Saturday, December 16, 2017

William Schallert, A Man of Many Faces

 (This post is part of the What a Character! Blogathon hosted by Once Upon a Screen, Outspoken and Freckled, and Paula's Cinema Club.)

The average person might best remember actor William Schallert as teacher Leander Pomfritt on Dobie Gillis or Patty Lane's father Martin on The Patty Duke Show. They might even remember him as the crochety Admiral Hargrade on Get Smart. Fans of classic television and classic film might well remember William Schallert from  any one of his many guest appearances on television shows or appearances in feature films. The simple fact is that Mr. Schallert was an incredibly prolific actor. He made his film debut in 1947 and made his last appearance on television in 2014. In the year 1960 alone he guest starred on twenty different shows, this in addition to holding down a regular role on the TV series Philip Marlowe. In addition to being extremely prolific, he was also extremely versatile. While most character actors tended stick to one certain type of role, William Schallert played several different types of roles throughout his career. Over the years he played bankers, scientists, lawyers, military officers, doctors, hillbillies, and many more.

Of course, while William Schallert was a very versatile actor, that is not to say that he was not identified with a specific sort of role more so than others. Quite simply, Mr. Schallert excelled at playing educated, well spoken men. Indeed, his two best known roles were of this type: Mr. Pomfritt on Dobie Gillis and Martin Lane on The Patty Duke Show.  Mr. Pomfritt was known for his deadpan jokes and often called his students "my young barbarians" or "my young unemployables" or something similar. Despite this he often served as a fount of wisdom for protagonists Dobie Gillis and Maynard G. Krebbs. Martin Lane was often exasperated by the antics of his daughter Patty (and sometimes her identical cousin Cathy as well), but maintained a sense of humour throughout and was ultimately supportive of her. In The Beat Generation (1959) William Schallert played Father Dinelli, the priest who counsels Francee Cullorah (played by Fay Spain), who is expecting a baby.  In The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969) William Schallert played a role not that far removed from Mr. Pomfritt on Dobie Gillis, that of science instructor Professor Quigley. One of his best guest appearances on television was on The Dick Van Dyke Show, playing Reverend Kirk, the father of a boy from whom Rob and Laura's son has apparently learned profanity.

Indeed, William Schallert played so many intelligent, well spoken men over the years that it is often surprising to see him play characters who were, well,  none too bright. In the 1957 Gunsmoke episode "Twelfth Night", Mr. Schallert played hillbilly Eben Hakes, who is determined to continue a long running feud with another hillbilly family. Eben is about as far from Mr. Promfitt or Martin Lane as one can get. He is none too bright and lives by a code of the hills that is alien to most people in polite society. In the movie Lonely Are the Brave (1962) William Schallert played Harry, the dim-witted deputy of Sheriff Morey Johnson (played by Walter Matthau).

Not only did William Schallert play many intelligent characters, but he was best known for characters who could be described simply as "nice". This was certainly true of Mr. Promfitt and Martin Lane. That having been said, it was not true of every character Mr. Schallert played. Indeed, in the famous Star Trek episode "The Trouble with Tribbles", he played a character of the sort for which fellow character actor Charles Lane was best known, the United Federation of Planets' officious Undersecretary of Agriculture Nilz Baris. Something of a stickler for details, Baris is one of the more unsympathetic roles Mr. Schallert ever played. Even less sympathetic is a role that William Schallert played on a guest appearance on Room 222, one particularly shocking given he had played Martin Lane on The Patty Duke Show. In the episode "Fathers and Sons" Mr. Schallert played Dr. Charles Garrett, an overly conservative father at odds with his son not only due to politics, but the fact that his son doesn't want to follow him into the medical field as well. In the Bonanza episode "Look to the Stars" William Schallert played another very unsympathetic role, that of stern, strict, and downright racist schoolmaster George Norton.

Indeed, not only were many of the roles William Schallert played over the years not exactly sympathetic, some were downright villainous. In the 1970 Gunsmoke episode "Albert" William Schallert played Jake Spence, the leader of a band of outlaws who takes a bank teller's wife hostage after he blames them for the theft of some of the bank's money. In the 2012 miniseries Bag of Bones William Schallert played an even more villainous character, millionaire Max Devore. Ruthless in the extreme, as a young man Devore was guilty of both rape and murder. In one of his earliest films,  The Man from Planet X (1951), William Schallert played completely amoral scientist Dr. Mears who is not below using torture to get what he wants. While he rarely played villains, William Schallert was very good when he did.

Of course, William Schallert might have been at his best playing wholly off-the-wall characters, often in make-up that made it very difficult to recognise the character as being played by William Schallert. Admiral Hargrade only appeared in four episodes of Get Smart (one of them being two parts of a three part episode), yet he remains one of the best remembered characters on the show. The original head of CONTROL, Admiral Hargrade is cantankerous, a bit senile, and positively ancient. Looking much older in make-up, William Schallert might only be recognisable as the Admiral to the casual viewer by his voice.  Another odd role that William Schallert played was that of folk singer Red Wooodloe on The Partridge Family. Sporting long hair and a moustache, Mr. Schallert is nearly unrecognisable as a folk singer whose salad days were decades ago. Such was William Schallert's versatility that he actually played three roles on The Patty Duke Show. In addition to his regular role as Martin Lane, he also appeared as two separate Lane relatives: Uncle Jed and Cathy's father Kenneth. Uncle Jed was essentially a country cousin who arrives just as Cathy is about to throw her first "adult" party. Kenneth was Martin's identical twin, distinguishable from Martin in that he has a moustache.

Given the length of William Schallert's career it would be impossible to address every role he ever played without writing an entire book. Indeed, IMDB lists 284 credits for his work in television alone! Among the other interesting roles played by Mr. Schallert were a nervous drummer who might be guilty of murder in the Have Gun--Will Travel episode "The Long Night", CIA Director Grauber in Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970), Mayor Schubert in In the Heat of the Night (1967), and FDR's advisor Harry Hopkins in the mini-series War and Remembrance. As amazing as it seems given the sheer number of guest appearances Mr. Schallert made on various TV shows, he also had several regular or recurring roles on shows besides Dobie Gillis and The Patty Duke Show, including The Adventures of Jim Bowie; Hey, Jeannie!; Philip Marlowe; The Nancy Walker Show; The Nancy Drew Mysteries; The Waltons; The New Gidget; and The Torkelsons.

William Schallert was one of the most prolific actors to ever work in television, and one with a substantial career in film as well. Indeed, the average person might not recognise his name, but they would certainly recognise his face. Mr. Schallert was able to appear in so many films and TV shows precisely because he was something of a chameleon. He could essentially be anything a role demanded of him: a teacher with a dry wit; a caring father; a doddering old admiral; and so on. He truly was a man of many faces.

(For a more in depth look at William Schallert's career, read my eulogy of him upon the occasion of his death)

Friday, December 15, 2017

The 50th Anniversary of The Who Sell Out

It was fifty years ago today that The Who's third album, The Who Sell Out, was released in the United Kingdom. It was historic as the band's first concept album. Unlike their later rock operas, Tommy and Quadrophenia, The Who Sold Out did not have a storyline. Instead, it was recorded as if it were a broadcast from the pirate radio station Radio London, complete with faux advertisements of real world products and public service announcements. The cover completed the concept with Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, Keith Moon, and John Entwistle in adverts for Odorono, Heinz Oven Baked Beans, Medac, and Charles Atlas respectively.

The Who Sell Out emerged from two phenomena in Britain in the Sixties. The first was the rise of pirate radio stations. In the United Kingdom in the Sixties, BBC Radio had a legal monopoly on the airwaves, granted to them by a Royal Charter in 1927. Unfortunately, BBC Radio did not exactly keep up with the times, broadcasting very little in the way of rock 'n' roll even in the early to mid-Sixties. British rock fans had no choice but to listen to Radio Luxembourg if they wanted to hear any rock music at all. The end result of this was the rise of pirate radio stations, the first of which was Radio Caroline in 1964. The pirate radio stations were unlicensed stations that broadcast from ships offshore or even unused sea forts. The BBC would eventually take notice of the popularity of the pirate radio stations, so that in 1967 a pop music service, BBC Radio 1 was launched, along with BBC Radio 2, BBC Radio 3, and BBC Radio 4. As to the pirate radio stations, their days were numbered. In 1967 the Marine Broadcasting Offences Act made the offshore pirate radio stations illegal. Despite this, the pirate radio stations had served an important service, bringing rock music to British subjects who wanted to hear it.

The second phenomenon was that of rock groups recording commercial jingles. In 1964 The Rolling Stones recorded a jingle for Rice Crispies. In 1966 The Golden Earrings (later to be known simply as Golden Earring) recorded a jingle for Coca-Cola in their native Netherlands. In 1967 American band The Turtles recorded a jingle for Pepsi. That same year The Who themselves recorded a jingle for Coca-Cola. The Who Sell Out was then simultaneously parodying this phenomenon, as well as paying tribute to it.

Originally The Who's third album was to be titled The Who's Lily, referring to the band's single "Pictures of Lily". The band recorded versions of Eddie Cochran's "Summertime Blues" (which would remain unreleased for some time) as well as the instrumental "Sodding About" (which would also remain unreleased for some time). It would be the song "Jaguar", written by Pete Townshend, that would lead to The Who Sell Out. Having written a jingle for Coca-Cola, Mr. Townshend then decided to write an uncommissioned song praising Jaguar, the famous brand of British cars. Ultimately "Jaguar" would not make the final cut of The Who Sell Out, although it would provide much of the inspiration for the album. Precisely who came up with the idea of The Who recording a concept album that would sound like a British pirate radio station or an American AM pop music station is unclear. Some sources credit The Who's managers Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp. Others credit the band themselves.

The album's cover photos were taken by photographer David Montgomery. An American who had moved to the United Kingdom, Mr. Montgomery also took photographs of such subjects as Queen Elizabeth II, Andy Warhol, Mick Jagger, Jimi Hendrix, Peter O'Toole, and many others. 

Recording on The Who Sell Out began as early as July 1967, with the band returning to the United Kingdom from a tour of the U.S. on September 16 1967. Recording was completed on November 2 1967. The album had been set to be released in the United Kingdom on November 17 1967, but was delayed when many of the companies whose products were mentioned in the faux adverts on the album threatened legal action. Chris Stamp and the band's legal team had to swiftly settle out of court with these companies. The album was then released on December 15 1967.

The Who Sell Out received widespread critical acclaim upon its initial release, although, given its reputation today, its performance on the charts would seem disappointing. It peaked at no. 13 on the British charts. Released on January 6 1968 in the United States, it would perform even more poorly on the Billboard album chart, where it only reached no. 48. Even the only single on the album, "I Can See for Miles", would have a somewhat disappointing chart performance. Pete Townshend thought "I Can See for Miles" was the ultimate Who song and would be their first no. 1 single. Instead it only peaked at no. 10 on the British singles chart and no. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100. While these numbers would be respectable for most bands, Pete Townshend was not particularly happy with them.

If The Who Sell Out did not perform as well on the charts as The Who might have have hoped it would, it was perhaps because it was in some respects it was ahead of its time. Self-referential works were not unknown in film, literature, or television in the Sixties. Indeed, both The Beatles' movies and the TV show The Monkees could be very self-referential. That having been said, the phenomena of metafiction and metacinema were not as common as they would come to be in the following decades, so that to a large degree The Who Sell Out was a very atypical album. Indeed, the album is more sophisticated than it might appear at first glance.

Quite simply, The Who Sell Out presents rock music as a blatantly commercial product, a commodity to be bought and sold not unlike baked beans or deodourant. To this end the album presents the listener with rather savage parodies of such products as Odorono and Medac. At the same time, however, The Who Sell Out is a paen to the passing of the pirate radio stations and an era in rock history that was already passing in the United Kingdom. And while the album presents rock 'n' roll as a commodity to be bought and sold, at the same time it recognises that it is an art form. The Who Sell Out features some of The Who's best and sophisticated songs, from "I Can See for Miles" to "Mary Anne with the Shaky Hand" to "Tattoo".

Ultimately The Who Sell Out would prove to be have a lasting influence. The song "I Can See for Miles"may have led to The Beatles' song "Helter Skelter". While Paul McCartney had not heard the song at the time, it was allegedly a review in which "I Can See for Miles" was proclaimed the heaviest song ever that led to him composing "Helter Skelter". Of course, "I Can See for Miles" would have an impact on the development of power pop. Echoes of the song can be heard in many of the harder power pop bands, including Cheap Trick and The Smithereens. An argument can even be made that the at times heavier sound The Who utilised on The Who Sell Out would play an important role in the development of heavy metal. Arguably, even progressive rock even owes something to The Who Sell Out, notably in the form of the song "Rael (1 and 2)". Famous critic Dave Marsh called The Who Sell Out "the greatest rock and roll album of its era". Even with such contemporary contenders for that title as The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and The Moody Blues' Days of Future Passed, it is hard to argue with Mr. Marsh's assessment. Even if it isn't the greatest rock album of its era, it certainly numbers among them.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Rescuing Net Neutrality

Today the Federal Communications Commission voted to repeal the rules protecting Net Neutrality. For those of you who don't know what Net Neutrality is or why it is important, here is a post I wrote earlier in the year on the subject. Regardless, given how important Net Neutrality is to a free,open, and prosperous internet, many people are upset, particularly as millions of people left comments letting the FCC know that they wanted to keep the rules regarding Net Neutrality.

Despite the FCC vote, however, there is no reason for supporters of Net Neutrality to give up. Already a number of state attorneys general have stated they will file lawsuits to stop the dismantling of Net Neutrality. Both Congressmen and Senators are calling for legislation that would insure Net Neutrality is maintained. The ACLU and other groups have vowed to fight the changes. The changes would take literally weeks to take effect, but it seems possible given the looming legal battles that they might take longer to take place, if at all.

If you are an average American and wish to see Net Neutrality maintained, there are things you can do to help try to save it. Write, call, email, or tweet to your Representative and your Senators to let them know you support legislation to make Net Neutrality the law of the land. If your state attorney general has not already filed a lawsuit, contact him or her and ask that they do so. What is more, get the word out for others to do the same. Contrary to some headlines, Net Neutrality is not dead, but it looks like we will have to fight to keep it.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Late Great Pat DiNizio

Pat DiNizio, the lead vocalist, rhythm guitarist, and songwriter of The Smithereens, died yesterday at the age of 62. No cause was death has been given, but he had suffered from a series of health problems since 2015.

Pat DiNizio was born on October 12 1955 in Scotch Plains, New Jersey. Pat DiNizio developed an interest in music while still young. He became a lifelong fan of The Beatles upon seeing them on The Ed Sullivan Show. He later became a fan of heavy metal band Black Sabbath and only a little later discovered the work of Buddy Holly. It would be the work of Buddy Holly that would have a particular impact on his music. It was not long before he was writing his own songs.

Pat DiNizio was working in the family's garbage collection business when he placed an advertisement in The Aquarian Weekly for a drummer to play on a demo tape. The advert was answered by drummer Dennis Diken of Carteret, New Jersey. Mr. Diken later introduced Mr. DiNizio to Jim Babjak and Mike Mesaros, with whom he had been playing music since high school. The four of them formed The Smithereens. They made their live debut in March of 1980 at Englander's in Hillside, New Jersey. That same year they released an EP on the small D-Tone label entitled Girls About Town.  A second EP, Beauty and Sadness, was released in 1983.  They also occasionally played as a backing band for the legendary Otis Blackwell.

Eventually Pat DiNizio sent a cassette tape of The Smithereens' material to Enigma Records, an indie label with a distribution agreement with Capitol Records. One of the executives at Enigma had known the band when he was a disc jockey in college. After around five years together, The Smithereens were signed to Enigma Records. Their first LP, Especially for You, was released on March 1 1986. The album peaked at no. 51 on the Billboard album chart. Their first single, "Blood and Roses", reached no. 14 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart. Their second single, "Behind the Wall of Sleep", went to no. 23 on the same chart.

Over the next several years The Smithereens would have modest success. Their second album, Green Thoughts, went to no. 60 on the Billboard album chart. If anything some of the singles from the album performed even better than the LP did. "Only a Memory" went to no. 1 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart. The second single from the album, "House We Used to Live In", went to no. 14 on the same chart. The third single, "Drown in My Own Tears", went to no. 34 on the chart.

It would be with their third album that The Smithereens would reach the peak of their success. The album 11 went to no. 41 on the Billboard album chart. The first single from the album, "A Girl Like You", would prove to be their biggest hit. It peaked at no. 2 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart, no. 3 on the Billboard Modern Rock chart, and no. 38 on the Billboard Hot 100. The following singles from the album also performed relatively well.

Unfortunately, The Smithereens' success would prove to be short lived. Their fourth album, Blow Up, only reached no. 120 on the Billboard album chart, although two of its singles ("Top of the Pops" and "Too Much Passion") performed relatively well. Their fifth album, A Date with The Smithereens, also did poorly, reaching only no. 133 on the Billboard album chart. It produced their last somewhat successful single, "Miles from Nowhere", which reached no. 17 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart.

It would be five years before The Smithereens released their next album, God Save The Smithereens. There would be another eight years before they followed it with Meet The Smithereens!, a Beatles tribute album on which The Smithereens played the songs from The Beatles' album Meet The Beatles. That same year, 2007, the band released a holiday album, Christmas with The Smithereens. In 2008 they released B-Sides The Beatles, in which they covered the B-Sides of various Beatles singles, and in 2009 they released The Smithereens Play Tommy, on which they played The Who's rock opera Tommy. Their last album of all original material, 2011, was released in 2011.

Pat DiNizio recorded four solo albums. The first, Songs and Sounds, was released in 1997. It was followed by This Is Pat DiNizio in 2006 on which he covered songs by The Beatles, Glen Campbell, The Beach Boys, and others. His third solo album, Pat DiNizio, was released in 2007 and saw a return to original material. He released one last solo album, Pat DiNizio Sings Buddy Holly, in 2009.

Mr. DiNizio also directed and starred in the 2004 independent film King Leisure, S.O.B. In 2009 he released an audio book, Confessions Of A Rock Star.

Alongside Cheap Trick and The Posies, The Smithereens are one of my favourite American power pop bands. I am then very saddened by the death of Pat DiNizio. He was an extremely talented songwriter, capable of turning out hook-laden power pop songs that also had a good deal of depth. Indeed, while the music of many bands in the genre tends to be happy, jangly, and upbeat, The Smithereens were known for songs that could be somewhat gloomy in their outlook. Arguably Pat DiNizio wrote some of the greatest power pop songs of all time, including "A Girl Like You", "Drown in My Own Tears", "Behind the Wall of Sleep", "Blood and Roses", and many others. While The Smithereens may have never had a great deal of success on the charts, they developed a cult following that they maintain to this day.

As to Pat DiNizio himself, my brother actually got to meet The Smithereens. According to my brother Mr. DiNizio was very nice and possessed a quick wit and a good sense of humour. He seemed less like a rock star than an ordinary guy who just happened to be very talented at composing and performing music. Pat DiNizio may have achieved stardom in a way most of us never will, but he always remained true to his small town roots.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Godspeed Anthony Harvey

Film editor and director Anthony Harvey died on November 23 2017 at the age of 87.

Anthony Harvey was born on June 3 1930 in London. His father died when he was young and his mother later married actor Morris Harvey. Young Anthony took his stepfather's surname. He entered the film industry as an actor when he was 14, playing Ptolemy in the 1945 film adaption of George Bernard Shaw's Caesar and Cleopatra. As an actor Anthony Harvey was talented enough to win a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, but he soon realised that acting was not for him. He then began work as an assistant film editor. His first film was The Long Memory (1953).  As an assistant film editor he worked on the Boulting brother's films, including Sailor of the King (1953) and Seagulls Over Sorrento (1954).

With Anthony Asquith's short "On Such a Night" (1956) he became a full-fledged editor. He edited the Boulting brothers' films Private's Progress (1956), Brothers in Law (1957), Happy Is the Bride (1958), Carlton-Browne of the F.O. (1959), and I'm All Right Jack (1959).  In the late Fifties he went onto edit the film The Angry Silence (1960) and Anthony Asquith's comedy The Millionairess (1960).

In the Sixties Mr. Harvey edited two of director Stanley Kubrick's best known films, Lolita (1962) and Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964). He also edited The L-Shaped Room (1962), The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965), and The Whisperers (1967). Anthony Harvey became a director with the featurette Dutchman (1966), which he also edited. His first feature was the critically acclaimed screen adaption of the play The Lion in Winter (1968), starring Katharine Hepburn and Peter O'Toole.

In the Seventies Anthony Harvey directed the cult film They Might Be Giants (1971), as well as the movies The Abdication (1974), Players (1979), Eagle's Wing (1979), and Richard's Things (1980). He directed a TV movie adaption of Tennessee Williams's The Glass Menagerie and the Hallmark Hall of Fame Presentation of The Disappearance of Aimee.

In the Eighties he directed Grace Quigley (1984)  and the TV movie Svengali. In the Nineties he directed the TV movie This Can't Be Love.

Anthony Harvey was enormously talented as both an editor and a director. He seemed to have an innate sense of timing, the ability to know how long a shot should last and how that shot should be framed. He certainly worked on some classics in his career. As an editor he worked on Lolita, Dr. Strangelove, and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. As a director he directed The Lion in Winter, They Might Be Giants, and Richard's Things. Even his work on television was impressive. He directed one of the best Hallmark Hall of Fame presentations, The Disappearance of Aimee. As an editor Anthony Harvey worked with some of the best directors in the business and he later became one himself.