Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Man Who Laughs: Batman's Archenemy The Joker

When it comes to comic books it is definitely superheroes who enjoy the limelight. The average person who has never even read a comic book could easily name several of them: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, and yet others. Supervillains don't have it so lucky. The vast majority are only known to comic book fans. A notable exception is Batman's archenemy The Joker. In fact, it seems likely that if the average person, even those who have never read a comic book, were asked to make a list of supervillains, The Joker would be at the top of the list. In the end it seems likely that The Joker could be the most famous comic book villain of all time.

The Joker card sketched
by Jerry Robinson

Conrad Veidt as Gwynplaine
in The Man Who Laughs
The Joker first appeared in Batman #1 (spring 1940), which also included the first appearance of Catwoman. Accounts of The Joker's creation vary, so it is impossible to determine exactly how the character came about. According to artist Jerry Robinson he wanted to create a new villain for Batman. He first came up with the name "The Joker" and then drew a sketch of a Joker playing card. Jerry Robinson then showed the sketch to writer Bill Finger, who remarked that it reminded him of Conrad Veidt as Gwynplaine in the film The Man Who Laughs (1928). In the film Gwynplaine's face bore a perpetual grin, an actual medical condition known as risus sardonicus.

Bob Kane, who co-created Batman with Bill Finger, told a different story of the creation of The Joker. According to Mr. Kane it was he and Bill Finger who created the character. He said that Bill Finger had a book with a photo of Conrad Veidt from The Man Who Laughs in it. Bill Finger showed it to Bob Kane and told him, "Here's The Joker." He dismissed Jerry Robinson's claim, stating that Mr. Robinson's only contribution to the character was bringing in a playing card that was used for a few issues as the model for The Joker's calling cards.

Unfortunately the mystery of just who created The Joker will probably never be solved. Bill Finger died in 1974. Bob Kane died in 1998. Jerry Robinson died in 2011. Anyone working at Detective Comics, Inc. (one of the companies that would become DC Comics) at the time, including "Batman" editor Whitney Ellsworth, is also dead. For simplicity's sake most comic book historians then credit Bill Finger, Bob Kane, and Jerry Robinson jointly with The Joker's creation. Regardless of who actually created The Joker, one thing would seem certain. Given the resemblance between Conrad Veidt as Gwynplaine and The Joker, it seems extremely likely that The Man Who Laughs provided part of the inspiration for the character.

In his first two appearances in Batman #1 The Joker was essentially a murderous psychopath. That having been said, he was also a criminal mastermind. He broadcast his intention to kill Henry Claridge and steal the Claridge diamond over the radio. When he did commit the crime, he did so in the presence of the police without them fully realising what had happened. On another night he broadcast his intention to kill JayWilde and steal the Ronkers Ruby. Once more he succeeds with the police present. He even kills gangster Brute Nelson with Batman present. As a criminal genius with a taste for homicide The Joker racked up a rather large body count in his first two stories (both in Batman #1). In the first story he killed four people (Henry Claridge, Jay Wilde, Brute Nelson, and Judge Drake). In the second story he killed even more people, nine in total (Gotham City Police Chief Chalmers, the owner of a priceless jewel, social reformer Edgar Martin, and six policemen). Even by today's standards the early Joker stories were very violent.

Even in his first appearances The Joker generally eschewed guns. Out of his victims Brute Nelson is the only one he shoots. On his first two victims he used his Joker Venom, a toxin that sends its victims into fits of laughter and leaves their dead bodies with a fixed grin. He poisoned Judge Drake. In the second stories he killed Police Chief Chalmers with a dart and Edgar Martin with a poisoned deck of cards. While many comic book characters evolve over time, it would seem that The Joker as we now know him emerged fully developed in his first appearances. He was already a master criminal with a penchant for theatrics and murderous tendencies.

Bill Finger had planned to kill The Joker off in that second story in Batman #1. Mr. Finger worried that a recurring villain might make Batman look incompetent. He was overruled by editor Whitney Ellsworth, who thought The Joker was much too good of a character to kill off. As a result, a panel was quickly added to the story to show that The Joker had escaped death. It would not be the last time he would do so.

The Joker proved popular from the outset. In the first twelve issues of Batman he appeared nine times. During that time he remained a murderous psychopath and criminal mastermind, killing almost thirty people in his first twelve appearances. Given the number of people The Joker killed, it was certain that if he had been caught he would have been sentenced to death. In fact, in "The Joker Walks the Last Mile" in Detective Comics #64 (June 1942) The Joker actually turns himself into the authorities and confesses to his crimes. As might be expected, he is sent to the electric chair. As it turns out, however, The Joker once more cheats death and returns to a life of crime

In The Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told comic book writer Mark Waid expresses the belief that "The Joker Walks the Last Mile" marked a turning point for The Joker. Following that story the Clown Prince of Crime ceased to be a homicidal psychopath and became a thief with a predilection for elaborate schemes and theatrics. This is not to say that The Joker would not kill when he felt it was necessary. In "Knights of Knavery" in Batman #25 (October 1944), the first story in which The Joker and The Penguin teamed up (and possibly the first time any of Batman's opponents worked together), The Joker and The Penguin decided it might be easiest to simply shoot and kill Batman and Robin!

In The Joker's earliest appearances no explanation was ever offered as to why his hair was green, his face white, and his face fixed in a perpetual grin. While the given names of other villains were often known (The Penguin was Oswald Cobblepot, Catwoman was Selina Kyle, and so on), none was ever given for The Joker. It was in "The Man Behind the Red Hood" in Detective Comics #168 (February 1951) that the origin of The Joker was finally revealed. The Joker was a lab worker who took on the identity of The Red Hood in order to burglarise the company he worked for, the Monarch Playing Card Company. When Batman showed up in the middle of the robbery, he dived into a vat of chemicals and emerged as, well, The Joker. "The Man Behind the Red Hood" would provide part of the basis for the 1989 movie Batman, as well as the graphic novel The Killing Joke. Despite having had a lasting impact on the "Batman" mythos, today it is unclear whether "The Man Behind the Red Hood" should be regarded as the definitive origin of The Joker. Over the years other origins have been offered for The Joker, and in The Killing Joke he confesses, "Sometimes I remember it one way, sometimes another ... if I'm going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice!

From the late Forties into the early Fifties comic books would increasingly come under attack for violent and often gory content. In response in 1954 the Comics Magazine Association of America (CMAA) was formed. In turn the CMAA created its own code, the Comics Code, as to what was and was not acceptable in comic books. The Comics Code was enforced by the Comics Code Authority. If anything, the original Comics Code was even stricter than Hollywood's Production Code of the Thirties. Among other things, excessive violence was prohibited and the portrayal of kidnapping and concealed weapons were severely restricted. The end result was that The Joker ultimately became a somewhat harmless prankster.

In most of the comic books published in the remainder of the Fifties through the Sixties it was as a somewhat light-hearted prankster that The Joker appeared. When sales of "Batman" comic books dropped in the wake of the cancellation of the classic Batman TV series, writer Denny O'Neil and artist Neal Addams returned Batman, who over the years had evolved into a respected citizen who just happened to fight crime dressed as a bat, to his roots as a sometimes brutal crimefighter who operated primarily at night. Perhaps because he had appeared so often on the television show, The Joker was then absent from Batman comic books for a period of about four years.

It was with "The Joker's Five-Way Revenge" in Batman #251 (September 1973) that Denny O'Neil and Neal Addams brought The Joker back.  The Joker was no longer the harmless prankster of the late Fifties and Sixties, nor was he the elaborate thief of the late Forties and early Fifties. Instead Messrs. O'Neil and Addams once more made The Joker a murderous psychopath. This is not to say The Joker was exactly the same as The Joker of the early stories. While he was once more a psychopathic killer, he retained the elaborate schemes and theatrics of The Joker from the late Forties through the Sixties. One major change that was made to the character is that Denny O'Neil established The Joker as legally insane. When captured he would then be sent to Arkham Asylum rather to prison. A significant event in the character's history is that for nine issues from 1975 to 1976 he actually had his own comic book, The Joker.

Since Denny O'Neil and Neal Addams reintroduced the character, The Joker has, if anything, become even more violent. He has even struck successful blows against those closest to Batman, including murdering Jason Todd/the second Robin (in "A Death in the Family Part III" in Batman #428, December 1988 ) and crippling Barbara Gordon, also known as Batgirl (in the graphic novel The Killing Joke).

As might be expected given his status as Batman's greatest enemy, The Joker has appeared in several film and television projects featuring the superhero over the years. Curiously The Joker did not appear in either of the serials (The Batman in 1943 and Batman and Robin in 1949), which both utilised villains who never even appeared in the comic books. The first appearance of The Joker on any sort of screen would then be in the classic Sixties TV series Batman in the episode "The Joker is Wild", which aired on January 26 1966. Throughout the series The Joker was played by Cesar Romero.

Cesar Romero as The Joker
Curiously given Cesar Romero's identification with the role, he was not producer William Dozier's first choice to play The Joker. In an interview in 1986 William Dozier said his first choice had been José Ferrer. He also considered Gig Young. Both men passed on the role, so it went to Cesar Romero. While Mr. Romero enjoyed the role and would be forever be identified with it, he was somewhat mystified as to why William Dozier wanted him for the part. He asked Mr. Dozier's wife, Ann Rutherford, about it and she did not know. Mr. Dozier had simply seen Cesar Romero in something and said, "He's the one I want to play The Joker." This did not exactly solve the mystery for Mr. Romero, as he had no idea what William Dozier could have seen him in. As he later said, "I haven't the slightest idea what it was that he saw me in, because I had never done anything like it before."

One condition that Cesar Romero had on playing The Joker is that he would not shave off his moustache. As a result his moustache was simply covered up with make up. Regardless, Mr. Romero proved well suited to the role. He endowed The Joker with a maniacal laugh and the sort of energy one would expect from the villain. At the same time there was a real sense of menace about Cesar Romero's Joker. He may not have been the psychopathic killer originally portrayed in the comic books, but one got the sense he was capable of murder.

Indeed, The Joker of the TV series Batman would seem to owe more to the elaborate thief of the late Forties and early Fifties than the practical joker of the late Fifties and Sixties comic books. After all, on the TV show The Joker tried to kill either Batman, Robin, or both of them repeatedly. He tried to electrocute them, suffocate them in a smokestack, crush them, and impale them, among other things. In his second appearance on the show, "Batman Gets Riled", it is unclear whether a joy buzzer The Joker used on a newscaster merely knocked the man out or actually killed him. In "He Meets His Match, The Grisly Ghoul"  The Joker tried to kill Cheerleader Suzie (played by Donna Loren) with poisonous perfume. While The Joker in the comic books of the time generally no longer killed people, The Joker on the TV show at least tried to.

Not only would Cesar Romero be the first man to play The Joker on television, but he would be the first man to play him in a feature film as well. William Dozier had wanted to make a feature film before the TV show even debuted in order to generate interest in the series. Unfortunately 20th Century Fox turned the idea down because it would have had to pay the whole cost of a film, while the television network ABC would share the costs for the TV show. Fortunately Batman would make it to the big screen on July 30 1966. In the film The Joker teams up with four other members of Batman's rogue's gallery (The Penguin played by Burgess Meredith, Catwoman played by Lee Meriwether, and The Riddler played by Frank Gorshin) in a plot that involved kidnapping the United World Organization's Security Council.

The Joker from The Batman/Superman Hour
For a very brief time while Cesar Romero was still playing The Joker on primetime television, another actor was playing him on Saturday morning. In September 1968 the animated series The Batman/Superman Hour debuted. While the cartoon was played seriously (as opposed to the TV show, which was played for comedy), it included the same sort of cliffhangers and death traps. As might be expected, The Joker appeared several times on the cartoon. He was voiced by legendary actor and voice artist Larry Storch. Larry Storch would later reprise the role of The Joker on two episodes of The New Scooby-Doo Movies on which Batman and Robin guest starred in 1972.

In 1977 another Saturday morning cartoon starring Batman, The New Adventures of Batman, debuted. On The New Adventures of Batman, Batman and Robin were voiced by none other than Adam West and Burt Ward from the Sixties TV show. While The Joker had returned to being a homicidal maniac in the comic books by this time, The Joker on The New Adventures of Batman was more or less the prankster of the Fifties and Sixties. He was voiced by Lennie Weinrib, who among other things had been the voice of H.R. Pufnstuf. The Joker would appear in another Saturday morning cartoon in the Eighties, The Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians, on which he was voiced by Frank Welker.

While The Joker of Saturday morning cartoons in the Seventies and Eighties was more or less the practical joker of the Fifties and Sixties, the same could not be said of The Joker of the 1989 film Batman. Batman (1989) marked the first ever appearance of The Joker as the murderous psychopath  of the comic books of the early Forties and the comic books published after 1973. Unlike the Sixties TV series, Batman (1989) embraced the darker, more serious tone of the early Batman comic books and Batman comic books published from the Seventies afterwards. In fact, the film was influenced by Steve Engleheart's run on Detective Comics from 1977 to 1978, Frank Miller's graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns, and, most importantly for The Joker, Alan Moore's graphic novel The Killing Joke.

Jack Nicholson as The Joker
In casting The Joker, director Tim Burton had wanted  Brad Dourif, who had played Billy Bibbit in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) and Raymond in Blue Velvet (1986). Warner Bros. vetoed the idea. Several actors were then considered for the role, including Tim Curry, David Bowie, John Lithgow, and James Woods. Robin Williams wanted to play The Joker very badly. Unfortunately for Mr. Williams, producer Michael Uslan, Batman co-creator Bob Kane, and even Warner Bros. wanted Jack Nicholson for the role. It was ultimately Jack Nicholson who was cast in the part.

In its portrayal of The Joker, Batman (1989) drew upon almost the entirety of the character's history. Smilex, a combination of chemicals that leaves its victims with fixed grins on their faces, is nothing more than a "rebranding" of the Joker Venom introduced in Batman #1. And just as The Joker broadcast his plans over the radio in Batman #1, he broadcasts his plans over television in the film. The plot of the film draws heavily upon "The Man Behind the Red Hood"  in telling the origin of The Joker. The film even draws upon the Sixties TV series. At one point The Joker kills a rival criminal with an electrically charged joy buzzer.

As to Jack Nicholson's portrayal of The Joker, it was pretty much the homicidal maniac with a penchant for elaborate schemes that had been appearing in the comic books since 1973. Mr. Nicholson's performance also brings to mind two of his earlier roles: Mac in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Jack Torrance in The Shining (1980). While it might sound odd given the difference in tones between the TV series and the film, there would also seem to be a bit of Cesar Romero's Joker in Jack Nicholson's portrayal, particularly in his laughter. The Joker would become one of Jack Nicholson's best known roles and for many he is the definitive Joker.

The feature film Batman (1989) was followed by another TV series, Batman: the Animated Series, in 1992. Batman: the Animated Series drew upon the feature films Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992), as well as classic Fleischer Studios "Superman" theatrical cartoons from the early Forties. As might be expected, The Joker would play a major role on the show. In the vast majority of the episodes in which The Joker appeared he was voiced by Mark Hamill, then most famous as Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars films.

The Joker from Batman: The Animated Series
Like the 1989 film, The Joker on Batman: The Animated Series drew upon the entire history of the character, although arguably he most resembled The Joker of the mid to late Seventies in his behaviour. Indeed, he reminded me of The Joker as he appeared in Steve Englehart's "The Laughing Fish" from Detective Comics #47 (February 1978) and "The Sign of The Joker" from Detective Comics #48 (April 1978). On Batman: The Animated Series The Joker appeared to be truly mad. Mark Hamill endowed him with a rather unique voice, complete with a maniacal, hyaena laugh. Mark Hamill had earlier played The Trickster on the 1990 TV series The Flash, and elements of that performance found its way into The Joker. Mark Hamill would reprise his role as The Trickster in the current Flash series.

While The Joker never killed anyone on Batman: The Animated Series (after all, it was an animated cartoon airing on television), there was a sense that he was both truly evil and truly insane. As in most of his portrayals he loved complex schemes and his behaviour was unpredictable on a good day. Mark Hamill would go onto portray The Joker more than any other actor. He reprised the role in the 1993 animated feature film Mask of the Phantasm, Superman: The Animated Series, the 1997 TV film The Batman Superman Movie: World's Finest, The New Batman Adventures,, the straight to video film Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, the animated series Static Shock, and the animated series Justice League. He also provided the voice of The Joker in the debut episode of the TV show Birds of Prey (Roger Stoneburner provided The Joker's body). Mark Hamill is set to play The Joker again in the animated adaptation of The Killing Joke, which will debut later this year.

Harley Quinn
Batman: The Animated Series also introduced a new element to The Joker mythos. Over the years The Joker had relied upon various women in addition to the various thugs he employed, particularly on the Sixties TV series. Batman: The Animated Series introduced Harley Quinn. Meant to only appear once, the character proved to be so popular that she appeared multiple times and would eventually be introduced in the comic books. Harley Quinn is as mad as The Joker and, in fact, she is in love with him. In the comic books and other media Harley Quinn would eventually strike out on her own, as well as teaming up with Batman's opponent Poison Ivy. Harley Quinn is set to make her feature film debut in Suicide Squad later this year.

Over the years yet other actors would assume the role of The Joker in various animated projects. Kevin Michael Richardson played the Clown Prince of Crime in the animated series The Batman. Billy Davis played The Joker in the animated short Batman: Mad Love. Several different actors have played The Joker in various direct-to-video, animated films over the years, including John DiMaggio in Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010), Michael Emerson in The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 (2012), Dee Bradley Baker in Son of Batman (2014), and Troy Baker in Batman: Assault on Arkham (2014).  The performances of the various actors varied slightly. John DiMaggio (best known as Bender on Futurama) drew a bit from Cesar Romero. Troy Baker drew a good deal from Mark Hamill. For the most part, however, the actors who have portrayed The Joker in various animated projects over the years have managed to incorporate many of the older portrayals of the character while at the same time making their own contributions.

While The Joker in Batman (1989) and the animated projects that followed it largely drew upon The Joker as he was in the late Seventies and the graphic novel The Killing Joke, The Dark Knight (2008) would draw upon other sources. Director Christopher Nolan based The Joker in the film on the graphic novels The Killing Joke and Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth. The Joker in The Dark Knight also appears to have drawn upon The Joker in his earliest appearances in Batman #1. Indeed, The Joker in The Dark Knight largely eschews many of the trappings of The Joker of the Fifties, the Sixties, the Seventies, and onwards. There are no lethal joy buzzers or razor sharp playing cards. The Joker does not even use Joker Venom in the film. His permanent grin in the film would appear to be a Cheshire grin, scars in the shape of a smile caused by a knife or other sharp object. It would also appear that he is wearing makeup rather than his skin having been bleached white, although the film is not entirely clear on that point.

Heath Ledger as The Joker
While The Joker does not use many of the devices for which he is known in the comic books and earlier TV shows and movies in The Dark Knight, the character still owes a good deal to The Joker of the comic books. In addition to The Killing Joke and Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Earth, his characterisation owes a good deal to The Joker in his earliest appearances. The Joker is portrayed as unpredictable, insane, and homicidal, essentially an agent of chaos. The murder of Commissioner Loeb in the movie even resembles the poisoning of Judge Drake in Batman #1 (spring 1940). While the film draws heavily upon the comic books, it also acknowledges Cesar Romero's madcap portrayal on the TV show. The Pagliacci mask worn by The Joker early in the film is the same as the one worn by The Joker in the episode "The Batman Gets Riled". Like The Joker in Batman #1, the TV series, and Batman (1989), The Joker in The Dark Knight utilises the media to his advantage.

While Christopher Nolan drew upon  The Killing Joke and Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Earth, actor Heath Ledger drew upon other sources for his portrayal of the Clown Prince of Crime. While Mr. Ledger read The Killing Joke, he was unable to finish Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Earth. For further inspiration for The Joker, Heath Ledger then looked to Alex in both Stanley Kubrick's film A Clockwork Orange (1971) and Anthony Burgess's original novel of the same name, as well as the late Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious.

Sadly, Heath Ledger died before the release of The Dark Knight. His performance received widespread acclaim upon its release and he would be awarded the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor posthumously.  Not only was this one of the few times in which an Oscar was awarded to an actor after he had died, it was also perhaps the first time that an actor ever received an Oscar for playing a supervillain.

Heath Ledger would not be the last man to play The Joker.  Batman: Under the Red Hood, The Dark Knight Returns Part 1, Son of Batman, and Batman: Assault on Arkham have all been released since The Dark Knight. As mentioned earlier, Mark Hamill is set to reprise his role as The Joker in The Killing Joke. Later this year will see the release of Suicide Squad, in which Jared Leto plays The Joker. As long as Batman movies are being made, it is a safe bet that The Joker will continue to appear on the big screen.

The Joker is possibly the most famous comic book villain of all time and certainly one of the most popular. He is certainly one of the most frightening. He is a homicidal maniac who often kills for little or no reason (or at least reasons that make sense only to him). What is more, he kills very frequently. There are many who have good reason to believe that, short of entities capable of destroying entire cities or entire worlds, The Joker has the highest body count of any DC Comics character. If The Joker was merely a very effective serial killer, however, we would not expect him to have remained so popular for so long. Serial killers in the mass media are a dime a dozen, and most are swiftly forgotten. For that matter, it must be pointed out that for several decades (from the late Forties into the Seventies), The Joker hardly killed anybody. Despite this The Joker was still regarded as The Batman's archenemy and was still arguably the most popular comic book villain around. Since The Joker's homicidal tendencies don't seem to account for his continued popularity, his appeal as one of the most popular bad guys must then be sought elsewhere.

Cesar Romero as The Joker as Canio in Pagliacci
Much of The Joker's appeal could be linked to coulrophobia, the morbid fear of clowns. While people today are much more aware of coulrophobia due to the internet, people with a strong fear of clowns have probably been around well before the 20th Century. In fact, my late best friend was deathly afraid of clowns. For him Bozo the Clown was more frightening than Freddy Kruger ever was. Given coulrophobia is nothing new, it should come as no surprise that the archetype of the evil clown has been around for some time. The Edgar Allan Poe story "Hop-Frog", in which a court jester takes rather sadistic revenge on a king and his cabinet, was first published in 1849. Catulle Mendès's 1887 play La Femme de Tabarin and Ruggero Leoncavallo's opera Pagliacci both involved murderous clowns (in fact, Mr. Mendès even sued Leoncavallo for plagiarism, but later dropped the suit). As to what causes coulrophobia and why it is so common, there are probably a number of reasons. For many it might be a combination of a traumatic experience (this was apparently why my friend was afraid of them) and the makeup clowns wear. Quite simply, a clown's makeup makes him or her appear so unnatural as to be frightening to some people. The Joker could then be one of the earliest characters to take advantage of coulrophobia in the general population. Quite simply, whether he is played by Cesar Romero or Heath Ledger, The Joker is frightening to many people because, well, he looks like a clown.

That having been said, evil clowns, like serial killers are a dime a dozen in popular culture. From Pennywise the Clown in Stephen King's It to The Killer Klowns From Outer Space, there is no shortage of evil clowns, yet none can make a claim to either the fame or popularity of The Joker. It would then seem again that the source of The Joker's longevity as a character must be sought elsewhere. Looking at the portrayal of The Joker through the years, from his first appearance in Batman #1 to his last big screen appearance in The Dark Knight, I suspect it comes down to two things.

The first is that The Joker is totally, utterly unpredictable. He frequently kills his henchmen for apparently no reason at all (in The Dark Knight he even sets it up so they kill each other). He might rob a fur store only to take a few hairpins (as in the Sixties Batman episode "The Joker Trumps an Ace"). He might endow fish with a smiling face and try to copyright them (as in Steve Englehart's  aforementioned "The Laughing Fish" and "The Sign of The Joker"). The Joker's mind operates according to its own sort of warped logic, so that there is little way to tell what he might do next. This makes The Joker a dangerous opponent and a frightening one as well. After all, if you have the bad luck to be in the same room as The Joker, how do you know that you won't be the next person he kills at any given moment?

The second factor in The Joker's continued popularity is the sheer outlandishness of his schemes. The Joker is certainly a follower of the creed "Go big or go home." In “The Cross-Country Crimes” from Batman #8 (December 1941/January 1942) The Joker kills the head of the FBI immediately after he has given an honour to Batman and Robin, then begins a crime spree that literally spans the nation. In Batman (1989) he tries to poison all of Gotham City with Smilex. In the Batman: The Animated Series episode "The Last Laugh" The Joker covers the city in laughing gas and then embarks on a crime wave. Not only are The Joker's schemes often grandiose in scale, but he pulls them off with a theatricality that would put Flo Ziegfeld to shame. He can't simply shoot someone. He has to use Joker Venom on them, kill them with razor sharp playing cards, or kill them with an electrically charged joy buzzer. Even when escaping from prison or, in later years, Arkham Asylum, The Joker tends to be very theatrical. In  the Sixties Batman episode "The Joker is Wild" he escapes from Gotham State Penitentiary using an explosive baseball and springs. Given his tendency to theatrics, it should be no surprise that he often makes a grand entrance when committing a crime. In the Batman: The Animated Series episode "Joker's Favour" (which was also Harley Quinn's first appearance) he pops out of a cake at at a testimonial dinner for Commissioner Gordon.

While The Joker has evolved over the years, from a psychotic killer to an elaborate thief to a harmless prankster to a psychotic killer again,  the unpredictability of his actions and his taste for theatrics have remained a constant in his portrayals. In the end it is those two qualities that have made him possibly the most famous comic book villain of all time. Very nearly killed off in his second appearance, it seems certain that The Joker will never end.

Friday, May 13, 2016

The 75th Anniversary of Ritchie Valens's Birth

It was 75 years ago today that Ritchie Valens was born Richard Steven Valenzuela in Pacoima, California. Sadly his career would be very brief, but he would have a lasting impact on rock music. He was one of the earliest Latin rock stars and would have an impact on the genre of Chicano rock. Such bands as The Sir Douglas Quintet,  Los Lobos, and War then owe a debt to him. Sadly, Ritchie Valens would die in the plane crash that also took the lives of rock legends Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper (J. P. Richardson) in Clear Lake, Iowa on February 3 1959.

Ritchie Valens took to music while he was still young. He learned both the guitar and trumpet, and later taught himself to play drums. Growing up his musical influences were Mexican mariachi music, rhythm and blues, and jump blues. He was only sixteen when he joined a group called The Silhouettes. When their lead singer left, it was Ritchie Valens who became their lead vocalist.

It was on May 27 1958 that Ritchie Valens was signed to the Del-Fi label. Del-Fi's owner and president, Bob Keane, gave Ritchie Valens his stage name. His first name was spelled "Ritchie" because there were a number of singers named "Richie" at the time and he wanted something different. Ritchie's last name was shorted to Valens so it would sound less ethnic.

Ritchie Valens's first single was "Come On, Let's Go". The single performed remarkably well for a new artist, going all the way to no. 42 on the Billboard singles chart. His second single would perform even better. It was a double A-side with the songs "Donna" and "La Bamba". Despite "La Bamba" now being his most famous song, it was "Donna" that was the bigger hit. "Donna" peaked at no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, while "La Bamba" peaked at no. 22.

In early 1959 there was launched a package tour of the Midwest called "The Winter Dance Party". The Winter Dance Party featured Buddy Holly, Dion and the Belmonts, The Big Bopper, Frankie Sardo, and Ritchie Valens. It was after a performance on February 2 1959 that Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, and Ritiche Valens flew out of the Mason City, Iowa airport in a small charter plane. It was a little after 1:00 AM, not long after the plane had taken off, that the plane crashed for reasons that are unknown to this day. Sadly everyone on board (Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, Ritchie Valens, and the pilot) died.

Del-Fi albums released Ritchie Valens's album Ritchie Valens posthumously in March 1959. The album peaked at no. 23 on the Billboard album chart. The singles "Fast Freight", "That's My Little Suzie", "Little Girl", and  "The Paddiwack Song" were released following his death. Only "That's My Little Suzie" and "Little Girl" would chart. "That's My Little Suzie" went to no. 55 on the Billboard Hot 100, while "Little Girl" only peaked at no. 93. A second album, Ritchie, was released in October 1959. A live album, Ritchie Valens In Concert at Pacoima Jr. High, was released in December 1960.

In 1987 a biopic about Ritchie Valens's rise to fame, La Bamba, was released. Despite the brevity of his career, he would have a lasting impact on Chicano rock as well as yet other Latin rock performers.

In memory of Ritchie Valens, here is his biggest hit, "Donna"

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Agent Carter R.I.P.

Today ABC cancelled Agent Carter. For those unfamiliar with the show, it was essentially a spin-off from the film Captain America: The First Avenger (2013). It centred around Peggy Carter (played by Hayley Atwell), an agent for the Strategic Scientific Reserve (or the SSR for short) in the years following World War II. The show was only one of two comic book shows set during the Golden Age of Comic Books (the first being the first season of Wonder Woman). It was also only one of two comic book shows currently on the broadcast networks in which the protagonist was a woman (the other being Supergirl).

While Agent Carter was set in the Forties, Peggy Carter was not a Golden Age character. In the actual Golden Age comic books starring Captain America his romantic interest was Betsy Ross (yes, you read that correctly). Peggy Carter would not appear until the Silver Age. In Tales of Suspense #77 (May 1966) she appeared as Captain American's love interest during World War II, although she was as yet unnamed. She was later established as the older sister of Captain America's current love interest, Sharon Carter, in Captain America #161 (May 1973).

With Peggy Carter established as a love interest for Captain America during World War II in comic books published from the Seventies onwards, she quite naturally appeared in Captain America: The First Avenger. That having been said, there were some changes to the character from the comic books to the film. In the comic books Peggy Carter was born in Richmond, Virginia and joined the French Resistance. In Captain America: The First Avenger she was an English subject working for the Special Operations Executive.

The Marvel One-Shot short film Agent Carter established Peggy Carter as now living in the United States and working for the SSR. It was distributed with the home video release of Iron Man 3. The short received good notices from critics and was welcomed enthusiastically by fans. It was its success that led to the TV series Agent Carter.

While Agent Carter would be well received by critics and the series developed a fiercely loyal following, it struggled in the ratings. Its first season finale was watched by only 4.02 million viewers. Sadly its second season would face even lower ratings. It was only watched by 2.35 million viewers. Regardless, it still maintained a loyal following. After ABC announced the cancellation of the show today "Agent Carter" began trending on Twitter.

Indeed, I must say that I am seriously disappointed that ABC cancelled Agent Carter. While I knew that its ratings were terribly low, I was hoping that the critical acclaim it has received as well as its loyal following might save the show. Agent Carter was definitely one of the best comic book shows on the air, far better than ABC's own Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. It was also the only comic book show set during the Golden Age of comic books. Next season will be a little poorer with Agent Carter now off the air

My own hope is that perhaps Netflix will pick Agent Carter up. Currently Netlix has two Marvel shows, Daredevil and Jessica Jones, with yet more set to debut. The only obstacle to Netflix picking up Agent Carter is that Hayley Atwell has signed to star in the legal drama Conviction on ABC. Given the size of series orders these days there would probably be no problem in Miss Atwell starring in both Conviction and Agent Carter. That having been said, there could be a problem if her contract with ABC stipulates that she must exclusively work for that network. I truly hope that is not the case.

Quite simply, Agent Carter was one of the best comic book shows on the air. It was well written, well acted, and, above all else, fun. I certainly hope that the show can go on despite ABC's cancellation.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Why Instagram Should Keep a Chronological Feed

In March Instagram announced that they would start sorting photos in the app's feed by an algorithm. According to a statement on their blog, "To improve your experience, your feed will soon be ordered to show the moments we believe you will care about the most." In the blog they also said, "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." Reaction to Instagram's announcement was swift and immediate. Instagram users made their unhappiness at the announcement known via Twitter and even Instagram itself. A petition to “keep Instagram chronological" was even created on Change.Org. At the moment it has 335,954 signatures.

Fortunately for Instagram the uproar eventually quieted down. I am guessing that when Instagram said that they were "going to take time", people just stopped worrying about it. Unfortunately it seems Instagram's idea of "taking time" is only less than two months. Last week there were reports of individuals' feeds having been switched to the new algorithm. A search on Twitter for "Instagram feed" would bring up several tweets in which people expressed their disappointment, frustration, and even outright anger at having their feed changed. At the moment it is difficult to tell if Instagram is simply testing the new algorithm out on a few users or slowly rolling it out to all users. Either way people are not happy.

My own thought is that Instagram should not have even considered switching to sorting posts by algorithm to begin with. On their blog announcing the change Instagram claimed that "...people miss on average 70 percent of their feeds." I seriously doubt this myself. It might be true of people who follow literally thousands of people, but I know I have no problem whatsoever keeping up with what is on my feed. I simply scroll down to where I left off. I miss nothing. That seems to be true of my friends as well.

I cannot say the same if my Instagram feed was sorted by an algorithm. For years Facebook has sorted posts by algorithm on their Top Stories feed. Long ago I learned that if I only relied on Facebook's "Top Stories" feed I would miss several posts, even those by my closest friends. While it is not as inefficient as Facebook, Google+ also has an algorithm that sorts posts, even though they are still displayed in chronological order. There I will also occasionally miss posts, even by those by closest friends. If Instagram switches my feed to being sorted by an algorithm, then, I can only imagine that suddenly I will start missing several posts, even those by my closest friends.  In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if instead of seeing everything the way I do with my feed sorted chronologically, I will miss 70 percent of my feed if it is sorted by algorithm....

Indeed, I suspect missing posts by those closest to them is the reason why people absolutely, positively hate having their feeds sorted by algorithms. The howls of protest with which Instagram was met when they made their announcement is not the first time a social media site has met with resistance from its users regarding sorting feeds by an algorithm. In fact, even though Facebook insists on its Top Stories feed (sorted by an algorithm) being the default, Facebook users have always shown a marked preference for the Most Recent feed (sorted chronologically). To this day people still complain that they only want to see the Most Recent feed. A number of workarounds even exist online to set one's Facebook feed permanently to Most Recent. Indeed, every attempt Facebook has made to do away with the Most Recent feed has resulted in such outcry that they have had to restore it.

More recently Twitter introduced a feed sorted by an algorithm (the alleged "Best Tweets" feed). When Twitter made the initial announcement of a feed sorted by algorithm the outrage on the part of users was such that the hashtag #RIPTwitter began trending. It was perhaps because of the furore over the algorithm that when Twitter eventually introduced their feed sorted by an algorithm they made it an option that can be turned on or off in settings. I rather suspect that most users elected to turn it off.

Given the utter hatred most users have for feeds sorted by algorithms, I rather suspect that Instagram should follow Facebook and Twitter's leads and give users the choice of having their feeds sorted chronologically or by an algorithm. In fact, I think it might be best if Instagram followed Twitter's lead and made the feed sorted by an algorithm something that can be turned on or off in settings. I can guarantee most users would elect to turn it off.

If Instagram does not give users a way to keep their chronological feeds, I rather suspect it could be the death of the app. On social media site after social media site users have expressed not only a strong preference for chronologically sorted feeds, but a strong hatred for feeds sorted by an algorithm. If all Instagram offers users is a feed sorted by an algorithm, I don't think it would be inconceivable for users to start deserting the app in droves or, at the very least, to stop using it even if they don't uninstall it from their tablets or phones. Instagram might think they are improving users' experiences by sorting their feeds by algorithm, but I can guarantee users will disagree.

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Late Great William Schallert

Television viewers might not recognise William Schallert's name, but they would certainly recognise his face. It was not a simple case that he played teacher Leander Pomfritt on Dobie Gillis or Patty Lane's father Martin on The Patty Duke Show or even the crochety Admiral Hargarde on Get Smart. He also guest starred on numerous TV shows and appeared in several movies throughout his long career. He appeared on such TV shows as Gunsmoke, Have Gun--Will Travel, Bewitched, Star Trek, The Partridge Family, and Magnum P.I. among many, many others. He appeared in such films as The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), In the Heat of the Night (1967), and Matinee (1993) among many others. William Schallert was not only one of the most prolific actors of his generation, but one of the best as well. Sadly, Mr. Schallert died yesterday, May 8 2016, at the age of 93.

William Schallert was born in Los Angeles on July 6 1922. His father was Edwin Francis Schallert, long-time drama critic and drama editor for The Los Angeles Times. His mother, Elza Emily Schallert (née Baumgarten), was a journalist and radio host. He enrolled in the University of California, Los Angles with the aim of becoming a composer, but he left school to serve as a fighter pilot in the United States Army during World War II. Following the war he returned to college where he studied theatre. While still a student he co-founded the Circle Theatre with Sydney Chaplin and several other students. In 1952 he won a Fulbright scholarship and went to England where he studied repertory theatre. He also served as a guest lecturer at Oxford University.

William Schallert made his film debut in Doctor Jim in 1947. In the late Forties he appeared in the films The Foxes of Harrow (1947), Mighty Joe Young (1949), The Reckless Moment (1949), Perfect Strangers (1950), and Lonely Heart Bandits (1950).

William Schallert was a very busy actor in the Fifties. In an interview with the Archive of American Television in 2012 he said, "In 1959, I probably set an individual record. I worked 57 times in [that] year; that’s more than once a week!" He made his television debut on an episode of Fireside Theatre in 1951. He had regular or recurring roles on several TV shows during the decade. On the sitcom Hey, Jeannie! he played flight engineer Herbert. On The Adventures of Jim Bowie he played newspaperman Justinian Tebbs. He appeared as Major Karl Richmond on Steve Canyon and Lt. Manny Harris on Philip Marlowe. He began playing one of his best known roles in 1959 when he was cast as teacher Leander Pomfritt on Dobie Gillis. Mr. Pomfritt was known for his deadpan humour and often referred to his students as  "my young barbarians" or "my young unemployables" or something similar. Despite this he often served as a source of wisdom for protagonists Dobie Gillis and Maynard G. Krebbs. When Dobie graduated high school, Mr. Pomfritt continued to appear on the show, taking a job at the junior college Dobie attended. William Schallert ultimately appeared on Dobie Gillis until its third season.

In addition to appearing in recurring roles on TV shows in the Fifties, William Schallert also made numerous guest appearances on series throughout the decade. In fact, in many cases he would make multiple guest appearances on the same show, playing a different character every time. He appeared on several of the anthology shows of the era, including Fireside Theatre, Hallmark Hall of Fame, Science Fiction Theatre, Four Star Theatre, Studio 57, Lux Video Theatre, Schlitz Playhouse, Playhouse 90, Goodyear Theatre, Climax!, The Loretta Young Show, One Step Beyond, and The Twilight Zone. When Westerns overtook the small screen he appeared on a large number of them, including Sugarfoot, Gunsmoke, Have Gun--Will Travel, Maverick, Jefferson Drum, Wichita Town, Wanted Dead or Alive, Lawman, and Wagon Train. He also appeared frequently on shows in other genres, from sitcoms to science fiction, including Space Patrol, It's a Great Life, Blondie, Whirlybirds, Zorro, Leave It to Beaver, The Gale Storm Show: Oh! Susanna, Meet McGraw, The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, Father Knows Best, The Donna Reed Show, Men into Space, Sea Hunt, and The Detectives.

Amazingly enough given the sheer hours of television in which he appeared during the Fifties, William Schallert also appeared in several movies during the decade. His first role of any significance in a film was in the B movie The Man from Planet X (1951) directed by Edgar G. Ulmer. His best known role during the decade may have been the hotel clerk in Pillow Talk (1959). He also appeared in such films as The Red Badge of Courage (1951), Singin' in the Rain (1952), Captive Women (1952), Flat Top (1952), Sword of Venus (1953), Gog (1954), Them (1954),  Hell's Horizon (1955), The Lone Ranger (1956), Gunslinger (1956), The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), The Girl in the Kremlin (1957),  Cry Terror! (1958), Some Came Running (1958), and The Beat Generation (1959).

Like the Fifties, the Sixties would be a very busy decade for William Schallert. He continued to appear as Mr. Pomfritt on Dobie Gillis in the early part of the decade.  In 1962 he appeared in the pilot Archie (based on the classic comic book feature of the same name) as the title character's father. It failed to sell. From 1963 to 1964 he played Patty's father Martin Lane on The Patty Duke Show. Amazingly enough, on The Patty Duke Show he also played two other Lane relatives in various episodes: Kenneth Lane and Uncle Jed. In 1964 he appeared in the television pilot  Philbert (the single episode's official title was "Three's a Crowd"), which combined animation and live action. William Schallert played cartoonist Griff M., whose cartoon character Philbert (voiced by Trustin Howard) comes to life. ABC rejected Philbert  because as a weekly TV series it would have been too expensive, but it was released to theatres as a short subject. . From 1967 to 1970 he had the recurring role of the doddering Admiral Hargarde on Get Smart.

Despite appearing regularly on three different TV series in the Sixties (not to mention appearing in movies), William Schallert also made a  number of guest appearances during the decade. He played a reserved new farmer in the Andy Griffith Show episode "Quiet Sam", an Army major dealing with German POWs on Combat!,  and the Federation Undersecretary of Agriculture in the classic Star Trek episode "The Trouble with Tribbles". He also guest starred on such shows as The Untouchables, The RiflemanThriller, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Bonanza, Perry Mason, Dr. Kildare, Lassie, 77 Sunset Strip, Have Gun--Will Travel, Rawhide, The Lucy Show, The Virginian, Mission: Impossible, The Guns of Will Sonnett, The Carol Burnett Show, The Wild Wild West, Mod Squad, Bewitched, Room 222, Marcus Welby M.D., and Hawaii Five-O.

In the Sixties he also appeared in several movies. His best known film role may have been in In the Heat of the Night (1967), in which he played Mayor Schubert of Sparta, Mississippi. He also played Judge Herman Spicer in the Western Hour of the Gun (1967), Professor Quigley in The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969), and CIA  Director Grauber in Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970). He also appeared in the films Lonely Are the Brave (1962), Paradise Alley (1962), Shotgun Wedding (1963), Will Penny (1967), Speedway (1968), an Sam Whiskey (1968).

William Schallert continued to be very prolific in the Seventies. He played the recurring role of Borden on the short-lived show The Man and the City. On The Nancy Walker Show he played the regular role of network executive Teddy Futterman. He played Nancy Drew's father Carson Drew on The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries. He provided various voices on the Saturday morning cartoon Dinky Dog and played Mayor Hawkins on The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo. In addition to his various recurring or regular roles on TV shows throughout the decade, Mr. Schallert also guest starred on several shows, including The Partridge Family; The D.A.; The F.B.I.; Owen Marshall, Counsellor at Law; Kung Fu; Ironside; Gunsmoke; Love, American Style; The Six Million Dollar Man; Barnaby Jones; Ellery Queen; Maude; One Day at a Time; Archie Bunker's Place; Little House on the Prairie; Lou Grant; and yet others. He appeared in the films Charley Varrick (1973), Peege (1973), The Strongest Man in the World (1975), The Jerk (1979), and Hangar 18 (1980).

In the Eighties William Schallert played the recurring role of Stanley Perkins on The Waltons. He played General Robert E. Lee in the mini-series North and South, Book II. He was a regular on the TV show The New Gidget, playing Gidget's father Russ Lawrence. He played Harry Hopkins in the mini-series War and Remembrance. He guest starred on such TV shows as Lou Grant, Magnum P.I., Matt Houston, The Duck Factory, The Paper Chase, Hotel, Scarecrow and Mrs. King, The Twilight Zone, Simon & Simon, Highway to Heaven, Matlock, A Year in the Life, The New Leave It to Beaver, Midnight Caller, Quantum Leap, Murphy Brown, In the Heat of the Night, and Santa Barbara. He reprised his role as Leander Pomfritt in the TV reunion movie Bring Me the Head of Dobie Gillis. He appeared in the films Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983), Gremlins (1984), Teachers (1984), and Innerspace (1987).

In the Nineties William Schallert played the regular role of the title family's boarder on The Torkelsons. He provided a guest voice on the sitcom Dinosaurs and guest starred on such shows as Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Coach, The Good Life, Melrose Place, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, Roseanne, Dream On, ER, and Family Law. He reprised his role as Martin Lane in the TV reunion movie The Patty Duke Show: Still Rockin' in Brooklyn Heights. He appeared in the films House Party 2 (1991), Matinee (1993), and Beethoven's 2nd (1993).

In the Naughts William Schallert guest starred on such shows as The Zeta Project, Close to Home, My Name is Earl, How I Met Your Mother, Desperate Housewives, According to Jim, Medium, and True Blood. He appeared in the film Sweetzer (2007). In the Teens he played villain Max Devore in the mini-series Bag of Bones. He guest starred on True Blood and 2 Broke Girls.

William Schallert also did many voice-overs for commercials over the years and was the voice of Milton the Toaster in commercials for Kellogg's Pop-Tarts in the Seventies. Mr. Schallert could also play guitar and piano.

William Schallert was the president of the Screen Actors Guild from 1979 to 1981. He led the union during its long strike of 1980, which included a boycott of that year's Emmy Awards. While he was president of SAG he founded the Committee for Performers with Disabilities. Since 1977 he served as a Trusttee of the Motion Picture and Television Fund and since 1983 as a Trustee of the SAG Pension and Health Plans. His co-star from The Patty Duke Show, Patty Duke, would later serve as president of SAG.

William Schallert had to have been one of the most prolific television actors of  all time. His IMDB credits number a staggering 375 credits. The number of individual shows on which he guest starred was phenomenal, and there are several instances in which he guest starred on a particular show multiple times. On Gunsmoke alone he guest starred seven times throughout its run. He was the only actor who guest starred in the original version of The Twilight Zone, 1983's Twilight Zone: The Movie, and the Eighties reboot of The Twilight Zone. Not only was William Schallert prolific, but he had a remarkably long career. Like Sir Christopher Lee, Mickey Rooney, Norman Lloyd, and a few others, he never actually retired. His first film appearance was in 1947. His final appearance was on 2 Broke Girls in 2014. Indeed, he was so prolific and his career was so long that I cannot even remember where I first saw William Schallert. I think it might have been Dobie Gillis or The Patty Duke Show, but I suspect it was more likely one of his myriad guest appearances.

Of course, I have to suspect William Schallert was so prolific because he was very much in demand throughout the years. And he was so much in demand throughout the years because he was just so versatile. Mr. Schallert may be best known as Mr. Pomfritt on Dobie Gillis, Martin Lane on The Patty Duke Show,and the Admiral on Get Smart, but he played a wide variety of parts throughout his career. He had a humorous turn as hillbilly Eben Hakes in the first episode of Gunsmoke on which he guest starred, "Twelfth Night".  He played a fidgety drummer who might or might not have committed murder in the Have Gun--Will Travel episode "The Long Night". In the Partridge Family episode "The Red Woodlore Story" he played the unassuming folk singer of the title. While best known for playing nice guys, William Schallert played his share of bad guys. In another episode of Gunsmoke, "Albert", he played the leader of a group of outlaws. In the mini-series Bag of Bones he played the basest of villains, Max Devore.

Even  the regular and recurring roles he played on TV series varied a good deal. On Dobie Gillis Leander Pomfritt was erudite and possessed of a dry wit, but was nonetheless devoted to his students. On Get Smart, on which he was almost unrecognisable, Admiral Hargarde was doddering and very nearly senile. On The Nancy Walker Show he played an ambitious television executive with something of a resemblance to legendary programmer Fred Silverman. While some actors are generally typecast in one specific sort of role, William Schallert could and did play anything. He could be a villainous outlaw one week and an innocent hotel clerk the next.

Not only was William Schallert both prolific and talented, but he appeared to also have been a very nice man. I have known people who have interviewed him over the years and they all say the same thing. William Schallert was a total gentleman. A search on the internet will reveal a number of people who met or interacted with Mr. Schallert who will also say the same thing. While William Schallert was capable of playing anything, even the vilest of villains, it would seem in real life he was closest to Leander Pomfritt or Martin Lane, a man who truly cared about his fellow human beings. Ultimately William Schallert was not just a talented actor, but a truly fine human being as well.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

My Mother and Classic Film

Unlike many younger classic film buffs, I was not introduced to classic movies by my parents. I was fortunate enough to be born at a time when local TV stations still showed classic movies. In those days before sports overwhelmed weekend afternoons, it was not unusual for one of the local stations to show a classic film or two on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. KPLR in St. Louis, which we could pick up on a good day, showed classic films multiple times a week. Indeed, late Saturday afternoons were when they always showed Abbott and Costello movies. Rather than my parents I would then say it was television that introduced me to classic movies.

That having been said, I do owe a debt to my parents with regards to classic films. While my parents never went to the theatre, they did watch a lot of movies on television when I was growing up. My parents had my brother and me when they were in their late Forties, so their tastes often ran to movies made when they were young. Younger parents in the Seventies might have scoffed at watching old black and white films from the Thirties and Forties. Because these were the films of their youth, my parents did not.

Both my father and my mother would then have some impact on my development as a classic film fan. My father probably had more impact on me as a child, but as an adult I began to learn more about my mother's love for movies. As the eldest son in the family I was the one who took care of my mother when she got older and during those years we watched a lot of movies together. From childhood I knew that Maureen O'Hara was her favourite actress, but I would not know until adulthood that her second favourite actress was Marilyn Monroe. It rather surprised me as the two actresses couldn't be more different. Maureen was flame haired and had a will of iron. Marilyn was bleach blonde and rather vulnerable. Regardless, both actresses appealed to my mother.

In fact, on the whole it was actresses who appealed to my mother more than classic actors. To this day I have no idea who her favourite actor was, but I know who plenty of her favourite actresses were. Maureen O'Hara and Marilyn Monroe were her favourites, but she also liked Audrey Hepburn (whom I think was my dad's favourite), Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck, and Shirley MacLaine. My mother was always a somewhat vulnerable, somewhat anxious woman, and I think many of these actresses displayed attributes she wished she had.

I cannot say that my mother had a particularly favourite film genre. Like my father she enjoyed Westerns. For that reason growing up I saw a number of Westerns, to the point that I probably saw a good portion of John Wayne and Randolph Scott's films before I was 18. Both of my parents also loved comedies. My mother's tastes in comedy ran more to screwball comedies and the comedies of Billy Wilder. Some Like It Hot (1959) numbered among her favourites, as did The Apartment (1960). Mom enjoyed a number of other film genres, everything from courtroom dramas to mysteries. She loved the old Charlie Chan movies and Anatomy of a Murder (1959) numbered among her favourite films. She also liked musicals, although not nearly as much as my father did.

Of course, there were those film genres my mother didn't care much for. My mother only enjoyed war films if they were not overly violent. She liked The Great Escape (1963), but not The Dirty Dozen (1967). Oddly enough given my tastes in films, she did not particularly care for science fiction, fantasy, or superhero movies. For my mother to truly enjoy a film there had to be some basis in reality. Her remark when watching any science fiction or superhero film would be, "That couldn't really happen."

If she had a least favourite genre of film it was probably horror. She actually saw Frankenstein (1931) in the theatre when she was young and really did not care for it. Not only was it not based in reality, but it was too scary. As an adult I teased my mother about seeing a classic in the theatre and not even appreciating it. Given my parents' tastes in films, it is rather odd that science fiction, fantasy, superhero, and horror number among my favourite genres. I rather feel sorry for subjecting them to so many movies and TV shows they probably did not particularly care for when I was little.

Despite my mother's distaste for science fiction, fantasy, superhero, and horror movies, my tastes in movies do resemble hers to a large degree. Even now I find myself watching a number of Westerns, mysteries, and musicals. Billy Wilder is one of my favourite directors and my preference in comedies is to those made before 1970. While my mother did not introduce me to classic film, she did have an impact on my development as a classic film buff. I truly do miss watching movies with her.