Sunday, December 8, 2019

The Late, Great Caroll Spinney

Caroll Spinney, who played both Oscar the Grouch and Big Bird on long-running children's show Sesame Street, died today at the age of 85.

Carroll Spinney was born on December 26 1933 in Waltham, Massachusetts. He had an interest in drawing, painting, and puppetry from a young age. By age twelve he had a collection of 70 puppets, many made by his mother. He graduated from Acton-Boxborough Regional High School and then attended the Art Institute of Boston before dropping out to join the United States Air Force. While serving in Las Vegas he had his own professional puppet television show, playing Rascal Rabbit. Following his service he returned to Boston where he was a puppeteer for Bozo's Big Top for many years.

It was in 1969 that he met Jim Henson, creator of the Muppets, at a puppeteer's festival in Las Vegas. From the very beginning he was a part of Sesame Street, from its debut in 1969. He played both Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch from the start. In 2015 he ceased puppeteering Big Bird as the role had become too physically demanding, but continued providing his voice and continued puppeteering Oscar. He retired entirely in 2018. Over the years he would sometimes voice other characters, including Bruno the Trashman and Bennett Snerf.  He also made appearances as either Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch, or both on such shows as The Electric Company, Flip, The Muppet Show, Soul Man, Scrubs, The Bonnie Hunt Show, Portlandia, and Saturday Night Live. He also appeared in various movies as Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch, or both in such films as The Muppet Movie (1979), The Great Muppet Caper (1981), and Follow That Bird (1985), among others. Caroll Spinney also appeared as Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch, or both in numerous TV specials and video releases, as well as making live appearances as the characters.

In addition to his work with Sesame Street, he voiced a dog in a pound in Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993). Before Sesame Street he had built the puppets Picklepuss and Pop for Bozo's Big Top. Picklepuss and Pop were later rebuilt and used in the Jim Henson Play-Along video, Wow, You're a Cartoonist! in 1988.

Caroll Spinney voiced two of the most famous characters in a children's show ever. What makes that even more remarkable is that Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch not only had dramatically different voices, but they also had dramatically different personalities. Despite his size, Big Bird was perpetually six years old, naive and filled with wonder. Oscar was persistently grumpy and inclined to even be slightly rude at times, but ultimately had a soft heart under all that fur. The two characters were a large part of the success of Sesame Street from its very beginnings.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

A Rock 'n' Roll Christmas Playlist

I feel a bit blue and under the weather today, so instead of a full-fledged blog post I decided to create a Rock 'n' Roll Christmas playlist for those of you who celebrate the holiday instead. Here are twenty song suitable for the Yuletide.


Thursday, December 5, 2019

Godspeed Joan Staley

Joan Staley, who starred in such movies as Roustabout (1964) and The Ghost and Mrs. Chicken (1966) and guest starred on shows from Perry Mason to Batman, died on November 24 2019 at the age of 79. The cause was heart failure.

Joan Staley was born Joan Lynette McConchie on May 20 1940 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She grew up in Los Angeles. Her mother took her to a concert when she was only three, which led her to ask her mother for a violin. She was first chair/second violin in Peter Meremblum's Junior Symphony by the time she was six years old. It was as a child violinist that she made her film debut in The Emperor's Waltz in 1948. Her father eventually enlisted in the Army as a chaplain, so that she attended high school in Washington D.C., Munich, and Paris. She attended Chapman College in Orange, California for a brief time before working as a teletype operator at the William R. Stats brokerage firm in San Francisco.

Miss Staley joined the Little Theatre in Hollywood, appearing in productions of The Robe, Brigadoon, and My Sister Eileen. She made her television debut in an episode of Perry Mason in 1958. In the late Fifties she had small guest roles on Laramie, Maverick, Bourbon Street Beat, Not For Hire, The Detectives, and Shotgun Slade. She had bit parts in the movies Bells Are Ringing (1960), Ocean's 11 (1960), and Midnight Lace (1960).

In the Sixties Joan Staley had regular roles on the variety show The Lively Ones, 77 Sunset Strip, and Broadside. She guest starred on such shows as The Tab Hunter Show, Bringing Up Buddy, The Asphalt Jungle, The Lawless Years, The New Breed, Frontier Circus, Bonanza, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Untouchables, Tales of Wells Fargo, 87th Precinct, Hawaiian Eye, The Adventures of Ozzy and Harriet, Alcoa Premiere, The Dick Powell Show, The Real McCoys, Wagon Train, The Joey Bishop Show, The Jack Benny Program, Burke's Law, The Virginian, McHale's Navy, The Munsters, Batman, Pistols 'n' Petticoats, Mission: Impossible, Ironside, and Adam-12. She appeared in the movies Dondi (1961), Gun Fight (1961), The Ladies Man (1961), Breakfast at Tiffany's  (1961), Valley of the Dragons (1961), Cape Fear (1962), Johnny Cool (1963),  A New Kind of Love (1963), Kissin' Cousins (1964), Kisses for My President (1964), Roustabout (1964), The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (1966), and Gunpoint (1966).

In 1967 she married MCA executive Dale Sheets. In 1969 she and Mr. Sheets founded International Ventures Incorporated, a company for the management of talent. Afterwards she only made two more acting appearances, the first in an episode of Adam-12 in 1972 and the second in an episode of Dallas in 1982.

By her own admission Joan Staley played primarily shapely blondes in tight dresses, but she was capable of much more. On Batman she played Okie Annie, the henchwoman of Western themed villain Shame. In The Ghost and Mr. Chicken not only did she wear a brunette wig, but her role was slightly more demure than many she had played during her career. In one episode of Perry Mason she even played a murder culprit. Of course, it must also be noted that Joan Staley was a talented child violinist as well as a talented actress. She also ran International Ventures Incorporated until last year when her daughter took over. Joan Staley may have been best known for playing blonde bombshells, but she was capable of much more.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

The Late Great D. C. Fontana

Gene Roddenberry is credited as the creator of Star Trek,but as Trekkies well known there were others who expanded the Star Trek universe beyond his initial concept. One of those people was writer D. C. Fontana, who gave us much of what we know about Mr. Spock and Vulcans in general. So great were her contributions to the show that Star Trek as we know it would not exist without D. C. Fontana. Sadly, she died yesterday, December 2 2019, at the age of 80 following a brief illness.

D. C. Fontana was born Dorothy Catherine Fontana on March 25 1939 in Sussex, New Jersey. She grew up in Totowa, New Jersey. She was only 11 years old when she decided she wanted to write novels. She attended Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey, where she graduated in 1957 with with an Executive Secretarial Associate degree. She then moved to New York City where she got a job at Screen Gems as a junior secretary to the president of the studio. She later moved to Los Angeles where she became part of the typing pool at Revue Studios. She was the secretary for writer Samuel A. Peeples while he worked on the TV Weseterns Overland Trail, The Tall Man, and Frontier Circus. It was while she was still working for Mr. Peeples that she sold her first story idea for television, the Tall Man episode "A Bounty for Billy." She also wrote her first teleplay for The Tall Man, the episode "Tiger Eye." She also contributed a story to Frontier Circus.

After Samuel A. Peeples left, D. C. Fontana returned to the typing pool. She then went to work as the secretary for Del Reisman, a producer on the drama The Lieutenant, which had been created by Gene Roddenberry. It was while she was working on The Lieutenant that she adopted "D. C. Fontana" to use professionally in order to avoid discrimination. She wrote episodes of Ben Casey and The Wild Wild West.

She also worked with Gene Roddenberry while Star Trek was in development. She wrote the episode "Charlie X" based on a story by Mr. Roddenberry. She also wrote the episodes "Tomorrow is Yesterday" and "This Side of Paradise." After the departure of Star Trek's first and second story editors (Steve Carabastos and John D. F. Black), D. C. Fontana became the show's story editor. She remained as the show's story editor until its third season. In all she wrote or co-wrote eleven episodes of Star Trek, continuing to contribute episodes even after she left as the show's story editor. Miss Fontana closed out the Sixties writing episodes of The Big Valley, Lancer, Then Came Bronson, The High Chaparral, Here Come the Brides, and Bonanza.

In the Seventies. D. C. Fontana served as the story editor on the science fiction series Logan's Run and contributed three episodes. She served as an associated producer on the animated version of Star Trek, contributing the episode "Yesteryear." She wrote episodes of the shows Assignment: Vienna, Ghost Story, The Six Million Dollar Man, Land of the Lost, The Streets of San Francisco, The Fantastic Journey, The Runaways, The Waltons, Dallas, and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.

In the Eighties Miss Fontana wrote several episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. She also served as associate producer during the show's first season, but left due to clashes with Gene Roddenberry. She wrote episodes of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and War of the Worlds.

In the Nineties D. C. Fontana wrote episodes of the shows The Legend of Prince Valiant, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Babylon 5, Lonesome Dove: The Outlaw Years, Hypernauts, Captain Simian and the Space Monkeys, Re-Boot, Earth: Final Conflict, Silver Surfer, and Beast Wars: Transformers. In the Naughts she wrote an episode of the fan created web series Star Trek: Phase II (later known as Star Trek: New Voyages). She served as a consulting producer on the show in the Teens.

D. C. Fontana also wrote several novels based on the original series of Star Trek, as well as the Western Brazos River, co-written with Harry Sanford.

The simple fact is that Star Trek as we know it would not exist without D. C. Fontana. She created much of what we associate with Vulcan culture, and was largely responsible for shaping Mr. Spock as the character we know. Of course, she also wrote episodes of many other shows and was even nominated for a WGA Award for the Then Came Bronson episode "Two Percent of Nothing." Miss Fontana was very versatile as a writer. While best known for her work in science fiction, she wrote episodes of everything from Westerns such as Bonanza to family dramas such as The Waltons to police dramas such as The Streets of San Francisco. It must also be pointed out that D. C. Fontana was also a pioneer with regards to women working in television. At the time that she started, there were very few female writers in the field. If D. C. Fontana is often counted as fans' favourite writer on the original series of Star Trek, it is with good reason.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Pets on Sets on TCM in December

Kim Novak and Pyewacket from
Bell, Book and Candle
On Wednesdays this December, Turner Classic Movies has a real treat for animal lovers. They have a group of movies highlighting Pets on Sets. That is, every Wednesday TCM is showing movies featuring animals. On December 4 they are showing films starting dogs, including Lassie Come Home (1943) and Adventures of Rusty (1945). On December 11 they are showing movies featuring cats and horses, including Bell, Book and Candle (1958), Harry and Tonto (1974), and The Black Stallion (1979). On December 18 they are showing movies featuring various animals, including The Yearling (1946) and Flipper (1963). Finally, Christmas night sees a return to movies with dogs, starting with The Thin Man (1934).

Not only will TCM be showing movies featuring animals on Wednesdays in December, but the movies will be co-hosted by such celebrity animals as the dog Cruiser (who has appeared on the TV show Stranger Things), the cat Ziva (who appeared in Spider-Man: Homecoming), and the mini-horse Lark. Also on hand will be Carol and Ted Tresan, the owners and operators of Animal Casting Atlanta, which trains animal actors. 

I am sure many TCM fans who are also pet guardians will want to share this news with their pets. I shared it with my cat Malcolm Reynolds, although he commented that there are far too many movies with dogs and not enough with cats. He pointed out that they could also show Rhubarb (1951) and Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), both starring the most famous feline star of them all, Orangey. Of course, keep in mind Malcolm does not like dogs and is very proud to be a cat. At any rate, I think humans who love animals won't have any complaints about TCM's selections of movies for Pets on Sets!

Friday, November 29, 2019

Christmas Movies on TCM in December

Every December Turner Classic Movies shows a number of holiday classics. And every year I provide a schedule for those wanting to watch Christmas movies all month long. This year is no different. As usual, I am not including any movie that I do not consider a "Christmas movie." That means I am not including Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), a movie which I dearly love and finally got to see in the theatre this past September. As much as I love the film, I never have thought of it as a "Christmas movie." I am also not including any version of Little Women, as I don't think of them as "Christmas movies" either. Here I have to go on record as saying that I am sorely disappointed that TCM is showing neither The Apartment (1960) nor Christmas in Connecticut (1945) this year, which, along with It's a Wonderful Life (1946), are my favourite Christmas movies. Fortunately, I am getting to see Christmas in Connecticut in the theatre next week! Anyway, without further ado, here is this year's schedule. All times are Central.

December 1:
11:00 AM Lady in the Lake (1947)
3:15 PM Holiday Affair (1949)
5:00 PM The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
7:00 PM A Christmas Carol (1951)
9:00 PM The Bishop's Wife (1947)

December 8:
11:00 AM A Christmas Carol (1938)
12:30 PM The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942)
2:45 PM O. Henry's Full House (1952)
5:00 PM 3 Godfathers (1949)
7:00 PM It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947)
9:15 PM The Holly and the Ivy (1952)

December 11:
7:00 PM Bell, Book and Candle (1958)

December 15:
11:00 AM Lady on a Train (1945)
12:45 PM It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947)
3:00 PM Bell, Book and Candle (1958)
5:00 PM In the Good Old Summertime (1949)
7:00 PM Holiday Affair (1949)
9:00 Remember the Night (1940)

 December 22:
11:00 AM A Night at the Movies: Merry Christmas! (2011)
12:15 PM King of Kings (1961)
3:15 PM The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965)

December 23:
7:00 PM The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
9:00 PM In the Good Old Summertime (1949)

December 24:
2:30 AM Three Godfathers (1936)
4:00 AM 3 Godfathers (1949)
6:00 AM Beyond Tomorrow (1940)
7:30 AM Fitzwilly (1967)
9:15 AM Period of Adjustment (1962)
11:15 AM In the Good Old Time Summertime (1949)
1:00 PM The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942)
3:00 PM It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947)
5:15 PM Holiday Affair (1949)
7:00 PM The Bishop's Wife (1947)
11:00 PM A Christmas Carol (1938)

December 25:
12:30 AM Meet John Doe (1941)
4:30 AM The Great Rupert (1950)
6:00 AM Babes in Toyland (1934)
7:30 AM Tenth Avenue Angel (1948)
11:00 AM O. Henry's Full House (1952)
1:15 PM Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938)
3:00 PM The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
5:00 PM Susan Slept Here (1954)
7:00 PM The Thin Man (1934)

December 31:
8:15 AM The Thin Man (1934)

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Happy Thanksgiving 2019

Before anything else I want to say how thankful I am for you, my readers. Keeping this blog up the past year has not been particularly easy for me at times, and I am glad you have remained with me. I also want to thank my many friends, without whom I don't know that I would have survived this year either. Finally, I want to wish all of you a happy Thanksgiving! Now, without further ado, here is ther reason I am sure many of you arrived on this page: vintage pinups!


First up is Suzy Crandall, who is carving her turkey.

Next up is Rita Hayworth, who is stalking turkeys!

A turkey is trying to convince Shirley Temple to have ham for Thanksgiving dinner!

Arlene Dahl has her turkey ready!

Angela Greene looks too guilty to shoot the poor turkey.

And it wouldn't be Thanksgiving without Ann Miller!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 22, 2019

The Late Great Michael J. Pollard

Michael J. Pollard, who guest starred on such shows as The Andy Griffith Show and Star Trek, and received an Oscar nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for Bonnie and Clyde, died yesterday, November 21 2019, at the age of 80. The cause was cardiac arrest.

Michael J. Pollard was born on May 30 1939 in Passaic, New Jersey. He attend Montclair Academy in New Jersey. He decided to become an actor after seeing Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront (1954). He studied acting at the Actors Studio in New York City.

Mr. Pollard made his television debut in an episode of Omnibus in 1958. In the late Fifties he guest starred on such shows as The DuPont Show of the Month, Lux Playhouse, Five Fingers, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Startime, Sunday Showcase, World Wide '60, and Look Up and Live. When Bob Denver, who played Maynard G. Krebs on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, received his draft notice, Michael J. Pollard was cast as his cousin Jerome Krebs. He would only replace Bob Denver for two episodes, as Mr. Denver was determined to be physically unfit for service. Mr. Pollard made his debut on Broadway in Comes a Day in 1958. In the late Fifties he also appeared on Broadway in A Loss of Roses. On Broadway he was part of the original cast of Bye Bye Birdie, playing the role of Hugo Peabody. Michael J. Pollard made his film debut in It Happened to Jane in 1959.

In the Sixties Michael J. Pollard made notable guest appearances on both The Andy Griffith Show and Star Trek. On The Andy Griffith Show he played Barney Fife's accident prone cousin Virgil in the episode "Cousin Virgil." On Star Trek he played Jahn, the self-appointed leader of a cult of children in the episode "Miri." He also guest starred on the shows Window on Main Street, Going My Way, The Nurses, Route 66, The Lucy Show, Channing, Gunsmoke, The Baileys of Balboa, Mr. Novak, Honey West, Branded, Lost in Space, The Virginian, I Spy, The Girl from U.N.C.L.E., The Danny Thomas Hour, and Cimarron Strip. He played Bonnie and Clyde's dimwitted accomplice C. W. Moss in Bonnie and Clyde (1967), for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role He also appeared in the films Hemingway's Adventures of a Young Man (1962), The Stripper (1963), Summer Magic (1963), The Russians Are Coming the Russians Are Coming (1966), The Wild Angels (1966), Enter Laughing (1967), Caprice (1967), Jigsaw (1968), Hannibal Brooks (1969), and Little Fauss and Big Halsy (1970). He appeared on Broadway in Bye Bye Birdie, Enter Laughing, and Leda Had a Little Swan.

In the Seventies Mr. Pollard guest starred on Movin' On and Get Christie Love!. He appeared in the films Les pétroleuses (1971), Morbo (1972), Dirty Little Billy (1972), Sunday in the Country (1974), I quattro dell'Apocalisse (1975), Between the Lines (1977), and Melvin and Howard (1980).

In the Eighties Michael J. Pollard was a regular on the sitcom Leo & Liz in Beverly Hills. He guest starred on The Fall Guy, George Burns Comedy Week, Simon & Simon, Crime Story, Stuck with Each Other, Superboy, The Young Riders, and Working Tra$h. He appeared in the films Heated Vengeance (1985), The American Way (1986), The Patriot (1986), America (1986), Roxanne (1987), Scrooged (1988), Season of Fear (1989), Fast Food (1989), Night Visitor (1989), Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland (1989), Next of Kin (1989), Heartstopper (1989), Tango & Cash (1989), Why Me? (1990), Dark Angel (1990), Enid is Sleeping (1990), and Dick Tracy (1990).

In the Nineties Michael J. Pollard was the voice of Psycho on the animated series Toxic Crusaders. He guest starred on Paradise; Eerie, Indiana; The Ray Bradbury Theatre; Blossom; Tales from the Crypt; Wings; L.A. Doctors; Becker; and Jack & Jill. He appeared in the mini-series The Odyssey. He appeared in the films The Arrival (1991), Joey Takes a Cab (1991), Another You (1991), The Art of Dying (1991), Motorama (1991), Split Second (1992), Arizona Dream (1993), Skeeter (1993), Mad Dog Time (1996), Stir (1997), Merchants of Venice (1998), The Unknown Cyclist (1998), Tumbleweeds (1999), The Debtors (1999), Forever Lulu (2000), Danny and Max (2000).

In the Naughts Mr. Pollard appeared in the films House of 1000 Corpses (2003) and Remembering Nigel (2009).  In the Teens he appeared in the films Sunburnt Angels (2011) and The Woods (2012).

Michael J. Pollard was an actor of extraordinary talent. Throughout his career he played a number of notable roles, and even when he was on screen briefly he left an impression. What is more, his roles could vary widely. As Jahn on the Star Trek episode "Miri" he was both mischievous and malicious. As C. W. in Bonnie and Clyde he was dim-witted, but utterly loyal to Bonnie and Clyde. He played a similar role in Little Fauss and Big Halsy, playing the Little Fauss of the title, a none-too-bright. mild mannered, aspiring motorcycle racer. While C.W. and Little Fauss might not be too bright, Michael J. Pollard was perfectly capable of playing geniuses. In Tango & Cash he played Owen, a skilled weapons engineer. In The American Way he played a genius named Tesla (not be confused with the real-life scientist of the same name). Over the years Michael J. Pollard played a wide variety of roles in a wide variety of films. The films in which Mr. Pollard appeared might not always have been the best, but he always was.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Why I Won't Be Celebrating the New Decade Until 2020

Scully: "Mulder, those people, even when they were alive, mangled biblical prophecy to the extent that it's unrecognizable. The year 2000 is just their artificial deadline and besides, 2001 is actually the start of the new millennium."
.
Mulder: "Nobody likes a math geek, Scully." ("Millennium," The X-Files)

For the past week or so I have been seeing several posts on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook in which someone posts a picture of himself or herself from 2010 and one from 2019. Many media outlets have already published their round-ups of the greatest albums, songs, TV shows, and so on from the 2010s. Quite simply, there are many people who are treating 2020 as the beginning of a new decade, the Twenties.

This is to be expected, as the common way of referring to decades is by their penultimate digit. In other words, people think of 1960 to 1969 as the Sixties because "6" is the next to last digit. While this is the most common way of referring to decades, I have to admit that it does wreak havoc with my slight obsessive-compulsiveness. Quite simply, there was no year "0" in the Common Era, so that the first decade would consist of only nine years--1 to 9 CE--in order for things to work out. For things to work in my head, then, I interpret decades as running from 1 to 10. In other words, for me the Sixties took place from 1961 to 1970. Quite naturally, this means I won't be doing any "end of decade" posts this year. Those will have to wait until 2020.

For the vast majority of you who refer to decades in the common way by their penultimate digit, don't worry. I am not going to jump your case. I am not a "math geek" by any means (in fact, I need a calculator just to add and subtract). By the same token, I ask that you don't get onto me for not referring to decades the way everyone else does. And if you are looking forward to my end of decade posts, well, I ask for your patience in waiting for them until next year.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Niall Tóibín Passes On

Niall Tóibín, who played Father Frank McAnally on the TV show Ballykissangel and appeared in such films as The Ballroom of Romance (1986) and Eat the Peach (1986), died on November 13 2019 at the age of 89.

Niall Tóibín was born in Cork, Ireland on November 21 1929. He grew up in an Irish speaking household. When he was young he sang in the church choir and performed at the Irish language drama society in Cork. In 1947 he moved to Dublin to work as a civil service clerk. He gave up his job after he started performing with repertory company the Radio Éireann Players. In the Fifties he started working for RTÉ on radio and later on television. He also continued to perform on stage.

Niall Tóibín made his television debut in 1967 in the mini-series Ó Dúill. He guest starred on the show Theatre 625 and appeared in the mini-series A HAon is a HAon Sin a HAon and the TV movie The Country Boy. He appeared on Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Colour in the three-part episode "The Secret of Boyne Castle." Also in the Sixties he made his film debut in Guns in the Heather in 1969. He also appeared in Ryan's Daughter (1970).

In the Seventies he appeared in the TV movies The Becauseway, The Sinners, An Carabhan, Benny Lynch, and Murphy's Stroke. He guest starred on Play for Today. He was a regular on the TV series Bracken. He appeared in the films Flight of the Doves (1971), L'iguana dalla lingua di fuoco (1971), Philadelphia, Here I Come (1977), Poitín (1978), and The Outsider (1979).

In the Eighties, Mr. Tóibín continued appear on the TV series Bracken until 1982. He was a regular on the TV shows The Irish RM  and Stay Lucky. He appeared in the mini-series Brideshead Revisited, Caught in a Free State, Wagner, and The Detective. He guest starred on the TV shows Mitch, Oxbridge Blues, Bulman, Dempsey and Makepeace, Screen Two, Coronation Street, and Confessional. He appeared in the movies Lovespell (1981), Reflections (1984), The Ballroom of Romance (1986), Rawhead Rex (1986), Eat the Peach (1986), and Fools of Fortune (1990).

In the Nineties Niall Tóibín continued to appear on Stay Lucky. He started playing Father Frank McAnally on Ballykissangel in 1996 and continued to appear on the show until it ended is run in 2001. He appeared in the mini-series G.B.H. He guest starred on the shows Boon, Minder, and Casualty. He appeared in the movies Far and Away (1992), Frankie Starlight (1995), The Nephew (1998), and Rat (2000). In the Naughts he was a regular on the TV series The Clinic. He appeared in the movie Veronica Guerin (2003).

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

The 60th Anniversary of Rocky and Bullwinkle

It was sixty years ago today that an animated television series debuted that, along with Beany and Cecil, was a sharp break from other television cartoons of the time. Originally titled Rocky and His Friends, it featured such segments as "Mr. Peabody's Improbable History," "Aesop and Son," and "Fractured Fairy Tales." The primary segment centred on the adventures of Rocket J. Squirrel, a flying squirrel known as "Rocky" for short, and Bullwinkle J. Moose. Their most frequent opponents were Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale, spies for the fictional country of Pottsylvania (a thinly disguised parody of East Germany). While the animation on Rocky and His Friends can be rightfully described as primitive, the show's writing was very sophisticated, especially for a television cartoon of the time (most of which were made solely for children). Rocky and His Friends was known for a dry, often mocking sense of humour that combined puns, self-referential comedy, and, most notably, often biting social satire. Not only was Rocky and His Friends more intelligent than the average television cartoon in 1959, it was more intelligent than most primetime live-action shows of the time.

While Rocky and His Friends debuted on November 19 1959 at 5:30 PM Eastern, its origins go back much earlier. In 1948 Alexander Anderson Jr. and Jay Ward formed Television Arts Productions. Television Arts Productions produced the first cartoon made for television, Crusader Rabbit. Following the success of Crusader Rabbit, Alex Anderson created a proposed cartoon called The Frostbite Falls Review. The Frostbite Falls Review would have centred on a group of forest animals running a television station. Among the characters were a flying squirrel (Rocket J. Squirrel or "Rocky" for short) and a Canadian moose (Bullwinkle J. Moose). Bullwinkle's name came from an Oakland car dealer named Clarence Bullwinkel. Alex Anderson simply changed the spelling of the name for his new character. The Frostbite Falls Review failed to sell.

Unfortunately, Alex Anderson and Jay Ward would ultimately lose the rights to Crusader Rabbit. Jerry Fairbanks, who syndicated Crusader Rabbit to television stations across the United States, could not pay back loans he had received from NBC. The network then simply took him to court and ultimately took every single episode. NBC distributed Crusader Rabbit through Consolidated Films, which was bought by Shull Bonsall in 1954. He bought TV Spots, an animation studio, in 1955. Alex Anderson and Jay Ward came into conflict with Shull Bonsall over the possibility of a new Crusader Rabbit series, and in the end Television Arts Productions was sold to Shull Bonsall, and he produced a new series in 1956 in which neither Alex Anderson nor Jay Ward were involved.

Of course, history shows that Jay Ward was not out of television production. While TV Spots would find itself out of business by 1961, Mr. Ward founded Jay Ward Productions, a company that would thrive in television animation throughout the Sixties (and even longer if one counts animated commercials). Jay Ward Productions revived the characters of Rocky and Bullwinkle, beginning production of the pilot episode, "Rocky the Flying Squirrel" in February 1958. It would be eight months later that General Mills signed on as the show's sponsor. While Jay Ward hired the show's writers and designers, it was General Mills' advertising agency, Dancer, Fitzgerald, & Sample, who set up an animation studio in Mexico called Val-Mar Animation and later known as Gamma Productions. Gamma Productions would not only provide the animation for every Jay Ward cartoon until George of the Jungle, but for cartoons produced by rival Total Television (best known for Underdog)  as well. Not only was the animation provided by Gamma Productions very limited, but it also contained such mistakes as Bullwinkle's antlers varying in colour and other continuity errors. Unfortunately, Rocky and His Friends was on the air before any mistakes could be corrected. Here it must be pointed out that Gamma Productions improved over time. The animation for the later seasons of Rocky and Friends and later The Bullwinkle Show was superior to that of the earlier seasons.

Rocky and His Friends ran on ABC until 1961, after which it moved to NBC where it aired under a new title, The Bullwinkle Show. Unlike ABC, NBC originally aired The Bullwinkle Show in primetime, at 7:00 PM Eastern on Sunday. The Bullwinkle Show would see the addition of a new segment. Like Rocky and Bullwinkle, Dudley Do-Right was nothing new when he finally debuted on television. The character dated back to 1948, when he was test marketed along with Crusader Rabbit as part of a series called The Comic Strips of Television.

Both as Rocky and His Friends on ABC and The Bullwinkle Show on NBC, the show faced censorship from the networks. A Rocky and Friends episode features a sequence in which Rocky and Bullwinkle are about to burned at the stake. ABC complained that this was too much like cannibalism. Jay Ward pointed out that neither Rocky nor Bullwinkle were human. As a result the network passed the scene, although Jay Ward Productions couldn't resist a jab at ABC with the narrator's line "While the network-approved flames climbed higher and higher..." Jay Ward Productions lost a censorship battle with sponsor General Mills over a plotline in which Boris Badenov is counterfeiting cereal box tops. The story, already produced, would end rather abruptly with its twelfth episode. On The Bullwinkle Show an episode of Dudley Do-Right ran afoul of the United States Forestry Service. The episode featured Snidely Whiplash hypnotising a thinly-veiled parody of Smokey Bear called Stokey the Bear, into lighting forest fires. The episode was quickly not rerun during its network run.

With the 1962-1963 season NBC moved The Bullwinkle Show to Saturday morning line-up. It remained there until the 1964-1965 season, when The Bullwinkle Show moved to ABC, who moved it to Sunday morning for their new children's show line-up. The Bullwinkle Show remained part of ABC's Sunday morning line-up until 1973, after which it entered syndication as a rerun. It is quite possible that The Bullwinkle Show was the longest running Sunday morning cartoon ever. The Bullwinkle Show would briefly return to Saturday morning when NBC aired it during the 1981-1982 season.

In syndication there were two packages, one that that consisted of the episodes of Rocky and His Friends and another of the episodes of The Bullwinkle Show. The show was eventually released on DVD under the title The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends, a title never used in its original run or in syndication.  In addition to continuing to air in syndication, there would also be various attempts to revive Rocky and Bullwinkle. In the early Eighties, Jay Ward Productions developed a special called "The Stupor Bowl" for CBS in which Boris Badenov sought to fix a football game. The project was killed when CBS checked with the National Football League, who objected to its portrayal of football team owners as crooked and not particularly bright.

In 2000 Universal Pictures released The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, a feature film that combined animation and live action. The movie bombed and received negative reviews. In 2014 a computer animated short film titled "Rocky and Bullwinkle" was set to be seen in theatres before the feature film Mr. Peabody and Sherman, but this ultimately did not take place. "Rocky and Bullwinkle" would be released as an extra on the Mr. Peabody and Sherman DVD instead. In 2018 a new series, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, debuted on Amazon Prime. Unlike the short "Rocky and Bullwinkle," the news series used cel-animation.

Of course, the success of Rocky and Bullwinkle would go beyond television and film. Throughout the Sixties and well afterwards there would be a wide array of Rocky and Bullwinkle merchandise, including Soaky bottles, figures, clocks, games, books, and more. As might be expected, there were Rocky and Bullwinkle comic books. In the Sixties both Dell and Gold Key published comic books featuring the characters. Later Charlton, Marvel (under their Star imprint), and Blackthorne would publish them. Rocky and Bullwinkle also appeared in commercials and print ads for the General Mills cereal Cheerios, and items featuring the two would even be released as premiums for the cereal.  In 1983 a chain of Bullwinkle Restaurants opened. The chain would falter in the 2000s and only a few locations remain. By 1971 there was enough merchandising for Rocky and Bullwinkle that Jay Ward was able to open The Dudley Do-Right Emporium in 1971. The shop featured merchandise related to Jay Ward's many characters and was located only yards away from Jay Ward Productions. It closed in 2005.

Here it must be pointed out that Rocky and Bullwinkle inspired two balloons in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. The original Bullwinkle balloon made its debut in the parade in 1961. It would prove to be one of the longest running balloons in the parade, lasting until 1983 for a whole of 23 years. A new balloon, featuring Rocky riding on Bullwinkle's back, debuted in 1996. While the balloon did not appear in the 1997 or 1998 parades, it returned for the 1999 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. It made its last appearance in 2000.

Seen today there is much about Rocky and Bullwinkle that is dated beyond its primitive animation. The show occasionally featured stereotypes of Asians, Native Americans, and Polynesians that would be considered racist today. That having said, Rocky and Bullwinkle was a product of its time, a time when ethnic stereotypes were still all to common in American society. As to the show's wry humour, puns, and often biting satire, it still holds up today. While the show's primary conflict with Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale are rooted in Cold War politics, the show still remains relevant. Aside from Beany and Cecil (which debuted in the same season), there was no other cartoon as intelligent or well-written on the air upon its debut. Sixty years later, there still aren't many.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

The Late Great Terry O'Neill

Terry O'Neill, the photographer who took pictures of celebrities from The Beatles to Amy Winehouse, died yesterday, November 19 2019, at the age of 81. The cause was prostate cancer.

Terry O'Neill was born Terence Patrick O'Neill on July 30 1938 in Romford, London.  He had planned to become a priest, but was told “had too many questions and not enough belief." He then became a drummer before serving in the British Royal Navy. After his national service, Mr. O'Neill wanted to become a steward for British Overseas Airways Corporation so he could go to the United States to play jazz. Instead the airline made him an offer of an apprenticeship as a photographer, a position which he took.

It was in 1959 he took a photo of home secretary Rab Butler taking a nap among African dignitaries. The photo led to Mr. O'Neill getting a job at the Daily Sketch. He photographed such celebrities as Lord Laurence Olivier, Sammy Davis Jr., and Winston Churchill. In January 1963 he took photos of The Beatles in the backyard of Abbey Road Studios during the recording of their first album, Please Please Me. He would continue to photograph The Beatles for much of the band's history. Of course, The Beatles were not the only rock artists Terry O'Neill photographed. He also photographed The Rolling Stones, Marianne Faithfull, The Who, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, Elton John, Queen, Bruce Springsteen, and AC/DC. He photographed several album covers, including the cover of David Bowie's Diamond Dogs, The Who's album Who Are You, and Elton John's album A Single Man.

Of course, Terry O'Neill photographed more than rock legends. He photographed model Jean Shrimpton, actress Raquel Welch, actor Michael Caine, actor Dustin Hoffman, actress Audrey Hepburn, singer Frank Sinatra, actor Steve McQueen, actress Brigitte Bardot, and many others. Among his most famous shots was one of Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker and Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia. Mr. O'Neill even photographed the royal family.

Terry O'Neill never set out to be a photographer, but he turned out to be one of the most talented. He had a particular talent for candid photographs, with an uncanny knack for capturing the moment. Of course, the artistry of his photographs also came about because of his diligence at his craft. He would take several photographs and then look through his contact sheets for the perfect shot. Unlike many photographers, Mr. O'Neill kept his contact sheets, which would later be used for multiple books featuring his photographs. Terry O'Neill was a singular talent as a photographer, and it is easy to understand how he had such a long and profitable career.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

The Late Great Robert Freeman

Robert Freeman, the photographer who took the cover photos for five of The Beatles' albums, died on November 6 2019 at the age of 82. The cause was pneumonia.

Robert Freeman was born on December 5 1936 in London. During World War II he was evacuated to Yorkshire for one year. He became interested in photography while at Clare College at the University of Cambridge. Following his graduation he served in the British Army and started working for The Sunday Times and various other publications. He also provided photographs for the first Pirelli calendar. He also photographed John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, and various other jazz musicians. These photographs impressed The Beatles' manager Brian Epstein enough that he asked him to shoot the cover for The Beatles' second album, With The Beatles.

Robert Freeman would go onto shoot the covers for The Beatles' albums Beatles for Sale, A Hard Day's Night, Help!, and Rubber Soul. He also joined The Beatles on their 1964 tour of the United States. He provided the titles for The Beatles' movies A Hard Day's Night (1964) and Help! (1965), as well as The Knack...and How to Get It (1965). Mr. Freeman directed two movies of his own, The Touchables (1968) and La promesse (1969--known in English as The Secret World).

Robert Freeman would continue to photograph celebrities after his association with The Beatles ended. Over the years he photographed Sophia Loren, Andy Warhol, Jimmy Cliff, Pedro Almodóvar, and Penélope Cruz.

There can be no doubt of Robert Freeman's talent as a photographer. Not only did the covers he shot for The Beatles' early albums help shape the band's image, but they were starkly modern when compared to other album covers of the time. Quite simply, he helped bring album covers into the Sixties, elevating them to an art all their own.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Frank Faylen: More Than a Cab Driver


Many, perhaps most, characters actors found themselves typecast in a particular sort of role. Although he was capable of playing many other sorts of roles, Charles Lane found himself playing a succession of no-nonsense, hard-nosed, white collar workers throughout his long career. While Guy Kibbee could play other roles, he was most often cast as jovial, but scatter-brained characters. An exception to this rule was talented character Frank Faylen. It is true that he played taxi cab drivers in such films as Four's a Crowd (1938), Saturday's Children (1940), The Palm Beach Story (1942), and The Well Groomed Bride (1946). In fact, one of his most famous roles is a cabbie, that of Ernie Bishop in It's a Wonderful Life (1947). That having been said, he played much more than cab drivers. And while Frank Faylen specialised in playing average guys, there was a good deal of variety in those roles, everything from sympathetic characters to downright villainous. Indeed, one need only look at Frank Faylen's two most famous roles to see proof of his versatility. Not only did he play good-natured, laid-back cabbie Ernie Bishop in It's a Wonderful Life, but he also played hard-working, but high-strung storekeeper Herbert T. Gillis on the classic sitcom Dobie Gillis.

It should be little wonder that Frank Faylen would become a character actor of note, as entertainment was in his blood. He was born Frank Ruf on December 8 1905 in St. Louis, Missouri to the vaudeville team of Ruf and Cusik. He made his first appearance on stage while he was only a baby. He attended St. Joseph's Preparatory School in Kirkwood, Missouri before beginning a career in vaudeville and on the stage. It was in 1928 that he married Carol Hughes, who would later play opposite both Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. The two of them formed a vaudeville act known as Faylen and Hughes, with Carol Hughes playing a scatter-brained, Gracie Allen type and Frank Faylen playing the straight man. The two would remain married for 57 years and had two children

In 1935 Faylen and Hughes arrived in Hollywood in pursuit of film careers. Carol Hughes would appear as a chorine in George White's Scandals (1935) and a similarly small role in Ceiling Zero (1936) before being signed to Warner Bros. Like his wife, Frank Faylen would also be signed to Warner Bros. He made his film debut in 1936 as a police radio dispatcher in Road Gang. While at Warner Bros. he played primarily bit parts.  Often the parts were so small that  Mr. Faylen would later remark, "If you sneezed, you missed me." Among the few Warner Bros. movies made in the Thirties to feature Frank Faylen for more than a few seconds is Dance Charlie Dance (1937) in which he played arrogant choreographer Ted Parks.

Frank Faylen's fortunes would improve after he left Warner Bros. and went freelance. In Curtain Call (1940) he played Spike Malone, the press agent for a pair of theatrical producers plotting to get even with a demanding actress by casting her in an absolutely terrible play. Poverty Row studio Monogram would team Frank Faylen with long-time Laurel & Hardy foil Charlie Hall for two of Mr. Faylen's most substantial early roles. In Father Steps Out (1941) CEO of the Bay Shore Railroad J.B. Matthews (played by Jed Prouty) jumps off a train and winds up spending time with a pair of hoboes played by Frank Faylen and Charlie Hall. In Top Sergeant Mulligan (1941) Frank Faylen and Charlie Hall would have even bigger roles. They play a pair of ne'er-do-wells (Pat Dolan and Budd Doolittle) who join the army to escape an overly aggressive bill collector named Mulligan (played by Nat Pendleton). Unfortunately, their sergeant at boot camp turns out to be Mulligan himself.

Over the next few years Frank Faylen would continue to play bit parts and somewhat more substantial roles, appearing in such films as A-Haunting We Will Go (1942), The Palm Beach Story (1942), Good Morning, Judge (1943), and The Canterville Ghost (1944). What would be his big break would come with The Lost Weekend in 1945. In the film  Mr. Faylen played a role as far removed from Ernie Bishop or Herbert T. Gillis as one could get, the sadistic male nurse "Bim" Nolan in the alcoholic ward in which writer Don Birnam (played by Ray Milland) finds himself. Not only does Bim have very little sympathy for the patients in the ward, but he actually mocks them. At one point he even taunts Birnam with a graphic description of delirium tremens. While Ernie Bishop is the cabbie everyone wants when he or she gets into a taxi, Bim Nolan is the nurse one never wants to see when he or she is in hospital.

Following The Lost Weekend the quality of Frank Faylen's roles improved dramatically. Indeed, it was the following year that he played Ernie Bishop in It's a Wonderful Life. Ernie is no mere bit part, playing a major role in It's a Wonderful Life. Along with Mr. Martini (played by William Edmunds), Ernie represents the sort of ordinary guy that the Bailey Building and Loan helps out. Ernie is about as far from Bim in The Lost Weekend as one can get. He is among the many residents of Bedford Falls who prays for George Bailey in his time of crisis. He acts as the doorman on George and Mary's wedding night at the old Granville house (later their home). It is Ernie who reads the telegram from Sam Wainwright in which Sam instructs his office to advance George up to twenty-five thousand dollars. Even in the timeline in which George is never born, in which Ernie has lost his wife and kids and lives in a shack in Potter's Field, Ernie is still warm-hearted, showing concern for Bert the Cop (who appears to be his best friend in both timelines).

Given the impression Frank Faylen makes in both The Lost Weekend and It's a Wonderful Life, it should come as no surprise that he rarely played bit parts afterwards. In fact, from the late Forties into the Fifties, he would regularly appear in various Westerns. Among these was Whispering Smith (1947), in which he played  Whitey Du Sang, a gunslinger for hire and a sworn enemy of Whispering Smith (played by Alan Ladd).  Not only does Whitey have no qualms about committing murder, but he has no problem about betraying those who trust him either. In Blood on the Moon (1948) Frank Faylen played crooked Indian agent Jake Pindalest. Not every character Mr. Faylen played in Westerns was a bad guy. In The Lone Gun (1954) he played Fairweather, a charismatic gambler who also happens to be one of the few friends of the film's protagonist, town marshal Cruze (played by George Montgomery).

Not only would Frank Faylen appear frequently in Westerns, but in film noirs as well. In Race Street (1948) he played Phil Dixon, the operator of a gambling syndicate. Curiously, while Frank Faylen played a lot of heavies in Westerns, he played quite a few fairly upright characters in his film noirs. Most notable of these is Stan Hogan in 99 River Street (1953), a taxi cab company dispatcher who is as good-hearted as Ernie Bishop ever was. In film noirs Mr. Faylen sometimes found himself in law enforcement. He was Det. Gallagher in Detective Story (1951), Police Inspector Anderson in The Sniper (1952), and Commissioner Haskell in Riot on Cell Block 11 (1954).

While Frank Faylen appeared in plenty of Westerns and film noirs in the Forties an Fifties, he also continued to appear in comedies. In Road to Rio (1947), Mr. Faylen played the hit man Trigger, who along with Tony (played by Joseph Vitale), is hired to deal with Sweeney and Barton (played by Bing Crosby and Bob Hope respectively). Fortunately for Sweeney and Barton, neither Trigger nor Tony are particularly competent. Frank Faylen also appeared with Bob Hope in My Favourite Spy (1951), making a brief appearance as Newton, a drunk casino patron. He also had the role of Sgt. Chillingbacker in Francis (1950), the first of the  Francis the Talking Mule movies.

Of course, like many character actors, Frank Faylen would have a career in television. He made his television debut in an episode of Racket Squad in 1951. He made guest appearances on such shows as Maverick, The Ann Sothern Show, Wanted: Dead or Alive, and Whirlybirds before being cast as Herbert T. Gillis on the sitcom Dobie Gillis (originally titled The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis). Dobie Gillis would prove to be a hit and would have a long, successful run in syndication, so that ultimately Herbert T. Gillis could well be Frank Faylen's best known role besides Ernie Bishop. Herbert T. Gillis was the father of the title character, who was always exacerbated by his son's antics. Herbert T. Gillis owned a grocery and was a veteran of World War II, both of which he was very proud. Not only was Herbert a hard worker, but he also tended to pinch pennies. As a result he constantly found himself frustrated by the fact that Dobie was interested only in girls and money, and would only work hard with regards to the former. In the first season, before a sponsor complained, it was not unusual for Herbert to exclaim, "I gotta kill that boy. I just gotta..."As aggravated as Herbert could sometimes be at Dobie's behaviour, it was still clear that he loved his son and only wanted the best for him. Frank Faylen would reprise his role as Herbert T. Gillis in the 1977 unsold television pilot Whatever Happened to Dobie Gillis?.

After Dobie Gillis ended its run Frank Faylen continued to appear in movies and television shows. Perhaps because of his association with Dobie Gillis, in his later career he primarily appeared in comedies. In The Monkey's Uncle (1965) he had a memorable turn as school board member Mr. Dearborne. He also appeared in the comedies Fluffy (1965) and When the Boys Meet the Girls (1965). On television Frank Faylen guest starred on such shows as My Mother the Car, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Petticoat Junction. He had a notable guest shot on That Girl in the two part episode "There Sure Are a Bunch of Cards in St. Louis." He played Bert Hollinger, the father of Ann Marie's boyfriend Donald (Ann Marie being played by Marlo Thomas and Donald being played by Ted Bessell). Frank Faylen's last appearance on film would be as Mr. Keeney in Funny Girl in 1968. His last television appearance would be on an episode of Quincy M.E. in 1978.

Frank Faylen died on August 2 1985 at the age of 79 from pneumonia. He left behind a remarkable career. Even as a bit player, Frank Faylen appeared in such legendary films as They Won't Forget (1937), Gone with the Wind (1939), The Grapes of Wrath (1940), They Drive by Night (1940), and The Reluctant Dragon (1941). As his career progressed his roles became more substantial, so that he would have significant parts in films from Hangman's Knot (1952) to Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957).

While other character actors were known for a specific type of role, Frank Faylen managed to escape typecasting and played a wide variety of roles. Indeed, it must be pointed out that his three best known roles are very different from each other. Bim in The Lost Weekend is sadistic and actually takes joy in his taunting of the patients in his charge. Ernie Bishop in It's a Wonderful Life is respected in his community and would do anything for his community. He truly has a heart of gold. Herbert Gillis is a bit of a curmudgeon, particularly with regards to his son Dobie, but in the end he is only looking out for his son's best interests. The three characters couldn't be more different, and yet they were all played by the same man. In many ways they are Frank Faylen's career in a microcosm. He played everything from heavies to good-hearted characters and everything in between.


Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Aniki Bóbó (1942)

( This post is part of the Luso World Cinema Blogathon hosted by Crítica Retrô and Spellbound By Movies)

Manoel de Oliveira had one of the longest careers of any film director in history. His first documentary short, "Douro, Faina Fluvial," was released in 1931. His final work, the segment "O Conquistador Conquistado" in Centro Histórico, came out in 2012. What is more, Manoel de Oliveira may have been the most celebrated Portuguese director of all time, regularly being nominated for or winning various awards at film festivals. What is more, he displayed a mastery of filmmaking from the very beginning. His first feature film, Aniki Bóbó (1942), is widely regarded as a classic.

On the surface, Aniki Bóbó does not appear to be a complex film. It centres on a group of kids in Mr. de Oliveira's hometown of Porto. One of the kids is Carlitos (played by Horácio Silva), a shy, introspective boy. Another is Eduardo (played by António Santos), an extroverted bully who acts as the group's leader. The two of them are rivals for the heart of the only girl in the group, Terezinha (played by Fernanda Matos), a situation which gives the film one of its central conflicts.

Aniki Bóbó was very loosely based on the short story "Meninos Milionários," in English "Millionaire Boys." The story centres on a group of boys who only experience freedom after they leave the oppressive confines of their school. Manoel de Oliveira took the bare bones of the story and expanded upon it, adding to it the romantic rivalry between Carlitos and Eduardo. The title, Aniki Bóbó, comes from a children's counting rhyme similar to "Eeny, meeny, miny, moe" in English.

While Aniki Bóbó is today regarded as a classic, it was not well received upon its initial release in Portugal in 1942. The film received negative reviews from critics. Worse yet, it did badly at the box office. Ultimately, the reception for Aniki Bóbó was so poor that Manoeul de Oliveira would not make another film until the documentary short "O Pintor e a Cidade," released in 1956. 

As to why Aniki Bóbó was so poorly received upon its initial release, much of it may well have been the fact that it was different from any other films being made in Portugal at the time. The year 1933 saw the beginning of Estado Novo, the period of authoritarian rule in Portugal that lasted until 1974. It was for that reason that most movies did not take much in the way of chances. In fact, most films released in Portugal in the Thirties and Forties belonged only to a few genres, namely comedies and historical dramas. Aniki Bóbó was neither of these. What is more, in some ways it contradicted the ideology of the Portuguese regime at the time. Indeed, Aniki Bóbó deals with children who lie, cheat, and steal, this at a time when most Portuguese movies placed emphasis upon conventional morality. What is more, none of the adults in the film have names and the only significant adult character treated with sympathy is the kindly Shopkeeper (played by Nascimento Fernandes), owner of the Loja das Tentações (Shop of Temptations). One can imagine how Portuguese critics at the time might have reacted to Aniki Bóbó.

Of course, it probably did not help that not only was Aniki Bóbó different from movies being made in Portugal at the time, but anywhere else for that matter. Aniki Bóbó is often cited as a predecessor to Italian neorealism. After all, the film was shot on the streets of Porto with non-professional actors. None of the children had ever acted before. What is more, it is shot almost entirely using natural lighting. Keep in mind that Aniki Bóbó was released a year before Luchino Visconti's Ossessione and three years before Roberto Rossellini's Roma città aperta.

While Aniki Bóbó shares some things in common with the Italian neorealist films, it also differs from them a good deal. In Aniki Bóbó no effort is taken to portray everyday life in Porto. The children run around streets that are largely empty of people. Except for Carlitos, we are never really shown any of the children's home lives, and even then we never see Carlitos's mother's face. Although Aniki Bóbó shares things in common with Italian neorealism, ultimately it isn't a neorealist film. In fact, it plays out more as a morality play than it does an attempt to reproduce everyday life in a Portuguese town in 1942.

Indeed, while Aniki Bóbó departs to a degree from other Portuguese films of the time, it shares in common with them a plot involving crossing traditional moral boundaries and then making amends for doing so. At the core of Aniki Bóbó is guilt as experienced by its lead character Carlitos. While Portuguese critics at the time may have been critical of the behaviour of the children in the film, in the end most of them make up for any wrongs they might have done.

That having been said, while Aniki Bóbó does conform to traditional morality to a large degree, it also displays defiance to something held to be important by the Portuguese authoritarian regime at the time. Quite simply, authority does not come off well in Aniki Bóbó. The school is not presented as an enjoyable place of learning, but rather a restrictive space in which the children have no freedom. The scenes in the classroom are a sharp contrast to the freedom the children enjoy on the streets of Porto. To make matters worse, the local policeman in the film is presented as a sinister presence. Quite simply, the children are scared of him. In fact, the only adults presented sympathetically are a street singer and the Shopkeeper (who in some ways serves as the film's moral compass).

While the plot of Aniki Bóbó is easily described, in many respects it is a very complicated film that examines moral transgressions, guilt, forgiveness, and authority. What makes it even more powerful is the fact that it combines beautiful cinematography with some sterling performances from its cast with a well written script. While Aniki Bóbó may not have been well received in Portugal upon its initial release, it is easy to see why it would come to be regarded as a classic.



Thursday, November 7, 2019

Godspeed Bernard Slade

Bernard Slade, the creator of the TV shows The Partridge Family and The Flying Nun as well as the author of the play Same Time, Next Year, died on October 30 2019 at the age of 89. The cause was complications from Lewy body dementia.

Bernard Slade was born Bernard Slade Newbound on May 2 1930 in St. Catharines, Ontario. In 1935 his British parents returned to England. During World War II the family frequently moved due to evacuations caused by German bombing. He returned to Canada when he was 18. In Toronto, he took a job as an air steward before he answered an ad for summer stock actors. After several appearances on the Canadian stage, he made his television debut in 1955 in an episode of CBS Summer Theatre. He guest starred on such shows as First Performance, On Camera, General Motors Presents, and First Person. He broke into writing for television with an episode of the show On Camera in 1957. In the late Fifties he wrote episodes of the shows Matinee Theatre, One of a Kind, General Motors Presents, and Festival.

Bernard Slade began the Sixties writing episodes of Quest and Playdate. In 1964 he moved to Los Angeles where he began working for Screen Gems, Columbia Pictures' television subsidiary. He provided dialogue on an episode of My Living Doll and served briefly as the script consultant on the show. Mr. Slade was also the script consultant on Bewitched, writing 17 episodes of the show as well. He left Bewitched in 1966 to create the sitcom Love on a Rooftop with Harry Ackerman. The series ran only one season from September 1966 to August 1967. He developed the sitcom The Flying Nun from the book The Fifteenth Pelican by Tere Rios. He left Screen Gems to serve as the script consultant on The Courtship of Eddie's Father during its first season. Afterwards he returned to Screen Gems where he created The Partridge Family. He drew upon real-life family pop group The Cowsills for inspiration. The Partridge Family proved to be a success, running for four seasons.

In the Seventies Bernard Slade created the short-lived sitcoms Bridget Loves Bernie and The Girl with Something Extra. He also wrote an episode of Good Heavens. He wrote the screenplay for the movie Stand Up and Be Counted (1972). Having grown frustrated with the television industry, he turned attention back to the stage and wrote the play Same Time, Next Year. Same Time, Next Year proved to be a success, with a long run on Broadway. Mr. Slade followed it with two more Broadway plays in the late Seventies: Tribute and Romantic Comedy. Same Time, Next Year was adapted as the 1978 movie of the same name, for which Mr. Slade wrote the screenplay. He was nominated for the Oscar for Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium. Tribute was adapted as the 1980 movie of the same name, for which Bernard Slade also wrote the screenplay.

In the Eighties he wrote the play Special Occasions, which closed on its opening night on Broadway. He wrote the screenplay for the 1983 adaptation of Romantic Comedy. He also wrote an episode of the TV show Trying Times. Bernard Slade would continue writing plays, including An Act of the Imagination, Fatal Attraction (not to be confused with the movie of the same name), Fling!, I Remember You, and You Say Tomatoes.

Quite simply, Bernard Slade was one of the most talented writers of Sixties sitcoms. He wrote some of the best episodes of Bewitched, including "The Witches Are Out" and "Aunt Clara's Old Flame." In addition to creating the show, he also wrote some of the best episodes of The Partridge Family. Of course, he also displayed his talent as a playwright. Some Time, Next Year was nominated for several Tony Awards and won the Tony for Best Actress. He certainly left a lasting impact, between his work in television and on Broadway.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

John Witherspoon Passes On

Actor and comedian John Witherspoon, who appeared in such TV shows as The Wayan Bros. and such movies as Hollywood Shuffle (1987), died on October 29 2019 at the age of 77.

John Witherspoon was born John Weatherspoon on January 27 1942 in Detroit, Michigan. His older brother, William Weatherspoon, would become a songwriter known for his work with Motown. He began his career as a stand-up comic at the Comedy Store in Los Angeles in 1974. The owner, Mitzi Shore, eventually made him a master of ceremonies. He made his television debut as a regular on The Richard Pryor Show in 1977. In the late Seventies he guest starred on the shows The Incredible Hulk, What's Happening!, Good Times, and Barnaby Jones. He made his film debut in The Jazz Singer in 1980.

In the Eighties Mr. Witherspoon guest starred on such shows as WKRP in Cincinnati, Hill Street Blues, You Again?, 227, What's Happening Now!, Frank's Place, Amen, and L.A. Law. He appeared in the movies Ratboy (1986), Hollywood Shuffle (1987), Kidnapped (1987), Bird (1988), I'm Gonna Git You Sucka (1988), and House Party (1990).

In the Nineties John Witherspoon was a regular on the TV shows Townsend Television and The Wayan Bros. He guest starred on the shows Martin, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Waynehead, Living Single, and Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child. He appeared in the movies Friday (1995) and its sequel Next Friday (2000). He also appeared in the movies The Five Heartbeats (1991), Talkin' Dirty After Dark (1991), Killer Tomatoes Strike Back! (1991), Boomerang (1992), Bébé's Kids (1992), The Meteor Man (1993), Fatal Instinct (1993), Vampire in Brooklyn (1995), Killin' Me Softly (1996), Sprung (1997), Fakin' Da Funk (1997), Ride (1998), Bulworth (1998), I Got the Hook Up (1998), High Freakquency (1998), The Ladies Man (2000), and Little Nicky (2000).

In the Naughts John Witherspoon was a regular on the TV shows The Tracy Morgan Show and The Boondocks. He guest starred on such shows as The Proud Family, Kim Possible, and Weekends at the DL. He appeared in the movies Friday After Next (2002), Soul Plane (2004), Little Man (2006), After Sex (2007), and The Hustle (2008). In the Teens he continued as a voice on The Boondocks and continued to appear on The First Family. He was a regular on Black Jesus. He guest starred on the shows Tosh.0, Anger Management, Black Dynamite, Animals, Black-ish, DashieXP, White Famous, and BoJack Horseman. He appeared in the films A Thousand Words (2012), I Got the Hook Up 2 (2019), and Reality Queen! (2019).

He continued to play comedy dates throughout his career, right up to his death.

There can be no doubt that John Witherspoon was very funny. He was certainly outrageous, and at times his comedy could be considered "bathroom humour," but he did in such a way that it was hard to be offended. He was simply that funny. Of course, as over the top and even crude as his humour could often be, John Witherspoon was capable of subtlety. He played plenty of curmudgeons, nearly all of them with soft hearts. He played characters who could be tough, but at the same time tender. Not every one of John Witherspoon's movies were classics. For every Hollywood Shuffle there were movies like Vampire in Brooklyn and Fatal Instinct. That having been said, each one of his movies was better for having him in it.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Godspeed Robert Evans

Robert Evans, former head of Paramount Pictures as well as an actor and producer, died on October 26 2019 at the age of 89.

Robert Evans was born Robert J. Shapera on June 29 1930 in New York City. While still a teenager he carved out a niche for himself as an actor on radio. He appeared on such shows as Young Widder Brown, The Aldrich Family, and Let's Pretend. After graduating from high school, he joined Evan-Picone, a women's clothing company co-founded by his older brother Charles. It was while he was at the pool of the Beverly Hills Hotel that he was spotted by Norma Shearer, who got him cast as her late husband Irving Thalberg in the Lon Chaney biopic Man of a Thousand Faces. Robert Evans would appear in three more movies in the late Fifties: The Sun Also Rises (1957), The Fiend Who Walked the West (1958), and The Best of Everything  (1959).

Robert Evans was unhappy as an actor and decided to become a producer instead. He bought the rights to the novel The Detective by Roderick Thorp, meaning to produce its film adaptation. Before he could, Mr. Evans came to the attention of Gulf+Western head Charles Bluhdorn, who appointed him as head of Paramount Pictures. At the time Paramount Pictures was a shadow of what it had been during the Golden Age of Hollywood, losing money every year. Robert Evans broke away from the traditional Hollywood films Paramount had been producing to release more daring films. Some, such as The President's Analyst (1967) and Catch-22 (1970), while well regraded today, did not particularly well at the box office. Others, such as Rosemary's Baby (1968), The Odd Couple (1968), The Italian Job (1969), The Godfather (1972), and Chinatown (1974) proved to be hits. In all, Robert Evans held his position at Paramount Pictures for eight years.

While he was the head of Paramount Pictures, Robert Evans struck a deal with the studio so that he could operate as an independent producer. He produced Chinatown (1974) and then stepped down as Paramount's studio head thereafter. In the Seventies he produced such films as Marathon Man (1976), Black Sunday (1977), Players (1979), Urban Cowboy (1980), and Popeye (1980). His career would be derailed in 1980 when he was convicted of cocaine trafficking. Robert Evans would continue to deny the charges for the rest of his life, maintaining he was only a user. The misdemeanour charge of drug trafficking would later be wiped from his record.

A more serious scandal would occur in 1983 when theatrical impresario Roy Radin was murdered. Having been worked with Mr. Radin on a potential movie about The Cotton Club, Mr. Evans became a material witness in his murder. Here it must be point out that there is no substantial evidence that Robert Evans had any knowledge of the murder, let alone any connection to it.

Regardless, The Cotton Club, produced by Robert Evans, was released in 1984. Along with The Two Jakes (1990), it was the only movie he produced in the Eighties. From the Nineties into the Naughts, Robert Evans produced the movies Sliver (1993), Jade (1995), The Phantom (1996), The Saint (1997), The Out-of-Towners (1999), and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (2003).

Robert Evans would have cameos in the films Superfights (1995), An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn (1997), and The Girl from Nagasaki (2013). On television he guest starred on The Simpsons and Just Shoot Me. As the lead voice actor on the animated series Kid Notorious, Robert Evans played himself. He also produced Kid Notorious. For television he also produced a TV movie version of Urban Cowboy.

Robert Evans certainly lived an interesting life, one that was in many ways more outlandish than any melodrama produced by Hollywood. He admitted to being a cocaine addict and had been married multiple times. Regardless of his various problems, such was Robert Evans's personality and creative talent as a producer that many in Hollywood recognised his passing. Even director Francis Ford Coppola, with whom Mr. Evans didn't always get along, paid tribute to him following his death. Documentarian Brett Morgan, who co-directed The Kid Stays in the Picture, a documentary on Mr. Evans, wrote, "He was funnier, sweeter and more charming than the character he created."

There was certainly no denying Robert Evans's talent as a studio head and producer. He turned Paramount Pictures around, saving it with a series of financially successful, now classic films. Even when a particular movie produced on Mr. Evans's watch was not initially successful, such as The President's Analyst, it might eventually develop a following and the respect of critics. Later in his career Robert Evans would not have quite as much luck as a producer, although he would still produce such films as The Two Jakes (1990). Robert Evans was certainly larger than life and he is certainly one of the most legendary characters in the history of Hollywood.

Monday, November 4, 2019

TCM Announces Its First Films at the 2020 TCM Classic Film Festival

Today Turner Classic Movies announced its first few movies that will be shown at the 2020 TCM Classic Film Festival. I am sure that many TCM fans are excited by this news, particularly given some of the movies showing this year. In my case, I am excited because two of the films have had a personal impact on me. Of course, one of them has probably had a personal impact on most Gen Xers. I am sure that The Wizard of Oz (1939) was the first classic movie ever seen by most Gen Xers. I know it was the fist classic movie I ever saw. As to the other movie that had a personal impact on me, that would be Jason and the Argonauts (1963), which was the first movie I can ever remember seeing all the way through. As to why The Wizard of Oz was the first classic movie I ever saw even though I had seen Jason and the Argonauts first, well, keep in mind I saw Jason and the Argonauts when I was only four years old. I don't think it could be considered a classic yet, although it most certainly is now.

I am excited about many of the other movies as well. There will be a 70th anniversary presentation of Harvey (1950), which is my second favourite Jimmy Stewart movie (after It's a Wonderful Life). There will also be the classics The Bishop's Wife (1947) and Lost Horizon (1937), both of which I love. Somewhere in Time (1980) is also being shown. I do love the film, although given the subject matter (writer falls in love with actress), I am not sure I am ready to watch it any time soon! About the only film announced today that I am not excited about is Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). I never have liked that film.

As to passes for the festival, there will be a pre-sale for Citi members on Tuesday, November 19. Public passes for the festival go on sale on November 21. I have to warn you that the passes are expensive this year! The cheapest pass is the Palace Pass, which is $349. If you want to at least get access to Club TCM, the panels, and poolside screenings, you will want to get the Classic Pass, which is a whopping $749. Here I must point out that if you run a blog, you can always request media credentials (better known as a press pass). Media credentials will be made available in early 2020.

Anyway, I am sure many are looking forward to the 2020 TCM Classic Film Festival. I am hoping that I can go for the first time this year!

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Happy Halloween 2019

Here at A Shroud of Thoughts I realise that many people might appreciate some cheesecake with their Halloween candy. It is for that reason that every Halloween I post classic pinups. Without further ado, then, here is this year's collection of pinups!

First up is June Knight, who is apparently riding a broom to a Halloween shindig!

Next up is one of the prettiest witches you'll ever see, Janet Leigh!

Witch Kathleen Case is communing with her black cat among the corn shalks and jack o' lanterns.

Anita Page is cradling a jack o' lantern.

The lovely Ann Rutherford and a jack o' lantern.

 June Haver amongst her Halloween decorations.

And, of course, it wouldn't be Halloween (or any other holiday, for that matter) without Ann Miller!

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

My Five Favourite Foreign Horror Movies

This past Sunday, October 27, the talented Alicia Malone of TCM tweeted that each day she was going to tell us one of her five favourite foreign horror films. She also encouraged her followers to chime in with their favourites. To this end, then here are my five favourite foreign horror movies. Here I must stress that I am defining "foreign" as any movie not made by an Anglophone country. For that reason horror movies made in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, or New Zealand don't qualify!

Nosferatu (1922): The first and arguably the best adaptation of Dracula. It was also an unauthorized version. Bram Stoker's widow won a successful plagiarism suit against the makers of Nosferatu, one of the conditions of which was that all copies of the movie be destroyed! Fortunately for future generations, some copies escaped destruction. By the way, to show you how influential Nosferatu was, the idea that sunlight destroys vampires originated with this movie, not from folklore! While in folkore vampires were creatures of the night, they were never particularly photosensitive prior to Nosferatu.

Gojira (1954): Today when Americans think of Godzilla movies they are apt to think of campy movies from the Sixties and the Seventies in which Godzilla defends humanity against other giant monsters and even aliens. It wasn't always that way. The movie that started the franchise, Gojia, is a deeply philosophical film that capitalized upon a fear the Japanese were all too familiar with, the fear of nuclear destruction. Because of this, the movie is not only genuinely frightening, but disturbing as well.

Les diaboliques (1955): Before Peeping Tom (1960) and Psycho (1960), there was Les diaboliques, better known simply as Diabolique in many Anglophone countries. Les diaboliques is genuinely frightening and would inspire a whole slough of similar movies in the Sixties, Psycho merely being the most famous of them.

Sei donne per l'assassino (1964) Known as Blood and Black Lace in English speaking countries, along with Peeping Tom, Sei donne per l'assassino was a forerunner of the slasher movies of the late Seventies and early Eighties. It not only has a high body count, but was graphic in a way that no other films at the time were. The film was so influential that, along with Mario Bava's earlier film Black Sunday, the entire subgenre of giallo exists because of it.

El laberinto del fauno (2006): Know as  Pan's Labyrinth in Anglophone countries, El laberinto del fauno is set during the early years of the Francisco Franco regime in Spain. Because of this, the terrors of reality are sometimes more frightening than the film's fantasy elements. El laberinto del fauno blends elements of mythology, fairy tales, folklore, and history to create a wholly unsettling film.