Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Farewell to 2019

There are many who believe that 2019 is the end of the decade of the Teens. I am not one of them, as I honestly don't think the Twenties will begin until January 1 2021 (if you want to know why, read this post). Regardless, the end of any year is a good time for looking back and 2019 is no different in that regard.

In many ways 2019 was not an easy year for me. After all, the year began only four months after my beloved Vanessa Marquez had been shot and killed by police officers in South Pasadena, California. I then began 2019 heavily grieving and, although I am better than I was at the beginning of the year, I am still grieving. As 2019 began I was still crying on a regular basis, sometime multiple times a day. It is still not unusual for something I associate with her (a memory, a song, a movie) to trigger a flood of tears. Even now I miss talking to her on the phone and texting with her, and interacting with her on various social networks. For me Vanessa's death is an open wound from which I am convinced I will never recover. I may learn to live with it, but I am convinced that I will carry the pain of her absence for the rest of my life. The fact is that for me Vanessa was not merely a close friend, but a woman I adore more than anyone else in my life. Even now I cannot use the past tense when speaking of my feelings for her. Vanessa may have died, but my love for her has not.

At the same time that I was (and still am) grieving, I was (and still am) very, very angry. Vanessa was not mentally ill, nor was she suicidal. She certainly was not violent. I cannot see how anyone could possibly feel threatened by someone as tiny as Vanessa was (she was only 5' 3" and 87 pounds when she died). For those reasons and others I am convinced that the police officers who shot her acted inappropriately, unprofessionally, and irresponsibly in dealing with Vanessa. In fact, I am convinced that the persons who killed Vanessa behaved so carelessly and recklessly that they are at least guilty of voluntary manslaughter or possibly even second degree murder.

Worse yet, South Pasadena's behaviour since Vanessa's death has left much to be desired. In my opinion, their city manager's statement as of September 1 2018 regarding Vanessa's death was grounded in assumptions that I don't think were supported by the available evidence at the time (keep in mind the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department's investigation had only begun the previous day). The statement also lacked any sort of empathy or sympathy for those of us who love Vanessa and did not take into account that we were grieving a dear friend. I know that I was not only angered by the statement, but I was very, very hurt by it as well, this at the lowest point in my entire life.  South Pasadena has released no information regarding Vanessa's death in the year and four months since she died. They have not even responded to even one of the many letters I have written them. Making matters even worse is the fact that Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey has not said whether she plans to prosecute the police officers who shot Vanessa or declare that they were within their rights to do so. Given that Lacey has never prosecuted police officers in officer involved shooting cases, even when it seems clear to many that they were in the wrong, I have my doubts that she will ever do either. I have then spent the entirety of 2019 not only mourning my dearest Vanessa, but angry that what I perceive as a heinous crime committed against her might well go unpunished.

Of course, although it might have seemed that way at times, 2019 was not all bad for me. It was around October 2018 that Vanessa's Stand and Deliver (1988) co-star Lydia Nicole set up a petition asking that Vanessa be included in the on-air In Memoriams of both the SAG Awards and the Oscars. Both Paula Guthat, a close mutual friend as well as the co-founder of #TCMParty, and I tweeted the petition almost daily from October onwards, and yet others shared it as well. In the end neither the Screen Actors Guild nor the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences included Vanessa Marquez in their on-air In Memoriams. That having been said, over 12,000 people signed the petition. What is more, the petition received nationwide attention, as did the failure of the Academy to include her in their on-air In Memoriam. It made me happy to know that so many people cared enough about the woman I love more than any other in my life that they were willing to sign a petition to see that she was remembered in the on-air In Memoriams of both the SAG Awards and the Oscars. Vanessa had many more fans than she thought she did.

It was also this year that I created a pinback button in memory of Vanessa to be handed out at the 2019 TCM Classic Film Festival. Vanessa had always wanted to go to the festival, but never got the chance. I thought this would be a way that I could memorialise her as well as see that she was present at the festival after a fashion. I only made a limited number of the pinback buttons, and they proved popular enough that I fear many who wanted one did not get one (I am going to have to make more). Vanessa was well loved by the TCM fan community and by many at Turner Classic Movies itself. She was one of the original members of #TCMParty, the group of fans who live tweet films on TCM using that hashtag, and was adored for her openness, warm-heartedness, enthusiasm, and her knowledge of classic film and the film industry. Paula Guthat referred to her as "the Sweetheart of #TCMParty."

It would be because of Vanessa that I would make my first trip to California. I had always wanted to go out there and see her, but I never did get the chance. It was then in July that I boarded a plane and flew to Hollywood to attend a special screening of Stand and Deliver at the LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes and to scatter Vanessa's ashes. Both were extremely emotional experiences. At the screening of Stand and Deliver there was an incredible outpouring of love for Vanessa. The members of the cast of Stand and Deliver made sure that she was remembered at the event. Acclaimed cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz was there, with the tribute he had made to Vanessa in his comic strip La Cucaracha. It was an extremely emotional experience for me and I have to confess that while watching Stand and Deliver I cried a bit at the scene in which Vanessa's character, Ana Delgado, was standing in the doorway (it is the scene that Turner Classic Movies used in the 2018 TCM Remembers). Anyway, I had been in touch with Daniel before attending the screening, but I got to meet much of the rest of the cast of the movie, as well as producer and screenwriter Tom Musca.

As I mentioned above, part of the reason for the trip was also to scatter Vanessa's ashes. I am not yet at liberty to say where we scattered her ashes (a very few of you already know), but it was one of the most emotional experiences of my life. It was a beautiful day for it. We did it in the early morning when there was a heavy fog in the Hollywood Hills. As we scattered Vanessa's ashes I found myself overwhelmed to the point that I did something I have never done before. I broke down crying for the first time in front of anyone other than my closest family. We are talking ugly crying here, not just a few tears. For Vanessa, then, I flew on a plane for the first time (I have always been terrified of them and that initial flight was frightening), among other things. Among the good things that came out of my trip to California is that I am now in touch with Vanessa's mother and we have grown rather close.

Of course, not every important event in my year was necessarily related to Vanessa. Every year TCM Backlot holds a TCM in Your Hometown contest. This year it was St. Louis that won the contest. It was then on September 26 2019 that my friend Meredith of the blog Vitaphone Dreamer and I journeyed to St. Louis to see Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) at the Tivoli Theatre there. Before the movie a VIP meet and greet was held at the Moonrise Hotel (a few blocks away from the Tivoli), which I attended. It was there that I got to meet Margaret O'Brien (who played Tootie in the movie) and I got to meet Ben Mankiewicz in person (I had previously introduced A Hard Day's Night with him as part of TCM's Fan Favourites series). I also got to meet Annette of Hometowns to Hollywood, Diana Bosch of the blog Flickin' Out and currently with TCM, and Yacov Freedman, who runs TCM Backot, in person. Before the movie was a Q&A between Ben Mankiewicz and Margaret O'Brien, which was quite fun as one could imagine. As to Meet Me in St. Louis, it has always been one of my all-time favourite movies and it is simply amazing on the big screen.

That's enough about me. I am sure many of you who are reading this post would rather hear about popular culture in the year 2019. Once more this year the top movies at the box office were either sequels or remakes. The number one movie of the year was Marvel's The Avengers: Endgame. At number two was Disney's remake of their animated film The Lion King. At number three was another sequel, Pixar's Toy Story 4. In the number 4 spot was the only original movie in the top five, Captain Marvel (the Marvel comics character, not the original Fawcett Comics character). The fifth highest grossing movie of the year was Disney's Frozen II, another sequel. While looking at the top five might seem bleak to some given the remakes and sequels, there were actually some movies in the theatres I would like to have seen this year, although I only got to see one. I thoroughly enjoyed Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and it could possibly be my favourite Quentin Tarantino movie of all time. I also wanted to see Booksmart, Dolemite is My Name, The Irishman, and, especially, Knives Out. I did not get to see any of them. Yes, I know some of them are on Netflix, but sadly I haven't had access to a Netflix account since October. I plan on seeing The Rise of Skywalker in the theatre, but it will probably be next year before I do so.

Between the old broadcast networks, the cable channels, and streaming services, it has gotten increasingly difficult to determine what the most popular television shows are. The big hit on the broadcast networks this year was The Masked Singer, which I really have no desire to see. Other than The Masked Singer, it seems to me that ratings for the broadcast networks were dominated by older shows. The Big Bang Theory ended its run and got phenomenal ratings in the process. Both NCIS and Young Sheldon continued to get high ratings. As far as the broadcast networks go, the only new show that hooked me is Stumptown, a detective drama based on the graphic novels of the same name. As far as the cable channels go, Game of Thrones ended its run and dominated the ratings as well. Big Little Lies and Watchmen, also on HBO, also did well. Of course, television is increasingly dominated by the streaming services. Netflix saw success with the TV series Stranger Things, The Witcher, The Umbrella Academy, and Dead to Me. Netflix continued to expand into movies, with The Irishman and Murder Mystery. On Amazon The Marvellous Mrs. Maisel continues to do well. Of course, this year saw the emergence of new streaming services, among them Disney+. On Disney+, The Mandalorian, a show set in the Star Wars universe, appears to be a hit.

Of course, what many will remember about 2019 is the sheer number of celebrity deaths this year. As my loyal readers know, I regularly eulogise pop culture figures on this blog. This year there were so many people dying that I did not have a full week free of any eulogies until the week of February 10. After that I would not have another full week full of eulogies until the week of May 19. What is more, some very big names died this year. Among them was one of the last stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood, Doris Day. What is more Miss Day was not only a movie star, but a very successful singer as well. Tim Conway, a television megastar known for McHale's Navy and The Carol Burnett Show, died the same week as Doris Day. Among the sadder deaths for me this year was Diahann Carroll. I have adored the actress and singer since childhood. Stanley Donen directed some of my all time favourite movies of all time. In fact, not counting The Wizard of Oz (1939) and A Hard Day's Night (1964), he directed my two favourite musicals of all time: Singin' in the Rain (1954) and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954). An entire list of the actors, directors, and writers who died this year would take up a good bit of space, and there were so many that I could not eulogise all of them on this blog. Here then is a list of some of the people who died in 2019: Carol Channing, Kaye Ballard, James Frawley, Dick Miller, Julie Adams, Albert Finney, Stanley Donen, Luke Perry, Larry Cohen, Julia Lockwood, Agnes Varda, John Singleton, Peter Mayhew, Billy Drago, Rip Torn, Rutger Hauer, Peter Fonda, Valerie Harper, Carol Lynley, Rip Taylor, writer D. C. Fontana, René Auberjonois, Anna Karina, Danny Aiello, Lee Mendelson, and Sue Lyon. Here I want to stress that this list does not include everyone I eulogised on this blog this year, as it would possibly occupy a very large part of the page!

Several music artists also died this year, among them some of my favourites. I have been a fan of The Monkees since I was a very young child, so that I was very hurt when I heard Peter Tork died. Another one of my favourites to die this year was Ric Ocasek. I had been a fan of The Cars since their first album came out in 1978. Others who died this year were Hal Blaine, Dick Dale, Leon Redbone, Eddie Money, Ginger Baker, and Neil Innes.

With regards to this blog, A Shroud of Thoughts celebrated its fifteenth anniversary on June 4. Even without all the eulogies it has been a busy year on the blog. I held both the Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon in March and the Rule Britannia blogathon in August. I also took part in several other blogathons, including the Great Villain Blogathon and the What a Character! Blogathon (two of my favourites). This year saw several TV show anniversaries, so I wrote posts about Turn-On, Bonanza, Dobie Gillis, The Untouchables, and others.

For me 2019 has been a sad year, the first full year I have ever spent without Vanessa. That having been said, the year also had its highlights for me, memories I will keep for the rest of my life. I am hoping that 2020 will see

Monday, December 30, 2019

Godspeed Neil Innes

Neil Innes, best known for The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, The Beatles pastiche The Rutles, and his work with Monty Python, died yesterday, December 29 2019, at the age of 75.

Neil Innes was born on December 9 1944 in Danbury, Essex. His father was a warrant officer serving in the British Army in West Germany. He then spent his first several years in West Germany. From when he was 7 years old until he was 14 years old he took piano lessons. He also learned to play the guitar. Once the family returned to the United Kingdom, Neil Innes attended Thorpe St. Andrew School in Norfolk, the Norwich School of Design, and Goldsmith's College in London.

It was while he was at Goldsmith's College that he joined The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, which had been formed by Vivian Stanshall and Rodney Slater. It would ultimately be Neil Innes and Vivian Stanshall who would write most of the band's material. The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band had a minor hit in Britain with "I'm the Urban Spaceman." They released the albums Gorilla, The Doughnuts in Granny's Greenhouse, Tadpoles, Keynsham, and Let's Make Up and Be Friendly. The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band appeared regularly on the TV show Do Not Adjust Your Set. They made a notable appearance in The Beatles' television special Magical Mystery Tour, performing "Death Cab for Cutie."

After The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah band disbanded, Neil Innes played in the band GRIMMS, which ultimately released three albums. He also began a close association with Monty Python's Flying Circus. He contributed music to their albums Monty Python's Previous Record (1972) and The Monty Python Matching Tie and Handkerchief (1973). He wrote songs and sketches for the final series of Monty Python's Flying Circus and even appeared in two sketches on the series. He would also appear in Monty Python's movies Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) and The Life of Brian (1979), as well as Terry Gilliam's debut feature film as a director, Jabberwocky (1977). In 1973 he also appeared live with Monty Python in the UK and Canada.

In 1976 Neil Innes and Eric Idle joined the comedy sketch television series Rutland Weekend Television. The show ran for two series. One of the sketches on the show featured a Beatles pastiche called The Rutles. Neil Innes played Ron Nasty, a character loosely based on John Lennon. The sketch lead to two appearances on Saturday Night Live and then the television movie The Rutles: All You Need is Cash. A soundtrack album for All You Need is Cash, The Rutles, was released in 1978. Through the years there would be other Rutles related projects. In 1996 The Rutles released a parody of The Beatles' Anthology, Archaeology. In 2002 The Rutles 2: Can't Buy Me Lunch, a parody of the television special The Beatles: Revolution.

Following The Rutles: All You Need is Cash, Neil Innes had his own show, The Innes Book of Records, which ran for three series. He also composed music for the shows Jane, The Raggy Dolls, The Riddlers, and East of the Moon. Mr. Innes played the magician in the children's TV series Puddle Lane. He appeared in the movies The Missionary (1982) and Erik the Viking (1989).

Later in his career Neil Innes appeared on the children's shows East of the Moon and The Raggy Dolls. He appeared in the movie Not the Messiah: He's a Very Naughty Boy (2010).

Over the years Neil Innes also released several solo albums and participated in reunions of The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band.

Neil Genius was also an incredible music talent and a comic genius. He wrote some extremely listenable songs with The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band that, at the same time, could be very funny. He was also versatile. He could write an Elvis pastiche such as "Death Cab for Cutie" as well as The Beatles pastiches for The Rutles projects. Such was his talent that he was one of the few people who was not a member of Monty Python to be credited on Monty Python's Circus. People often have either musical talent or comic talent. Neil Innes had both.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

The Roaring '20s on Film on Turner Classic Movies This January

Louise Brooks in Pandora's Box
Okay, I honestly don't believe the new decade will begin until January 1 2021 (if you want to know why, read this post), but I am looking forward to the TCM Spotlight on the 1920s each Wednesday in January. The Roaring '20s features movies both made during the Twenties and movies made later that are set in the decade.

The fun begins on January 1 2019 with Gangsters Part I, which features such films as The Roaring Twenties (1939), The Public Enemy (1931), The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond (1960), and other films. On January 8 2019 is Gangsters Part II, which includes Some Like It Hot (1959), The St. Valentine's Day Massacre (1967), Scarface (1931), and Al Capone (1959). January 15 is dedicated to Prohibition & Bootleggers. It features such films as The Wet Parade (1932), Once Upon a Time in America (1984), and The Purple Gang (1959). January 22 is devoted to Speakeasies & Nightclubs. It includes the films Incendiary Blonde (1945), Bugsy Malone (1976), Robin and the 7 Hoods (1964), and others. January 29 is dedicated to Flappers. It features such films as Our Dancing Daughters (1928), Why Be Good? (1929), Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967), It (1927),  and Pandora's Box (1929).

As far as I am concerned this is a stellar lineup. My only complaint is that I wish they were showing Pandora's Box earlier (it airs at 2:30 AM Central). For me, at least, on the screen Louise Brooks was the archetypal flapper, so that if Turner Classic Movies is spotlighting flappers her films should be front and centre. Regardless, I have always been fascinated by the Twenties and I looking forward to the TCM Spotlight on the Roaring Twenties. I am sure other TCM fans will be as well!

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Lee Mendelson and Sue Lyon Pass On

Lee Mendelson

Lee Mendelson, best know as the producer of the many Peanuts television specials, died on December 25 2019 at the age of 86. The cause was lung cancer.
Lee Mendelson was born on March 24 1933 in San Francisco, California. He grew up San Mateo. He attended Stanford University. Following graduation he served for three years in the United States Air Force. After his service he worked for his father as a vegetable grower and shipper. In 1961 he went to work KPIX in San Francisco, producing public service announcements for the station. It was a serendipitous discover of footage from the 1915 San Francisco World Fair that led to the production of his first documentary, The Innocent Fair (1962). In 1963 he left KPIX to found his own production company and produced a documentary about baseball player Willie Mays, A Man Named Mays (1963). It was following A Man Named Mays that he approached Charles Schulz, creator of the comic strip Peanuts, about producing a documentary on the cartoonist and the comic strip. Mr. Schulz agreed, leading to the documentary  A Boy Named Charlie Brown. To provide animation for the documentary he recruited animator Bill Melendez, who had animated the Peanuts gang for a series of commercials for Ford Motor Company.

While Lee Mendelson was unable to sell his documentary on Charles Schulz, he was approached by John Allen, an account executive with the McCann Erickson Agency, with a proposal of an animated Peanuts special to be sponsored by McCann Erickson's client Coca-Cola for the Christmas season. This led to the classic television special A Charlie Brown Christmas. A Charlie Brown Christmas proved so successful that it would lead to over thirty more Peanuts television specials, all of them produced by Lee Mendelson.

In addition to the many Peanuts television specials, Lee Mendelson also produced the Peanuts feature films A Boy Named Charlie Brown (1969), Snoopy Come Home (1972), Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown (1977), and Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (and Don't Come Back!!) (1980).  He also produced the Saturday morning TV series The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show and the mini-series This is America, Charlie Brown.

Lee Mendelson produced other projects beyond the Penauts specials. He produced the TV specials The Fabulous Shorts (1968), The Story of Babar, the Little Elephant (1968), Children's Letters to God (1969), Babar Comes to America (1971), Travels with Flip (1975),  Here Comes Garfield (1982), Garfield on the Town (1983), Cathy (1987), Cathy's Last Resort (1988), and Cathy's Valentine (1989). He also produced the TV documentaries It Couldn't Be Done (1970), The Unexplained (1970), From Yellowstone to Tomorrow (1972), The Fantastic Funnies (1980), and Movie Blockbusters: The 15 Greatest Hits of All Time (1983). 

There can be no doubt that Lee Mendelson had an enormous impact on American popular culture. With Charles Schulz and Bill Melendez he created some of the most successful television specials of all time. What is more, the Peanuts specials have had a lasting impact, inspiring many young filmmakers, musicians, and other artists. What Mr. Mendelson started as a documentary led to numerous televisions specials whose influence are still being felt to this day.

Sue Lyon

Sue Lyon, best known for playing the title character in Stanley Kubrick's 1962 adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita, died on December 26 2019 at the age of 73. No cause of death was given, but reportedly she had been in declining health for some time.
Sue Lyon was born Suellyn Lyon on July 10 1946 in Davenport, Iowa. Her father died before she was a year old. Her mother moved the family to Dallas not long afterwards. Three years later they moved to Los Angeles. When she was 13 she began working a catalogue model. She also appeared in small parts on television. She made her television debut in an episode of The Loretta Young Show in 1959. She also guest starred on an episode of Dennis the Menace in 1960. 

Sue Lyon beat out 800 other actresses to land the role of Lolita (1962). Even with concessions made to the Production Code, Lolita proved to be a controversial film. It also launched Sue Lyon on her career. In the Sixties she appeared in the films The Night of the Iguana (1964), 7 Women (1966), The Flim-Flam Man (1967), Tony Rome (1967), and Four Rode Out (1969). In 1969 she appeared in a television adaptation of Arsenic and Old Lace. She also appeared in the TV movie But I Don't Want to Get Married! and guest starred on the TV series The Virginian.

In the Seventies Miss Lyon appeared in the movies Evel Knieval (1971), Una gota de sangre para morir amando (1973), Tarot (1973), Crash! (1976), End of the World (1977), The Astral Factor (1978), Towing (1978), and Alligator (1980). She guest starred on the TV shows Storefront Lawyers; Night Gallery; Love, American Style; Police Story; and Fantasy Island. She also appeared in the TV movies Smash-Up on Interstate 5 (1977) and Don't Push, I'll Charge When I'm Ready (1977). 

Chances are very good that Sue Lyon will always be remembered for her star-making turn in Lolita. There is very good reason for that, as she excelled in the role. That having been said, she had other notable roles in her career. She was Charlotte Goodall in Night of the Iguana, Emma Clarke in 7 Women, and Diana Pines in Tony Rome. While she would increasingly find herself cast in secondary roles in the Seventies, her career in the Sixties remains impressive.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Tony Britton Passes On

Tony Britton, who starred on such television shows as Robin's Nest and Don't Wait Up as well as such films as Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971) and The Day of the Jackal (1973), died on December 22 2019 at the age of 95.

Tony Britton was born on June 9 1924 in Birmingham, Warwickshire. He attended Edgbaston Collegiate School in Birmingham and Thornbury Grammar School in Alveston, Gloucestershire. Upon leaving school he two amateur acting companies in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset. At the same time he apprenticed as an estate agent and worked in an aircraft factory. He made his professional acting debut in the play Quiet Weekend at the Knightstone Pavilion Weston-super-Mare, Somerset.

During World War II he was drafted into the British Army and served in the Royal Artillery. He was demobilised in 1946 and joined the Liberty Theatre in Manchester for nine months and then moved to a repertory company in Edinburgh. In 1952 he had his breakthrough rough as the Pharaoh Ramses in The Firstborn at the Winter Garden in London. That same year, at the Edinburgh festival, he appeared in The Player King. Afterwards he had a two year stint at at Stratford-upon-Avon, after which he returned to the West End.

Tony Britton made his film debut in an uncredited role in Waterfront (1950). His first credited role came in 1952 in the film Salute the Toff. In the Fifties he appeared in the films Loser Takes All (1956), The Birthday Present (1957), Behind the Mask (1958), Operation Amsterdam (1959), The Heart of the Man (1959), The Rough and the Smooth (1959), Upgreen---And at 'Em (1960), Den sidste vinter (1960), and  Suspect (1960). He made his television debut in an episode of the TV series Back to Methuselah in 1952. He starred in the TV series The Other Man. He appeared on episodes of the shows BBC Sunday-Night Theatre, The World Our Stage, Television World Theatre, Saturday Playhouse, and World Theatre. He also appeared in several TV movies.

In the Sixties Mr. Britton starred on the TV series The Six Proud Walkers. He starred on in the Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Colour mini-series The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh. He appeared in mini-series Melissa. He guest starred on the TV shows Somerset Maugham Hour, ITV Television Playhouse, Armchair Theatre,. Comedy Playhouse, BBC Sunday-Night Theatre, Miss Adventure, ITV Play of the Week, The Saint, The Wednesday Play, Special Branch, Happily Ever After, and Kate. He appeared in the movies The Break (1962), Stork Talk (1962), and There's a Girl in My Soup (1970).

In the Seventies Tony Britton starred on the TV shows Father, Dear Father; The Nearly Man, and Robin's Nest. He appeared on the shows Ooh La La!, Marked Personal, And Mother Makes Five, Play for Today, Raffles, and Scorpion Tales. He appeared in the films Sunday, Bloody Sunday (1971), Mr. Forbush and the Penguins (1971), The Day of the Jackal (1973), Night Watch (1973), The People That Time Forgot (1977), and Agatha (1979).

In the Eighties Mr. Britton starred on the show Don't Wait Up He guest starred on the show Strangers and Brothers. In the Nineties he starred on the TV series Don't Tell Father. He appeared in the mini-series The Way We Live Now. In the Naughts he guest starred on My Dad's the Prime Minister, Doctors, The Royal, and Holby City. His final appearance was in the film Run for Your Wife (2012).

Thursday, December 26, 2019

The American Holiday Calendar

Ever since childhood my brother and I have always been fascinated by calendars. One of the things that always interested us is when the various holidays fall on the calendar. One of the conclusions we have drawn during our discussions on the subject is that American holidays are rather awkwardly scheduled.

Before anything else, I have to point out that one of our conclusions is that there are holidays which most Americans celebrate, even if they are not Federally recognized, and those that are little more than a day off, even if they are Federally recognized. In the first category fall such days as the 4th of July, Halloween, and Thanksgiving. In the latter category fall President's Day, Labour Day and Columbus Day. Outside of an emphasis on the history of the American presidency in school and President's Day sales, I am not sure anyone has ever really celebrated President's Day. I don't recall too many George Washington parties growing up! Now at one time there were Labour Day parades and picnics, all in honour of the American labour movement, but those have long since fallen by the wayside. I am not sure that Columbus Day has ever been really been celebrated in most places. Indeed, given the controversy over Christopher Columbus of late, many want to replace it with Indigenous Peoples Day (which, being part Cherokee, I would much more inclined to celebrate).

Anyway, in our discussions my brother and I determined that the bulk of holidays that people actually celebrate fall during the autumn and winter. In fact, a good number of them fall from October 31 (Halloween) to  December 31 (New Year's Eve). Halloween began as a Christian holiday, but over the centuries became so secularised that even non-Christians celebrate it. And while it is not a Federal holiday, it is one of the biggest holidays of the year. Dia De Muertos falls from November 1 to November 2 and is becoming increasingly popular in the United States. Less than a month later are Veterans Day (November 11) and Thanksgiving, both of which are Federal holidays. Depending upon the year, Thanksgiving can fall only a little over a month to a little under a month before Christmas. While Christmas is a major Christian holiday, it is one that has been so secularised that even atheists observe the day. Here I point have to point out that yet other holidays fall close to Christmas. The earliest the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah can take place is November 28 and the latest is January 6. In most years it falls in December, not far off from Christmas. Kwanzaa takes place from December 25 to January 1. The final holiday of December is New Year's Eve. It is New Year's Day, January 1, that is a Federal holiday rather than New Year's Eve, but most of the holiday's celebration is centred on the night of December 31.

Of course, New Year's Day is not the final holiday of the winter. Martin Luther King Day falls on the third Monday of January, while Valentine's Day falls in February and St. Patrick's Day falls in March. Here I must mention that, for better or worse, none of these days are nearly as big in American popular culture as Halloween, Thanksgiving, or Christmas. Once spring arrives, there is little in the way of major holidays. For Christians there is Easter, which can fall on March 22 at the earliest and April 21 at the latest.The Jewish festival of Pesach or Passover usually falls in April, although it can occur as early as late March.

It is following Easter and Pesach that holidays Americans actually celebrate become a bit spread apart. Memorial Day falls on the last Monday of May, while Independence Day is more often referred to by its date, the 4th of July. After the 4th of July there is not another holiday until the first Monday of September, Labour Day, a day which for many Americans (if not most) is little more than a day off. For Jewish people there are Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kipppur in September, but for most Americans there won't a holiday they actually celebrate following 4th of July until Halloween (most Americans ignoring both Labour Day and Columbus Day).

Of course, here I have to point out that some of the holidays that Americans celebrate won't be celebrated by many Americans, perhaps even most of them. Valentine's Day is only important to couples (which means I will never celebrate Valentine's Day again). Not being Irish, Nigerian, ‎Montserratian, an engineer, or a paralegal, I have never celebrated St. Patrick's Day. Even the most popular holidays, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and so on, won't be celebrated by every single American.

Anyway, what all of this all boils down to is that in the United States autumn and winter have many holidays that people celebrate, while spring has fewer, and summer has fewer still. For someone like me, who absolutely hates summer and could use a pick-me-up during that season, this leaves a lot to be desired. Unfortunately, I don't know that there is any way this could ever be changed. As President's Day, Labour Day, and Columbus Day show, creating holidays through legislation really isn't very effective. It seems to me that most holidays either emerge from tradition or they develop organically. I suppose the best I can hope for is that people decide to start celebrating the traditional holidays of May Day (the spring festival, not International Workers Day) or Midsummer in the United States.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Merry Christmas 2019

I am perfectly aware that many people appreciate some cheesecake with their eggnog. For that reason every Christmas Day I post classic pinups. Here are this year's.

Barbara Britton is playing Santa Claus!

Barbara Charles has just received her present (an official Red Ryder carbine action, 200-shot, range model air rifle with a compass in the stock perhaps?).

Dotty Mack is ready to play in the snow!

Gloria Saunders and Olga San Juan are picking up their Christmas tree!

Janet Leigh is apparently someone's present!

Mary Martin delivering presents! 

Finally, here is Ann Miller with presents from her many admirers!

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Five Films That Turner Classic Movies Should Show Every Single Holiday Season

I think it is safe to say that one of the things TCM fans most look forward to for the holidays is watching Christmas movies on Turner Classic Movies. What is more, I think every fan has their favourites that they absolutely want to see every year. In fact, there are specific movies that if omitted by TCM during any given December are apt to result in howls of protests from the fans. Here are five movies I believe that Turner Classic Movies absolutely must show ever December. Here I have to note for those who notice that It's a Wonderful Life (1946) and some other holiday favourites are missing from the list that there are some movies that TCM simply does not have the rights to show.

The Bishop's Wife (1947): The Bishop's Wife was a holiday favourite well before TCM was founded in 1994. After a slow start the film did fairly well at the box office. It would later become a perennial favourite on television. In fact, The Bishop's Wife would seem to be one of the very few Christmas movies that matches or nearly matches It's a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street (1947) in popularity. And there should not be any wonder why. The movie has an incredible cast, starring Loretta Young, David Niven, Cary Grant, and Monty Woolley. It also has a solid script, in which angel comes in answer to a bishop's prayer for divine guidance, only to find himself enchanted by the bishop's wife.

Christmas in Connecticut (1944): Amazingly enough, Turner Classic Movies did not air Christmas in Connecticut this year, even though it was produced by Warner Bros. and hence rights to the movie are owned by TCM's parent company Warner Bros. Entertainment. Needless to say, many TCM fans were not happy with the omission of Christmas in Connecticut from this year's schedule. And there is little wonder why. Christmas in Connecticut is an incredible movie. It is both a screwball comedy and a romantic comedy. Essentially, magazine columnist Elizabeth Lane (played by Barbara Stanwyck) finds herself in a bind when her publisher, Alexander Yardley, invites himself and a sailor to her Connecticut farm that she entirely fabricated for her column. The movie is filled with the sort of comic misunderstandings one expects from the best screwball comedies, as well as the Christmas trappings one expects from a holiday movie. The cast is one of the best of any comedy made in the Forties. In addition to Barbara Stanwyck, it features Dennis Morgan, Sydney Greenstreet, S.Z. Sakall, and Una O'Connor.

Holiday Affair (1949): Unlike The Bishop's Wife and Christmas in Connecticut, which were successful in their initial theatrical runs, Holiday Affair bombed at the box office. The film was saved by television, airing on local stations throughout the Sixties, Seventies, and Eighties, and still later on many cable channels. These repeated airings would finally allow Holiday Affair to join the ranks of Christmas favourites. There is little wonder that Holiday Affair should eventually find success. The movie benefits from an intelligent script by Isobel Lennart which approaches a romantic triangle in a realistic and mature fashion. Indeed, the two rivals for the hand of Connie Ennis (played by Janet Leigh), Steve (played by Robert Mitchum) and Carl (played by Wendell Corey), are both nice guys with no real flaws. The movie also has plenty of humour, and a scene with Harry Morgan as a wisecracking police lieutenant is one of the best in any comedy.

It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947): It Happened on Fifth Avenue has a complicated history. Even though it was released more in time with Easter than Christmas, it did well at the box office. It also proved to be a hit on television, where it often shown during the holiday season from the Fifties to the Eighties. Strangely enough, for whatever reason, it disappeared from television screens around 1990 and would be largely unseen for nearly twenty years. It was in 2008 that Warner Home Video released It Happened on Fifth Avenue on DVD. In 2009 Turner Classic Movies began airing the film each holiday season, often multiple times. Since then the movie has become a holiday favourite. There is a little wonder why, as the film was very nearly made by Frank Capra (he chose to make It's a Wonderful Life instead) and plays much like a Frank Capra film. The film centres on Aloyisius T. McKeever (played by Victor Moore), a hobo who makes his home in the mansion of the second richest man in the world while the millionaire is wintering in Virginia. There he remains until its wealthy owner returns in March. McKeever's usual occupancy of the mansion is complicated by the arrival of a young, newly homeless veteran (Jim Bullock, played by Don DeFore) and eventually others as well.

The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942): Unlike some of the films on this list, The Man Who Came to Dinner was a hit upon its initial release. What is more, it would later become popular on television and has never been out of circulation. There should be little wonder why it has been continuously popular, as it is unlike any Christmas movie of its time. The movie's protagonist is radio personality Sheridan Whiteside, a prickly and caustic wit who spares his venom for no one (not even his friends). Unfortunately, for the Stanley family, Whiteside slips and falls on the steps of their Mesalia, Ohio home and winds up staying for an extended period right before Christmas. Manipulative to the core, Whiteside is soon spinning his webs throughout the Stanley household, particularly after his assistant falls in love with the local newspaper publisher. As played by Monty Woolley, Sheridan Whiteside is a delightful combination of sarcasm, wit, and cunning. The rest of the cast stands out as well, with Bette Davis as his strong-willed assistant Maggie, Ann Sheridan as vain actress Lorraine Sheldon,and Jimmy Durante as madcap comic Banjo. The screenplay stands out as well, with non-stop one-liners and non-stop scheming and counter-scheming from the various characters.

Monday, December 23, 2019

A Charlie Brown Christmas

In the history of American television there have been only three animated specials that aired uninterrupted on the broadcast networks since their debut. One is Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, which has aired every year since its debut in 1964. Another is Frosty the Snowman, which has aired every year since 1969. Four years before Frosty the Snowman there debuted another of the three specials that have aired every year on a broadcast network without interruption. A Charlie Brown Christmas debuted on December 9 1965. It has aired every year on a broadcast network ever since. In fact, the past several years it has aired multiple times each holiday season.

The origins of A Charlie Brown Christmas go back to a never completed documentary on cartoonist Charles M. Schulz and his comic strip Peanuts. By the late Fifties and early Sixties Peanuts was a veritable phenomenon, easily the most successful comic strip in the world. Having just completed work on a documentary on baseball player Willy Mays, producer Lee Mendelson decided that Charles M. Schulz would be the subject of his next documentary. To provide animation of the Peanuts characters in the documentary, Lee Mendelson turned to animator Bill Melendez. Bill Melendez had already animated the Peanuts gang in a series of commercials for Ford Motor Company that started airing in 1959 and ran into the early Sixties.

Despite the popularity of Peanuts, Lee Mendelson was not able to interest any of the broadcast networks in the documentary. It was after Peanuts was featured on the April 9, 1965 cover of Time that John Allen, an account executive with the McCann Erickson Agency, called Lee Mendelson with a proposal of an animated Peanuts special to be sponsored by McCann Erickson's client Coca-Cola for the Christmas season. Lee Mendelson and Charles M. Schulz had to move on the proposal quickly. Mr. Allen had made the call on a Wednesday and Coca-Cola wanted an outline for the special by the following Monday. The two of them got to work on the outline right away, with the majority of ideas coming from Charles M. Schulz.  The outline was ultimately created in less than a cay. After they had made their pitch for the special, they heard nothing for several days. John Allen finally contacted them, letting them know that Coca-Cola had approved the special, but they wanted it ready for an early December broadcast. This gave them only six months to produce the special.

Charles M. Schulz then got to work on the writing the teleplay for the special. The teleplay not only included holiday-oriented scenes of ice skating, snow, and a Christmas play, but also Linus reading about Jesus Christ's birth from the Bible. This last scene concerned Lee Mendelson and Bill Melendez, who were concerned that religion could be a controversial topic on American television in 1965. Mr. Schulz held firm that Linus's reading from the Bible remain in the special, pointing out that very few Christmas specials referenced religion at all.

In the end, the teleplay was completed in a matter of weeks and the special began to take shape. Lee Mendelson suggested that the special use a laugh track, which was common on many animated television cartoons of the era (particularly those of Hanna-Barbera). Charles M. Schulz rejected the laugh track out of hand, feeling that audiences did not have to told when to laugh. It was decided that the music for the special would be a mixture of jazz and traditional Christmas music, along with Schroeder playing Beethoven just as he did in the comic strip. The original jazz music for the special was composed by Vince Guaraldi and performed by The Vince Guaraldi Trio. Mr. Guaraldi had previously had a hit with his 1962 composition  "Cast Your Fate to the Wind."

A unique approach was taken to casting. Not only were children cast in the lead roles, but primarily non-actors at that. The only character not voiced by a child was Snoopy, who was voiced by Bill Melendez himself. Mr. Melendez created gibberish for Snoopy to utter, then sped it up. As to the voice of Charlie Brown, Peter Robbins had provided the voice of Charlie Brown in Lee Mendelson's unfinished documentary and had already appeared on such shows as The Munsters, The Farmer's Daughter, and The Joey Bishop Show prior to A Charlie Brown Christmas. He would voice Charlie Brown in several more specials, the last being It Was a Short Summer, Charlie Brown in 1969. If anything, Tracy Stratford, the voice of Lucy, had even more experience than Peter Robbins did. She had guest starred on Bonanza and Ben Casey before playing the regular role of Maria Massey on The New Loretta Young Show. Before A Charlie Brown Christmas she would also guest star on such shows as The Twilight Zone, The Dick Van Dyke Show, and The Fugitive.

Of course the animation was provided by Lee Melendez. Initially CBS had wanted an hour-long special. Mr. Melendez talked them out of it, not only believing an hour long animated special was too much, but harbouring his own doubts that even a half hour of animation could be completed in six months. Fortunately, the animation was completed in only four months. CBS had budgeted A Charlie Brown Christmas at $76,000 and it went over by $20,000.

As to the title, A Charlie Brown Christmas, it must be pointed out that Charles M. Schulz hated the title Peanuts. The origins of Peanuts go back to Charles M. Schulz's single panel comic strip that ran weekly in the St. Paul Pioneer Press from 1947 to 1950, Li'l Folks. When Charles M. Schulz submitted a revised version of Li'l Folks as a multi-panel comic strip to United Features Syndicate, the Syndicate had planned to use the title Li'l Folks. Unfortunately, objections were raised by cartoonist Tack Knight, who felt the title was too close to his early Thirties comic strip Little Folks. As a result, United Features Syndicate sought to come up with another name for the new comic strip. Ultimately, a production manager of United Features Syndicate came up with the name Peanuts, drawing upon the child audience of the TV show Howdy Doody who were seated in "the Peanut Gallery." Charles Schulz hated the title, maintaining that it made no sense unless the comic strip featured a character named "Peanuts." It is for that reason that none of the Peanuts specials ever used the comic strip's name in their titles.

 In the end A Charlie Brown Christmas was completed only ten days before it was set to be broadcast. The special's production team had mixed feelings about what they had produced. Bill Melendez was convinced that they had produced a flop. Lee Mendelson also had his doubts about the special. While Bill Melendez and Lee Mendelson thought they had killed Charlie Brown, animator Ed Levitt disagreed. He said, "This show is going to run for a hundred years." 

Messrs. Melendez and Mendelson's doubts about the show were nothing compared to the reaction of CBS executives. The CBS executives thought the pace of A Charlie Brown Christmas was too slow. They did not like special's jazz score. They did not like the voices. Bill Mendelson later said of the executive's reactions, "I really believed, if it hadn't been scheduled for the following week, there's no way they were gonna broadcast that show."

Fortunately, there was one very important person  who not only disagreed with the executives, but signalled that A Charlie Brown Christmas would be well received. The CBS executives had invited critic Richard Burgheim of Time to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas. His review, which was published in the December 10 1965 issue of Time, was extremely positive. He called it "...a special that is really special." Most critics were in agreement with Richard Burgheim. Fortunately, most critics agreed with Richard Burgheim, so that in the end A Charlie Brown Christmas earned overwhelmingly positive review. The audience also agreed with Richard Burgheim.  Fifteen millions viewers tuned into A Charlie Brown Christmas.  It placed second in the ratings for the week, beaten only by no. 1 show Bonanza. Not only would A Charlie Brown Christmas proved to be a hit with critics and viewers alike, but it also won awards. It won the Emmy for Outstanding Children's Program and a Peabody for excellence in programming.

With such success A Charlie Brown Christmas would have a lasting impact. Its most immediate effect was that CBS ordered four more Peanuts specials (one of which was another major success and soon-to-be-classic, It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown). In the end over thirty specials would air on CBS alone, with yet more Peanuts specials airing on other networks.

Also immediate was the way in which the music from A Charlie Brown Christmas became a part of the American holiday tradition The soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas was released in December 1965 by Fantasy Records. The album proved to be a success, as did the song "Christmas Time is Here."

One immediate effect of A Charlie Brown Christmas was also unexpected. Starting in 1958 aluminium Christmas trees proved to be all the rage. At the peak of the aluminium trees' popularity, the primary manufacturer of the tree, Aluminum Specialties, employed 750 people to make them. Unfortunately for the manufacturers of aluminium Christmas trees, A Charlie Brown Christmas was in large part a protest against the commercialization of Christmas, and in the special's plot the aluminium tree was used as a symbol of that commercialization. In fact, Charlie Brown chose a rather scraggy real tree rather than an aluminium one. The special's impact was immediate. Still selling phenomenally well in 1965, by 1967 aluminium trees had very nearly disappeared from the market.

While A Charlie Brown Christmas was the template for all Peanuts specials to come, it would also have an impact on animated Christmas specials to come. According to Charles Solomon in The Art and Making of Peanuts Animation: Celebrating Fifty Years of Television Specials, A Charlie Brown Christmas "..established the half-hour animated special." It is to be noted that the two major animated Christmas specials before A Charlie Brown ChristmasMr. Magoo's Christmas Carol and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, were an hour long. Following A Charlie Brown Christmas, there would be such half-hour holiday specials as  How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966), The Little Drummer Boy (1968), Frosty the Snowman (1969), and many others. While the majority of the Rankin/Bass stop-motion animated specials and Air Programs' 1969 animated adaptation of A Christmas Carol were an hour long, they were the exceptions to the rule.

A Charlie Brown Christmas and the other Peanuts specials would also have a lasting influence on various artists to come. Andrew Stanton, the director of Finding Nemo (2003) and  WALL-E (2008),, among other animated films, has acknowledged the influence of the Peanuts specials on his work. Pete Docter, who directed Monsters Inc. (2001), Up (2009), and other animated films, also credits the Peanuts specials with influencing his work. The music of A Charlie Brown Christmas has influenced such diverse music artists as Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo and jazz pianist David Benoit.

There would also be other spinoffs from A Charlie Brown Christmas, which has never gone out of print since 1965. Various manufacturers would eventually begin making "Charlie Brown Christmas trees," replicas of the scraggly tree Charlie Brown chose for the school play. In 2013 Tams-Witmark Music Library, which provides licenses to Broadway productions to both professional and amateur theatres, began licensing a stage version of A Charlie Brown Christmas.

In the end it is impossible to completely calculate the entirety of the impact of A Charlie Brown Christmas. A smash hit upon its initial release, A Charlie Brown Christmas has received extremely high ratings ever since. It would have a lasting impact not only upon television, but upon artists in various media and even on the celebration of the holiday of Christmas itself. Few, if any animated specials, have ever had the impact of A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Cash on Demand (1961): An Unusual Christmas Story

On this past Saturday night and Sunday morning, Eddie Muller gave Turner Classic Movies viewers a Christmas present in the form of Cash on Demand (1961). Cash on Demand was made by a studio now best known for their horror movies, Hammer Film Productions. Cash on Demand was not a horror movie or even one of the studio's well-known psychological thrillers. Instead it was a heist film set at Christmastime. What is more, while Hammer's horror movies were shot in glorious Eastmancolour, Cash on Demand was shot in black-and-white.

Cash on Demand was based on the teleplay "The Gold Inside" by Jacques Gillies, which aired as an episode of the ITV anthology series Theatre 70 on September 24 1960. "The Gold Inside" was directed by Quentin Lawrence, who would also direct Cash on Demand. While Quentin Lawrence had an extensive career in television, he only directed a few feature films. Prior to Cash on Demand, The Trollenberg Terror (1958--known as The Crawling Eye in the United States) was the only feature film he had directed. After Cash on Demand he would go onto direct three more films.

Cash on Demand centres around Harry Fordyce, a bank manager in a small town in England. Mr. Fordyce is overbearing with his staff and is disliked by all of them Even his long-time chief clerk, Mr. Pearson, has no real affection for him. Unfortunately for Mr. Fordyce, it is shortly before Christmas Day that Colonel Gore Hepburn shows up at the bank claiming to be an insurance investigator. Colonel Hepburn (most likely not his real name) soon reveals himself as a thief who has a heist planned for the bank, a heist in which Mr. Fordyce, against his will, plays a pivotal role.

Cash On Demand featured some familiar faces from various Hammer Films. Of course, the most notable of these is Peter Cushing, to this day best known as Professor Van Helsing from Hammer's "Dracula" series and Dr. Frankenstein from Hammer's "Frankenstein" series. For Mr. Cushing, Harry Fordyce would be a very different role from Van Helsing or Frankenstein. André Morell played Colonel Hepburn. Like Peter Cushing, André Morell was also a bit of a mainstay for Hammer Film Productions. He had played Dr. Watson to Peter Cushing's Sherlock Holmes in Hammer's 1959 adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles. Immediately prior to appearing in Cash on Demand he had appeared in Hammer's The Shadow of the Cat (1961). He would later appear in Hammer's movies She (1965), The Plague of the Zombies (1966), The Mummy's Shroud (1967), and The Vengeance of She (1968). Richard Vernon reprised his role of Mr. Pearson from "The Gold Inside," the only actor to be retained from the original teleplay. Today many may be best known as the man on the train who castigates The Beatles for playing the radio in A Hard Day's Night. While Cash on Demand would be his first Hammer film, he would go onto appear in The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973). Today Norman Bird, who plays the bank's employee Sanderson, is probably best known Mr Braithwaite in Worzel GummidgeCash on Demand would also be his first Hammer film. He would go onto appear in the studio's movies Maniac (1963) and Hands of the Ripper (1971).

Cash on Demand was part of a co-production agreement with Columbia Pictures. What made Cash on Demand unusual is that, unlike many Hammer movies at the time, it was not cut when it was released in the United States. What is even more unusual is that it was released in the United States well before it was the United Kingdom, on December 20 1961. For whatever reason it was not released in the United Kingdom until December 15 1963. What is more, its original running time of 88 minutes was cut to only 67 minutes and it was shown on a double bill with Bye Bye Birdie (1963).

While Cash on Demand would not receive the British release it should have, it was well received in the United States. The New York Times gave the movie a modestly positive review. It also received a good review in Motion Picture Exhibitor, which stated, "Credit should go to the fine performances." Harrison Reports noted, "There are clever touches of suavity, simplicity, and subtlety as the fake insurance investigator goes about his work." Cash on Demand also made a modest amount at the box office in the United States.

Of course, there may be those who might question how a heist film can be a Christmas movie as well. Well, for one thing, the movie includes touches of the holiday season. At the start of the movie two of the employees open Christmas crackers. There are also consistent references to the bank's Christmas party. At the start of the movie Mr. Fordyce castigates one of the employees for displaying her Christmas on her desk. For another thing, as Eddie Muller said in introducing the film on Noir Alley, it owes a good deal to Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol. Mr. Fordyce is clearly a Scrooge figure. Not only is he overly strict with his employees, but he is so cheap that he keeps the bank's central heating set so that the bank consistently feels cold. What is more, Colonel Hepburn's role isn't simply that of a thief robbing a bank, but that of the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come. As Eddie Muller notes, there are times that he appears to take more pleasure in mocking Mr. Fordyce than he does robbing the bank.

Given the plot of Cash and Demand, Peter Cushing and André Morell's performances were pivotal in the success of the film, and neither one of them disappoint. Peter Cushing is sterling as the stern bank manager whose experience with the bank robber makes him warmer to his fellow human beings. André Morell is also excellent as the bank robber who apparently wants to improve Harry Fordyce as a person as much as he wants to rob the bank. It is the interactions between these two characters that makes Cash on Demand one of the best movies ever released by Hammer Film Productions.

Today Cash on Demand is not particularly well-known, but with an inventive plot and incredible performances from its leads, it deserves to be better known.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

The 51st Birthday of My Beloved Vanessa Marquez

“He felt now that he was not simply close to her, but that he did not know where he ended and she began.” Leo Tolstoy. Anna Karenina, Chapter XIV, Part V

"If the people we love are stolen from us, the way they live on is to never stop loving them. Buildings burn, people die, but real love is forever." Sarah, The Crow (1994)

Vanessa Marquez on her 48th birthday.
It was fifty-one years ago today that actress Vanessa Marquez, best known as Ana Delgado in the classic film Stand and Deliver (1988) and Nurse Wendy Goldman on ER, was born. Vanessa was not only a talented and beautiful actress, but she was also a kind, compassionate, loving, and intelligent woman. Vanessa and I were very close. I considered her my best friend and, in fact, even after nearly a year and four months after her death, I am still very much in love with her. I have never loved anyone as much as I love Vanessa and I know I never will again. It should come as no surprise, then, that I sometimes teased Vanessa about being my Christmas present for when I was five years old, even though I wouldn't know about it until years later. Regardless, she was always proud of being a solstice baby and she loved the holiday season.

Given December 21 1968 is the date of birth of my dearest Vanessa Marquez, I have researched the day to get an idea of what else happened on that date.  As near as I can tell from searching old newspapers, the weather in Los Angeles County on December 21 1968 was fair with northerly wind gusts up to 25 miles per hour. The high temperature was around 56 degrees and the low was around 38 degrees. The big news item that day was the launch of the Apollo 8 mission. It took place at 7:51 AM Eastern time. Apollo 8 was historic as the first manned spacecraft to orbit the Moon. Given how much Vanessa loved science fiction, it is only fitting that she was born the same day that a NASA mission launched. Vanessa was not only the biggest Star Wars fan I knew, but she was also a fan of Star Trek, Space 1999, The Twilight Zone, and The X-Files, among others.

For the most part the television schedule for December 21 1968 was nothing remarkable, with the networks sticking to their usual schedules. NBC aired Adam-12, Get Smart, The Ghost & Mrs. Muir, and NBC Saturday Night at the Movies. CBS aired The Jackie Gleason Show, My Three Sons, Hogan's Heroes, Petticoat Junction, and Mannix. ABC aired The Dating Game, The Newlywed Game, The Lawrence Welk Show, and The Hollywood Palace. The only programming of note was NBC Saturday Night at the Movies and The Hollywood Palace. NBC Saturday Night at the Movies aired the movie White Christmas (1954). It would be the third or fourth annual airing of White Christmas on NBC Saturday Night at the Movies, as well as the last. The following season it moved to NBC Tuesday Night at the Movies. Given how much Vanessa loved Christmas and classic movies, it was a fitting film to air on the day of her birth. The Hollywood Palace aired its annual Christmas edition, featuring Bing Crosby and his family, as well as guests John Byner, Glenn Campbell, The Lennon Sisters, and Nicolai Olkovikov (a Russian juggler). Strangely enough, given White Christmas aired opposite The Hollywood Palace, Bing Crosby was in competition with himself on television that night.

The number one show for the week of December 15 1968-December 21 1968 was Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C., although the only reason it was at no. 1 was perhaps because Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In (the no. 1 show of the 1968-1969 season) didn't air that week. The number one song on the Billboard Hot 100 was "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" by Marvin Gaye. In Canada "Wichita Lineman" by Glenn Campbell was at no. 1 and in the United Kingdom "Lilly the Pink" by The Scaffold was at no. 1. I was unable to find out what the no. 1 movie was for that weekend.

The card I made for Vanessa's 48th birthday.
As important a day as December 21 1968 would turn out to be for me, I have no memory what I might have done that day. I was barely five years old, after all. I assume that coverage of Apollo 8 might have at least pre-empted some of the cartoons I usually watched every Saturday at that age. Born in the Space Age and fascinated by NASA even then, I probably watched it if they did. If not, I probably watched my usual cartoons. I remember being a loyal viewer of The Banana Splits Adventure Hour and Underdog was my favourite cartoon.  I don't know what my family would have watched that night, but I know for certain that it was not on ABC (the Columbia/Jefferson City metropolitan area wouldn't get an ABC affiliate until 1971). That having been said, I don't know if we watched White Christmas on NBC or CBS's usual Saturday night line-up. Regardless, at that time I had no way of knowing the importance of December 21 1968 in my life. I rather doubt that I would have believed anyone if they had told me that when I grew up I would become close friends with a beautiful actress and that I would fall in love with her.

Of course, December 21 1968 wasn't just an important day for me or for Vanessa's family. It was also an important day for a good many people. Vanessa had a large number of friends who dearly love her and a number of fans who admire her to this day.  And there should be little wonder why she should be so adored. Vanessa Marquez was an extremely talented actress. Strangely enough, Vanessa once told me that she was always passed up when it came to school plays. Despite this, while still a teenager she was cast in the movie Stand and Deliver. According to the film's producer and screenwriter Tom Musca, Vanessa was a natural when it came to acting. Over the next several years Vanessa would get many opportunities to display her talent as an actress, on such shows as Wiseguy, Nurses, and, most notably, ER and in such movies as Twenty Bucks (1993).

A headshot from 2010
It was because Vanessa was just so talented, not to mention very beautiful, that she has a large number of fans around the world. Following her death I saw an outpouring of love for Vanessa from fans who never even knew her. A petition to have her included in the Academy Awards' on-air In Memoriam reached over 12,000 signatures. When the Academy failed to include her in the on-air In Memoriam, national media outlets took note of the fact. I always got the feeling that Vanessa thought she would be remembered for nothing more than Stand and Deliver. She didn't even think she would be remembered for ER. I always told her that she was wrong, that people loved her and would remember her. I am glad to say that in this instance it turns out I was right.

While Vanessa was certainly a talented actress and she was certainly beautiful, there were many more reasons why her friends love her. Vanessa was an intelligent, kind, caring, and loving woman with a good sense of humour. Vanessa cared deeply for her friends and was always quick to help them and quick to defend them if they were attacked. When Jaime Escalante (the teacher upon whom the movie Stand and Deliver was based) developed cancer, she was relentless in raising funds for his treatment. Vanessa not only cared for human beings, but for animals as well. For a time she volunteered at a local animal shelter. I am sure all of her friends have stories about just how compassionate Vanessa was. I know I have more than one. For example, when I had a particularly virulent case of the norovirus a few summers ago, Vanessa worried about me as much as my own family.

Of course, as I mentioned earlier, Vanessa had a wonderful sense of humour. It is little wonder why she was so good when it came to performing comedy. Not only did Vanessa maintain her sunny disposition even when she was at her sickest, but she had an uncanny ability to cheer people up even when she felt poorly herself. I could have an absolutely horrible day and talking to Vanessa could make everything better. Vanessa could brighten even the darkest of nights. Many of Vanessa's other friends have told me the same thing. Not only did Vanessa have a need to cheer her friends up when they were unhappy, but more often than not she succeeded.

A headshot from 1996 or 1997
What made Vanessa all the more remarkable is that despite being a well-known, talented actress and an extremely beautiful woman as well, she was entirely down-to-earth and unassuming. Having starred in a classic movie (Stand and Deliver) and the no. 1 show of its time (ER) I don't think anyone would have blamed Vanessa if she had a little bit of an ego, but she never did. In fact, despite the fact that nearly everyone considered her stunning, Vanessa would only admit to being cute at best. Vanessa never considered herself better than anyone else, despite her considerable achievements as an actress. So loved was Vanessa by her friends in #TCMParty, the group of TCM fans who live tweet movies on TCM using that hashtag, that our mutual friend Paula Guthat called her, "the Sweetheart of #TCMParty."

Given how bright, sweet, warm-hearted, and compassionate Vanessa was, there should be little wonder that her friends loved her deeply. As for myself, I don't think there is any way I could have not loved Vanessa. Not only was she an entirely beautiful, intelligent, and sweet woman, but we had so much in common as well. We both loved Star Wars, Mad Men, The X-Files, Star Trek, the 1966 TV series Batman, The Monkees, The Andy Griffith Show, and classic movies. Our views on politics and life ran parallel to each other. We could even complete each others' sentences. I sometimes told Vanessa that she was perfect (something she strenuously denied) and I do believe that for me she was.

Even now I cannot say how Vanessa felt about me beyond that she considered me a close friend. She did tell me that she loved me, but I cannot say with any certainty whether she meant it as a friend or something more. As to myself, Vanessa is ultimately the one person I have loved more than anyone else in my life. I have called her my soulmate, the love of my life, and the girl of my dreams, and none of that is hyperbole. Indeed, to this day I find it difficult to use the past tense, "loved," when discussing Vanessa. My love for her did not end when she died. I still love her more than anyone or anything. Because of this, the past year and four months have been the hardest of my life. Even now it is not unusual for me to break down crying at odd moments.When Vanessa died I felt as if part of my soul had been torn away and I still feel as if part of me is missing.

Of course, as sad as I am that Vanessa is no longer with us, I know I can speak not only for myself but for her other friends as well in saying that the anniversary of her birth is reason to celebrate. Vanessa Marquez was an altogether remarkable woman who made all of her friends richer for having known her. I don't know about her other friends, but if I had to do it all over again, even if I knew I could not change the end, I would. Vanessa was an intelligent, beautiful, talented, compassionate, and warm-hearted woman who cared deeply for her friends and helped so many. While she deserved much better than to die the way she did, the fact that she was born at all is reason to rejoice.

Friday, December 20, 2019

"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" by Judy Garland

This September I had the opportunity to see one of my all time favourite movies, Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), on the big screen. Not only was this a special event for me because it was the first time I had ever seen it in the theatre, but because there was a question and answer session between Ben Mankiewicz and Margaret O'Brien (who played Tootie in the film). While I have never thought of Meet Me in St. Louis as a Christmas movie, there can be no doubt that it has one of the most Christmasy scenes in a movie and that it produced one of the greatest Christmas songs of all time, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." It was sung by Judy Garland in the movie and, while the song has been covered many times, in my humble opinion no one has ever sung it better.

"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" was written specifically for Meet Me in St. Louis by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, who wrote all of the original songs for the movie. Judy Garland, her co-star Tom Drake (who played her love interest, John Truitt), and director Vincent Minelli were all of the opinion that the original lyrics for "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" were too depressing. Hugh Martin was initially resistant to the idea of changing the lyrics, but eventually re-wrote them to be more upbeat. "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" recorded as a single by Judy Garland and released on Decca Records. It proved to be a big hit and it would become a Christmas standard.

Since then "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" has been recorded by many artists. It has also been revised since its initial appearance in Meet Me in St. Louis. When Frank Sinatra recorded the song in 1957 for his album A Jolly Little Christmas, he asked Hugh Martin to revise the line "Until then we'll have to muddle through somehow" to something happier. The line was changed to "Hang a shining star upon the highest bough." Many artists have since followed Frank Sinatra is using the new line in the song. Personally, I have always preferred the original line.

Without further ado, here is the original scene from Meet Me in St. Louis featuring Judy Garland.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

"The Christmas Song"

"The Christmas Song" by Robert Wells and Mel Tormé remains one of the most popular holiday songs of all time. It has sometimes been claimed that it is the most recorded Christmas song of all time, a title often applied to Irving Berlin's "White Christmas" as well. According to Spotify in 2015, "The Christmas Song" was the third most covered holiday tune on the music service, after "Silent Night" and "White Christmas." Regardless, there can be no doubt that "The Christmas Song" is one of the most successful, well, Christmas songs of all time.

Strangely enough, the song's origins go back to a particularly hot summer day. That day composer and singer Mel Tormé went to visit his writing partner Robert Wells. Initially he couldn't find Mr. Wells, but he did find a spiral pad with the opening lines of what would become "The Christmas Song." Eventually Robert Wells showed up and he explained to Mr. Tormé that he was trying to cool off by writing wintry lines, essentially an attempt at mind over matter. It was after forty five minutes that Mesrs. Wells and Tormé completed the song.

"The Christmas Song" was originally subtitled "Merry Christmas to You," although later it would be subtitled with its opening line "Chestnuts Roasting on An Open Fire." The song was first recorded by The King Cole Trio at WMCA Radio Studios in New York City on June 14 1946. A second recording was made at WMCA Radio Studios on August 19 1946. This version differed from the first in that a small string section was added. It was this second version of "The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas to You)" that proved to be an enormous hit, going to no. 3 on the Billboard chart. Nat King Cole would record "The Christmas Song" again in 1953 and 1961.

"The Christmas Song" would be covered multiple times not long after its initial release in the Forties. Eddy Howard, Dick Haymes, Bing Crosby, and others covered the song in the years following its release. Since then it has been covered by such artists as Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and many others. Mel Tormé himself recorded the song multiple times.

Without further ado, here is The King Cole Trio's original recording of "The Christmas Song."

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

White Christmas on NBC

White Christmas (1954) is counted by many classic movie fans among their favourite Christmas movies. While I would not necessarily rank it among my absolute favourites alongside The Apartment (1960), It's a Wonderful Life (1946), Christmas in Connecticut (1944), and The Bishop's Wife (1947), it is not at all hard to like a movie that stars Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Vera-Ellen, and Rosemary Clooney and features songs by Irving Berlin. Like many of the holiday classics, White Christmas would see a good deal of success in annual airings on television, creating a number of new fans for the movie. Indeed, for a time it aired annually on NBC.

White Christmas takes its name from the song of the same name, which was first used in the movie Holiday Inn (1942). It was originally planned for the song "Be Careful, It's My Heart" to be the big hit from the movie, but then "White Christmas" began to take it off. Holiday Inn having been released in August 1942, the song "White Christmas" topped the Your Hit Parade chart by October 1942. It stayed in the no. 1 spot into early 1943. It would spend eleven weeks on the Billboard charts alone. It would eventually become the biggest selling single of all time.

Given the success of "White Christmas," it was quite natural for individuals to want to capitalise on that success with a movie. As early as 1948 composer Irving Berlin, who had written "White Christmas" and the other songs in Holiday Inn, suggested a movie based on the song. Initially the movie was meant to reunite the stars of Holiday Inn, but while Bing Crosby would star in White Christmas, the other male lead would ultimately be Danny Kaye. White Christmas has often been described as a remake of Holiday Inn, something I am not sure I agree with. About the only things White Christmas has in common with Holiday Inn are an inn as a setting, songs written by Irving Berlin, and star Bing Crosby. That having been said, it certainly does use many elements from the earlier film (songs by Irving Berlin, an inn as a setting, Bing Crosby, et. al.).

Regardless of whether one considers White Christmas a remake of Holiday Inn or not, the movie proved extremely popular. It was the second highest grossing film of 1954, second only to Rear Window (1954). Even today it ranks among the highest grossing musicals of all time. Paramount re-released White Christmas theatrically in 1961, where it once more performed very well.

Of course, White Christmas would eventually find its way to television. In 1961 NBC debuted NBC Saturday Night at the Movies, the first network movie anthology series to feature relatively recent films. It premiered on September 23 1961 with an airing of How to Marry a Millionaire (1953). NBC Saturday Night at the Movies proved to enormously successful, inspiring so many other movie anthology series that by the 1966-1967 that there was a movie anthology series six out of the seven nights of the week. Given the success of White Christmas and the success of NBC Saturday Night at the Movies, it was quite natural for the movie to make its network debut on the movie anthology series. It first aired on NBC Saturday Night at the Movies on December 19 1964.

White Christmas does not appear to have aired on NBC in 1965 (at least I could not find any television listings for it), but it returned to NBC Saturday Night at the Movies on December 17 1966. It would continue to air annually on NBC Saturday Night at the Movies on the Saturday immediately preceding Christmas until 1968. In 1969 it moved to NBC Tuesday Night at the Movies, where it first aired on December 23 1969. It aired for one last time on NBC on NBC Tuesday Night at the Movies on December 22 1970. Below is a list of when White Christmas aired on NBC.

NBC Saturday Night at the Movies
December 19 1964
December 17 1966
December 16 1967
December 21 1968 (the exact date of Vanessa's birth)
NBC Tuesday Night at the Movies
December 22 1969
December 23 1970

After White Christmas last aired on NBC it would go into syndication to air on local stations across the country. I have a vague memory of White Christmas returning to network television to air on CBS in the Eighties, but I have found no television listings to confirm that memory. If anyone could confirm whether it aired on CBS in the Eighties, please let me know. Regardless, at no point since 1966 has there probably ever been time that White Christmas has not aired on some local station or cable channel sometime during the holiday season.