Friday, September 5, 2014

House of the Rising Sun

It was fifty years ago today that The Animals' version of "House of the Rising Sun" hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States. Contrary to popular belief, "House of the Rising Sun" did not originate with The Animals. In fact, it is a classic American folk ballad whose authorship is essentially unknown. The earliest known recording of the song was by folk performers Tom Ashley and Gwen Foster in 1934. Mr. Ashley said that he had learned the song from his grandfather, Enoch Ashley.

Over the years several others would record "House of the Rising Sun", including Roy Acuff in 1938 (under the title "Rising Sun"), Woody Guthrie in 1941, Lead Belly in 1944 (under the title "In New Orleans") and 1948 (under the title "House of the Rising Sun"), Josh White in 1947, and Bob Dylan in 1961. According to Eric Burdon of The Animals, he learned the song from a Northumbrian folk singer Johnny Handle. The Animals' version has since become for many the definitive version.

Without further ado, here are The Animals with "House of the Rising Sun". 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Godspeed Bill Kerr

Actor Bill Kerr, who appeared in such films as The Dam Busters (1955) and Gallipoli (1981), as well as such TV shows as Glenview High and The New Adventures of Black Beauty, died on 28 August 2014 at the age of 92.

Bill Kerr was born on 10 June 1922 in Cape Town, South Africa. He grew up in  Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, Australia. He was born to a family of performers, and was on stage nearly from infancy. In 1932, when he was only around 10 years old, he began working in radio for the Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC). He made his film debut in 1933 in Harmony Row (1933). Over the next several years he played child parts on radio, and appeared in the film The Silence of Dean Maitland (1934).  During World War II he served in the Australian army.

Following World War II Bill Kerr migrated to the United Kingdom. He appeared on BBC Radio, frequently on the show Variety Bandbox. Still speaking with an Australian accent, he was referred to as "the boy from Wagga Wagga". It was during this time he developed his catchphrase, ""I'm only here for four minutes."

He spent much of the Fifties on the show Hancock's Half Hour, starring Tony Hancock, on BBC Radio. During the decade he appeared in such films as Penny Points to Paradise (1951), My Death Is a Mockery (1952), Appointment in London (1953), You Know What Sailors Are (1954), The Night My Number Came Up (1955), The Dam Busters (1955), Port of Escape (1956), and The Captain's Table (1959). He made his television debut on The Flying Doctor in 1959. He was a regular on the show Citizen James. He appeared on the West End in The Teahouse of the August Moon in 1956 and Damn Yankees in 1957.

In the Sixties Bill Kerr appeared frequently on television. He guest starred on such shows as Ghost Squad, Sykes and A.., No Hiding Place, Benny Hill, Doctor Who, and Adam Adamant Lives!. He had a recurring role on the show Compact. He appeared in the films A Pair of Briefs (1962), The Wrong Arm of the Law (1963), Doctor in Distress (1963), Doctor in Clover (1966), and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966). He appeared on the West End in  The Bed-Sitting Room and Play It Again, Sam.

In the Seventies he appeared on the TV shows Dixon of Dock Green; The Melting Pot; Run From the Morning; Father, Dear Father in Australia; and The Young Doctors. He was one of the regulars on Glenview High. He appeared in such films as Ghost in the Noonday Sun (1973), Tiffany Jones (1973), Girls Come First (1975), and House of Mortal Sin (1976). He appeared on the West End in The Good Old Bad Old Days and Cole.

In the Eighties he appeared in such films as Gallipoli (1981), Save the Lady (1982), The Pirate Movie (1982), The Year of Living Dangerously (1982) Razorback (1984), Vigil (1984), Relatives (1985), The Coca-Cola Kid (1985), The Lighthorsemen (1987), and Running from the Guns (1987). He appeared on the show Anzacs and was a regular on The New Adventures of Black Beauty.

In the Nineties Mr. Kerr was a regular on the shows Snowy and Minty. He appeared in the films Sweet Talker (1991) and Over the Hill (1992). In the Naughts he appeared in the films Let's Get Skase (2001), Peter Pan (2003), and Southern Cross (2004).

Put simply, Bill Kerr was a very funny man. Early in his career he developed the character of a slow witted simpleton and often acted as a foil to such comics as Tony Hancock, Spike Milligan, and Sid James. He was often the funniest person in the films in which he appeared, even when he was on screen very briefly. While he was well known as a comic actor, however, Mr. Kerr could do more serious parts. While Flight Lieutenant H. B. "Micky" Martin was not a big role in The Dam Busters, he did it well. He also delivered a solid performance as the grizzled hunter stalking a man-eating monster pig in the film Razorback (in fact, his performance is the one thing that makes the film worth seeing). Bill Kerr shined in nearly every role he played, both comedic and otherwise.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Director Andrew V. McLaglen Passes On

Andrew V. McLaglen, who directed many hours of televisions shows as well as several Western films, died on 30 August 2014 at the age of 94.

Andrew V. McLaglen was born on 28 July 1920 in London. His father was actor Victor McLaglen. Andrew V. McLaghen was still very young when his family moved to Hollywood in the early Twenties. He attended the Cate School in Carpinteria, California. He then attended the University of Virginia for a year. During World War II he was disqualified for service because at 6 foot 7 inches he was considered simply too tall for the service. During the war he worked for Lockheed, overseeing the production of the wings of P38s. It was during the war that he made his only two appearances in films as an actor. He had an uncredited role in the film Since You Went Away (1944) and played the role of Sgt. McNair in Paris Underground (1945).

Despite the small size of the parts, the two films reignited his childhood desire to work in film. He contacted Herbert T. Yates, then president of Republic Pictures, about getting a job at the studio. Mr. Yates gave him a position as a production clerk on Love, Honour and Goodbye (1945). He then served as a production assistant on the film Dakota (1945). Dakota would mark the first time he worked with John Wayne, with whom he would make many more films. Andrew V. MacLaglen worked for Republic for the next two years He worked as a clerk on Angel and the Badman (1947) before approaching Herbert T. Yates about becoming a second assistant director.

As a second assistant director Andrew V. McLaglen worked on such films as Killer Shark (1950), Bullfighter and the Lady (1951), Here Come the Marines (1952), Big Jim McLain (1952), Island in the Sky (1953), The High and the Mighty (1954), Track of the Cat (1954), and Blood Alley (1955). It was in 1956 that Andrew V. McLaglen received his first directing credit, on the Western Gun the Man Down starring James Arness. In the Fifties he would go onto direct the films Man in the Vault (1956),  and The Abductors (1957). He directed a good deal of television in the Fifties, including the majority of episodes of the classic Have Gun--Will Travel (including the very first episode). He also directed several episodes of Perry Mason, Rawhide, and Gunsmoke.

Although he continued to work in television, Andrew V. McLaglen's career shifted towards making movies in the Sixties. Among the films he made in the decade was the classic Western comedy McLintock! (1963), starring John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara. He worked again during the decade with John Wayne on the films Hellfighters (1968), The Undefeated (1969), and Chisum (1970). He also directed such films as The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come (1961), Shenandoah (1965), The Rare Breed (1966), The Ballad of Josie (1967), The Way West (1967), and The Devil's Brigade (1968). He also directed several episodes of Have Gun--Will Travel and Gunsmoke, as well as episodes of such shows as The Virginian, The Lieutenant, and Wagon Train.

In the Seventies Andrew V. McLaglen directed such films as One More Train to Rob (1971), Something Big (1971), Cahill U.S. Marshal (1973), The Last Hard Men (1976), The Wild Geese (1978), Ffolkes (1979), Breakthrough (1979), and The Sea Wolves (1980). He directed episodes of the TV shows Hec Ramsey, Amy Prentiss, and The Fantastic Journey. In the Eighties Mr. McLaglen directed the films Sahara (1983) and Return from the River Kwai (1989), as well as episodes of the mini-series The Blue and the Grey and On the Wings of Eagles and the TV movie The Shadow Riders. His last film was Eye of the Widow, released in 1991.

There can be little doubt that  Andrew V. McLaglen was perfectly suited to the Western genre. He directed a large number of them, both in film and on television. What Mr. McLaglen brought to the Western was an apparently innate feel for the genre.When Andrew V. McLaglen made a Western, there was no mistaking that it was a Western. He also had a gift for directing action scenes, a gift not only in display in his films, but in the TV show episodes he directed as well. If Have Gun--Will Travel is still considered a classic, it is not simply because of its talented star (the incredible Richard Boone) or its writers (which included creator Sam Rolfe), but because of Andrew V. McLaglen's talent for creating taut, exciting action sequences. What is more, Andrew V. McLaglen's talent for action extended to physical comedy.  If  McLintock! is still loved today, it is perhaps because of it sometimes complex sequences of slapstick. Andrew V. McLaglen's output could be uneven, but when his films were good they were among the very best.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Happy 95th Birthday to Marge Champion!

I must confess to always having something of a crush on Marge Champion. I have always had a weakness for dancers, and Marge Champion is one of the most beautiful of them all. What is more she is an extremely talented dancer who did things in her career that very few other dancers have ever done. Indeed, she was the model for Snow White's movements in Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). She would go onto model the movements of characters in other Disney films, including the Blue Fairy in  Pinocchio (1940), the dancing hippos in Fantasia (1940), and Maid Marion in Robin Hood (1973).

In 1947 Marge married fellow dancer Gower Champion and the two of them formed a very successful dance team. They appeared on nearly every major variety show on television in the late Forties and the Fifties, and they even had their own show, The Marge and Gower Champion Show, during the summer of 1957. Marge and Gower Champion would appear in several films together, including such movies as Show Boat (1951), Lovely to Look At (1952), Everything I Have Is Yours (1952), Give a Girl a Break (1953), and Three for the Show (1955).

Marge and Gower Champion divorced in 1973, but Marge continued to have a busy career without him. She served as both choreographer and dialogue coach on the mini-series The Awakening Land and Ike: The War Years, as well as a dialogue coach on the mini-series Masada in the Eighties. She served a dialogue coach on the television movie The Diary of Anne Frank and the choreographer on the TV movie When the Circus Came to Town. Marge also continued to appear in front of the camera, not only appearing on several variety shows, but also the movies The Party (1968), The Swimmer (1968), and Cockeyed Cowboys of Calico County (1970). She guest starred on the TV show Fame in the Eighties.

In tribute to Marge Champion on her 95th birthday, here are a few photos from her career.

Still Marjorie Belcher, here she is in costume for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Photo © Disney
Marjorie with some of the art for the Blue Fairy from Pinocchio
Marge and Gower Champion from the 7 March 1949 issue of Life
A publicity shot of Marge Champion and co-star Debbie Reynolds from Give a Girl a Break
Marge and Gower Champion with their son Gregg in 1957
Marge Champion circa 1952

Monday, September 1, 2014

Sub-Mariner The TV Series?

Today superheroes are big business on the big screen and there are none bigger than the characters published by Marvel Comics. As hard as it may be for some to believe now, this was not always the case. Despite a number of serials made in the Forties featuring various comic book characters (not to mention  Fleischer Studios' classic animated Superman shorts), a Marvel comics character only appeared once on the big screen during the Golden Age of Comics. That was the Captain America serial released in 1944. Sadly, it departed so dramatically from its source material that it was pretty much Captain America in name only. If the legends are to believed, however, Golden Age Marvel Comics character The Sub-Mariner very nearly made it to television in the Fifties.

According to Roy Thomas in the introduction to Atlas Age Heroes Masterworks Vol. 3: Sub-Mariner, Sub-Mariner creator Bill Everett in an interview around 1969 said that in 1954 negotiations had begun between Martin Goodman, publisher of the company that would become known as Marvel Comics, and a TV producer named Frank Saperstein about bringing The Sub-Mariner to television. Goodson-Todman Productions , best known for their many game shows was involved in the project, and some money was even provided by popular radio and television personality Arthur Godfrey. Those involved in the planned Sub-Mariner TV series had even settled on a star, movie actor Richard Egan, who had agreed to do a pilot. Supposedly the entire project was spurred by the wildly successful Adventures of Superman starring George Reeves. Eventually nothing came of the planned show because negotiations broke down between the TV producers and the company that would eventually be known as Marvel Comics.

Here I must note that in 1954 the company that would become Marvel Comics revived its Golden Age superheroes Captain America, The Sub-Mariner, and The Human Torch, none of whom had been published since 1949. According to Bill Everett it was because Martin Goodman was hoping the television deal for The Sub-Mariner would go through that the revival of his title lasted so much longer than either of the titles of Captain America or The Human Torch. While the revived titles of Captain America and The Human Torch only lasted two issues apiece, The Sub-Mariner's revived title lasted an entire nine issues. Presumably Martin Goodman did not wish to cancel the character's magazine with a television deal in the works.

Roy Thomas brought up the proposed Sub-Mariner TV show in an interview with Stan Lee conducted in May 1998 and published in Comic Book Artist #2, summer 1998. Mr. Thomas told Mr. Lee about the interview with Bill Everett and how Mr. Everett had said that in 1954 TV producers had approached Martin Goodman about a Sub-Mariner TV show that would star Richard Egan, how comedian Herb Shriner was involved in the deal, and how Arthur Godfrey had even provided some of the money. Roy Thomas asked Stan Lee if he knew anything about the deal for a Sub-Mariner show, to which Mr. Lee said, "Martin never discussed business deals with me, and that would have fallen under the heading of a business deal. This is the first that I've heard about it."

Regardless, the possibility of a television show in the Fifties featuring The Sub-Mariner and starring Richard Egan has become a bit of a legend among Golden Age comic book fans. In fact, in some ways it has taken on a life of its own.  A publicity photo of Richard Egan from the film Underwater! (1955) that someone Photoshopped to make him look like The Sub-Mariner has been floating around the internet for ages. Curiously, many people have mistaken it for a still photo from a pilot for the show, even though the project never even made it that far. The question for Golden Age comic book fans has always been how seriously to take the stories of a proposed Sub-Mariner TV show.

In some respects it would seem that the idea of a planned Sub-Mariner TV series in the Fifties perhaps should not be taken too seriously. There is no mention of a proposed Sub-Mariner TV show in issues of Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, or Billboard from the era. It would seem that if plans for a Sub-Mariner television series had gotten very far it would have mentioned in at least one, probably more, of the trade papers.

 I also have to wonder how likely it was that Richard Egan would have agreed to star in a Sub-Mariner TV show. I suppose it would largely depend upon when it had been offered to him. If The Sub-Mariner television show had been offered to him prior to signing with 20th Century Fox, he might have considered it. After all, prior to 1954 he primarily played secondary roles in films. It was in 1954 that he received his first starring role, in the science fiction film Gog. It was also in 1954 that Richard Egan signed with 20th Century Fox. Once that happened it seems highly unlikely that he would have considered starring in any television show. Quite simply, to do so he would have had to have broken his contract with 20th Century Fox. As it is, he would have little reason to do so. In 1954 at 20th Century Fox he played a significant role in Demetrius and the Gladiators and starred in the film Khyber Patrol. He would go on to star in several films in 1955. One has to wonder if Bill Everett confused Richard Egan with another actor or if the project was offered to Mr. Egan before he signed with 20th Century Fox. If it was offered to Mr. Egan and he accepted, then it would seem plans for the show would had to have fallen apart very quickly, otherwise he would not have signed with 20th Century Fox in 1954.

As to the likelihood that either Herb Shriner or Arthur Godfrey would have been involved, that is anyone's guess.

While no mention is made of a planned Sub-Mariner television show in any of the trade papers of the time and it seems dubious that they could have gotten Richard Egan as its star, that does not mean that plans for a Sub-Mariner show were a product of Bill Everett's imagination, especially given there is nothing to indicate Mr. Everett was prone to such things. While today Goodson-Todman Productions are best known for their game shows, they did produce a few dramas over the years. Among their earliest shows was a mystery anthology show called The Web that ran on CBS from 1950 to 1954. In the Fifties they would also produce such dramas as Goodyear Theatre (1957-1960), Jefferson Drum (1958–1959), Philip Marlowe (1959–1960), and The Rebel (1959–1961). While there appears to have been no producer named  Frank Saperstein or Frank Saverstein in the industry at the time, there was a director named Frank Satenstein who worked for Goodson-Todman Productions. Mr. Satenstein directed several episodes of I've Got a Secret and What's My Line, and produced the show By Popular Demand for Goodson-Todman. Given Goodson-Todman Producitons did produce dramas, it seems possible that they could have been interested in a Sub-Mariner TV show. It also seems possible, especially as there seems to have been no producer named Frank Saperstein or Frank Saverstein working in the industry at the time, that the producer to whom Bill Everett was actually referring was Frank Satenstein.

While we really know nothing for certain about the planned Sub-Mariner TV show, with the above information it may be possible to develop a theory of how events unfolded. I imagine it went as follows. In 1954 the success of The Adventures of Superman led Goodson-Todman Productions to approach the company that would become Marvel about producing a TV series based on one of their superheroes. At that point it is possible that Goodson-Todman Productions was able to interest actor Richard Egan in the project. Unfortunately, talks between the television production company and the comic book publisher broke down very quickly, quickly enough that the project was never announced to the press. In the end, it seems most likely that the Sub-Mariner series never got beyond the discussion stage.

Unfortunately, unless there are documents in the possession of FremantleMedia (the company that now owns the rights to the Goodson-Todman library), the children of Mark Goodson or Bill Todman, or Marvel Comics that deal with the proposed Sub-Mariner TV series, we will never know the truth. Most everyone who would have been involved with the project is now dead. Bill Everett died in 1973. Bill Todman died in 1979. Frank Satenstein (the producer to whom Bill Everett may have been referring) died in 1984. Richard Egan died in 1987. Mark Goodson and Martin Goodman both died in 1992. It would seem that for now the planned Sub-Mariner series in the Fifties will remain both a legend and a mystery for Golden Age comic book fans.

Of course, in many ways it seems a shame that a Sub-Mariner TV show never got off the ground in the Fifties. The decade was a good one for shows based on comic book and comic strip characters. In addition to The Adventures of Superman, there were shows based on Dick Tracy; Buck Rogers; Flash Gordon; Jungle Jim; and Sheena, Queen of the Jungle. It must also be pointed out that later in the decade undersea adventures proved popular on television, including such shows as Sea Hunt, Assignment: Underwater, and The Aquanauts. The Sub-Mariner could then have turned out to be a very popular show, and in doing so could have changed pop culture history. At the very least the history of Marvel Comics and comic books in general would be very different.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

CBS Abandons Comedy on Mondays at 9:00 PM Eastern

A Vanity Fair article from this past May proclaimed "Must-See TV is Dead", Must-See TV being the block of comedies on NBC that dominated Thursday nights from the Eighties to the early Naughts. Other articles published this spring did not announce the death of Must-See TV, but did acknowledge that NBC was abandoning its block of comedies on Thursday nights. As for myself, I did not particularly see this as news of any real sort. For one thing, as far as I am concerned Must-See TV died in 2004 when NBC scheduled The Apprentice at 9 PM Eastern/8 PM Central, breaking with a 22 year tradition of four sitcoms on Thursday night. For another, to me there was a much bigger story than NBC abandoning its comedy block on Thursday night again. Quite simply, CBS scheduled the drama series Scorpion at 9 PM Eastern/8 PM Central on Monday.

To many this might not seem significant, but the fact is that CBS had scheduled a block of two sitcoms at 9:00 Eastern/8:00 Central on Monday nights far longer than NBC had scheduled comedies on Thursday night. Beginning with I Love Lucy on 15 October 1951, CBS consecutively scheduled a block of situation comedies in the 9:00 Eastern/8:00 Central time slot for the next 62 years. At no time on the network schedule was any show from any other genre in the time slot. What is more, some truly legendary shows aired at 9:00 Eastern/8:00 Central on Monday night on CBS. The Danny Thomas Show (AKA Make Room for Daddy), The Andy Griffith Show, All in the Family, M*A*S*H, and Murphy Brown all aired at 9:00 Eastern/8:00 Central on Monday night on CBS.

I have no idea if the scheduling of a one hour block of comedies at 9 PM Eastern/8 PM Central Monday was intentional on the part of CBS. I would almost think it would have to be. Perhaps because CBS had a huge hit with I Love Lucy in the time slot, the network simply continued to schedule sitcoms at that time. In other words, sitcoms in the 9:00 Eastern/8:00 Central Monday night time slot became something of a tradition on the Tiffany Network. At any rate the one hour comedy block on CBS Monday nights certainly lasted longer than Must-See TV. Even though the slogan "Must-See TV" only dates to 1993, NBC's comedy block that would bear that name lasted from 1982 to 2004. At 22 years at the time of its demise (counting 2004 as its last year), Must-See TV was a mere youngster to CBS's one hour 9:00 Eastern/8:00 Central Monday night comedy block. Having begun in 1951 and ending this year, it spanned 63 years.

I have no idea why CBS decided to forgo their traditional comedies in the 9:00 Eastern/8:00 Central Monday night time slot. They certainly were not hurting in the ratings. While Mike & Molly, the last sitcom scheduled in the time slot, was not a ratings smash, it came in at a very respectable 33 in the over all ratings for the 2013-2014 season. I suppose it is possible that CBS thinks Scorpion, which from its trailers I assume would be best classed as a thriller, will do better in the time slot than their traditional sitcoms, but I am not sure why. At any rate, CBS scheduling a drama in a time slot in which they have scheduled sitcoms for the past 62 years would seem to be more of an end of an era than NBC doing away with its Thursday night comedy block (which they had already compromised from 2004 to 2005 anyway).

Lest you doubt me, below is what I believe to be a complete list of the situation comedies that aired through the years on Monday nights at  9:00 Eastern/8:00 Central on CBS.

1951-1958 I Love Lucy
1958-1964 The Danny Thomas Show
1964-1965 The Lucy Show
1965-1968 The Andy Griffith Show
1968-1971 Mayberry R.F.D.
1971-1974 Here's Lucy
1974-1975 Maude
1975-1976 All in the Family
1976-1977 Maude
September 1977-December 1977 The Betty White Show
December 1977-January 1978 Maude
January 1978-September 1983 M*A*S*H
1983-1984 AfterMASH
1984-1986 Kate & Allie
1986-1988 Newhart
September 1988-March 1997 Murphy Brown
March 1997-December 1997 Cybill
January 1998-February 1998 George & Leo
February 1998-May 1998 The Closer
May 1998-June 1998 Cybill
June 1998-September 2005 Everybody Loves Raymond
2005-2013 Two and a Half Men
September 2012-October 2013 2 Broke Girls
November 2013-Present Mike & Molly