Tuesday, January 9, 2018

The Late Great Ray Thomas

Ray Thomas, former flautist and vocalist for The Moody Blues, died on January 4 2018 at the age of 76. The cause was prostate cancer.

Ray Thomas was born in Stourport-on-Severn, Worcestershire. His father was a Welsh toolmaker who interested his son in music when he taught to play the harmonica. As a youngster Ray Thomas sang in the Birmingham Youth Choir. He followed his father as a toolmaker, but also found time to perform in rock 'n' roll groups. With bassist John Lodge he formed El Riot and the Rebels. El Riot and the Rebels once opened for a young, up-and-coming Liverpool band called The Beatles at the Riverside Dancing Club in Tenbury Wells, Worcestershire. With keyboardist Mike Pinder, Ray Thomas was in a band called The Krew Cats.

It was in 1964, after The Krew Cats played in Germany, that Ray Thomas and Mike Pinder recruited guitarist and vocalist Denny Laine and drummer Graeme Edge. For their bassist they initially approached John Lodge, but he was at university at the time and as a result was not interested. They then brought Clint Warwick into the group as their bass player. They named this new group The Moody Blues.

The Moody Blues were signed to Decca Records. While their first single, "Steal Your Heart Away", did not chart, their second single, "Go Now", became a major hit in both the United Kingdom and the United States. Their first album, The Magnificent Moodies, was released in 1965. Unfortunately, The Moody Blues were unable to repeat the success of "Go Now". A cover of The Drifters' "I Don't Want To Go on Without You" only reached no. 33 on the British singles chart. The Mike Pinder/Denny Laine composition "From the Bottom of My Heart (I Love You)" only reached no. 22 on the chart. Further singles released in Britain did no better.

Eventually Clint Warwick decided to retire from the music business. He was briefly replaced by Rod Clark. Denny Laine left The Moody Blues not long after Clint Warwick's departure. Rod Clark did not remain with the band long, and was replaced by John Lodge, who had played with Ray Thomas in El Riot and the Rebels. Denny Laine was replaced by Justin Hayward, who had played with Marty Wilde as part of The Wilde Three. It was not long after Messrs. Lodge and Laine joined The Moody Blues that the band made a conscious decision to move away from rhythm and blues and beat inspired music to a different style entirely. Quite simply, their new style would combine rock music with a symphonic sound.

It was in 1967 that The Moody Blues' second album, Days of Future Passed, was released. The album marked a major shift for The Moody Blues, recorded in large part with the London Festival Orchestra. The album reached no. 27 on the British album chart, while its single first single, "Nights in White Satin", peaked at no. 9 on the singles chart. Ray Thomas contributed the songs "The Morning: Another Morning" and "Twilight Time" to the album. He also played the famous flute solo on "Nights in White Satin".

The Moody Blues released six albums between 1968 and 1972, all of which proved very successful in the United Kingdom and internationally. Ray Thomas made significant contributions to these albums, including the songs "Dr. Livingstone, I Presume" and "Legend of a Mind" on In Search of the Lost Chord, "Lovely to See You" and "Lazy Day" on On the Threshold of a Dream, "Floating" and "Eternity Road" on To Our Children's Children's Children, "And the Tide Rushes In" on A Question of Balance, "Our Guessing Game" and "Nice to Be Here" on Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, and "For My Lady" on Seventh Sojourn.

In 1974 The Moody Blues went on an extended break following a tour of Asia. In the interim Ray Thomas released two solo albums. From Mighty Oaks in 1975 and Hopes, Wishes and Dreams in 1976. Both albums sold relatively well.

The Moody Blues reformed and recorded the album Octave, released in 1978. Ray Thomas contributed the songs "Under Moonshine" and "I'm Your Man" to the album. Octave did well on the charts and was followed in 1981 by the even more successful album Long Distance Voyager. Ray Thomas contributed the songs "Painted Smile" and "Veteran Cosmic Rocker" to the album. To The Moody Blues' following album, The Present, Ray Thomas contributed the songs "I Am" and "Sorry".

It was following The Present that Ray Thomas took a less active role in the band. While he continued to perform with them and sing vocals, Mr. Thomas wrote none of the songs on the albums The Other Side of Life (1986) and Sur la Mer (1988). The album Keys of the Kingdom (1991) saw Ray Thomas once more write songs for the band, writing the song "Celtic Sonant" and co-writing the song "Never Blame the Rainbows for the Rain". Ray Thomas also wrote the song "My Little Lovely" for the album Strange Times (1999). Strange Times would be the last album on which Ray Thomas worked with The Moody Blues. In 2002 Ray Thomas retired from The Moody Blues due to health-related problems.

Ray Thomas was certainly a talented musician. Although best known for playing the flute and harmonica, he was the master of several instruments, including the oboe, piccolo, and saxophone. He was also a very talented songwriter, having written some of the best songs The Moody Blues ever recorded, including "Dr. Livingstone, I Presume", "Legend of a Mind", "Lazy Day", and "Veteran Cosmic Rocker". He was also an incredible presence on stage, to the point that that The Moody Blues' shows would never quite be the same without him. If The Moody Blues were among the most successful bands to emerge from Britain in the Sixties, it was largely due to Ray Thomas.

Monday, January 8, 2018

The Late Great Jerry Van Dyke

For much of his life Jerry Van Dyke was best known as Dick Van Dyke's brother. That having been said, he was was very much a remarkable performer in and of himself. He played Matt Douglas Jr. in the John Wayne movie McLintock!  (1963). He was the star of the much maligned sitcom My Mother the Car. He played Assistant Coach Luther Horatio Van Dam in the classic show Coach. Jerry Van Dyke was a hilarious stand-up comedian with a great act, a highlight of which was his "Mule Train" routine. Jerry Van Dyke was an enormous talent for whom success came later in life. Sadly, Mr. Van Dyke died on January 5 2018 at the age of 86. He had been in declining health since a car accident in 2015.

Jerry Van Dyke was born on July 27 1931 in Danville, Illinois. His elder brother was legendary actor and comedian Dick Van Dyke. Jerry Van Dyke decided he wanted to go into comedy when he was only eight years old, and started pursuing a stand-up comedy career while he was still in high school. He served in the United States Air Force and was one of the Tops in Blue, a performance ensemble that toured Air Force bases around the world. He won the All Air Force Talent Show twice.

Jerry Van Dyke made his debut on The Dick Van Dyke Show, playing Stacey Petrie, the shy, banjo playing brother of Rob Petrie (played by Dick Van Dyke). He would appear three more times on the show. Mr. Van Dyke appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Mike Douglas Show, The Andy Williams Show, The Gary Moore Show, and Picture This. He guest starred on the shows G.E. True and Perry Mason.

During the 1963-1964 season Jerry Van Dyke was a regular on the ill-fated Judy Garland Show. He was offered the lead role of Gilligan in the show Gilligan's Island, but he turned it down because he thought the pilot script was not very good. When Jerry Van Dyke accepted a lead role on a TV show, it would prove to be short-lived. Mr. Van Dyke played lawyer David Crabtree, whose mother was reincarnated as a 1929 Porter automobile (whose voice was provided by Ann Sothern) on the sitcom My Mother the Car. Critics savaged the show, and it tops lists of the worst shows of all time to this day (a reputation it certainly does not deserve). Worse yet, it also received poor ratings. My Mother the Car lasted only one season and thirty episodes.

Jerry Van Dyke's next show would prove even less successful than his first, even if the reviews were better. Accidental Family centred on widowed comedian Jerry Webster, who buys a farm on which to raise his son. As it turns out, the farm already has a tenant, divorcée Sue Kramer (played by Lois Nettleton), with a young daughter. Jerry hires Sue as a the farm's manager and she cares for his son when he is on the road. Accidental Family was historic as the first sitcom to feature a divorced person as a regular character. Sadly, it would not last long. Accidental Family left the air after only 16 episodes.

In the Sixties Mr. Van Dyke also appeared on The Hollywood Palace, House Party, Today, Kraft Music Hall, The Joey Bishop Show, The Tonight Show, The Jim Nabors Hour, and Della. He was a guest on his brother's special Dick Van Dyke. He guest starred on The Cara Williams Show; The Andy Griffith Show; That Girl; Good Morning, World; Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C.; and Love, American Style. He was a regular on the short lived show Headmaster. Jerry Van Dyke also had a healthy movie career in the Sixties, appearing in the films The Courtship of Eddie's Father (1963), Palm Springs Weekend (1963), McLintock! (1963), Love and Kisses (1965), and Angel in My Pocket (1969).

In the Seventies Jerry Van Dyke starred on the short-lived sitcom 13 Queens Boulevard. He guest starred on Love, American Style; The Mary Tyler Moore Show; The New Dick Van Dyke Show; Fantasy Island; and House Calls. He appeared on The Tonight Show, The Bob Braun Show, Van Dyke and Company, The Alan Hamel Show, The Mike Douglas Show, and The Merv Griffin Show.

It was in the late Eighties that Jerry Van Dyke was cast as Luther on Coach. The show proved to be a success, running from 1989 to 1997. For his part on Coach. Mr. Van Dyke received four consecutive Emmy nominations Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series. He also guest starred on The Love Boat, Newhart, Coming of Age, and Charles in Charge. He was one of the cast of the mini-series Fresno. He appeared in the films W.A.R.: Women Against Rape (1987) and Run If You Can (1988).

In the Nineties Jerry Van Dyke continued to star as Luther on Coach. He also guest starred as Luther Van Dam on The Drew Carey Show and Grace Under Fire. He was a regular on the shows Teen Angel and You Wish. He guest starred on The New Addams Family and Diagnosis Murder.  He starred in the TV movie To Grandmother's House We Go.

In the Naughts Jerry Van Dyke had a recurring role on the sitcom Yes, Dear. He made his first appearance in a recurring role on The Middle. He guest starred on The District, Committed, and My Name is Earl. He reprised his role as Stacey Petrie in the reunion special The Dick Van Dyke Show Revisited. He appeared in the film Moon Ring (2010). In the Teens he continued to appear on The Middle, appearing alongside his brother Dick Van Dyke in the 2015 episode "Two of a Kind". Sadly, it would be both his last appearance and the last time the Van Dyke brothers appeared on screen together. He guest starred on Raising Hope and The Millers.

Even before his acclaimed stint on Coach, I always thought Jerry Van Dyke was underrated. He may have been Dick Van Dyke's brother, but he was entirely his own man. Quite simply, there was no other performer quite like him. Most of his characters carried something of Danville, Illinois with them. They were down-to-earth, charming, and could even be cantankerous at times. If you lived in the Midwest, Jerry Webster or Luther Van Dam were the sort of people you might run into at the local hardware store or the local grocery store.

Of course, most of all, Jerry Van Dyke was very funny. This was most evident in his comedy routines, which he got to display from time to time on various shows (younger viewers might remember his famous "Mule Train" routine from Yes, Dear). Even when a particular show was not a success, Mr. Van Dyke was always appealing and funny. This is true of My Mother the Car, unfairly labelled "the worst show of all time" (it was nothing of the kind--I always found it entertaining). It was true of Accidental Family. It was true of his performances in movies from The Courtship of Eddie's Father to Angel in My Pocket. Long before Coach, Jerry Van Dyke was giving solid, comic performances in shows that, for whatever reason, failed to win an audience. Jerry Van Dyke might not have achieved the success of his brother, but ultimately he was every bit as talented.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Godspeed Peggy Cummins

Peggy Cummins, the Irish actress best known for starring in the classic film noir Gun Crazy (1950) and the cult horror film Night of the Demon (1957), died on December 29 2017 at the age of 92.

Peggy Cummins was born Augusta Margaret Diane Fuller on December 18 1925 in Prestatyn, Denbighshire. Her parents had been visiting there and their return to Ireland had been delayed by a storm. Her great grandfather was architect and novelist James Franklin Fuller. Peggy Cummins grew up in Dublin and began acting in radio plays and on stage while still a teenager. She made her film debut in 1940 in Dr. O'Dowd. She appeared in the films Salute John Citizen (1942), Old Mother Riley Detective (1943), Welcome, Mr. Washington (1944), and English Without Tears (1944).

Miss Cummins was appearing on stage in London in Junior Miss when Darryl F. Zanuck took notice of her. He cast her as Amber St. Clair in his planned adaptation of Kathleen Winsor's best-selling novel Forever Amber. She beat out 200 other actresses for the part. Unfortunately, it was not long after filming began in 1946 that Darryl F. Zanuck decided that she was not, in Miss Cummins' words, "sexy enough" for the role. The part was recast with Linda Darnell in the role. Peggy Cummins then made her debut at 20th Century Fox in the film The Late George Apley (1947). She made three more films for Fox: Moss Rose (1947), Escape (1948), and Green Grass of Wyoming (1948). She then returned to Britain where she appeared in That Dangerous Age (1949). She came back to the United States to star in Gun Crazy (1950). It would be last film she made in the United States. Back in the United Kingdom, she appeared in My Daughter Joy the same year.

In the Fifties Peggy Cummins appeared in the films Who Goes There! (1952), Street Corner (1953), Always a Bride (1953), Meet Mr. Lucifer (1953), The Love Lottery (1954), To Dorothy a Son (1954), The March Hare (1956), Carry On Admiral (1957), Hell Drivers (1957), Night of the Demon (1957), The Captain's Table (1959), Your Money or Your Wife (1960), and Dentist in the Chair (1960).

In the Sixties Peggy Cummins would make one last film, In the Doghouse in 1962. She made two guest appearances on television, on the shows The Human Jungle and Summer Comedy Hour.

Peggy Cummins was an enormous talent as an actress. Proof of this can be see in her performance in Gun Crazy. Not only did she play one half of a homicidal couple of robbers (Annie Laurie Starr), but she plays an American as well. So well did she play the role that I rather suspect most viewers unfamiliar with Miss Cummins probably had no idea that she was was Irish upon first watching Gun Crazy. Indeed, the part of Annie Laurie Starr was quite unlike anything she had played before, particularly in the United Kingdom where she usually played "nice girl" roles. Although best known for playing a film noir femme fatale, Peggy Cummins could play a wide variety of roles, and could do comedy as easily as she could drama. Indeed, she made several comedies in the United Kingdom in the Fifties. Given her talent, I have to suspect Darryl F. Zanuck was wrong. She could have easily played Amber St. Clair.

Indeed, it is a mark of Peggy Cummins's talent as an actress that in real life she was nothing at all like Annie Laurie Starr. Those who met her always said the same thing. Quite simply, she was a very nice lady. Miss Cummins was very personable and friendly, and charmed nearly everyone she met. In the end, she was still the sweet Irish girl she had always been, although one with incredible talent.