Saturday, June 30, 2018

Patsy Kelly, Queen of Wisecracks

In the Thirties Patsy Kelly was a very successful comedienne and actress. She made a series of short subjects with Thelma Todd until Miss Todd's unfortunate death. She appeared in such films as The Girl from Missouri (1934) and Topper Returns (1941). Her speciality was wisecracking characters, earning her the title of "Queen of the Wisecracks". What makes Miss Kelly even more notable is that she was also one of the first actresses to be openly gay, this at a time when homosexuality was frowned upon in society (to say the least).

Patsy Kelly began her career in entertainment when she was still very young. She started out as a dancer in vaudeville when she was only 12. She made her film debut in the Vitaphone short "The Grand Dame" in 1931. In 1933 she appeared in the feature film Going Hollywood. That same year producer Hal Roach teamed Patsy Kelly with Thelma Todd in a series of short subjects. Miss Kelly replaced Miss Todd's previous comedy partner, ZaSu Pitts, who had left Hal Roach Studios in a salary dispute. The team of Kelly and Todd proved very successful, appearing together in over twenty shorts. Thelma Todd's mysterious and untimely death in 1935 brought an end to the series of shorts, although Hal Roach tried teaming Patsy Kelly with other partners. Patsy Kelly appeared opposite Pert Kelton in one short ("Pan Handlers" from 1936) and Lyda Roberti in two shorts and the feature film Nobody's Baby (1938). Sadly, like Thelma Todd, Lyda Roberti would also die young. She died at age 31 from a heart attack. Interestingly enough, Patsy Kelly and ZaSu Pitts would appear together in the 1941 feature film Broadway Limited.

Patsy Kelly was known for playing brash characters, and in many respects she was that way in real life. She was unapologetically open about being a lesbian in the Thirties and Forties. Keep in mind that was at this time even a hint of homosexuality could mean the end of one's acting career. The Hollywood studios regularly inserted morality clauses into their performers' contracts. Despite this, Patsy Kelly made it no secret that she was gay. In the Thirties, she gave an interview to Motion Picture magazine in which she said she lived with actress Wilma Cox and planned to never marry any man. She was known to refer to herself as a "dyke" in private and at times did so publicly as well. It is impossible to say for certain, but it seems possible that Patsy Kelly's openness about her sexuality may have had an adverse impact on her career. She worked steadily in film from the Thirties into the early Forties, appearing in such movies as There Goes My Heart (1938), Topper Returns, and My Son the Hero (1943). Danger! Women at Work (1943) would be her last appearance in a feature film for nearly twenty years. With the exception of the short "Babies, They're Wonderful" in 1947, she was absent from the big screen.

Patsy Kelly continued to work in both summer stock and radio. For a time she was also Tallulah Bankhead's personal assistant, and she would later state that she had an affair with the actress. Eventually she began making appearances on television in the Fifties, guest starring on such shows as Four Star Revue, Laramie, The Untouchables, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Wild Wild West, and Bonanza. Her film career would eventually see a revival. She appeared in Please Don't Eat the Daisies in 1960. In the Sixties she went onto appear in the films Naked Kiss (1964), The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (1966), C'mon, Let's Live a Little (1967), Rosemary's Baby (1967), and The Phynx (1970). In the Seventies she appeared in Freaky Friday (1976) and The North Avenue Irregulars (1979).

Patsy Kelly would even return to Broadway in a role in the 1971 revival of No, No Nanette. She won the 1971 Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical. The following year she appeared on Broadway in Irene, for which she was also nominated for a Tony.

Patsy Kelly suffered a stroke in January 1980. She died on September 24 1981 at the age of 71. The cause was cancer.

Patsy Kelly was an incredibly talented comedienne who known for her ability to ad lib on screen. She truly earned the title of "Queen of Wisecracks" as no one could deliver them better. While she was absent from the big screen for many years, she left behind a legacy of work that is enjoyed to this day. Indeed, her comedy shorts with Thelma Todd remain among the best comedy shorts ever made. In addition to all of this, she displayed a good deal of courage. At a time when homosexuality was a forbidden topic, she was wholly open about her sexuality.

Friday, June 29, 2018

The Late Great Harlan Ellison

There was no doubt that Harlan Ellison was one of the most controversial writers of our time. He was cantankerous and had a temper. By his own admission he could be contentious. He once allegedly sent a dead gopher to a publisher. When he was writing for the TV show Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, he assaulted an ABC executive in Irwin Allen's office. At the same time, however, he could be generous and he was often supportive of new talent. He both discovered and mentored science fiction writer Octavia Butler, among others. He was also incredibly talented. He wrote some of the most influential short stories in the history of speculative fiction, and would be a lasting influence on several writers. Harlan Ellison died yesterday at the age of 84.

Harlan Ellison was born on May 27 1934 in Cleveland, Ohio. He grew up mostly in nearby Painesville, Ohio. He was bullied as a child, mostly due to the fact that he was Jewish. His experiences as a child would fuel his anger for the rest of his life. After his father died the family moved to Cleveland. He was one of the founders of the Cleveland Science Fiction Club, and frequently went to the movies. Mr. Ellison attended Ohio State University for two years. He left after he punched a professor who told him that he had no writing talent.

In 1949 Harlan Ellison published two stories in the Cleveland News. He contributed a story to EC Comics' Weird Science-Fantasy no. 24 (June 1954). In the mid Fifties Harlan Ellison started being published in various science fiction magazines such as Amazing Stories, Galaxy, Fantastic Science Fiction, and yet others. He served in the United States Army from 1957 to 1959.

Arguably, Harlan Ellison hit his stride as a short story writer in the mid-Sixties, with such stories as "'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman", "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream", "The Beast that Shouted Love at the Heart of the World", and "A Boy and His Dog". He would later write such notable short stories as "The Deathbird", "Shatterday", "Strange Wine", "Jeffty Is Five", "Grail", "and "Paladin of the Lost Hour". Mr. Ellison was very prolific, and a full list of his short stories would occupy the better part of a blog post.

Although best known as a short story writer, Harlan Ellison did write novels as well. His first novel, Rumble (later published as Web of the City), was published in 1958. It would be followed by Rockabilly (1961, later published as Spider Kiss). He also published novellas, the most notable being the aforementioned "A Boy and His Dog", as well as "Doomsman", "Run for the Stars", and others.

Harlan Ellison also worked extensively in television. His first script was for the syndicated series Ripcord. He wrote several episodes of Burke's Law, as well as two episodes of The Outer Limits ("Soldier" and "Demon with a Glass Hand") and two episodes of The Man From U.N.C.LE.. In the Sixties he wrote individual episodes of the shows Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Star Trek, Cimarron Strip, and The Flying Nun. In the Seventies he created the Canadian TV series The Starlost. Harlan Ellison became disenchanted with the project and left it before the first episode ever aired. He had The Starlost credited to his pseudonym Cordwainer Bird, which he used when he felt his creative contributions had been compromised. In the Seventies he also wrote episodes The Young Lawyers and Ghost Story. In the Eighties he wrote episodes of The Twilight Zone. In the Nineties he wrote episodes of the animated series The Silver Surfer as well as the science fiction show Babylon 5. He also served as a story editor on the Seventies series The Sixth Sense, a creative consultant on the Eighties revival of The Twilight Zone, and a conceptual consultant on Babylon 5.

Mr. Ellison was one of the writers on the screenplay of the movie The Oscar (1966). His novella "A Boy and His Dog" provided the basis for the 1975 cult film of the same name.

Harlan Ellison was also known for the many essays he wrote. For many years he wrote a regular weekly column on television for The Los Angeles Free Press, which would later be collected into the anthologies The Glass Teat: Essays of Opinion on Television and The Other Glass Teat. His 1989 anthology Harlan Ellison's Watching was a collection of film reviews and essays he had written for such diverse publications as The Los Angeles Free Press, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Starlog. Over the years Mr. Ellison's essays ranged in topics from science fiction to the human condition.

Aside from contributing work to EC Comics. Harlan Ellison also made extensive contributions to other comic book publishers. Over the years he contributed to such diverse titles as DC Comics' Detective Comics, Batman: Gotham Knights Marvel Comics' The Avengers and Daredevil, Milestone Comics' Hardware, and Warren Publications' Creepy.

In addition to being a prolific writer, Harlan Ellison was also a champion for writers' rights. He was well known for his litigiousness. In the Seventies ABC and Paramount expressed interest in Harlan Ellison and Ben Bova's short story "Brillo", about a robotic police officer. The two writers turned ABC and Paramount's offer down when executives requested that they change the setting to present day Los Angeles and make the robot human looking (in the story the character did not look human). Messrs. Ellison and Bova turned them down. ABC and Paramount then proceeded with the short lived series Future Cop, centred on a human-looking robotic cop set in present day Los Angeles. The two writers then sued ABC and Paramount for plagiarism. Ultimately the lawsuit was settled out of court, with Harlan Ellison and Ben Bova being awarded $182,500 in compensatory damages and $154,500 in punitive damages.

Harlan Ellison would later allege that James Cameron's movie The Terminator (1984) drew upon his Outer Limits episode "Soldier" (not "Demon with a Glass Hand" as commonly believed). Ultimately the film's production company and distribution company settled out of court with Mr. Ellison for an undisclosed amount and a credit on the film acknowledging Harlan Ellison. He was later known for suing individuals who posted his work online without his permission.

Not only did Harlan Ellison often speak out on writers' rights, but he was also very supportive of new writers. As mentioned earlier, he discovered Octavia Butler. Many regarded him as a mentor, including Dean Wesley Smith and Bruce Sterling.

Harlan Ellison was also politically active. He took part in Martin Luther King, Jr.'s marches from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. He also wrote several essays on politics over the years.

Harlan Ellison's behaviour wasn't always socially acceptable, and he may be the only writer to have a group founded for those who have been "named as enemies" by Harlan Ellison--Enemies of Ellison. It would seem at times Mr. Ellison lacked tact. That having been said, he was an incredibly talented writer. My all time favourite speculative fiction short story remains to this day "'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman". Although the finished episode was actually the result of rewrites by Gene Roddenberry. Mr. Ellison also wrote one of my favourite Star Trek episodes of all time, "City on the Edge of Forever". What I loved about Mr. Ellison's work was not simply that it was often starkly original, but, unlike earlier writers of speculative fiction, they often reflected his social concerns and were always character driven. And while Harlan Ellison was best known for his fiction, he was an incredible essayist. For any television historian out there, his collections The Glass Teat and The Other Glass Teat are must reads.

What is more, for all that there are many who disliked Harlan Ellison, he was notable for his being supportive and loyal to his friends. The past day I have spent reading tributes to Harlan Ellison from his various friends, from Leonard Maltin to J. Michael Straczynski, and many of them speak of how Mr. Ellison could be kind. Leonard Maltin told how, after he had eye surgery, Mr. Ellison insisted that he visit him and read for him. J. Michael Straczynski told how Harlan Ellison stopped to comfort a homeless woman and even gave her money, even though she did not ask for any. What is more, I know a few people who have met Harlan Ellison at various conventions and book signings over the years, and none of them have a bad thing to say about him. All of them have spoken of how gracious and generous he was towards them.

Harlan Ellison could certainly be combative and he was often tactless, but he was also one of the most talented writers of the 20th Century. In the end he was a complex individual who fought for the rights of writers and was supportive of young writers.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Deanna Lund Passes On

Deanna Lund, who guest starred on such shows as Batman and starred on the TV show Land of the Giants, died on June 22 2018 at the age of 81. The cause was pancreatic cancer.

Deanna Lund was born on May 30 1937 in Oak Park, Illinois. She grew up in Daytona Beach, Florida. She studied acting at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. She briefly worked as a weather girl for a local Miami TV station. She made her television debut in a guest appearance on Burke's Law in 1965. In the Sixties she guest starred on such shows as The Loner, The Road West, Laredo, T.H.E. Cat, Batman, and Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre. She began playing Valerie Scott on Land of the Giants in 1968. The show lasted for two seasons and she remained with the series for its entire run. Miss Lund made her film debut in 1965 in Once Upon a Coffee House. In the Sixties she appeared in such films as Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965), Sting of Death (1965), Johnny Tiger (1966), Dimension 5 (1966), and Tony Rome (1967).

In the Seventies Deanna Lund guest starred on such shows as Search; Love, American Style; The Waltons; General Hospital; The Incredible Hulk; and One Life to Live. She appeared in the films Hustle (1975) and Hardly Working (1980). In the Eighties she appeared in such films as Stick (1985), If We Knew Then (1987), Hammerhead (1987), Streghe (1989), Elves (1989), Girl Talk (1989), and The Girl I Want (1990). She finished out her career appearing in the films Roots of Evil (1991), Extreme Horror (2001), and Boned (2015).