Saturday, January 7, 2017

Godspeed Francine York

If you grew up watching television shows in the Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies or reruns thereof, there was no escaping Francine York. She was a frequent guest star on television shows in those decades, everything from dramas such as Perry Mason to comedies such as Batman. She was a favourite of Jerry Lewis and appeared in six of his films. She also starred in a number of B movies, including Space Probe Taurus (1965), Mutiny in Outer Space (1965), and, what may have been her most famous film, The Doll Squad (1973). Like many boys growing up in the Seventies I had a bit of a crush on Francine York. And like many boys who grew up in the Seventies, I never quite got over it. Sadly, Francine York died yesterday, January 6 2017, at the age of 80. The cause was cancer.

Francine York was born  Francine Yerich in Aurora, Minnesota. In 1941 her family moved to Cleveland, Ohio. She was creative even as a little girl. She wrote short stories, and when she was nine years old she played one of the wicked stepsisters in Hodge Grammar School's production of Cinderella. It was that experience that convinced her that she wanted to be an actress. When her family moved back to Aurora, Minnesota she continued to act in school plays.While still a child she even wrote, directed, acted in, and produced her own play there. She was also the feature editor of her school paper.

When Miss York was 17 she won the Miss Eveleth beauty pageant (Eveleth being a neighbouring town to Aurora) and was a runner-up for Miss Minnesota. After high school she moved to Minneapolis where she got a job modelling sweaters for New York company Jane Richards Sportswear. The job took her all over the United States and eventually she found herself in San Francisco. It was there that she competed in the Miss San Francisco beauty pageant. She won first runner-up, but had to take over the title when the winner became ill. In San Francisco she took a job as a showgirl at the nightclub Bimbo's. The nighclub's headliner, Mary Meade French, got Francine York signed with a Hollywood agent.

In Hollywood Miss York got a job as a showgirl at the nightclub Moulin Rouge. Eventually she began studying acting with acting teacher and actor Jeff Corey. It was while she was studying acting with Mr. Corey that she was spotted by a theatrical producer and cast in the production Whisper In God's Ear at the Circle Theatre. Miss York made her television debut in an episode of Rescue 8 in 1959. She made her film debut in an uncredited role in The Right Approach in 1961. In the early Sixties she appeared in bit parts on such TV shows as Bringing Up Buddy, Route 66, Shirley Temple's Storybook, and Surfside Six. She appeared in such films as The Sergeant Was a Lady (1961), Secret File: Hollywood (1962), Wild Ones on Wheels (1962), and The Interns (1962).

Francine York got her big break in film with a small part in Jerry Lewis's film It's Only Money in 1962. Miss York proved to be a favourite of Mr. Lewis and appeared in five more of his films: The Nutty Professor (1963), The Patsy (1964), The Disorderly Orderly (1964), The Family Jewels (1965), and Cracking Up (1983--AKA Smorgasbord). Miss York had starring roles in the sci-fi B movies Space Probe Taurus (1965) and Mutiny in Outer Space (1965), as well as the 1966 TV movie Curse of the Swamp Creature. She also appeared in the films A New Kind of Love (1963), Bedtime Story (1964), Tickle Me (1965), Ride to Hangman's Tree (1967), and Cannon for Cordoba (1970).

Francine York appeared frequently on television in guest appearances on shows in the Sixties. Perhaps her best remembered guest appearance today is as The Bookworm's moll Lydia Limpet in the Batman episodes "The Bookworm Turns" and "While Gotham City Burns". She guest starred on Perry Mason twice, even playing one of Perry's clients in the episode "The Case of the Sausalito Sunrise". She played a sexy agricultural college student on Green Acres and a physician running a prison infirmary on The Wild Wild West. Francine York guest starred on Burke's Law five times alone, playing a different character each time. She also guest starred on such shows as 77 Sunset Strip, The Dick Powell Theatre, The Untouchables, Dr. Kildare, My Favourite Martian, The Smothers Brothers Show, Death Valley Days, Gomer Pyle: USMC, The Red Skelton Hour, Lost in Space, Run for Your Life, The Name of the Game, The F.B.I., I Dream of Jeannie, The Courtship of Eddie's Father, Land of the Giants, and Family Affair. She appeared in such TV movies as City Beneath the Sea (1969), Any Second Now (1969), and Pioneer Spirit (1969).

It was in the Seventies that she appeared in what may be her best known film in which she had a starring role, The Doll Squad (1973). The film was made for only $256,000 and centred on a squad of female superspies led by Sabrina Kincaid (Francine York). Although not particularly respected critically, it has become something of a cult film. During the Seventies she also appeared in the films Welcome Home, Soldier Boys (1971), The Centerfold Girls (1974), Half a House (1975), and Zero to Sixty (1978). She guest starred on several TV shows during the decade, including such shows as The Odd Couple; Mannix; Bewitched; The Chicago Teddy Bears; Adam-12; Emergency!; Mission: Impossible; Love, American Style; Hec Ramsey; Dirty Sally; Columbo; Petrocelli; and Jason of Star Command. She had a recurring role on the soap opera Days of Our Lives in 1978. She appeared in several TV movies during the decade, including I Love a Mystery (made in 1967 but not aired until 1973), They Only Come Out at Night (1975), and Time Travellers (1976).

In the Eighties Miss York guest starred on such shows as Masquerade, Berrengers, Riptide, Brothers, Mama's Family, and Mr. Belvedere. In 1982 she had a recurring role on the soap opera General Hospital. She appeared in the film The Under Achievers (1987). In the Nineties she starred in the title role in the film Marilyn Alive and Behind Bars (1992). She also appeared in the films The Big Tease (1999) and The Family Man (2000). She guest starred on the shows Matlock, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, Beverly Hills 90210, and Burke's Law.

In the Naughts she guest starred on Even Stevens, The King of Queens, and Las Vegas. She appeared in the films Hercules in Hollywood (2005), Miracle at Sage Creek (2005), and Astro Zombies: M3 - Cloned (2010). In the Teens Miss York guest starred on such shows as Hot in Cleveland, The Mindy Project, and Where the Bears Are.

Francine York was known for her cooking. She appeared on various cooking shows throughout the years, and also wrote recipes and fitness programmes for various national magazines.

Francine York was well known for starring in many B movies. That having been said, one should not jump to conclusions about her acting ability based on many of the low budget films in which she starred. While the movies Miss York made were sometimes bad, she was always quite good. Francine York was certainly beautiful, but she was also talented as an actress, talented enough that she turne in a good performance even when the material was not particularly good. That Francine York was a very good actress can be seen in her many guest appearances on television shows. While many starlets of the Sixties were stuck playing the love interest of any given week, Miss York actually played a variety of roles in her many guest spots on TV shows. She played Lillie Langtry on Death Valley Days, the leader of an alien invasion force on Lost in Space, a statue of the goddess Venus come to life on Bewitched, and a police sergeant on Columbo. While Francine York had the looks to play the love interest or sexpot, she had the talent to play nearly any role she pleased, from physicians to police officers. What is more, she always gave a good performance, regardless of the show or film.

Not only was Francine York a talented actress, but she was also a genuinely nice person. I never had the honour of meeting her, but I have known those who have. She always appreciated her fans and enjoyed spending time with them. She was a sweet and gracious woman who did truly care about people. Francine York may have played many sex sirens in films and on television, but in real life she was simply an incredibly good person. Ultimately Francine York wasn't just a beautiful on the outside. She was beautiful in spirit as well.

Friday, January 6, 2017

The Late Great Tyrus Wong

Landscape painter, muralist, lithographer, designer, and kite-maker Tyrus Wong, who shaped the visual style of the Walt Disney classic Bambi (1942) and worked on many other films, died on December 30 2016 at the age of 106.

Tyrus Wong was born Wong Gen Yeo in Taishan, Guangdong Province, China on October 25 1910. He showed a talent for drawing while very young, something which his father encouraged. In 1920 he and his father immigrated to the United States. They left behind his mother and sister. Sadly Wong Gen Yeo would never see his mother again. To get around the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which restricted immigration from China, Wong Gen Yeo and his father travelled under assumed identities. His father posed as a merchant called  Look Get, while Wong Gen Yeo travelled as Look Tai Yow. A schoolteacher would later Anglicise Tai Kow as "Tyrus".

Young Tyrus Wong's father taught him calligraphy, using newspapers and water as they could not afford ink and paper. It was after a teacher in junior high noticed Tyrus Wong's talent in art that he got a scholarship to attend the Otis College of Art and Design during the summer. Young Tyrus Wong did not want to return to junior high and as a result his father managed to get together enough money to pay for the tuition at the Otis College of Art and Design, then a rather steep $90. In all Tyrus Wong attended the Otis College of Art and Design for five years, much of which time he worked as the school janitor.

After graduating from the Otis College of Art and Design, Tyrus Wong worked as an artist for the Works Progress Administration. He created artwork for such public buildings as libraries. In 1938 he was hired by Walt Disney Productions as an inbetweener, the artists responsible for providing the key frames in animation to give the illusion of movement. After Walt Disney Productions experienced difficulties on Bambi with the various forest creatures blending in with the backgrounds, it was Tyrus Wong's experience as a landscape painter that ultimately solved the problem. He provided a series of backgrounds that would ultimately influence the entire look of the film. Although only credited for "backgrounds" in the credits of Bambi, he was in fact providing inspiration for the whole film. Quite simply, he served as its unofficial art designer.

Unfortunately, in the wake of the 1941 Disney animators strike, Tyrus Wong was fired from Disney, even though he had chosen not to strike. In 1942 Mr. Wong was hired by Warner Bros. He worked there until he retired in 1968. Over the years he worked on such films as The Sands of Iwo Jima (1949), Rebel Without a Cause (1955), The Green Berets (1968), and The Wild Bunch (1969).  He also designed greeting cards for Hallmark and provided designs for dinnerware. He painted throughout his life. His work was displayed in 1932 and 1934 in show at the Art Institute of Chicago. His work would later be exhibited at the San Francisco Museum of Art, the Walt Disney Family Museum, the Museum of Chinese in America in New York City, and elsewhere. Following his retirement from the film industry in 1968, he became well known as a maker of colourful an complex kites.

There can be no doubt that Tyrone Wong was a very talented artist. In fact, it seems very likely that Bambi would not look nearly as good without him. His landscapes were lush, moody, atmospheric, and complex. While he spent most of his lifetime virtually unknown (and he still isn't well known to the general public), his talent was such that he should have attained fame far sooner in his lifetime. Few artists were as talented as he was.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Godspeed William Christopher

William Christopher, best known for playing Father Francis Mulcahy on M*A*S*H, died on December 31 2016 at the age of 84. The cause was  small-cell carcinoma.

William Christopher was born in Evanston, Illinois on October 20, 1932. He grew up in Chicago's suburbs and attended New Trier High School in Winnetka. He graduated with a degree in drama from Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. After graduation he moved to New York City where he acted on stage. He appeared on Broadway in the 1962-1964 run of Dudley Moore and Peter Cooke's satirical revue Beyond the Fringe. He also went on a national tour with Beyond the Fringe.

William Christopher moved to Los Angeles and made his television debut in 1965 in a guest appearance on 12 O'Clock High. He guest starred on such shows as Hank, The Patty Duke Show, The Andy Griffith Show, Death Valley Days, and Hogan's Heroes before being cast in the recurring role of  Private Lester Hummel on Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C. He appeared in The Perils of Pauline (1967), which was three pilots for a TV series edited together and released as a feature film. In the late Sixties he guest starred on That Girl. He made his film debut in The Fortune Cookie in 1966. During the Sixties he appeared in the films The Private Navy of Sgt. O'Farrell (1968), The Shakiest Gun in the West (1968), and With Six You Get Eggroll (1968).

In the Seventies William Christopher played the recurring role of Niles on the short-lived Western Nichols. It was in 1972 that Mr. Christopher was cast in the role of Father Mulcahy on M*A*S*H. In the first episode the character had been played by actor George Morgan, but the producers decided to recast the role. Ultimately, William Christopher would be one of only four members of the regular cast to remain with the show for its entire run (the others were Alan Alda, Loretta Swit, and Jamie Farr). During the Seventies he also guest starred on such shows as The Virginian, Insight, Columbo, Movin' On, Lucas Tanner, and Good Times. He appeared in the film Hearts of the West (1975)

In the Eighties William Christopher continued to play the role of Father Mulcahy, first on M*A*S*H and then on its sequel/spin-off AfterM*A*S*H. He provided additional voices on the Saturday morning cartoon The Smurfs. He guest starred on the shows The Love Boat; Murder, She Wrote; and CBS Summer Playhouse. In the Nineties he guest starred on The New WKRP in Cincinnati, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, Diagnosis Murder, Team Knight Rider, and Mad About You. In 2012 he had a recurring role on Days of Our Lives.

In the mid-Nineties William Christopher toured the United States with fellow M*A*S*H cast member Jamie Farr in The Odd Couple. In 2008-2009 he did a tour of Church Basement Ladies. He devoted a good deal of time to the National Autistic Society. He and his wife Barbara published the book Mixed Blessings about their experiences with their autistic son Ned.

Loretta Swit told Associated Press following William Christopher's death, "He became TV’s quintessential padre as Father Mulcahy on M*A*S*H. A great sense of humour and a great humanitarian. It was the most perfect casting ever known." It is hard to argue with Miss Swit's assessment of William Christopher being cast as Father Mulcahy. He excelled in the role. As Father Mulcahy he was soft spoken, sensitive, a bit quirky, and kind. It was Father Mulcahy who served as the conscience and moral compass of the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital. From all reports William Christopher was much like Father Mulcahy in real life--kind, gentle, and soft spoken. He was beloved by his fellow cast members and fans alike.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Announcing The 3rd Annual Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon

Today I am announcing A Shroud of Thoughts' third annual "Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon". The first two years were fairly successful, so I am looking forward to another year's worth of good blog posts. For those unfamiliar with the Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon, it is a blogathon in which bloggers write entries about their favourite episodes of their favourite classic television shows. This year it will take place March 24, 25, and 26.

Here are the ground rules:

1. Posts in the blogathon must be about an episode from a scripted drama. Episodes of reality shows, talk shows, game shows, and variety shows are ineligible. That having been said, posts can be on episodes from any genre of scripted dramas: animated shows, anthology shows, detective shows, police procedurals, science fiction shows, situation comedies, and so on. I also have to say that episodes can be from scripted dramas that aired any time of day. They don't have to be from prime time alone. If one wanted to write about his or her favourite episode from his or her favourite Saturday morning cartoon or daytime soap opera, one could.

2. Because this blogathon is dedicated to classic television and I think a classic is something that must have stood the test of time, episodes must be from shows that are at least 25 years old. That means one cannot write posts on episodes from shows that debuted after 1992 (nothing from Friends, let alone The Big Bang Theory). Now here I want to point out that the episode itself does not have to be 25 years old, only the show on which it aired. Cheers debuted in 1982 and ran until 1993, so that its final season aired after 1992. Because Cheers is well over 25 years old, however, one could still write about an episode that aired in the 1992-1993 season.

3. Given my love of British television, it should come as no surprise that posts do not have to be about episodes from American shows alone. Posts can be about episodes from any show from any country as long as the show is a scripted drama and debuted over 25 years ago. If you want to write about your favourite episode of The Saint, The Little Hobo, Jaianto Robo, or Escrava Isaura, you can.

4.  I am asking that there please be no duplicates. That having been said, if someone has already chosen to cover "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" from The Twilight Zone, someone else could still write about another Twilight Zone episode.

5. In keeping with ground rule no. 4, I am asking that if you participated in the past years' blogathons that you write about a different episode from what you did the past years. That having been said, you could write about an episode from the same show.  If you wrote about the Star Trek episode "Amok Time" last year, then you could write about the Star Trek episode "The Trouble with Tribbles" this year.

6. I am not going to schedule days for individual posts. All I ask is that the posts be made on or between March 24, March 25, or March 26 2015.

7. On March 24 I will set up the page for the blogathon. I ask that you link your posts to that page. If you want you can use one of the graphics below or make your own!

If you want to participate in the Favourite Television Show Episode Blogathon, you can simply comment below or you can get a hold of me either on Twitter at mercurie80 or at my email:  mercurie80 at

Below is a roster of participants and the topics they are covering. Come March 24 I will make a post that will include all of the posts in the blogathon.

The Hitless Wonder Blog: The Avengers "Return of the Cybermen"
Caftan Woman: Wagon Train "Little Girl Lost"
Coffee, Classics, and Craziness: Wanted: Dead or Alive "Secret Ballot"
The Horn Section: Hondo "Hondo and the Gladiators"
Trekking Through Hobbit Holes: T. J. Hooker "Vengeance is Mine"
Portraits By Jenni: Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea "The Phantom Strikes"
Moon in Gemini: Blackadder "Head"
Bewitched with Classic TV Mary Tyler Moore "Put On a Happy Face"
Realweegiemidget: Dallas "Conundrum"
Doesn't She Ramble: Quantum Leap "M.I.A."
The Movie Rat: You Can't Do That on Television "Adoption"
Crítica Retrô Moonlighting, "Here's Living with You, Kid"
Love Letters to Old Hollywood: Get Smart "The Impossible Mission"
In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood: ALF "Strangers in the Night"
The Midnite Drive-In: Star Trek "City on the Edge of Forever" and Star Trek: the Next Generation "Time's Arrow"
Dragonthief: The Virginian "Ryker"
Whimsically Classic: I Love Lucy ""The Million Dollar Idea"
Old Hollywood Films: Gunsmoke ""The Jailer"
Silver Scenes: The Avengers "Dead Man's Treasure"
Elisabeth Grace Foley: The Waltons "The Book"
The Wonderful World of Cinema: Bewitched "Samantha's Curious Cravings"
John V's Eclectic Avenue: Lost in Space "Invaders From The Fifth Dimension"

Below are some graphics you can use for the blogathon (or you can always make your own)!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Happy New Year 2017

2016 is over and I think many are happy to see the year gone. Indeed, the year saw the deaths of many beloved entertainers. I do have to point out that 2016 did break the record for most posts on A Shroud of Thoughts in a year. The previous record holder was 2010, with 272 posts. 2016 came in at 276 posts. Sadly, I think most of those posts were eulogies.

Anyway, I like starting the year off on A Shroud of Thoughts on a happy note, so here are the usual classic pinups.

First up is Ann Miller in colour, wishing you a happy 1951.

Next up is Mamie Van Doren with confetti and balloons!

Alice White is happy it's 1928!

Nancy Carroll rides a balloon in the new year of 1930!

Joan Vohs is awaiting her kiss at midnight.

And finally it's Ann Miller in 1951 again, this time atop a spinning globe!
Happy New Year!