their first crushes.