Saturday, March 19, 2016

Joe Santos R.I.P.

Joe Santos, perhaps best known for playing police detective Dennis Becker on The Rockford Files, died on March 18 2016 at the age of 84. The cause was a heart attack.

Joe Santos was born Joseph John Minieri Jr in Brooklyn on June 9 1931. Sadly, his father died on the day of his birth. His mother became a nightclub owner and singer in both New York City and Havanna. For a time she was married to a Puerto Rican-born singer, Daniel Santos. It was from Mr. Santos that young Joe took his stage name.

Joe Santos attended various military schools in New York. He served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. He attended Fordham University where he was on the football team. He made his television debut in a small, uncredited, walk-on part in The Naked City in 1963. During the Sixties he appeared in such films as Warm Nights and Hot Pleasures (1964), Flesh and Lace (1965), Moonlighting Wives (1966), The Tiger Makes Out (1967), and My Body Hungers (1967).

He received his big break when his friend Al Pacino helped get him a role in The Panic in Needle Park (1971). In the Seventies he appeared in such films as The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight (1971), The Legend of N***** Charley (1972), Shaft's Big Score! (1972), Shamus (1973), The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973), The Don Is Dead (1973), Blade (1973), and Zandy's Bride (1974).  He guest starred on such TV shows as Room 222, Toma, The Blue Knight, Barnaby Jones, The Streets of San Francisco, Kung Fu, Baretta, Lou Grant, and Black Sheep Squadron. It was in 1974 that he was cast in the role of Sgt. Dennis Becker on The Rockford Files. He remained with the show for the entirety of its run, during which time his character was promoted to Lieutenant. In 1980 he starred in the short lived sitcom Me and Maxx.

During the Eighties Joe Santos had recurring roles on the shows a.ka. Pablo, Hardcastle and McCormick, Magnum P.I., and Santa Barbara. He guest starred on such shows as Trapper John M.D.; The Greatest American Hero; Hill Street Blues; The A-Team; T.J. Hooker; The Twilight Zone; MacGuyver; Murder, She Wrote; Miami Vice; Quantum Leap; and Hunter. He appeared in the films Blue Thunder (1983), Fear City (1984), The Education of Allison Tate (1986), Beverly Hills Brats (1989), and Revenge (1990).

In the Nineties Mr. Santos reprised his role as Dennis Becker in seven of the eight Rockford Files TV movies. He guest starred on NYPD Blue. He appeared in the films The Last Boy Scout (1991), Mo' Money (1992), Trial by Jury (1994), Art Deco Detective (1994), The Postman (1997), The Right Way (1998), Hammerlock (2000), and Auggie Rose (2000).

In the Naughts Joe Santos had a recurring role on The Sopranos. He appeared in the films Proximity (2001) and The Man from Elysian Fields (2001). His last appearance was in the film Chronic in 2015.

Joe Santos was an extremely prolific actor. In the Seventies he appeared in both movies and on television. Even while playing Dennis Becker on The Rockford Files he continued to guest star on other shows. In the Eighties he had recurring roles on no less than four shows and still found time to guest star on yet others, as well as appear in films. It was Mr. Santos's talent that allowed him to be so prolific. He could play roles with a subtlety that few modern day actors could. More often than not he played tough yet earnest police officers, although he played criminals on more than one occasion. He was part of a gun running scheme in The Friends of Eddie Coyle and a a mob consigliere on The Sopranos. While he played many roles over the years, it may well be Dennis Becker for which he may be best remembered. Joe Santos was perfect in the role of the police detective who was loyal to private eye Jim Rockford, even when it was against his better judgement. Joe Santos was always an actor in demand and one who always gave a good performance. They simply don't make actors like him anymore.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Godspeed Sylvia Anderson

Sylvia Anderson, who with her husband Gerry Anderson collaborated on a number of TV shows between 1960 and 1981, died on March 15 2016 at the age of 88. Mrs. Anderson did not simply co-create and produce many of the shows, but she also served as a writer, costume designer, art director, and even voice artist. In addition to her other duties on the shows, she was the voices of Jimmy Gibson on Supercar, Doctor Venus on Fireball XL5, Lady Penelope on Thunderbirds, and Melody Angel on Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons.

Sylvia Anderson was born Sylvia Thomas on March 27 1927 in South London. Her father was a boxing champion. Her mother was a dressmaker. She graduated from the London School of Economics with a degree in sociology and political science. She emigrated to the United States with her first husband, an American, where she worked for a time as a freelance journalist. In 1955 she returned to the United Kingdom. In 1957 she joined Polytechnic Films as an office assistant. It was there that she met Gerry Anderson, who was working as an editor and director there. After the demise of Polytechnic Films, Gerry Anderson and Arthur Provis founded AP Films. Sylvia Thomas was one of the company's board of directors from the beginning. Gerry Anderson and Sylvia Thomas later married.

Sylvia Anderson's first credit on a series would be for "Continuity" on Four Feather Falls in 1960. A Western puppet series, it was the first on which Gerry Anderson  used an early version of what would later be termed Supermarionation, the technique he would use on all of his puppet series. As the Sixties progressed Mrs. Anderson prove pivotal to the various Supermarionation shows produced by her and her husband. She was credited as dialogue director on Supercar, and as script supervisor on Fireball XL5, Stingray, and Thunderbirds. She served as costume designer on Thunderbirds and was responsible for the look of the characters on the show. As mentioned earlier, she even served as a voice artist on various shows, playing Jimmy Gibson on Supercar, Doctor Venus on Fireball XL5, Lady Penelope on Thunderbirds, and Melody Angel on Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons.

More importantly, Sylvia Anderson co-created most of the Supermarionation shows. She was the co-creator of Fireball XL5, Stingray, Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, Joe 90, and The Secret Service. She served as a writer on Supercar. She served as a producer on Stingray and the two Thunderbirds feature films, Thunderbirds Are Go and Thunderbird 6. Mrs. Anderson also worked on various live action projects in the Fifties and Sixties. She was credited with "Continuity" on Gerry Anderson's 1960 live action feature film Crossroads to Crime. She not only co-created the live action series UFO, but also served as a producer and costume designer. She also served as the producer on Gerry Anderson's 1969 feature film Doppelgänger (known as Journey to the Far Side of the Sun in the United States).

In the Seventies Sylvia Anderson co-created the cult TV show Space: 1999 and served as producer on its first series. Sadly, it was with the first series of Space: 1999 that the Andersons' marriage failed. The two separated with the end of the first series, and she left their production company. They divorced in 1981.

Afterwards Sylvia Anderson was Head of Production at a video company that produced everything from music programmes to children's specials. She then went to work for HBO as a Original Programming representative in the United Kingdom. She stayed with HBO for thirty years. She also wrote a novel, Love and Hisses, published in 1983,and her biography, Yes M'Lady, published in 1991. It was revised and re-published as My FAB Years in 2007.  In 1994 she reprised her role as Lady Penelope on an episode of Absolutely Fabulous.

While Gerry Anderson's name remains closely associated with the Supermarionation shows of the Sixties, the fact is that they might not have been possible without Sylvia Anderson. It's not just that she made invaluable contributions to the shows, but that she was absolutely vital to them. She truly was a co-creator of many of the shows. And while Gerry Anderson handled the hardware and special effects side of the shows, it was Sylvia Anderson who handled the costumes, plotlines, characters, dialogue, and voices. In fact, it was Sylvia Anderson who convinced Lord Lew Grade to allow them to expand their shows to a full hour, as she felt a half hour was insufficient for character and plot development.

What makes Sylvia Anderson all the more remarkable is that she was not simply talented as a producer and writer. She was also talented as a costume designer and voice artist. The costumes for Thunderbirds remain among the best remembered of this day. As to Mrs. Anderson's work as a voice artist, there is a good reason Lady Penelope remains the most famous character to emerge from the Supermarionation shows. The simple fact is that Sylvia Anderson had a real talent for bring characters to life vocally. What is more, she could voice a variety of characters, from the posh Lady Penelope to an inquisitive little boy like Jimmy Gibson. Sylvia Anderson was an immensely talented woman who really deserves more credit than she has often gotten.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

St. Patrick's Day 2016

As many of you know, I don't celebrate St. Patrick's Day. I am not Catholic, Irish, Nigerian, Montserratian, an engineer, or a paralegal, so it would be something like me celebrating Purim (I'm not Jewish either). That having been said, I do enjoy holidays and I enjoy people celebrating holidays even when I don't do so myself. For those of you who are celebrating St. Patrick's Day, then, here is a collection of classic, St. Patrick's Day themed pinups.

First up is Angela Greene and a really big shamrock!

Lucy was actually mostly English in descent, with some Scottish thrown in for good measure, but she did have a little bit of Irish blood!

Ann Sheridan and another giant shamrock!

I hope Ava Gardner didn't sour her luck by bursting through this shamrock!

Peggy Knudsen looking very festive!

And while this isn't a holiday themed picture, one can't get more Irish than the beautiful Maureen O'Hara!

Happy St. Patrick's Day to Those Who Celebrate It!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Instagram to Sort Posts by Algorithm

Yesterday Instagram announced on their blog that they would start organising photos within the app's feed by an algorithm. Instagram is doing this according to their blog,  "To improve your experience, your feed will soon be ordered to show the moments we believe you will care about the most." To say that Instagram users are not happy would be an understatement. If one performs a search for "Instagram feed" on Twitter, he or she will find tweet after tweet condemning Instagram's move. There is even a petition on Change.Org to "“keep Instagram chronological." As of this writing, the petition has over 61,000 signatures. The outrage on the part of Instagram users was noticeable enough for Variety to do a story on it.

It is difficult to ascertain Instagram's motivation for sorting photos by an algorithm, particularly given the fact that users seem to hate having posts on any social media site sorted by an algorithm. Facebook's "Top Stories" feed has always been a point of contention for Facebook users. Facebook users have consistently complained about the "Top Stories" feed being the default view, preferring the "Most Recent" feed in which posts are sorted in reverse chronological order. What is more, every time Facebook has tried to do away with the "Most Recent" feed, there have been so many howls of protests that Facebook has been forced to restore it.

Howls of protest were what Twitter heard when they recently announced a feed that would be sorted by an algorithm. The outrage on the part of users was such that the hashtag #RIPTwitter trended on the site. Fortunately for Twitter users, sorting tweets by algorithm turned out to only be an option. Twitter users can turn off "show me the 'best' Tweets first" in Settings. I don't think I have to mention that most Twitter users I know have the algorithmic timeline turned off.

Despite the protests from Instagram users it is difficult to say what will come of the social media app's announcement. According to the announcement on the blog, "We’re going to take time to get this right and listen to your feedback along the way. You’ll see this new experience in the coming months." From this it sounds as if Instagram will take its time in developing an algorithmic feed and will listen to users in doing so. If that is the case, given the anger of Instagram users at the mere mention of an algorithmic feed, I suspect that it will turn out to be an option that one can turn off in settings, much the same way it is with Twitter.

If users are left with no option to sort photos by reverse chronological order as Instagram always has, then I suspect Instagram could be making a grave mistake. The outrage directed at Facebook when it has tried to do away with its "Most Recent" feed and at Twitter when it announced its algorithmic feed shows that users by and large hate having their feeds sorted by an algorithm. It would seem the average user wants his or her posts on social media sites to be sorted in reverse chronological order. If Instagram gives users no option other than an algorithmic feed, then they might well see users deserting the app in droves.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Godspeed Robert Horton

Robert Horton, perhaps best known for playing scout Flint McCullough on the hit TV show Wagon Train, died on March 9 2016 at the age of 91.

Robert Horton was born Meade Howard Horton, Jr. on July 29 1924 in Los Angeles. He had operations for a hernia and an enlarged kidney, but went onto play football at a California military school. In 1943 he joined the Coast Guard, but was given a medical release due to his enlarged kidney. That same year he made his debut on Broadway in a bit part in the play Slightly Married. He made his film debut in a small part in A Walk in the Sun in 1945.

Robert Horton attended UCLA where he earned a bachelor's degree. In the early Fifties he appeared in such films as The Tanks Are Coming (1951), Return of the Texan (1952), Apache War Smoke (1952), Pony Soldier (1952), The Story of Three Loves (1953), Bright Road (1953), Code Two (1953), Arena (1953), and Prisoner of War (1954). He made his television debut on an episode of Chevron Theatre in 1953. He guest starred on The Lone Ranger, The Ford Television Theatre, Meet Mr. McNulty, The Millionaire, and Public Defender before he was cast as Drake McHugh on the TV show King's Row.

Despite being based on the bestselling novel and hit movie of the same name, the TV show King's Row proved to be a failure, lasting only one season. Robert Horton would guest star on such shows as Studio 57, Lux Video Theatre, and Climax before being cast in his best known role. Robert Horton played Flint McCullough, the scout on the TV show Wagon Train. Wagon Train proved to be a hit, spending three years as the number one show on television and many more in the top ten highest rated shows on the air. Robert Horton left the show in 1962, partially for fear of being typecast and partially to pursue other things. While still on Wagon Train he guest starred on Studio One, The DuPont Show with June Allyson, Startime, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. In the late Fifties Mr. Horton also appeared in the film The Man Is Armed (1956).

The Sixties saw Robert Horton appear on Broadway in the musical 110 in the Shade. He starred in the Western TV series A Man Called Shenandoah. On the show Mr. Horton played an amnesiac travelling through the West and searching for clues to his identity. He also sang the show's theme, a specially adapted version of  "Oh Shenandoah". A Man Called Shenandoah received largely positive reviews from critics, but did not perform well in the ratings. It was cancelled after a single season and 34 episodes. During the Sixties Robert Horton also guest starred on The Barbara Stanwyck Show, Armstrong Circle Theatre, The United States Steel Hour, and The Red Skelton Hour. He also appeared in the film The Green Slime (1968).

In the Seventies and Eighties Robert Horton guest starred on the shows Longstreet; Police Woman; The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries; Houston Knights; and Murder, She Wrote. He appeared in a 1988 TV movie adaptation of Red River.

In addition to appearing on film and television, Robert Horton also had a singing career. He performed in nightclubs and theatres. He also recorded albums, including one tied to the TV show A Man Called Shenandoah.

Robert Horton was a very talented actor. Although he probably would not liked to have admitted it, he was perfect for playing Western heroes. Tall, handsome, and comfortable riding a horse, he was perfectly cast as Flint McCullough. Indeed, to prepare for the part he not only studied the Old West, but actually drove the route that the wagon trains would have taken. Mr. Horton showed that kind of commitment to most of the roles he played. Even in material such as The Green Slime, he gave solid performances. If Wagon Train was a success, much of it was due to Robert Horton.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Singer Gogi Grant Passes On

Gogi Grant, the singer best known for the 1956 hit "The Wayward Wind", died on March 2016 at the age of 91.

Gogi Grant was born Myrtle Audrey Arinsberg in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She was twelve when her family moved to Los Angeles. She attended Venice High School. In the early fifties she worked as a saleswoman for a car lot. It was in 1952 that she began recording under the name "Audrey Brown". She eventually switched to the name "Audrey Grant". It was record producer Dave Kapp who gave her the name "Gogi".

It was in 1955 that Gogi Grant signed with Era Records. That same year she had her first hit, "Suddenly There's a Valley". It peaked at no. 9 on the Billboard singles chart. Her next single, "Who Are We", released the following year, did not do nearly as well. It only went to no. 62. It would be her third single that would be her biggest hit. Released in 1956, "The Wayward Wind" went to no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, knocking Elvis Presley's "Heartbreak Hotel" to do so. It remained at the top for eight weeks. It also went to no. 9 in the United Kingdom.

Sadly, Gogi Grant would have no more hits as big as "The Wayward Wind". Her follow up to "The Wayward Wind", "You're in Love", only reached  no. 69 on the Billboard singles chart. "Strange Are the Ways of Love", released in 1958, only reached no. 80. Despite this Gogi Grant remained a popular guest on TV shows. She made her television debut on Texaco Star Theatre in 1955. She went on to appear on such variety shows as The Paul Winchell and Jerry Mahoney Show, The Steve Allen Plymouth Show, The Nat King Cole Show, The Big Record, The George Gobel Show, and The Dinah Shore Chevy Show.  She performed at the 32nd Annual Academy Awards.

In the Fifties Gogi Grant also did some work in film. She appeared as herself in the short "Golden Ladder". She provided Ann Blyth's singing voice in The Helen Morgan Story. She appeared in the film The Big Beat (1958).  She guest starred on an episode of Dan Raven in 1960.

In the late Fifties Gogi Grant recorded several albums, including Suddenly There's Gogi Grant (1957), Welcome To My Heart (1958), Torch Time (1958), Granted it's Gogi (1959), and If You Want To Get To Heaven, Shout (1960).

Sadly, as the grip of rock 'n' roll on the charts grew even firmer in the Sixties, particularly after the British Invasion, Gogi Grant's career went into decline. She appeared on The Lloyd Bridges Show and The Linkletter Show. She also performed at the 34th Annual Academy Awards. She had one final, moderate hit, "The Sea", in 1967. It went entered the top twenty on Billboard's Easy Listening chart. She then retired in 1967 to raise a family.

Gogi Grant returned to performing in 1987 and continued to perform well into her 80s. She appeared in the film short "Have a Nice Day" (1996) and performed "The Wayward Wind" on the PBS special Magic Moments: The Best of 50's Pop in 2004.

While Gogi Grant did not see the phenomenal success of many singers, she was a gifted performer. She was quite pretty and, more importantly, she possessed a warm and rich voice suited to a variety of styles of songs. It seems likely that much of the success of "The Wayward Wind" was not simply due to the song itself, but the loveliness of the voice singing it. It seems possible that had Gogi Grant emerged well before the advent of rock 'n' roll (which took over the charts starting in the mid-Fifties), she might well have seen much more success. As it is, she will still be remembered as one of the best female singers to emerge in the Fifties.