Saturday, December 12, 2015

Frank Sinatra's Centennial

It was 100 years ago today, on December 12 1915, that Frank Sinatra was born in Hoboken, New Jersey. Mr. Sinatra was one of the first multi-media superstars. Beginning his career as a singer, he would find success on both radio and in film. To this day he still numbers among the twenty five top selling recording artists of all time. He would have a lasting impact not only on other crooners who followed him, but on artists as diverse as U2 and Josh Groban.

Frank Sinatra was born to Italian immigrants on December 12 1945. He was very young when he developed an interest in music. He was a fan of such singers as Rudy Vallée, Russ Colombo, and especially Bing Crosby (arguably the first multi-media superstar). He was 15 years old when his Uncle Domenico (his mother's brother) gave him a ukulele for his birthday. He soon started performing at family gatherings.

Mr. Sinatra began performing professionally as a teenager. Among other things, he sang without pay for Jersey City radio station WAAT. It was in 1936 that he joined a local singing group, the 3 Flashes. Renamed the Hoboken Four, Frank Sinatra and the group appeared on the radio show Major Bowes Amateur Hour. The Hoboken Four won first prize on the show, which included a contract to perform on both stage and radio for six months. It was a job as a singing waiter in 1938 that would bring him to the attention of radio station WNEW in New York City. He was hired to sing as part of a group for the station's show Dance Parade. His first recording would come about because of saxophone player Frank Mane, who had performed with him on WAAT. In March 1939 Mr. Mane arranged an audition for Frank Sinatra and he recorded the song "Our Love".

It was in June 1939 that bandleader Harry James signed Frank Sinatra to a two-year contract. It was with Harry James's band that Frank Sinatra made his first professional recording, "From the Bottom of My Heart". Mr. Sinatra did not achieve any major successes with Harry James's band, although one song he recorded with them, "All or Nothing At All", would become a hit when re-released in 1943. Increasingly frustrated with Harry James's band, in November 1939 he left the band for the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, where he replaced  Jack Leonard as their lead singer.

It was with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra that Frank Sinatra first became a superstar. It was in 1940 that he had his first major hit with the band, "Polka Dots and Moonbeams", which went to no. 18 on the Billboard chart. "Polka Dots and Moonbeams" was followed by several more hits. "Imagination" went to no. 8. "You're Lonely and I'm Lonely" went to no. 10. We Three (My Echo, My Shadow, and Me)" went to no. 3. His final single with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra went to no. 1. In 1940 alone the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra released over 40 song, the majority of which were hits.

By 1942 Frank Sinatra had decided to start a solo career. Unfortunately his contract with Tommy Dorsey gave Mr. Dorsey 43% of everything Mr. Sinatra earned. The two then entered a legal battle that was eventually settled in August 1942. Unfortunately, it also resulted in animosity between the two men that would never be resolved. As successful as Frank Sinatra had been with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, he proved even more successful as a solo artist. His first single, "Night and Day", went to no. 16 on the Billboard chart. Over the next several years Mr. Sinatra would have several hits and it was not unusual for both sides of his singles to chart. He had several number one records, including "Oh! What It Seemed to Be", "Five Minutes More", "Mam'selle", and others.

What is more, Frank Sinatra became an outright phenomenon. While Bing Crosby may have been the first multi-media superstar, Frank Sinatra may have been the first teen idol. While still with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra he ranked no. 1 among male singers in polls conducted by both Billboard and Down Beat. Such was Frank Sinatra's popularity with teenage girls that by 1942 there were around 1000 Frank Sinatra fan clubs throughout the country. In 1944, when Frank Sinatra performed at the Paramount in New York City in October 1944, 35,000 fans who wanted inside to hear the singer created  a near riot. Before Elvis Presley or The Beatles, Frank Sinatra was a phenomenon with teenagers. By the years 1945 and 1946 he was selling ten million records a year.

Unfortunately such success was not to last. By 1948 Frank Sinatra had dropped to the number 4 spot on Down Beat's poll of the most popular male singers. The following year he had dropped to only no. 5 in the poll. Worse yet, that same year he had dropped to no. 49 in the top 50 for record sales. Even Frank Sinatra's live performances were no longer doing well. At one time playing to crowded houses and causing near riots, by the late Forties and early Fifties Frank Sinatra was playing to small crowds. When he performed at the Chez Paree in Chicago in 1952, there were only 150 people in a nightclub that seated 1200.

Fortunately for Mr. Sinatra, better times would be ahead. Two things would happen in 1953 that would mark the beginning of a comeback. On March 13 1953, Frank Sinatra signed a seven year contract with Capitol Records. Later in the year he appeared in the  film From Here to Eternity. These two events did not simply mark a comeback, but also marked the start of what might have been the most creative phase of his career. Beginning with his album The Voice of Frank Sinatra in 1946, Frank Sinatra was among the first recording artists to embrace the format. It should then come as no surprise that he was also among the first recording artists to release a concept album. In the Wee Small Hours, released in 1955, featured mostly songs written specifically for the album (one of the exceptions being the classic Duke Ellington song "Mood Indigo"). What is more, the album centred on the themes of late night loneliness and lost love. Even the album cover, featuring Sinatra standing on a city street late at night, was consistent with the album's general theme. Frank Sinatra would follow In the Wee Small Hours with two more albums that could be considered concept albums: Songs for Swingin' Lovers! in 1956 and Only the Lonely in 1958.  While Frank Sinatra was not the first artist to release a concept album, he was certainly among those who pioneered the form.

While Frank Sinatra embraced record albums, his singles began performing better than they had in years. His first single with Capitol, "I'm Walking Behind You", went to no. 7 on the Billboard singles chart in 1953. In the Fifties he had several singles that reached the upper reaches of the Billboard singles chart. "Young at Heart" went to no. 2. "Learnin' the Blues" went to no. 1. "All the Way" went to no. 2. Unfortunately, while Frank Sinatra's albums continued to do well, after the advent of rock 'n' roll his singles started performing less well. After 1957 none of Frank Sinatra's singles released on Capitol hit the top ten. Worse yet some of them didn't even chart at all.

It was then in 1961 that Frank Sinatra formed his own label, Reprise Records. While in the Sixties it would be rare that Mr. Sinatra would hit the top ten of the Billboard Hot 100, over all his singles released on Reprise performed better than the last few released on Capitol. He went to no. 27 on the Billboard Hot 100 with "Softly, as I Leave You" in 1964. In 1965 he hit no. 28 with "It Was a Very Good Year". The mid-Sixties would see Frank Sinatra have his biggest hits of the decade. "Strangers in the Night" hit no. 1 in 1966, while his duet with his daughter Nancy, "Somethin' Stupid", hit no. 1 in 1967.

While Frank Sinatra's singles rarely charted in the Seventies, his albums continued to perform very well. It was not unusual for his albums to hit the top twenty of the Billboard album chart as late as 1980. It was in 1984 that Frank Sinatra released his last solo album, L.A. Is My Lady. Two albums in which Mr. Sinatra's voice was electronically joined with younger singers, Duets and Duets II, were released in 1983 and 1984 respectively.

Frank Sinatra might have begun his career as a singer, but like Bing Crosby before him he became a star in other media as well. As the most popular singer of the World War II era, Mr. Sinatra was very much in demand as a guest star on various radio shows. Over the years he appeared on such shows as The Burns and Allen Show, The Bob Hope Show, The Jack Benny Programme, Your Hit Parade, and many others. As might be expected, Frank Sinatra also starred on his own radio shows. From October 1 to December 31 1942 he appeared on Reflections on CBS. He had his very own show, Songs by Sinatra (AKA Frank Sinatra Sings) from October 20 1942 to February 25 1943. Over the years he would be the star of several more radio shows, including The Frank Sinatra Show (1944-1945), Songs by Sinatra (1945-47), Light-Up Time (1949-50), Meet Frank Sinatra (1950-1951), and To Be Perfectly Frank (1953). From 1953 to 1954 he even played a hard boiled detective on the radio drama Rocky Fortune.

While Frank Sinatra saw a good deal of success on radio, arguably the most successful medium in which he worked beyond recording was film. Frank Sinatra made his film debut as the lead singer of the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra (uncredited) in the film Las Vegas Nights in 1941. He also appeared as himself in the films Reveille with Beverly (1943), Higher and Higher (1943), and The Shining Future (1944). It was with the 1944 musical Step Lively that he first played a character other than himself, starring as Glenn Russell. The late Forties saw Mr. Sinatra starring in some of his most successful films, including Anchors Aweigh (1945), It Happened in Brooklyn (1947), Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1949), and On the Town (1949).

While the Forties saw Frank Sinatra emerge as a star of musicals, the Fifties would see him emerge as a star of dramas. In 1953 From Here to Eternity was released. In the film Mr. Sinatra played Private Angelo Maggio, a role for which he won the Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. Unlike the congenial roles he had played in musicals in the Forties, in the Fifties he sometimes played very unsympathetic roles. In 1954's Suddenly he played a ruthless criminal intent on assassinating the President of the United States of America. In The Man with the Golden Arm (1955) he played a heroin addict. Mr. Sinatra was nominated for the Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role in the film. Not only did Frank Sinatra play some unsympathetic roles in the Fifties, he also starred in some very successful movies, including Not as a Stranger (1955), Guys and Dolls (1955), Pal Joey (1957), and A Hole in the Head (1959). The decade was capped off by one of his most enduringly popular films of all time. Ocean's 11 (1960) not only starred Frank Sinatra, but the entire Rat Pack (called the Summit or the Clan among themselves). Although it made less money than some of his films released in the Fifties, it remains one of the most popular films he made to this day.

Frank Sinatra's film career in the Sixties would not be quite as impressive as it was in the Fifties. Perhaps his most notable role of the Sixties was as Major Bennett Marco in The Manchurian Candidate. The film proved to be a success and is today considered a classic. As to Mr. Sinatra, he considered it the high point of his career. Frank Sinatra also appeared in two more films with much of the Rat Pack: Sergeants 3 (1962)  and Robin and the 7 Hoods (1964). He played detective Tony Rome in the films Tony Rome (1967) and Lady in Cement (1968). He also appeared in such films as Come Blow Your Horn (1963) and Von Ryan's Express (1965).

Following the critical and box office failure of the western Dirty Dingus Magee in 1970, Mr. Sinatra would not appear in films for some time. He played the male lead in The First Deadly Sin (1980)  and he had a cameo in Cannonball Run II (1984). Cannonball Run II would mark his final movie appearance.

While Frank Sinatra had a great deal of success in recording, on radio, and in film, television proved to be the one medium he could not master. In 1950 he starred on The Frank Sinatra Show on CBS. The show proved to be a disappointment in the ratings, but managed to last two seasons. Another show, also titled The Frank Sinatra Show, would prove somewhat more successful when it debuted on ABC in 1957. It managed to last for three years. While neither of Frank Sinatra's TV series proved particularly successful, he regularly appeared on other TV shows as a guest. Over the years he appeared on such talk shows and variety shows as Four Star Revue, Texaco Star Theatre, The Colgate Comedy Hour, The Dinah Shore Chevy Show, The Ed Sullivan Show, and (as might be expected) The Dean Martin Show.

While Frank Sinatra appeared on many variety shows, he appeared less frequently in dramas or sitcoms. He appeared as the Stage Manger in Producers' Showcase's production of Our Town in 1955. In 1958 he guest starred on the TV show The Thin Man. His final TV appearance was in an episode of Magnum P.I. in 1987.

Frank Sinatra died on May 14 1998 at the age of 82. There would be tributes befitting a man who had an enormous impact on pop culture in the 20th Century. The lights on the Las Vegas strip were dimmed in his memory and even the casinos took one minute to remember Frank Sinatra.

Frank Sinatra had an enormous impact on popular culture in the 20th Century. What is more, he was successful in multiple media. Arguably it all began with his voice. Frank Sinatra had a voice that naturally had an incredible amount of range, much greater than that of many popular singers in the Forties. What is more, Mr. Sinatra employed his voice in ways that earlier popular singers never had before. In the Forties many popular crooners were content to imitate the phenomenally successful Bing Crosby, but Frank Sinatra went an entirely different route. He trained himself to hold notes for extended periods of time. He also adopted a more jazz-influenced style of singing. Mr. Sinatra was also much more emotive than many popular singers of the Forties. He often emphasised specific words or phrases in songs, giving them more emotional depth. All of this, combined with the natural range of his voice, set Frank Sinatra apart from many of his contemporaries.

Combined with his relative youth and his good looks, it was perhaps his voice that made Frank Sinatra the love object of bobbysoxers across the United States. While earlier singers had largely appealed to adults, Frank Sinatra's greatest appeal to seemed to be to teenage girls. He was is in effect the first teen idol. The crazed reaction of teenage girls to Frank Sinatra in the Forties would seem very familiar to later generations who witnessed similar reactions of teenage girls to Elvis Presley or The Beatles.

Frank Sinatra's talent as a singer and his phenomenal success as such would have been sufficient for him to not only be remembered, but to have a lasting impact on pop culture. As it was, he proved to be an extremely talented actor as well. Frank Sinatra could play heroes, such as Major Marco in The Manchurian Candidate, or he could play villains, such as John Baron in Suddenly. As a singer he was naturally at home in musicals, but he was also impressive in dramas, action movies, and Westerns. As an actor Frank Sinatra proved to be as versatile as he was a singer.

Ultimately Frank Sinatra would prove to be a multi-media superstar at a time when stars of multiple media weren't exactly common. It not only earned him a place among the best remembered performers of the 20th Century, but it also allowed him to have lasting impact on popular culture that will last well beyond his lifetime.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Ocean's 11 (1960)

Although he was perhaps best known for his singing career, Frank Sinatra made a number of movies through the years. In fact, he even earned a good deal of respect as an actor. He won the Oscars for Best Supporting Actor for From Here to Eternity (1953) and Best Actor in a Leading Role for The Man with the Golden Arm (1955). He made several movies that were very successful at the box office, including Anchors Aweigh (1945), Pal Joey (1957), and The Manchurian Candidate (1962).  Out of all the films that Frank Sinatra made, the one with which I identify him the most won no Oscars, although it did do fairly well the box office. I don't consider Ocean's 11 (1960) to be the best Frank Sinatra movie ever made. It is not even my favourite Frank Sinatra movie, although it numbers among my favourites (perhaps second only to The Manchurian Candidate). That having been said, Ocean's 11 is the movie that comes to my mind when someone mentions Frank Sinatra's films.

Indeed, Ocean's 11 isn't just a Frank Sinatra movie. It is literally a Rat Pack movie. In addition to Frank Sinatra, the film also stars Dean Martin; Sammy Davis, Jr.; Peter Lawford; and Joey Bishop. The film also features a Who's Who of Fifties actors, including  Richard Conte, Angie Dickinson, Norman Fell, Buddy Lester, Cesar Romero, Henry Silva, Akim Tamiroff,  and Harry Wilson. As if that wasn't enough, Shirley MacLaine, George Raft, and Red Skelton (as himself) have cameos. The film's premise is deceptively simple. Eleven World War II 82nd Airborne veterans plot to rob the Sahara, the Riviera, Wilbur Clark's Desert Inn, the Sands, and the Flamingo casinos in Las Vegas all on New Year's Eve. 

While Ocean's 11 starred Frank Sinatra (who played Danny Ocean, the "Ocean" of the title), the film did not originate with him. Instead the genesis for the idea could be traced to a gas station attendant who told director Gilbert Kay about a group of GIs who performed smuggling jobs for the U.S. Army at the end of World War II. Gilbert Kay thought that a film in which such a squadron reunited to perform a heist,  perhaps in Las Vegas, could make a good basis for a film. In 1955 he told Peter Lawford about the idea. Mr. Lawford liked the idea, but unfortunately Gilbert Kay also wanted to direct the film. As Gilbert Kay was best known for directing B-movies and television shows, Peter Lawford turned him down.

Gilbert Kay tried to sell his idea to others with no success. By 1959 he still had found no buyers for the idea, so he sold the idea to Peter Lawford. The original story by Jack Golden Russell (allegedly the gas station attendant of Gilbert Kay's story) was co-wirtten by George Clayton Johnson, who would later write for The Twilight Zone as well as co-write the science fiction novel Logan's Run. The screenplay was written by Harry Brown (who had written or co-written such films as Sands of Iwo Jima and A Place in the Sun)  and Charles Lederer (who had written or co-written such films as The Front Page and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes).  

Peter Lawford had pictured William Holden in the lead role of Danny Ocean. As it turned out, Peter Lawford told Frank Sinatra about the project. Frank Sinatra had wanted to make a film with his circle of friends (called the Summit or the Clan, but not yet the Rat Pack) and was immediately intrigued at the idea of Ocean's 11. He bought it from Peter Lawford and his wife for $20,000 and 16% of the gross receipts. To direct the film Frank Sinatra chose Lewis Milestone, who had directed such classics as All Quiet on the Western Front, The Front Page, Of Mice and Men, and A Walk in the Sun. As to the cast, it was largely filled by what would later become known as the Rat Pack.

Ocean's 11 was shot largely on location in Las Vegas. Scenes were shot in each of the casinos (the Flamingo, the Sands, Desert Inn, the Riviera, and the Sahara). Shooting took place from January 26 to February 16 1960, so the casinos had to be persuaded to keep their Christmas decorations up well past the date that they would usually be taken down. While much of Ocean's 11 was shot in Las Vegas, a good deal of it was shot in California as well. The opening scene in a barber shop was shot in Beverly Hills. The scene in the home of Spyros Acebos (played by Akim Tamiroff) were also shot in Beverly Hills. In fact, it was the home of Hollywood agent Kurt Frings. Other scenes were shot at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, California, as well as Warner Brothers' soundstages in Burbank.

Ocean's 11 premiered on August 10 1960, fittingly enough in Las Vegas. Surprisingly for a film that is now regarded by many as a classic, it received mixed reviews. Variety liked the film, commenting "Labouring under the handicaps of a contrived script, an uncertain approach and personalities in essence playing themselves, the production never quite makes its point, but romps along merrily unconcerned that it doesn't." Bosley Crowther at The New York Times wasn't quite as impressed, remarking, "Young people are likely to find this more appropriate and bewitching than do their elders. The latter are likely to feel less gleeful in the presence of heroes who rob and steal." A common criticism of Ocean's 11 upon its debut was that the film does not condemn the protagonists for their actions and in the end they are not truly punished for their crimes.

While critics had mixed feelings about Ocean's 11 upon its initial release, audiences were much more receptive to the movie. The film grossed $5,500,000 at the box office and was the 8th highest grossing film of 1960. The film has continued to be popular since its release, to the point that there can be no doubt that it numbers among Frank Sinatra's most popular films.

Of course, while Frank Sinatra is the star of Ocean's 11, the movie was very much a team effort. Arguably it is Dean Martin as Sam Harmon and Sammy Davis, Jr. as Josh Howard who steal the show. Indeed, they are the only members of the Rat Pack who actually get to sing in the movie. Dean Martin sings the classic "Ain't That a Kick in the Head", while Sammy Davis sings "Eee-O-11". Other members of the cast also gave impressive performances, including Peter Lawford as rich mama's boy Jimmy Foster and Cesar Romero as not quite so reformed mobster Duke Santos. 

The success of Ocean's 11 would have a lasting impact. While it was far from the first caper movie (The Asphalt JungleRififi, and The Lavender Hill Mob, among others, pre-date it), Ocean's 11 would spur a cycle towards light hearted caper films that included Topkapi, Gambit, How to Steal a Million, and yet others that lasted for much of the Sixties.

While Frank Sinatra would appear with members of the Rat Pack in other films (most notably Sergeants 3 and  Robin and the 7 Hoods), Ocean's 11 remained the only film in which the entirety of the Rat Pack appeared in significant roles. It also remained by far the most successful. Today it remains one of Frank Sinatra's most popular films and one of his highest grossing films as well. While critics may have have given the film mixed reviews upon its release, it has remained a favourite with audiences ever since.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The 60th Anniversary of Mighty Mouse Playhouse, the 1st Saturday Morning Cartoon

It was sixty years ago today, on December 10 1955, that Mighty Mouse Playhouse premiered on CBS. The premiere was significant for two reasons. First, it marked the television debut of Mighty Mouse, the star of theatrical animated shorts since 1942. Second and more importantly, it was the first animated cartoon series ever aired on Saturday morning on American broadcast network television.

Mighty Mouse was created by Paul Terry, American animator and founder and owner of Terrytoons. When he made his debut in the animated short "The Mouse of Tomorrow" (released on October 16 1942) he was called "Super Mouse". He remained "Super Mouse"  for his first seven animated shorts. Unfortunately, a character called Supermouse had made his debut in the October 1942 issue of Coo Coo Comics, a humour title published by comic book and pulp magazine company Pine Publications. Paul Terry then changed the name of "Super Mouse" to "Mighty Mouse" with the character's eighth cartoon ( "The Wreck of the Hesperus", released on February 11 1944). On all of the early cartoons but one ( "The Lion and the Mouse", the last to use the name "Super Mouse"), the name "Super Mouse" was later edited out in favour of the name "Mighty Mouse". Mighty Mouse's costume would also change. Originally wearing a blue and red costume similar to Superman's outfit, with "Eliza on the Ice" (released June 16 1944) he switched to a red costume with a yellow cape and yellow trunks. With the following cartoon, "Wolf! Wolf!" (released on June 22 1944), Mighty Mouse donned his familiar yellow costume with a red cape and red trunks.

Mighty Mouse became Terrytoons' most popular character, although his popularity was dwarfed by the superstars of the major animated studios, such as Warner Bros.' Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, Disney's Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, and MGM's Tom and Jerry. Regardless he was popular enough that between his debut in 1942 and 1954 he starred in 77 theatrical shorts. In 1955 Paul Terry decided to retire and so he sold Terrytoons to CBS. Mr. Terry already had something of a relationship with CBS, who ran his older Farmer Al Falfa shorts on their weekday afternoon children's show Barker Bill's Cartoon Show earlier in the Fifties.

CBS continued to produce theatrical shorts through Terrytoons. They also put the old Terrytoons theatrical shorts to good use as fodder for TV shows. Mighty Mouse Playhouse was the first to debut. On June 13 1956 CBS debuted CBS Cartoon Theatre, a primetime collection of old Terrytoons shorts hosted by Dick Van Dyke. As a summer replacement CBS Cartoon Theatre did not do well enough to warrant a place on the fall primetime schedule, but their next Terrytoons collection of old theatrical shorts would prove to be a success. The Heckle and Jeckle Show debuted in October 1956.  After a run on Saturday morning it lasted for years in syndication.

As to Mighty Mouse Playhouse, it proved to be a resounding success. Mighty Mouse went from an only somewhat popular star of theatrical shorts to a television superstar. Prior to 1955 Mighty Mouse was featured in comic books and, starting in 1951, he even had a balloon in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. That having been said, there was little else in the way of Might Mouse merchandise. This would change following the debut of Mighty Mouse Playhouse in 1955. There would be watches, games, sneakers, figures, and much more.  Terrytoons produced three more Mighty Mouse theatrical shorts between 1958 and 1961.  Mighty Mouse Playhouse proved successful enough to run for eleven seasons on Saturday morning on CBS.

While Mighty Mouse Playhouse left CBS's Saturday morning schedule in 1966, Mighty Mouse continued to appear on Saturday mornings in the 1966-1967 season. Mighty Mouse Playhouse was replaced by another Terrytoons show, The Mighty Heroes, which centred on a humorous superhero team created by Ralph Bakshi. In between the two Mighty Heroes segments on the show a classic Mighty Mouse theatrical short would be run. Sadly, Mighty Heroes lasted only one season.

Beyond insuring Mighty Mouse's lasting popularity, Mighty Mouse Playhouse would also have a lasting impact on American broadcast network television. Quite simply, it was the very first Saturday morning cartoon. From the late Forties into the Fifties weekday afternoons had been the preferred time for the networks to air children's programming. It was in this time period that Howdy Doody and The Mickey Mouse Club aired. By the middle of the decade, however, children's programming on weekday afternoons started to go into decline. Saturday morning, which had included some children's programming since Animal Clinic and Acrobat Ranch, had debuted on ABC in 1950, then became the preferred time for kid shows. With animated cartoons being popular with children, it was perhaps only a matter of time before an animated show debuted on Saturday morning.

Regardless, the success of Mighty Mouse Playhouse would lead to yet more cartoons on Saturday morning in the following seasons, although it would be a few years before the emergence of the huge blocks of cartoons that Gen Xers and younger Baby Boomers grew up with. The success of Mighty Mouse Playhouse led CBS to debut another collection of classic Terrytoon shorts, The Heckle and Jeckle Show, in 1956. That same year NBC responded with the stop motion animation series The Gumby Show, Gumby having first appeared on Howdy Doody the previous year. NBC would debut a cartoon made for television in 1957, The Ruff and Reddy Show, the first series produced by Hanna-Barbera Productions.

It was in 1963 that the Saturday morning cartoon block as Gen Xers and younger Baby Boomers knew them would finally emerge. That season CBS aired a two hour block of cartoons including The Alvin Show, Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales, The Quick Draw McGraw Show, and Mighty Mouse Playhouse. ABC also had a two hour block of cartoons, including The Jetsons, The New Casper Cartoon Show, Beany and Cecil, and The Bugs Bunny Show. NBC lagged behind, with only an hour's worth of cartoons. By the end of the decade the Saturday morning cartoon blocks on the networks had grown considerably.  ABC aired four hours. NBC aired four and half hours (excluding the live action H. R. Pufnstuf and Jambo). CBS went further than the other two networks. It aired a full five and a half hours (excluding reruns of the primetime sitcom The Monkees). The broadcast networks' Saturday morning cartoon blocks would last literally for decades, finally dying off only recently.

Although it might not have seemed important at the time, Mighty Mouse Playhouse would prove historically important. It was not a simple case of the show lasting eleven seasons, an extraordinarily long run for any Saturday morning cartoon. Quite simply, it was the very first Saturday morning cartoon, the one that would lead to Saturday mornings on broadcast network television being dominated by cartoons for literally decades. What is more, it sent Mighty Mouse's popularity to the stratosphere. Although somewhat popular as the star of theatrical shorts, Mighty Mouse became a household name with the TV series. Although CBS executives probably didn't realise it in 1955, in scheduling Mighty Mouse Playhouse on Saturday morning, they revolutionised television.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The 35th Anniversary of John Lennon's Death

It was 35 years ago tonight that John Lennon was shot and murdered outside the Dakota in New York City. I remember the following day all too well and I have written about it on this blog. Let us just say that learning that John Lennon was dead is one of those events that is forever etched in my memory.

Indeed, the subject on which I have written the most in this blog may well be The Beatles and of The Beatles it is John Lennon about whom I have written the most. John had a huge impact on my life, to the point that I feel as if I owe him a debt I cannot possibly repay. Quite simply, many of my positive traits stem from being a John Lennon fan.

Having written so much about John Lennon over the years, I feel as if I have very little to add. I will then leave you with a link to a post I made on the occasion of what would have been John Lennon's 70th birthday, in which I discuss how he influenced me: In Honour of John Lennon's 70th Birthday.

I will also leave you with the final single released while John Lennon was still alive, "(Just Like) Starting Over".

John Lennon 1940-1980

Monday, December 7, 2015

Godspeed Nicholas Smith

Nicholas Smith, best known for playing Mr. Rumbold on the long running classic British sitcom Are You Being Served?, died on December 6 2015 at the age of 81. He was the last surviving member of the original cast of the show.

Nicholas Smith was born on March 5 1934 in Banstead, Surrey. He wanted to be an actor from when he was very young, and appeared in many school plays. His National Service as in the  Royal Army Service Corps in Aldershot. After he was demobilised he studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Mr. Smith appeared in stage musicals with various repertory companies. He spent two years with the Royal Shakespeare Company. He also appeared at the Old Vic and on Broadway.

Nicholas Smith made his television debut in an episode of Pathfinders to Mars. He appeared in an episode of The Edgar Wallace Mystery Theatre before receiving his first substantial role as the camp leader Wells in the Doctor Who serial "The Dalek Invasion of Earth". In the Sixties Nicholas Smith was a regular on The Frost Report and played Sgt. Marena on Danger Island. He also appeared in the Freewheelers serial "Recipe for Danger" and guest starred on such shows as Softly, Softly; The Wednesday Play; Champion House; The Avengers; The Saint; The Champions; and Up Pompeii!. He appeared in the mini-series A Tale of Two Cities. He made his film debut in Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines or How I Flew from London to Paris in 25 hours 11 minutes (1965) and appeared in the films Salt and Pepper (1968), A Walk with Love and Death (1969) and The Twelve Chairs (1970).

Nicholas Smith was cast in the role Cuthbert Rumbold, manager of Grace Brothers department store, in the pilot for Are You Being Served. The BBC had initially decided against transmitting the pilot, let alone picking up the series. When the Munich massacre led to the interruption of coverage of the 1972 Summer Olympics, the BBC needed something to fill the airwaves. They then aired the pilot for Are You Being Served? as part of the anthology series  Comedy Playhouse. The pilot was well received and led to a full ten series of Are You Being Served?. Nicholas Smith appeared as Mr. Rumbold in the entire run of the show.

In the Seventies Nicholas Smith also had a regular role on Z Cars. He guest starred on such shows as The Liver Birds, Paul Temple, The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes, Ace of Wands, Doctor in Charge, The Sweeney, and Worzel Gummidge. He appeared in the films The Canterbury Tales (1972), Baxter! (1973), Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974), The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother (1975), and the feature film adaptation of Are You Being Served? (1977).

In the Eighties Nicholas Smith continued to appear on Are You Being Served?. In 1986 he went on a British tour of  Me And My Girl.  In the Nineties he reprised his role as Mr. Rumbold in the sequel/spinoff of Are You Being Served, Grace & Favour (known in the U.S. as Are You Being Served Again?). He guest starred the show Martin Chuzzlewit. He appeared in the film What Rats Won't Do (1998) . In the Naughts he was a regular on the TV show Revolver. He guest starred on the shows Doctors, Last of the Summer Wine, and M.I.High. He appeared in the film The Ghouls (2003) and provided the voice of Reverend Clement Hedges in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005). His last appearance was a guest shot in the revival of Charlie's Angels in 2011.

Nicholas Smith will always be remembered as Cuthbert Rumbold, the bumbling manager on Are You Being Served. In many respects it was an ideal role for Mr. Smith, who played it wonderfully. That having been said, he also performed many other roles over the years. What is more some of those roles were far from the comedy of Are You Being Served?. He was PC Yates on Z Cars and even played one of the villains in the two part episode of The Saint "The Fiction Makers" (also released as a feature film). While he might be best remembered as Mr. Rumbold on the classic Are You Being Served?, he was a versatile actor capable of a wide array of roles.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Late Great Robert Loggia

Robert Loggia, the prolific actor who was nominated for the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for Jagged Edge (1985), died on December 4 2015 at the age of 85. The cause was complications from Alzheimer’s disease.

Robert Loggia was born Robert Salvatore Loggia on Staten Island on January 3 1930. He attended New Dorp High School in Staten Island and then Wagner College there. He studied journalism at the University of Missouri in Columbia, Missouri. He served in the United States Army before he decided to pursue a career in acting.

He made his film debut in an uncredited role in Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956). In the late Fifties he appeared in such films as The Garment Jungle (1957), Cop Hater (1958), and The Lost Missile (1958). On television he played the lead role of Elfego Baca in a mini-series on the anthology series Disneyland. He guest starred on the shows Studio One, Matinee Theatre, Playhouse 90, Wagon Train, Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse, Alcoa Presents One Step Beyond, The United States Steel Hour, and Overland Trail.

In the Sixties Robert Loggia played the lead role on the TV show T.H.E. Cat. On the series he played Thomas Hewitt Edward Cat, a reformed cat burglar who decided to use his skills to help the innocent. The show only lasted a single season. He also guest starred on such TV shows as Naked City, Alcoa Premiere, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Untouchables, The Dick Powell Theatre, The Defenders, Rawhide, Route 66, Ben Casey, Combat!, Gunsmoke, Run for Your Life, The Wild Wild West, Tarzan, The Big Valley, Then Came Bronson, and The High Chaparral. He appeared in the films Cattle King (1963), The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), The Three Sisters (1966--recreating the role his Broadway role), and Che! (1969). On Broadway he appeared in the production The Three Sisters.

In the Seventies Robert Loggia had recurring roles on the soap operas The Secret Storm and Search for Tomorrow. He also had a regular role in the mini-series Arthur Hailey's the Moneychangers. He guest starred on such shows as The F.B.I., Kojak, The Manhunter, Mannix, Harry O, Ellery Queen, McMillan & Wife, Columbo, Wonder Woman, Police Woman, The Six Million Dollar Man, The Rockford Files, Hawaii Five-O, and Charlie's Angels. He appeared in the films Turn the Other Cheek (1974), Speedtrap (1977), First Love (1977), Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978), and The Ninth Configuration (1980). He appeared on Broadway in the play Boom Boom Room.

In the Eighties Robert Loggia appeared in such films An Officer and a Gentleman (1982), Trail of the Pink Panther (1982), Psycho II (1983), Curse of the Pink Panther (1983), Scarface (1983),  Prizzi's Honour (1985), Jagged Edge (1985),  Hot Pursuit (1987), The Believers (1987), Big (1988), Relentless (1989), and Opportunity Knocks (1990).  He starred on the TV shows Emerald Point N.A.S. and Mancuso, FBI. He guest starred on such TV shows as Fantasy Island; Little House on the Prairie; Falcon Crest; Matt Houston; Murder, She Wrote; Alfred Hitchcock Presents; and Magnum P. I. 

In the Nineties Robert Loggia starred in the TV comedy Sunday Dinner and the mini-series Wild Palms. He guest starred on Frasier, Touched by an Angel, The Outer Limits, and Dharma & Greg. He appeared in such films as The Marrying Man (1991), Gladiator (1992), Innocent Blood (1992), Bad Girls (1994), I Love Trouble (1994), Man with a Gun (1995), Independence Day (1996), Lost Highway (1997), The Proposition (1998), The Suburbans (1999), and American Virgin (1999).

In the Naughts Mr. Loggia starred on the TV show Queens Supreme and had a recurring role on The Sopranos. He guest starred on such shows as Monk, Hawaii Five-0, and Men of a Certain Age. He appeared in such films as The Shipment (2001), The Deal (2005), Funny Money (2006), Wild Seven (2006), The Boneyard Collection (2008), and  Harvest (2010).

In the Teens Robert Loggia appeared in such films as Fake (2011), Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie (2012), Before It's Too Late (2013), Real Gangsters (2013), An Evergreen Christmas (2014), and Sicilian Vampire (2015). He will appear in three films next year: 12 Angry Men and Women (2016), Renaissance Man (2016), and Hospital Arrest (2016).

Robert Loggia described himself as a character actor and there can be no doubt it was an accurate description. Over the years he played a wide variety of roles. His very first film role was that of a gangster trying to convince boxer Rocky Graziano (played by Paul Newman) to throw a fight. Over the years he would play many more gangsters in everything from the movie Scarface (1983) to the TV show The Sopranos. That having been said, he played a wide variety of other roles as well. In fact, what may have been his two best known television roles were heroes: Western lawman Elfego Baca on Disneyland and T.H.E. Cat in the TV show of the same name. Over the years he played everything from scientists to lawyers to a toy store owner (Mr. MacMillan in Big). Mr. Loggia was convincing in all of these roles. Even when a particular film might not have been very good, Robert Loggia was always guaranteed to give a good performance. He was a true professional and the epitome of a character actor.