Saturday, June 15, 2013

From TV to Film: Classic Television Stars who Became Movie Stars Part One

In the early days of television, even into the Seventies, many movie stars made the transition to the new medium. Loretta Young hosted her own anthology show, The Loretta Young Show. Donna Reed had her own sitcom, The Donna Reed Show. Barbara Stanwyck hosted her own anthology show, The Barbara Stanwyck Show, and in the Sixties was the star of the Western The Big Valley. Even Jimmy Stewart would eventually make the transition to television, starring in the sitcom The Jimmy Stewart Show and the mystery series Hawkins in the Seventies.

It has been somewhat rarer for television stars to make the transition to film. At best it seems most television stars could hope for a career in B-movies or, as the case seems to be today, poorly made rom coms. Even today it is rare for a television star to become a movie star. In the past few years George Clooney, Johnny Depp, and Will Smith (who also had a music career in addition to being a TV star) have been among the lucky few who have made the transition.

Indeed, it actually seems to me as if it was much more common in the Fifties and Sixties for an actor to make the transition from television to film. From the late Fifties into the mid-Sixties alone James Garner, Steven McQueen, Lee Marvin, and Clint Eastwood went from successful television shows to film roles.  Charles Bronson and James Cobun made the transition from television to film without the benefit of a hit TV programme. It would seem that if there was ever a time for an actor to make the move from television to film, it was the Fifties and Sixties.

When it comes to television stars who later became movie stars, James Garner could have possibly been the first. He had a somewhat auspicious acting debut. A friend convinced him to take a non-speaking part in the Broadway production The Caine Mutiny Court Martial in 1954. He made his television debut in the Warner Brothers Presents episode "Explosion," in which he appeared opposite fellow future movie star Charles Bronson in 1956. That same year he made his film debut in Toward the Unknown (1956). The same year he appeared in the film The Girl He Left Behind (1956). Mr. Garner went onto make guest appearances on the shows Zane Grey Theatre, Conflict, and Cheyenne. He also appeared in the films Shoot-Out at Medicine Bend (1957) and Sayonara (1957).

It was in 1957 that James Garner was cast in the role that would make him a star, that of gambler  Bret Maverick on the television show Maverick. The tongue in cheek Western proved highly successful. In its second season (1958-1959) the show ranked #6 in the ratings out of all the shows on the air for the year. For its third season Maverick ranked #20 in the ratings for the year.  Of course, James Garner was not the only star of Maverick. With the demanding shooting schedule of the show (it could take over a week to film just one episode), the producers realised the need for another lead. Jack Kelly then joined the show as Bret's brother Bart Maverick. Bart Maverick first appeared in the eighth episode of the show, "Hostage!", and then rotated with Bret as the lead character of the show, with a few episodes that featured both. While Jack Kelly as Bart developed his own following, there was no doubt that James Garner as Brett remained the star of the show.

 Given the success of Maverick, James Garner became an actor who was very much in demand. When Charlton Heston refused the lead role in the film Darby's Rangers (1958), it went to James Garner. Mr. Garner followed Darby's Rangers with the films Up Periscope (1959) and Cash McCall (1960). Although not smash hits, both films did well at the box office, enough to show that James Garner could play the lead in a feature film. While Maverick was still on the air, then, James Garner had become a movie star.

James Garner left Maverick in its third season because of a dispute with Warner Brothers. Thereafter the role of co-lead role on the show was assumed by other members of the Maverick family, first Beau Maverick (played by Roger Moore) and  then Brent Maverick (played byRobert Colbert). Without James Garner Maverick fell in the ratings. It ended its run in 1962. As to James Garner, after Maverick he continued to be a bona fide movie star. Throughout the Sixties he appeared in such films as The Children's Hour (1961), Boys' Night Out (1962), The Great Escape (1963), The Thrill of It All (1963), The Americanization of Emily (1964), Support Your Local Sheriff! (1969), and Marlowe (1969).

James Garner would return to television. He stared in the short lived Seventies series Nichols and then the much more successful Rockford Files. He appeared as Bret in the pilot for the Maverick spin off Young Maverick, which centred on Beau Maverick's son Ben. In the Eighties he would even return to the role of Bret Maverick in the short lived show Bret Maverick. Despite having returned to television, however, James Garner would remain a movie star. Over the years he appeared in such films as Skin Game (1971), Victor Victoria (1982), Murphy's Romance (1985), Space Cowboys (2000) , and The Notebook (2004).

While James Garner may have been the first film star to emerge from a television series, he would not be the only one for long.   Steve McQueen would achieve film stardom not long after James Garner, Indeed, the two would even appear together in The Great Escape (1963).  In 1952, following a stint in the Marines, Steve McQueen studied acting at the Neighbourhood Playhouse School of the Theatre in New York City. It was also in 1952 that Mr. McQueen reportedly said his first line of dialogue on stage, in a production staged by Yiddish star Molly Picon. It was in 1953 that Steve McQueen made his film debut, as an extra in Girl on the Run (1953).

It was in 1955 that Steve McQueen made his television debut in an episode of Goodyear Television Playhouse, "The Chivington Raid". The next few years he would make some very high profile appearances on television, including such shows as The United States Steel Hour, Studio One, The 20th Century Fox Hour, and Tales of Well Fargo. Mr. McQueen also appeared in movies, most notably in the cult classic The Blob (1958).  He also had an uncredited role in Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956) and a somewhat larger part in Never Love a Stranger (1958). It would be the Western television series Trackdown that would lead to Steve McQueen receiving his own television show and hence achieving stardom.

Trackdown starred Robert Culp as Texas Ranger Hoby Gilman. It was one of an number of Westerns, including Tales of Wells Fargo and The Rifleman, produced by Four Star Television. It was during the first season of Trackdown that its producer, Vincent M. Fennelly, decided he wanted a companion series for the show. He developed the idea for a show that would centre upon a bounty hunter who generally tried to bring criminals alive. It was also decided that the pilot for the new show, eventually titled Wanted: Dead or Alive, would air as an episode of Trackdown. It was the star of Trackdown, Robert Culp, who suggested Steve McQueen for the role of bounty hunter Josh Randall. The pilot for Wanted: Dead or Alive, simply entitled "The Bounty Hunter", aired on CBS on 7 March 1958. Audience reaction to Steve McQueen as Josh Randall was overwhelmingly positive, and CBS placed Wanted: Dead or Alive on its fall schedule for the 1958-1959 schedule.

Wanted: Dead or Alive proved extremely popular. In its first season it ranked #16 in the ratings out of all the shows on the air. In turn, Steve McQueen became one of the most popular and recognisable new stars of the 1958-1959 season. The money made from Wanted: Dead or Alive reflected this. Initially he was paid $750 an episode. In no time this rose to $100,000 a year. Mr. McQueen's popularity would also lead to film roles. He appeared in a major role in Never So Few (1959) with Frank Sinatra and Gina Lollobrigida. He played the lead in The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery (1959). In addition to these two movie roles, Steve McQueen also made memorable guest appearances on Alfred Hitchcock Presents in the episodes "Human Interest Story" and "Man From the South".

It would be Steve McQueen's next film that would not only establish him as a movie star. The Mirisch Company had bought the rights to Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai and offered director John Sturges to remake the samurai movie as a Western. Having worked with Steve McQueen on Never So Few, Mr. Sturges offered the role of Vin to Steve McQueen. Although he was given third billing after lead actor Yul Brynner and villain Eli Wallach, there can be no doubt that Steve McQueen was the star of The Magnificent Seven. In fact, Mr. Brynner was a bit annoyed that Mr. McQueen seemed to be able to steal virtually any scene that he was in. If Wanted: Dead or Alive had made Steve McQueen a television star, The Magnificent Seven (1960) turned him into a movie star.

Steve McQueen returned to Wanted: Dead or Alive for a third season, but he was pleased with it. He had become unhappy with the show, particularly with its current scripts and the directors it was employing. He was eager to get off the show and back into major motion pictures. Fortunately for Mr. McQueen, Wanted: Dead or Alive had been scheduled in a new time slot on Wednesday night between a new show, a Sea Hunt rip off entitled The Aquanauts, and the comedy My Sister Eileen. Having ranked #9 in the ratings out of all the shows on the air for its second season, its ratings crashed in its third. The once successful Wanted: Dead or Alive was cancelled in its third season after 94 episodes.

This was fortunate for Steve McQueen, who would go onto a highly successful film career. He starred in such films as The Honeymoon Machine (1961) and Hell Is for Heroes (1962) before starring in another iconic motion picture, again directed by John Sturges. If The Magnificent Seven had not made Steve McQueen a star, The Great Escape (1963) most certainly would have. Indeed, his role as Hilts "The Cooler King", may be his best known role. For the rest of the Sixties Mr. McQueen starred in such films as Love with the Proper Stranger (1963), The Cincinnati Kid (1965), The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), and Bullitt (1968). He career continued to prosper in the Seventies, when he starred in such films as The Getaway (1972), Papillon (1973), The Towering Inferno (1974), and Tom Horn (1980). Had he not died in 1979, it seems quite possible that his career as a film star could have continued well into the Naughts and the Teens.

 Both James Garner and Steve McQueen starred in highly successful television shows before they achieved stardom in film. This was not the case with James Coburn. While James Coburn also started in television, he never starred in a hit series, with most of his television career spent as a guest star on several different shows. He studied acting at  Los Angeles City College and made his acting debut at the he La Jolla Playhouse in a production of  Billy Budd.  He made his television debut in the episode of Studio One, "The Night America Trembled".

Afterwards James Coburn appeared frequently on television. He guest starred on such shows as Suspicion, G.E. Theatre, and Wagon Train. He made his film debut in Budd Boetticher's Ride Lonesome, playing the sidekick to an actor who would soon achieve television stardom (Pernell Roberts, who played Adam Cartwright on Bonanza). Following Ride Lonesome he appeared on many more television shows, including Black Saddle, The Restless Gun, M Squad (starring Lee Marvin), The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Bat Masterson, Peter Gunn, Have Gun--Will Travel, Bonanza, and Wanted: Dead or Alive (on which he befriended Steve McQueen). He also appeared in the film Face of a Fugitive (1959).

James Coburn would eventually receive his own series, starring in Klondike in the 1960-1961 season. Set during the Klondike Gold Rush of 1897, the show did not prove successful. It ended its run in less than a season, going off the air on 13 February 1961. Despite the failure of Klondike, 1960 would be a very good year for James Coburn. He learned from his friend Robert Vaughn that Mr. Vaughn had been cast in The Magnificent Seven, a remake of a film with which Mr. Coburn had been particularly impressed, Seven Samurai. Told by Robert Vaughn that some of the roles had not yet been cast, he visited director John Sturges and within hours found him cast as master knife thrower Britt. With only 11 lines James Coburn made a strong impression on viewers, so that Britt easily became one of the most popular characters in The Magnificent Seven. While the film would not turn James Coburn into a movie star, it certainly set the stage for his ascent to film stardom.

Following The Magnificent Seven James Coburn made yet more guest appearances on television, including such shows as Lawman, The Detectives, The Untouchables, and Laramie. During the 1960-1961 television season he had yet another show, Acapulco, which even starred his co-lead from Klondike, Ralph Traeger. If anything, however, Acapulco proved even less successful than Klondike. It only lasted eight episodes. James Coburn guest starred on yet more shows, including more appearances on Bonanza and appearances on shows such as Perry Mason and Naked City.

Having appeared in The Magnificent Seven, however, James Coburn was not longer simply a television star. He appeared in the film Hell is for Heroes in 1962. In 1963 he would appear in no less than three films: The Great Escape, Charade, and The Man From Galveston.  Also directed by John Sturges, like The Magnificent Seven would be a star making film, with Mr. Coburn playing Flying Officer Louis Sedgwick RAAF, "The Manufacturer". He also had large roles in Charade and The Man From Galveston. These roles would be followed by large parts in The Americanization of Emily (1964), Major Dundee (1965), and A High Wind in Jamaica (1965), as well as a cameo in The Loved One (1965).

It would be James Coburn's role as Derek Flint in the 1966 spy spoof Our Man Flint that would arguably turn him into a bona fide film star. It was Mr. Coburn's first leading role and the film proved to be a smash hit. James Coburn's days as a frequent guest star on television were over. For the remainder of the Sixties he appeared in such films as What Did You Do in the War, Daddy? (1966), Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round (1966), In Like Flint (1967), The President's Analyst (1967), Duffy (1968), Candy (1968), and Hard Contract (1969). In the Seventies he appeared in such films as Duck, You Sucker (1971), The Carey Treatment (1972), Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973), Jackpot (1975), The Last Hard Men (1976), Midway (1976), Cross of Iron (1977),  and The Baltimore Bullet (1980). On television he appeared in the mini-series The Dain Curse.

 By the Eighties James Coburn's career would transition from leading man to character actor. He appeared in such films as High Risk (1981), Looker (1981), Martin's Day (1985), Call from Space (1989), Hudson Hawk (1991), The Hit List (1993), Maverick (1994), The Nutty Professor (1996), Keys to Tulsa (1996), The Good Doctor (2000), Intrepid (2000), Snow Dogs (2002), and American Gun (2002). He also returned to television, appearing in various TV movies (Draw! and Silverfox among them), as well as the TV shows The Fifth Corner, Murder She Wrote, and Arli$$. James Coburn died of a heart attack on 18 November 2002, still very much a movie star.

James Garner, Steve McQueen, and James Coburn were hardly the only television stars who made the transition from television to film. What is more, some of them were like James Coburn, in that they did not have the benefit of a hit series to help promote their career. It would seem that the Fifties and Sixties were an ideal time for an actor to move from television to film. In Part Two I'll explore more such stars.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Peter Gunn Theme

It was on 14 June in 1994 that composer Henry Mancini died. among his many works were "The Pink Panther Theme", "Moon River (co-written with lyricist Johnny Mercer)", and my favourite of all his works, the theme to Peter Gunn. In Mr. Mancini's honour, then, here is "Peter Gunn" in all its glory.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Why is My Klout Network Breakdown Graph Wrong?

I must admit that I have never taken Klout too seriously. The simple fact is that I don't think one's social influence can be easily quantified. At least as far as the average person is concerned, I am not sure it is quite so easy to say Person A is more influential than Person B and attach a numerical score to that. That having been said, Klout does have its benefits in the form of perks (the free products or services that business occasionally give away through Klout). It can also be useful in seeing how well one is doing on various social media sites. That is, one can see on which social media sites one does best and what sort of posts does best.

Sadly, that has become a bit harder for me to do in the past week. Among Klout's features are the Network Breakdown Graph, a circle graph that displays the percentage that any particular social media site contributes to one's Klout Score. In the past this graph has been somewhat accurate for me. Google+ and Twitter were generally in a statistical tie, each hovering around 35%. Facebook was always third, usually around  20%. LinkedIn and Klout itself comprised everything else. In the past week or so, however, things changed dramatically. For some reason Google+, the social network I use the most, on which I have the most followers, and on which I get the most interaction, is stuck at a mere 5%. Keep in mind that I post as much as I always have to Google+ and I get as much interaction from people as I ever have on Google+, so obviously that's not the problem.  I might also point out that I have not increased the amount I tweet on Twitter or post on Facebook, so that can also be discounted.

Now since I am still posting frequently to Google+and still getting the same number of comments and +1s that I always have and I have not increased my activity on other social media sites, one might conclude that Klout simply is not retrieving my Google+ data. That does not seem to be the case either. Klout groups posts from one's posts to various social media sites and the activity generated from them into what they call "moments." These moments are rated from one to five as to the amount of impact they have on one's Klout score. Scrolling through my moments not only do I see a few more Google+ posts than Twitter tweets, but I see many, many more Google+ posts than Facebook posts. What is more, most of my Google+ moments are generally rated from "2" to "3" and I even have one that rated a "4". On the other hand, most of my Twitter moments mange only "1" to "2" at best, while my all of my Facebook moments (which are pretty few compared to Twitter or G+) receive only a "1". Not only is it clear that Klout is retrieving my Google+ activity, but it seems clear that, unless Klout has decided to drastically undervalue activity on Google+ in the past week, Google+ has more of an impact on my Klout score than Facebook at the least.

Given that it is clear that Klout is retrieving my Google+ activity, I then have to say I am mystified as to why the percentages on my Network Breakdown graph are off by so much. I can only guess that somehow the information Klout has gathered from Google+, which apparently has gone towards my score (otherwise it would have dropped dramatically in the past week), is not making it onto the graph. At any rate, this situation does seem to render the Network Breakdown graph useless to me.

In the end, I suppose it is not terribly important. I really don't need a graph to tell me on which social media sites I am most influential or on which social media sites my posts get the most response. Still, the Network Breakdown graph was a useful tool whereby one could see his or her success in a handy little graphic. It was certainly much easier than skimming through one's Klout moments or, worse yet, skimming through one's posts on each social media site. It is then a little sad to see that the Network Breakdown graph is no longer working.