Saturday, January 4, 2014

Barbara Lawrence R.IP.

Barbara Lawrence, the glamorous actress who appeared in films from A Letter to Three Wives (1949) to Oklahoma! (1955) and made numerous appearances on television, died on 13 November 2013. The cause was kidney failure

Barbara Lawrence was born on 24 February 1928 in Carnegie, Oklahoma. Her family later moved to Kansas City, Missouri. It was while the family lived in Kansas City that Miss Lawrence began a career as a child model. Eventually they moved to California. It was there when she was 12 years old that Barbara Lawrence was named "Little Miss Hollywood". It is around the same time that she studied acting at the Max Reinhardt drama school.

It was in 1945 that Barbara Lawrence made her film debut in a bit part in Diamond Horseshoe (she had lied about her age to do so). She was only a teenager when she signed a contract with 20th Century Fox. In the late Forties she appeared in such films as Margie (1946), Captain from Castile (1947), You Were Meant for Me (1948), Give My Regards to Broadway (1948), The Street with No Name (1948), Unfaithfully Yours (1948), A Letter to Three Wives (1949), Mother Is a Freshman (1949), Thieves' Highway (1949), and Peggy (1950). She made her television debut on an episode of The Silver Theatre in 1950.

It was in the Fifties that Barbara Lawrence appeared in one might be her most famous role, that of Gertie Cummings in Oklahoma! (1955). She also appeared in the films Two Tickets to Broadway (1951), Here Come the Nelsons (1952), The Star (1952), Arena (1953), Paris Model (1953), Jesse James vs. the Daltons (1954), Her Twelve Men (1954), Man with the Gun (1955), Kronos (1957), Man in the Shadow (1957), and Joe Dakota (1957). She appeared frequently on television, in such shows as The Ford Television Theatre, Lux Video Theatre, G.E. Theatre, Four Star Playhouse, Alcoa Theatre, The Adventures of Jim Bowie, Cimarron City, Trackdown, Riverbaot, Tightrope, Bat Masterson, and Bonanza.

In the Sixties Miss Lawerence appeared on the TV shows Perry Mason and The Tall Man. She retired from acting in the mid-Sixties to care for her family. She later studied writing at UCLA. She also served as a public relations account director, living in Italy, Mexico and Caracas. She also wrote adventure and mystery novels, including Welcome to the Jungle, Murder On The Backlot, Howling Dog Farm, and The Big Adios.

It was rare that Barbara Lawrence was the leading lady in a film. More often than not she played the female lead's little sister, best friend, or, sometimes, worst rival. This was a shame as she had a very real presence on the screen. It wasn't a simple case that she was incredibly beautiful (which she was), but that she was exceedingly talented as well. Indeed, while the role of Gertie in Oklahoma! was a small one, it remains memorable because Barbara Lawrence made it so. Giggling Gertie was not Miss Lawrence's only impressive role. Early in her career she was a stand out the vivacious neighbour of Margie MacDuff (Jeanne Crain) in Margie. She also proved effective as a bit of a hussy in Arena and a meddling high society girlfriend in Her Twelve Men. Barbara Lawrence's television appearances were no less impressive than her film appearance, giving good performances in shows from Bat Masterson to Perry Mason.

In the end I think Barbara Lawrence was one those actresses who was under utilised or poorly utilised. She was truly leading lady material and at times much more talented than the female leads in her films. Indeed, despite rarely playing lead roles Barbara Lawrence will remain remembered for her many great performances.

Friday, January 3, 2014

The Late Great Phil Everly

Phil and Don Everly
Legendary singer and musician Phil Everly of The Everly Brothers died today at the age of 74. The cause was complications from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. As one half of The Everly Brothers with his older brother Don, Phil Everly was a pioneer in rock and roll music. Their distinctive harmonies in their songs would have a lasting influence on artists as diverse as The Beach Boys, The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, and Cheap Trick.

Phil Everly was born on 19 January 1939 in Chicago, Illinois. His brother Don had been born two years earlier in Brownie, Kentucky. Their parents were Ike and Margaret Everly, country music stars famous in the Midwest.  The two had moved from Kentucky to Chicago to pursue music opportunities in the music industry. It was there that Phil Everly was born on 19 January 1939. Not long after Phil's birth, the Everlys moved to Iowa where Phil Everly got his own radio show on KMA in Shenandoah, Iowa.  Young Don and Phil would participate in the radio show and it was in 1945 that Don and  Phil made their singing debuts on the programme. As teenagers Don and Phil Everly left for Nashville to pursue their own career in music. The two of them were hired as songwriters for Roy Acuff's publishing company. The first hit Don Everly ever wrote would then be "Thou Shalt Not Steal", sung by Kitty Wells. "Thou Shalt Not Steal" went to number 14 on the Billboard country music chart in 1954.

It was in 1956 that The Everly Brothers recorded their first single, the country song "Keep A-Lovin' Me" on the Columbia label. The song failed to chart. In 1957 they signed with the Cadence label.  Their second single, "Bye Bye Love", was released in March 1957 and turned out to be a smash hit. The song went to #2 on the Billboard singles chart and #1 on the Billboard country music chart. It also proved to be a hit in the United Kingdom, where it peaked at #6. If anything their follow up to "Bye Bye Love" would be an even bigger hit. Released on 2 September 1957, "Wake Up Little Susie" went to #1 on the Billboard singles chart and #1 on the Billboard country music chart. It also went to #2 in the United Kingdom.

Over the next several years The Everly Brothers would have a string of hits. They would hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with "All I Have to Do Is Dream" and "Cathy's Clown". "Bird Dog", "Devoted to You", "Problems", "(Till) I Kissed You", "Let It Be Me", "When Will I Be Loved", "So Sad", "Walk Right Back", "Ebony Eyes" "Crying in the Rain", and "That's Old Fashioned" all hit the top ten of the Billboard Hot 100. If anything The Everly Brothers were bigger in the United Kingdom than they were in the United States. In the United Kingdom they had six #1 singles alone.

In 1960 The Everly Brothers left Cadence for the Warner Brothers label for what was reported at the time to be a ten year, $10 million contract. Their hit song "Cathy's Clown" would be the first song released on the Warner Brothers label in the United Kingdom. In November 1961 both Don and Phil Everly enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. For a six month period, then, The Everly Brothers were out of the public eye. their appearance on the 18 February 1962 edition of The Ed Sullivan Show (where they performed "Jezebel" and "Crying in the Rain") was one of the few public appearances they made during the time.

Unfortunately The Everly Brothers' career stalled n the United States in 1962. Their last top ten hit on the Billboard Hot 100 would be "That Old Fashioned" early in the year. Afterwards they would only have two  more top forty hits in the United States  (in 1964 Gone, Gone, Gone", which went to #31, while in 1967 "Bowling Green" went to #40). While The Everly Brothers' career stalled in the U.S., they continued to have hits in the United Kingdom until 1965.

While The Everly Brothers' career stalled in 1962 in the United States and 1965 in the United States, they would still prove to be a creative force in music. Their 1966 album Two Yanks in England was recorded with The Hollies and blended The Everly Brothers' earlier style with that of the British Invasion bands. With The Everlys' trademark harmonies and The Hollies' jangly guitars, the album would prove to be crucial in the development of the genre of power pop (a genre upon which The Everly Brothers already had a pivotal influence).  Their 1968 album Roots is often considered one of the earliest examples of country rock.

Unfortunately, despite The Everly Brothers' continued influence on popular music, their contract with Warner Brothers was allowed to expire after years without hit records. The Everly Brothers then signed with RCA Victor in 1971. It was that year that they also had their own summer television replacement show, The Everly Brothers Show, on ABC.

The two albums that The Everly Brothers issued on RCA Victor did not prove successful. Tension between the brothers had been high for years and in 1973 they announced that they would take time off from performing. At a concert performed at Knotts Berry Farm on 14 July 1973 it soon became obvious The Everly Brothers would not be recording together any time soon. The two argued between each other on stage until Don finally left with the words, "I'm through being an Everly Brother!" Phil finished the concert by himself.

Afterwards the Everlys each embarked on solo careers. Phil Everly's first solo album, Star Spangled Springer, was released in 1973, as well as the singles "God Bless Older Ladies (For They Made Rock and Roll)" and "The Air That I Breathe" (later covered by The Hollies). He would release a few more solo albums: Phil's Diner in 1974, Mystic Line in 1975, Living Alone in 1979, and Phil Everly in 1983. He would also have a few minor hits in the United States over the years. In 1980 "Dare to Dream Again" went to #9 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart, while in 1982 "Who's Gonna Keep Me Warm" went to #37 on the Billboard country chart. In the United Kingdom Phil Everly hit the top ten on the singles chart with "She Means Nothing to Me", performed with Cliff Richard, in 1982. During this period Phil Everly also wrote  "Don't Say You Don't Love Me No More" for the Clint Eastwood film Every Which Way But Loose (1978), as well as "One Too Many Women In Your Life" for its sequel, Any Which Way You Can (1980).

It was in 1983, around ten years after their break up, that The Everly Brothers reunited. They performed a reunion concert at  the Royal Albert Hall in London on 23 September 1983. Both a live album recorded from the concert and a video of the concert performed fairly well on the charts. The Everly Brothers recorded three more albums together: EB 84 in 1984,   Born Yesterday in 1986, and Some Hearts in 1988. The Everly Brothers recorded no more studio albums, although they continued to tour together.

They also recorded with other artists, appearing on Johnny Cash's 1989 single "Ballad of a Teenage Queen". Phil Everly sung a duet with Dutch recording star René Shuman on her 1990 song "On Top of the World". Together Don and Phil Everly performed the song cold for  a concept album based on Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jim Steinman's musical Whistle Down the Wind.  In 2003 and 2004 The Everly Brothers toured with Simon & Garfunkel during the latter duo's Old Friends reunion tour. In 2006 Phil Everly performed the song "Sweet Little Corinna" with country singer Vince Gill .

It is no exaggeration to say that The Everly Brothers were among the most influential rock 'n' roll artists of all time. Their close vocal harmony, with Don usually taking the baritone part and Phil the tenor part (with a few notable exceptions). This would prove to have a lasting impact on rock music as a whole. The Everly Brothers would be a huge influence on The Beatles, who would employ Everly style harmonies in many of their early songs. Indeed, The Everly Brothers would have an influence on the British Invasion bands as a whole. Indeed, The Hollies may owe The Everly Brothers an even greater debt than The Beatles do. Other British groups were also influenced by The Everly Brothers, including Freddie and The Dreamers, Peter and Gordon, Herman's Hermits, and others. Of course, The Everly Brothers would also have a lasting impact on bands in their native United States. The Beach Boys, The Byrds, and Simon & Garfunkel all utilised harmonies of the sort employed by The Everly Brothers.

Indeed, such was The Everly Brother's influence that they played a role in the creation of at least one subgenre of rock music. Power pop can be described as the harmonies of The Everly Brothers blended with the melodies of Buddy Holly and mixed with the pure electric guitar sound of Chuck Berry (with guitar riffs figuring prominently). Indeed, The Everly Brothers themselves would performed what could be considered early power pop (or proto-power pop) on their album Two Yanks in England. Everly Brothers style harmonies can be heard throughout the history of power pop, from Cheap Trick in the Seventies to Enuff Z'Nuff in the Eighties to The Posies in the Nineties, and to Fountains of Wayne in the Naughts.

Of course, The Everly Brothers influenced more than the subgenre of power pop. They had a huge impact on folk rock, with both The Byrds and Simon & Garfunkel owing them a huge debt. They were also fundamental in the development of country rock. They recorded one of the earliest country rock albums (Roots) and as a result would have an impact on artists as varied as The Eagles and Lucinda Williams. In the end it would be hard to find a subgenre of rock music that was not influenced by The Everly Brothers.

Along with his brother Don, Phil Everly was part of a revolution that would change popular music forever. It was not so simple as inspiring a number of imitators. Instead The Everly Brothers were largely responsible for the creation of whole new subgenres of rock and roll. Without The Everly Brothers it seems quite likely that The Beatles, The Hollies, The Byrds, Simon & Garfunkel, and many other groups would not exist, at least as we know them. The Everly Brothers still hold the record for the most singles from a duo to hit the Billboard Hot 100. It seems quite likely they were the most influential duo in rock and roll as well.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Godspeed Juanita Moore

Juanita Moore, the extremely talented actress who received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her part in Imitation of Life (1959), died yesterday. Her step-grandson Kirk Kahn said she was 99 years old.

Juanita Moore was born on 19 October 1914 in Los Angeles, California. She began her career as a chorus girl at the Cotton Club in New York City before acting on stage. She made her film debut in an uncredited part as a dancer in Star Spangled Rhythm in 1942. She went on to appear in uncredited roles in Cabin in the Sky (1943) and Pinky (1949). In the Fifties she performed at the  Ebony Showcase Theatre in Los Angeles. She appeared in uncredited roles in Tarzan's Peril (1951), No Questions Asked (1951), Skirts Ahoy! (1952), and Lydia Bailey (1952) before receiving her first screen credit in Affair in Trinidad (1952).

In the Fifties Miss Moore appeared in such films as The Royal African Rifles (1953), Witness to Murder (1954) , Women's Prison (1955), Ransom! (1956), The Girl Can't Help It (1956), Band of Angels (1957), The Helen Morgan Story (1957), and The Green-Eyed Blonde (1957). In 1959 she appeared in Imitation of Life, playing Annie, Johnson, the housekeeper and best friend of Lana Turner's character Lora Meredith. She made her television debut in an episode of Ramar of the Jungle in 1953. She guest starred on the shows Soldiers of Fortune, and The DuPont Show with June Allyson.

In the Sixties she appeared in the films Tammy Tell Me True (1961), Walk on the Wild Side (1962), A Child Is Waiting (1963), Papa's Delicate Condition (1963), The Singing Nun (1966), Rosie! (1967), Uptight (1968), and Angelitos negros (1970). In 1965 she appeared on Broadway in The Amen Corner. She made guest appearances on such television shows as Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Cain's Hundred, Wagon Train, Ben Casey, Mr. Novak, The Farmer's Daughter, Slattery's People, Gentle Ben, and Mannix. 

In the Seventies Juanita Moore appeared in such films as Skin Game (1971), The Mack (1973), Fox Style (1973), Thomasine & Bushrod (1974), The Zebra Killer (1974), Abby (1974), Fugitive Lovers (1975), and Deliver Us from Evil (1977). She appeared frequently on television, appearing in such shows as Ironside, Adam-12, Marcus Welby M.D., and The Richard Pryor Show. From the Eighties into the Naughts she appeared in the films Paternity (1981), And They're Off (1982), Two Moon Junction (1988), and The Kid (2000). She guest starred on Insight, ER, and Judging Amy.

Juanita Moore is best known for her role in Imitation of Life, and it was indeed an incredible part for which Miss Moore would become only the fourth African American woman to receive an Oscar nomination. That having been said, Miss Moore gave many great performances throughout her career.  What is more, not all of them were on film. I remember the Ironside episode "Accident" in which Miss Moore plays a woman whom Chief Ironside's assistant Mark accidentally struck with a car. She was wonderful in the part of a woman who may not be all she seems. She was equally impressive in a two part episode of Adam-12 in which she played a police commissioner--this at a time when many African American women of her age were still playing maids, nurses, and mothers.

Of course, I suspect most of us think of Miss Moore as a movie star, and she had the ability to shine in any film no matter how small the role. As Sister Mary in The Singing Nun she was eighth billed and yet she gave one of the strongest performances in the film, no mean feat given it starred such heavyweights as Ricardo Montalban, Greer Garson, and Agnes Moorehead. Even in only a few minutes Juanita Moore could give a better performance than many actors could in an hour. This was certainly the case with one of her early roles In Witness to Murder (1954) she leaves an impression as a mental patient. Juanita Moore was an incredible actress who was so capable of so much more than the many maids and mothers she played over the years.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year 2014

It's a brand new year! Today I'll leave you with a quote from T. S. Eliot and, of course, the usual pin ups.

“For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice.”
― T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

First up is the lovely Ann Miller

Next is Myrna Loy

The gorgeous Cyd Charisse
Jane Greer sets her clock!

Barbara Rush with a New Year's message

And last the lovely Julie Adams


Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 R.I.P.

The year 2013 is coming to a close. And I rather suspect that when most fans of vintage film, television, and music think of the year it will be on the many deaths that occurred during the year. Now I don't think more classic stars died during 2013. As I recall many, many more died in 2009 and 2010 respectively. That having been said, 2013 saw the passings of some very big names.

Indeed, I suspect I was not alone in feeling that my youth was passing before my eyes for much of 2013. Several individuals died who had an immeasurable impact on my life. Among those who died was stop motion animator, special effects creator, and film producer Ray Harryhausen. I am sure I have told many that his film Jason and the Argonauts (1963) was the first film I can remember watching all the way through, to the point that I am sure many of you are sick of hearing about it. The film made a lasting impression on me, to the point that I am not sure I would be a classic film buff or a writer without having seen it as such a young age.

Sadly, Ray Harryhausen was not the only person who died in 2013 who had a huge impact on my life. W. Watts Biggers was the creator of my favourite animated cartoon from my childhood, Underdog.  As the writer of many old films and episodes of The Twilight Zone Richard Matheson would have a lasting influence on my life. As an adult I would discover his books as well. Two musicians died during 2013 who would a lasting effect on my life. Reg Presley of The Troggs wrote and performed some of my favourite songs, and would have a lasting impact on punk music. Lou Reed's influence would go even further. He would not only have an impact on punk rock, but glam rock, New Wave, and power pop. Much of the music to which I listen might not exist had it not been for Lou Reed.

Beyond Ray Harryhausen, the death that would have the largest impact on me would be Joan Fontaine. In fact, while others may disagree, I think she may have been the biggest film star to die this years. Joan Fontaine was among the very first classic film stars I discovered and she has remained one of my favourite stars throughout the years. Indeed, I consider her role as the second Mrs. de Winter in Rebecca (1940) to be one of the most iconic in film history, perhaps surpassed only by Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind (1939) and Humphrey Bogart as Rick Blaine in Casablanca (1942).

Here I feel I have to apologise for discussing those people who had an impact on myself, and I am sure that many of the other big stars who died during 2013 had a huge impact on others' lives. Indeed, some of the biggest names in film history died this year. Eleanor Parker (the character actress who looked like a leading lady), Deanna Durbin (the soprano who became America's sweetheart), Esther Williams (the Olympic level swimmer who became a film star), Annette Funicello (star of the "Beach Party" films and America's Sweetheart if there ever was one), Jean Kent (British screen legend and last of the Gainsborough Girls), Audrey Totter (the queen of film noir) and Peter O'Toole (the man most nominated for the Best Actor Oscar without actually winning) all died in 2013. What is more, many more big name stars of film and television died during the year, including Frank Thornton, Joanthan Winters, Miles O'Shea, Jeanne Cooper, Dennis Farina, James Gandolfino, Jean Stapleton, Michael Ansara, Eileen Brennan, Julie Harris, and Tom Laughlin. With regards to film, Bryan Forbes was not simply a film star, but a director and writer as well. He was a multi-talent who not only directed such films as The L-Shaped Room (1962), Seance on a Wet Afternoon (1964), and The Wrong Box (1966), but acted in film and wrote books as well. Sir David Frost was not a film star, but he was very nearly as famous. A consummate satirist and interview, he was famous on both sides of the Pond.

Several great musicians besides Reg Presley and Lou Reed died in 2013. Indeed, I've always maintained that Ray Manzarek was as responsible for The Doors' success as Jim Morrison. Quite simply, The Doors would not have been The Doors without Mr. Manzarek's incredible keyboard work. The year would also see the passing of Peter Banks, formerly of Yes, one of the most legendary progressive rock guitarists of all time, as well as Kevin Ayers, leader of the influential but under-appreciated band Soft Machine. The year would also see the passing of legendary vocalist Patti Page, Patty Andrews of The Andrews Sisters, Rick Huxley of The Dave Clark Five, Bobby Rogers of The Miracles, Alvin Lee of Ten Years After, Trevor Bolder of The Spiders From Mars and Uriah Heep, and Eydie Gorme.

Of course, more than deaths occurred in 2013. Indeed, I honestly think American network broadcast television saw some improvement during the year. After years of churning out the same old thing, the four networks seemed more willing to experiment in 2013. On NBC The Blacklist, which perhaps can best be described as a thriller, debuted this season. ABC ventured into the world of superheroes with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Several genre shows debuted this fall, including Sleepy Hollow, Dracula, and Once Upon a Time in Wonderland.  It seems as if the networks are finally trying to break free of the cops and robbers and lawyers shows they have made for so many years. While I can't say all of these shows are necessarily good, they are at least different. As to the best new show in the 2013-2014 season, I would have to give that to The Michael J. Fox Show. Not only is it good to see Michael J. Fox back on television, but the show is genuinely funny and well written.

Living on a slightly more limited income than I have in past years, I have to confess that I did not pay too much attention to what was released at cinemas this year. With regards to quality, then, I can't say if 2013 was any better or worse than past years. I do have to say that it seems as if Hollywood's trend towards sequels has continued unabated. Of the top ten films of 2013 so far, six were sequels (Iron Man 3, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Monsters University, Fast & Furious 6, and  Star Trek Into Darkness). What films were not sequels were often based on properties from other media (Man of Steel, Oz: The Great and Powerful). In the end, the only two wholly original films among the highest grossing movies of 2013 were Gravity and Frozen (and even it was very  loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen). People have been complaining about a lack of originality on the part of Hollywood for years now. Sadly, the top movies of 2013 show that they have reason to complain.

Over all I cannot say 2013 was a bad year for pop culture. Over all television seems to be improving slightly. That having been said, film seems to be stuck in a rut of sequels and giving us little in the way of original material. And, of course, the year saw many, many deaths of big name stars. Sadly, given the ages of actors and directors from the Golden Ages of Film and Television, I fear that is a trend that will continue for many years. At any rate, I think I can speak for everyone when I say that I hope 2014 is a much better year.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Tom Laughlin Passes On

Tom Laughlin, perhaps best known for the lead role in the "Billy Jack" films (which he also directed), died on 12 December 2013 at the age of 82. The cause was complications from pneumonia.

Tom Laughlin was born 10 August 1931 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He attended the University of South Dakota, where he met his future wife Delores Taylor, and later Marquette University. He became interested in acting after seeing a stage production of A Streetcar Named Desire.

Tom Laughlin made his television debut in a 1955 episode of Climax. In the late Fifties he guest starred on such shows as Matinee Theatre, Front Row Centre, Navy Log, The Millionaire, Lux Video Theatre, The Silent Service, Man With a Camera, M Squad, Wagon Train, The Deputy, and Tales of Wells Fargo. He made his film debut in an uncredited bit part in These Wilder Years (1956). In the late Fifties he appeared in the films Tea and Sympathy (1956), The Delinquents (1957), South Pacific (1958), Lafayette Escadrille (1958), Senior Prom (1958), Gidget (1959), Battle of the Coral Sea (1959), and Tall Story (1960).

It was in 1960 that Tom Laughlin broke into directing with The Proper Time, in which he starred and which he also produced and wrote. It was released in 1962. In 1961 he left the entertainment industry to operate a  Montessori preschool in Santa Monica that he and his wife had founded in 1959. The school closed in 1965 and Mr. Laughlin returned to acting and directing. He wrote, directed, and starred in The Young Sinner (1965) before acting in, directing, and writing a film that would change the course of his career. The Born Losers (1967) starred Tom Laughlin as Billy Jack, a half Native American veteran of the Vietnam War who finds himself at odds with a motorcycle gang. The film was notable not only for introducing the character of Billy Jack, but as one of the earliest films in the West to feature martial arts (a full six years before the kung fu fad of the Seventies).

Tom Laughlin followed The Born Losers with a sequel that would prove even more successful. Billy Jack proved an unlikely hit given its history. Filming began in 1969, but was halted when American International Pictures pulled out of the project. 20th Century Fox then took over and the film was eventually completed in 1971. Unfortunately 20th Century Fox elected not to distribute the film. It was then distributed by Warner Brothers. Unfortunately, the film did poorly at the box office. Tom Laughlin was unhappy with Warner Brothers' distribution of the film and sued the studio to get it back. Mr. Laughlin then re-released the film in 1973, whereupon  it became a hit, earning $40 million at the box office.

Tom Laughlin followed Billy Jack with a sequel, The Trial of Billy Jack, in 1974. It also proved to be a hit, in a large part due to its promotion (more on that later). The following year Tom Laughlin starred in The Master Gunfighter (1975). Directed by his son Frank and written by himself,  it was a remake of the Japanese film Goyokin (1969) with some basis in a historical massacre of Native Americans in California in the late 19th Century. The Master Gunfighter fared poorly both with critics and at the box office.

Tom Laughlin appeared in the films The Littlest Horse Thieves (1976) and Voyage of the Damned (1976) before making the final "Billy Jack" film. Billy Jack Goes to Washington (1977). The film never received a regular theatrical run and as a result of its poor distribution failed at the box office. It would be the last completed film that Tom Laughlin directed and the last completed "Billy Jack" film. Tom Laughlin appeared in The Big Sleep (1978)  and The Legend of the Lone Ranger (1981), which proved to be his last appearances on the big screen. In 1986 he attempted to make another "Billy Jack" film, The Return of Billy Jack. Unfortunately, during the shooting of the film Mr. Laughlin suffered a head injury. By the time he recovered the production had run out of money. The film was never finished, with only an hour of it shot. Various attempts over the years to relaunch the project all failed.

Over the years Tom Laughlin engaged in activities beyond film making. Although he had no degree in the field, Mr. Laughlin was regarded as quite knowledgeable about Jungian psychology. He lectured on the subject at various universities across the nation (including Yale and Stanford). He also wrote the book Jungian Theory and Therapy (Jungian Psychology, Vol. 2). He also attempted a political career, running for President in 1992, 2004, and 2008.

I doubt that there are many who would consider the "Billy Jack" films "classics". That having been said, I do think they work on a visceral level and they very much captured the Zeitgeist of the Seventies. And, for all their flaws, the "Billy Jack" films can be said to be ahead of their time. The Born Losers, Billy Jack, and The Trial of Billy Jack touched upon Native American rights, an issue still largely unaddressed in American films and television shows. Both The Born Losers and Billy Jack presaged the martial arts craze of 1973 and 1974 by several years. In both films Billy Jack utilised hapkido in his fights. Indeed, in many respects both The Born Losers and Billy Jack could be considered early, American martial arts films, this before the Hong Kong films had made inroads into the United States.

The films themselves would not only be ahead of their time, but so too would be the distribution of The Trial of Billy Jack. While the practice of wide releases (debuting a film in multiple cities all on the same day) had existed since the Fifties, it was still rare in the Seventies. When The Trial of Billy Jack opened in several theatres across the United States on the same day , then, it was a somewhat revolutionary move. And while television advertising for films was an established practice by that time, The Trial of Billy Jack was even advertised during the national news. Or course, today wide releases and national television advertising are established practices.

While in many respects Tom Laughlin was ahead of his time, he was also no darling of the critics. To this day his oeuvre is not highly regarded. While he may not have necessarily been a great director, writer, or producer, however, I do think Tom Laughlin was a good actor. He gave a very good performance in the Wagon Train episode "The Mary Halstead Story", playing a young outlaw. And while the scripts and direction of the "Billy Jack" films may have left something to be desire, Tom Laughlin was very convincing in the role. Indeed, it seems possible, even likely, that the reasons the films succeed and continue to be remembered to this day is that Tom Laughlin played the part of the hapkido using, half Native American Green Beret very well. Indeed, if the "Billy Jack" films are remembered (and I suspect they will be), it will be for Tom Laughlin's performance in the role.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Marta Eggerth R.I.P.

Film actress and opretta star Marta Eggerth died on 26 December 2013 at the age of 101.

Marta Eggerth was born on 17 April 1912 in Budapest, Austria-Hungary (now Hungary). Her father was a banker, while her mother was singer. Encouraged by her mother, Miss Eggerth began singing when she was very young. While only a teenager she toured Denmark, Holland, and Sweden. By the time she was 17 she was in Vienna as an understudy to coloratura Adele Kern in a production of  The Violet of Montmartre. When Miss Kern was unable to perform due to her health, Marta Eggerth went on in her place. It turned out to be her big break. She went onto appear in director Max Reinhardt's production of Die Fledermaus.

It was in 1930 that she made her film debut in Csak egy kislány van a világon (1930). She made her English language film debut in Let's Love and Laugh (1931).  Over the next several years she made several films in both Europe and the United Kingdom, including  Der Draufgänger (1931), Where Is This Lady? (1932--directed by Billy Wilder),  Es war einmal ein Walzer (1932),  Ein Lied, ein Kuss, ein Mädel (1932), Die Czardasfürstin (1934), Die blonde Carmen (1935), Die ganze Welt dreht sich um Liebe (1935), Zauber der Boheme (1937), and Immer wenn ich glücklich bin..! (1938).

It was in 1940 that Marta Eggerth made her debut on Broadway in the Rogers and Hart musical Higher and Higher. She was signed by MGM, who featured her prominently in the film For Me and My Gal (1942). She also had a prominent role in Presenting Lily Mars (1943). Despite meeting with success, Miss Eggerth asked to be released early from her contract with MGM. She appeared on Broadway in a revival of The Merry Widow, which she would perform with her husband Jan Kiepura ( in various venues over the next two decades. She appeared one more time on Broadway in Polonaise. She went onto appear in the films Valse brillante (1949), Das Land des Lächelns (1952), and Frühling in Berlin (1957).

Following the death of her husband, Jan Kiepura, in 1966, Miss Eggerth retired from singing for a time. She eventually started singing again, and went on to perform concerts in Europe. In 1984 she appeared in Colette in both Seattle and Denver. She also appeared in Stephen Sondheim's Follies in Pittsburgh. At 97 years of age, in 1999, she sang at the Vienna State Opera. It was also in 1999 that she made her only guest appearance on a television programme, in the detective series Tatort. She had two concerts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2006 and 2007. She continued to perform in cabarets well into her nineties.

Marta Eggerth was an incredible singer. In fact, she may well have been one of the greatest sopranos of the 20th Century. Her voice was light and mellifluous, perfect for operettas. And she was an artist when it came to delivering a performance. She deliver the perfect amount of emotion for any given lyric she sang. Of course, she was obviously beautiful. It is little wonder she had a thriving film career in Europe in the Thirties, and I suspect I am not the only classic film fan who wishes she had made more films in Hollywood. She was in many ways the perfect star: talented and beautiful, and possessed of an incredible singing voice.