Saturday, May 10, 2014

TV Director and Actress Nancy Malone Passes On

Nancy Malone died 8 May 2014 at the age of 79. The cause was complications from a recent fight with leukaemia. Miss Malone was an actress who played Detective Flint's girlfriend Libby on the classic TV show Naked City, and also directed several episodes of various TV shows. In the Seventies she was an executive at 20 Century Fox.

Nancy Malone was born Ann Maloney on 19 March 1935 in New York City. She was only seven years old when she started a career as a model and appeared in print advertisements for such companies as the Ford Motor Company, Kellogg's, and Macy's. She was only 10 years old when she appeared on the 10th anniversary cover of Life as "the Typical American Girl".

 In 1950 she made her television debut in an episode of The Silver Theatre. During the Fifties she appeared in such television shows as The First Hundred Years, The Bigelow Theatre, Lux Video Theatre, Hallmark Hall of Fame, Armstrong Circle Theatre, The Alcoa Hour, Robert Montgomery Presents, Kraft Theatre, and Route 66. In 1960 she was cast as Libby on Naked City and appeared throughout the run of the show. During the Fifties she also appeared in the films Fright (1956) and The Violators (1957).

In the Sixties she was a regular on The Guiding Light from 1961 to 1963 and The Long, Hot Summer. She appeared on such shows as The Great Adventure, Dr. Kildare, 77 Sunset Strip, The Outer Limits, The Twilight Zone, Run for You Life, The Fugitive, Bonanza, Tarzan, The Andy Griffith Show, The Big Valley, Hawaii Five-O, Marcus Welby M.D., The Flying Nun, and McCloud. She appeared in the films An Affair of the Skin (1963) and Intimacy (1966).

In the Seventies Nancy Malone appeared on such shows as Dan August, The Partridge Family, The F.B.I., Owen Marshall: Counsellor at Law, Ironside, Cannon, McMillan & Wife, Gemini Man, and Switch. She had a recurring role on Forever Fernwood. She appeared in the film Capricorn One (1977). In 1975 she produced the TV film Winner Takes All. During the Seventies she would go onto produce the TV movies Sherlock Holmes in New York; Handle with Care; and Like Mom Like Me. In 1976 she became the first woman to be vice president of television at 20th Century Fox. It was in 1975 that she founded  Women in Film, a nonprofit organisation devoted to advancing women in the film and television industries.

In the Eighties Miss Malone took up directing, her directorial debut being the television movie Merlene of the Movies (which she also produced) in 1981. She went onto direct episodes of such shows as The Colbys, Cagney & Lacey, Hotel, and Dynasty, as well as the television movie There Were Times, Dear (which she also produced). She produced the television movies The Violation of Sarah McDavid  and The Impostor. She appeared in the TV shows Lou Grant and Scene of the Crime.

From the Nineties into the Naughts Nancy Malone directed episodes of such shows as Knot's Landing, Sisters, Melrose Place, Picket Fences, Star Trek: Voyager, Diagnosis Murder, Judging Amy, and Teh Guardian.

Friday, May 9, 2014

"Soul Man" by Sam & Dave

Tonight I feel under the weather and not quite up to a full blog post. For that reason and since it is the 77th anniversary of Dave Prater's birth, I will leave you with "Soul Man" by Sam & Dave.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Comic Book Artist Dick Ayers Passes On

Dick Ayers, who illustrated Marvel Comics ranging from Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos to The Incredible Hulk, died on 4 May 2014 at the age of 90.

Dick Ayers was born in Ossining, New York on 28 April 1924. His work was first published while he was serving in the Army Air Corps during World War II, in the comic strip Radio Ray in the military newspaper Radio Post. Following the war Mr. Ayers studied at the Cartoonists and Illustrators School in New York City under legendary illustrator Burne Hogarth. In 1947 he worked in the studio of Joe Schuster, artist and co-creator of Superman. It was Joe Schuster who put Dick Ayers in touch with Vin Sullivan, then editor at Magazine Enterprises. At Magazine Enterprises Dick Ayers illustrated various Western comic books, including Ghost Rider (which he co-created).

It was in 1952 that Mr. Ayers began to freelance for Atlas Comics (as Marvel Comics was called in the Fifties). He drew art for Atlas Comics' various horror and science fiction titles, including Astonishing, Journey into Mystery, Strange Tales, and Uncanny Tales. When the Golden Age Human Torch was revived in the mid-Fifties (running in Young Men # 21-24, June 1953 - Feb. 1954), it was Dick Ayers who provided the art. Mr. Ayers also freelanced for Charlton Comics during the Fifties, drawing art for their horror title The Thing.

As Atlas Comics evolved into the modern day Marvel Comics, Dick Ayers often served as an inker for Jack Kirby. He inked Mr. Kirby on such titles as Amazing Adventures, Journey into Mystery, Strange Tales, Tales of Suspense, and Tales to Astonish, as well as early issues of Fantastic Four and early appearances of Ant-Man, Thor, and The Incredible Hulk.  Mr. Ayers also inked Jack Kirby on early issues of  Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos.He took over entirely as its artist with issue #8, July 1964, and remained on the title for ten years. Mr. Ayers also worked on the Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D feature. He also worked on Marvel's version of Ghost Rider (the Western character) in the Sixties.

In the Seventies Dick Ayers good deal of work at DC Comics. He served as a penciler on such titles as Freedom Fighters, Kamandi, Sgt. Rock, and Weird Western Tales (on the feature Jonah Hex), and an inker on such titles as G. I. Combat, House of Mystery, and The Witching Hour. Later in his career he did a good deal of promotional work for Radio Shack promoting the TRS-80. In the Naughts he inked the "Doris Danger" stories in the magazine Tabloia #572-576.

There can be no doubt that Dick Ayers was one of the best artists working for Marvel in the Sixties and for DC in the Seventies. He had a very precise style with an attention to detail often lacking in other comic book artists. What is more, his style was all his own. One could tell an illustration by Dick Ayers from that of anyone else. His work on Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos and Jonah Hex remain some of the best artwork ever seen in comic books.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Tyrone Power's 100th Birthday

When many people think of stars of swashbuckler movies, chances are good that they will think of Errol Flynn. For me, however, it is Tyrone Power who always comes to mind. He played Zorro in The Mark of Zorro (1940). He starred in what I consider the greatest pirate movie ever made, The Black Swan (1942). He was Pedro de Vargas in Captain from Castile (1947). Errol Flynn may be better known, but for me Tyrone Power was the epitome of the swashbuckling star. Of course, Mr. Power starred in more than just swashbuckler films. He appeared in dramas such as The Razor's Edge (1946), Suez (1938), Witness for the Prosecution (1957), and The Long Grey Line (1955). He even starred in several comedies, such as That Wonderful Urge (1948) and Café Metropole (1937). Mr. Power also appeared several times on Broadway in such productions as Saint Joan and John Brown's Body. Tyrone Power, the consummate swashbuckling star and an actor of considerable range, was born 100 years ago today.

Tyrone Power was born Tyrone Edmund Power on 4 May 1914 in Cincinnati, Ohio. He was part of an acting dynasty that went back over a century. His great grandfather was Irish comedian, actor, and stage manager William Grattan Tyrone Power (known professionally as "Tyrone Power", 1795–1841).  His father was silent film star Frederick Tyrone Edmond Power (also known professionally as "Tyrone Power", 2 May 1869 – 23 December 1931). It was because of his father's fame that Tyrone Power was billed as "Tyrone Power Jr. in his earliest films. Through his great grandfather Tyrone Power was related to legendary stage director Tyrone Guthrie as well.

Given that Tyrone Power came from a family of actors, it was quite natural that he would go into acting himself. His film debut actually came while he was still a child, with a small part in the 1925 drama School for Wives. He had very small, uncredited roles in such films  as Tom Brown of Culver (1932), Flirtation Walk (1934), and Northern Frontier (1935). In 1935 he also appeared on Broadway in Flowers of the Forest. In the 1936 film Girls' Dormitory Tyrone Power appeared as Count Vallais. Although eighth in the billing, the role was much more substantial than any he had received before (which often amounted to little more than being a glorified extra). It was later in 1936 that Tyrone Power received his first lead role. Although fourth billed, Mr. Power was for all extents and purposes the star of Lloyd's of London. The film would prove pivotal in his career. Lloyd's of London established Tyrone Power as a star. It was a beginning of a career that would see a great deal of success.

While today Tyrone Power is best known for his roles in swashbuckler movies, he had been a major star for a few years before he appeared in his first swashbuckling role. It was in 1940 that Mr. Power starred in the role of Don Diego Vega and his alter ego Zorro in The Mark of Zorro, a remake of the phenomenally popular 1920 silent film of the same name starring Douglas Fairbanks. Like the 1920 film, The Mark of Zorro (1940) proved to be a success, so much so that it changed the direction of Tyrone Power's career. Tyrone Power became one of the best known stars of swashbucklers, perhaps surpassed only by Errol Flynn.

Tyrone Power proved ideal as a star of swashbuckler films, and not simply because he was handsome, dashing, and charming. Mr. Power actually was quite skilful with a sword. Master fencer and his co-star in The Mark of Zorro Basil Rathbone said of him, "Power was the most agile man with a sword I’ve ever faced before a camera. Tyrone could have fenced Errol Flynn into a cocked hat." Beyond Tyrone Power's skill with a blade, however, there was the simple fact that he was an extremely talented and versatile actor. Such was Tyrone Power's acting talent that he could give his characters a depth that very few of the other stars of swashbuckler movies ever could. Benjamin Blake in Son of Fury (1942), Jamie Waring in The Black Swan, Pedro de Vargas in Captain from Castile (1947), Andrea Orsini in Prince of Foxes (1949), and Walter of Gurnie in The Black Rose (1950) seem all the more heroic quite simply because Tyrone Power made them seem like real, four dimensional people. If The Black Swan is one of the greatest pirate movies ever made (the greatest in my opinion), it's largely because of Mr. Power's portrayal of Jamie.

 Of course, while Tyrone Power may be best known for his swashbuckler films, some of his most notable achievements in acting would be in dramas. In fact, his greatest performance could well be in the 1946 film adaptation of  of W. Somerset Maugham's novel The Razor's Edge. As World War I veteran Larry Darrell, Tyrone Power gave a nuanced yet highly powerful performance of a man trying to make sense out of life. That he was not even nominated for the Oscar for Best Actor has to be one of the great snubs in Academy Awards history. Tyrone Power also gave an impressive performance in his final role, that of accused murderer Leonard Vole in Witness for the Prosecution (1957). Tyrone Power gave outstanding performances in most of the dramas in which he starred, including Suez, Crash Dive (1943), This Above All (1942), and Nightmare Alley (1947), among others.

Although he is not particularly well known for them today, Tyrone Power also starred in a number of comedies. What is more, he had a true gift for the genre. Three of his earliest starring roles were in comedies opposite Loretta Young: Love is News, Café Metropole, and Second Honeymoon all from 1937. What is more, Tyrone Power continued to appear in comedies throughout much of his career, including Day-Time Wife (1939--opposite future Mark of Zorro co-star Linda Darnell), The Luck of the Irish (1948), and That Wonderful Urge (1948). Mr. Power's comedies often gave him the chance to play roles quite unlike those he played in other films. Indeed, in Day-Time Wife he comes off rather convincingly as a bit of a jerk!

Like many leading men of the Thirties, Forties, and Fifties Tyrone Power made more than his fare share of Westerns. Indeed, he was the star of one of the classics of the genre, playing the title character in Jesse James (1939). While the film is entirely historically inaccurate, Mr. Power does a good job of playing Jesse James, delivering a very nuanced and highly convincing performance. He also did well in Rawhide (1951), a Western with a nearly film noir sensibility (not surprising given it was a very loose remake of the 1935 gangster film Show Them No Mercy). Among Mr. Power's other Westerns were Pony Soldier (1952), and The Mississippi Gambler (1953).

Although best known for his swashbuckler films, Tyrone Power appeared in very nearly every genre Hollywood had to offer. He even starred in a film that can be considered outright fantasy (or perhaps even science fiction). The House in the Square was based on the 1926 play Berkeley Square, which was previously adapted in 1933 as the film Berkeley Square starring Leslie Howard. In The House in the Square (1951) Tyrone Power plays Peter Standish, a scientist who finds himself transported back to the year 1874. Tyrone Power plays Standish, who is very much a fish out of water, very well, giving a very subtle performance.

Tyrone Power was an accomplished actor with considerable talent. Indeed, it is because of that talent that he is so well remembered for his swashbuckler films. Mr. Power's athleticism and his skill with a sword make his swashbuckler movies a must see for any fan of the genre. At the same time, however, Tyrone Power had such talent that he could give his characters in his swashbuckler films a depth not always seen in the genre. One rooted for Zorro or Jamie Waring not simply because they were heroes, but because they seemed like real people with whom one could sympathise. While he is best known for his swashbuckler films, however, it is important to remember that Tyrone Power made many different sorts of films. As demonstrated by The Razor's Edge and Witness for the Prosecution, he had a real gift for drama. Tyrone Power also demonstrated he had a gift for comedy in such films as Café Metropole, Day-Time Wife, and That Wonderful Urge. Ultimately Tyrone Power was an actor of considerable talent who could not only play heroic figures, but characters who were not the least bit sympathetic. It would be very hard to find another actor who could play Zorro, Larry Darrell, and Leonard Vole and do each of the roles justice. Tyrone Power could, which is why he still remains one of the best known stars of his era.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Godspeed Al Feldstein

Writer and artist Al Feldstein, best known as long time editor of Mad magazine, died on 29 April 2014 at the age of 88.

Al Feldstein was born on 24 October 1925 in Brooklyn, New York. He took to art while very young. It was when he was eight years old that he won third place in the John Wanamaker art competition. He later won an award in the 1939 New York World's Fair poster contest. Mr. Feldstein studied art at the High School of Music and Art in Manhattan. He was only 15 when he went to work at Will Eisner and Jerry Iger's comic book packaging studio. He started out doing menial tasks and went onto draw backgrounds for Sheena, Queen of the Jungle.

After graduating from high school Al Feldstein took classes at Brooklyn College and the Art Students League of New York. With World War II under way, Mr. Feldstein enlisted in the United States Army Air Forces.He was assigned to Special Services. During the war he illustrated the comic strip Baffy for the newspaper of the base in Blytheville, Arkansas, painted signs, designed posters and so on.

Following the war Al Feldstein worked as a freelancer in the comic book industry. He did quite a bit of work for Fox Feature Syndicate, writing and drawing the teen humour titles Junior and Sunny, as well as writing and drawing Meet Corliss Archer (based on the radio show of the same name). It was comic book letterer Jim Wroten who warned Mr. Feldstein that Victor Fox (who owned Fox Feature Syndicate) was having financial difficulties and told Mr. Feldstein that he should make sure that he got paid for his work before he started on another comic book for Fox. It was also Jim Wroten who suggested that Al Feldstein visit a young publisher named Bill Gaines who had just inherited E. C. Comics from his father (the legendary M. C. Gaines, who had died in a boating accident on Lake Placid).

Al Felstein then took samples of his work to Bill Gaines, who immediately hired him to work on E.C.'s new teen humour comic book, Going Steady With Peggy. Unfortunately, Mr. Feldstein had only finished pencilling the first issue of Going Steady With Peggy before Bill Gaines cancelled the project upon learning that sales for teen humour titles were less than desirable. Fortunately Al Feldstein still found plenty to do at EC Comics, drawing and eventually writing stories for such titles as Crime Patrol, Gunfighter, Saddle Justice, and War Against Crime. By 1950 Al Feldstein was not only an artist and writer at E.C.Comics, but an editor as well.

It was in 1950 that Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein launched a new line of comic books they called "the New Trend", comic books that were meant to be more literate and socially aware. The first title was The Crypt of Terror, its first issue cover dated October/November 1950. The Crypt of Terror (later retitled Tales from the Crypt) would be followed by two more horror titles, The Vault of Horror and The Haunt of Fear. Although best known for their horror titles, EC Comics would publish titles in other genres as part of the New Trend. Al Feldstein worked on titles that ranged from science fiction/fantasy comic books (Weird Fantasy and Weird Science) to crime (Crime SuspenStories).

Unfortunately the late Forties and early Fifties had seen increasing concern on the part of moral watchdogs with regards to comic books, particularly crime and horror titles of the sort published by EC Comics. The comic book industry was eventually forced to form a self regulating body called the Comics Code Authority. In the wake of the institution of the Comics Code, EC cancelled all of their horror and crime comic books. EC Comics then launched a line of titles they called the "New Direction", which included Impact (essentially a watered down version of Shock SunspenStories), Valour (a title dedicated to historical adventures), and Aces High (which featured stories about aerial combat during both World War I and World War II). As with the New Trend, many of the New Direction titles were edited by Al Feldstein. The New Direction titles did not sell well and E.C. found itself constantly at odds with the Comics Code Authority. It was then in 1956 that E.C. Comics cancelled all of its titles except for Mad, which by then had been converted to a black and white magazine format.

Mad was the creation of Harvey Kurtzman and its first issue was cover dated October–November 1952. For its first two issues Mad published parodies of other comic books, but by its third issue it had expanded to parodies of radio shows, TV shows, films, comic strips, and even books.  Mad took its current form as a black and white magazine with issue #24, July 1955. Although it is popularly believed that Mad became a magazine in order to avoid the Comics Code Authority, in fact it was a matter of Bill Gaines trying to retain Harvey Kurtzman as its editor. Harvey Kurtzman had been offered a position with Pageant. Knowing that Mr. Kurtzman had wanted Mad to become a slick magazine, Bill Gaines then changed its format so that he would remain as its editor.

Harvey Kurtzman did not remain with Mad as a magazine for long, leaving it in 1956. Bill Gaines then hired Al Feldstein as the new editor of Mad magazine. While Harvey Kurtzman had created Mad, it was arguably Al Feldstein who shaped it into the magazine with which everyone is familiar. It was with Al Feldstein's second issue that a kid with big ears and a wide grin appeared on the cover of Mad as its candidate for President of the United States. Of course, the kid was Alfred E. Neuman, who has remained its mascot to this day. Al Feldstein also assembled a team of humour writers rarely matched in the history of magazines, including Don Martin, Mort Drucker, Dave Berg, Antonio Prohia, and Al Jaffee.

With Al Feldstein as its editor Mad magazine became even more successful. By the early Sixties Mad magazine had risen to a circulation of a million. By 1974 it had reached its peak of  2,850,000. Mr. Feldstein remained with Mad for 28 years, retiring in 1984.

Following his retirement Al Feldstein moved to Wyoming and then Montana where he owned a 270 acre ranch. He took up oil painting, painting both Western wildlife and landscapes.

Even if Al Feldstein had not been the editor of Mad magazine, he would have made an important contribution to American pop culture.  Quite simply, it was Mr. Feldstein who, alongside publisher Bill Gaines, launched E.C. Comics' "New Trend". With Bill Gaines he created Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror, The Haunt of Fear, Shock SusnpenStories, and many other of EC Comics' best remembered titles. Although E.C. Comics' New Trend line only lasted for about four and a half years, it would have a lasting impact on American popular culture. They would influence the work of such figures as writer Stephen King, director George Romero, director Robert Zemeckis, director Wes Craven, and, of course, numerous comic books artists and writers. Stories from the New Trend titles have been adapted for film and television, most notably in the Amicus films Tales from the Crypt (1972) and Vault of Horror (1973) and the 1989-1996 HBO television series Tales from the Crypt.

Of course, even given Al Feldstein's role in E.C. Comics' New Trend line of comic books, there can be no doubt that his most lasting impact was as the editor of Mad magazine. While the tone of the magazine was largely set by its creator Harvey Kurtzman, it was Al Feldstein who transformed it into a true force in American pop culture. As mentioned earlier, Mr. Feldstein assembled one of the greatest creative teams in the history of magazines. It was also during Al Feldstein's long tenure as editor that Mad magazine's style of humour, cheerfully mocking and just a little bit subversive, was refined. Mad would inspire such imitators as Cracked and Crazy, as well as lead the way for such humour magazines as The National Lampoon, Spy, and The Onion. Never mind that the magazine was the basis for the Fox TV series MADtv, it would have a lasting impact on television and film as well, leaving an imprint on everything from Saturday Night Live to The Daily Show. It is quite possible that between his role in EC Comics' New Trend titles and his long tenure as editor of Mad magazine that Al Feldstein could be one of the most influential men to emerge from the comic book industry. He has certainly left behind a considerable legacy.