Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Late Great Adam West

Over the years many actors have had a significant impact on my life, so many that I probably could not name all of them at once. Perhaps no actor had as large an impact on my life as Adam West did. He was not necessarily my favourite actor of all time (although he certainly numbered among them), but I cannot think of any other actor who had quite the same effect on my life. Quite simply, Batman was the first show of which I was ever a fan. It debuted when I was only three years old and, after a little over two years on the air, it aired in reruns across the nation throughout my childhood. As a fan of the TV show Batman I quite naturally started reading comic books as soon as I could read. In fact, I loved comic books so much I decided I wanted to write them. Eventually I would shift from wanting to write comic books to writing fiction and still later non-fiction. Ultimately, I think it is safe to say that it is because of Adam West as Batman that I became a writer. What is more, I know of other men my age who can tell the same story. Sadly, Adam West died yesterday at the age of 88 after a short battle with leukaemia.

Of course, Adam West was much more than just Batman. Fans of classic television will remember him from the many guest appearances he made on Warner Bros.' various shows in the late Fifties and early Sixties. He appeared on nearly all of them, from 77 Sunset Strip to Maverick. Older fans might remember him as Sgt. Steve Nelson on the TV show The Detectives. Younger fans might remember him as Mayor Adam West on the animated series Family Guy. While Mr. West will always be remembered best as the Caped Crusader, he actually did much more in his career.

Adam West was born William West Anderson on September 19 1928 in Walla Walla, Washington. His father was a wheat farmer, while his mother was a pianist and opera singer. He attended Walla Walla High School and then Lakeside School, a private school in Seattle. When he was a senior in high school he worked for a local radio station, where he handled everything from being a disc jockey to reading the news to Sunday morning religious shows. At the same time he appeared in plays at a local theatre. Mr.West attended Whitman College in Walla Walla, from which he graduated with a bachelor's degree in literature. He did postgraduate work in communications at Stanford University. While at Stanford University he worked at the university radio station.

In the early Fifties Adam West entered the United States Army and served in the Signal Corps. He helped set up TV stations at bases in San Luis Obispo, California, and Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, and he also served as an announcer on the Armed Forces Network. After his service in the Army, Adam West took a job at a radio station in Sacramento, California before moving to Hawaii. There he was the co-host of the children's TV show The El Kini Popo Show with a chimp named Peaches. Among the highlights of his time on the show was getting to interview actor William Holden.

After several years in Hawaii, Adam West moved to Hollywood. It was there that he chose the stage name "Adam West". He took the name "West" because it was a family name and he simply liked the sound of the name "Adam". Hollywood agent Lew Sherrell spotted Mr. West in a production of Picnic at a community theatre. He set up a screen test for Mr. West and as a result he was signed to a contract by Warner Bros.

Adam West made his network television debut in an episode of The Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse in 1954 (curiously enough, it was titled "The Joker"). He made his film debut in an uncredited role in Voodoo Island in 1957. Signed to Warner Bros. in the late Fifties and early Sixties he appeared in several of their films and TV shows. He appeared in the film The Young Philadelphians (1959) alongside Robert Vaughn, who would eventually play Napoleon Solo on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. He appeared on several of Warner Bros.' television shows, including Lawman, Sugarfoot, Cheyenne, Bronco, Colt .45, 77 Sunset Strip, Maverick, Hawaiian Eye, and Bourbon Street Beat. He seemed to be Warner Bros.' choice for playing legendary gunfighter and dentist Doc Holliday, as he guest starred in the role on no less than three of their Westerns: Lawman, Sugarfoot, and Colt .45.

Adam West eventually left Warner Bros. after which he continued to make frequent guest appearances on such TV shows as Johnny Midnight, Overland Trail, Goodyear Theatre, and Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse. He began the Sixties with guest appearances on such shows as Tales of Wells Fargo, Bonanza, Michael Shayne, and The Rifleman. In 1961 he received his first regular role on a television series, playing Sgt. Steve Nelson on the final season of The Detectives. Following The Detectives Mr. West guest starred on several shows, including such shows as Perry Mason, The Real McCoys, Laramie, Gunsmoke, Petticoat Junction, The Outer Limits, Bewitched, and The Virginian. He starred in the legendary TV pilot Alexander the Great opposite William Shatner. He also appeared in feature films, including Geronimo (1962), Tammy and the Doctor (1963), Soldier in the Rain (1963), Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964), The Outlaws Is Coming (1965), and I 4 inesorabili (1965).

In addition to making frequent guest appearances on TV shows and appearing in feature films in the early to mid-Sixties, Adam West also appeared in television commercials. In 1964 he appeared as a father of a little girl in a commercial for Kellogg's Sugar Frosted Flakes. More significant would be a commercial for Nestlé Quik in which he appeared in 1965. The commercial was a sly parody of James Bond with Adam West playing the dry-witted Captain Q. The advertisement attracted the attention of producer William Dozier, who was then in the process of putting together a TV show based on the long running comic book feature "Batman". After a screen test with newcomer Burt Ward as Robin, Adam West won the role of Bruce Wayne and his alter ego Batman.

Batman proved to be the smash hit of the 1965-1966 season.  Airing twice a week, the debut episode on Wednesday, January 12 1966, received a phenomenal  27.3/49 rating in the Nielsens. The Thursday night episode performed even better, getting a  29.6/59 rating. The show was still doing phenomenally well a month after its debut. For the week ending February 13 1965 it received a  28.5 rating. To give one an idea of just how large the audience for Batman was, today's top rated drama, NCIS, only managed a still respectable rating of 21.34 during its peak in the 2012-2014 season.

Batman not only proved to be one of the biggest television successes of the Sixties, but it also became an outright fad. There was so much Batman merchandise on store shelves that both Sears and Montgomery Ward had to dedicate multiple pages of their catalogues to Bat-paraphernalia. An exclusive soundtrack album for the TV show was released, and "The Batman Theme" by the Neal Hefti Orchestra was released as a single. The theme was also covered by such diverse acts as The Marketts, The Standells, and The Who. Adam West also appeared as Batman on other ABC shows. He appeared as Batman on The Milton Berle Show. Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward as Robin hosted ABC's preview special for their 1966-1967 season as well. A feature film was even spun off from the series. Batman was released on July 30 1966.

Unfortunately Batman would not maintain such impressively high ratings for long. When it returned for the 1966-1967 season its ratings were still respectable, but not nearly as high as they were. It lost its time slot to The Virginian on NBC. Worse yet, its ratings would continue to slide throughout the season. In attempt to save the show, the producers introduced a new character, Batgirl (played by Yvonne Craig), even shooting a presentation film for her. ABC renewed Batman on the strength of that presentation film, although it was cut back to once a week. Sadly, even Batgirl could not save Batman. ABC cancelled the show in the wake of still falling ratings. Its last original episode aired on March 14 1968.

Following the cancellation of Batman, Adam West found himself typecast.  He guest starred on The Big Valley in 1968. In 1969 he appeared in the film The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1969). Reportedly Mr. West was offered the role of James Bond in the film On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969), but turned it down because he thought Bond should be British.

The Seventies would not be a pleasant time for Adam West. He appeared in the films The Marriage of a Young Stockbroker (1971), Curse of the Moon Child (1972), Partizani (1974), The Specialist (1975), Hooper (1978), and The Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood (1980). He also appeared in several TV movies, including The Eyes of Charles Sand (1972), Poor Devil (1973), and Nevada Smith (1975). He guest starred on such TV shows as Night Gallery, Alias Smith and Jones, Alice, Police Woman, Operation Petticoat, and The American Girls. He would return to the role of Batman during the decade was well. He provided the voice of the character in the Saturday morning cartoon The New Adventures of Batman and played the character in two TV specials titled Legends of the Superheroes. While Batman had proven to be a hit as a syndicated rerun, Adam West got little in the way of residuals. To make ends meet he often appeared in the Batman costume at county fairs, rodeos, and store openings. Perhaps the lowest point of his career came when he was shot out of a cannon in costume at the  Hadi Shrine Circus in Evansville, Indiana in November 1977.

To a degree the Eighties would be better for Adam West. During the 1985-1986 season he starred as Capt. Rick Wright in the short-lived sitcom The Last Precinct. He also starred in the title role of the unsold pilot Ace Diamond Private Eye. He voiced Batman on the "SuperFriends" Saturday morning cartoons SuperFriends: The Legendary Super Powers Show and The Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians. He guest starred on the TV shows Laverne & Shirley; The Love Boat; Hart to Hart; Fantasy Island; Murder, She Wrote; Zorro; and The Flash.  He appeared in the films One Dark Night (1982), Hell Riders (1984), Yellow Pages (1995), Young Lady Chatterley II (1985), Zombie Nightmare (1987), Night of the Kickfighters (1988), Doin' Time on Planet Earth (1988), Return Fire (1988), Mad About You (1989), and Omega Cop (1990).

The Nineties would see Adam West's career revitalised. He starred in the 1991 television pilot Lookwell, often counted among the best unsold pilots ever. In 2000 he began his long run on Family Guy as the voice of Mayor Adam West. He had a recurring role on the short lived comedy anthology Danger Theatre. He was a regular voice on the animated series The Secret Files of the SpyDogs. He was also a guest voice on Batman: The Animated Series, playing actor Simon Trent and the hero he had played on television, The Grey Ghost. He was also a guest voice on the animated shows Rugrats, The Critic, Johnny Bravo, Animaniacs, and Histeria!. Mr. West starred in the Comedy Central soap opera spoof The Clinic. He guest starred on such TV shows as Tales from the Crypt, The Good Life, Nurses, Space Ghost Coast to Coast, Hope & Gloria, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, Burke's Law, Pauly, The Wayan Brothers, Murphy Brown, Diagnosis Murder, NewsRadio, and Pacific Blue. He appeared in the films Maxim Xul (1991), The New Age (1994), Run for Cover (1995), The Size of Watermelons (1996), An American Vampire Story (1997), Joyride (1997), and Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999). He provided the voice of Leonard Fox in the animated short "Redux Riding Hood".

The Naughts may well have seen Adam West at his busiest since the Sixties. He continued as the voice of Mayor West on Family Guy. He had a recurring role as Breathtaker on the TV series Black Scorpion. He had a recurring role as the voice of Mayor George on the animated series The Batman. He was a recurring voice (as himself, no less) on the animated series The Fairly OddParents. He guest starred on the TV shows The Drew Carey Show, The Mullets, The King of Queens, George Lopez, and 30 Rock.  Alongside Burt Ward he starred in the TV movie Return to the Batcave. He was a guest voice on the animated shows The Simpsons, Kim Possible, The Boondocks, SpongeBob SquarePants, and Batman: The Brave and the Bold. He appeared in the films Seance (2001), "From Heaven to Hell" (2002), Baadasssss! (2003), Tales from Beyond (2004), Buckaroo: The Movie (2005), Angels with Angles (2005), Sexina (2007), and Super Capers: The Origins of Ed and the Missing Bullion (2009). He provided voices for the animated films Chicken Little (2005) and Meet the Robinsons (2007).

In the Teens Adam West continued on Family Guy. He guest starred on the shows The Big Bang Theory and Powerless. He was a guest voice on the animated shows Jake and the Never Land Pirates, Penn Zero: Part-Time Hero. and Moonbeam City. He was the voice of Batman in the animated film Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders (2016). The film reunited him with Burt Ward. He also provided the voice of Batman in the upcoming film Batman vs. Two-Face (2017), which again reunited him with Burt Ward.

I think there can be no doubt that Adam West will always be identified with Batman. It has often been said that the Sixties were dominated by Three Bs: The Beatles, Bond, and Batman. The show was certainly one of the biggest fads of the decade. And while Batman only lasted a little over two years, it would have continued success in syndication. To this day it still airs on TV stations and cable channels around the world. Much of the show's success rests with Adam West's performance as the Caped Crusader. The show was meant to be high comedy for adults and high adventure for children. To that end Adam West played Bruce Wayne and his alter ego Batman completely straight. Viewers of the show might find its situations totally absurd, but Adam West as Batman took them entirely seriously. In this regard it was one of the most brilliant comedies of all time, and its lead played his role brilliantly.

Of course, Adam West was much more than the Caped Crusader. Before his stint on Batman he made numerous guest appearances on television. He even played villains from time to time. In the Laramie episode "The Betrayers" he played cold-hearted outlaw Kett Darby, about as far from Batman as one could get. The Big Valley episode "In Silent Battle", made after Adam West had donned the cape and cowl, was even further from the Caped Crusader. Mr. West played Major Jonathan Eliot, a Civil War veteran who is an outright psychopath. And while Adam West may forever be known as the extremely straight-laced Batman, he could be charming and debonair in other roles. After all, he played the very Bondish Captain Q in that famous commercial for Nestlé Quik. In the 77 Sunset Strip episode "Thanks for Tomorrow" he played gambler Lonnie Drew. On Petticoat Junction he guest starred as Dr. Depew's handsome assistant Dr. Clayton Harris.

 Arguably Adam West was at his best playing comedy. Indeed, what may be his two most famous roles were in comedies: the extremely square Batman in Batman and the eccentric, often corrupt Mayor West on Family Guy. Lookwell numbers among the funniest unsold pilots ever made, in a large part due to Mr. West. While it did not run long, The Last Precinct was also a very fine comedy. Adam West definitely had a gift for comedy. His delivery was often perfect and his timing impeccable. Even in interviews Mr. West could be a very funny man, delivering one-liners that would make many experienced comics envious.

In the end Adam West will always be known best as Batman. And it was largely that role that shaped his career after 1966. That having been said, over the years he played many more roles and he played them well. He may always be best known as Batman, but he did much more.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Roger Smith R.I.P.

Roger Smith, who starred as Jeff Spencer on 77 Sunset Strip, died on June 4 2017 at the age of 84.

Roger Smith was born on December 18 1932 in South Gate, California. He was only six years old when his parents enrolled him in school for singing, dancing, and elocution. He was 12 years old when his family moved to Nogales, Arizona. There he took part in school plays and played on the football team. He went to the University of Arizona on a football scholarship, then served in the United States Navy.

It was when he was stationed in Honolulu while in the Navy that he met James Cagney, who was then filming Mister Roberts (1955). Mr. Cagney encouraged Roger Smith to go to Hollywood after he was discharged from the Navy.

Mr. Smith made his television debut on Ted Mack's Original Amateur Hour in 1948, competing as a singer. He made his acting debut on television in an episode of Damon Runyon Theatre in 1956. He made his film debut in an uncredited role as a reporter in Over-Exposed that same year. Over the next few years he appeared in such films as Man of a Thousand Faces (1957), Operation Mad Ball (1957), No Time to Be Young (1957), Crash Landing (1958), Auntie Mame (1958), and Never Steal Anything Small (1959). He guest starred on such shows as The Ford Television Theatre, The Sheriff of Cochise, The George Sanders Mystery Theatre, Father Knows Best, Wagon Train, and Sugarfoot. It was in 1958 that he began a five season run as Jeff Spencer on 77 Sunset Strip. He also guest starred as Jeff Spencer on Hawaiian Eye and Surfside Six. He left 77 Sunset Strip when a blood clot was discovered in his brain.

In the Sixties Roger Smith played the lead role in the sitcom Mister Roberts, which was based on the play and the movie of the same name. He guest starred on the TV shows Kraft Suspense Theatre and The Farmer's Daughter. He appeared in the films For Those Who Think Young (1964), Rogue's Gallery (1968), and 7 uomini e un cervello (1968).

It was in 1965 that Roger Smith was diagnosed with myasthenia gravis, a neuromuscular disease that causes  skeletal muscle weakness. In 1967 he married actress Ann-Margret. Given his condition, Mr.Smith retired from acting to manage his wife's career.

Mr. Smith also wrote as well as acted. He wrote several episodes of 77 Sunset Strip, as well as episodes of Surfside 6 and Mister Roberts and the feature films The First Time (1969) and C.C. & Company (1970). In 1960 he recorded an album titled Beach Romance, on which he sung 11 songs. He also produced several of Ann-Margret's television specials.

Roger Smith seemed to be born to play Jeff Spencer, the suave, wisecracking, non-practising attorney who worked alongside Stu Bailey (played by Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) as detectives at the address 77 Sunset Strip. He played the role perfectly. That having been said, he could play other roles. The more serious-minded Lt. Doug Roberts of Mister Roberts was in some ways a far cry from Jeff. In the Wagon Train episode "The Daniel Barrister Story" he played a doctor dealing with a smallpox epidemic. Mr. Smith was also a very good television writer. He penned one of the best 77 Sunset Strip episodes, "The Silent Caper", which unfolded with absolutely no dialogue. Married to Ann-Margret for a little over 50 years, he proved very adept at managing her career. Roger Smith's career as an actor may have been brief, but due to his talent both in front and behind the camera it remains memorable.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Peter Sallis Passes On

Peter Sallis, who played Clegg on Last of the Summer Wine and First of the Summer Wine, and who provided the voice of Wallace in the "Wallace and Gromit" films, died on June 2 2017 at the age of 96.

Peter Sallis was born on February 1 1921 in Twickenham, Middlesex. He attended Minchenden Grammar School in Southgate, North London before going to work as a bank clerk. During World War II he joined the Royal Air Force and served as an instructor at the radio school at Lincolnshire's Royal Air Force Station. It was a student there who asked Mr. Sallis to play the lead in a local production of Hay Fever by Noël Coward. He liked the experience so much that he decided to take up acting.

After the war Peter Sallis attended and graduated from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. He made his professional acting debut in London in September 1946 in a walk-on part in The Scheming Lieutenant by Richard Brinsley Sheridan. He made his television debut in 1947 as Quince in a production of A Midsummer's Night Dream. In the Fifties he appeared on the television series The Heir of Skipton and The Widow of Bath. He played the lead in the series The Diary of Samuel Pepys. He guest starred on the shows The March of the Peasants, Strange Experiences, The Black Arrow, The Invisible Man, and BBC Sunday-Night Theatre. He made his film debut in Stranger from Venus in 1954. He appeared in the films Child's Play (1954), Anastasia (1956), The Doctor's Dilemma (1958), The Scapegoat (1959), Doctor in Love (1960), and Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960).

In the Sixties Mr. Sallis appeared on the TV shows Ameilia, A Chance of Thunder, Crying Down the Lane, and The Chem. Lab. Mystery. He guest starred on such shows as ITV Television Playhouse, Danger Man, Maigret, BBC Sunday-Night Play, It Happened Like This, The Avengers, Sergeant Cork, Z Cars, Doctor Who, and Catweazle. He appeared in such films as The Curse of the Werewolf (1961), The Mouse on the Moon (1963), The Third Secret (1964), Clash by Night (1964), Inadmissible Evidence (1968), Scream and Scream Again (1970), and Wuthering Heights (1970).

It was in 1973 that Peter Sallis first played Clegg in Last of the Summer Wine. Last of the Summer Wine ran until 2010, and he would continue to play Clegg for the entirety of its run. In the Seventies he also appeared on Bel Ami, The Moonstone, The Pallisers, The Capone Investment, Yanks Go Home, The Ghosts of Motley Hall, and Leave It to Charlie. He guest starred on the shows Paul Temple, Public Eye, Justice, The Persuaders!, Callan, The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes, Raffles, Crown Court, and Tales of the Unexpected. He appeared in the films The Night Digger (1971), The Reprieve (1972), The Incredible Sarah (1976), The Haunting of Julia (1977), and Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? (1978).

It was in 1989 that Peter Sallis first voiced Wallace in the "Wallace and Gromit" short "A Grand Day Out". He would voice Wallace in three more shorts ("The Wrong Trousers" in 1993, "A Close Shave" in 1995, and "A Matter of Loaf and Death" in 2008), as well as the feature film Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005). In the Eighties he continued to appear as Clegg on Last of the Summer Wine and also played the role in the prequel series First of the Summer Wine. He provided the voice of Rat in the animated series The Wind and The Willows and Oh! Mr. Toad. He appeared in the shows Strangers and Brothers, The New Statesman, and The Bretts. He appeared in the Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation of Witness for the Prosecution.

In the Nineties he continued to appear as Clegg on Last of the Summer Wine and he continued as the voice of Wallace in the "Wallace and Gromit" shorts. He guest starred on Rumpole of the Bailey. In the Naughts he continued as Clegg on Last of the Summer Wine and voiced Wallace in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit and "A Matter of Loaf and Death". He guest starred on Doctors and Kingdom. He appeared in the film Colour Me Kubrick (2005).

Peter Sallis was a great talent with a particular gift for comedy. As Norman Clegg on Last of the Summer Wine he was a bit of cynic and also a bit neurotic. He always wore several layers of clothing and, even though he had a driver's licence, the thought of driving would send him into a panic attack. He longed for a nice, peaceful retirement, only to find himself dragged into one of  Foggy and Compo's schemes more often than not. Wallace of the "Wallace and Gromit" films was in many respects far from Clegg. Wallace is kind-hearted and an eternal optimist. He also has a love of cheese, crackers, and tea. Although constantly inventing things, his inventions are generally overly complex devices of the Rube Goldberg type. Peter Sallis played both characters perfectly, to the point that it is very difficult to picture anyone else in the roles.

Of course, Peter Sallis played other roles besides Clegg and Wallace, often roles that were very different. In the Avengers episode "The Wringer" he played  Hal Anderson, John Steed's friend and fellow agent who is suffering from both shock and amnesia. In the Doctor Who serial "The Ice Warriors" he played scientist Penley. Over the years Peter Sallis played a wide variety of roles, from solicitors to preachers to military officers. Some were comic, while others were dramatic. Regardless of the role, he played all of them well.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The 100th Anniversary of Dean Martin's Birth

I think it is safe to say that my family were Dean Martin fans. When I was little every Thursday night my father would pop popcorn, we would open sodas, and we would gather around the television set to watch The Dean Martin Show. We watched his movies as well, everything from the films he made with former partner Jerry Lewis to the ones he made with such stars as Frank Sinatra and John Wayne. My family may not have agreed on everything, but we were united in our love for Dean Martin. Indeed, Dean Martin has remained one of my favourite performers to this day. It was 100 years ago today that Dino was born.

Dean Martin was born Dino Paul Crocetti in Steubenville, Ohio on June 7 1917. His parents were Italian immigrants, and young Dino did not speak English until he began attending school when he was 5 years old. As a teenager he began playing drums. When he was in 10th grade he dropped out of Stebenville High School and worked a variety of jobs, from being a croupier in a speakeasy to working in a steel mill. He also sang with local bands, billing himself as "Dino Martini". He got his big break when he began singing with  the Ernie McKay Orchestra. In the early 1940s he started singing with Sammy Watikins's band. It was Mr. Watkins who suggested he change his stage name to "Dean Martin".

Dean Martin's singing career would be interrupted in 1944 when he was drafted into the United States Army. He served for a year in Akron, Ohio, but was eventually given a medical discharge because of a double hernia. After leaving the Army Dean Martin returned to singing. He was doing well enough performing in clubs on the East Coast that he attracted the attention of both MGM and Columbia Pictures, although neither signed him to a contract at the time. It was in 1945 that Dean Martin met comedian Jerry Lewis at the Glass Hat Club in New York City, where they were both performing. The two made their debut as a comedy team at the 500 Club in Atlantic City on July 25 1946.

Martin and Lewis's first performance was not particularly well received. The two then threw out their scripted gags in favour of improvisation. They soon proved to be very popular at the 500 Club, so much so that they were in demand all along the East Coast. It was not long before  the team began appearing on television and radio. Martin and Lewis appeared on the very first edition of Toast of the Town, later retitled The Ed Sullivan Show. They got their own radio show on NBC, The Martin and Lewis Show, which ran from April 1949 to July 1953. They appeared on such television shows as Texaco Star Theatre, The Saturday Night Revue, and The Colgate Comedy Hour. Naturally, Hollywood took notice of the team. In 1949, the same year that their radio show debuted, Paramount signed Martin and Lewis to a contract. Making their film debut in My Friend Irma in 1949, Martin and Lewis appeared in several movies until 1956, including At War With the Army (1950), Scared Stiff (1953), and Artists and Models (1955).

Even while he was working with Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin had a successful recording career. His 1949 single  "Powder Your Face with Sunshine (Smile, Smile, Smile)" went to no. 10 on the Billboard chart. His 1950 single "I'll Always Love You" went to no. 11. His 1953 recording of "That's Amore" went all the way to no. 2. In 1955 he hit no. 1 with his single "Memories Are Made of This".

While Martin and Lewis had proven successful as a team on television, on radio, and in films, their relationship gradually began to fall apart as the Fifties progressed. Dean Martin left the team ten years exactly after they had first performed together, on July 25 1956. Sadly, the two would not speak to each other privately for another twenty years.

If anything, Dean Martin would prove even more successful on his own than he had with Jerry Lewis. While his first film without Mr. Lewis, Ten Thousand Bedrooms (1957), failed at the box office, he would appear in a number of successful movies from the late Fifties into the Sixties. He had a box office success as one of the co-stars of The Young Lions (1958). He appeared in his first movie with fellow crooner Frank Sinatra, Some Came Running, in 1958. Mr. Martin even appeared in Westerns. One of his most successful films was opposite John Wayne, Rio Bravo, in 1958. He would co-star with John Wayne again in The Sons of Katie Elder (1965). From the late Fifties into the Sixties he would appear in such films as Ocean's 11 (1960), Sergeants 3 (1962), Robin and the 7 Hoods (1964), Kiss Me, Stupid (1964), Bandolero! (1968), and Airport (1970). Starting with The Silencers in 1966 Dean Martin appeared as superspy Matt Helm in four movies (in addition to The Silencers, they were Murderers' Row in 1966, The Ambushers in 1967, and The Wrecking Crew in 1969).

Dean Martin's recording career also continued to be strong throughout the late Fifties and Sixties. The year 1958 gave him two of his biggest hits, "Return to Me" and "Volare". In 1964 what may be his best remembered song (at least for Baby Boomers and Gen Xers who can remember his TV show) "Everybody Loves Somebody" was released.  He finished out the Sixties with such hits as "You're Nobody till Somebody Loves You" and "I Will".

Of course, Dean Martin had great success on television in the Sixties. He made a rare guest appearance on the Western Rawhide, in the episode "Canliss" in 1964. He also guest starred on several Bob Hope specials, and appeared on The Tonight Show several times. By far his biggest success on television would be The Dean Martin Show. Debuting in 1965, The Dean Martin Show ran until 1974. During the show's final season it featured celebrity roasts as a regular segment. The Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts would continue as a series of specials after The Dean Martin Show left the air.  In the Seventies he also guest starred on Charlie's Angels, The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo, The Big Show, and Vega$. He appeared in the films Something Big (1971), Showdown (1973),  and Mr. Ricco (1975). He did a Christmas special on NBC in 1980.

After the Seventies Dean Martin's career slowed a bit. He continued to record, and even had a minor hit, "Since I Met You Baby", in the Eighties. He appeared in the movies The Cannonball Run (1981) and Cannonball Run II (1984).  He was a regular, playing himself, on the short-live comedy TV series Half-Nelson. He did a stadium tour with Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra in 1988. He performed in Las Vegas for one last time  Bally's Hotel in 1990.

It was in 1993 that Dean Martin was diagnosed with lung cancer. He died on Christmas in 1995 at the age of 78.

Dean Martin has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. In fact, last night I even dreamed I met Mr. Martin, dressed in a tuxedo as he would be in a night club act. I told him I was writing a tribute for him on my blog for his 100th birthday and that pleased him. I almost never dream of celebrities, so the fact that I dreamed of Dean Martin on the eve of his 100th birthday demonstrates just how significant he has been in my life. Dean Martin was the first crooner of which I was a fan, even before Bing Crosby. I always thought he was the coolest member of the Rat Pack (although I will confess Sammy Davis Jr. gives him a run for his money on that score). Quite simply, Dean Martin was always one of my favourite singers, comedians, and actors.

Of course, I am not alone in my admiration for Dino. Ever since Martin and Lewis emerged on the scene in the late Forties, Dean Martin has had a huge number of fans. To me, at least, the appeal of Dean Martin is not hard to figure out. He had an easy-going, amiable style that made him instantly likeable. He also had a wry sense of humour, and could deliver absolutely hilarious lines with a fairly straight face. He was also one of the greatest crooners around. He had a rich baritone that could be very smooth or bouncy depending upon the song. Dean Martin's style was also very unique. When Dino sang a song, you knew it was Dino.

While Dean Martin began his career as a singer, he would also become an actor. Often his characters were much like his stage persona, that of a slightly drunken, relaxed playboy. That having been said, Dean Martin played a wider variety of roles in film than simply Dean Martin. In Rio Bravo he played Dude, the deputy sheriff who goes from being a drunk to being a competent lawman. In Toys in the Attic he played Julian Berniers, a young man who runs afoul of his spinster sister when he returns to New Orleans. In Airport he played Vernon Demarest, the checkride captain for TGA Flight Two. Surprisingly enough for someone who grew up far from the West, he appeared in several Westerns over the years, including 4 for Texas, The Sons of Katie Elder, Rough Night in Jericho, and others. In fact, aside from Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin may have been the only member of the Rat Pack who was entirely convincing as a Western hero.

Dean Martin has often been called "the King of Cool", a title he shares with Steve McQueen. As big a fan of Steve McQueen as I am, I have to confess that the title might rightfully belong to Dino. Steve McQueen was primarily an action star. On the other hand, Dean Martin could do it all. He could sing. He could do comedy. He could do drama. He could be an action star. And he could do all of these things while he was impeccably dressed. If Dean Martin is still immensely popular on what would have been his 100th birthday, it is perhaps because he was an extremely versatile performer with an easygoing style that pleased audiences. There simply wasn't anyone else quite like him.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Announcing the 4th Annual British Invaders Blogathon

Today I'm announcing the 4th Annual British Invaders Blogathon, a celebration of the best in British films, here at A Shroud of Thoughts.  While many people think of Hollywood when they think of classic movies, the fact is that the United Kingdom made many significant contributions to film over the years. From the Gainsborough melodramas to Hammer Films to the British New Wave, cinema would be much poorer without the British.  I've scheduled this year's British Invaders Blogathon  for August 4, August 5, and August 6.

Here are the ground rules for this year's blogathon:

1. Posts can be about any British film or any topic related to British films. For the sake of simplicity, I am using "British" here to refer to any film made by a company based in the United Kingdom or British Crown dependencies. If you want to write about a film made in Northern Ireland or the Isle of Man, then, you can do so. Also for the sake of simplicity, people can write about co-productions made with companies from outside the United Kingdom. For example, since 2001: A Space Odyssey is a British-American co-production, someone could write about it if they chose.

2. There is no limit on subject matter. You can write about any film in any genre you want. Posts can be on everything from the British New Wave to the Gainsborough bodice rippers to the Hammer Horrors. I am also making no limit on the format posts can take. You could review a classic British film, make an in-depth analysis of a series of British films, or even simply do a pictorial tribute to a film. That having been said, since this is a classic film blogathon,  I only ask that you write about films made before 1992. I generally don't think of a film as a classic until it has been around for thirty years, but to give bloggers more options I am setting the cut off point at twenty five years ago.

3. I am asking that there please be no duplicates. That having been said, if someone has already chosen to cover From Russia with Love (1963), someone else could write about another James Bond movie or even the James Bond series as a whole.

4. I am not going to schedule days for individual posts. All I ask is that the posts be made on or between August 4, August 5, or August 6.

5. On August 4 I will set up the page for the blogathon. I ask that you link your posts to that page.

If you want to participate in the British Invaders Blogathon, you can simply comment below or get a hold of me on Twitter at mercurie80 or at my email:  mercurie80 at

Below is a roster of participants and the topics they are covering. Come August 4 I will make a post that will include all of the posts in the blogathon:

The Filmatelist: "Swinging London British Films of 1966"

The Hitless Wonder Movie BlogDoctor Who and the Daleks (1965) and Daleks – Invasion Earth (1966)

The Stop Button: Kes (1969)

Cinematic Scribblings: Billy Liar (1963)

Caftan Woman: Innocent Sinners (1958)

The Wonderful World of Cinema: A Girl Must Live (1939)

Wide Screen World: The "Carry On" Films

Crítica RetrôHobson's Choice (1954)

Celluloid Hour: Brief Encounter (1945)

Realweegiemidget Reviews: An American Werewolf in London (1981)

In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood:I Know Where I'm Going (1945)

The Midnight Drive-InThe Glass Tomb (1955) and Five Day (1954)

Moon in Gemini: A Touch of Class (1973)

MovieMovieBlogBlog: Let It Be (1970)

Cinema Essentials: The Liquidator (1965)

Below are several banners for participants in the blogathon to use (or you can always make your own):

Sunday, June 4, 2017

The 13th Anniversary of A Shroud of Thoughts

If you have triskaidekaphobia I am guessing you might want to avoid this post. It was 13 years ago today that I launched A Shroud of Thoughts. Blogs were a bit of a fad in the years 2003, 2004, and 2005. The media discussed them often, and it seemed as if everyone was starting his or her own blog. I had a lady friend who had a blog at the time and it looked like fun. For that reason I started A Shroud of Thoughts. It has always been dedicated to pop culture and nostalgia, although in the early days I would post things of a more personal nature. Eventually I decided people probably weren't interested in my personal life and I stopped writing.

Besides discontinuing personal posts there have been other changes to the blog over the years. At one time I reviewed more recent movies and TV shows with some regularity. I never made a conscious decision to stop doing so, but being more interested in popular culture from the past, reviews of more recent films and TV show just sort of fell by the wayside. It also seems as if I am writing more eulogies for actors, musicians, and other pop culture figures who have died than I did when I started the blog. This is simply because the actors from the Golden Age of Film and the Golden Age of Television, as well as the musicians from the Fifties and Sixties are now much older and dying at an accelerated rate.  I must confess I hate writing eulogies (let's face it, for me to do so someone has to have died), but I feel an obligation to do so as a means of honouring those who have had an impact on my life with regards to popular culture.

For those of you wondering about the title of the blog, A Shroud of Thoughts is taken from Lord Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage canto iii stanza 113. I won't quote it here as I have so often, but suffice it to say that in the mid-Naughts titles with the word "thoughts" or some synonym thereof were fashionable for blogs. I eventually thought of retitling the blog to something more fitting, but by that time the blog already had a following. I was afraid it would confuse people!

Here I must stress that A Shroud of Thoughts is far from the only blog that has been around for a while, as there are many others still around that date from the early to mid-Naughts. Immortal Ephemera is even older than this blog, dating to 2002. Inner Toob is about a month and a half older, launching in April 2004. Both The Stop Button and Laura's Miscellaneous Musings date to 2005. The Rap Sheet dates to 2006. While blogs older than a decade are rare, they aren't exactly as rare as one might think! By the way, I strongly recommend that you visit all of these fine blogs (they've lasted so long for a reason).

Every year I post what I feel are the best posts from the past year. Here then are the best posts from June 2016 to June 2017:

"Happy 100th Brithday, Olivia de Havilland!"  July 1 2016

 "The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)"  July 8 2016
 "The Valley of Gwangi" July 10  2016

"Hammer Films' The Brides of Dracula (1960)" August 6 2016

"Cartoons Never Were Just for Kids: Why Sausage Party is Nothing New" August 14 2016 

"An American Werewolf in London Turns 35" August 21 2016

"The 25th Anniversary of the World Wide Web" August 23 2016

"The 5th Anniversary of TCM Party" September 3 2016

"The 50th Anniversary of Star Trek" September 8 2016

 "The 50th Anniversary of The Monkees" September 12 2016

"The Centenary of Margaret Lockwood's Birth" September 15 2016

 "He Never Slowed Down: Cesar Romero" September 26 2016

 "The Maltese Falcon Turns 75" October 3 2016

"The 60th Anniversary of Playhouse 90" October 4 2016

"The 75th Anniversary of Wonder Woman" October 25 2016

"A Brief History of Trick or Treating" October 29 2016

"Haunted Houses" October 30 2016

"50 Years Ago Today NBC Went All Colour" November 7 2016

"Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)" November 12 2016

"Three Classic Sitcoms Killed by Marriage" November 21 2016

"Agnes Moorehead's Radio Career" December 3 2016

The Week of Christmas (includes "The 50th Anniversary of How the Grinch Stole Christmas", "Chrismas Variety Specials on American Television", "The 70th Anniversary of It's a Wonderful Life, and The 200th Anniversary of The Nutcracker and the Mouse King")

"The 75th Anniversary of Archie" January 13 2017

"Why There Should Be a Movie or TV Show About Bass Reeves" February 4 2017

"Before Rock 'n' Roll There Was Cab Calloway" February 11 2017

"Matt Baker: African American Comic Book Artist"  Feberuary 20 2017

"Theresa Harris: Much More Than a Maid" February 28 2017

"Remembering Robert Osborne: A Collection of Tributes" March 19 2017

"Maverick: 'Gun Shy'" March 25 2017

"Jack Lemmon in The Apartment" April 1 2017

"General Jack D. Ripper in Dr. Strangelove" April 28 2017

"Children of Paradise/Les Enfants du Paradis (1945)" May 13 2017

"Star Wars: A Somewhat Personal Remembrance" May 25 2017

"It Was 50 Years Ago Today Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band Was Released" July 1 2017