Friday, September 14, 2018

Fundraiser for the Friends of Vanessa Marquez Memorial

Vanessa Marquez was a talented actress who played Ana Delgado in the classic film Stand and Deliver (1988) and Nurse Wendy Goldman on the TV show ER. Because of these and other roles she remains a beloved actress with a legion of fans around the world. She was a pioneer with regards to Latina actresses. Stand and Deliver was one of the earliest films to be directed by a Latino as well as one of the earliest with a primarily Latino cast. At the time that she starred on ER, there were very few Latinas who appeared regularly on television. I have been told that in the Latino community of Southern California, she was royalty. That having been said, Vanessa was more than a talented actress, as she was also a kind, gentle, gracious, and generous woman with many friends in the movie, television, classic film, and Star Wars communities around the world. She was very loyal to her friends and was swift to take up for them if any one of them was attacked. She had an open heart and always accepted people for whom they are. As to myself, Vanessa and I were extremely close. I loved her deeply and I always will. To me she was the most wonderful woman in the world. Sadly, Vanessa Marquez died on August 30 2018 at the age of 49.

Vanessa was estranged from her mother and had little in the way of family. As of this writing no funeral for her has been announced. Because Vanessa was so loved by so many, Cheryl Hansen and other friends are holding a memorial to her on September 22 at 10:00 AM in Arroyo Park in South Pasadena, California. Unfortunately, memorials cost money and so Cheryl Hansen has created a fundraiser to help defray costs. If you are one of the many whose lives were touched by Vanessa, please donate and insure that Vanessa receives a memorial worthy of the talented actress and wonderful woman she was. It would mean the world to me and you would have my eternal gratitude.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Joseph Cotten in Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

(This blog post is part of the Joseph Cotten Blogathon hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood)

Over the years Joseph Cotten played a wide array of roles, from heroes to villains to characters that fell somewhere in between. Perhaps the best known villainous role of his career was that of Charlie Oakley in Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt (1943). Not only was Charlie Oakley perhaps the best villain ever played by Joseph Cotten, but many would rank Charlie Oakley among the greatest villains ever portrayed on the silver screen.

Shadow of a Doubt centres on teenager Charlotte "Charlie" Newton (played by Teresa Wright), who is delighted when her Uncle Charlie Oakley comes to her hometown of Santa Rosa, California for a visit. Unfortunately, it turns out that Uncle Charlie is one of two suspects for being the "Merry Widow Murderer". Worse yet, as time passes it turns out Uncle Charlie and the Merry Widow Murderer are one and the same.

Shadow of a Doubt originated a story from Gordon McDonnell, the husband of Margaret McDonell, the head of David O. Selznick's story department, had. It was loosely based on real-life murderer Earle Nelson, who had committed a series of rapes and murders in the Twenties. The screenplay would benefit from the work of two legendary writers, Thornton Wilder (the author of the plays Our Town and Skin of Our Teeth) and Sally Benson (best known as the author of the anthologies Junior Miss and Meet Me in St. Louis). As on most Alfred Hitchcock films, Hitchcock's wife Alma also worked on the screenplay.

Shadow of a Doubt was largely filmed on location in Santa Rosa, with the opening scenes filmed in the Central Ward of Newark, New Jersey. Many of the buildings used in the film are still standing, including the Newton family's house and the railroad station (although it is now a visitor centre). 

Shadow of a Doubt benefited from a sterling cast. Teresa Wright, who had begun her career as an understudy to Dorothy McGuire and Martha Scott for the role of Emily in Our Town, was ideal for the role of Charlie Newton. Henry Travers as Young Charlie's father Joseph and Hume Cronyn (in his screen debut) as the Newton's neighbour Herbie Hawkins, were perfect in their roles as two characters obsessed with true crime stories. Macdonald Carey did a great job as Detective Jack Graham, who was in charge of investigating the Merry Widow Murders. Of course, aside from Teresa Wright, Shadow of a Doubt was very much Joseph Cotten's film. As Charlie Oakley, Joseph Cotten gave one of the greatest performances of his career. Mr. Cotten's Uncle Charlie was at the same time sympathetic and sinister. It is hard not to root for Uncle Charlie, even once one realises that he is pure evil. 

Critics were unanimous in their praise for Shadow of a Doubt, praising both Alfred Hitchcock and the movie's cast. It has maintained its reputation as one of Alfred Hitchcock's best films ever since. It currently holds a score of 100% at the review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes. Despite its critical acclaim, upon its initial release Shadow of a Doubt only did moderately well at the box office. It was far from a flop at the box office, but it was also far from a box office smash as well. Fortunately, audiences have since discovered Shadow of a Doubt, to where it is one of Alfred Hitchcock's best loved films.

Of course, Shadow of a Doubt not only remains one of Alfred Hitchcock's best loved films, but it also gives us one of Joseph Cotten's best performance. It was certainly his best role as a villain. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The Late Great Fenella Fielding

Fenella Fielding, the legendary actress known for her appearances in two "Carry On" films and three of the "Doctor" films, as well as numerous television appearances (including the voice of the unseen louspeaker announcer on The Prisoner), died at the age of 90 following a stroke yesterday.

Fenella Fielding was born Fenella Feldman in London on November 17 1927. Miss Fielding won a scholarship to RADA, but left after one year. Afterwards she attended Saint Martin’s School of Art, worked for actors' agent Al Parker, and she worked in a beauty shop. Despite having left RADA, she still dreamed of pursuing acting. She was an understudy for the play Constant Lover at
Bolton's Theatre in London in 1952 before making her stage debut at the Saville in the play Pay the Piper. In the Fifties she appeared on stage in the productions Jubilee Girl, Love for Life, Valmouth, and Pieces of Eight. She made her television debut in 1957 in an episode of BBC Sunday-Night Theatre. She appeared on the shows Destination Downing Street, Saturday Playhouse, The Adventures of Brigadier Wellington-Bull, International Detective, The Four Just Men, The Strange World of Guerney Slade, and Danger Man. She made her film debut in Sapphire in 1959. She appeared in the films Follow a Star (1959), Doctor in Love (1960), Foxhole in Cario (1960), and No Love for Johnnie (1960). 

Fenella Fielding appeared frequently on stage, on the big screen, and on television throughout the Sixties. She appeared on stage in such productions as Five Plus One, As You Like It, Doctors of Philosophy, Let's Get a Divorce, The High Bid, Lysistrata, Hedda Gabler, and Colette. She appeared in the films No Love for Johnnie (1961), Carry On Regardless (1961), In the Doghouse (1962), Doctor in Distress (1963), The Old Dark House (1963), How to Undress in Public Without Undue Embarrassment (1965), Doctor in Clover (1966), Carry On Screaming! (1966), Drop Dead Darling (1966), and Lock Up Your Daughters (1969). On television she starred in the mini-series Saki. She starred on the TV series Ooo La La!. She was the voice of the loudspeaker announcer and the telephone operator on The Prisoner. She guest starred on such shows as The Avengers, Love Story, Armchair Theatre, Comedy Playhouse, and A Touch of Venus

In the Seventies Fenella Fielding appeared on stage in such productions as Fish Out of Water,
The Second Mrs Tanqueray, Helen, Birds of Paradise, Absurd Person Singular, A Marriage, and Look After Lulu. On television she guest starred on That's Your Funeral.

In the Eighties Miss Fielding appeared on stage in such productions as The Wizard of Oz, Once a Catholic, The Jungle Book, The Ghost Train, A Midsummer Night's Dream, School for Scandal, and Beggar's Opera. On television she guest starred on the show Cribb and the mini-series The Pickwick Papers. She appeared in the TV movie The Zany Adventures of Robin Hood and provided one of the voices in the animated TV special A Winter Story. In 1990 she appeared in the first of four "Uncle Jack" series (Uncle Jack and Operation Green), playing Uncle Jack's  archenemy The Vixen. 

In the Nineties she appeared in three more "Uncle Jack" TV series (Uncle Jack and the Loch Ness Monster, Uncle Jack and the Dark Side of the Moon, and Uncle Jack and Cleopatra's Mummy). She appeared in the movie Guest House Paradisio (1990). She appeared on stage in such productions as Inside Stories, Benefit for Shelter, The Witty One, Hard Time, The Spanish Curate, Lady Windmere's Fan, and Blithe Spirit

In the Naughts Fenella Fielding appeared in the movies Beginner's Luck (2001), The All Together (2007), and Wishbaby (2007). She appeared on stage in Die Fledermaus, The Vagina Monologues, and An Ideal Husband. In the Teens she guest starred on the TV show Skins. She appeared in the film Over the Edge (2011). She appeared in such productions as Dearest Nancy Darling Evelyn, An Evening with Fenella Fielding, Savage Beauty, and Just a Little Murder. From 2016 to this year she appeared on various London stages, reading from her memoirs.

Fenella Fielding was a singular actress, and it wasn't just because of her rather unique voice. For one thing, she was very much an intellectual, often sighted around the London Library doing research. Her intelligence was often displayed in both her performances and her interviews. She was a clever lady with considerable wit. In films she was best known for the much maligned "Carry On" films (particularly Carry On Screaming) and the "Doctor" films, in which she invariably played a comic femme fatale. While the critics may have disdained the "Carry On" films, I don't see how anyone could fault Miss Fielding's performance in either of the two she made. While Fenella Fielding was an all-around talent, she had a particular gift for comedy.

Of course, Miss Fielding could play more than comic vamps. In The Avengers episode "The Charmers" she played an actress who assists Steed in dealing with enemy agents. She appeared on stage in roles from Nora in A Doll's House to Titania in A Midsummer Night's Dream to Nancy Mitford in Dearest Nancy, Darling Evelyn. Fenella Fielding was a actress with considerable range who gave a great many excellent performances. She was certainly more than the comic femme fatale.

Monday, September 10, 2018

The 25th Anniversary of The X-Files

It was 25 years ago today that The X-Files debuted on Fox. The show would run for 218 episodes from September 10 1993 to September 26 2002. During its run The X-Files went from a low-rated, cult show to a hit TV series. It would eventually produce two feature films (The X-Files in 1998 and The X-Files: I Want to Believe in 2008), one spin-off (The Lone Gunmen), three series of novels, several non-fiction books, comic books, and a revival series that ran from 2016 to 2018.

The X-Files centred around FBI special agents Fox Mulder (played by David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (played by Gillian Anderson), initially the only two agents assigned to the X-files unit and charged with investigating cases that deal with the paranormal and other phenomena that is not easily explained. They worked under FBI assistant director Walter Skinner (played by Mitch Pileggi).

The X-Files was created by Chris Carter, who had written for such shows as Rags to Riches and The Disney Sunday Movie. He created the short-lived sitcom A Brand New Life. Wanting to deal with more serious fare than the comedies on which he had been working, Mr. Carter drew upon such childhood favourites as Kolchak: The Night Stalker and The Twilight Zone for inspiration for a new show. Also influencing Mr. Carter's idea for a new show were such sources as diverse as the TV show Twin Peaks, the movie The Silence of the Lambs (1991), and the Watergate scandal. Chris Carter's first pitch for The X-Files was rejected by Fox executives. He then went back to work on the project, fleshing out its characters and further developing the series' concept. He worked with Daniel Sackheim, who had served as a producer on Miami Vice and Law & Order, on the pilot.

David Duchovny, who had appeared in films since 1988 and guest starred on Twin Peaks as cross-dressing DEA Agent Denise Bryson, was cast as FBI Special Agent Fox Mulder. The casting of Gillian Anderson would actually have some opposition from Fox executives, who wanted an actress who was ""taller, leggier, blonder, and breastier" in the role of FBI Special Agent Dana Scully. Fortunately, Chris Carter was convinced that Gillian Anderson was right for the part after several auditions. Prior to The X-Files, Miss Anderson had appeared on only a few television shows and in a few movies, with most of her experience being on stage. Mitch Pileggi, who had played character parts in TV shows from Alien Nation to Get a Life and movies from Three O'Clock High (1987) to Basic Instinct (1992), had actually tried out for two other parts on The X-Files before finally being cast as Walter Skinner.

The X-Files debuted on Friday, September 10 1993. Its ratings for its first season were less impressive, coming in at only no. 105 for the year out of all the shows in prime time during the year. The show avoided cancellation because of two things. The first was that it received fairly positive reviews from critics. The second is that it developed a vocal cult following who took to the then young World Wide Web to express their love for the show. The ratings for The X-Files rose sharply in its second season, to where it ranked no. 63 out of all the shows in prime time for the year. They rose again slightly in its third season, when it ranked no. 55 for all the shows in prime time for the year.

What might have been the major factor in turning The X-Files into a hit was Fox's decision to move the show from Friday night (traditionally one of the lowest rated nights for television) to Sunday night (traditionally one of the highest rated nights for television) in its fourth season. The X-Files leapt to no. 12 in the ratings for the year. While ratings for The X-Files would begin a slow decline in its 7th season, they remained respectable until its 9th and final season.

The success of The X-Files would lead to the feature film The X-Files (also known as The X-Files: Fight the Future), which was released between its fifth and sixth seasons. The film received mostly positive reviews and did relatively well at the box office.

Unfortunately all would not go well for The X-Files during its initial run. It was before the seventh season that David Duchovny entered into a contract dispute with 20th Century Fox. As a result, he only appeared in eight episodes of the eighth season and only in one (the finale) of the ninth season. He was replaced by Robert Patrick as Special Agent John Doggett. During the eighth season the character of Special Agent Monica Reyes (played by Annabeth Gish) was introduced due to fears that Gillian Anderson might leave the series at the end of its eighth season. While Monica Reyes would become one of the main characters, Gillian Anderson remained with the show until the very end.

David Duchovny's departure from The X-Files would have an adverse effect on the series' ratings. Its ratings dipped slightly in the eighth season. In its ninth season its ratings dropped to no. 63 for the year, the lowest they had been since its second season. The X-Files then ended its run with its ninth season.

While The X-Files had been cancelled, it went onto a healthy run in syndication. Its continued success would lead to a second feature film, The X-Files: I Want to Believe, released in 2008 While the first film was directly linked to the show's mythology, the second film was a stand alone story more in keeping with the show's "monster of the week" episodes. The X-Files: I Want to Believe received mixed to negative reviews from critics. It also did poorly at the box office, earning only $68,369,434 worldwide.

Despite the failure of The X-Files: I Want to Believe, The X-Files continued to be popular. It continued to do well in syndication. Comic books based on the show continued to be published. Non-fiction books about the show continued to be published. For several years there would be talk about a third movie. It was in 2015 that Fox confirmed that they were looking to reviving The X-Files as a TV series. It was on April 20 2017 that they officially announced a revival of the show. The 10th season of The X-Files, consisting of six episodes, debuted on Fox on January 24 2016. While the 10th season received mixed reviews from critics, it did well in the ratings. It was then that Fox went forward with an 11th season of 10 episodes. The 11th season was better received by critics, who gave it mostly positive reviews. It also did well in the ratings. Unfortunately, in January 2018 Gillian Anderson announced that the 11th season would be her final with the show. It was in February that Chris Carter said that he could not see the show moving forward without Gillian Anderson. There are then no plans for another season of The X-Files.

The success of The X-Files would lead to other shows. The first, Millennium, is perhaps best defined as a related show set in the same universe rather than a spinoff.  Created by Chris Carter, Millennium centred on criminal psychologist Frank Black (played by Lance Henriksen), who investigates crimes committed by serial killers and other murders. The series ran for three seasons, and its finale aired as the episode "Millennium" on The X-Files. Both Fox Mulder and Dana Scully appeared on Millennium. The second series was a spinoff of The X-Files. The Lone Gunmen centred on three recurring characters from The X-Files. John Fitzgerald Byers (played by Bruce Harwood), Melvin Frohike (played by Tom Braidwood), and Richard "Ringo" Langly (played by Dean Haglund), collectively known as The Lone Gunmen. The Lone Gunmen were conspiracy theorists, initially united by theories regarding John F. Kennedy's assassination, who assisted Mulder and Scully from time to time. On The Lone Gunmen the trio often found themselves facing everything from crimes committed by powerful corporations to government conspiracies. Sadly, The Lone Gunmen suffered from low ratings and was cancelled after 13. Its de facto series finale aired as the X-Files episode "Jump the Shark".

The X-Files would have an impact that is still being felt to this day. When The X-Files debuted on Fox in 1993, its only hit series was The Simpsons (on which Mulder and Scully would eventually appear), with the sitcom Married...With Children a somewhat popular cult show. Alongside The Simpsons, The X-Files proved that Fox could compete with the three older networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC) and was pivotal in turning the struggling, young network into one of the majors.

As the first hit science fiction/horror series in years, The X-Files also opened the doors for similar series. In its wake such shows as Dark Skies, The Burning Zone, The Visitor, and Strange World debuted. Arguably, The X-Files may have even led to somewhat dissimilar genre shows, such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Lost. It could be argued that the mythology arc of The X-Files (the various episodes dealing with the government's efforts to hide evidence of the existence of aliens from other planets) led directly to the serialised format of many television shows that have debuted since. The X-Files has been referenced and even parodied on shows ranging from The Simpsons to NewsRadio to Archer.

In the end it seems likely that The X-Files may be the most popular genre show of all time except for The Twilight Zone and Star Trek. It has had a lasting impact on television that is still felt to this day. While I seriously doubt that there will ever be another season of The X-Files, I have no doubt that it will continue to be seen in reruns for decades to come.