Friday, November 4, 2016

Godspeed Tammy Grimes

Tammy Grimes, star of stage and television, died on October 30 2016 at the age of 82.

Tammy Grimes was born on January 30 1934 in Lynn, Massachusetts. She went to Beaver County Day School in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. She graduated from Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri. After graduation she worked for Westport Country Playhouse in Connecticut and studied acting at the Neighbourhood Playhouse in New York City. She made her television debut on an episode of The United States Steel Hour in 1955. She made her debut on Broadway in The Littlest Revue in 1956.

Tammy Grimes would appear on Broadway several more times throughout her career. In the late Fifties she appeared in Look After Lulu and originated the title role in The Unsinkable Molly Brown. In the Sixties she appeared in Rattle of a Simple Man, High Spirits, The Only Game in Town, and Private Lives. In the Seventies she appeared in Private Lives, A Musical Jubilee, California Suite, Tartuffe, Trick, and 42nd Street. In the Eighties she appeared in Orpheus Descending.

Miss Grimes made frequent appearances on television. In the late Fifties she appeared on such shows as Max Liebman Spectaculars, Studio One, Kraft Theatre, Omnibus, Play of the Week, and Dow Hour of Great Mysteries. She appeared in a 1958 production of The Gift of the Magi.

In the Sixties Tammy Grimes was considered for the lead role on the sitcom Bewitched. She ultimately forewent the role to take the part of Elvira in High Spirits. She was the star of the short lived series The Tammy Grimes Show. She also appeared in such episodes of The Virginian, Route 66, Burke's Law, Destry, Mr. Broadway, The Trials of O'Brien, Tarzan, and The Outcasts.

In the Seventies she appeared on such shows as Love, American Style; Hallmark Hall of Fame ("The Borrowers"); The Wide World of Mystery; The Snoop Sisters; and The Love Boat. In the Eighties she appeared on such shows as St. Elsewhere, The Equaliser, Mathnet, and The Young Riders. In the Nineties she appeared on episodes of the soap opera Loving.

Tammy Grimes also had a career in feature films. She made her film debut in Three Bites of the Apple in 1967. In the late Sixties she also appeared in the film Arthur! Arthur! (1969). In the Seventies she appeared in the films Play It As It Lays (1972), The Runner Stumbles (1979), and Can't Stop the Music (1980). In the Seventies she appeared in the films The Stuff (1985), America (1986), and Slaves of New York (1989). In the Nineties she appeared in the films Backstreet Justice (1994), A Modern Affair (1995), Trouble on the Corner (1997), High Art (1998), and The Portrait (1999).

Tammy Grimes was a very talented actress. She was particularly adept at playing lively, slightly off-the-wall characters, and had a particular knack for comedy. She definitely had a singular voice, complete with a Mid-Atlantic accent rarely found in actors of her generation. It came in good use in playing such odd characters as the title character in the episode "Where Are the Sounds of Celli Brahms?" on Route 66, Homily Clock on the Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation of "The Borrowers", and Helene in the film Play It as It Lays. Tammy Grimes was certainly unique. It can truly be said there was no other actor like her.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Late Great Jimmy Perry

Jimmy Perry, co-creator of Dad's Army and You Rang, M'Lord?, died on October 23 2016 at the age of 93.
Jimmy Perry was born on September 20 1923 in Barnes, Surrey. His father was an antiques dealer in South Kensington and one of the founders of the British Antique Dealers’ Association. His grandfather had been a butler at one of the houses in Belgrave Square and provided much of the inspiration for You Rang, M'Lord?. Jimmy left St. Paul's School in Hammersmith, London at age 14 and was sent to secretarial school. Having attended hardly any classes over the summer at the school, he then became an apprentice Waring and Gillow’s carpet department. He left Waring and Gillow when his family moved to Watford with the outbreak of World War II. It was there that he served in the Home Guard. It was also in Watford that he became involved in amateur plays.

Jimmy Perry was eventually called up and he served in the First (Mixed) Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment of the Royal Artillery. He joined the Royal Artillery's concert party and as a result the regimental colonel did not include him in the D-Day landings. That having been said, he would later be posted to Burma and later Bombay. There he also took part in the Royal Artillery base's concert party. 

Once he was demobilised Jimmy Perry returned to England and enrolled in the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). He took summer jobs at Butlins holiday camps as a Redcoat. Sir Billy Butlin himself offered Mr. Perry a permanent position, but he chose to return to Watford to serve as manager and actor of Watford's repertory theatre. He later joined  Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop at Stratford in east London.

Jimmy Perry made his television debut as an actor in a BBC production of The Water Gipsies in 1955. In the Sixties he appeared in episodes of Les cinq dernières minutes, Hugh and I, Beggar My Neighbour, and The Gnomes of Dulwich. Mr. Perry also wrote episodes of The Gnomes of Dulwich.

It was during his appearance on Beggar My Neighbour that Jimmy Perry came up with an idea based on his experiences in the Home Guard. He wrote a script and showed it to producer David Croft. It was David Croft who pitched the idea to the BBC. Initially the BBC was downright hostile to the idea, with many feeling that it poked fun at World War II. Eventually Messrs. Croft and Perry were able to win the BBC over. Dad's Army proved to be a hit. Debuting in 1968 it ran until 1977. It provided the basis for a 1972 movie with the original cast and a 2016 film with big name film stars.

In the early Seventies Jimmy Perry wrote episodes of Lollipop Loves Mr Mole. It was in 1974 that David Croft and Jimmy Perry debuted a new series, It Ain't Half Hot Mum. Like Dad's Army, It Ain't Half Hot Mum was based on Jimmy Perry's own experiences, this time in the Royal Artillery. It centred on a Royal Artillery unit in  Deolali, India, particularly on the members of its Concert Party. It also proved successful, running until 1981, although today it is regarded as very politically incorrect.  Without David Croft, Jimmy Perry created Room Service, which ran for only seven episodes.

In 1980 David Croft and Jimmy Perry's next series debuted.  Hi-De-Hi! was based on Jimmy Perry's experience in holiday camps. It centred on the fictional Maplin's holiday camp and was set in the late Fifties and early Sixties. It ran for 8 years. Jimmy Perry's next series, High Street Blues, was made without David Croft. It ran for only six episodes. His series Turns would also not see the success of his earlier work.

Jimmy Perry's final show was You Rang, M'Lord?. Created with David Croft, it proved to be a hit and ran for 26 episodes. It was essentially a parody of such dramas as Upstairs Downstairs

In 2002 Jimmy Perry published his autobiography, A Stupid Boy.

David Croft and Jimmy Perry made a great team when it came to creating sitcoms. In fact, they may have been the most successful sitcom writing team in British television history. Much of the reason for the success was Jimmy Perry's uncanny ability to take his own experiences and distil them into comedy magic. After all, the Home Guard and holiday camps may not seem to be the most likely subjects for sitcoms, and yet Jimmy Perry was able to make them subjects for two highly successful sitcoms. Indeed, Dad's Army is considered one of the greatest sitcoms in the English language. It is perhaps for that reason that Jimmy Perry prove to have much more success with sitcoms than other writers in the field. In the entire English speaking world, it would be hard to find a writer with a track record as good as that of Mr. Perry

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Late Great Bobby Vee

Legendary singer Bobby Vee, known for such hits as "Take Good Care of My Baby", "Run to Him", and "The Night Has a Thousand Eyes", died on October 24 2016 at the age of 73. The cause was complications from Alzheimer’s disease.

Bobby Vee was born Robert Velline in Fargo, North Dakota on April 30 1943. Music ran in Mr. Vee's family. His father, Sidney Velline, could play violin and piano. He had two older brothers who could play guitar. In his high school's band Bobby Vee played saxophone. He bought his first guitar with money he saved up from his paper route.

Sadly, Bobby Vee's first big break would come about because of the plane crash that cost the lives of Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens on February 3 1959. The performers had been en route to Moorhead, Minnesota to play at a dance there. Rather than cancelling the dance, its promoters asked on a local radio station for performers to replace Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens. Fifteen year old Bobby and his brother Bill, with their band The Shadows (not to be confused with Cliff Richard's band of the same name), called the station and as a result were placed on the bill.

It was six months later that Bobby Vee's first single, "Suzy Baby", was recorded for local Minnesota label Soma Records. The song did well enough in the Minnesota market to attract the attention of Liberty Records, who signed Bobby Vee to a contract. His first single for Liberty, "What Do You Want", was released in early 1960. His first hit would be a cover of The Clovers' "Devil or Angel", which peaked at no. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was followed up by his next hit, "Rubber Ball", which also went to no. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100. "Rubber Ball" proved to be his first hit in the United Kingdom, where it peaked at no. 4. His first LP, Bobby Vee Sings Your Favourites, was also released in 1960.

It was on July 20 1961 that Bobby Vee's biggest hit was released. "Take Good Care of My Baby" went all the way to no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and no. 3 on the UK singles chart. It was followed by his second biggest hit, "Run to Him", which peaked at no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and no. 6 on the UK singles chart. For much of 1962 Mr. Vee continued to hit the top twenty of the Billboard Hot 100. His biggest hit of the year was "The Night Has a Thousand Eyes", which peaked at no. 3 in the U.S. and the UK.

Unfortunately Bobby Vee's career would stall in 1963. His single "Charms" would be the only single to hit the top forty of the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at no. 13. Bobby Vee would have one last major hit in the Sixties, "Come Back When You Grow Up". It peaked at no. 3 in 1967. Despite this Bobby Vee continued to perform and to record. In 1972 he released the album Nothin' Like A Sunny Day. In 1999 he released the album Down The Line. In 2002 he released the album I Wouldn't Change A Thing. His final album, The Adobe Sessions, was released in 2014.

In the Sixties Bobby Vee appeared frequently in television shows and even films. He appeared as himself in the films Swingin' Along (1961), Play It Cool (1962), and Just for Fun (1963). His only acting gig was in the film C'mon, Let's Live a Little (1967).

In the Sixties Bobby Vee was phenomenally successful. He had six singles that were certified gold (Devil or Angel", "Rubber Ball", Take Good Care of My Baby", "Run to Him", "The Night Has a Thousand Eyes", and  "Come Back When You Grow Up"). He had eight songs hit the top ten and many more that reached the Billboard Hot 100. And while the peak of his career lasted only for a few years, Bobby Vee would prove to be influential. No less than The Beatles recorded a cover of "Take Good Care of My Baby" for their audition for Decca Records. He would also have an impact on Bob Dylan's career, having hired Mr. Dylan as a pianist early in his career. Bobby Vee's songs would be covered by Gary Lewis and the Playboys, Herman's Hermits, Mud, and Smokie. One of the biggest artists of the era between Buddy Holly's death and The Beatles' arrival in the United States, Bobby Vee had a lasting influence on popular music.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Late Great Zacherley

Pioneering horror host and DJ John Zacherle, better known by his stage name Zacherley, died on October 27 2016 at the age of 98.

John Zacherle was born on September 26 1918 in Philadelphia. He attended the University of Pennsylvania and received a bachelor's degree in English Literature there. During World Warr II he enlisted in the United States Army and served in both North Africa and Europe. Following the war he returned to Philadelphia and took part in a local repertory theatre. It was in 1953 that he appeared in a live TV Western called Action in the Afternoon that aired on WCAU-TV in Philadelphia. On the show he played the Coroner. This led directly to him becoming the host of WCAU's Shock Theatre. On WCAU's Shock Theatre he went by the name "Roland". Roland lived in a crypt in which his unseen wife ("My Dear") rested in a coffin. As Roland he would often interrupt the films with horror-comedy gags. In the end, John Zacherle's stint on WCAU's Shock Theatre would not only influence other horror hosts at the time, but nearly all horror hosts ever since.

In 1958 WCAU was bought by CBS and as a result John Zacherle moved to WABC in New York City. Initially at WABC he continued as Roland and used essentially the same format as he had at WCAU. It was after March 1959 that he became known as "Zacherley" (WABC having added a "y" to his surname) and his show was renamed Zacherley at Large. His wife, who still rested in a coffin, was then called Isobel. In the Sixties, Zacherley would occasionally fill in for his friend Dick Clark on touring shows of American Bandstand. It was reportedly Dick Clark who dubbed Zacherley "the Cool Ghoul".

Zacherley would move from WABC to WOR and finally to WPIX where he hosted Chiller Theatre. In 1963 at WPIX he hosted  animated cartoons. Starting in 1964 he hosted a horror themed, American Bandstand type show called Disc-O-Teen at WNJU in Newark, New Jersey. It ran for three years. Starting in 1967 he was a morning radio host for WNEW-FM. In 1969 he became a nightitme DJ there.

From the late Fifties into the Sixties Zacherley also released various novelty records. In 1958 he released the singles "I Was a Teenage Caveman", "Dinner with Drac", and "Eighty-Two Tombstones". In 1960 he released  "Ring-A-Ding Orangoutang". In 1962 he released "Hurry Bury Baby". He also released several albums, including Spook Along With Zacherley (1960), Monster Mash (1962), Scary Tales Featuring John Zacherley ‎(1962), and Zacherle's Monster Gallery (1963). He appeared in the film Key to Murder (1958), and guest starred on the shows The Dick Clark Show, What's My Line?, and Play of the Week.

In 1971 John Zacherle moved to radio station WPLJ-FM. He remained there for ten years. In 1982 he appeared in an edition of Saturday Night Live. In 1986 as Zacherley he was the host of a series of VHS tapes called Horrible Horror, which featured sci-fi and horror films in the public domain. He provided the voice of  Aylmer in the cult film Brain Damage (1988) and had a cameo in Frankenhooker (1990).

In the Nineties he appeared in the film Niagaravation (1995). In 1995 he released the album Dead Man's Ball. Over the years John Zacherle appeared in many retrospectives about horror hosts and the horror genre in general. He appeared in the 2006 documentary Vampira: The Movie and the 2010 documentary The Aurora Monsters: The Model Craze That Gripped the World. In 2005 he released one last album, Interment For Two. He also edited two anthologies of horror stories during his career, Zacherley's Vulture Stew and Zacherley's Midnight Snacks. Mr. Zacherle attended horror conventions well into his nineties.

Zacherley was not the first horror host (that would be Vampira), but he was among the earliest and arguably the most successful. He blended horror with comedy and did so with a theatrical flair few have ever matched. Not only his format, but even his routines have been imitated by television stations to this day. Without Zacherley, there would be no Svengoolie, no Elvira, no Dr. Gangrene. What is more, Zacherley's success went beyond television. He released records. He edited books. He appeared in films.

I have many friends who had the opportunity to meet Zacherley at the various monster conventions over the years. All of them have said the same thing. He was one of the nicest gentlemen one could hope to meet. He was friendly, jovial, and extremely generous to his fans. Zacherley was not simply "the Cool Ghoul" on television. He was very cool in real life too.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Happy Halloween 2016

If you regularly read A Shroud of Thoughts, then you know it is a tradition here to post classic movie pinups on holidays. This Halloween is no different, so without further ado here are some classic pinups suitable to the holiday!

First up is Della Street as Perry Mason never saw her, the lovely Barbara Hale!
Next up is Ella Neal relaxing in some hay!
And here we have Nan Wynn and Anita Louise spending a spooky night out!
And here's the lovely Ann Rutherford and her pumpkin stand!
The lovely Nancy Carroll is a bit spooked!
And it wouldn't be Halloween without the lovely, leggy Ann Miller!

Next up, for your enjoyment, here are some of my favourite blog posts suitable for some Halloween reading!

"Creating Monsters: Pre-Code Horror Films Part One"

Happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Haunted Houses

The haunted house is one of the most widespread tropes in horror literature, films, and television. It has been the theme of such novels as Stephen King's The Shining, such movies as House on Haunted Hill (1959), and episodes of TV shows from Thriller to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Not only is it one of the most prevalent tropes in horror, but it is also one of the oldest. Just as tales of ghosts go back in time immemorial, so too do tales of haunted houses.

Indeed, one of the earliest tales about a haunted house appears in a letter by Pliny the Younger written to his  patron Lucias Sura. Pliny told the story of a house in Athens that had a bad reputation because no one could live there. In the dead of night there could be heard the clashing of iron and, if one listened closely, the rattling of chains. These noises would be followed by an apparition in the form of an old man with a long beard and messy hair, with chains on his feet and hands. Because of the ghost the house eventually became unoccupied, as people thought it was uninhabitable. When the philosopher Athenodorus  came to Athens, he was drawn to this house by its exceedingly low rent. Athenodorus saw the ghost on his first night in the house, and followed the ghost to the courtyard where the spectre vanished. Athenodorus marked the spot where the ghost disappeared. He had the spot dug up where a skeleton in chains was discovered. The dead body of the old man was given a proper burial and the old man's ghost never bothered anyone again.

Another early tale of a haunted house is "Ali the Cairene and the Haunted House in Baghdad" from One Thousand and One Nights. "Ali the Cairene and the Haunted House in Baghdad" tells the story of a trader named Ali who visited Baghdad. In need of a place to stay, he asks about a particular house only to be told that the house is haunted by jinn and all who stay there die before the night's end. Despite the various warnings about the house, Ali decides to stay there anyway. He is indeed confronted by jinn that night, but instead of killing him the jinn give him copious amounts of gold.

The Icelandic saga Eyrbyggja saga, published in the 13th or 14th Century, contains several ghost stories, among which is one about haunted houses. The first concerned a rich, but not particularly healthy woman named Thorgunna. Upon her deathbed Thorgunna asked to be buried in Skálholt, for her sheets and bedding to be burned, and for all of her riches to be donated to the church. Unfortunately her friend Thorodd went against her wishes by giving her sheets to his wife as a gift. It was in the middle of the night that the men who had arrived to bear Thorgunna's corpse to Skálholt were awakened by a great clatter in the buttery. When they went to investigate they found Thorgunna there. They decided it was best to leave her to own devices, and Thorgunna set about bringing food to the hall and setting the table. It was after Thoroddd had wished the men good chear that Thorgunna left the hall and was never seen again. The men ate the food she had set out, with no harm to any of them. Thorgunna was buried in Skálholt.

Unfortunately Thorgunna would not be the last ghost to come haunting in  Eyrbyggja saga. A shepherd who was an acquaintance of Thorgunna fell sick and died. It was not long afterwards that Thorir Wooden-leg  encountered the shepherd's ghost. The shepherd's ghost assaulted him and Thorir fell sick and died. The shepherd and Thorir then began haunting the folk around the homestead of Frodis-water. Worse yet, six more people fell sick and died. The six dead men were often seen on a ten-oared boat not far from the shore. The ghosts grew even worse in their haunting during the Yule-feast. Finally Kiartan consulted Snorri the Priest as to what could be done about the ghosts. Snorri sent for another priest to accompany Kiartan to Frodis-water. The priest advised that Thorgunna's sheets be burned. Christian rituals were conducted afterwards among all the folk, and later the ghosts were put on trial for their wrongdoing. Once the ghosts were charged and sentenced they disappeared. Afterwards the priest spread holy water throughout the house. The folk at Frodis-water had no more problems with ghosts.

Haunted houses would later play a central role in Gothic literature. The first Gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto by Horace Wapole, featured many of the trappings of haunted house stories, including trapdoors, secret passages, doors that open and close by themselves, and so on. Indeed, The Castle of Otranto would not only have an impact on further Gothic novels, but on literature regarding haunted houses in general. The 19th Century would see some of the classics of the haunted house genre written. The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne drew heavily upon the mythos of haunted houses in a tale of an accursed house. Oscar Wilde's The Canterville Ghost took a more humorous look at haunted houses. Arguably The Turn of the Screw by Henry James is one of the archetypal haunted house tales. It centres upon a governess who may or may not have had an actual encounter with ghosts.

While one would think that stories of haunted houses would be old fashioned by the 20th Century, there would be several more classic novels on the subject, and haunted houses would provide fodder for many films during the Century. Indeed, among the earliest such films was a silent comedy-drama simply titled The Haunted House (1912). Among the most influential haunted house movies was the black comedy The Cat and the Canary (1927), based on the 1922 comedy of the same name. It would be remade in 1939 starring Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard, although that version would be played even more for laughs. In the mid 20th Century haunted houses would nearly as often be grist for comedy as they would horror. There were such comedies as The Ghost Breakers (1940), Hold That Ghost (1941), and Scared Stiff (1953). Nearly every movie series, from the Mexican Sptifire to The Bowery Boys, had at least one entry set in a haunted house. That's not to say haunted houses weren't still ripe for horror movies. Such films as The Uninivited (1944), House on Haunted Hill (1959), The Haunting (1963), and The Legend of Hell House (1973) all utilised haunted houses as a source of terror.

Even given how ancient stories about haunted houses are, there were still many great haunted house tales published in the 20th Century. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson became a classic in the genre and provided the basis for two movies titled The Haunting. Hell House by Robert Bloch would also prove to be one of the genre's classics. Stephen King's novel The Shining arguably established him as one of the top horror writers of the late 20th Century, and has been adapted both as a film and a mini-series.

Haunted houses would prove to be popular subjects for episodes of television shows. The classic horror anthology Thriller featured at least two episodes centred on haunted houses ("The Purple Room" and "What Beckoning Ghost?"). Sitcoms, including The Andy Griffith Show ("The Haunted House") and The Monkees ("Monkee See, Monkee Die"), touched upon the haunted house theme. Not surprisingly, horror series delved into haunted houses, including Dark Shadows, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Angel.

Given the popularity of haunted houses in literature, film, and television. It should perhaps not be surprising that there would develop the phenomenon of haunted attractions, whether actual houses reputed to be haunted or simulations thereof. One of the earliest haunted attractions was built as part of the Hollycombe Steam Collection  near Liphook in Hampshire. Orton & Spooner Company built the Haunted House there in 1915. In the late Sixties and early Seventies haunted attractions proved popular with such organisations as the Jaycees. The original Haunted Mansion ride was opened in Disneyland on August 9 1969. Since then there have evolved several variations on haunted attractions, from haunted trails to haunted hayrides.

Tales of haunted houses go back centuries. It is a theme that has been repeated through many novels an movies for years. Despite this, there does not seem to be any indication that the haunted house will decline in popularity as a trope. Years from now there will probably still be books and movies coming out in which unsuspecting individuals find themselves face to face with ghosts (or simulations thereof) in some old, decrepit house.