Saturday, August 27, 2016

Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca

If there is one role that the average person identifies with Ingrid Bergman, it is that of Ilsa Lund in Casablanca (1942). While Ingrid Bergman did many other roles throughout her lifetime, from Joan of Arc (in the 1949 film of the same name) to Anna Koreff (in 1956's Anastasia), it is almost always Ilsa that comes to most people's minds when they think of Ingrid Bergman. It is to Ingrid Bergman what Scarlett O'Hara from Gone with the Wind (1939) is to Vivien Leigh or Dorothy Gale from The Wizard of Oz (1939) is to Judy Garland.

Given how identified Ingrid Bergman is with the role of Ilsa, today it might seem odd that she was not the first actress considered for the role. That having been said, as originally conceived Rick Blaine's love interest in Casablanca was to be American rather than Swedish. In fact, her name was Lois Meredith. It was on February 14, 1942 that producer Hal Wallis asked casting director Steve Trilling to consider Humphrey Bogart and Ann Sheridan for the lead roles in Casablanca, with Miss Sheridan playing the role of Lois. It was only a matter of days later that Ann Sheridan was out of the running for the role, as the part was changed from the American Lois Meredith to the European Ilsa Lund. Despite this, Ingrid Bergman was still not being considered for the role. Instead Hal Wallis wanted  Hedy Lamarr, then billed as "the Most Beautiful Woman in the World". Unfortunately for Mr. Wallis, Miss Lamarr was under contract to MGM and MGM's head Louis B. Mayer refused to loan her to any other studio. It was only then that Hal Wallis asked producer David O. Selznick to loan him another legendary European beauty (and one who just happened to be Swedish): Ingrid Bergman.

Curiously given its status today as one of the greatest films of all time, Ingrid Bergman did not particularly want to appear in Casablanca. Ingrid Bergman thought that Casablanca would be little more than fluff, and was much more eager to appear in the upcoming adaptation of Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls. Fortunately for Miss Bergman, Casablanca finished shooting with plenty of time for her to play Maria in For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943). While Ingrid Bergman would be nominated the Oscar for Best Actress for For Whom the Bell Tolls, ironically Casablanca is more highly regarded today, and it remains her best known film.

Of course, the casting of Ingrid Bergman did mean that efforts had to be taken to conceal Humphrey Bogart's height. During the Golden Age of Hollywood there was an expectation that lead actors would always be as tall, if not preferably taller than, their leading ladies. At 5 foot 9 inches Ingrid Bergman was very tall for a woman of her era. At 5 foot 8 inches Humphrey Bogart was hardly short (in fact, he was exactly average height for men of the era), but he was an inch shorter than Miss Bergman. Humphrey Bogart was then required to wear three inch blocks in his shoes so he would appear slightly taller than Ingrid Bergman!

While Ilsa Lund remains Ingrid Bergman's most famous role, it did not number among her favourites of the parts she played. She once remarked, "I made so many films which were more important, but the only one people ever want to talk about is that one with Bogart." That having bee said, I think Miss Bergman may have underestimated how well she did in the role, as well as complex the role actually was (not to mention how important Casablanca truly was). Ilsa was not simply a cardboard love interest created for the hero Rick Blaine to moon over. She had a personality and a life all her own. Having had an affair with Rick years ago, she finds herself torn between her love for Rick and her loyalty to her husband, Czech Resistance leader Victor Laszlo (played by Paul Henreid). 

Ingrid Bergman always brought a sensitivity to her roles, and it is on full display in Casablanca. She realistically plays a woman who is torn between two men. What is more, she is well cast opposite Humphrey Bogart. The two play off of one another perfectly. While Humphrey Bogart always thought he did not do love scenes well, one would not know it from Casablanca. Of course, Ingrid Bergman was among the most beautiful women of her time, and there seems to be no other film in which she is more luminous as she is when playing Ilsa Lund.

Certainly Ingrid Bergman played many more great roles than Ilsa in Casablanca, and it is regrettable that most of those roles aren't better known to the general public. That having been said, Ingrid Bergman gave not only one of her best performances in Casablanca, but one of the best performances of any actress of all time. It is little wonder that she should be so well remembered for the role. In her later years Ingrid Bergman made peace with the possibility that Casablanca would remain her most famous film. She said, "I feel about Casablanca that it has a life of its own. There is something mystical about it. It seems to have filled a need, a need that was there before the film, a need that the film filled." From its status not only among classic film buffs, but among the general public as well, it would seem she was right. 

Friday, August 26, 2016

The Late Great Marvin Kaplin

Character actor Marvin Kaplan died yesterday at age 89. In a long career that spanned from the Forties to the Teens, he was frequently seen in films and on television. He appeared in such films as Angels in the Outfield (1951); The Nutty Professor (1963); It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963); The Great Race (1965); and Wild at Heart (1985). On television he was the voice of Choo Choo on Top Cat and played telephone lineman Henry Beesmeyer on Alice.

Marvin Kaplan was born in Brooklyn on January 24 1927. He graduated from Brooklyn College in 1947 with a degree in English and afterwards studied theatre at the University of Southern California. It was while he was there that he wrote a one-act play Death of an Intellectual.  Among the faculty at the time was screenwriter and director William C. de Mille, who happened to the brother of legendary director Cecil B. DeMille. Mr. de Mille, knowing that Marvin Kaplan wanted to be a writer, advised him to drop out and become a stage manager. Mr. de Miller told him, “See what actors do to writers’ lines!"

Marvin Kaplan got his first job as a stage manager at the Circle Theatre in Los Angeles on a production of Rain directed by Charlie Chaplin. It was at the Circle Theatre that he also made his debut as an actor in a play by Molière. Legendary actress Katharine Hepburn went to see the show in its ninth week and afterwards visited the cast backstage. Miss Hepburn said to him, "You’re Marvin Kaplan, aren’t you? Have you done a lot of work?" Marvin Kaplan had to admit that it was his first acting job ever. She told him that he was "awfully good."

It was the next day when he went to rehearsal that he found a note telling him to call MGM. He called and they told him to meet with director George Cukor at 3:00 PM. As it turned out, Katharine Hepburn had recommended him for a part in Mr. Cukor's next film, Adam's Rib. Marvin Kaplan then made his film debut in Adam's Rib (1949), playing a court stenographer. The next year he appeared in small parts in the films Key to the City (1950), Francis (1950), and The Reformer and the Redhead (1950). He made his television debut in an episode of Hollywood Theatre Time.

Marvin Kaplan proved to be very busy in the Fifties. He was a regular on the sitcom Meet Millie, playing aspiring composer Alfred Prinzmetal. He guest starred on such shows as The Ford Television Theatre, General Electric Theatre, Shower of Stars, Make Room for Daddy, The Red Skelton Hour, Alcoa Theatre, and M Squad. He appeared in several films throughout the decade, including I Can Get It for You Wholesale (1951), The Fat Man (1951), Criminal Lawyer (1951), Angels in the Outfield (1951), Behave Yourself! (1951), The Fabulous Senorita (1952), and Wake Me When It's Over (1960).

In the Sixties Marvin Kaplan provided the voice of Choo Choo, the enthusiastic but somewhat clueless and shy cat who lived at the firehouse on the prime-time animated cartoon Top Cat. He guest starred on such shows as Dobie Gillis, The Detectives, Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre, The Baileys of Balboa, Valentine's Day, McHale's Navy, Honey West, Gidget, Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C., My Three Sons, Petticoat Junction, Mod Squad, and I Dream of Jeannie. It was during the Sixties that he made some of his most notable appearances in movies. He appeared in The Nutty Professor (1963); A New Kind of Love (1963); It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963); and The Great Race (1965).

In the Seventies Marvin Kaplan was a regular on the short-lived show The Chicago Teddy Bears. It was in 1978 that he began playing the recurring role of telephone lineman Henry Beesmeyer on Alice. He was the voice of Skids on C.B. Bears. He guest starred on such stars on Julia; Love, American Style; Chopper One; Kolchak, the Night Stalker; Charlie's Angels; CHiPs; and Flying High. He was a guest voice on Wait Till Your Father Gets Home. He appeared in the films The Severed Arm (1973), Snakes (1974), Freaky Friday (1976), and Midnight Madness (1980).

In the Eighties he continued to appear on Alice. He provided the voice of Shellshock "Shelly" Turtle in the Saturday morning cartoon Saturday Supercade.  He guest starred on MacGyver, The Fall Guy, Cagney & Lacey, 1st & Ten, My Two Dads, and Monsters. He reprised his role as the voice of Choo Choo in the TV movie Top Cat and the Beverly Hills Cats and Wake, Rattle & Roll. He provided additional voices on The Smurfs and was a guest voice The Further Adventures of SuperTed. He appeared in the films Hollywood Vice Squad (1986) and Wild at Heart (1990).

In the Nineties Marvin Kaplan was a regular on the sitcom On the Air. He had a recurring role on Becker. He guest starred on ER. He provided guest voices on Garfield and Friends, The Cartoon Cartoon Show, Aaahh!!! Real Monsters, and Johnny Bravo. He appeared in the films Delirious (1991), The Big Gig (1993), and Witchboard 2 (1993).

In the Naughts he continued to appear on Becker. He appeared in the TV movie McBride: The Chameleon Murder (2005). He appeared in the movie Dark and Stormy Night (2009). In the Teens he appeared in the film Autism and Cake (2012). He is set to appear in the film Lookin' Up later this year.

Marvin Kaplan was also a writer and playwright. He wrote the story for the Addams Family episode "Gomez, the People's Choice" and wrote episodes for the shows The Bill Cosby Show, Mod Squad, and Maude. He wrote the films Watch Out for Slick (2010) and Lookin' Up (2016). He wrote various plays, including A Good House for a Killing and Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife. He was a member of Theatre West, a theatrical company in Los Angeles, for decades. He was also a member of the Academy of New Musical Theatre and California Artists Radio Theatre.

Marvin Kaplan was a very remarkable performer. It was a rare thing that he played a leading role in a TV show or film, and often his parts could be very small. That having been said, he was always memorable. Indeed, as Irwin the gas station attendant in It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World Marvin Kaplan was only on the screen for a matter of minutes, and yet he remains one of the most memorable characters in a film filled with memorable characters. And while his characters were always characterised by Mr. Kaplan's naturally dull, flat voice and a deadpan delivery, they varied a good deal. Choo Choo on Top Cat was enthusiastic and energetic, but a bit shy around female cats. Henry Beesmeyer on Alice tended to be a bit sarcastic and always complained about either Mel's cooking or his wife. As Marvin the bookkeeper on The Chicago Teddy Bears he was a bit nervous and highstrung. Over the years Marvin Kaplan played a variety of characters, and he was always memorable no matter how small the part.  What is more he was nothing if prolific. He appeared frequently in film and on television in the Fifties and Sixties, and his career spanned from 1949 to 2016. Unlike many actors, Marvin Kaplan never retired.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Van Johnson's 100th Birthday

Van Johnson was born 100 years ago today, on August 25 1916. Van Johnson was one of MGM's most popular stars in the Forties and Fifties. He was gifted with a fine voice, good looks, and a boy next door quality that came across very well on the screen. Over the years he starred in many major films, including The Human Comedy (1943), A Guy Named Joe (1943), Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944), In the Good Old Summertime (1949), The Caine Mutiny (1954), and many others. On television he guest starred on I Love Lucy, Batman, The Doris Day Show, and several others. In 1957 he played the title role in what can only be described as an early television movie. The Pied Piper of Hamelin (1957).

In honour of the 100th anniversary of Van Johnson's birth, here are a few videos featuring Van Johnson.

First up is the trailer for In the Good Old Summertime, in which he played opposite Judy Garland.

Next up is a clip from his guest appearance on I Love Lucy in the episode, "The Dancing Star". In the episode Van Johnson played himself.

Next is Miracle in the Rain, in which he appeared opposite Jane Wyman.

And finally here is Van Johnson on What's My Line from 1963.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Steven Hill Passes On

Steven Hill, who played Daniel Briggs in the first season of Mission: Impossible and District Attorney Adam Schiff on Law & Order, died yesterday, August 23 2016, at the age of 94.

Steven Hill was born Solomon Krakowsky in Seattle, Washington on February 22 1922. He served in the United States Navy during World War II. He graduated from the University of Washington. He made his Broadway debut in a walk on part in A Flag Is Born in 1946. He had more substantial roles on Broadway in Mister Roberts and Sundown Beach, both in 1948. In 1950 he appeared on Broadway in The Lady from the Sea. He made his TV debut in an episode of Actor's Studio in 1949. In the late Forties he also appeared in episodes of Theatre of Romance, Suspense, Starlight Theatre, and Magnavox Theatre. He made his film debut in 1950 in A Lady Without Passport (1950).

In the Fifties Mr. Hill guest starred on such TV shows as Schlitz Playhouse, Danger, Lights Out, Lux Video Theatre, The Motorola Television Hour, The Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse, Studio One, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Playhouse 90, and The Lineup. He appeared in the films Storm Fear (1955), The Goddess (1958), and Kiss Her Goodbye (1959). He appeared on Broadway in The Country Girl.

In the Sixties Steven Hill played the lead role of Daniel Briggs in the first season of Mission: Impossible. He guest starred on such TV shows as Route 66, The Untouchables, The Eleventh Hour, Dr. Kildare, Ben Casey, Naked City, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Rawhide, and The Fugitive. He appeared in the film A Child Is Waiting (1963). He appeared one last time on Broadway in A Far Country in 1961.

Following his experience on Mission: Impossible Steven Hill gave up acting and worked a number of different jobs, including writing and real estate. After about ten years he returned to acting. He guest starred in an episode of The Andros Targets and appeared in the mini-series King, as well as the film It's My Turn (1980).

 In the Eighties Steven Hill appeared in such films as Raw Deal (1986), Eyewitness (1981), Rich and Famous (1981), Yentl (1983), Teachers (1984), Raw Deal (1986), Legal Eagles (1986), Brighton Beach Memoirs (1986), and White Palace. He gust starred on the TV shows One Life to Live, Thirtysomething, Columbo, and Equal Justice.

From 1990 to 2000 Steven Hill played District Attorney Adam Schiff on Law & Order. He guest starred as Adam Schiff on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

Steven Hill was a very talented actor. He did a fine job as Daniel Briggs, the original leader of the Impossible Missions Force on Mission: Impossible, and Adam Schiff on Law & Order. Over the years most of the roles Mr. Hill played similar authority figures or father figures, such as a rabbi in Yentl, a police lieutenant in Eyewitness, and a district attorney in Legal Eagles. That having been said, he was capable of playing other roles. He had a memorable turn as a mob boss in Raw Deal, and played the title gangster in the episode "Jack 'Legs' Diamond" of The Untouchbles. While he may have been best known for the many authority figures he played over the years, he could play villains quite well. He was a very versatile actor.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The 25th Anniversary of the World Wide Web

Sir Timothy Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web
It was twenty five years ago today that the World Wide Web went live. Here I must stress that the World Wide Web is not the same thing as the internet, which has actually been around since 1969. That having been said, the World Wide Web made access to the internet easier than it ever had been before and available to more people than it ever had been before. While online services such as CompuServe and America Online had given many access to the internet in the Eighties, it was the World Wide Web that truly brought the internet to the masses.

Indeed, people around the world adopted the World Wide Web very quickly. I have been online since 1995 and I still remember when I first went online. We had to drive to our local telephone company office to pick up the software necessary to go online (my fairly new computer of the time had a built in modem). The World Wide Web essentially opened up a whole new world for me, as it did many other people. Suddenly I had access to information that I never had before. Of course, surfing the Web in those early days was even more of an adventure than it is now. Even the most innocent of search results could deliver a number of porn sites, and one had to be very careful about opening any attachments one might receive in an email for fear of viruses!

Regardless of the dangers in those early days, I would dare say that the World Wide Web would prove to be a boon to any research I was conducting. In the days before the World Wide Web, research would mean a trip to the library where I would browse microfiche of old newspapers or magazines and, if necessary, check out books. Sometimes I might even have to get books on interlibrary loan, which could mean a wait of several weeks. Quite simply, research was a long, drawn out process. The World Wide Web made it so that I had access to a whole, lot more information. Suddenly I did not just have access to a few major newspapers and our local papers, but newspapers around the world.

As to books, I could order them through Ebay or Amazon.Com. Still later, Google Books would make a number of books available online. It has been literally years since I have had to get a book on interlibrary loan. Of course, shopping is another way in which the World Wide Web changed my life. Before the World Wide Web, if I wanted a particular book, CD, or VHS tape (later DVD), I might have to make a trip to Columbia thirty miles away. Now I can simply order them online. What is more, it is not just books, CDs, and DVDs I have ordered online. My glasses frames, pairs of boots, and even my jacket, among other things, were all ordered online.

Of course, now much of my business is conducted online. Most of the household's bills are paid online. And any problems we might have with any of our services are solved online as well. In fact, about the only business I don't do online is pay our water and garbage collection bills, and anything related to my bank. In the case of the water and garbage collection, it's a simple case that the city doesn't have paying online set up as an option yet. As to my bank, it's because in addition to one's password with a capital letter, a special character, and numerals, they also expect one to answer several security questions, offer up the blood of a virgin, sign over one's soul, and other things that just make online banking impractical.

While I do much of my business online now, much of my entertainment is done online as well. Streaming has pretty much revolutionised the way people watch TV shows and movies the past few years. While I still watch a good number of TV shows and movies live or on DVD, much of what I watch is through streaming services such as NetFlix and Hulu. Even in the early days before streaming became commonplace, I would watch  videos online, even if RealPlayer always insisted on buffering several minutes beforehand.

While the World Wide Web has changed the way I do research, shop, and conduct business, probably the biggest change in my life (and the one for which I am most thankful) has been the opportunity to make many new friends I would not have if it had not been for the World Wide Web. One of the wonderful things about the World Wide Web is that it gives one the ability to seek out people with similar interests and similar tastes in TV shows, movies, music, and so on. Over the years I have made many dear friends online, at first on the email lists and forums of the early days and later on the various social networks that began to spring up in the Naughts. What is more, many of them live in faraway place to which I have never been; Canada, Australia, Scotland, Italy, and so on. I have known many of these friends for years now, and I feel closer to many of them than people I have known in person.

Not only have I made new friends through the World Wide Web, but it has allowed me to stay in touch better with old friends and my many relatives. In the old days the only way to keep in touch with friends and relatives was through the post or the telephone, neither of which were necessarily known for their efficiency. With the World Wide Web I could stay in touch through email or instant messaging, and still later through the various social networks. It's because of this that I have to disagree with those critics who believe the Web is driving people apart. I honesty  think it is bringing many people closer together.

In end, for all the criticisms levelled at the Web over the years, I think it has improved people's lives a good deal. I know that I am very thankful for its invention.

And here without further ado, is the post I wrote for the 20th anniversary of the World Wide Web, in which I talk a bit about its history.


It was twenty years ago today, on 30 April 1993, that CERN made the technology of the World Wide Web available free of charge to the public. The World Wide Web would not only revolutionise the Internet, but in the process would also revolutionise the world itself. From science to education to business to entertainment, there has probably not been one field that has not been changed by the World Wide Web.

Indeed, many either are not aware or simply forget that the Internet existed well before the World Wide Web. The Internet's beginnings essentially trace back to the ARPANET, which launched on 29 October 1969. Other networks would be developed in the wake of the ARPANET. Eventually these networks would evolve into what we now know as the Internet (a term first used in 1982). Over time more and more universities, libraries, and other organisations would connect to the Internet. As the Internet grew, keeping track of resources on the Internet became more and more difficult.

As a result various organisations began developing means of tracking the information on the Internet. In the late Eighties an archiver of FTP sites was developed at McGill University in Montreal, Ontario known "Archie." Archie was implemented in 1990. The internet protocol called Gopher was established in 1991 and for a time was a rival to the World Wide Web. Created at the University of Minnesota (hence its name), Gopher would thrive only for a brief time in the Nineties. It was doomed by essentially two factors. The first was that the University of Minnesota decided to charge a licensing fee for Gopher--this only two months before CERN made the World Wide Web totally free. The second is that Gopher documents are much more rigidly structured than the hypertext documents of the World Wide Web.

As to the World Wide Web, it was the result of developments made by Sir Timothy Berners-Lee over the years. Then an independent contractor at CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) in Geneva, Switzerland, it was in 1980 that he developed ENQUIRE. At the time, as it is now, CERN was a vast organisation with a large number of people, with a number of ongoing projects at any time. Much of the work was done via the internet, through email and exchanges of files. As a result CERN needed a means to keep track of everything. Mr. Berners-Lee then developed and proposed ENQUIRE. In many ways ENQUIRE can be considered a predecessor to the World Wide Web. Like the World Wide Web, ENQUIRE relied upon hypertext, and like the World  Wide Web it could operate on different systems.

Sir Timothy Berners-Lee left CERN in late 1980 to work for Image Computer Systems, Ltd. He returned to CERN in 1984 where he continued to use ENQUIRE to keep track of his own projects. It was in 1989 that Sir Timothy Berners-Lee wrote a proposal for "..."a large hypertext database with typed links." It was in 1990 that he found a collaborator in the form of Belgian computer scientist Robert Cailliau. The two of them tried to attract interest in their idea of World Wide Web at the the European Conference on Hypertext Technology in September 1990 to no avail.

Regardless, they continued work on the project, creating the first web site at CERN. Over the next several months Sir Timothy Berners-Lee developed what would be the building blocks of the Web: HTTP (the HyperText Transfer Protocol), HTML (HyperText Markup Language), and even the first web browser and editor (named simply WorldWideWeb). The work was completed by late December 1990. It was on 6 August 1991 that Sir Timothy Berners-Lee put the world's first Web site online. Initially the World Wide Web was adopted primarily by universities. Two turning points would come about in 1993. The first was the introduction of the Mosaic web browser on 23 January 1993. While other browsers pre-dated Mosaic, none possessed the versatility or ease of use of Mosaic. Of course, the second turning point occurred twenty years ago today--the World Wide Web went public.

Of course, in the following years the World Wide Web would experience enormous growth. Web commerce emerged fairly early, with such companies as (1994),  EBay (1995), and others being founded in the mid to late Nineties. By the early Naughts the World Wide Web was nearly commonplace. As of 30 June 2012 78.1% of all Americans and 83.6% of everyone in the United Kingdom are on online.

Twenty years after the World Wide Web was made free to the public it is nearly impossible to imagine life without it. Indeed, it may well have been the most revolutionary medium introduced in the 20th Century, doing more to change the world than even radio or television. For better or worse, the World Wide Web has become a part of everyday life for many around the world.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Animal Shows of the Sixties

Today it is rare that one sees a drama or even a comedy television series centred around an animal. There seem to be none on the broadcast networks, none on the many cable channels, and not even any of them on the streaming services. That having been said, there was a time when there were several shows with an animal as the main character. In the Sixties one could watch TV shows that starred a dog or a dolphin or a bear or even a kangaroo. Most of these shows were based on feature films that had also starred animals and most of them were produced by one man (more on him later). What is more, in the Sixties even shows on which humans were the main characters often had animals who played large roles on the shows.

Of course, animal shows were nothing new in the Sixties. They had been quite popular in the Fifties as well. Two shows centred on dogs debuted in 1954 alone. One was The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, which centred around a dog named for the canine star of the Silent Era. The other was Lassie, inspired by Eric Knight's novel Lassie Come Home and the six MGM feature films. Lassie would prove extremely popular and very durable, lasting an entire 19 seasons. There was no shortage of shows about horses in the Fifties, with Fury, The Adventures of Champion, and My Friend Flicka airing during the decade. Given the popularity of shows about animals in the Fifties, it should not be surprising that there would be a new cycle towards shows about animals in the Sixties.

Indeed, an argument could be made that the Fifties cycle towards animals shows ended even as the Fifties became the Sixties. National Velvet premiered in 1960. While the show technically starred Lori Martin as Velvet Brown, arguably her co-star was her thoroughbred horse named King. Two other shows about animals would debut in 1961, although both of them were sitcoms. The first was a classic still seen in reruns today. Mister Ed starred Bamboo Harvester as the horse of the title, who had a most unique ability: he could talk. While Mister Ed is fondly remembered today, the same cannot be said of the other sitcom to debut in 1961. The Hathaways starred the Marquis Chimps, who lived with a couple played by Peggy Cass and Jack Weston. Its ratings were so low that ABC had difficulty finding sponsors. Worse yet, The Hathaways received largely bad reviews. Today it is often counted among the worst shows of all time.

Like the animal show cycle of the Fifties, the cycle towards animal shows in the Sixties would begin with two shows about dogs. That having been said, the first was not American, but rather a Canadian import. The Littlest Hobo was based on an American film of the same name released by Allied Artist in 1958. Like The Littlest Hobo (1958), the TV series centred upon a German Shepherd who wanders from place to place helping people. In the series the dog was rarely named on screen, except for those times when the humans he befriended gave him one. Elsewhere the dog was always referred to as "Hobo".

Hobo was played by a reverse masked German Shepherd named London. London was cared for and trained by Charles P. Eisenmann, who had also served as the dog trainer on the 1958 feature film. While London played Hobo in most scenes, sometimes London's relatives (Toro, Litlon, and Thorn), also reverse masked German Shepherds, would also be called upon to play the wandering dog.

The Littlest Hobo debuted on September 24 1963 on CTV in Canada and was syndicated not only in the United States, but eventually around the world. It began airing on ITV in the United Kingdom in 1964 and still later it aired in West Germany in 1967.  It ran for two seasons and 61 episodes. The Littlest Hobo was rebooted in 1979 by CTV. Charles P. Eisenmann was the trainer on the new series, on which various reverse masked German Shepherds played Hobo. According to Mr. Eisenmann in his book A Dog's Day in Court, one of them was indeed the grandson of London, who was also named "London". If anything the new show was more successful than the original. It ran for six seasons and 114 episodes.

The second show that sparked the cycle towards animal shows in the Sixties was not a new show, but rather one with a new format. When Lassie debuted in 1954 its format could easily be described as "a boy and his dog". For the first three years Lassie was the constant companion of young Jeff Miller and lived with the Millers on their farm. In 1957 Lassie became the canine companion of young Timmy Martin, the foster son of Ruth and Paul Martin. It was in 1964 that the format of Lassie was entirely changed. The Martins had to move to Australia and were unable to take Lassie with them, Lassie was then adopted by by U.S. Forest Ranger Corey Stuart and would spend the next six years working with the United States Forest Service.

For the final season of Lassie on CBS the show changed formats once again. With no explanation as to why she was no longer working with forest rangers, Lassie was portrayed as wandering from place to place not unlike Hobo on The Littlest Hobo. CBS cancelled Lassie a the end of the 1970-1971 season as part of what has become infamously known as the Rural Purge, the mass cancellation of shows that appealed to rural areas, older people, or both. In the case of Lassie it would seem likely that the show was cancelled because it appealed primarily to children. Sadly, like rural people and older people, children are less desirable to television advertisers.

The cancellation did not end Lassie, however, as the show continued as a syndicated original for another two years. The show also saw another change in format. Lassie now became the companion of Garth Holden, who ran a home for orphaned boys called the Holden Ranch. Lassie ended its run in 1973 after nineteen years on the air. This makes Lassie the fourth longest running American prime-time TV show after The Simpsons, Gunsmoke, and Law & Order.

Regardless of its format, Lassie had a fairly strong connection to the movies produced by MGM. In the first few seasons Lassie was played by the same dog who had played her in the movies, a male collie named Pal. And, just as in the movies, Pal was cared for and trained by Rudd Weatherwax. For the rest of the run various descendants of Pal played Lassie. Rudd Weatherwax remained Lassie's trainer for the entirety of the show's run.

Of course, Lassie would be featured in other media after the cancellation of Lassie. In  1972 a Saturday morning cartoon, Lassie's Rescue Rangers, debuted. In 1978 the feature film The Magic of Lassie was released. From 1997 to 1999 a new TV series, The New Lassie, ran in syndication. In 1994 there was one more feature film, simply called Lassie, released.

A third show that sparked the cycle towards animal shows in the Sixties dealt not with a dog, but with a dolphin. Flipper was based on the 1963 feature film of the same name, and both were produced by Ivan Tors. The movie Flipper was released on August 14 1963. It proved successful enough that it was followed by a sequel,  Flipper's New Adventure, released in June 1964. The TV show followed the sequel almost immediately, debuting on NBC on September 19 1964.

The TV show Flipper centred on the dolphin of the title, who befriends the family of a Park Ranger of the Coral Key Marine Preserve in the Florida Keys, Porter Ricks (played by Brian Kelly). The idea for the initial film was conceived by screenwriter and actor Ricou Browning (who had played the Gill-Man in Universal's Creature from the Black Lagoon and its sequels) when he observed his children watching Lassie.  The story was fleshed out between Ricou Browning and Jack Cowden.

While in the TV series Flipper was male, he was actually played by a number of female dolphins. He was first played by a female named Susie, although a female named Kathy would take over the bulk of the role. Other females named  Patty, Scotty, and Squirt also played Flipper from time to time. A male dolphin named Clown was used for those scenes in which Flipper did his famous tail walk. The reason Flipper relied primarily on female dolphins for the lead role is that they are less aggressive than males and generally do not bear the scars from fighting that male dolphins often do.

Flipper proved to be fairly successful, ranking no. 25 out of all the shows in prime time for the 1964-1965 season. It continued to perform fairly well in its second season, ranking no. 29 for the year. Its ratings fell in its third season and it did not rank in the top thirty that year. It was cancelled at the end of the season. Regardless, it did very well in syndication and can still be seen from time to time on television, as well as streaming. A new series, known both as Flipper and Flipper--The New Adventures, aired from 1995 to 2000 in first run syndication and on the network Pax. A new movie, Flipper, was released in 1996.

Aside from its lasting success, the TV show Flipper would have a lasting impact in another way.  Ric O'Barry had served as the chief trainer for the dolphins on the TV series. After the death of Kathy, the dolphin who most often played Flipper, from what he believed to be suicide, in early 1970, Mr. O'Barry became an activist advocating against keeping dolphins in captivity. He founded The Dolphin Project, an organisation dedicated to the protection and welfare of dolphins.

The success of The Littlest Hobo, Lassie in its new format, and Flipper guaranteed that the networks would debut more shows featuring animals in the next few seasons. What is more, a majority of those shows would be produced by Ivan Tors. Ivan Tors had first met with success in the Fifties with fact-based science fiction movies such as The Magnetic Monster (1951), Riders to the Stars (1954), and Gog (1954). He entered television with the syndicated anthology series Science Fiction Theatre in 1955. He would have a hit with the syndicated action adventure series Sea Hunt in 1958, and also produced the shows The Aquanauts and Man and the Challenge. The success of both the movie and the TV show Flipper marked the path Ivan Tors's career would take for the rest of the Sixties, as a producer of TV shows centred around animals. Ivan Tors would generally produce a movie based around an animal, which would be followed very shortly by a TV show based on the movie.

This was certainly the case with his next series, Daktari. In 1965 Ivan Tors's movie Clarence, the Cross-Eyed Lion was released. The film was centred around a veterinary hospital in East Africa with a very unique pet, a cross-eyed lion named Clarence. Ivan Tors had based the idea for both the film and the TV show on the work of veterinarian Dr. Antonie Marinus Harthoorn, who operated an animal orphanage in Kenya. Like the film, Daktari centred on a veterinary clinic, the fictional Wameru Study Centre for Animal Behaviour, in East Africa. In fact, the title is the Swahili word for "doctor". The show starred Marshall Thompson as Dr. Marsh Tracy and Cheryl Miller as his daughter Paula. That having been said, the real stars of the show were the lion Clarence and the chimpanzee Judy.

Just as Flipper on the TV show of the same name was played by multiple dolphins, Clarence was played by more than one lion. Clarence played Clarence most of the time (the actor's name was the same as the character's), but unfortunately Clarence was frightened by any sort of vehicle. In those scenes with vehicles present, then, a lion named Leo was used. At the time Leo was the lion appearing in the MGM logos of the time. Yet another, much less gentle lion also named Leo was used for those scenes in which Clarence was called upon to growl or snarl. Judy the Chimp had previously appeared in the Disney film The Monkey's Uncle (1965) and would guest star on Lost in Space and other shows while she was still on Daktari.

Daktari debuted on January 11 1966 on CBS. It proved to be very popular, ranking no. 14 for the 1965-1966 season. It proved to be even more popular in its second season, ranking no. 7 for the year. Unfortunately in its third season its ratings plummeted and it didn't even rank in the top thirty for the year. For its fourth season CBS moved it from Tuesday night to Wednesday night, but it continued to struggle in the ratings. Its last first run episode aired on January 15 1969. Like Flipper before it, however, Daktari would have lasting success as a syndicated rerun.

Ivan Tors's next animal show would be based upon a children's book. Walt Morey, had written for such pulp magazines as Argosy, Complete Sports, Fight Stories, Texas Rangers, and others. He had retired from writing after the decline of the pulps, but resumed writing in the Sixties and produced the children's novel Gentle Ben. Published in 1965, the novel centred on an Alaskan brown bear who befriends a young boy. Ivan Tors bought the rights for the novel for both a movie and a TV series. The movie, eventually titled Gentle Giant, was partially financed by CBS, and was actually filmed before the TV show. As it turned out, the release date for Gentle Giant was moved back to Thanksgiving, by which time the TV show Gentle Ben had been on the air for about two months.

Both the movie and the TV show Gentle Ben saw several changes from the novel. While the novel was set in Alaska, the movie and TV show were set in the Florida Everglades. While the boy in the novel was a teenager, the boy in the TV show as only six years old. In the movie the father went from working for fishermen to operating a fish trap, while in the show he went from being a fisherman to becoming a game warden. The names of the characters were also changed.

The movie Gentle Giant and the TV show Gentle Ben had essentially the same cast. Dennis Weaver, then most famous for playing Chester on Gunsmoke, played the father Tom Wedloe. His son was played by experienced child actor Clint Howard, the brother of Ron Howard who was then playing Opie on The Andy Griffith Show. There was a change in the casting of the mother. Played by Vera Miles in the film, the mother was played by Beth Brickell. In both the film and the TV show the role of Ben was primarily played by Bruno the Bear. For the film a few other bears played Ben at different stages of his life. Bruno was used for most of Ben's scenes on the TV show as well, although other bears were used for various scenes. Any scene involving Ben entering the water generally used a bear named Drum. A younger bear named Buck was used in those scenes requiring Ben to run. Throughout the series several bears were used.

Gentle Ben debuted on September 10 1967 on CBS. It proved to be popular in its first season, ranking no.19 out of all the shows for that year. The show did prove to be a source of some controversy. The controversy was made only worse by the fatal attacks of two different women in two different incidents by grizzly bears at Glacier National Par in Montana on August 13 1967 (a little under a month before the TV show debuted). Even Ivan Tors, in a newspaper article by Robert Musel, published around August 23 1967, warned that bears and many of the other animals featured in his TV series can be dangerous. An editorial entitled "The Real Ben Isn't Gentle" appeared at the time of the show's debut in the Montana newspaper The Helena Independent Record warning of the danger of bears. PTA magazine criticised the show, noting again that bears are dangerous animals. Even years after the show went off the air, Gentle Ben was controversial in its portrayal of bears. John Hast, the chief safety officer of the National Park Service, complained in 1971, "Gentle Ben was the worst thing that ever happened to us. People saw this big lovable bear on television and when they see a bear in the park I guess they think it's the same one."

While Gentle Ben did well in its first season, its ratings dropped precipitously in its second season. Gentle Ben was cancelled at the end of the season. The cancellation did prove to be the source of some controversy. A letter writing campaign was even mounted to save the show, to no avail. The show would see some success in syndication. In 2002 Animal Planet aired a TV movie, Gentle Ben, which was followed in 2003 by a sequel, Gentle Ben 2.

The final show of the Sixties starring an animal was not produced by Ivan Tors and it was not even made in the United States. Skippy, known as Skippy the Bush Kangaroo in much of the world, centred on the kangaroo of the title, the pet of a young boy living at the fictional Waratah National Park in Duffys Forest outside Sydney Australia.  It is unclear precisely who first came up with the idea behind Skippy, although it was a product of Fauna Productions, a company formed by Australian actor John McCallum, movie director Lee Robinson, and lawyer Bob Austin. John McCallum had appeared in such films as It Always Rains on Sunday (1947), The Woman in Question (1950), and Trent's Last Case (1952). He was also married to legendary British actress Googie Withers.  Lee Robinson had directed such films as King of the Coral Sea (1954), Walk Into Paradise (1956), and Dust in the Sun (1958).

Fauna Productions noted the popularity of such animals shows as Lassie and Flipper worldwide. They also wanted a subject that would guarantee international success. Ultimately they decided upon a kangaroo as the central character. John McCallum had wanted to call the kangaroo, "Hoppy", but it was Lee Robinson who suggested the name "Skippy". A pilot was produced in 1966 and filmed in colour for the international market (Australian television was still aired in black and white at the time). Fauna Productions was able to sell the series to the Nine Network on the strength of the pilot. Skippy debuted in Australia on the Nine Network on February 5 1968.

International success was not long in coming. The show was soon airing in the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, France, and elsewhere. The international success of the show ultimately led to a feature film, The Intruders, released in 1969. It was in 1970 that the series was sold for first run syndication in the United States. Ultimately Skippy the Bush Kangaroo aired in 128 countries. In the end Skippy proved to be the first Australian show to be successful world-wide and remains one of the most successful Australian shows of all time.

As on other animal shows, Skippy was not played by just one animal. In fact, each episode required the use of between nine and fifteen kangaroos. The show was shot at  Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park and the nearby Waratah Park.

The first run of Skippy ended in May 1970 after 91 episodes. The show persisted in syndication around the world for decades, and would be repeated several times on the Nine Network. A sequel series, The Adventures of Skippy, was produced in 1993. This revival ran for only one season and 39 episodes.

In the United States the cycle towards animal shows was coming to an end in 1969. That season both Daktari and Gentle Ben went off the air. Except for Skippy the Bush Kangaroo, no animal shows would debut on American prime-time network television for the remainder of the decade. Even Lassie would be cancelled by CBS in 1971, a victim of the Rural Purge. It ran two more seasons in syndication before ending its run. While the Seventies would see a few shows about animals (such as Here's Boomer), never again would American network television see a number of shows centred on animals similar to the cycles of the Fifties and Sixties.

Of course, here it must be noted that in addition to these shows that starred animals, there were also a number of American prime-time network shows in the Sixties on which animals played a significant role. Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Colour regularly featured episodes on which animals were the stars. As a show about a circus, the short-lived Western Frontier Circus naturally featured several animals. On The Beverly Hillbillies Elly Mae had an entire menagerie of "critters", everything from a common housecat to a chimpanzee, while the Clampett's hound dog Duke was a central character. Dog (played by Higgins, who would go onto play Benji in the first movie of the same name) played a major role on Petticoat Junction, while Arnold the Pig was a regular character on Green Acres. While Chuck Connors was the star of Ivan Tors's Cowboy in Africa, animals were a big part of the show. Animals also appeared frequently on Tarzan and Maya.

Looking back it is easy to understand the popularity of animal shows in the Sixties I rather suspect a good portion of the American population loves animals, and not simply those that they keep as pets. What is more, it seems to me that children in particular love animals of all types. It shouldn't be surprising at all that animal shows have traditionally appealed most to children. It should then come as no surprise that the Sixties would produce a cycle of shows starring animals and would produce yet others in which animals played major roles.

Of course, this begs the question of why the cycle towards animal shows ended and there has not been one ever since. As mentioned earlier, I think that can simply be explained by the network's pursuit of the 18 to 49 year old demographic (the so-called "key demographic"). It is a bit of a myth that the networks suddenly discovered demographics in the late Sixties. As early as the late Fifties Oliver Treyz, the president of ABC from 1956 to 1962, often used demographics to show that the then third rated network appealed most to the 18-34 demographic and made arguments as to why that was the most desirable demographic. Throughout the Sixties both ABC and NBC made an effort to air shows that would appeal most to adults aged 18 to 49. Rather than the networks suddenly discovering demographics, it was more a case of CBS changing its programming strategy so that they too would pursue the key demographic. Prior to the late Sixties CBS had simply concentrated on the overall ratings of shows, without much regard to who was watching them.

As a result of demographics playing a greater role for the networks in the late Sixties and early Seventies, certain types of shows would cease being seen for the most part on the networks. Essentially the networks wanted to avoid anything that appealed to an older audience, a rural audience, or an audience that was composed primarily of children (as far as advertisers are concerned, children really don't count). While other shows in the notorious Rural Purge were cancelled because their audiences were too old, too rural, or both, I have to suspect Lassie was cancelled because its audience was too young. Of course, with the networks pursuing the key demographic, they naturally would not be airing shows that appealed mostly to children, and the animal shows appealed primarily to children.

Indeed, since Lassie ended its network run there have been only a few shows about animals to debut in the United States. Except for the few that aired on the networks in the Seventies, most have either aired in first run syndication or on cable channels such as Animal Planet. I have to suspect that until the networks learn that the key demographic is not that "key", there probably won't be any shows starring animals in network prime-time any time soon.

Regardless, the Sixties produced a number of shows centred on animals that remained popular for years. Nearly all of them went on to long syndication runs and nearly all of them are available on DVD and Blu-Ray. Even though not much in the way of new animal shows have been made in the past forty five years, those made in the Sixties continue to remain popular and I have to suspect always will be.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

An American Werewolf in London Turns 35

It was 35 years ago today that An American Werewolf in London was released. From the moment I first saw it in the theatre upon its initial release in 1981 it has been my favourite werewolf movie of all time and one of my favourite movies at all time. I have to admit that I was probably at the prime age for a werewolf movie centred on an American college student. That year I had just graduated high school and I was about to enter college. I could easily identify with poor David Kessler (played by David Naughton), who is forced to undergo a transformation every full moon.

Of course, looking back 1981 was a particularly good year for movies, especially for a young man fresh out of high school. It was the year that saw the release of such films as Scanners, Excalibur, Raiders of the Lost Ark, the original Clash of the Titans, Dragonslayer, and Superman II. And 1981 was definitely the Year of the Werewolf.  Earlier in the year both The Howling and Wolfen were released. That having been said, I always thought American Werewolf in London was the best of the three. It was also by far the highest grossing at the box office.

The film's director and screenwriter John Landis developed the idea for An American Werewolf in London in 1969 when he was only 18 and working as a production assistant on Kelly's Heroes (1970) in Yugoslavia. According to Mr. Landis in various interviews, he witnessed a funeral held among the gypsies, complete with a complex burial ritual. Apparently the dead man was buried with rosaries and garlic to prevent him from rising from the grave. This led John Landis to the question of how a rational person would confront something he had believed to be untrue and how he would then deal with it. John Landis wrote the initial screenplay for An American Werewolf in London that year and then shelved it for literally years. It was after he had found success with the films Schlock (1973), The Kentucky Fried Movie (1977), National Lampoon's Animal House (1978), and The Blues Brothers (1980) that he returned to the idea of An American Werewolf in London.

An American Werewolf in London received largely positive reviews upon its release. It also did extremely well at the box office, earning $30 million in the United States and $62 million worldwide.

As to why An American Werewolf in London succeeded, it was probably multiple factors. Chief among these were the special effects. Indeed, Rick Baker won the Academy Award for Best Makeup for the film. At the time the transformation scenes were simply astounding. David Kessler did not simply transform from an human into a creature that still looked more man than wolf (as in Universal's classic The Wolf Man), but into a full-fledged, gigantic wolf. At the time the special effects in An American Werewolf in London were state of the art, and I must say that they still hold up well today. Indeed, I think that they are much more convincing than today's computer generated effects.

Of course, even great special effects would not have guaranteed success for An American Werewolf in London had it been a bad movie. Fortunately it is a very good movie. With An American Werewolf in London John Landis pulled off a very complicated juggling act, blending horror and comedy seamlessly together. At times it is a very funny movie. At other times it is very frightening. What is more, I think John Landis succeed in addressing his initial question of what happens when a rational human being is forced to confront the irrational.

An American Werewolf in London was followed by a sequel, An American Werewolf in Paris, in 1997. That same year it was adapted as a radio show for BBC Radio 1. Since then there have been various reports of a remake.  Perhaps I am biased, but as far as I am concerned there is no need for a remake. An American Werewolf in London may not be a perfect film, but it is certainly a very good one. In a year that saw multiple werewolf movies released, it was the very best. In fact, I think it could possibly be the best werewolf movie ever made.