Saturday, August 10, 2013

A Tribute to Noah Beery, Jr. on His 100th Birthday

Today most people probably know Noah Beery, Jr. as Jim Rockford's dad, Joseph "Rocky" Rockford, on The Rockford Files. But Noah Beery, Jr. had a long career well before appearing on The Rockford Files, playing character roles in several films from the Thirties onwards. It was 100 years ago today, on 10 August 1913, that Noah Beery, Jr. was born.

Looking back there should be little wonder that Noah Beery, Jr. would become an actor. His father was character actor Noah Beery, Sr., who appeared in such films as The Mark of Zorro (1920) and She Done Him Wrong (1933).  His uncle was Wallace Beery, who played  the title role in The Champ (1931)  and Long John Silver in Treasure Island (1934). Noah Beery, Jr. made his film debut while very young, appearing in The Mark of Zorro (1920) when he was only seven.

Noah Beery, Jr.'s first major role was in Heroes of the West (1932), in which he played the lead, something that would be rare for most of his career. This photo is from the early Thirties. Despite being identified with friendly, grizzled types for most of his career, I don't think Mr. Beery was bad looking when he was all cleaned up!

Here in Noah Beery, Jr. in the opening credits for the serial Tailspin Tommy from 1934, based on Hal Forrest's comic strip of the same name. Mr. Beery played Tommy's sidekick "Skeeter" Milligan.

Here Noah Beery, Jr. is sitting beside Anne Baxter, with Oscar O'Shea as a train conductor standing beside them. This is a still from 20 Mule Team (1940), a Western in which Mr. Beery's uncle Wallace Beery also appeared!

Here is David Bruce as Larry O' Ryan and Noah Beery, Jr. as Cpl. Kurt Richter from "Gung Ho!": The Story of Carlson's Makin Island Raiders in 1943.

Although Noah Beery, Jr. may be best known for Westerns, he also did other genres as well. Here he is in a scene from the science fiction film Rocketship X-M (1950).

By the Fifties Noah Beery, Jr. was appearing on television. He guest starred on such shows as Schlitz Playhouse, Climax!, Studio One, and Rawhide. He was also a regular on the shows Riverboat and Circus Boy. On the latter he played Joey the Clown. The young star of Circus Boy was Micky Braddock, son of actor George Dolenz, who would go onto greater fame as Micky Dolenz of The Monkees.

Noah Beery, Jr. continued to do a good deal of television in the late Fifties and well into the Sixties. He was a regular on the Western Hondo and guest starred on such shows as Wanted: Dead or Alive, Wagon Train, Bonanza, Perry Mason, Gunsmoke, and High Chaparral. He also continued to appear in films, including Inherit the Wind (1960), Journey to Shiloh (1968), and The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964), from which this screen shot is taken. 

In the Seventies Noah Beery, Jr. played Joseph "Rocky" Rockford, father of detective Jim Rockford (played by James Garner) on The Rockford Files. While it may now be the role for which he is best known, Mr. Beery guest starred on several other TV shows, including Alias Smith & Jones, The Waltons, The Streets of San Francisco, and Ellery Queen. He also appeared in the films 43: The Richard Petty Story (1972), Walking Tall (1973), and The Spikes Gang (1974). 

Noah Beery, Jr. turned 68 in 1981, but he continued to act into the Eighties. He was a regular on the TV show The Quest and the night time soap opera The Yellow Rose. He also guest starred on such shows as Magnum P.I., Hot Pursuit, Cover Up, Trapper John M.D., and Murder She Wrote. He also appeared in the films The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982) and Waltz Across Texas (1982). Mr. Beery retired from acting in the late Eighties. He died of a cerebral thrombosis on 1 November 1994.

There can be no doubt that Noah Beery, Jr. was a singular actor. He was handsome in a boyish sort of way, even well into his later years, yet at the same time he seemed more ordinary person than matinee idol. This was also true of his acting style. He generally played friendly, unassuming, and often humorous characters and did so with a no real theatrics or grandstanding. This made his characters not only made his characters seem like everyday people, but also the sort one would not mind inviting to dinner or having a drink with. In the end Noah Beery, Jr. was in many respects the everyman of classic film and classic television. While he generally played the sidekick rather than the hero, it was this quality that made him as memorable as any of the leads whom he played opposite. 

Friday, August 9, 2013

The 50th Anniversary of Ready, Steady, Go!

It was fifty years ago today  that Ready, Steady, Go! debuted. Ready, Steady, Go! was a rock music television programme that aired on ITV in the United Kingdom from 9 August 1963 to 23 December 1966. While the show lasted only a little over three years, it would have an enormous impact in its time on the air and can be considered an integral part of what people think of as "Swinging London".

Ready, Steady, Go! was conceived by Elkan Allan, then Head of Entertainment at Rediffusion Television. Mr. Allan had served as a presenter on various BBC programmes in the early Fifties was working on ITV's current affairs programme This Week by the mid-Fifties. Although Ready, Steady , Go would prove revolutionary, in many respects it was not particularly original in combining a live audience of dancers with rock performers. American Bandstand and similar shows had been airing in the Unites States since the mid -Fifties. The BBC even aired such a programme, Six-Five Special, from 1957 to 1958. Ready, Steady, Go! may have owed a good deal to Discs A Gogo, which aired on TWW (Television Wales & West) from 1961 to 1967. That having been said, Ready, Steady, Go! came about at precisely the right time for a nationwide show. Beatlemania had overtaken the United Kingdom in 1962, and the nation was in the midst of an absolute craze for beat groups of any kind.

Ready, Steady, Go! debuted on 9 August 1963 and originally aired in the London area, although it would not be long before it aired across the United Kingdom, albeit sometimes in different timeslots across the country. The show was produced by Vicki Wickham and was originally presented by Keith Fordyce and David Gell. Mr. Fordyce left after the fifth edition of Ready, Steady, Go!, after which David Gell presented the show by himself. While Cathy McGowan is forever identified with Ready, Steady, Go!, she would not become a presenter until January 1964. Originally hired as a "teenage advisor", she and Michael Aldred started presenting the show alongside Keith Fordyce starting in January 1964.  This particularly team of presenters lasted until April 1965, after which Miss McGowan presented the show on her own. Dusty Springfield also served as a guest presenter from time to time.

Not only were changes in presenters on Ready, Steady, Go!, but the show also changed very slightly in its format. Like nearly every other show on British television at the time (and American television, for that matter), performers mimed to their records. It was in 1965 that the Musicians Union enforced a ban on miming to records on television. Afterwards, then, performers performed their songs live on Ready, Steady, Go!. It would also move studios. Ready, Steady, Go! was originally shot at Television House (the headquarters of Associated-Rediffusion) in Kingsway, London. It later moved to Rediffusion's Studio One in Wembley.

Ready, Steady, Go! proved phenomenally successful. Much of this was due to the fact that it was the only popular music programme that aired on Friday night. This allowed it to capture more of the teenage audience than its competitors (BBC's Juke Box Jury and ITV's Thank Your Lucky Stars aired on Saturday evenings, while BBC's Top of the Pops aired on Thursday). Indeed, the show's slogan throughout its run was The weekend starts here!" Another element in the show's success may have been the fact that the relatively small size of the studio at Television House created for some often inventive camera work. Not only were shots often at unusual angles, but the cameras tended to move a good deal than on the average show as well.

Ready, Steady, Go! would have an impact on youth culture in the United Kingdom in the Sixties. Among other things, it would be largely responsible for spreading (and perhaps commercialising, as well) the Mod subculture that had existed in some form since the late Fifties. Indeed, in April 1964 there aired a special edition of the show, The Ready, Steady, Go Mod Ball. The Ready, Steady, Go Mod Ball was staged for charity and aired live from Empire Pool. It involved 8,000 Mods and featured such acts as The Rolling Stones, The Searchers, Freddie and The Dreamers, The Merseybeats, and Manfred Mann.

Of course, in its years on the air Ready, Steady, Go! featured some of the top rock performers of the day. Quite naturally, The Beatles numbered among these performers. In fact, the highest rated edition of Ready, Steady, Go! was on 20 March 1964. The Beatles performed their songs "It Won't Be Long", "You Can't Do That" and "Can't Buy Me Love", as well as being interviewed. The Who were also very popular on Ready, Steady, Go! Not only did they appear in nearly twenty editions of the show, but they even had an entire Ready, Steady, Go! special dedicated to them. Other performers who appeared throughout the show's run were The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, Small Faces, The Yardbirds, The Zombies, The Hollies, Dusty Springfield, The Searchers, The Dave Clark Five, The Troggs, Lulu, The Supremes, and many, many more.

In addition to featuring well established artists, Ready, Steady, Go! would also be responsible for helping the careers of up and coming performers. Donovan's career took off after he appeared several times on Ready, Steady, Go! in early 1965. It was after Jimi Hendrix performed "Hey, Joe" on Ready, Steady, Go! that his tour sold out. Not long afterwards he was also added to a national tour that included the ever popular Walker Brothers.

Among other things, Ready, Steady, Go! would have an impact on youth fashion. Much of this was through Cathy McGowan. Called by some "the Queen of the Mods", a great deal was made of her fashion sense at the time, to the point that designers were eager to wear their fashions. Although she was a presenter rather than a performer, Cathy McGowan had much the same influence on young women's fashion as such pop stars as Dusty Springfield, Cilla Black, and Lulu.  Of course, the audience on Ready, Steady, Go! would also have an influence on fashion. It was in a small part due to the show that Mod styles spread throughout the United Kingdom.

Unfortunately, the success of Ready, Steady, Go! would not last. By 1966 the beat boom that had emerged in the United Kingdom in the early Sixties was losing steam and the audience for Ready, Steady, Go! was declining. A change in the show's time slot could not save the show and in the end what once the most popular music show in Britain was cancelled. It aired its last edition on 23 December 1966.

While Ready, Steady, Go! lasted only a little over three years, it proved very influential for a time. It was important in popularising Mod fashions throughout Britain. It was also pivotal in the careers of such performers as The Who, Lulu, Donovan, Jimi Hendrix, and others. It would have a lasting impact on similar shows that have aired since, all of which have felt its influence in one way or another. Lasting only three years having been off the air for decades, Ready, Steady, Go! remains one of the best remembered shows of its time.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Godspeed Karen Black

Karen Black, known for her roles in Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, and many other films, died today (8 August 2013) at the age of 74. The cause was ampullary cancer.

Karen Black was born Karen Blanche Ziegler on 1 July 1939 in Park Ridge, Illinois. Her mother was children's novelist Elsie Reif and her father was Norman Ziegler.  She attended Northwestern University in Chicago for two years before moving to New York City to pursue acting. She studied acting under Lee Strasberg and appeared in a few off-Broadway revues.

She made her film debut in a small part in The Prime Time in 1959. She was an understudy on Broadway in Take Her, She's Mine (1961-1962) and appeared on Broadway in The Playroom (1965-1966).  In the Sixties she also appeared on Broadway in Happily Never After (1966) and Keep It In the Family (1967). She appeared in the films You're a Big Boy Now (1966), Hard Contract (1969), Easy Rider (1969), Freedom (1970), and Five Easy Pieces (1970), for which she was nominated for the Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. She appeared on such television shows as The F.B.I., Run for Your Life, The Big Valley, Iron Horse, and Adam-12.

In the Seventies Miss Black appeared in such films as Drive, He Said (1971), Born to Win (1971), Cisco Pike (1972), Portnoy's Complaint (1972), Little Laura and Big John (1973), The Outfit (1973), Rhinoceros (1974), The Great Gatsby (1974) , The Day of the Locust (1975), Nashville (1975), Family Plot (1976), Burnt Offerings (1976), Capricorn One (1977), and The Last Word (1979).

In the Eighties she appeared in such films as Separate Ways (1981), Chanel Solitaire (1981), La donna giusta (1982), Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982), Can She Bake a Cherry Pie? (1983), A Stroke of Genius (1984), Martin's Day (1985), Savage Dawn (1985), Flight of the Spruce Goose (1986), It's Alive III: Island of the Alive (1987), Hostage (1987), The Legendary Life of Ernest Hemingway (1988), Homer and Eddie (1989), and The Children (1990).  She appeared on Broadway in Come Back to the 5 & Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean. She appeared on television in the shows E/R, The Hitchhiker, Murder She Wrote, and Faerie Tale Theatre.

In the Nineties she appeared in such films as Rubin and Ed (1991), Caged Fear (1992), Tuesday Never Comes (1993), Too Bad About Jack (1994), Starstruck (1995), Every Minute Is Goodbye (1996), Dogtown (1996), Men (1997), Fallen Arches (1998), Bury the Evidence (1998), Charades (1998), Mascara (1999), and Inviati speciali (2000). She appeared on television in the shows The Hunger, Profiler, and Party of Five.

From the Naughts into the Teens, Miss Black appeared in such films as Hard Luck (2001), A Light in the Darkness (2002), Curse of the Forty-Niner (2002), Buttleman (2003), House of 1000 Corpses (2003), Paris (2003) , Summer Solstice (2003), Birth of Industry (2004), Crazy for Love (2005), Firecracker (2005), A Single Woman (2008), Irene in Time (2009), Maria My Love (2011), and Ooga Booga (2013). She appeared on television in the show Law & Order: Criminal Intent.

Karen Black was an extremely versatile actress, something that can be told simply by looking at her best known roles. She played a prostitute who trips on acid with Wyatt and Billy in Easy Rider, a glamorous but not particularly talented country singer in Nashville, an aspiring actress in Day of the Locust, and the waitress attached (rather unhappily) to musician Bobby Dupea (Jack Nicholson) in Five Easy Pieces. These roles were diverse enough that they could have been played by different actresses, and yet they were all played convincingly by Karen Black. She was an actress of great talent, making it little wonder that she was exceedingly prolific until her untimely death. Few actors displayed the talent that she did.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Actress Gail Kobe Passes On

Actress Gail Kobe, who was a regular on Peyton Place and later a producer on the soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful, died on 1 August 2013 at the age of 82.

Gail Kobe was born Gabriella Kieliszewski on 19 March 1931 in Hamtramck, Michigan. She made her screen debut in an uncredited role in East of Eden in 1955. She made her television debut in an episode of Dragnet in 1956. In the late Fifties she appeared on such shows as The Millionaire, Highway Patrol, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Studio 57, Cheyenne, Fireside Theatre, Goodyear Theatre, Sugarfoot, Zane Grey Theatre, Trackdown, Wagon Train, Richard Diamond Private Detective, Mike Hammer, M Squad, and The Rebel. She appeared in a very small part in the film The Ten Commandments (1956),

In the Sixties she was a regular on the prime time soap opera Peyton Place. She guest starred on such shows as Maverick, The Detectives, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Rawhide, Laramie, Have Gun--Will Travel, Combat, The Untouchables, The Fugitive, The Virginian, 77 Sunset Strip, The Twilight Zone, Ben Casey, The Outer Limits, Dr. Kildare, Tarzan, Mission: Impossible, Hogan's Heroes, Ironside, Bewitched, and Daniel Boone. In the Seventies she appeared on Mannix.

Gail Kobe retired from acting and began working as a producer on various shows, starting with a supervising producer position on The Edge of Night. She went onto serve as a producer on The Guiding Light, Texas, and The Bold and the Beautiful.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The 2nd Mrs. de Winter: Joan Fontaine in Rebecca (1940)

There are those roles with which certain actresses are forever identified, regardless of what numerous other parts they might play during their career.  Vivien Leigh will always be Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind (1939).  Ingrid Bergman will always be Ilsa Lund in Casablanca (1942). Margaret Lockwood will always be Barbara Worth in The Wicked Lady (1945). Being identified with a a particular role is no less true of Joan Fontaine, who for many will always be Mrs. de Winter, or more precisely the second Mrs. de Winter, in Rebecca (1940).

In many respects it is understandable that the second Mrs. de Winter would be Joan Fontaine's best known role. The film was based on the Daphne du Maurier novel of the same name and directed by Alfred Hitchcock. The film did very well at the box office--it was the third highest grossing film in the United States for 1940, after Boomtown and The Great DictatorRebecca also received its share of awards. It won the Oscar for Best Picture and Best Cinematography and was nominated for nine more. Indeed, Joan Fontaine received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role.

Today it seems impossible that anyone but Joan Fontaine would have been considered for the role of Mrs. de Winter. That having been said, over twenty actresses were considered for the role. Among them were Maureen O'Hara, Anne Baxter, Loretta Young, and Anita Louise. David O. Selznick wanted Joan Fontaine's sister Olivia de Havilland for the role of the second 2nd Mrs. de Winter. In the end Olivia de Havilland would not get the part for several reasons, not he least of which was she was hesitant to take a role for which her sister was also being considered. Among the hurdles in Miss de Havilland taking the role of Mrs. de Winter were the fact that she was committed to appear in the film Raffles (1939) and Warner Brothers was being very stubborn about lending her out. Laurence Olivier wanted his lover Vivien Leigh for the role, but David O. Selznick felt that she was the "wrong type (the same reason that Loretta Young would not get the role)". Joan Fontaine was cast in the role of the second Mrs. de Winter after Alfred Hitchcock saw her performance in The Women (1939).

Joan Fontaine would not have an easy time during the shooting of Rebecca. Her co-star, Laurence Olivier, resented her for having been cast in the role rather than Vivien Leigh, and treated her horribly throughout the filming. Miss Fontaine also found herself largely isolated from the largely English cast, who tended to stick to themselves. Worse yet, to a small degree Joan Fontaine's situation in real life reflected the second Mrs. de Winter's situation in Rebecca. She had just married British actor Brian Aherne,  and was still learning to manage the Aherne household at the time Rebeccca was being shot.

Given all of this, it should not be surprising that Joan Fontaine would give a convincing performance as the second Mrs. de Winter, a woman competing with the memory of the beautiful and seeming perfect first Mrs. de Winter (the "Rebecca" of the title) while at the same time adjusting the aristocratic lifestyle of Maximilian de Winter and dealing with the icy housekeeper Mrs. Danvers (played by the great Judith Anderson). Particularly given the situation on the set and to a small degree Miss Fontaines' real life at the time, in the hands of a lesser actress Mrs. de Winter might have come off as a weak, gutless woman spooked by the memory of a dead wife and fearful of her husband's admittedly frightening housekeeper. In the hands of Joan Fontaine, however, the second Mrs. de Winter is much more than this.

Indeed, the overriding emotion that Joan Fontaine brings to the second Mrs. de Winter is not fear, but instead a desire to be accepted, a desire for her husband to love her at least as much as the late Rebecca and for his aristocratic society to accept her on her own terms. To this degree one sometimes sees flashes of strength beneath the docile facade of the second Mrs. de Winter. This is perhaps no more apparent when the second Mrs. de Winter finally defies Mrs. Danvers and orders her to destroy Rebbecca's papers. There are perhaps only a few times in the history of cinema that an actress has delivered a line so strongly, so defiantly, as when Joan Fontaine as the second Mrs. de Winter tells Mrs. Danvers, "I am Mrs. de Winter now." Joan Fontaine as the second Mrs. de Winter isn't some simpering idiot, but instead a woman who has been bullied to the point that she discovers the spine she had all along.

Joan Fontaine was only 21 years old and inexperienced as a lead actress when she starred Rebecca. The film would prove a turning point in her career. She would go onto deliver several strong performances, appearing in such films as Suspicion (1941--once more working with Alfred Hitchcock), The Constant Nymph (1943), Jane Eyre (1944), and Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948). If the film Rebecca is about a woman who discovers strength she never knew she had, Rebecca could be considered the film that proved to Hollywood that Joan Fontaine was an actress with talent that they never thought she had.