Sunday, March 17, 2019

The 100th Birthday of Nat King Cole

Before The Beatles, before Elvis Presley, there was Nat King Cole. Both with the King Cole Trio and as a solo artist he would be phenomenally successful. From 1942 to 1964 he would have scores of hit singles, many of which would reach no. 1 on the various Billboard charts. As a solo artist he had 14 number one hit singles in Britain alone. So successful was Nat King Cole that the Capitol Records Building, completed in 1956, is still known as "the House That Nat Built." Few other performers ever saw the success that Nat King Cole had. He was born 100 years ago today, March 17 1919, in Montgomery, Alabama.

Nat King Cole was born Nathaniel Adams Coles. Like his brothers, Eddie, Ike, and Freddie, he took to music while young. His mother taught him to play organ. When he was 12 he began learning how to play the piano formally. With his brother Eddie, who was a bassist, he formed Eddie Cole's Swingsters. Eddie Cole's Swingsters recorded two singles for Decca in 1936. He played in a revival of the musical Shuffle Along. Afterwards Nat King Cole led a big band and then formed the King Cole Swingsters with bassist Wesley Prince and guitarist Oscar Moore. They soon changed their name to the King Cole Trio. In 1940 they recorded the single "Sweet Lorraine". In 1941 the King Cole Trio recorded "That Ain't Right" for Decca, which would prove to be their first big hit. It went to number one on the Billboard R&B chart.

The King Cole Trio proved very successful. They appeared frequently on radio, with several guest appearances on Kraft Music Hall (starring Bing Crosby) in particular. In 1946 they had their own 15 minute radio show, King Cole Trio Time. They appeared in the feature films Stars on Parade (1944), Swing in the Saddle (1944), Killer Diller (1948), and Make Believe Ballroom (1949), as well as several short subjects. In 1947 Nat King Cole recorded "Nature Boy" with an orchestra, and the single was credited to "King Cole". The song hit number one on the Billboard singles chart. With various departures from the King Cole Trio and some success as a solo artist, starting in 1949 singles were being credited as "Nat King Cole & the Trio". Starting in 1950, the singles credited to "Nat King Cole". It was in the spring of 1951 that it was announced that the King Cole Trio had been dissolved.

If anything, Nat King Cole became even more successful as a solo artist. Indeed, even in years when he did not have a number one record (such as 1953, 1954, and 1955), his singles still did so well that he would still rank in the top ten most successful music artists for the year.

With such success, it should come as no surprise that Nat King Cole would make the move to television. In 1956 Nat King Cole signed a contract with CBS to host a show of his own. Unfortunately plans for a show starring Nat King Cole never moved forward at CBS. It was later in the year that Nat King Cole signed a contract with NBC. This time around a show did emerge. The Nat King Cole Show debuted as a 15 minute programme on Monday night, November 5 1956 at 7:30 Eastern/6:30 Central.

While The Nat King Cole Show was definitely a major milestone for black performers on television, contrary to popular belief, it was not the first variety show to be hosted by a black person. In 1950 singer Hazel Scott hosted the short-lived Hazel Scott Show on the ill-fated Dumont Television Network. In 1952 singer Billy Daniels hosted the short lived Billy Daniels Show on ABC. Since Hazel Scott was from Trinidad, Billy Daniels was then the first African American to host a variety show. That having been said, The Nat King Cole Show was the first time that a variety show was hosted by an African American with the success of Nat King Cole. In fact, Nat King Cole was more successful than many of the white singers who hosted variety shows.

Despite Nat King Cole's phenomenal success as a recording artist, The Nat King Cole Show would prove to be ill-fated. NBC had agreed to finance the show in the hope that a national sponsor would pick it up. Sadly NBC found had problems finding national sponsors for the show. Many advertisers were afraid of the reaction that the South might have if a company sponsored a show hosted by a black man. Someone representing the cosmetics company Max Factor even insisted that an African American could not sell lipstick for them. Carter Products (who manufactured  Carter's Little Liver Pills and Arrid deodorant) bought time on The Nat King Cole Show from time to time, but it was not enough to support the show. To help support the show NBC sought out local sponsors, so that Coca-Cola sponsored the show in Houston, Rheingold Beer sponsored the show in New York City, and so on.

 Amazingly enough given Nat King Cole's success as a musical artist, The Nat King Cole Show also suffered from low ratings. In an attempt to improve the ratings, NBC revamped the show in July 1957, expanding it to half an hour and giving it a bigger budget. In an effort to save the show, Nat King Cole's fellow performers worked for industry scale or even nothing at all. Such big names as earl Bailey, Harry Belafonte, Tony Bennett, Sammy Davis, Jr., Ella Fitzgerald, Frankie Laine, Peggy Lee, Eartha Kitt, and Mel Tormé all appeared on the show.

Unfortunately, none of this was enough to attract a national sponsor for The Nat King Cole Show or dramatically improve the ratings. Unwilling to give up on the show entirely, NBC offered to move The Nat King Cole Show to 7:30 PM  Eastern/6:30 PM Central on Saturdays. Nat King Cole declined the network's offer of a new time slot and decided to end the show.  The Nat King Cole Show ended its run on December 17 1957. Nat King Cole credited with NBC, from David Sarnoff on down, with having supported the show from the beginning right through to the very end. He blamed the show's failure on sponsors and advertising agencies afraid of supporting a show hosted by an African American.

While The Nat King Cole Show proved to be ill fated, he continued to guest star on such programmes as The Dinah Shore Chevy Show, The Perry Como Show, The Garry Moore Show, and yet others. He also had a career in movies. Having already appeared in films as a vocalist, Nat King Cole appeared in the role of Danny Rice in the film Istanbul (1957). He was one of the leads in the film China Gate (1957). He played the lead role of W. C. Handy in the biopic St. Louis Blues (1958). He played a supporting role in Night of the Quarter Moon (1960). Nat King Cole's last appearance in a feature film would be in the Western comedy Cat Ballou in 1965. He played the Sunrise Kid, who with Sam the Shade (played by Stubby Kaye) serve as a bit of a Greek chorus in the film. Sadly, Nat King Cole died only four months before Cat Ballou was released.

It was in 1964 that Nat King Cole, who had been a heavy smoker his entire life, was diagnosed with lung cancer. His condition worsened and it was clear that his illness was terminal, although the press at the time gave no real indication of how serious his cancer was. It was on February 15 1965, the day after his 45th birthday, that Nat King Cole died.

Nat King Cole would leave behind an incredible legacy. With the King Cole Trio he would prove to have a lasting influence on jazz, particularly with regards to jazz piano. The trio itself would provide the template for many small jazz ensembles to come, consisting of piano, guitar, and bass. Much of the King Cole Trio's work would even have a lasting impact on rock and roll. Such singles as "Straighten Up and Fly Right" can easily be considered forerunners of rock and roll.

To a degree Nat King Cole was a controversial figure. African American activists were not happy that he performed before segregated audiences. As a popular black artist, he also attracted the ire of racists and was even attacked on stage in Birmingham, Alabama by white men. Eventually Nat King Cole agreed to boycott venues that practised segregation. While Nat King Cole had played before segregated audience, he also contributed money to the Montgomery Bus Boycott and sued hotels that refused to serve him. He later played an important role in the planning of the the March on Washington in 1963.

As a solo artist Nat King Cole shifted from being a jazz pianist to a crooner, but he would still have enormous success and an incredible impact on music. Indeed, he ranks alongside the most successful crooners of all time, including Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Dean Martin. As a singer Nat King Cole was gifted with a rich baritone and perfect pitch. This is all the more remarkable given that, as a vocalist, he had no formal training.  Nat King Cole would have a lasting influence on future vocalists, including Sam Cooke, Al Jarreau, Johnny Mathis, and yet others. Both as part of the King Cole Trio and as a solo artist, Nat King Cole played a pivotal role as one of the earliest black music artists to gain popularity with white audiences.

To this day Nat King Cole remains one of the most popular vocalists of all time. Compilation albums of his songs have been released right up to this very day, and episodes of The Nat King Cole Show are available on DVD. Few other music artists would ever see the success of Nat King Cole. He remains not only one of the most successful performers of the 20th Century, but perhaps of all time.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Five Possible Comic Book Movies Not Involving Superheroes

There is a good reason why most movies based on comic books are superhero movies. While superheroes did not originate with comic books, there can be no doubt that superheroes have been the dominant genre of the medium for much of its history. That having been said, superheroes are hardly the only genre covered by comic books. In fact, from about the end of World War II to the beginning of the Silver Age (with Showcase no 4, October 1946, which introduced the Silver Age version of The Flash), superheroes were a rarity in comic books. While this period is best known for the horror titles of the sort published by E.C., the comic book industry published titles in a number of different genres, including Westerns, humour, romance, and mystery.

Given the number of different genres that comic books have covered over the years, it is fully possible for a movie to be based on a comic book and not involve a superhero. Indeed, there have already been a few, including American Splendour (2003), Constantine (2005), Ghost World (2001), and Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015), among many others. There is no shortage of comic books in genres other than superheroes that could easily be adapted as films. Here are five of them.

Adam Strange: If you are a Baby Boomer or Gen Xer and read DC Comics, chances are you are familiar with Adam Strange. Adam Strange was created by editor Julius Schwartz and artist Murphy Anderson, and first appeared in Showcase  no. 17, November 1958. Adam Strange is an archaeologist who found himself teleported to the planet Rann in the Alpha Centauri system (later changed to Polaris). There he befriended Alanna and her father, the scientist Zardath. As might be expected, Alanna became his romantic interest and later his wife. Adam soon became Rann's champion, defending the planet against various threats. Unfortunately for Adam, the effects of the zeta beam would return him to Earth exactly where he had been. Fortunately, he would be called back to Rann on a fairly regular basis. After a successful tryout in Showcase, Adam Strange earned a place in DC Comics' science fiction anthology Mystery in Space.

What set Adam Strange apart from other science fiction series in comic books of the time is that it seemed much more believable. While attending City College of New York, editor Julius Schwartz had majored in math and physics. He was then able to give writer Gardner Fox advice on how to make Adam's adventures more scientifically plausible. Since the Silver Age, Adam Strange has continued to be popular and still appears in the pages of DC Comics from time to time.

Hop Harrigan: Aviators were popular heroes from the Twenties into the early Forties. Indeed, during the Thirties, newspaper comic strips were filled with such high-flying heroes as Tailspin Tommy, Scorchy Smith, and Ace Drummond. It was only a matter of time before comic books would capitalise on the popularity of aviators at the time. Hop Harrigan first appeared in All-American Comics no. 1, April 1939, the very first title published by All-American Publications, one of the companies that would become the modern day DC Comics.

Hop Harrigan began life as an orphan whose father, a famous pilot, disappeared while flying to South America. He was raised by a greedy neighbour who falsely claimed to be Hop's legal guardian so he could get his hands on the boy's inheritance. Once Hop reached adulthood, the corrupt neighbour tried to destroy one of Hop's father's old biplanes. Hop dispatched the old man and then took off in the biplane, never to return. He befriended mechanic Tank Tinker and with others they founded the All-American Aviation Company. Hop then launched on a series of adventures.

While Hop Harrigan is largely forgotten by everyone except fans of Golden Age comics, he was a popular character in the late Thirties and Forties. A radio show, Hop Harrigan, ran from August 31 1942 to February 6 1948. There was also a 16 chapter movie serial, Hop Harrigan, that was released on March 28 1946. The character would ultimately last until All-American Comics no. 99, July 1948. By that time aviator heroes were not as popular as they once were. Since then Hop Harrigan has very rarely appeared in DC Comics. Despite this, I think the adventures of a high-flying aviator in the early Forties would be a good change of pace from the many superhero movies.

Kid Colt: Today Marvel Comics is best known for their superheroes, but prior to the Silver Age they published titles in a plethora of other genres. In fact, I have to suspect that prior to the Silver Age they may have been best known for their Western titles. In fact, Marvel's Western comic books were so successful that they were published for over thirty years, from 1946 to 1979. Their most successful character, Kid Colt, was also the longest running Western character in the history of comic books. His title, Kid Colt Outlaw lasted from 1948 to 1979.

Kid Colt was wrongly accused of murder. With evidence stacked against him, Kid Colt went on the run. With his horse Steel, Kid Colt helped people throughout the West while trying to clear his name. While Kid Colt Outlaw ended its run in 1979, Kid Colt has appeared occasionally in Marvel Comics ever since. Indeed, in the TV show Agent Carter, in one episode Howard Stark's movie studio was even making a movie based on Kid Colt, whom Stark calls a historical figure. Kid Colt remains relatively well known among comic book fans to this day, and with the renewed popularity of Westerns would make him a good hero of a feature film.

Millie the Model: Not only was the company that would eventually become known as Marvel Comics known for their Western titles prior to the Silver Age, but their humour titles as well. Starting in 1944 the company that would become Marvel would publish humour titles based around career women (Tessie the Typist, Nellie the Nurse). The company would go onto publish other humour titles, including the highly successful teen humour title Patsy Walker. Perhaps Marvel's most succes
sful humour title was Millie the Model. Millie was created by artist and writer Ruth Atkinson, and first appeared in Millie the Model no. 1, Winter 1945. Her title would run until issue no. 207, December 1973. Millie the Model would be important as a training ground for legendary artist Dan DeCarlo, the man who would later define the look of the Archie Comics characters for decades and would still later create Josie, of Josie and the Pussycats fame.

The "Millie" of Millie the Model was Millie Collins, who moved from the small town of Sleepy Gap, Kansas to New York City. There she met photographer Clicker Holbrook (who later became her boyfriend), who got her a job with the Hanover Modelling Agency. Her best friend was the wardrobe assistant at Hanover, Daisy. Her frenemy was fellow model Chili Storm. Since her title ended in 1973, Millie has appeared infrequently in the pages of Marvel Comics. Millie the Model remains fairly well known among fans of Marvel Comics. And while the character originated in the Forties, I could easily see Millie the Model adapted as a sex comedy of the variety for which Doris Day was best known, set in the late Fifties or early Sixties.

Tomahawk: The years 1946 and 1947 saw a boom in Western comic books, but one of DC Comics' most successful characters predated that era by around 100 years. Tomahawk first appeared in Star Spangled Comics no. 69, June 1947 and earned his own title with Tomahawk no. 1, September 1950. Tomahawk proved very successful, appearing in his own title until Tomahawk no. 130, October 1970. Afterwards it was taken over by Hawk, the son of Tomahawk, who proved much less successful. With Hawk as the star, the title only lasted another nine issues.

Tomahawk was Tom Hawk (given as Thomas Haukins in later stories), who had been raised by American Indians. He was called "Tomahawk" because of his skill with that weapon. He had served under George Washington during the French and Indian Wars. During the Revolutionary War he was the leader of Tomahawk's Rangers, a group who engaged in guerilla warfare against the British under the orders of George Washington. Among the Rangers were such colourful characters as Big Anvil (a huge blacksmith) and Frenchie (a former French sailor who joined the Rangers), among others. Tomahawk's sidekick was the youthful Dan Hunter.

Originally Tomahawk was featured in straight-forward Revolutionary War adventures, although, like many DC Comics of the time, in the late Fifties he would increasingly become involved in fantastic adventures involving everything from dinosaurs, tree-men, and a giant gorilla (a mainstay of DC Comics of the era). Fortunately, in the Sixties the title shifted back to straight forward Revolutionary War adventures. I figure any movie based on Tomahawk would eschew the fantastic adventures and instead concentrate on straight-forward Revolutionary War action. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Some Updates

Tonight I have to admit that I am at a bit of a loss as to what to write about. Sadly, so far this year it seems as if the vast majority of posts I have made have been eulogies, which tend to be my least favourite type of post. I have been told that I am very good at them, but the problem is that in order to write one someone has to die. Sadly, some of my favourites have died so far this year, including Carol Channing, Kaye Ballard, James Frawley, Dick Miller, Julie Adams, Albert Finney, and many others. I have sometimes complained that I don't want A Shroud of Thoughts to become "The Death Blog". Sadly, I think with 2019 it might become just that.

Of course, it doesn't help that I am really not in too much of a mood to write a blog post tonight anyway. It is now only a little over six months since Vanessa died and I am still trying to cope being without her. This was made worse by the fact that my birthday occurred only about a week after the anniversary. I enjoyed my birthday over all, but the fact that she was not in this world to offer her usual birthday greeting was all too obvious. I still miss her terribly.

Anyway, enough of dwelling on sadness. Probably the big news today was that Facebook and Instagram were both down at the same time for literally hours today It all started about 10:00 AM CDT. For myself, I was unable to comment on Facebook for a time and it seemed as if liking posts was hit and miss. It took me three tries to make one post. On top of this, my friends list on my profile wouldn't load at all. Instagram was actually worse than Facebook for me. I couldn't upload any photos and, after logging out, I could not log back in. Fortunately, everything seems to have been fixed a few minutes ago. Facebook has stated that the problems were not the result of a cyberattack, but they haven't said what caused the outage. Many people took to Twitter to vent about the outage. That having been said, I wasn't bothered that much by it. Anyone who reads this blog knows I am not a huge fan of Facebook. While I do like Instagram, I can do without it for awhile! Now a Twitter outage might be a different matter for me...

Here I want to point out that the 15th anniversary of A Shroud of Thoughts is coming up on June 4. It is hard to believe that I have been writing this blog for nearly 15 years. My life has changed dramatically in that time, and yet the blog is still here. I would like to do something special for the 15th anniversary, but I have no idea what it would be.

Lastly, I want to remind everyone of my upcoming 5th Annual Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon from March 22 to March 25. You can read the rules here.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Late, Great, Legendary Drummer Hal Blaine

The famous opening drum beats of The Ronettes' classic "Be My Baby"were performed by the same man who provided drums for Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'", Simon & Garfunkel's "Hazy Shade of Winter", and even the theme song to the TV show Batman. That man was drummer Hal Blaine, who was one of the legendary group of session musicians known as The Wrecking Crew (in fact, he was the one who gave the group its name). Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys called him "the greatest drummer ever." There are many both in and outside the music industry who would agree with him. Hal Blaine died yesterday, March 11 2018, at the age of 90.

Hal Blaine was born Harold Simon Belsky on February 5 1929 in Holyoke, Massachusetts. His family moved to Hartford, Connecticut when he was 7 years old. There he decided to learn drums when he was watching the fife and drum corps of the Roman Catholic school that was just across the street form his Hebrew school. It was not long before he was playing with that drum and fife corps. Mr. Blaine was 14 years old when his family moved to California. During the Korean War he served as a cartographer in the United States Army. After his service, Hal Blaine studied at a drum school in Chicago that was operated by Roy Knapp, who was also one of legendary jazz drummer Gene Krupa's teachers. He eventually began to play drums professionally in clubs and spent part of the late Fifties playing with a jazz quartet. Over the next few years he would play with Tommy Sands and Patti Page, as well as serving as a substitute for regular drummer Sonny Payne with Count Basie's orchestra at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City.

Although Hal Blaine thought of himself as a jazz drummer, by the Sixties he was established as a session drummer on pop records. The songs on which Mr. Blaine's drums can be heard are both numerous and varied. He did a good deal of work for Phil Spector, including work on the songs "Be My Baby" by The Ronettes, "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" by Darlene Love, "Da Doo Ron Ron" by The Crystals, "He's a Rebel" by The Crystals (although actually performed by The Blossoms), and several others. He would also worked a good deal with The Beach Boys, so much so that on many of their records it is more likely one will hear Mr. Blaine's drums than Beach Boy member Dennis Wilson's. Among The Beach Boys' songs on which he played were "Barbara Ann", "California Girls", "God Only Knows", "Good Vibrations", and yet others. He played on several of Simon & Garfunkel's songs, including "The Boxer", "Bridge Over Troubled Water", "A Hazy Shade of Winter", "I Am a Rock", and "Mrs. Robinson". He also played on several of The Monkees' songs, including "Mary, Mary", "Papa Gene's Blues", "Sweet Young Thing", and "Zor and Zam". Over the years Mr. Blaine played on records by such artists as Herb Alpert, The Byrds, Glenn Campbell, The Mamas and the Papas, Dean Martin, Paul Revere & The Raiders, Elvis Presley, Johnny Rivers, and Tommy Roe. In all, Hal Blaine played on 40 songs that hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100, more than any other drummer in the Rock Era. He estimated that he played on over 35,000 recordings, 6000 of which were singles.

After the Eighties Hal Blaine played fewer sessions as a drummer on pop recordings, although he continued to work in television and on commercials. During his career he recorded his own albums, including Deuces, T's, Roadsters and Drums (1963), Drums! Drums! A Go Go (1966), Psychedelic Percussion (1967), Have Fun!!! Play Drums!!! (1968), and Buh-Doom (1998). 

It is hard to argue with Brian Wilson's assessment of Hal Blaine as "the greatest drummer ever". He was certainly prolific, and there can be no doubt that he was so much in demand because he was so very good at drums. Mr. Blaine could be very subtle, as he often was when he played on ballads, which included everything from Shelley Fabares's "Johnny Angel" to Frank and Nancy Sinatra's "Somethin' Stupid". While Hal Blaine could be very subtle, he could also deliver powerful drum beats when needed. He played on such classic rock songs as Paul Revere and The Raiders' "Hungry", The Grass Roots' "Midnight Confessions", and Johnny Rivers's "Secret Agent Man". He was also had a jazz drummer's gift for improvisation. On Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water", rather than simply play the drums, he created percussion by using tyre chains. As proof of Mr. Blaine's talent, one need only look at a short list of the songs on which he played. Over the years he played on some of the most legendary songs in rock history

Friday, March 8, 2019

Godspeed Katherine Helmond

Katherine Helmond, perhaps best known for her roles in Soap and Who's the Boss?, died on February 23 2019 at the age of 89.

Katherine Helmond was born on July 5 1929 in Galveston, Texas. Her parents divorced while she was young, and her mother eventually remarried. In junior high and high school she was involved in local community theatres. Once she graduated from high school she went to work for a professional theatre in Houston and then moved to New York City. She did summer stock, and ran a summer theatre in the Catskills with friends. Katherine Helmond made her film debut in a role in the film Wine of Morning in 1955. She made her television debut in an episode of Car 54, Where Are You? in 1962. She worked a good deal on the stage in New York, working with the Trinity Square Repertory Company in the mid-Sixties. She made her Broadway debut in Private Lives in 1969.

In the Seventies she appeared in such films as The Hospital (1971), The Hindenburg (1975), Family Plot (1976), and Baby Blue Marine (1976). In the Seventies she was cast in the role of Jessica Tate on the hit TV show Soap. She remained with the show for the entirety of its run. She also guest starred on such shows as Gunsmoke, The F.B.I., The Bob Newhart Show, The Snoop Sisters, Hec Ramsey, Mannix, Medical Center, Barnaby Jones, The Rookies, Harry-O, The Six Million Dollar Man, Petrocelli, and The Bionic Woman. She appeared on Broadway in The Great God Brown and Don Juan.

In the Eighties she continued to star on the TV show Soap. She also began a long run on the sitcom Who's the Boss?. She guest starred on such shows as Benson, Fantasy Island, Comedy Factory, and The Love Boat. She appeared in the films Time Bandits (1981), Brazil (1985), Shadey (1985), Overboard (1987), and Lady in White (1988).

In the Nineties she continued to appear on Who's the Boss. Miss Helmond had recurring roled on the sitcoms Coach and Everybody Loves Raymond. She was a guest voice on Batman: The Animated Series. She guest starred on such shows as The Elvira Show, Providence, and Strong Medicine. She appeared in the films Inside Monkey Zetterland (1992), Amore! (1994), The Flight of the Dove (1995), Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998), and The Perfect Nanny (2000). She appeared on Broadway in Mixed Emotions.

In the Naughts and the Teens Katherine Helmond appeared in the films Black Hole (2002), Collaborator (2011), and Frank and Ava (2018). She was the voice of Lizzie in the Pixar animated films Cars (2006), Cars 2 (2011), and Cars 3 (2017). She guest starred on the TV show The Glades, Melissa & Joey, True Blood, and Harry's Law.

Katherine Helmond was a talented actress with a particular gift for comedy and playing off-the-wall characters. She was great as the naive and sweet Jessica Tate on Soap and the man-crazy Mona Robinson on Who's the Boss?. She was incredible as socialite Ida Lowry in Brazil, a role for which she had to wear a great deal of makeup. Over the years Miss Helmond played a number of remarkable roles on both television and in film, and she always gave a good performance. 

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Godspeed Luke Perry

Luke Perry, who starred on the TV shows Beverly Hills 90210 and Riverdale, made numerous guest appearances on other shows, and appeared in such films as Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992) and The Fifth Element (1997), died on March 4 2019. The cause was complications from a massive stroke.

Luke Perry was born Coy Luther Perry III in Mansfield, Ohio. His parents got a divorce when he was six years old. His mother remarried and he moved with his mother to Fredricktown, Ohio. It was after he graduated from high school that he moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting. He made his television debut in an uncredited part on an episode of the show Voyagers! in 1982. In 1985 he appeared in the video for the Twisted Sister video "Be Chrool to Your Scuel". He then moved to New York City where he appeared in an episode of the soap opera Loving and had an extended run on the soap opera Another World from 1988 to 1989. It was in 1990 that he began playing Dylan McKay on the TV series Beverly Hills 90210. He appeared in the movie Terminal Bliss (1990).

In the Nineties Mr. Perry continued to appear on Beverly Hills 90210. He provided voices on the animated TV shows Biker Mice from Mars, Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm, The Legend of Calamity Jane, and The Incredible Hulk. He was a guest voice on the animated shows The Simpsons, Pepper Ann, and Johnny Bravo. He guest starred on the show Spin City and appeared in the mini-series Invasion. He appeared in the movies Scorchers (1991), Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992), 8 Seconds (1994), Vacanze di Natale '95 (1995), Normal Life (1996), American Strays (1996), The Fifth Element (1997), Lifebreath (1997), The Florentine (1999), and Attention Shoppers (2000). He appeared on Broadway in The Rocky Horror Show.

In the Naughts Luke Perry had a recurring role on the TV show Oz in its fourth and fifth seasons. He was the star of the short-lived TV series Jeremiah and Windfall, and he had a recurring role on the shows John from Cincinnati and FCU: Fact Checkers Unit. He guest starred on the shows Night Visions, Will & Grace, What I Like About You, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and Leverage. He appeared in such films as The Enemy (2001), Dirt (2001), Fogbound (2002), Alice Upside Down (2007), Upstairs (2001), Good Intentions (2010), Redemption Road (2010), and Hanna's Gold (2010).

In 2016 Luke Perry began playing Fred Andrews, father of the lead character Archie Andrews, on the TV show Riverdale. In the Teens he had recurring roles on the Body of Proof and Detective McLean. He guest starred on the shows Raising Hope, Community, Major Crimes, and Hot in Cleveland. He appeared in such films as Red Wing (2013), A Fine Step (2014), Black Beauty (2015), Dragon Warriors (2015), and The Griddle House (2018).

Luke Perry was an actor of considerable talent. Much of the success of Riverdale is largely due to the fact that he was very convincing as father Fred Andrews. And while Mr. Perry may be best known for playing a teen rebel and a loving father, he played a wide variety of other roles. On Oz he played somewhat shady preacher Jeremiah Cloutier. In the Leverage episode "The Future Job" he played crooked, phony psychic Dalton Rand. He played a gay birdwatcher and nature nerd on Will & Grace. The roles played by Mr. Perry were wide and varied: slacker Oliver Pike in the movie Buffy the Vampire Slayer, professional bull rider Lane Frost in the movie 8 Seconds, and CDC Officer Dr. Charlie Stafford on the TV show Body of Proof, among other roles. He was equally capable of playing a hero or a villain or anything in between.

Of course, in addition to Fred Andrews on Riverdale, Luke Perry may be best known for playing Dylan on Beverly Hills 90210. Those too young who remember or those who were not born yet might not realise just how wildly popular Luke Perry as Dylan was in the early Nineties. His popularity dwarfed even that of Justin Beiber and One Direction in more recent years. It was not unusual for riots among young, teenage fans to break out at shopping malls where he appeared. Mr. Perry was not comfortable with his status as a teen idol. For one thing, he was not a teenager. He was 24 when he began playing on Beverly Hills 90210. For another, he always regarded himself simply as an ordinary guy who just happened to star on a TV show.

Despite not particularly liking his role as a teen idol, Luke Perry was always known for his kindness to his fans. In fact, he was known for his kindness to everyone. Upon most actors' deaths it is not unusual for the former co-stars to tweet tributes to them. In the case of Luke Perry, however, his fans tweeted stories of his many acts of kindness through the years. Many actors told how Mr. Perry always went out of his way to make them feel welcome on sets on which he was the star. When Riverdale co-star Hayley Law was having trouble buying a car, he offered to co-sign for it. If Luke Perry has been mourned so, it is perhaps not because he was a former teen idol or even a very talented actor. It was because he was a true gentleman who believed in treating everyone with dignity.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Beverley Owen Passes On

Beverley Owen, best known for playing Marilyn Munster for the first 13 episodes of The Munsters, died on February 21 2019 at the age of 81. She had battled ovarian cancer for the past two years.

Beverley Owen was born in Ottumwa, Iowa on May 13 1937.  She made her television debut in the soap opera As the World Turns in 1961. She guest starred on The DoctorsKraft Mystery Theatre, Wagon Train, and The Virginian. She was cast in the role of Marilyn, the beautiful blonde among a family of monsters, on the sitcom The Munsters. She played the role for 13 episodes before leaving to get married. The role of Marilyn Munster was taken over by Pat Priest. She returned to television in 1972 for a nine month run on the soap opera Another World. Afterwards she returned to school to study early American history. She earned a masters degree in American history in 1989.

I have no doubt that there are many younger Baby Boomers and older Gen Xers who had huge crushes on Beverly Owen as little boys. She was wonderful as Marilyn Munster, and not simply because she was blonde and beautiful. Miss Owen brought the right amount of wholesomeness, sweetness, and even  sex appeal to the role. Beverly Owen was perfectly suited to playing the girl next door, and it was a role she also played in her guest appearances.


Sunday, March 3, 2019

Charles de Lauzirika's In Memoriam Video

Many people, particularly classic film buffs, were both disappointed and angered by the In Memoriam segment that aired during the telecast of the Oscars ceremony last Sunday. Omitted were several big names, including Julie Adams, Mary Carlisle, Carol Channing, Stanley Donen, Aretha Franklin, Dick Miller, and many others. Despite a petition that eventually surpassed 10,000 signatures, as well as many phone calls and letters, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences still did not include my beloved Vanessa Marquez. Despite all the well known actors, actresses, directors, writers, and cinematographers omitted from the In Memoriam segment, the Academy somehow still had time to include publicists and agents that even the majority of people in the auditorium that night had probably never heard of.

Among those who missed many in the In Memoriam segment last Sunday was filmmaker Charles de Lauzirika, who created his own In Memoriam video during lunch. Featured in Mr. Lauzirika's video are many that the Academy missed, including Carol Channing, Kaye Ballard, Sondra Locke, Julie Adams, Donald Moffat, Dick Miller, Stanley Donen, and many others. While I don't think Mr. Lauzirika realised that my dearest Vanessa was possibly the world's biggest Star Wars fan, I like that she appears right before Gary Kurtz, who produced both Star Wars (1977) and The Empire Strikes Back (1980). I know that would make her very happy.

Mr. Lauzirika posted the video to Twitter on February 25 and has also shared it elsewhere. For those of you who would like for it to be uploaded to YouTube, he replied to me in a tweet that he is considering that, but he would like to add even more names before he does so! Anyhow, many, including myself, are very grateful for this In Memoriam video, which everyone regards as superior to the one that the Academy created.

Without further ado, here is Charles de Lauzirika's In Memoriam video.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Godspeed Nathaniel Taylor

Actor Nathaniel Taylor, perhaps best known for playing Lamont Sanford's son Rollo on the classic sitcom Sanford and Son, died on February 27 2019 at the age of 80.The cause was a heart attack.

Nathaniel Taylor was born on March 31 1938 in St. Louis, Missouri. He was an electrician before becoming an actor and was working in that capacity at the Performing Arts Society of Los Angeles. Larry Clark, who taught film workshops at the Performing Arts Society of Los Angeles, asked him to try out for a part. He had Mr. Taylor read a few lines and then sent him to the room of fellow St. Louisan Redd Foxx. The two talked about St. Louis and eventually Mr. Taylor would be cast in the role of Rollo Larson on Sanford and Son.

Nathaniel Taylor made his film debut in Listen to the Man in 1969. On television he guest starred in the shows The Bold Ones: The Senator and The Bill Cosby Show. It was in 1972, on the first season of Sanford and Son, that Mr. Taylor first appeared in the role of Rollo Larson. He would continue to appear on the show for the rest of its run. He also made a guest appearance on the Sanford and Son spin-offs Grady and was a regular on the spin-offs Sanford Arms, and Sanford. He guest starred on the shows Adam-12, Harry O, Police Story, What's Happening!!, and 227. He would later have a recurring role on Redd Foxx's Eighties sitcom The Redd Foxx Show. He appeared in the movies Trouble Man (1972), Black Girl (1972), As Above, So Below (1973), Willie Dynamite (1974), Passing Through (1977), and The Hunter (1980). He would later teach acting and take part in community theatre.

On Sanford and Son, Rollo was often the target of Fred Sanford's scorn and even distrust. Despite this, Rollo was easily the coolest character on the show. He was streetwise and smooth talking, and always dressed in the snazziest, hippest clothes. Nathaniel Taylor played the role perfectly. Of course, Nathaniel Taylor played other roles than Rollo. On What's Happening!! he was Rerun's brother-in-law Ike, a compulsive gambler who often targeted Rerun with his humour. On The Redd Foxx Show he played Jim-Jam, the owner of the local Chinese restaurant. Nathaniel Taylor was certainly a fine actor with a gift for playing comedy. 

Friday, March 1, 2019

Godspeed #TCMParty Member Andrea Rosen

Last night #TCMParty members (including myself) received word that Andrea Rosen has died. Andrea was a long time member of #TCMParty and had met many fellow #TCMParty members at the annual Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival. Many #TCMParty members counted her as a dear friend.

I was not as close to Andrea as many of my #TCMParty friends were, but I always enjoyed interacting with her during TCMParties. She was a very sweet lady, and one who had a great sense of humour as well as incredible wit. She was always guaranteed to be on hand for Noir Alley, to the point that when Noir Alley returns March 9 it won't seem the same without her. Quite simply, to sum Andrea up in terms of the film noir she loved so much, Andrea was one classy lady.

My condolences go out to her husband Richard and her many friends in the TCM community.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Black Oscar Winners Before 1990

Even now it is clear that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has some progress to make with regards to diversity. A prime example of this is the In Memoriam segment of the recently held 91st Academy Awards. Aretha Franklin, who may well have been the single biggest name to die last year, was omitted from the In Memoriam segment, despite having appeared in several movies. Mexican American actress Vanessa Marquez was left out of the In Memoriam segment despite a petition with 8700 signatures encouraging the Academy to include her, as well as numerous letters, phone calls,and emails. Sadly, despite several people of colour that could have been included in the In Memoriam segment, it seemed to be primarily filled with white faces.

Of course, it must be admitted that the Academy has made progress in the past few years. This was the first time in Oscars history that the majority of Oscars in the acting categories went to people of colour. People of colour won other major awards as well. The incredible Ruth Carter won the Academy Award for Best Costume Design for Black Panther (2018), becoming the first African American woman to ever win in that category. Legendary director Spike Lee won the award for Best Adapted Screenplay for BlacKkKlansman (2018), his first ever Oscar win. Over the years blacks, in particular, have made great strides with regards to the Academy Awards. Unfortunately this has been the result of a very slow process that has taken literally decades.

The first ever African American to win an Oscar was also the first ever African American ever nominated. At the 12th Academy Awards in 1940, Hattie McDaniel won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for Gone with the Wind. Sadly, Miss McDaniel was not treated with the respect one would expect of an Oscar nominated actress. The 12th Academy Awards ceremony was held at the Cocoanut Grove nightclub in The Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. At the time the Cocoanut Grove did not allow blacks, so that producer David O. Selznick had to petition the nightclub for Hattie McDaniel to be allowed to attend the awards. To make matters worse, Miss McDaniel was not permitted to sit at the Gone with the Wind table alongside her white co-stars, but was instead taken to a small table against a wall where she sat with her date F.P. Yober, and her white agent, William Meiklejohn.

It would literally be years before another black actor won an Oscar. It was in 1964 that Sir Sidney Poitier became the first black man to win the Academy Award for Best Actor at the 36th Academy Awards and only the second black actor to win an Academy Award . It was for his role as Homer Smith in Lillies of the Field (1963). Fortunately, Mr. Poitier was treated much better in 1964 than Hattie McDaniel had been in 1940. Sir Sidney Poitier would later win  a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002.

Even after Sir Sidney Poitier won an Oscar in 1964, it would be several years before another black artist would win an Academy Award. At the 44th Academy Awards in 1972, Isaac Hayes won the Oscar for Best Original Song for  the "Theme from Shaft".  It would be over ten years before another African American would win an Oscar. It was at the 55th Academy Awards in 1983 that Louis Gossett Jr. became the first male African American to win the award for Best Supporting Actor. It was for his role as Gunnery Sergeant Emil Foley in An Officer and a Gentleman (1982). To go off topic a bit, it was for the same movie that Buffy Sainte-Marie became the first indigenous woman to win an Academy Award. It was for Best Original Song for "Up Where We Belong". She shared the award with co-writers Jack Nitzsche and Will Jennings.

The Eighties would finally see a good deal of progress for black artists with regards to the Oscars. In 1984, at the 56th Academy Awards, Irene Cara became the first black woman to win the Oscar for Best Original Song for "Flashdance..What a Feeling" for the movie Flashdance (1983), an award that she shared with her co-writers Giorgio Moroder and Keith Forsey. In 1985, at the 57th Academy Awards, Stevie Wonder won Best Song for "I Just Called to Say I Love You" from The Woman in Red (1984). That same year Prince won the Oscar for Best Original Song Score for Purple Rain (1984). In 1986 Lionel Ritchie won the award for Best Original Song for "Say You, Say Me" from the movie White Nights (1985). In 1987 Herbie Hancock became the first African American to win the Oscar for Best Original Score, which he won for the movie Round Midnight (1986). In 1989 Willie D. Burton became the first black winner of the Oscar for Best Sound, sharing the award with Les Fresholtz, Dick Alexander, and Vern Poore for the movie Bird (1988). Mr. Burton would win the award a second time in 2007 for the movie Dreamgirls (2006). The year 1990 would see two more black artists win, both for the movie Glory (1989). Denzel Washington won Best Supporting Actor for the movie and later won for Best Actor for Training Day (2001) in 2002. Russell Williams III won Best Sound for Glory, sharing the award with Donald O. Mitchell, Gregg Rudloff, and Elliot Tyson.

Since the Nineties several black actors and other artists have won Oscars, showing great progress since the Golden Age of Hollywood when Hattie McDaniel was the only black person to ever win an Academy Award and was not even permitted to sit at the same table as her co-stars. Sadly, such strides have not been made for other groups of ethnicities. Merle Oberon (who was part Indian and part Maori) remains the only Asian to ever be nominated for Best Actress. No one of Asian descent has ever been nominated for Best Actor. The Academy has a similarly poor track record with regards to Latinos, Edward James Olmos remaining the only Latino to ever be nominated for Best Actor. The Academy has an ever worse track record with regards to the indigenous peoples of North America. To this day Chief Dan George and Graham Greene remain the only male Natives nominated for Best Supporting Actor (Chief Dan George for Little Big Man and Graham Greene for Dances with Wolves). Until Yalitza Aparicio was nominated for Best Actress this year for Roma, the aforementioned Buffy Sainte-Marie remained the only indigenous woman ever nominated for an Oscar. Buffy Sainte-Marie remains the only Native to ever win an Oscar to this day. While the Academy has made great strides with regards to diversity, it is clear that they have much further to go.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Why I Am Angry About the In Memoriam Segment During the Oscars Telecast

Every year, on the day after the Oscars ceremony, I usually do a review of the ceremony itself. That isn't happening this year. Like many classic film buffs I was disappointed and angry at the many people omitted in this year's In Memoriam segment that aired during the telecast. In my case I was so disappointed and angry that I missed much of the rest of the ceremony. I had to look up who won Best Actor this year on the internet.

As to the primary source of my disappointment and anger, I think those who know me and those who read this blog probably know what it is. Quite simply, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences omitted my dearest Vanessa Marquez from the In Memoriam segment. They did this despite a petition to include her in the In Memoriam segment during the telecast having reached 8700 signatures. This petition was well publicised, with stories on it in such sources as The Los Angeles Times and Deadline. I know for a fact that the Academy received multiple letters, emails, and phone calls urging them to include Vanessa in the In Memoriam. I wrote the Academy a letter myself and signed another that had 59 other signatures. Not only did several people express their frustration at the Academy for having omitted Vanessa from the In Memoriam on Twitter and elsewhere, but several news sources, including The Los Angeles Times, Variety, and yet others noted her omission.

Now I know that many people will point out that I am biased with regards to Vanessa. After all, my feelings for her are no secret, not even in Hollywood. That having been said, I think there are some very good reasons that the Academy should have included Vanessa Marquez. First, Vanessa was a remarkably talented actress. She had a talent for transforming herself into any character she chose, and played such diverse roles as Ana Delgado in Stand and Deliver (1988), Melanie in Twenty Bucks (1993), and Nurse Wendy Goldman on ER. In every single review I have read of various plays in which she appeared, even when the play itself might not have been reviewed favourably, Vanessa was singled out for praise. Second, Vanessa was a true pioneer with regards to Latina actresses. At the time that Vanessa's career was flourishing, there was very little in the way of representation of Latinas in film and television. When she appeared on ER, Vanessa was one of the few Latinas to appear regularly on American television. What is more, Vanessa played non-stereotypical roles. Never in her career did she play a part that could be described as a stereotype. Third, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences has historically had a problem with diversity, particularly with regards to Latinxs, Native Americans, and Asians. Vanessa Marquez is not the first Latina to be snubbed with regards to the In Memoriam segment that aired during the telecast by a long shot. In 2013 the Academy omitted Lupe Ontiveros from the In Memoriam segment, despite a career that spanned nearly 45 years. It is to be noted that those who were included in last night's In Memoriam segment were mostly white. If the Academy truly wanted to prove they have no problems with diversity, they should have included Vanessa and other people of colour in last night's In Memoriam.

While the Academy ultimately chose not to include Vanessa in the In Memoriam segment of the Oscars telecast, I would like to thank everyone who signed and shared the petition to include her in the In Memoriam. I would also like to thank everyone who wrote letters and emails to the Academy, and made phone calls to the Academy. In particular I would like to thank actress Lydia Nicole (who set up the petition to begin with), #TCMParty co-founder Paula Guthat (who alongside myself tweeted it regularly since October), the cast of Stand and Deliver (who promoted it and got it out to a wider audience), actress Julie Carmen (who tweeted it several times), and everyone who supported adding Vanessa to the In Memoriam in some way, shape, or form. Vanessa always seemed to think that she was underappreciated as an actress. I always told her that she was wrong, that people not only appreciated her, but loved her. I am glad to say that the campaign to get Vanessa added to the In Memoriam telecast has proven once and for all that Vanessa was very much appreciated and loved by many around the world. 

Of course, my beloved Vanessa Marquez was in good company in being omitted from the In Memoriam segment of last night's Oscars telecast. Many were outraged that the legendary Carol Channing was omitted from the In Memoriam. While Miss Channing appeared in only a few films, the films in which she appeared were significant and she was a long-time supporter of the Academy. They also excluded Stanley Donen, the director of such legendary films as Singin' in the Rain and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. While Mr. Donen died only recently, today we have the technology to edit film and video very swiftly. Indeed, I could have added Mr. Donen here at home with the video editing software I have! Even if they did not have time to add Stanley Donen, they could have at least mentioned him prior to the In Memoriam segment. They also excluded legendary singer Aretha Franklin, who appeared in several films and probably had a greater impact on popular culture than many who were included. As to yet others who did not appear in last night's In Memoriam segment, they include Julie Adams, Joseph Campanella, Mary Carlisle, Dick Miller, Abe Vigoda, and yet others. Despite this, the Academy had plenty of time to include publicists and agents in the In Memoriam segment that even Academy members in the auditorium probably did not recognise. Sister Celluloid has an extensive list of those who were omitted in the In Memoriam on her blog.

What makes the omissions during this year's In Memoriam segment all the more worse is that people have been complaining about beloved actors, actresses, and directors being omitted during In Memoriam segments for literally years.  Indeed, in 2013 they omitted such heavyweights as Harry Carey Jr., Andy Griffith, Dorothy McGuire, and Ann Rutherford. Every year the Academy omits people from the In Memoriam segment, and every year viewers are outraged. You would have thought they would have learned by now.

The past many years both ABC and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have been concerned about the falling ratings of the Oscars ceremony. Quite frankly, I think much of the reason ratings have been falling is the omissions during the In Memoriam. I know a few people who have entirely stopped watching the Oscars simply because they have grown increasingly angry about the many omissions during the In Memoriam segment. What the Academy ought to realise is that the In Memoriam segment should be made for the viewers at home, not members of the Academy. That means that they should include people that the viewers know and love, such as Carol Channing, Aretha Franklin, and Julie Adams. And when a petition for someone like my beloved Vanessa reaches 8700 signatures and receives nationwide coverage in the press, they should be sure to include her in the In Memoriam segment. What the Academy has to realise is that when they omit someone that the audience loves and respects, the audience is likely to take it as a personal insult. They can always omit the publicists and agents. Believe me, no one in the audience will notice.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

The Late Great Stanley Donen

Every classic film buff has his or her favourite directors. Among mine numbers Stanley Donen. Both with Gene Kelly and on his own, Mr. Donen directed some of my favourite movies: Singin' in the Rain (1952), Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954), Charade (1963), and Bedazzled (1967).  And while he directed some of the greatest movie musicals in film history, Stanley Donen was versatile. Over the years he directed everything from comedies (such as The Grass is Greener) to dramas (Two for the Road). Stanley Donen died on Feburary 21 2019 at the age of 94.

Stanley Donen was born on April 13 1924 in Columbia, South Carolina. Young Mr. Donen faced anti-Semitism growing up and found refuge in movie theatres. Among the films to have an impact on him in his childhood was Flying Down to Rio (1933) . In an interview he said that he must have seen it thirty or forty times. His love of the film would lead him to take dance lessons and he would even perform at the Town Theatre in Columbia. While on summer vacations he would visit New York City where he also took dance lessons and watched various Broadway musicals. Mr. Donen graduated high school when he was 16 and then enrolled at the University of South Carolina for a single, summer semester.

His mother encouraged him to pursue his dreams of being a dancer, and so he moved to New York City. There he made his Broadway debut in Pal Joey (1940) as one of the dancers. It was there that he met the man who would be his frequent collaborator, Gene Kelly. Stanley Donen then appeared in Best Foot Forward on Broadway, on which he served as assistant stage manager. MGM bought the rights to Best Foot Forward and Stanley Donen appeared in a small role in the 1943 film adaptation and served as an assistant to dance director Jack Donohue. Stanley Donen moved to Hollywood and it was there that he resumed his friendship with Gene Kelly. Over the next few years Stanley Donen would serve as assistant choreographer on Cover Girl (1944) and Hey, Rookie (1944), and as a choreographer on Jam Session (1944), Kansas City Kitty (1945),  Holiday in Mexico (1946), No Leave, No Love (1946), This Time for Keeps (1947), Killer McCoy (1947), Big City (1948), A Date with Judy (1948), The Kissing Bandit (1948), and Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1949, with Gene Kelly). He was an assistant choreographer to Gene Kelly on Anchors Aweigh (1945). He made his directorial debut in 1949 with Anchors Aweigh, co-directing with Gene Kelly.

In the Fifties, as directors Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly would collaborate on the movies Singin' in the Rain (1952) and It's Always Fair Weather. Over time Messrs. Donen and Kelly's relationship deteriorated and It's Always Fair Weather would be their last collaboration. The first movie Stanley Donen directed on his own was the classic Royal Wedding (1951). He would also direct one of the greatest movie musicals of all time, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954). In the Fifties, Mr. Donen would direct the films Love is Better Than Ever (1952), Fearless Fagan (1952), Give a Girl a Break (1953), Deep in My Heart (1954), Funny Face (1957), The Pajama Game (1957), Kiss Them for Me (1957), Indiscreet (1958), Damn Yankees (1958), Once More with Feeling! (1960), Surprise Package (1960), and The Grass is Greener (1960). 

Stanley Donen would continue to have a successful career into the Sixties as he expanded from musicals into other film genres. He directed the comedy thriller Charade (1963), the drama Two for the Road (1967), and the comedy Bedazzled (1967). He also directed the films Arabesque (1966) and Staircase (1969). The Seventies would see Mr. Donen direct the films The Little Prince (1974), Lucky Lady (1975), Movie Movie (1978), and Saturn 3 (1980). Mr. Donen directed a musical sequence for the 1986 Moonlighting episode "Big Man on Mulberry St." He also produced the 58th Annual Academy Awards in 1986. It was also in the Eighties that he taught a seminar on film musicals at the Sundance Institute. His last directorial work would be the made-for-TV film Love Letters in 1999.

Stanley Donen was one of the first director of whom I was actually aware. I saw both Singin' in the Rain and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers while I was very young and I fell in love with both of them. Over time I would see the other films in his oeuvre. While I cannot say I love very film Mr. Donen ever directed (Saturn 3 is not a particularly good film), I love most of them. And there are many that I would count among the greatest films ever made, including Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Singin' in the Rain, On the Town, Royal Wedding, Charade, and Bedazzled.

Of course, there have always been questions about how much Stanley Donen contributed to the films on which he collaborated with Gene Kelly. There are those who have diminished his contributions to those films. My own thought is that his contributions were probably far greater than many might realise. While I am a huge Gene Kelly fan, I think Stanley Donen's solo work was far superior to Gene Kelly's solo work. While Mr. Kelly directed many fine films, he directed nothing on his own to match the quality of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, let alone Royal Wedding or Charade. While I do not wish to diminish Gene Kelly's contributions to On the Town, Singin' in the Rain, and It's Always Fair Weather, given the respective solo work of the two men, I think Stanley Donen had considerable input into the films they made together.

Indeed, Stanley Donen made some very strong films. Regardless of the genre, most of his films are characterised by strong stories, strong performances, and some very solid direction. I think one would be hard put to find better movies than Seven Brides for Seven Brothers or Charade. As to why Mr. Donen was such a good director, I think it comes down to the fact that he was a born entertainer.  His acceptance speech for his honorary Oscar in 1998 is my all time favourite Oscar moment. He did a soft shoe and delivered a speech filled with humour and wit. It actually makes me wonder how great Mr. Donen would have been had he chosen to pursue a career in front of the camera. Stanley Donen had a gift for knowing what people would find entertaining and for being able to create great films. He leaves behind a body of work that few directors could ever match.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Ten Years on Twitter

As of 2:17 PM Central Time today it has been ten years since I have had a Twitter account. While I set up my account on February 22 2009, it would be a while before I would follow someone. The first person I followed was my dear friend Raquel Stecher (although she was still going by her maiden name Matos back then). It would be a few weeks before I would actually make a tweet. It was on March 9 2009 (the day before my birthday) at 12:37 PM that I made my first tweet, which was a link to my blog post on the passing of Charlie Chaplin's son Sydney. Over time the number of tweets I made on any given day would increase dramatically. And while Twitter has received a good deal of bad press over the years, except for the days when Google+ was in its prime, it has always been my favourite social media service.

Among other things Twitter has given me access to a wider audience than I had before. While A Shroud of Thoughts had a readership well before Twitter (the blog was a few months shy of five years old when I joined Twitter), its audience would grow substantially once I began regularly tweeting links to my blog posts. For much of the past ten years, Twitter has provided more hits to A Shroud of Thoughts than any other social media service. In fact, there are some days when most of the hits on my blog come from Twitter.

It was also through Twitter that I met the majority of my fellow classic film buff friends. While I had a few prior to joining Twitter from my years of blogging (the aforementioned Raquel being one of them), I would meet many more on the social media service. Many of them now number among my closest friends. Indeed, I would be one of the original members of #TCMParty, the group of Turner Classic Movies fans who live tweet movies on that channel. It would be through #TCMParty that I would make even more friends, some of who would also number among the closest friends I have ever had. I would also be able to connect to people I respect and admire. Among the people whom I follow and who follows me is Nell Minow, movie critic and the daughter of my hero Newton Minow. I am proud to count her among my friends. I have also been able to interact with such people as Illeana Douglas, Michael Des Barres, Josh Mankiewicz, and Tommy James.

Indeed, it would be through #TCMParty and Twitter that I would meet the most important person in my life. Vanessa Marquez was another one of the original members of #TCMParty and, like me, she live tweeted to such shows as Mad Men and Downton Abbey as well. At first my friends and I were not quite sure that she was the Vanessa Marquez of Stand and Deliver (1988) and ER fame, as we  had encountered people impersonating celebrities on Twitter before. That having been said, Vanessa turned out to be who she claimed to be, and she proved to be entirely wonderful. Being close to the same age and sharing many of the same interests, it was not long before Vanessa and I bonded and became friends. Our friendship would grow to the point that I would count Vanessa as my very best friend. I am not sure when I fell in love with her, but I believe it was well before I consciously realised it. Vanessa would become the one person I love more than anyone else in my life. I might never have met her had it not been for Twitter.

Of course, Twitter has a reputation for trolls, something that has received a good deal of press over the years. That having been said, I have actually found Facebook to be a much worse haven for trolls than Twitter ever has been (there is a reason my Facebook posts are private and I am not active on very many groups). This is not to say that I haven't had a few bad experiences on Twitter with regards to trolls. When Vanessa died, one of my tweets made national news sources (it is odd seeing one's tweet alongside those from famous actors). As a result I received replies from sociopaths who apparently took joy in trying to hurt someone who was experiencing the worst grief he has ever experienced in his life. I responded to none of them and reported and blocked each and every one of them. That having been said, in Twitter' defence, I had many complete strangers who took up for me and defended me against the trolls, often quite vehemently. To them I am eternally grateful.

While I don't think Twitter's reputation for trolls is quite warranted, I do think Twitter has a problem in dealing with trolls. It often seems that trolls can continue tweeting unabated even after their tweets and accounts have been reported by several people. In fact, at least two very famous trolls come to mind. At the same time, while Twitter gives a few trolls free reign, it seems to me that they will suspend the accounts of women who speak out about sexual harassment. The Twitter account of my Vanessa was suspended after she complained about sexual harassment on the set of ER. I complained to Twitter about her account being suspended, as did many of Vanessa's other friends, to no avail. After her death I asked Twitter to reopen her original account, as did many of her other friends, to no avail. I even tweeted and emailed Jack Dorsey himself about it, but received no response. I cannot deny that I am still a bit angry at this, especially given the trolls who regularly tweet truly offensive things are allowed to continue with their accounts regardless of how many complaints there are against them.

At any rate, while I will admit that I do have some problems with Twitter as far as the way it deals with trolls and as far as suspending accounts that absolutely should not be suspended, it remains my favourite social media service. To this day I receive more hits on A Shroud of Thoughts from Twitter than I do any other social media service. To this day I continue to make new friends there. And to this day it remains the primary means through which I stay in touch with many of my friends. Twitter has enriched my life much more than some other social media services (*cough* Facebook *cough*) and I have no regrets about having created an account there.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

For Pete's Sake: The Late Great Peter Tork


There are those music artists and TV shows that we can remember from our earliest days, those music artists and TV shows that shape who we are, those music artists and TV shows that we love all our lives. As those of you who know me and my regular readers know, for me one of those groups of music artists are The Monkees and for me one of those TV shows is the one in which they starred, The Monkees. I discovered The Monkees in childhood, through reruns on CBS on Saturday mornings and my sister's record collection. I loved both the band and TV show and I love both the band and TV show still. Whenever I am feeling down, I can always put on a Monkees album or an episode of The Monkees, and fairly soon I will feel better. They have seen me though good times and bad.

Sadly, Peter Tork, the multi-instrumentalist who played bass and keyboards with the band, died today a the age of 77. The cause was complications from a rare cancer with which he was first diagnosed in 2009.

Peter Tork was born Peter Thorkelson on February 13 1942 in Washington, D.C. He was the son of Virginia Hope (née Straus) and Halsten John Thorkelson. The family moved to Connecticut while Peter was still young, and his father was an economics professor at the University of Connecticut in Storrs. Peter displayed musical talent while still young. He began studying piano when he was only nine. He eventually learned to play several instruments, including banjo, acoustic bass, guitar, and electric bass. Mr. Tork attended Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, but left before graduating to pursue a career in folk music in New York City. It was while he was there that he met another young folk musician named Stephen Stills. It was also during this period that Mr. Tork developed the persona he described as "a lovable dummy", sort of a cross between Harpo Marx and Gracie Allen. Like Harpo Marx and Gracie Allen, in reality Peter Tork was remarkably intelligent and very talented.

Both Peter Tork and Stephen Stills moved to California. It was there that Stephen Stills tried out for a new television show about a struggling rock band. Ultimately the producers rejected Mr. Stills, according to some sources because he did not have good enough hair or teeth and according to Mr. Still because he wanted to write his own songs and did not want to surrender his music publishing rights. He suggested Peter Tork to the producers, because the two of them resembled each other a good deal. It was then that Peter Tork became one of The Monkees.

While Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, and Davy Jones played characters who were not too far removed from themselves, Peter Tork played the "lovable dummy" persona he had perfected in his days as a folk singer. As one of The Monkees, Peter Tork wrote or co-wrote several of the band's songs, including "For Pete's Sake" (which was used as the closing theme for the show's second season), "Long Title: Do I Have To Do This All Over Again?", "Can You Dig It?", and many others.

After The Monkees ended its run he appeared with his fellow Monkees in the cult film Head (1968) and the TV special 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee. While with The Monkees he played banjo on George Harrison's sound track for the movie Wonderwall (1968). Unfortunately, being a Monkee was not particularly easy on Mr. Tork. Pleading exhaustion, he bought out his contract and left the band. After leaving The Monkees, he formed the band Peter Tork And/Or Release. The band failed to get a recording contract and broke up in 1970.

Despite having been on a hit TV series and one of the biggest bands of the Sixties, Peter Tork struggled for much of the Seventies. In 1970 he was forced to sell his house and for a time he even lived in David Crosby's basement. He taught at Pacific Hills School in Santa Monica, California for a time. On July 4 1976 he joined Dolenz, Jones, Boyce & Hart on stage in Disneyland. Later in the year he would reunited with Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones for the single "Christmas Is My Time of Year", which was released only to fan club members. In the Eighties he appeared regularly on The Uncle Floyd Show, which aired in New York and New Jersey television markets. In 1981 he released the single "(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone" (which The Monkees had recorded in the Sixties) with The New Monks. He performed at clubs and appeared on Late Night with David Letterman. In 1985 Peter Tork toured Australia with Davy Jones.

In 1986 MTV aired a marathon of The Monkees which introduced both the TV show and the band to a new audience. With new interest in both the show and the band, Peter Tork reunited with Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones for a highly successful 20th anniversary tour. The three of them recorded the first all-new Monkees album in years, Pool It!, which was released in 1987. Peter Tork contributed the song "Gettin' In" to the album. The Monkees would continue touring from 1986 to 1989, visiting the United States, Japan, and Australia. In the Eighties Peter Tork also toured with his band The Peter Tork Project.

In the Nineties Peter Tork guest starred on the TV shows California Dreams, Boy Meets World (in one of the two episodes he appeared alongside Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones), The King and Queens, and 7th Heaven. All four Monkees reunited for the television special Hey, Hey, It's The Monkees, which aired in 1997. All four Monkees also recorded the album Justus, released in 1996. Mr. Tork contributed the songs "Run Away from Life" and "I Believe in You" to the album. It was in 1994 that Peter Tork released a solo album, Stranger Things Have Happened. With James Lee Stanley he released the album Two Man Band. It was in 1996 Peter Tork joined Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones for a 30th anniversary tour. Peter Tork, Micky Dolenz, and Davy Jones also appeared in The Brady Bunch Movie (1996).

In the Naughts Peter Tork would release two more albums with James Lee Stanley, Once Again in 2001 and Live/Backstage at the Coffee Gallery in 2006.  Peter Tork would release two albums with his new band, Shoe Suede Blues, Saved by the Blues in 2003 and Cambria Hotel in 2007. He toured briefly with Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones, although he parted ways with them due to various differences. He appeared in the movie Catheral Pines (2007).

Shoe Suede Blues released two more albums in the Teens, Step by Step in 2013 and Relax Your Mind in 2018. He reunited with Mickey Dolenz and Davy Jones for a 45th anniversary tour in 2011. Following the untimely death of Davy Jones in 2012, Peter Tork reunited with Micky Dolenz and Michael Nesmith as both a tribute to Davy Jones and to honour the 45th anniversary of their album Headquarters. They would tour again in 2013 and 2014. In 2016 Peter Tork appeared with Micky Dolenz and Mike Nesmith at some concerts. He contributed to The Monkees' 2016 album Good Times! (which also featured Micky Dolenz and Mike Nesmith, with a previously unreleased track by Davy Jones). He also contributed to The Monkees' 2018 holiday album Christmas Party.

Every Monkees fan has his or her favourite Monkee, and for many people that was Peter Tork. And there should be little wonder why. On the TV show The Monkees  Mr. Tork played a wonderful character that was more complicated than he might appear on the surface. On the surface Peter appeared dim-witted and could be absent minded, but at the same time he possessed a child-like innocence and vulnerability, and he could sometimes express a surprising amount of wisdom. And, arguably, it was Peter who was the most pure of heart of The Monkees. He was always faithful to his bandmates and in the episode "The Picture Frame" it is actually Peter who saves them. Like Harpo Marx and Gracie Allen, Peter on The Monkees was no simple buffoon.

As a musician it was arguably Peter who was the most talented of The Monkees. Peter could play multiple instruments, including guitar, bass, acoustic bass, banjo, piano, organ, and French horn. Peter Tork was the only Monkee to play an instrument on the band's first album. While The Monkees were not permitted to play their own instruments, Michael Nesmith had him play guitar on the two tracks he produced ("Papa Gene's Blues" and "Sweet Young Thing").

Of course, Peter Tork was also a good songwriter. Once The Monkees were allowed to play their own instruments, he contributed several songs to the band. His song "For Pete's Sake" was featured as the closing theme of The Monkees in its second season. His song "Can You Dig It?" was featured in the movie Head. Many of Mr. Tork's songs numbered among the best The Monkees ever recorded.

As one of The Monkees, Peter Tork played an important role in the lives of multiple generations. Both on the TV show The Monkees and as a songwriter and musician he has brought joy to many. As one of The Monkees, he certainly made life more bearable for me, and as I am sure he has for many others. It is for that reason that so many are saddened by his passing.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Sammy Davis Jr., One of the Fastest Guns in Hollywood

If you asked the average person who the fastest gun among movie and television stars was, he or she might reply with an actor best known for Westerns, someone such as John Wayne, Randolph Scott, or James Arness. In truth the fastest guns in Hollywood were performers who aren't generally associated with Westerns. Reportedly the fastest gun in all of Hollywood was none other than comedian Jerry Lewis. Not far behind him was actor, singer, dancer, and comedian Sammy Davis Jr.

Sammy Davis Jr. was taught in the quick draw by Arvo Ojala, a stuntman and marksman who was an expert in the subject. Among other things Mr. Ojala was the gunfighter who was shot down by Marshal Matt Dillon in the original opening of each episode of Gunsmoke. In truth, Arvo Ojala could have beaten Marshal Dillon with ease.  Over the years Mr. Ojala would train many stars in the fast draw, including James Arness, Robert Culp, James Garner, Paul Newman, Hugh O'Brien, and Clint Walker, among others.

As it turns out, Arvo Ojala trained Sammy Davis Jr. very well. Reportedly Mr. Davis could draw a gun between 4/10ths and 4.5/10ths of a second. While Sammy Davis Jr. did not appear in very many Western movies (Gone with the West from 1974 is it), he did get the opportunity to display his fast gun skills on such TV Westerns as Zane Gray Theatre, Lawman, and The Rifleman. He also demonstrated his skill with a gun on various talk shows over the years.


Sunday, February 17, 2019

Godspeed Bruno Ganz

Bruno Ganz, who played the angel Damiel in Der Himmel über Berlin (1987--known in English as Wings Of Desire) and Jonathan Zimmerman in Der amerikanische Freund (1977--literally The American Friend), died yesterday, February 16 2019, at the age of 77. He reportedly had colon cancer.

Bruno Ganz was born on March 22 1941 in Zurich, Switzerland. He took to acting when he was young and began his career on the stage, making his theatrical debut in 1961. He was soon appearing in film, in such movies as Es Dach überem Chopf (1962) and Der sanfte Lauf (1967). He would become one of the most respected actors in European cinema. He played the Count in Éric Rohmer's The Marquise of O (1976). The following year he appeared as Jonathan Zimmerman, the picture framer dying of leukaemia who befriends the notorious Tom Ripley (played by Dennis Hopper), in The American Friend (1977). In addition to German language cinema, Bruno Ganz also appeared in English language films. In 1978 he appeared as cloning expert Dr. Bruckner in The Boys from Brazil. The following year he appeared in a German language film that would be familiar to English speaking audiences. He played Jonathan Harker in Werner Herzog's Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979).

It was in 1987 that Mr. Ganz appeared in what could be his best known role, that of the angel Damiel in Wim Wenders's Wings of Desire. The film centred on angels in Berlin, one of who, Damiel, falls in love with a mortal. He would reprise his role as Damiel in Faraway, So Close! (1993). He played author and aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in the 1996 BBC telefilm Saint-Ex.

Bruno Ganz's career continued unabated into the 21st Century. He played another one of his most famous roles in Downfall (2004), that of Adolf Hitler. His portrayal of the dictator in his last days would receive critical acclaim. In The Reader (2008) he portrayed Holocaust survivor Professor Rohl. In the 2008 film The Baader Meinhof Complex he played another historical figure, German Federal Criminal Police chief Horst Herold. He would later play the grandfather, Alpöhi, in a 2015 adaptation of Heidi and Sigmund Freud in The Tobacconist (2018).

Bruno Ganz was an incredible actor and he had a host of accolades to prove it. Over the years he had received such awards as the Hans-Reinhart-Ring, the Iffland-Ring, and even the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. Mr. Ganz could transform himself into a variety of characters with ease. Over the years he played a diverse number of historical figures, including Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Adolf Hitler, Horst Herold, Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, and Sigmund Freud. He played a staggering array of different types of fictional characters, from picture framer turned killer in The American Friend to an angel in Wings of Desire and Faraway, So Close! to spiritual healer Gottfried in The Party (2017). For his ability to play a wide variety of roles,  he will be remembered as one of the greatest European actors of the late 20th and early 21st Centuries.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

The All-Negro Hour, Radio's First Black Variety Show

November 3 1929 would be a historic date in radio history. It was on that date that The All-Colored Hour, very quickly renamed The All-Negro Hour, debuted on Chicago radio station WSBC. It was not the first African American radio show by any means. The first appears to have been The Pittsburgh Courier Hour, which debuted in 1927 on New York radio station WGBS. It wasn't even the second, which was The Negro Achievement Hour, which debuted in 1928 on New York radio station WABC. That having been said, both The Pittsburgh Courier Hour and The Negro Achievement Hour could best be described as public affairs programmes. In contrast, The All-Negro Hour was the first African American variety show.

The All-Negro Hour was hosted by Jack L. Cooper, a former boxer, semi-professional baseball player, and vaudevillian. Like other variety shows, The All-Negro Hour featured a mixture of music and comedy sketches. Through the years it featured some notable performers, including jazz musician W. E. "Buddy" Burton, blues musician "Big Boy" Teddy Edwards, blues musician Ezra Howlett Shelton, and others.

Aside from featuring significant black performers in the late Twenties and Thirties, The All-Negro Hour is also significant in that its comedy sketches do not appear to have featured the sort of stereotypes and characters speaking in dialect that occurred on so many radio shows of the era. Sadly, stereotypes were part and parcel of Old Time Radio, with such programs as Amos 'n' Andy and still later Beulah.

The All-Negro Hour proved successful, so much so that it would run until 1936. Its success would also provide Jack L. Cooper with a prosperous career in radio. Indeed, by the late Forties, Mr. Cooper produced around 40 hours worth of radio programming for four different stations in Chicago. He produced a wide variety of programming, from music shows to public affairs shows to religious programmes to Negro League Baseball Games.

Sadly, no recordings of The All-Negro Hour are known to exist. That having been said, the show was historic as the first black variety show. It was also historic in launching Jack L. Cooper on a career in radio that would span thirty years.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Stormy Weather (1943)

For most of the Golden Age of Hollywood, the major studios largely ignored African Americans. When they appeared in Hollywood films at all, it was usually in stereotypical roles, such as servants or mammies. There were films featuring all-black casts produced primarily for African American audiences, but these films were produced by independent production companies such as Million Dollar Productions and Oscar Micheaux's Micheaux Film Corporation on budgets that were relatively small compared to the major studios' films. That is why Stormy Weather (1943) is so special. It was produced by a major studio (20th Century Fox) with a good budget, and featured an all-black cast in non-stereotypical roles.  What is more, it featured entertainers who are still big names today.

Stormy Weather stars Bill "Bojangles" Robinson as entertainer Bill Williamson and was very loosely based on Mr. Robinson's own life. Like many musicals of the time, the plot of Stormy Weather is paper-thin, serving primarily as a means of connecting some incredible performances by some of the greatest black entertainers of the day. Indeed, the cast of Stormy Weather is filled with names that are now legends. Lena Horne plays Bill Williamson's love interest, singer Selina Rogers. Dooley Wilson plays Bill's best friend Gabe. As to the various musical numbers that fill up much of the running time of Stormy Weather, they feature some of the greatest entertainers of all time.

Indeed, I  have to suspect that it is the musical numbers that most viewers will enjoy the most. Stormy Weather features one of the greatest musical numbers to appear in any film. "Jumpin' Jive" is performed by Cab Calloway and His Orchestra and features the footwork of the greatest dancers ever to appear on the silver screen, the legendary Nicholas Brothers. Another standout sequence is "Ain't Misbehavin'" performed by Fats Waller himself. For the song "That Ain't Right", Fats Waller is joined by vocalist Ada Brown. And, of course, there is the title song performed by Lena Horne. There is no shortage of great musical numbers in Stormy Weather despite its 78 minute running time.

With its focus on various musical performances, Stormy Weather is clearly escapist entertainment. It largely ignores the racism and segregation that African Americans faced in the mid-20th Century. That having been said, in its own way Stormy Weather was a revolutionary movie. It presented an all-black cast in roles that were not stereotypes. In the Forties, at a time when most African American characters in films were stereotypical servants and blackface still appeared on the big screen, this was revolutionary in its own way.

Sadly, while Stormy Weather largely ignores the reality of being black in mid-20th Century America, the cast of the film had to face it on a daily basis. The Nicholas Brothers had done considerable work for MGM, where performers and other MGM employees of all races ate in the same commissary. They found a very different atmosphere at 20th Century Fox. Fayard Nicholas has said that 20th Century Fox did not want him and his brother Harold to eat in the commissary, but instead in "a special little restaurant" that wasn't even on the same floor as the Fox commissary. As might be expected, the Nicholas Brothers refused to eat in Fox's "a special little restaurant".

Perhaps because of its all-black cast, Stormy Weather faced problems regarding its release. Following the Zoot Suit Riots that unfolded in Los Angles from June 3 to June 8 1943 and similar riots that occurred in other parts of the country that same summer, 20th Century Fox seriously considered pulling Stormy Weather from release. While Stormy Weather would be released on July 21 1943, less than half of Fox's theatres booked the movie. Despite this, Stormy Weather proved to be a hit at the box office.

Stormy Weather may not be socially relevant in the way that many dramas produced in the Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies were, but, as noted earlier, in its own way it was revolutionary. It was only the second major studio film with an all-black cast (the first being Cabin in the Sky, released earlier in 1943). What is more, it featured that all-black cast in non-stereotypical roles and showcased some of the greatest entertainers of all time. While Stormy Weather might not tackle issues of concern to black audiences in the 1940s, its very existence was an act of empowerment for African Americans.