Saturday, October 19, 2019

Native Americans on Primetime Broadcast Network Television in 2019

Adam Beach on Nancy Drew
The sad fact is that even in 2019 many minorities are underrepresented on American television. According to a study conducted by the Social Sciences Department of UCLA for the 2015-2016 season Latinos accounted for only 6% of all roles in broadcast scripted shows. Asians were lower at 5%. Native Americans had the lowest share of any minority on broadcast television at 0% of all roles in broadcast scripted shows.

As someone of Native American myself, I have long noticed the absence of Native Americans on network broadcast television shows in primetime. What is more, this has been the case since the advent of regularly scheduled network television broadcasts in 1946. While it is true that Native Americans often figured prominently in the Westerns and frontier dramas of the Fifties and Sixties, it has been rare that anyone of Native descent has appeared in a drama set in the 20th or 21st Centuries. Even when Natives did appear, it would often be the case that they would be played by non-Natives.

Indeed, among the very few Native American characters to appear in a television show set in the 20th Century was Agent William Youngfellow on The Untouchables. What is more, Bill Youngfellow was played by an indigenous person; actor Abel Fernandez was Yaqui descent. It would be several years before there would be another indigenous character who regularly appeared on an American broadcast network television show. the 1966-1967 police drama Hawk centred on the title character, who was Iroquois. Hawk was played by Burt Reynolds, whose claim to Cherokee heritage remains unverified. In the late Eighties Twin Peaks featured Michael Horse as Deputy Sheriff Tommy "Hawk" Hill. In the Nineties Northern Exposure featured several Native characters who regularly appeared on the show, all of who were played by Natives.

One can then imagine my surprise when a few weeks ago I tuned into two shows airing back to back on the same night (although on different networks) featuring Native Americans. The first was Nancy Drew on the CW. On the show Adam Beach plays Police Chief McGinnis. While the series has yet to explore Chief McGinnis's heritage, given that he is played by Adam Beach, who is Ojibwe in descent, it would seem fairly certain that it would eventually be acknowledged that he is Native. The second was Stumptown, which airs on ABC. One of the characters on the show is local casino owner Sue Lynn Blackbird, played by Tantoo Cardinal. Unlike Chief McGinnis, it is obvious that Sue Lynn Blackbird is Native. As to actress Tantoo Cardinal, she is of Métis descent.

I must admit that seeing two indigenous characters in one night of watching primetime broadcast network television made me very happy, particularly as neither are stereotypes.  Of course, much of the problem with regards to Native Americans in primetime broadcast network television shows is that many of them are set in locations where the Native population is negligible. Sadly, even when a show is set in locations where Native Americans would expected to be seen, they are absent. The relatively recent TV show Medium, which aired on NBC and CBS from 2005 to 2011, was set in Phoenix, Arizona, a city with a sizeable Native population. Despite this, not one regular character was indigenous.

I am hoping that the appearance of two Native American actors on two primetime broadcast network shows (perhaps more--I haven't seen ever show debuting this season) may be a sign that things are improving. It has been far too long that many minorities have been underrepresented on American television. It is time for that to change.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Bill Macy Passes On

Bill Macy, best known for playing the title character's husband Walter on the sitcom Maude, died on October 17 2019 at the age of 97.

Bill Macy was born Wolf Martin Garber in Revere, Massachusetts on May 18 1922. He was an understudy for the part of Maxwell Archer in the production Once More, With Feeling on Broadway in 1959. He appeared in the off-Broadway play American Hurrah in 1966. In 1969 he appeared off-Broadway in Oh! Calcutta and appeared in it when it moved to Broadway that same year. Mr. Macy appeared in the off-Broadway play Awake and Sing! in 1970. He made his television debut in 1966 in a small role on an episode of The Edge of Night. He also guest starred on N.Y.P.D. He made his film debut in an uncredited role as the jury foreman in The Producers (1967).

It was in 1972 that he began played Walter Findlay, Maude's long-suffering husband, on the sitcom Maude. The show proved to be a hit and ran for six seasons. He played the lead role in the short-lived sitcom Hanging In. He guest starred on the shows All in the Family and Big Shamus, Little Shamus. He appeared in the TV movies All Together NowDeath at Love House, Diary of a Young Comic, The Fantastic Seven, and The Scarlett O'Hara War. He appeared in the movies Oh! Calcutta! (1972), The Late Show (1977), The Jerk (1979), and Serial (1980).  Hew appeared on Broadway in The Roast and I Ought to Be in Pictures.

In the Eighties Bill Macy was the lead on the short-lived sitcom Nothing in Common. He guest starred on the shows Hotel, Oh Madeline, Masquerade, St. Elsewhere, Riptide, Tales from the Darkside, Hardcastle and McCormick, Tall Tales & Legends, The Love Boat, L. A. Law, You Are the Jury, Mike Hammer, Starman, One Big Family, The Facts of Life, Highway to Heaven, CBS Summer Playhouse, Murder She Wrote, The Famous Teddy Z, and Father Dowling Mysteries. He appeared in the films My Favorite Year (1982), Movers & Shakers (1985), Bad Medicine (1985), and Sibling Rivalry (1990).

In the Nineties Mr. Macy guest starred on the shows Matlock; Middle Ages; Columbo; Dave's World; Diagnosis Murder; NYPD Blue; Can't Hurry Love; Hudson Street; Chicago Hope;  Seinfeld; Ned and Stacey; The John Laroquette Show; Something So Right; Promised Land; Millennium; Viper; Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place; The Norm Show; Jack & Jill; Providence; and Touched by an Angel. He appeared in the films The Doctor (1991), Me, Myself & I (1992), and Analyze This (1999).

In the Naughts Bill Macy guest starred on The Lone Gunmen, My Wife and Kids, ER, LAX, Stacked, Las Vegas, How I Met Your Mother, My Name is Earl, Back to You, True Jackson VP, and Hawthorne. He appeared in the films Surviving Christmas (2004), The Holiday (2006), and Mr. Woodcock (2007).

Chances are good that Bill Macy will always be remembered as Maude's long suffering fourth husband Walter Findlay on Maude. That having been said, throughout his career he played a wide variety of roles. He played eccentric inventor Stan Fox in The Jerk. He played the demon Blurk in the Millennium episode "Somehow, Satan Got Behind Me." He played an ageing gambler in the Las Vegas episode "Meatball Montecito." Over the years Bill Macy played many different roles in both television and motion pictures, and he always gave a good performance.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

The 60th Anniversary of The Untouchables

For a time The Untouchables was one of the more popular TV shows of its era. It was also one of the most controversial, facing outcry from both moral watchdogs and Italian American groups, among others. Regardless, it would spawn several imitators and would have a lasting impact on television that is still felt even now. It debuted sixty years ago today.

The Untouchables was very loosely on a group of special agents of the United States Bureau of Prohibition, led by Eliot Ness. It was not long after he had taken office that President Herbert Hoover came up with the idea of using small teams of Prohibition agents to tackle large bootlegging operations. With Al Capone and the Chicago Outfit having built an empire based upon bootlegging, it was then in late 1930 that Attorney General William D. Mitchell decided to implement President Hoover's plan. United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois George Q. Johnson, then investigating Capone, selected Eliot Ness to head the new team in Chicago. Special consideration was taken in choosing agents who would not be corruptible. In fact, the agents were so resistant to Capone's attempts to bribe or threaten them that Chicago Daily News journalist Charles Schwartz called them "untouchables." While Al Capone would never be prosecuted for violating the Volstead Act (the act that enforced Prohibition in the United States), he would be convicted of income tax evasion. The Untouchables were disbanded by 1932.

It was in 1956 that Oscar Fraley, a reporter for UPI, met Eliot Ness.  Messrs. Fraley and Ness co-wrote a memoir on Mr. Ness and the Untouchables' efforts to bring down Al Capone. Titled The Untouchables and published after Eliot Ness's death, the book proved to be a bestseller. By 1957 Eliot Ness and the Untouchables had mostly been forgotten, but the book catapulted both Mr. Ness and his team to fame again.

The success of the book The Untouchables would not be lost on Desilu Productions, the television production company responsible for such shows as I Love Lucy, Our Miss Brooks, and December Bride. It was in early 1958 that Desi Arnaz, who co-starred with his wife Lucille Ball on I Love Lucy and was the head of Desilu, persuaded CBS to buy a new anthology series from the studio. As part of the deal, the hour-long specials starring Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, which had aired since 1957, would air on the new anthology series alongside various dramas. Westinghouse Electric Corporation came on board as the new show's sponsor, paying a record setting $12 million to do so. The new show, titled Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse, debuted on CBS on October 6 1958.

Although it only ran for two years, Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse would prove to have a lasting impact on television. On November 24 1958 Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse aired "The Time Element," a science fiction teleplay by Rod Serling. It was the success of "The Time Element" that would lead to Rod Serling's now legendary TV series The Twilight Zone. It was on April 20 1959 and April 27 1959 that Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse aired "The Untouchables," a two part adaptation of Oscar Fraley and Eliot Ness's book of the same name. The adaptation was written by Paul Monash, who had written for shows from Suspense to Studio One.

The two-part episode proved very successful, so much so that Desilu decided to turn it into a regular TV series. At the time CBS had the right of first refusal with regards to Desilu's shows, so Desilu approached the Tiffany Network with an offer of The Untouchables first. Unfortunately for Desliu, CBS rejected the series. While CBS turned Desilu's offer of The Untouchables down, then perpetually third ranked ABC jumped at the chance to air the new show.

Of course, The Untouchables would depart a good deal from history. The Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse episode "The Untouchables" had depicted not only the investigation of Al Capone, but his eventual conviction on tax evasion. It ended with him sentenced to prison. While the Untouchables continued to attack the Chicago Outfit's bootlegging operation following Al Capone's conviction, they did not do so for very long. The new series would then depict the Untouchables pursuing Capone's heir apparent, Frank Nitti, and other criminals after Capone was already in prison, a stark departure from history.

The Untouchables debuted on ABC on October 15 1959. While it did not rank in the top thirty shows for the season, The Untouchables proved popular nonetheless. The Untouchables even picked up two Emmy Awards for the 1959-1960 season: Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Series (Lead or Support) for Robert Stack and Outstanding Achievement in Film Editing for Television for editors Ben Ray and Robert L. Swanson. The Untouchables also won a Writers Guild of America award for Episodic TV show, Longer Than 30 Minutes in Length for the two part episode "The Unhired Assassin" by William Spier and was nominated for the Directors Guild of America's award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Television for Tay Garnett's work on the episode "The Jake Lingle Killing."

While The Untouchables was both popular and received some acclaim, it also had its share of detractors. To a large degree this is understandable. If The Untouchables was not the most violent broadcast network television show of all time, it would certainly be among the most violent. While the violence on The Untouchables was not graphic in the way that scenes from modern day police procedurals are today, the show probably featured more scenes of violence than any modern day broadcast network show ever has. On The Untouchables scenes in which several people are mown down by Tommy guns were par for the course. Here it must be pointed out that, despite this, the violence on The Untouchables was never gratuitous. The Untouchables was a realistic portrayal of Chicago in the early Thirties, a city where mob violence was hardly unknown.

While the violence on The Untouchables was not gratuitous, the fact there was a lot of it led moral watchdogs to attack the show. The October 22-28 1960 issue of TV Guide featured the article "Do You Like The Untouchables?" by psychiatrist Dr. Fredric Wertham, then as now best known for his 1954 attack on comic books Seduction of the Innocent. Newspaper columnist John Crosby referred to The Untouchables as "a national disgrace" and "the worst show ever shown on television." Given the level of violence on The Untouchables, it should come as no surprise that it became a prime target for the Senate Juvenile Delinquency Subcommittee and its chairman, Senator Thomas J. Dodd (long a crusader against television violence) in their hearings held in 1961. Carl Perian, the chief counsel to Senator Dodd, said of The Untouchables, "We made films for each hearing. ABC complained that we took them out of context, so I said… ‘If they don’t want us showing excerpts, let’s show their own trailers.’ The next week, I ran 30 minutes of trailers for The Untouchables, and I swear to God, when it was over the room was shell-shocked. It was nothing but machine guns, bombings, and stabbings. We said, ‘All right, now what’s your complaint about showing excerpts?’”

Violence was not the only source of controversy for The Untouchables. The show as also attacked by Italian Americans, who believed that the show relied on negative Italian stereotypes. Historically many of the gangsters of the early Thirties were Italian in descent, including Vito Genovese, Lucky Luciano, Frank Nitti, and others. And The Untouchables did tackle gangsters from other ethnicities, including Bugs Moran, Dutch Schultz, and Legs Diamond. Unfortunately, The Untouchables would sometimes given Italian names even to fictional gangsters featured on the show, such as Joe Bucco in "The Noise of Death." Between historical gangsters who were Italian in descent and fictional gangsters with Italian names, The Untouchables presented a skewed view of Italian Americans.

Quite naturally, various Italian American groups took umbrage with this. The Order Sons of Italy called for a boycott of the sponsor shortly before the episode "The Noise of Death" was set to air. The president elect of the Italian American service organisation UNICO National remarked that the ethnic stereotyping on The Untouchables had gotten so bad that "people have started referring to The Untouchables as 'The Italian Hour.'" Among the groups upset by Italian American stereotyping on The Untouchables was the Federation of Italian-American Democratic Organizations, who picketed ABC. What is more, the Federation of Italian-American Democratic Organizations warned that unless The Untouchables stopped using Italian names for fictional gangsters, then longshoremen (many of who were Italian in descent) would refuse to handle Liggett & Myers tobacco products (Liggett & Myers was one of the sponsors of the show).  Ultimately ABC had to make a promise that unless a character was a historical Italian American gangster, no more Italian surnames would be used on the show. They also promised that Agent Enrico "Rico" Rossi of the Untouchables would be featured much more prominently on the series. While the tendency of The Untouchables to stereotype Italians was certainly regrettable, it was also not unusual for television in the late Fifties and early Sixties to stereotype various ethnic groups. Indeed, the Westerns of the era were filled with stereotypes of Native Americans and Mexicans.

Of course, one Italian American family had been unhappy even before The Untouchables debuted. After the two part episode "The Untouchables" aired on Westinghouse Desliu Playhouse, the estate of Al Capone sued Desilu Productions and Westinghouse Electric Corporation for appropriation of Capone's "name, likeness and personality" and a claim for invasion of privacy. The lawsuit was eventually dismissed as the courts rejected the plaintiff's claim of property rights over Capone's "name, likeness and personality" and rejected their claim that their right to privacy had been violated as, under Illinois law, the right to privacy dies with the individual.

As if The Untouchables did not already have enough detractors, among them was the Federal Bureau of Investigations, particularly its Director, J. Edgar Hoover. Throughout the show's run Hoover and the FBI were in nearly constant contact with Desilu concerning the inaccuracies on The Untouchables. J. Edgar Hoover was particularly upset by the show's second episode, "Ma Barker and Her Boys," which portrayed the Untouchables taking out Ma Barker and her sons. Historically this was done by FBI Agents. The producers of The Untouchables ultimately had to insert a disclaimer in reruns of the episode acknowledging the FBI's role in bringing down Ma Barker. The FBI had an entire file on the TV show The Untouchables composed mostly of newspaper clippings regarding the show.

Despite the many controversies surrounding The Untouchables, it would only become more popular in its second season. It climbed to no. 8 in the Nielsen for the 1960-1969 season. Unfortunately, The Untouchables would not maintain such ratings. For its third season ABC moved it a half hour later on Thursday night, from 9:30 PM Eastern/8:30 PM Central to 10:00 PM Eastern/9:00 PM Central. This had a deleterious effect on The Untouchables, which lost the time slot to Sing Along with Mitch (which ranked 15th for the season). For its fourth season ABC moved The Untouchables from Thursday night, when it had always aired, to 9:30 Eastern/8:30 Central on Tuesday night. There it aired against the high rated Jack Benny Program. Its ratings dropped further and it was cancelled the end of the season.

For the most part The Untouchables' cast remained stable for its entire run. The show turned Robert Stack, who played Eliot Ness, into a household name. Even though Eliot Ness would become Robert Stack's best known role, he was not Desi Arnaz's first choice for the part when the Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse episode "The Untouchables" was being made. Originally Mr. Arnaz had wanted Van Johnson for the role, but he demanded too much money. Desi Arnaz then looked to other actors to play the role, including Fred MacMurray and Jack Lord, before finally casting Robert Stack.

Of course, Robert Stack would not be the only cast member to remain with The Untouchables for its entire run. Abel Fernandez as Native American agent Bill Youngfellow, Nicholas Georgiade as Italian American Agent Rico Rossi, and Steve London as Agent Jack Rossman were all with The Untouchables from the start of its run to its very end. Paul Picerni joined the show in its second run as Agent Lee Hobson and remained with it until it was cancelled. Several other actors portrayed various Untouchables in only the first season.

In addition to the various Prohibition Agents, The Untouchables also featured several actors in recurring roles. Most notable of these was Bruce Gordon as Frank Nitti, who was the head of the Chicago Outfit in Al Capone's absence. Frank Wilcox also appeared frequently as Federal District Attorney Beecher Asbury. Robert Brice appeared in several episodes as Captain Johnson of the Chicago Police Department. Throughout the show's run it was narrated by columnist Walter Winchell in terse, staccato fashion. He was reportedly paid $25,000 per episode for his narration.

Among the production staff of The Untouchables was Quinn Martin, who was its original executive producer. After having produced various anthology series, it was the first episodic television series he ever produced. Quinn Martin left The Untouchables in 1960 to form his own company, QM Productions. He would go onto produce such shows as The Fugitive, The F.B.I., The Invaders, The Streets of San Francisco, and Barnaby Jones. Among the other executive producers on the show were Alan A. Amer (who would serve as a producer on The Fugitive, Lancer, and Cannon), Jerry Thorpe (who would serve as a producer on Kung Fu and Harry O), and Leonard Freeman (who created and produced Hawaii Five-O).

Given its success, The Untouchables would give rise to imitators, some of which were produced by individuals who had been associated with the show. The first of these was The Roaring 20's, which debuted during the 1960-1961 season. Produced by Warner Bros. the show combined a similar period milieu to The Untouchables with the set-up of young protagonists and a beautiful woman from 77 Sunset Strip and its imitators. The young protagonists were newspaper reporters Scott Norris (played by Rex Reason) and Pat Garrison (played by Donald May), who investigated crime in 1920s New York City. The beautiful woman was Pinky Pinkham (played by Dorothy Provine), who sang at the Charleston Club. The other imitators of The Untouchables debuted in the 1961-1962 season, all of them set in the present day. Cain's Hundred centred on former mob lawyer Nicholas Cain (played by Peter Mark Richman), who teams up with the FBI after the Mob murders his fiancée. The show was created by Paul Monash, who had written the episode "The Untouchables" for Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse.

Target: The Corruptors! was the next imitator of The Untouchables to debut. The series was created by Lester Velie, who had written on everything from organised crime to the slums of New York City. Target! The Corruptors! centred on reporter Paul Marino (played by Stephen McNally) who, with his undercover investigator Jack Flood (played by Robert Harland), investigated crime and corruption. The final imitator of The Untouchables to debut was The New Breed, which was the first show produced by Quinn Martin's QM Productions. The show centred on Lieutenant Price Adams (played by Leslie Nielsen) of a special detail of the Los Angeles Police Department's Metro Squad.

None of the Untouchables imitators lasted beyond the end of the 1961-1962 season. Given the Senate Juvenile Delinquency Subcommittee's hearings on television held in 1961, one might be tempted to believe that the show's cancellations were largely due to concerns over violence. That having been said, it seems more likely that they were simply cancelled due to low ratings. For instance, Cain's Hundred on NBC had the misfortune to air opposite the high rated Garry Moore Show on CBS. The New Breed on ABC was scheduled against the high rated Dobie Gillis and The Red Skelton Show on CBS. Against already established hits, the new shows did not have a chance. The following season The Untouchables would also fall victim to low ratings.

While The Untouchables left network television at the end of the 1962-1963 season, it would prove to be popular as a rerun in syndication. This would change as the Seventies progressed, as The Untouchables started being shown on fewer and fewer stations. The Seventies saw a bias arise in local television station managers against black and white programming, a bias which only a few extremely popular shows (such as I Love Lucy, The Twilight Zone, and The Dick Van Dyke Show) could overcome. The outcry over television violence that had begun in the Sixties also continued well into the Seventies. As an exceedingly violent show shot in black and white, The Untouchables looked less and less attractive to television station managers as the Seventies progressed.

While The Untouchables was seen on fewer television stations as the Seventies progressed, the impact of the show was still felt. While the 1987 feature film The Untouchables was based on Eliot Ness and Oscar Fraley's book of the same name much as the television series was, it seems likely that the TV series not only paved the way for the feature film, but gave it name recognition it might not have otherwise had. In 1993 a new syndicated television series entitled The Untouchables debuted. This new show was based on both the original series that had run from 1959 to 1963 and the 1987 feature film. It would not see the success of the original series, lasting only two seasons.

Over the years The Untouchables would inspire yet other imitators on television, including The F.B.I., Hawaii Five-O, S.W.A.T., Most Wanted (which also starred Robert Stack), Strike Force (again starring Robert Stack), and Crime Story. Along with The Detectives (which also debuted in 1959), it was among the first television shows to portray a team devoted to fighting crime. Previous crime dramas had either centred on a single character (Rocky King Detective, M Squad) or a police officer and his partner (Dragnet, The Lineup, Naked City). Along with The Detectives, The Untouchables then paved the way for such shows featuring crime fighting teams as Ironside, Crime Story, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, and NCIS.

Of course, even today The Untouchables has a complicated legacy.  In its first season The Untouchables relied a bit too much on the Italian gangster stereotype, to the point where it is perfectly understandable why Italian Americans at the time were upset. At the same time, however, The Untouchables featured one of the few Native American characters (Bill Youngfellow) of the time who was not a stereotype. While the violence that upset so many in the late Fifties and early Sixties is still intense by today's standards, as pointed out above, it is never gratuitous. Today The Untouchables stands as a particularly hard-edged, well-executed, if not particularly historically accurate crime drama.

While it would be seen on fewer television stations following the Seventies, The Untouchables has never entirely fallen out of popularity. It has been more recently rerun on such venues as MeTV. In 2009 CBS DVD released the first three seasons on DVD, followed by the fourth season in 2012. It was also in 2012 that they released a box set of the complete series. The Untouchables was controversial in its day and it seems likely that it will always remain one of the most violent broadcast network shows ever aired, but it seems likely it will always remain popular.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Xfinity's Folly or How to Make TCM Fans Very Angry

On those rare occasions that I might be inclined to complain about my cable provider, I remind myself that it could be much worse. This latest reminder has come courtesy of Xfinity (Comcast's cable television and internet subsidiary). The past few days fans of Turner Classic Movies have switched to their favourite channel only to see the following message on screen: "This requires a subscription. To watch this program, you'll need to subscribe to this channel... " It seems that Xfinity has moved TCM to their "Sports Entertainment Package," which will require TCM fans to pay more for the channel.

To say that Turner Classic Movie fans are not happy with Xfinity is an understatement. Every single TCM fan I know who is an Xfinity customer has complained. Some are unhappy with having to pay substantially more for their favourite channel. Others are unhappy with having to pay substantially more for their favourite channel while getting a bunch of sports channels that they will never watch. Not a one of them is happy about the change.

In their statement regarding why they moved TCM to their expensive "Sports Entertainment Package," Xfinity said, "Viewership of TCM is low, as over 90% of our customers watch less than two movies per month. Given this and contractual limitations on offering TCM a la carte, we decided to move TCM to the Sports Entertainment Package, which will help us manage programming costs that are passed on to our customers while continuing to make the channel available to those who want to watch it." To be quite frank (and quoting Col. Potter from M*A*S*H), I think this is a load of horse hockey.

First, I find Xfinity's claim that "over 90% of our customers watch less than two movies per month..." to be significant. I mean, they did not say "over 90% of our customers never watch TCM." It seems to me that if the average Xfinity viewer even watches one movie on TCM each month, then it may well be doing better than many cable channels. Indeed, according to Nielsen back in 2014, on average American homes receive 189.1 cable channels but only watch 17.5 of those channels. That means that there are a large number of viewers with cable channels that they never watch. I know this is true of myself. The vast majority of channels on my cable system's line-up I simply don't watch at all, not even one programme.

Second, I have to refute the idea that "viewership of TCM is low." Okay, I think every TCM fan realises that the channel does not have the viewership of such channels as AMC, TNT, or USA, but then that is true of the vast majority of cable channels. That it does have a good sized viewership is borne out by the fact that TCM is not simply a cable channel, but a brand. The TCM Shop sells a large number of TCM branded merchandise, from t-shirts to coffee mugs. One doesn't see that with the vast majority of cable channels. What is more, every year the TCM Classic Movie Festival has massive attendance. The Eighth Annual TCM Classic Film Festival had around 28,000 attendees. When one keeps in mind that most TCM fans don't get to attend the festival because of finances or work schedules, that gives him or her an idea of just how many viewers TCM may well have, not to mention how loyal TCM's viewers are to the brand.

Third, because of the above I have to think Xfinity moved TCM to the "Sports Entertainment Package" for reasons other than allegedly low viewership. To wit, I have to suspect that some of the channels Xfinity has on its Limited Basic and Economy Packages are far less popular than TCM. Indeed, some of the channels they have on those packages I have never even heard of.  While I cannot claim complete and total knowledge of every cable channel out there, I like to think I am fairly knowledgeable of such matters. If I haven't heard of a cable channel, I am thinking that it simply isn't very popular. Given that everyone, even people who never watch it, know about TCM, I would have to think it is very popular.

Ultimately, I think Comcast realised that TCM is very popular and that its fans are extremely loyal to the channel. To this end they concocted what is nothing more or less than a "money grab." That is, they are counting on TCM fans paying more for a package filled with sports channels that they will never watch simply to continue watching Turner Classic Movies. Here I have to state that I also think that they have made a drastic miscalculation in doing so.

Quite simply, every single one of my friends who are Xfinity customers are so unhappy that, instead of subscribing to that "Sports Entertainment Package," they are talking about switching cable providers entirely. What is more, I think Xfinity should have expected this. I seriously doubt there is any cable channel with fans more loyal than TCM fans. In fact, we are so loyal that the availability of TCM determines which cable providers we subscribe to and even which hotels in which we stay when travelling. When a cable provider does not have Turner Classic Movies or moves it to a package that makes it prohibitively expensive, we simply find another cable provider. It is not like there aren't multiple choices these days. Indeed, where I live we can choose from two cable providers, the two direct broadcast satellite service providers (DirecTV and Dish Network), and any number of streaming services. Keep in mind I live in a small town. Larger cities might well have even more choices. In the end, I think Xfinity is going to see TCM fans dropping their service for something else. And given just how many TCM fans are out there, they might well pay dearly for their hubris.

Friday, October 11, 2019

The People Against O'Hara (1951)


The early Fifties were a good time for Spencer Tracy. The late Forties saw Spencer Tracy in such hits as Adam's Rib (1949) and Father of the Bride (1950). The sequel to Father of the Bride, Father's Little Dividend (1951), also proved to be a hit. Pat and Mike (1952) proved to be a success as well. All of these films are well remembered today. Not so well remembered is the courtroom drama The People Against O'Hara (1951). While the film made a profit, today it not nearly as well remembered as Father of the Bride, Adam's Rib, or Pat and Mike. In some ways, this is a shame, as it features one of Spencer Tracy's best performances.

The People Against O'Hara centres on James Curtayne (played by Spencer Tracy), a retired lawyer. He comes out of retirement to defend a boy from his neighbourhood, Johnny O'Hara (James Arness), against a charge of murder. 

The People Against O'Hara was based on the novel of the same name by Eleazar Lipsky. MGM had purchased the film rights for $40,000, although ultimately it wound up costing the studio more money. Gustave B. Garfield, a New York attorney, alleged that Eleazer Lipsy had edited his story "Murder in Jest" and then used it as the basis for The People Against O'Hara. Mr. Garfield then sued both Eleazar Lipsky and MGM. The lawsuit was dropped when MGM bought "Murder in Jest" for $5000.

One of the more remarkable things about The People Against O'Hara is its casting. Spencer Tracy had known Pat O'Brien since childhood and the two were close friends. Despite this, the two had never appeared together in a film. As of the early Fifties, Pat O'Brien was having trouble finding roles. As a favour to his old friend, then, Spencer Tracy insisted that Mr. O'Brien be cast in the film. He played Detective Vincent Ricks, and the role effectively revitalised Pat O'Brien's career. 

Pat O'Brien's role in the film was not the only notable bit of casting. Former child star Diana Lynn appeared in one of her earliest adult roles as James Curtayne's daughter Ginny. A young James Arness, fresh from appearing as the monster in The Thing from Another World (1951) and before he appeared in Them! (1954) and the TV series Gunsmoke, played James Curtayne's young client. It was Charles Bronson's second film. He played one of the Korvac brothers. William Campbell, now best known as Koloth in the classic Star Trek episode "The Trouble with Tribbles," played another Korvac brother. Richard Anderson, later a regular on Perry Mason and The Six Million Dollar Man, played Ginny's boyfriend Jeff Chapman.

Aside from an interesting cast, it must also be pointed out that much of The People Against O'Hara was shot on location in New York City. The Criminal Courts Building, the Fulton Fish Market, and the Manhattan Bridge all appear in the film. As might be expected, the interiors were shot at MGM's Culver City studios in Los Angeles. 

The People Against O'Hara would be released to mixed reviews. The critic for The Nation said of the film, "An adroit scholarly example of sound storytelling..." Time commented, "..the film is played as though everyone concerned enjoyed making it." At the other end of the spectrum was Bosley Crowther in The New York Times wrote of the film as "...on the whole the picture moves ploddingly." The critic for Variety said  of movie, "A basically good idea for a film melodrama [from a novel by Eleazar Lipsky] is cluttered up with too many unnecessary side twists and turns, and the presentation is uncomfortably overlong."

I have to agree with the critics at both The New York Times and Variety to a degree. The People Against O'Hara does move slow at times and it could have been well served by a shorter running time. That having been said, it benefits from a sterling cast at the top of their game. Spencer Tracy gives a startlingly realistic portrayal of the alcoholic James Curtayne, perhaps drawing upon his own experiences as an alcoholic. Pat O'Brien does well as Detective Ricks, as does Diana Lynn as Ginny. Although his part is brief, William Campbell gives a sterling performance as Pete Korvac. John Sturges' direction is also excellent, making the film better than it might have been in lesser hands. 

Today The People Against O'Hara is not as well known as many of Spencer Tracy's films from the early Fifties. That having been said, given it features what may be his best performance of the era, it is well worth seeking out.


Thursday, October 10, 2019

Turner Classic Movies in St. Louis

The Tivoli Theatre
Each year TCM Backlot holds a "TCM in Your Hometown" contest, in which Turner Classic Movies selects a city in which to hold events. TCM Backlot members submit pitches arguing why Turner Classic Movies should hold an event in their home town. This year's winning entrant was Lisa Buchhold, who sent in a pitch for St. Louis, Missouri. It was then on September 26 2019 that Turner Classic Movies held a free screening of Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) at the Tivoli Theatre in St. Louis. The screening included a special introduction by Ben Mankiewicz before the movie, followed by a Q&A with Margaret O'Brien (who played Tootie in Meet Me in St. Louis).

With Turner Classic Movies in my home state and St. Louis only about two hours away, there was no way I was going to miss the TCM in Your Hometown in St. Louis. I got two tickets to the event as soon as it was announced. I also entered to win an entry to the VIP Meet and Greet, in which one would get to meet Margaret O'Brien and Ben Mankiewicz in person. I had a good fortune to be one of the people to win an entry to the VIP Meet and Greet.

With two tickets for the screening of Meet Me in St. Louis, I used the other one for my friend Meredith of Vitaphone Dreamer. Meredith also happens to be the TCM fan who lives closest to me, and graciously chauffeured me to the event. We met up with the local St. Louis TCM fans at the Three Kings Public House, which is right there on Delmar across from the Tivoli. Sadly, I couldn't stay long as I had to get to the VIP Meet and Greet. It was nice finally getting to meet fellow TCM fans from my home state (Meredith is the only one I've met in person before). For those unfamiliar with University City (the neighbourhood where the Tivoli Theatre is located), it is home to the St. Louis Walk of Fame. On the way to the VIP Meet and Greet I was able to see the stars for such St. Louis notables as the Rockettes (which was formed in St. Louis in 1926) and Sally Benson (the author of the novel Meet Me in St. Louis upon which the movie was based).

Moonrise Hotel
The VIP Meet and Greet was held at in the Twilight Room of the Moonrise Hotel just down the street on Delmar Boulevard. Upon entering I was greeted by an employee of TCM, who automatically knew I was there for the Meet and Greet. From there I made my way to the elevator to get to the Twilight Room. Here I have to point out that the Moonrise Hotel has a Space Age theme, so it is a dream come true for a sci-fi fan like myself. Throughout the hotel there are displays filled with sci-fi merchandise. The Twilight Room itself is located on the eighth floor, so that one gets a good view of the University City skyline.

I have to say that the VIP Meet and Greet was absolutely wonderful. I had talked with Ben Mankiewicz on video chat when I introduced A Hard Day's Night (1964) with him in one of TCM's Fan Favourite segments. He was very nice on video chat and is even nicer in person. As to Margaret O'Brien, what can I say. She is incredibly sweet and very personable. One would not think she is a genuine movie star from the Golden Age of Hollywood! I talked to her a little bit about her guest appearance on Perry Mason, which she said she loved doing.

As if meeting Margaret O'Brien and Ben Mankiewicz wasn't enough, at the VIP Meet and Greet I also got to meet many people with whom I have been in contact with online for years. Among them was Annette of Hometowns to Hollywood, who came all the way from Chicago for the event. Annette is as sweet as can be, and very enthusiastic about classic film. I also got to meet Diana Bosch of the blog Flickin' It and currently with TCM. Diana is charming and has great tastes in movies (Christmas in Connecticut is one of her favourite holiday movies). I also got to meet Yacov Freedman, who runs TCM Backot. I got my exclusive collectable pin for TCM in Your Hometown in St. Louis from him. Yacov is very friendly and enthusiastic about classic film. I have to confess I was almost as excited about finally meeting him in person as I was meeting Margaret O'Brien!

After the VIP Meet and Greet I met up with Meredith and we made our way to the Tivoli for Meet Me in St. Louis. We sat with Jeff from St. Louis, who like Meredith and I are part of the #TCMParty crowd. Jeff is in person exactly as I expected him to be, congenial with a love of classic movies. Ben's introduction was both funny and informative. At one point he asked how many people had not seen Meet Me in St. Louis. Only two people hadn't. Of course, here I have to point out that Meet Me in St. Louis is not only the unofficial movie of St. Louis, but the unofficial state movie of Missouri. It is then no surprise that only two people had not seen it! As to the Q&A with Margaret O'Brien, it was wonderful. Margaret is so funny and witty, and she has a bit of mischievous streak just like Tootie has in the movie. Before the movie they showed promos for TCM, one of which was the one for TCM Backlot that includes KC of A Classic Movie Blog. I later teased KC on Twitter that this makes her a movie star. As to Meet Me in St. Louis itself, it was incredible on the big screen. I have seen it many times since childhood, but never in a movie theatre. What is more, this was a perfect print of the movie, crisp and clean with no flaws.

The Tivoli sign by night
As to the Tivoli Theatre itself, it is beautiful. I wish I had gotten some pictures of its interior. The Tivoli opened on May 10, 1924. It closed in 1994, but fortunately it was rescued when Joe and Linda Edwards (owners of Blueberry Hill Restaurant and Music Club, also on Delmar) bought it. The theatre was then renovated and restored back to its glory days in the Twenties and Thirties. It reopened on May 19 1995. The Tivoli Theatre is a true movie palace, and hence it was the ideal venue for Meet Me in St. Louis.

Of course, here I have to say that Vanessa was on my mind for much of my time in University City. She was a huge Judy Garland fan and Miss Garland was much of the reason she became an actress. As might be expected, Meet Me in St. Louis was one of her favourite movies. As an enormous sci-fi fan (I have never known a bigger Star Wars fan), she would have adored the Moonrise Hotel. So she could be present for the event after a fashion, I wore the pinback button I designed in her memory for this year's TCM Classic Film Festival.

Over all, I have to say TCM in Your Hometown in St. Louis was one of the most wonderful experiences in my life. The various employees of TCM were all very friendly, and it was wonderful getting to meet in person many people with whom I have been in touch online for years. Of course, it was an incredible pleasure meeting Margaret O'Brien and Ben Mankiewicz. One sometimes hears horror stories of people who meet their idols only to learn they aren't very nice in person, but both Margaret O'Brien and Ben Mankiewicz were wonderful. Given the amount of attention TCM gave to the TCM in Your Hometown event, I can only imagine the amount of attention they must devoted to the TCM Classic Film Festival and the TCM Classic Cruise. I only hope I can make it to those one day!

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

The Late Great Rip Taylor

Rip Taylor, the confetti throwing comedian who appeared frequently on talk shows and games shows in the Sixties and Seventies, as well as guest starred such shows as The Monkees, died on October 6 2019 at the age of 88. He had been hospitalised the prior week from an epileptic seizure.

Rip Taylor was born Charles Elmer Taylor Jr. on January 13 1931 in Washington, D.C. He served as a page in the United States Congress. Afterwards he served in the Signal Corps of the United States Army during the Korean War. After his discharge from the Army Mr. Taylor began performing stand up in nightclubs and restaurants.

Rip Taylor made his television debut on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1961. He appeared on the show five more times. In the Sixties he appeared frequently on talk shows and game shows, including Jackie Gleason: American Scene Magazine, The Clay Cole Show, The Michael Douglas Show, Dream Girl of '67, The Woody Woodbury Show, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, The Joey Bishop Show, The Merv Griffin Show, The David Frost Show, and Della. He guest starred on The Monkees. He was a regular on The Beautiful Phyllis Diller Show. He made his film debut in I'd Rather Be Rich in 1964.

In the Seventies Mr. Taylor was the host of The $1.98 Beauty Show. He was a regular on Sigmund and the Sea Monsters and The Brady Bunch Variety Hour. He was the voice of the title character on the Saturday morning cartoon Here Comes the Grump. He guest starred on the show The Comedy Shop. Rip Taylor appeared on such talk shows and game shows as The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, The David Frost Show, Dean Martin Presents: The Bobby Darin Amusement Co., Laugh In, Match Game 73, Break the Bank, The David Steinberg Show, American Bandstand, The Chuck Barris Rah-Rah Show, The Mike Douglas Show, and The Toni Tennille Show. He appeared in the films Chatterbox! (1977), The Happy Hooker Goes to Washington (1977), and The Gong Show Movie (1980).

In the Eighties Rip Taylor he guest starred on the TV shows Down to Earth, Kids Incorporated, Pryor's Place, The Charmings, and Santa Barbara. He was a regular voice on the Saturday morning cartoon Popeye and Son. He appeared on such talk shows and game shows as The Mike Douglas Show, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, The Tomorrow Show, The New Hollywood Squares, Super Password, The Pat Sajack Show, and Match Game. He provided voices for the animated feature film DuckTales the Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp (1990).

In the Nineties Rip Taylor was the voice of Uncle Fester on the Saturday morning cartoon The Addams Family. He guest starred on the shows Johnny Bago, The Kids in the Hall, Vicki, The Naked Truth, MadTV, Saturday Night Live, and Brotherly Love. He appeared on such talk shows as The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, The Rosie O'Donnell Show, and The Daily Show. He appeared in the movies Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992), Indecent Proposal (1993), Wayne's World 2 (1993), Il silenzio dei prosciutti (1994), and The Boys Behind the Desk (2000).

In the Naughts through the Teens Rip Taylor appeared in the films Alex & Emma (2003), The Dukes of Hazzard (2005), and Silent But Deadly (2012). He had a recurring role on the television sitcom Life with Bonnie and was a regular voice on the animated series The Emperor's New School. He guest starred on The Suite Life of Zack & Cody, Will & Grace, George Lopez, and The Aquabats! Super Show!. He was a panellist on Hollwyood Squares. He appeared on the talk shows The Florence Henderson Show, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, and After Dark with Julian Clark.

Rip Taylor was one of the most memorable comedians of the mid to late 20th Century. He was notorious for his use of props, particularly showering his audiences with loads of confetti. His humour was flamboyant and outrageous. He had a gift for sarcasm and self-deprecating humour, all of it delivered rapid-fire. It was no wonder he was so much in demand on the talk shows, variety shows, of the late 20th Century. While he did not do that many guest appearances on narrative TV shows, when he did he was unforgettable. He made two guest appearances on The Monkees, the last of which was as the Wizard Glick in the show's final episode, "Mijacogeo." When it came to outrageous comedy, no one was better than Rip Taylor.

Monday, October 7, 2019

The Late Great Ginger Baker

Ginger Baker, the legendary drummer from Cream and Blind Faith among other bands, died on October 6 2019 at the age of 80.

Ginger Baker was born Peter Baker in Lewisham, South London on August 19 1939. He was nicknamed "Ginger" because of his red hair. His father died during World War II when Ginger Baker was only four years old. He began drumming while very young and by the time he was a teenager he began playing with local bands. He studied drums under British jazz drummer Phil Seamen.

In 1963 Mr. Baker began playing drums with The Graham Bond Organization, of which future Cream band mate Jack Bruce was also a part. By 1966 he had grown tied of playing with The Graham Bond Organization and decided to form his own supergroup. He asked Eric Clapton, who had played with  The Yardbirds and was then part of John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, to join him. Feeling constrained as one of The Bluesbreakers, he agreed right away on the condition that they bring Jack Bruce into the group as their bassist. While Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce had never gotten along, Jack Bruce was brought in as the new band's bassist. The new band was named Cream based on the idea that drummer Ginger Baker, bassist Jack Bruce, and guitarist Eric Clapton were "the cream of the crop."

Cream proved to be highly successful, recording four hit albums and releasing several hit singles. Unfortunately, Cream would also be beset by problems. Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce did not get along during the entire time. Eventually the tension between the two got to be too much and so Cream broke up in 1968.

Following the breakup of Cream, Ginger Baker joined the supergroup Blind Faith, which had been formed by Eric Clapton and former Spencer Davis Group member Steve Windwood. Blind Faith would record only one album before disbanding.

It was upon Blind Faith splitting up that Ginger Baker formed Ginger Baker's Air Force. The initial lineup included of fellow Blind Faith members Steve Winwood and Ric Grech. Ginger Baker's Air Force released two albums in 1970. In 2016 Ginger Baker formed a new version of Ginger Baker's Air Force, that played one show as Ginger Baker's Air Force 3 in 2015. A tour had been planned, but had to be cancelled due to Mr. Baker's health.

Ginger Baker's first solo album was released in 1972. He would follow it with several more solo albums. In the Seventies he would form Baker Gurvitz Army with Adrian Gurvitz. The band's self-titled debut album would be released in 1974. It would be followed by two more studio albums, one in 1975 an done in 1976. They disbanded in 1976. In 1980 Ginger Baker was briefly part of Hawkwind. Material featuring him would appear on three Hawkwind albums in total.

Ginger Baker reunited with Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce for Cream concerts at the Royal Albert Hall and Madison Square Garden in 2005. In 2013 and 2014 Ginger Baker toured with the Ginger Baker Jazz Confusion.

There can be little doubt that Ginger Baker was one of the greatest rock drummers of all time, although Mr. Baker considered himself a "jazz drummer" or simply a "drummer." His performances could range from flamboyant to a more restrained jazz style. He was one of the pioneers of the double bass drum setup in rock music. He had been inspired to do so after seeing drummer Sam Woodyard at a Duke Ellington concert. He was also known for his drum solos, such as "Toad" from Cream's debut album Fresh Cream (a drum solo that was a full five minutes). Ginger Baker was a lasting influence on future rock drummers, including John Bonham, Stewart Copeland, Neil Peart, and Alex Van Halen.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

The Late Great Diahann Carroll

Diahann Carroll, who appeared in such films as Carmen Jones (1954), and Porgy and Bess (1959) and starred on such TV shows as Julia, Dynasty, and White Collar, died on October 4 2019 at the age of 84. The cause was complications from breast cancer.

Diahann Carroll was born Carol Diahann Johnson in the Bronx on July 17 1935. She grew up in Harlem. She took to singing while still very young, and she was singing at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem by the time she was six years old. She attended the High School of Music and Art in Manhattan, during which time she worked as a model for Ebony magazine. She entered various television talent contests, including Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts and Chance of a Lifetime. She won Chance of a Lifetime three weeks in a row. The prize was $1000 and appearing at the Latin Quarter, a nightclub in Manhattan. As her family wished for her to attend college Miss Carroll attended New York University, but left college to pursue a career in show business. She had promised her family that if it did not work out in two years she would return to college. Fortunately, she did not have to.

It was in 1954 that Diahann Carroll made her film debut in Carmen Jones (1954). It was the same year that she made her debut on Broadway in House of Flowers. Later in the decade she appeared in the film Porgy and Bess (1959). Miss Carroll made her television debut the following year in an episode of General Electric Theatre. She later guest starred on Peter Gunn and appeared in the television movie The Man in the Moon.

In the Sixties she appeared on Broadway in No Strings, for which she won Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical. She also appeared in the films Goodbye Again (1961), Paris Blues (1961), Hurry Sundown (1967), and The Split (1968). On television she appeared in the groundbreaking sitcom Julia. Diahann Carroll was the first African American woman to star on a sitcom not playing a domestic worker. While Julia proved popular with viewers, there were those who criticised the show for ignoring the realities faced by many African Americans at the time. That having been said, the November 1968 issue of Ebony took a more positive view of the series in the article "Diahanne Carroll Stars in Family TV Series." The article stated, "As a slice of Black Americana, Julia does not explode on the TV screen with the impact of a ghetto riot. It is not that kind of show. Since the networks have had a rash of shows dealing with the nation's racial problems, the light-hearted Julia provides welcome relief, if indeed, relief is even acceptable in these troubled times." In 1969 she was nominated for the Emmy Award for Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Comedy Series.

During the Sixties, Diahann Carroll also guest starred on episodes of Naked City and The Eleventh Hour. For her guest appearance on Naked City she was nominated for the Emmy Award for Outstanding Single Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role.

In the Seventies Diahann Carroll appeared in the film Claudine (1974), for which she for the Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role. She appeared on television in The Star Wars Holiday Special and the mini-series Roots: The Next Generations. She also appeared in the TV movies Death Scream and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

In the Eighties Diahann Carroll appeared on Broadway as a replacement in the role of Doctor Martha Livingstone in the play Agnes of God. On television she starred as Dominique Deveraux on the night time soap opera Dynasty, a role she also played on the spin-off The Colbys. She also had a recurring role on the sitcom A Different World. She appeared in the TV movies Sister, Sister in 1982, From the Dead of Night in 1989, and Murder in Black and White in 1990.

In the Nineties Miss Carroll appeared in the films The Five Heartbeats (1991) and Eve's Bayou (1997). She had a recurring role on the TV show Lonesome Dove: The Series. She guest starred on the shows The Sinbad Show, Burke's Law, Evening Shade, ABC Weekend Specials, Touched by an Angel, and Twice in a Lifetime. She appeared in the TV movies A Perry Mason Mystery: The Case of the Lethal Lifestyle, The Sweetest Gift, Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years, The Courage to Love, Sally Hemings: An American Scandal, and Livin' for Love: The Natalie Cole Story. She was a guest voice on the HBO animated series Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child. She played herself in the television mockumentary Jackie's Back!.

In the Naughts Diahann Carroll had recurring roles on the TV shows Grey's Anatomy, Diary of a Single Mom, and White Collar. She guest starred on the shows The Court, Half & Half, Strong Medicine, Whoopi, Soul Food, and Back to You. In the Teens she continued to appear on White Collar. She appeared in the movies Peeples (2013) and The Masked Saint (2016).

Diahann Carroll also had a successful career as a singer. She performed in nightclubs and in Las Vegas. Starting with the late Fifties she recorded several albums, including Diahann Carroll Sings Harold Arlen Songs (1957), Fun Life (1960), Diahann Carroll (1974), and The Time of My Life (1997).

I have to confess that I have had a crush on Diahann Carroll since childhood. She was just so beautiful and elegant, and she had a mellifluous voice. Of course, as I grew older I realised that she was remarkable not only for her beauty and grace, but for the fact that she was just so very talented. As an actress she was very versatile and played a wide variety of roles in her career. In her guest appearance on Naked City in the episode "A Horse Has a Big Head – Let Him Worry!", she played a teacher trying to convince a boy's parents that he could learn to live with his limited eyesight. On Julia she played the title character, a hard working and sweet natured nurse. On White Collar she played the protagonist Neal Caffrey's landlady, the widow of a con man with considerable skills herself. Miss Carroll's talent was on display in movies as well. In Claudine she played the title character, a single mother on welfare living in Harlem. In Eve's Bayou (1997) she played the fortune teller Elzora. Diahann Carroll was capable of playing a wide variety of roles and did so throughout her career.

Of course, Miss Carroll was also an incredibly talented singer. She had a beautiful voice with an incredible range. Indeed, even had she never gone into acting she would have had a very profitable career as a singer.

Diahann Carroll's was a true pioneer with regards to African American actresses. She appeared in major motion pictures and made guest appearances on television shows in non-stereotypical roles at a time when black women were rarely seen in movies or TV shows as anything except domestics. While Julia received criticism for not addressing issues, it was a groundbreaking show. Before Julia the only show to feature a black woman in the lead was Beulah, a sitcom featuring a very stereotypical maid. Julia paved the way for every African American lead on a sitcom ever since. Diahann Carroll was a remarkable woman and one for whom the word "legend" is truly fitting.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Bicycle Thieves (Ladri di biciclette 1948)

(This post is a part of the Unemployment Blogathon hosted by MovieMovieBlogBlog II The Sequel)

Vittorio De Sica's Ladri di biciclette (1948), in English literally Bicycle Thieves (but known for a time as The Bicycle Thief in the United States), has been counted as one of the greatest movie of all time nearly ever since it was first released. In the very first Sight & Sound poll of the greatest films ever made, Bicycle Thieves was ranked at no. 1, only four years after its release. Since then it has routinely ranked on other lists of the greatest films of all time, from that of the Directors Guild of America to Entertainment Weekly

Bicycle Thieves is set in Rome not long after the end of World War II and centres on Antonio Ricci (played by Lamberto Maggiorani), a man with a wife, a young son, and a baby who has been out of work for some time. Antonio gets a job as a bill poster (someone who puts up movie posters around Rome), but in order to keep the job he must have a bicycle. In order to get his bicycle out of hock, his wife Maria (played by Lianella Carell) pawns sheets that were part of her dowry. With his bicycle out of hock all seems well, at least until his bicycle is stolen. Antonio must then find his bicycle or risk losing his new job.

Bicycle Thieves was based on the novel Ladri di biciclette (the same name in Italian) by Luigi Bartolini. That having been said, about the only thing the novel and the movie have in common are that a bicycle is stolen. In fact, in the novel not only is the protagonist a  middle class artist, but he has another bicycle that he rides around to look for the one that is stolen. In the movie Antonio is clearly poor and he has only one bicycle, hence the urgency of getting the bicycle back. 

Bicycle Thieves is considered one of the finest examples of Italian Neorealism, something Vittorio De Sica has intended from the beginning. That might not have been the case if Mr De Sica had accepted financing from one particular source. It was while he was looking for backing for the film that he received an offer to finance the film from David O. Selznick. Unfortunately, the offer came with the condition that Vittorio De Sica cast Cary Grant in the lead. While Mr. De Sica admired Cary Grant, he felt he was totally wrong for the part and as a result he did not accept Selznick's offer. Ultimately, money was raised for Bicycle Thieves by Vittorio De Sica himself and his friends.

Not only would Cary Grant not be cast in Bicycle Thieves, but the cast would be composed almost entirely of non-actors. What is more, Lamberto Maggiorani, who played the lead role of Antonio, was a machinist who had no intention of becoming an actor. Mr. Maggiorani's wife had heard a radio announcement for a nine year old boy to be cast in a movie. It was then that she brought a picture of her son with his father into Vittorio De Sica. Mr. De Sica had no interest in the boy, but he was impressed by Lamberto Maggiorani's face. He managed to convince Mr. Maggiorani's wife to bring him in to meet with Vittorio De Sica. 

Similarly, the casting of Antonio's young son Bruno would also come about by accident. In fact, the role was not cast until the movie had already begun shooting. It was during a scene in which Antonio is looking for his bike that Vittorio De Sica noticed a young boy in a crowd of spectators. It was then that Enzo Staiola was cast as Bruno.

Not only was Bicycle Thieves cast using non-actors, but it was also shot entirely on location. The use of non-actors and real-life locations give the film the feel of a documentary. That having been said, Bicycle Thieves was planned down to the smallest detail. Not only were the crowd scenes carefully choreographed, but they were even rehearsed. At times Vittorio De Sica had six cameras shooting at once in order to capture the actors' reactions from various angles.

While today there is very little that the average person would find objectionable about Bicycle Thieves, the film would run into trouble with the Production Code Administration (the PCA) in the United States. The head of PCA, Joseph Breen, would only approve Bicycle Thieves if two scenes were cut. The first was one in which Bruno is about to relieve himself against a building. Even though absolutely nothing is shown, the PCA considered the scene objectionable. The second is a scene in which Antonio chases a man he believes to have stolen his bicycle into what is clearly a brothel. Again, nothing is seen, but the PCA found the scene objectionable. Vittorio De Sica refused to make the cuts and appealed the decision, only to have the PCA stand their ground. It was then that Bicycle Thieves was released without the Production Code Seal of Approval. Skouras Brothers Enterprises picked the movie up, followed by two other independent theatre chains. Despite the PCA's objections, audiences made no major complaints about Bicycle Thieves. Even the National Legion of Decency gave Bicycle Thieves a rating of "B," "Morally objectionable in part," rather than their dreaded rating of "C," "Condemned."

Of course, here it must be pointed out that while the Italian title Ladri di biciclette is literally "Bicycle Thieves" in English, for years it bore the title The Bicycle Thief in the United States. The reason for this is unknown to this day. In other English speaking countries, including the United Kingdom, it was released under the title "Bicycle Thieves." It would not be until 2007 when Criterion released the movie on DVD that it would finally bear the proper title Bicycle Thieves in the United States. 

Another curiosity is that while today Bicycle Thieves is counted among the greatest films ever made, it was almost universally hated in Italy upon its initial release. The exception to this rule was Italian critic Guido Aristarco, although even he complained that "sentimentality might at times take the place of artistic emotion." While the film was often reviled in Italy, elsewhere it was considered a masterpiece. Indeed, not only did British critics universally praise the film, but it won the BAFTA Award for Best Film from any Source. In the United States it was praised by Bosley Crowther of The New York Times, Variety, and other critics. Since the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had yet to establish a "Best Foreign Film" category, The Bicycle Thief was awarded an honorary Oscar as "...the most outstanding foreign language film released in the United States during 1949."

Today it is easy to understand the praise that Bicycle Thieves received upon its initial release and ever since. Quite simply it is an incredible film. Although meticulously planned, Bicycle Thieves looks almost as if Vittorio De Sica had simply followed a poor bill poster around and shot slices of his life. What is more, it is a very poignant film, and one that is relevant even in the United States of the 21st Century. Many Americans today could easily identify with Antonio, worried as he is about putting food on the table for his family and keeping his job to do so. Bicycle Thieves addressed some of the primary concerns of Post-War Italy, concerns still shared by people around the world today.

Not only does Bicycle Thieves boast a great script and great direction, but it also has some beautiful cinematography courtesy of Carlo Montuori. Any frame of Bicycle Thieves could stand on its own as a still photograph. Bicycle Thieves also boasts some solid performances from its leads. While Lamberto Maggiorani and Enzo Staiola were not professional actors, they are entirely convincing as Antonio and his son Bruno. It is difficult believing that a seasoned actor could have done better.

Bicycle Thieves is a marvellous film and one that every cinema lover should see at least once in his or her life, preferably more. Although shot in Post-War Italy, its themes and its concerns are still as relevant as ever. And it is a poignant film, beautifully acted and shot. If Bicycle Thieves is still counted among the greatest films ever made, there is good reason why.


Thursday, October 3, 2019

Godspeed Anna Quayle

Anna Quayle, who appeared in such films as A Hard Day's Night (1964), Casino Royale (1967), and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968), as well as having a regular role on the British television show Grange Hill, died on August 16 2019. She had been diagnosed with Lewy body dementia in 2012.

Anna Quayle was born Anne Quayle on October 6 1932 in Birmingham, England. She studied at Convent of Jesus and Mary Language College in Harlesden. She would later study acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. She started acting when she was very, very young. She was only three years old when she made her stage debut in East Lynne.

Anna Quayle made her television debut in the TV movie Flying High in 1961. She made her film debut in 1964 in A Hard Day's Night, appearing in the famous scene on the stairs with John Lennon In the Sixties she guest starred in the episode of The Avengers, "The Correct Way to Kill," playing Russian agent Olga Vilovski. She also guest starred on the television shows Not Only...But Also, Knock on Any Door, Girls About Town, and ITV Playhouse. Miss Quayle appeared in the films The Sandwich Man (1966), Drop Dead Darling (1966), Casino Royale (1967), Smashing Time (1967), and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968).  She appeared on Broadway in Stop the World--I Want to Get Off.

In the Seventies, Anna Quayle was a regular on the TV show Grubstreet. She guest starred on the TV Shows Jackanory Playhouse, The Sound of Laughter, The Basil Brush Show, and In the Looking Glass. She had a recurring role in the mini-series The Georgian House. She appeared in several TV movies, including James and the Giant Peach, The Light Princess, S.O.S. Titanic, and The Life of Henry the Fifth. She appeared in the films Up the Chastity Belt (1972), Mistress Pamela (1973), Eskimo Nell (1975), Three for All (1975), The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1976), Adventures of a Private Eye (1977), and Adventures of a Plumber's Mate (1978).

In the Eighties she played Reverend Mother Joseph in the TV series Father Charlie and Mrs. Monroe on Grange Hill. She appeared in the mini-series Brideshead Revisited. She guest starred on the TV shows Never the Twain, Objects of Affection, Marjorie and Men, Mapp & Lucia, Lytton's Diary, and The Sooty Show. In the Nineties she continued to appear on Grange Hill. She guest starred on the show Adam's Family Tree.

Anna Quayle was an incredibly talented actress. She had a particular gift for comedy. What is more she could play a wide variety of roles. She could be a Russian secret agent on The Avengers and then the owner of a boutique in Smashing Time. Miss Quayle was Mata Hari's teacher Frau Hoffer in Casino Royale, and Baroness Bomburst in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. She had a gift for different dialects and a gift for playing broad characters that were always memorable.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

The Late Great Wayne Fitzgerald

Short of Saul Bass, it is arguable that Wayne Fitzgerald was the greatest title designer of all time. In a long career, he created some of the best titles ever made for both television shows and movies, everything from the classic TV show Maverick to the classic movie Catch-22 (1970). What is more, he was not only great at title design, but he was also prolific. IMDB lists 369 credits for movies alone. Wayne Fitzgerald died died Monday, September 30 2019, at the age of 89.

Wayne Fitzgerald was born on March 19 1930 in Los Angeles, California. Growing up in Los Angeles, he was within walking distance of several movie theatres and developed a love for movies even as a child. He graduated from the Art Center College of Design in 1951. He went to work for Pacific Title & Art Studio. In the Fifties he designed the titles for such movies as Glory (1956), Silk Stockings (1957), The Three Faces of Eve (1957), Touch of Evil (1958), The Fly (1958), Auntie Mame (1958), The Diary of Anne Frank (1959), Pillow Talk (1959), Operation Petticoat (1959), Tall Story (1960), and Pepe (1960). In television he designed titles for Cheyenne, Maverick, and 77 Sunset Strip.

In the Sixties Mr. Fitzgerald designed the titles of such films as Homicidal (1961), Judgement at Nuremberg (1961), The Children's Hour (1961), The Music Man (1962), 4 for Texas (1963), Send Me No Flowers (1964), My Fair Lady (1964), Father Goose (1964), Cat Ballou (1965), The Silencers (1966), Harper (1966), Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), Any Wednesday (1966), Murderer's Row (1966), Camelot (1967), Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967), and In the Heat of the Night (1967). It was during production of Bonnie and Clyde (1967) that Wayne Fitzgerald resigned from Pacific Title, and founded Wayne Fitzgerald FilmDesign. In the late Sixties he designed the titles of Who's Minding the Mint (1967), Wait Until Dark (1967), Cool Hand Luke (1967), The Graduate (1967), Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows! (1968), Rosemary's Baby (1968), The Wrecking Crew (1968), Alice's Restaurant (1969), On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1970), Catch-22 (1970), The Owl and the Pussycat (1970), and Little Big Man (1970). He designed the titles for such TV shows as Mister Ed, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Beverly Hillbillies, The Invaders, It Takes a Thief, and The Bold Ones.

In the Seventies he designed titles for such movies as A New Leaf (1971), Big Jake (1971), Cancel My Reservation (1972), The Train Robbers (1973), The Day of the Dolphin (1973), Chinatown (1974), Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974), Escape to Witch Mountain (1975), The Sunshine Boys (1975), One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975), The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1976), The Goodbye Girl (1977), The Cheap Detective (1978), Up in Smoke (1978), The Deer Hunter (1978), Apocalypse Now (1979), The Muppet Movie (1979), Private Benjamin (1980), and 9 to 5 (1980). He designed the titles for such television shows as Sarge, Night Gallery, The NBC Mystery Movie, Get Christie Love!, Eight is Enough, Dallas, and Knot's Landing.

In the Eighties Wayne Fitzgerald designed titles for such films as Body Heat (1981), Pennies from Heaven (1981), The Outsiders (1983), The Dead Zone (1983), The Big Chill (1983), Footloose (1984), Splash (1984), Firestarter (1984), Johnny Dangerously (1985), Silverado (1985), Down and Out in Beverly Hills (1986), The Fly (1986), Black Widow (1987), K-9 (1989), Opportunity Knocks (1990), Dick Tracy (1990), and Ghost (1990). He designed the titles for such TV shows as Tucker's Witch, Masquerade, You Again?, The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd, Our House, Jake and the Fatman, Father Dowling Mysteries, and Matlock.

In the Nineties Mr. Fitzgerald designed titles for such movies as True Color (1991), What About Bob? (1991), Basic Instinct (1992), A River Runs Through It (1992), Groundhog Day (1993), Grumpy Old Men (1993), Wyatt Earp (1994), Judge Dredd (1997), and Guinevere (1999). He designed the titles for the TV showd NewsRadio and Sabrina the Teenage Witch. In the Naughts he designed the titles for the films Nobody's Baby (2001) and Hollywood Homicide (2003).

As I said earlier, aside from Saul Bass, Wayne Fitzgerald was possibly the greatest title designer of all time. Examples of his incredible work are numerous. On television he created some of the best and most memorable title sequences of all time, including Maverick, Mister Ed, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Dallas.In film he also some of the best and most memorable titles of all time, including The Fly (1958), Pillow Talk (1959), The Music Man (1962), Bonnie and Clyde (1967), and many others. One thing that set Wayne Fitzgerald apart from other title designers was his versatility. While his contemporaries were often known for a specific style, Mr. Fitzgerald's titles could vary stylistically. If there is one thing that his titles had in common, it is that in many ways there were movies in and of themselves. His titles were closely-knit, but never cluttered, and in many cases told stories all their own. It was his talent at montage, at creating what were essentially "mini-movies" with his titles, that allowed him to be so prolific. In being able to create titles that were works of art in and of themselves, Wayne Fitzgerald guaranteed he would always be in demand.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Author and Actor Jan Merlin Passes On

Jan Merlin, who starred on the Fifties television shows Tom Corbett, Space Cadet and The Rough Riders, as well as the author of several books, died on September 20 2019 at the age of 94.

Jan Merlin was Jan Wasylewski born on April 3 1925 in New York City. During World War II he served in the United States Navy as a torpedoman. After the way he studied acting at the Neighbourhood Playhouse in New York City. He appeared was a replacement for the role of Payne in the Broadway production of Mister Roberts.

Jan Merlin made his television debut in 1951, playing the role of Roger Manning on Tom Corbett, Space Cadet. Roger was an egotistical, self-satisfied, and arrogant cadet, who nonetheless had a soft heart. Later in the Fifties Jan Merlin played Lt. Colin Kirby on The Rough Riders. During the decade Jan Merlin also guest starred on such shows as Robert Montgomery Presents, The Loretta Young Show, Dragnet, General Electric Theatre, Frontier, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, Broken Arrow, Trackdown, Climax!, The Lawless Years, Perry Mason, Disneyland, and Bat Masterson. Mr. Merlin made his film debut in Them! in 1954. He appeared in the films Six Bridges to Cross (1955), Big House, U.S.A. (1955), Illegal (1955), Running Wild (1955), A Day of Fury (1956), Screaming Eagles (1956), A Strange Adventure (1956), The Peacemaker (1956), Woman and the Hunter (1957), Cole Younger, Gunfighter (1958), and Hell Bent for Leather (1960).

In the Sixties Jan Merlin guest starred in such shows as Cain's Hundred, Bonanza, Tales of Wells Fargo, Rawhide, Laramie, Ripcord, The Lieutenant, The Virginian, Gunsmoke, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Branded, 12 O'Clock High, Tarzan, Combat!, The Fugitive, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, The Invaders, Ironside, Mannix, and Mission: Impossible. She appeared in The List of Adrian Messenger (1963), Gunfight at Comanche Creek (1963), Guns of Diablo (1964), The Oscar (1966), The St. Valentine's Day Massacre (1967), Strategy of Terror (1969), and Take the Money and Run (1969).

In the Seventies Mr. Merlin guest starred on such shows as Mission: Impossible, Cade's County, Search, The F.B.I., Little House on the Prairie, Baretta, Switch, and Tales of the Unexpected. He appeared in the movies The Twilight People (1972), The Slams (1973), I Escaped from Devil's Island (1973), and The Hindenburg (1975).

In the Eighties he appeared in the movies Permanent Record (1988), Nowhere to Run (1989), Time Trackers (1989), Silk 2 (1989), and False Identity (1990). He guest starred on the shows Tales of the Gold Monke, Masquerade, Riptide, The A-Team, and Dallas. In the Nineties he guest starred on the TV show Paradise.

Jan Martin was also the author of several novels, beginning with the novel Brocade in 1982. Among his books were Gunbearer--Part One,Gunbearer--Part Two, Gypsies Don't Lie, and Shooting Montezuma.  He also wrote scripts for the soap opera Another World for several years, for which he won a Daytime Emmy.

Jan Merlin was a remarkable actor. He was known for playing heavies. In the Laramie episode "Stolen Tribute" he played Clint Wade who forces main character Jess Harper at gunpoint to help him search for stolen money. In the Bonanza episode "The Ride" he played Bill Enders, a ruthless man who robbed a way station and might just get away with it. Of course, Jan Merlin was capable of playing more than villains. He did play heroes as well. On Tom Corbett, Space Cadet, Roger may have been an egomaniac, but he was definitely on the side of the angels. On The Rough Riders he was the dashing Lt. Kirby. Jan Merlin was a versatile actor, who could play villains or heroes with ease.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Kaiju Movies on Turner Classic Movies This October


This October Turner Classic Movies has a treat for fans of kaiju movies (known as "Japanese monster movies" to the unwashed). Godzilla is TCM's Monster of the Month, so that all October they are showing classic kaiju movies on Friday nights. It all kicks off with the one and only, original Gojira (1954) on Friday, October 4. In all, TCM will show seventeen classic kaiju movies from the Shōwa Era (1954 to 1975). Here is the schedule of kaiju films being shown on TCM this October. All times are Central.

October 4:
7:00 PM Gojira (1954)
8:30 PM Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956)
10:00 PM Godzilla Raids Again (1955)
11:30 PM Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964)

October 5:
1:15 AM Mothra (1964)

October 11:
7:00 PM Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster (1964)
8:45 PM Invasion of the Astro-Monster (1965)
10: 30 PM Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (1966)

October 12:
12:00 Midnight Son of Godzilla (1967)
1:45 Destroy All Monsters (1969)

October 18:
7:00 PM All Monsters Attack (1969)
8:30 PM Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971)
10:15 PM Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972)

October 19:
12:00 Midnight Rodan (1958)

October 25:
7:00 PM Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973)
8:00 PM Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974)
10:00 PM Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975)

To get you in the mood for all the kaiju movies next month, here is the classic "Godzilla" by Blue Öyster Cult.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

The 60th Anniversary of Dobie Gillis

Dobie Gillis and Maynard G. Krebs
It was sixty years ago today, on September 29 1959, that the Many Loves of Dobie Gillis debuted on CBS. With the second season the title would be shortened to Dobie Gillis and with the fourth season it would be known as Max Shulman's Dobie Gillis, but by any title it was a revolutionary television series. Dobie Gillis was one of the earliest shows to centre on teenagers and, as a result, it would have an impact on nearly every teen sitcom to air every since. It was also the first to feature a counterculture figure (in the form of beatnik Maynard G. Krebs) as a regular character. As if this were not enough, Dobie Gillis was innovative in yet other ways, to the point that it can be considered the first Sixties sitcom (even though it debuted in 1959).

The origins of Dobie Gillis go back to a series of short stories written by Max Shulman. It was in the June 1945 issue of Good Housekeeping Dobie Gillis first appeared in the short story "The Face is Familiar, But." Over the next several years further Dobie Gillis stories would be published in such magazines as Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan, The Saturday Evening Post, Today's Woman, and American Magazine. The short stories would be collected into the anthology The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis in 1951.

Dwayne Hickman and Tuesday Weld
In the short stories Dobie Gillis was a college student and a lovable loser who was more than a little crazy about girls. Beyond this details about Dobie's life could vary from story to story. In some stories he is portrayed as a freshman in college, while in others he is a sophomore. Not only did his year in college vary, but so could his age. At times he was only seventeen. At other times he was eighteen or even nineteen. Similarly his major would vary. In various stories he is majoring in journalism, Egyptology, chemistry, English, or mechanical engineering. Similarly, his father's job might vary from short story to short story.

While continuity was not a strong suit of the Dobie Gillis short stories, they proved popular. The short stories would provide the basis for the 1953 MGM musical The Affairs of Dobie Gillis, starring Bobby Van in the title role. It was the continued popularity of the Dobie Gillis short stories that led George Burns to buy the television rights to the stories in 1955. Max Shulman was to serve as the producer and writer for the proposed television series. He also owned 33% of the project, with George Burns's McCadden Productions owning the other 67%. This proposed "Dobie Gillis" television series would never come to fruition. Mr. Shulman was considering such young actors as Dick Sargent, Jack Dimond, John Stevens, Martin Milner, Mark Rydell, Jeff Harris, or Dwayne Hickman for the role. George Burns wanted his son Ronnie Burns to play Dobie Gillis. Max Shulman strenuously objected to this, as he felt with Ronnie Burns in the lead role the show would be swiftly cancelled as, in his words, "The kid just has no talent..." Since Max Shulman had veto power over who would play Dobie, Messrs. Shulman and Burns found themselves at a bit of a stalemate with Mr. Shulman refusing approval of the series as long as Ronnie Burns was in the lead role. Ultimately, George Burns's option for a "Dobie Gillis" series would run out and a pilot was not even made.

Of course, we know from history that the character of Dobie Gillis would eventually find his way to television. Max Shulman's proposal for a "Dobie Gillis" television series would find its way to Martin Manulis, who in 1958 had just became the head of 20th Century Fox Television. Mr. Manulis was already an established name in television, having produced such legendary shows as Suspense, Studio One, and Playhouse 90.

Dobie, Maynard, and Zelda
That having been said, there would be changes made for the television series from Max Shulman's original short stories. Martin Manulis felt that college students in the late Fifties would be too mature to engage in the sort of antics that Dobie did in the short stories, but that it would fit high school kids perfectly. Dobie Gillis then became a high school student rather than a college student. The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis was pitched to NBC, who rejected the series. Fortunately, it would be greenlit by CBS. It debuted on Tuesday, September 29 1959 at 8:30 PM Eastern/7:30 PM Central.

Cast in the lead role of Dobie Gillis was Dwayne Hickman. Mr. Hickman was already familiar to audiences from various movies and the television sitcom The Bob Cummings Show. On The Bob Cummings Show, Dwayne Hickman played Bob's girl-crazy nephew Chuck. Unfortunately for Dwayne Hickman, CBS required him to die his brown hair blond in order to distance himself from the character of Chuck. As it turned out, the bleaching was causing damage to both his hair and his scalp, so that with the second season he was allowed to keep his naturally brown hair. While Dobie Gillis was in his late teens on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, in reality Dwayne Hickman was 24 when they shot the pilot for the show.

Here it must also pointed out that while The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis is sometimes cited as the first show about teenagers, it really wasn't. Teenagers have been a source of humour ever since the comic strip Harold Teen had debuted in 1919. Among the many teen humour movies were the "Andy Hardy" and "Henry Aldrich" series. Archie Andrews was one of the biggest successes in comic books during their Golden Age. Old Time Radio featured such teen oriented comedies as Archie Andrews (based on the comic books),  A Date with Judy, and Meet Corliss Archer. Both A Date with Judy and Meet Corliss Archer would make the transition to television. In fact, there were two Meet Corliss Archer shows. The first aired on CBS for a time in 1951. The second was a syndicated series produced by Ziv from 1953 to 1954. A Date with Judy ran on ABC from 1951 to 1953. That having been said, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis may not have been the first teen television sitcom, but it was different from anything before (more on that in a bit).
  
Dobie and his parents
Indeed, as mentioned earlier, it was the first television situation comedy of any type to feature a member of the counterculture as a regular character. Maynard G. Krebs (played by Bob Denver) was a beatnik. Maynard began the show with an unkempt appearance (even down to a goatee), often wearing sweatshirts that had holes in them. In fact, in the first episode ("Caper at the Bijou") he was briefly put in jail for vagrancy. He listened to such jazz artists as Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie. He even played bongo drums and occasionally the piano and the trumpet. Maynard defied most the social norms of the day, and was apt to say, "Work!" in a frightened voice. He spoke hip slang that was unknown on television at the time. Bob Denver had attended Loyola with Dobie Gillis star Dwayne Hickman.

Bob Denver very nearly had to leave the show after only three episodes had been shot. He received his draft notice and as a result Maynard was written out of the show as having been drafted. Michael J. Pollard took his place as Maynard's cousin Jerome Krebs. Fortunately due to an old neck injury, Bob Denver was determined to be unfit for service. He then returned to the show as Maynard and Michael J. Pollard, as Jerome, was never seen again.

Not only did The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis differ from previous sitcoms in that it featured a member of the counterculture, but in the relationship between Dobie and his parents. On previous sitcoms, from Father Knows Best to Leave It to Beaver, teenagers respected and got along fairly well with their parents, even if they didn't always obey them. This was a sharp contrast to the relationship between Dobie and Herbert T. Gillis (played by Frank Faylen). Herbert T. Gillis was a veteran of World War II who owned a grocery. Herbert's tendency to pinch pennies always frustrated Dobie's desire to have and spend money. Dobie's tendency to avoid work and spend money always frustrated Herbert. At least in the first season, before a sponsor complained about the line, it was not unusual for Herbert to exclaim, "I gotta kill that boy. I just gotta..." It perhaps frustrated Herbert even more that his wife and Dobie's mother Winifred (Florida Friebus), often called "Winnie," doted upon the boy. It was not unusual for her to sneak money from the cash register to him.

Tuesday Weld as Thalia
Beyond Dobie, Maynard, and Dobie's parents, Dobie Gillis featured an extensive supporting cast of both his fellow students and his teachers. Among the best known of the supporting characters was blonde, beautiful Thalia Menninger (played by Tuesday Weld). Thalia was the girl of his dreams that he was always trying to win. Unfortunately for Dobie, while Thalia was fond of him, she wanted someone with money. That having been said, Thalia was no mere gold digger,  as she had a rationale for marrying into money. Quite simply, she had to do so for her family. In Thalia's own words, "My father's sixty years old and has a kidney condition, and my mother isn't getting any younger either. I have a sister who's married to a loafer, and a brother who shows every sign of turning into a public charge." Tuesday Weld did not remain with the show as a semi-regular after the first season, although she would make guest appearances as Thalia in the third and fourth seasons. It is not entirely clear why Tuesday Weld left Dobie Gillis, but according to some reports it was because a sponsor thought she was "too sexy (it must be pointed out that Miss Weld was only 15 when the show began shooting)."

Of course, Thalia was not the only girl in Dobie's life. There was also Zelda Gilroy (played by Shelia James), who was not only intelligent but a fairly good athlete was well. Zelda carried a torch for Dobie, even though he did not find her particularly attractive. Despite this Zelda was convinced that she and Dobie were destined to be together because of "propinquity" (the physical or psychological proximity between people). Quite simply, because Dobie's last name was "Gillis" and Zelda's last name was "Gilroy," they were often seated next to each other in classes. Zelda would often wrinkle her nose at Dobie, causing him to wrinkle his back at her, which she maintained as proof that Dobie loved her, but had yet to realise it.

Sheila James as Zelda
Along with Dobie and his parents, Zelda was the only character to appear in Max Shulman's short stories, although it was only in one. Zelda appeared in the short story "Love is a Science," which was among the stories adapted as an episode for the first season. Zelda was only meant to appear once, but became a semi-regular character later in the first season. Zelda proved to be very popular, so much so that a pilot for spin-off featuring the character, Zelda, was shot in late 1961 as a potential series for the 1962-1963 season. CBS did not pick up the show.

During the run of the series, Dobie Gillis would have two antagonists, both of who were wealthy and entitled. The first was Milton Armitage (played by Warren Beatty). Milton was handsome, rich, and snobbish. He was also Dobie's rival for Thalia's affections. Here it must be pointed out that Warren Beatty only appeared in five episodes during the first season. After the first season the role of Dobie's antagonist was filled by Chatsworth Osborne, Jr. (played by Steve Franken). Unlike Milton, Chatsworth was a much more sympathetic character. Although he was often Dobie's rival, he was a good deal friendlier to Dobie and Maynard than Milton ever was. Chatsworth's mother, Clarissa Osborne (played by Doris Parker) would also appear in several episodes of the series.

Among the semi-regular and recurring characters on Dobie Gillis were Dobie's teachers. Most notable among them were Leander Pomfritt. Mr. Pomfritt was played by Herbert Anderson and by William Schallert for the rest of the show's run. Mr. Pomfritt was Dobie's English teacher in high school and would also teach at the college that Dobie and Maynard attended. Mr. Pomfritt was very much an intellectual. He could also be stern and had a habit of making deadpan remarks (he referred to his students as "My young barbarians..)," but he was also very fond and supportive of his students. Dr. Imogene Burkhart (played by Jean Byron) was Dobie and Maynard's biology teacher in high school and later their sociology teacher in college. Jean Byron was friends with Max Shulman and the character was created specifically for her. In fact, "Imogene Burkhart" was Jean Byron's given name. Dr. Burkhart was a sharp contrast to earlier teachers on television. Not only did she hold a doctorate, but she was also a bit glamorous. William Shallert and Jean Byron would later appear together as Patty Lane's parents on The Patty Duke Show.

One character that did not remain with the show was Dobie's older brother Davey Gillis, played by Dwayne Hickman's real life brother Darryl Hickman. Davey was away attending college and only appeared in three episodes of the first season. Afterwards it was as if Davey did not exist. Dobie was treated as if he were an only child.

Of course, in addition to the regular and semi-regular cast, Dobie Gillis would feature several guest stars throughout its run, including some who would go onto become famous. Ron Howard made several appearances on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis in its first season. It would be in the following season that he would gain fame as Opie Taylor on The Andy Griffith Show. Ryan O'Neil guest starred on the first season episode "The Hunger Strike." Among the many young actresses to appear on the show were Barbara Bain, Linda Henning, Michele Lee, Sally Kellerman, Roberta Shore, and Marlo Thomas. Yvonne Craig was a frequent guest star on the show. She appeared on Dobie Gillis five times, each time as a different character. In fact, she even appeared in the presentation film used to sell the show.  

Dobie Gillis would evolve over its four years on the air. Two things would remain consistent throughout the show. The first was that Dobie would break the fourth wall and share his observations with the audience. When the series began this was often in Central City Park in front of a reproduction of Rodin's sculpture "The Thinker,' with Dobie with assuming The Thinker's pose. As the series progressed the park would be gone. Dobie would still break the fourth wall and make observations to the audience, but in front of The Thinker on a plain set. The second is that the Gillis grocery store would remain a major setting on the show for the entirety of its run.

Aside from the departure of Tuesday Weld and a more pronounced role for Sheila James, the second season would see some major changes on Dobie Gillis. Midway through the season Dobie, Maynard, and Chatsworth graduated from high school and all three of them enlisted in the United States Army. Their stint in the Army would be brief, as with the beginning of the third season Dobie, Maynard, Zelda, and Chatsworth were all attending S. Peter Pryor Junior College. The fourth season would see the addition of Duncan Gillis (played by Bobby Diamond), Dobie's teenage cousin.

Maynard
Just as Dobie Gllis evolved over time, so did the character of Maynard G. Krebs. As mentioned earlier, he began the show as a beatnik who dressed so shabbily that he was jailed for vagrancy and he listened to jazz. Over the first two seasons Maynard changed very little. During the second season his shirts would have fewer holes, but he was still more or less the same beatnik he had been in the first season. At the same time, however, there would be an increasing number of episodes that focused primarily on Maynard ("The Mystic Powers of Maynard G. Krebs" being an example). With the third season Maynard was less the beatnik he had been than an eccentric nonconformist. Not only did his shirts no longer have holes, but the references to jazz fell by the wayside as well. The series also began to feature more episodes centred on Maynard, in which Dobie remained the show's narrator but acted more as an observer. Episodes centred on Maynard only increased in the fourth season, with some even venturing into the area of the fantastic ("Dr. Jekyll an Mr. Gillis" being an example). That is not to say that in the later seasons one did not see hints of the original Maynard. In the third season episode "Eat, Drink, and Be Merry... for Tomorrow Ker-Boom," when Dr. Burkhart asks her class to bring items to place in a time capsule, Maynard declines because he is convinced that in a few years a nuclear holocaust will wipe out civilisation.

While the show changed over its run, Dobie Gillis also remained relatively popular during its run as well. It was a mark of the show's popularity that National Periodical Publications (now DC Comics) published 26 issues of the comic book The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis from 1960 to 1964.  The show also did relatively well in the Nielsen ratings. In its second season it ranked no. 23 out of all the shows on the air. In its third season it ranked no. 21 for the season. Unfortunately, for its fourth season CBS moved Dobie Gillis from the Tuesday night time slot in which it had been scheduled since its debut to a new time slot on Wednesday at 8:30 PM Eastern/7:30 PM Central. There it aired opposite the last half hour of NBC's hit Western The Virginian. Dobie Gillis declined in the ratings and was cancelled as a result.

Dobie Gillis would go on to a successful run in syndication. It proved successful enough that in 1977 a half hour pilot, Whatever Happened to Dobie Gillis? was produced. In Whatever Happened to Dobie Gillis? Dobie has since married Zelda and is helping his father with his grocery store. While the pilot did not sell, Dobie Gillis continued to be popular as a syndicated rerun and would eventually air on such cable channels as The Family Channel and Nick-at-Nite. In 1988 the television reunion movie Bring Me the Head of Dobie Gillis aired on CBS. In the movie Dobie and Zelda are now married and running the grocery (his parents having died) as well as a pharmacy with it. Their lives are complicated when Thalia Messinger returns to town and offers a $50,000 bounty to kill Dobie if he won't divorce Zelda and marry her. Since Tuesday Weld declined to appear in the television movie, Connie Stevens played the role of Thalia. Bring Me the Head of Dobie Gillis also featured Bob Denver as Maynard, Steve Franken as Chatsworth, and William Schallert as Mr. Pomfritt.

As to why Dobie Gillis was so successful, that comes down to the fact that in many respects it was a revolutionary show. While there had been shows centred on teenagers before, Dobie Gillis was the first to portray a teenager in conflict with a parent. On previous sitcoms teenagers got along fairly well with their parents, even if sometimes they might disobey them. On Dobie Gillis, Dobie regarded his father as a bit of a stick in the mud, while Herbert regarded his son as shiftless and lazy. It is perhaps the first teen sitcom in which teenagers regarded the older generation as being out of touch with the times. What is more, Dobie didn't disobey Herbert once in a while, but on a regular basis.

Of course, as mentioned earlier Dobie Gillis was the first show to regularly feature a member of the counterculture in the form of Maynard G. Krebs. It was Maynard who paved the way for everything from the lead characters on Route 66 to The Monkees to The Mod Squad. With regards to Dobie Gillis, in many ways the time was right for a show that included a voice for the counterculture. While today many people tend to think of the Baby Boomers when they think of the counterculture, they were led by members of the Silent Generation like the characters on Dobie Gillis. Quite simply, as members of the Silent Generation, Dobie, Maynard, Zelda, and Thalia were all the same age as such people as Bob Dylan, The Beatles, and so on. I don't think it would be unrealistic to believe that Maynard was probably active in the anti-war movement of the mid to late Sixties.

Dwayne Hickman and Yvonne Craig
Dobie Gillis was different from previous sitcoms beyond its portrayal of teenagers and their parents and the presence of a beatnik. While Dobie had a tendency to objectify women to a point that could be downright creepy (he tended to describe girls as "beautiful, gorgeous, soft, round, creamy..."), the show could be downright progressive compared to other shows on at the time when it came to its portrayal of women. Quite simply, with the exception of Mr. Pomfritt, the most intelligent people on the show were all women. There can be no doubt that of the various teenagers on the show, Zelda was the brightest. What is more, she definitely knew what she wanted (which just happened to be Dobie). And while Thalia was not the student that Zelda was, she was smarter than the boys who pursued her (particularly Dobie). Beyond the teenagers, Dr. Burkhart was a positively revolutionary character. She was an intelligent woman with a PhD who devoted her life to her career. What is more, she was not at all plain or lacking in charm. She could quite rightfully be described as glamorous. Before Mary Richards, Dr. Burkhart was a single career woman.

Beyond all of this, Dobie Gillis was revolutionary in one other way. Quite simply, Dobie Gillis was a forerunner of such sitcoms as Gilligan's Island, Green Acres, and The Monkees. Certainly Dobie Gillis became increasingly more surreal in its fourth season, with episodes in which Dobie is convinced Thalia is out to kill him and Dobie and Maynard become involved with spies. That having been said, Dobie Gillis was surreal from the very beginning. This was the case even with its presentation film, which in today's terms would be considered meta. Quite simply, Dobie is convinced that his life is being ruined by a writer named Max Shulman and decides to leave the show. The first episode of the series, "Caper at the Bijou," featured the first of many fantasy sequences, something that would remain a part of the show for the rest of its run. Although it debuted in the late Fifties and aired into the early Sixties, Dobie Gillis feels much more like a sitcom from the mid-Sixties. It has much more in common with The Addams Family, Bewitched, Green Acres, and The Monkees than it does The Donna Reed Show and Leave It to Beaver. Quite simply, being as surreal as it was, Dobie Gillis was ahead of its time.

Of course, beyond being a very revolutionary show in many ways, much of the success of Dobie Gillis was simply due to having a great cast. Dwayne Hickman already had considerable experience between his roles in movies and The Bob Cummings Show. Bob Denver was perfect in the role of Maynard. Tuesday Weld was on the cusp of superstardom. Even the show's supporting characters were played by some of the best in the business. Frank Faylen had a long filmography well before he played Herbert Gillis. Most people will probably remember him as taxi cab driver Ernie Bishop in It's a Wonderful Life (1946). An established character actor with a long career, he played Herbert wonderfully. William Schallert had not been in the business as long as Frank Faylen, but he already had a strong resume by the time he played Mr. Pomfritt on Dobie Gillis. Ultimately, Dobie Gillis had one of the best casts of any television show ever.

Dobie Gillis may not be as well known as I Love Lucy, The Andy Griffith Show, or The Dick Van Dyke Show, but it has never been entirely forgotten. It has recently been rerun on MeTV and is available on such streaming services as Amazon Prime, Shout! Factory, and Tubi. Shout! Factory released the entire series on DVD in 2013. Sixty years after its debut, Dobie Gillis is still popular.