Saturday, February 9, 2019

The Late Great Albert Finney

Albert Finney, the legendary star of such films as Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960), Tom Jones (1963), Scrooge (1970), and Murder on the Orient Express (1974), died on February 7 2019 at the age of 82.

Albert Finney was born on May 9 1936 in Salford, Greater Manchester. He was encouraged by the headmaster at Salford Grammar School to go into acting. He then attended in the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, and was in the same class as Peter O'Toole and Alan Bates. He became a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company. He made his television debut in 1956 in the production She Stoops to Conquer. He appeared on television in episodes of BBC Sunday-Night Theatre, Emergency-Ward 10, and Theatre Night. Mr. Finney made his London stage debut in 1958 in The Party.  Albert Finney made his film debut in a role in The Entertainer in 1960. That same year he starred in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning for which he was nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best British Actor.

In the Sixties Albert Finney starred in the movie Tom Jones (1963), for which he was nominated for the Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role and the BAFTA Award for Best British Actor. He starred in the films The Victors (1963), Night Must Fall (1964), Two for the Road (1967), Charlie Bubbles (1968), The Picasso Summer (1969), and Scrooge (1970). He appeared on Broadway in Luther and A Day in the Death of Joe Egg.

In the Seventies Mr. Finney appeared in the films Gumshoe (1971), Alpha Beta (1974), Murder on the Orient Express (1974), and The Duellists (1977). In the Eighties he appeared in the films Loophole (1981), Wolfen (1981), Looker (1981), Shoot the Moon (1982), Annie (1982), The Dresser (1983), Under the Volcano (1984), Orphans (1987), and Miller's Crossing (1990). He appeared on television in Pope John Paul II (playing the title role) and other TV movies as well as the mini-series The Endless Game and The Green Man.

In the Nineties Albert Finney appeared in the films The Playboys (1992), Rich in Love (1992), The Browning Version (1994), A Man of No Importance (1994), The Run of the Country (1995), Washington Square (1997), Breakfast of Champions (1999), Simpatico (1999), Erin Brokovich (2000), and Traffic (2000). He appeared on television in the mini-series Karaoke, Cold Lazarus, and Nostromo.

In the Naughts Mr. Finney appeared in the films Hemingway, the Hunter of Death (2001), Delivering Milo (2001), Big Fish (2003), Ocean's Twelve (2004), Aspects of Love (2005), A Good Year (2006), Amazing Grace (2006), The Bourne Ultimatum (2007), Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (2007). He provided the voice of Finis Everglot in the stop motion animation film Corpse Bride (2007) He played the title role in the TV series Uncle Silas. In the Teens he appeared in the movies The Bourne Legacy (2012) and Skyfall (2012).

Albert Finney was a remarkable actor. In fact, he was a bit of a chameleon. He was only thirty years old when he played the title role in the musical Scrooge and yet he was utterly convincing in the role. Over the years he would play a wide variety of roles and would be convincing in all of them, from the title role in Tom Jones to Hercule Poirot in Murder on the Orient Express to Constable Brendan Hegarty in The Playboys. Indeed, I am convinced that Mr. Finney could not possibly be typecast. Of the many roles he played in his career, no two were alike. Few actors had the talent that Albert Finney had.

Friday, February 8, 2019

A Few Updates

Legendary actor Albert Finney died yesterday, but I am not ready to eulogise him. I then thought I would leave you with a few updates. Indeed, you may have noticed something different about A Shroud of Thoughts. Quite simply, the blog now has pages. Blogger actually introduced Pages in February 2010, but I never added Pages to this blog for two basic reasons. The first is that I really had no idea what use I would have for Pages. In the past several months, however, it occurred to me that I did have a use for Pages. The second is that I was not sure that my Blogger template, which is a duke's mixture of various templates, would even be compatible with the Pages feature. Fortunately, it turned out it was. Beyond adding Pages, I didn't have to make any changes to A Shroud of Thoughts' template. You can see the list of pages of A Shroud of Thoughts above the sidebars and posts.

I am also happy to announce that on January 31 2019 the petition to add my dearest Vanessa Marquez to the In Memoriam segment of the Academy Awards telecast reached over 1000 signatures and was submitted to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. That having been said, if you have not yet signed the petition, you can still do so. With regards to my beloved Vanessa, I also have to say that a letter encouraging the Academy to include her in the In Memoriam portion of the Oscars ceremony, composed by actress Minerva Garcia Ortega and writer Diana Martinez and signed by 60 people (including myself), was sent to the Academy. I know that many of Vanessa's other friends have sent individual letters to the Academy and I sent them one myself.

Now none of this is a guarantee that the Academy will include Vanessa in the In Memoriam segment of the Oscars telecast, although I certainly hope they do. I was sorely disappointed that many media outlets did not include her in their year-end In Memoriam pieces and that the Screen Actors Guild excluded her from the In Memoriam segment of the SAG Awards telecast. Vanessa was a well known and beloved actress who appeared in a classic film (Stand and Deliver) and one of the most popular television shows of all time (ER), not to mention other movies and TV shows. She was technically a SAG Award winner, being part of the cast of ER when that show won the SAG Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series. She was also a pioneering Latina actress, appearing in films and on television at a time when Latinas were rarely seen in American films and on American television. What is more, she appeared in non-stereotypical roles at a time when Latina stereotypes were still common in American media. Since her death I have learned just how respected Vanessa was by her fellow Latinx actors and the Latinx community at large.

Because of this, I must admit that I am a bit puzzled as to why she was omitted from so many year-end In Memoriam pieces and from the In Memoriam segment of the SAG Awards telecast. I can only guess that there were two reasons for this. The first is that it is another example of Latinx erasure, in which the contributions of Latinxs to history and popular culture are ignored. The second is that Vanessa was very outspoken with regards to sexual harassment she received on the set of ER and elsewhere. Sadly, in taking up for herself I think it is likely that she made some fairly powerful people in Hollywood and elsewhere unhappy. These people might not have been happy to have seen her memorialised, regardless of how popular and how significant she was. Of course, to say I am very unhappy with such people goes without saying.

Lastly, I also want to say that I am still taking submissions for the 5th Annual Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon. If you have a favourite episode of a classic TV show you would like to write a blog post about, then let me know! Tomorrow I hope to have a eulogy for Albert Finney completed.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

The Late Great Ron Hutchinson

Ron Hutchinson, the founder of the Vitaphone Project who saved scores of obscure films made from the mid-Twenties to the early Thirties, died on February 2 at the age of 67. The cause was cancer.

Ron Hutchinson's mission to save Vitaphone soundtrack discs and film prints grew out of his passion for old 78 RPM records. One day he found a batch of 16-inch soundtrack discs for early talkies. Most of them were Vitaphone shorts, short subjects featuring vaudeville, Broadway, and singing stars of the day. Ron then began what would turn out to be his life's work, matching the 16-inch soundtrack discs to film prints for such groups as the UCLA Film and Television Archive and the Library of Congress. It was in 1991 that he founded the Vitaphone Project with four other film and record buffs.

The Vitaphone Project would locate over 6500 soundtrack discs that were in the hands of private collectors and created a database in order to match them with film prints. They have also worked with Turner Classic Movies and Warner Bros. in order to make these films available again. The past many years Warner Bros. has been able to release DVD collections of Vitaphone shorts, all due to the Vitaphone Project. Perhaps no one was more responsible for exposing new audiences to the Vitaphone shorts than Ron Hutchinson. He has shown them on Turner Classic Movies and at the Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival, as well as numerous other screenings across the United States over the years.

Ron Hutchinson would also prove invaluable as a film historian. Over the years he has helped a good deal with authors writing books and articles on various subjects related to the Vitaphone Era. He contributed regularly to the Classic Movie Hub's blog, as well as various other venues. In fact, his last article on the Classic Movie Hub's blog was only on January 22 of this year. 

What makes Ron Hutchinson's accomplishments as a film historian and film preservationist all the more remarkable is that it was not his day job. For him it was truly a labour of love.

While I never met Mr. Hutchinson or even interacted with him online, many of my friends knew him and some even knew him well. He was an incredibly nice fellow and one gifted with boundless enthusiasm for classic movies. There were very few in the classic movie community who were as friendly and approachable as he was. If the classic film community is mourning Ron Hutchinson so much, it is not simply because he was an incredible film historian who has saved dozens of films, but a true gentleman as well. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

50 Years Ago the TV Show Turn-On Got Turned Off

Unless they are of a certain age, chances are good that most people have never heard of the TV show Turn-On. That having been said, among TV historians and classic television buffs, Turn-On is the stuff of legends. It was a show that was so outrageous that only one episode ever aired. It was a show so offensive that it was cancelled even as that first and only episode aired. It was a show that generated such controversy that it was even mentioned at a Senate Communications Subcommittee meeting. Regardless of the legends, the true story of Turn-On is one of the more interesting bits of television history. It was fifty years ago today that Turn-On debuted on ABC at 8:30 PM Eastern/7:30 PM Central.

Turn-On was the creation of Ed Friendly and George Schlatter, the two men responsible for the classic Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In. Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In had been a smash hit, so big that it became the no. 1 show in only its second season. It was while they were riding high on the success of Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In that Ed Friendly and George Schlatter created Turn-On.

Today Turn-On is a difficult show to describe. The central conceit of the sketch comedy show was that it was programmed by a computer. It took place in a white space devoid of any sets whatsoever. Further differentiating it from other shows of the time was that its score was provided by a Moog synthesizer, a relatively new instrument that had only been used on a few experimental records and pop songs at the time. Turn-On also moved at a break-neck speed, making the generally fast-paced Laugh-In look slow in comparison. In the space of a half hour there were around 30 different sketches aired in the first episode. Producer Digby Wolfe described Turn-On as a "a "visual, comedic, sensory assault involving animation, videotape, stop-action film, electronic distortion, computer graphics--even people."

Even with the success of Laugh-In, Turn-On proved to be a hard sell to the networks. NBC rejected the show outright. CBS also turned the show down, with an official at the network commenting, "It was so fast with the cuts and chops that some of our people actually got physically disturbed by it." At last Ed Friendly and George Schlatter sold the show to ABC. The generally conservative pharmaceutical company Bristol-Myers signed on as the show's primary sponsor. Turn-On was set to air for 16 weeks.

On paper, at least, Turn-On must have looked very good at the time. The guest host for its first and only episode to air was Tim Conway, then best known as Ensign Parker on the popular sitcom McHale's Navy. The show also featured two veteran performers. Hamilton Camp was an established actor and folk singer who had played handyman Andrew Hummel on the late, lamented sitcom He & She. Chuck McCann was a puppeteer, voice artist, actor, impressionist, and comedian who was already well-known as a children's show host. Other members of the cast who were not yet famous soon would be. Teresa Graves would join the cast of Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In the following season and  would later play the lead role in the TV series Get Christie Love!. Mel Stewart would go on to play Henry Jefferson on All in the Family and section chief Billy Melrose on Scarecrow & Mrs. King, among many other roles. Among the writers on the show was a young Albert Brooks.

Unfortunately what must have looked good on paper proved to be an entirely different matter in reality. Even before Turn-On aired, there were signs that there was trouble ahead. ABC's Dallas affiliate, WFAA, elected to air Turn-On on Sunday night at 10:30 to minimise any adverse reaction to the show. It was as the first episode aired in the Eastern and Central time zones that it became even more obvious that Turn-On would be a problem for ABC. Their Cleveland affiliate WEWS left the show after its first commercial break, airing instead a blank screen and organ music (an emergency procedure that had not been used in twenty years). WEWS's station manager was so outraged by Turn-On that he even sent a telegram to ABC that read,"If your naughty little boys have to write dirty words on the walls, please don't use our walls. Turn-On is turned off, as far as WEWS is concerned." Even as the first episode was airing in the eastern time zones, ABC affiliates in the Mountain and Pacific time zones decided not to air it, including KATU in Portland, Oregon, KOMO in Seattle, and KBTV in Denver. Regarding their refusal to air Turn-On, KBTV issued the statement, "We have decided, without hesitation, that it would be offensive to a major segment of the audience."

It wasn't only ABC's affiliates that were offended by Turn-On, but a good section of the audience. The switchboards of some of ABC's stations were jammed with calls complaining about the show. ABC itself received 369 complaints about the show even as it aired. The network only received twenty calls in favour of Turn-On.

The fallout from Turn-On was swift and immediate. While the legend that Turn-On was cancelled even as the first episode aired is not quite true, it might as well be. The show received overwhelmingly bad reviews, including ones from The New York Times and Associated Press. Worse yet, seventy-five ABC affiliates, including WEWS in Cleveland, KBTV in Beaumont, Texas, and KATV in Little Rock, refused to air any further episodes. It was on February 7, only two days after the debut of Turn-On, that ABC announced that Turn-On was going on hiatus. The following Wednesday its slot would be filled by the movie The Oscar (1966). It was on February 10 that ABC officially cancelled Turn-On. ABC relayed news of the cancellation to Bristol-Myers, who in turn sent a telegram to Schlatter-Friendly Productions informing them that the episodes of Turn-On were unacceptable and telling them to cease production.

Turn-On would never air in its entirety again. At the time of its only broadcast, there was only one more episode completed. The second episode featured Robert Culp and then wife France Nuyen as the guest hosts. Reportedly some work had been completed on other episodes. According to Andrew Sandoval in his book The Monkees: The Day-By-Day Story of the 60s, The Monkees (without Peter Tork, who had left the group by that time) filmed a guest appearance on Turn-On. Given how swiftly the show had been cancelled, Turn-On was still listed in TV Guide and ads for the second episode appeared in TV Guide and elsewhere. Turn-On would continue to appear in TV listings in newspapers for weeks following its cancellation. From TV listings it appears that Sebastian Cabot would have been the guest host for the third episode. Ultimately Turn-On would be replaced by a much more wholesome revival of The King Family Show.

Fallout from Turn-On would not stop with the television industry. At a hearing held by the Senate Communications Subcommittee on March 12 1969, Leonard Goldenson, president of American Broadcasting Companies, and Elton H. Rule, president of ABC Television Network, were questioned regarding Turn-On. Ultimately the controversy over Turn-On would prove so great that ABC would pass on a pilot that was an American adaptation of the British hit Till Death Do Us Part from producer Norman Lear. The show centred on a foul-mouthed bigot. Fortunately for Norman Lear, CBS took an interest in the show and bought it, renaming it All in the Family.

As to why Turn-On elicited such adverse reactions from ABC's affiliates and viewers alike, much of the reason may have been because a good deal of the humour was based around sex. One notorious skit involved a young woman attempting to retrieve The Pill (as in the birth control pill) from a vending machine. Another sketch involved a comely woman about to be executed by a firing squad. When the leader of the firing squad approached the woman, he said, "I know this may seem a little awkward, miss, but in this case the firing squad has one last request." A rather long sketch simply involved guest host Tim Conway and series regular Bonnie Boland staring at one another as the word "SEX" flashed above their heads.

Even when the sketches did not involve sex, they could have been considered offensive by some at the time. A recurring sketch throughout the first episode involved Tim Conway playing a man attempting suicide and constantly failing at it. Another sketch featured an armed man (played by Carlos Manteca) attempting to hijack Superman (played by Tim Conway) to Cuba. Yet another sketch featured the Pope flashing peace signs and saying, "Peace, baby." A cartoon that appeared on the show involved two characters using weapons on each other until at last one of them utilised the atomic bomb. Even if a few more conservative members of the audience somehow were not offended by the show's sexual content (which appears to be mild by today's standards), they were probably offended by some of the show's other sketches.

Beyond offensive content, it seems possible that there could have been other reasons for the failure of Turn-On. It seems possible that even for those in the audience who were not offended by the show's content that it might have simply been too fast paced. In the days before MTV brought rapid-fire editing to American television in the Eighties, shows such as The Monkees and Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In were regarded as relatively fast-paced. Reportedly Turn-On made both of those shows look like snails. Another problem that viewers might have had with Turn-On is the lack of any sets whatsoever and its lack of a regular host. In addition to its sexual content offending viewers, the May 17-23 1969 issue of TV Guide quoted a source who said, "There wasn't any sort of identification with the audience--just a bunch of strangers up there insulting everything you believe in." In 2008 Tim Conway said, "Turn-On was way ahead of its time. I'm not sure even if you saw it today that maybe that time has also passed."

Yet another reason for the failure of Turn-On may have been that the show simply was not that funny. An ABC executive at the time compared Turn-On to The Dean Martin Show, Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, and The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in terms of sexual content, but then pointed out the difference between those shows and Turn-On was that "they're funny." As if the few clips of the show that have been seen since it first aired weren't proof enough, many comments from users on the IMDB entry for Turn-On confirm that the show simply wasn't very funny at all. That having been said, author Harlan Ellison defended the show. In his regular column in The Los Angeles Free Press, he commented, "It wasn't that it was a bad show, it was that it was an awkward show."

As notorious as Turn-On is, it is not the only show to be cancelled after one episode, nor was it even the first. What may have been the first show to ever be cancelled after one episode was the panel show Who's Whose, which aired for one episode only on CBS in 1951. You're in the Picture was so notoriously bad that only a single episode aired in January 1961. It was so low in quality that the following Friday host Jackie Gleason aired an apology. Since Turn-On the shows Co-Ed Fever, Melba, and South of Sunset have each aired for only a single episode. 

Turn-On has not been seen its entirety ever since that fateful night of February 5 1969. Clips from the show's unaired second episode would air on ABC World News Tonight and a documentary for the BBC's Channel 4. A few snippets from the show's first episode (including part of the infamous"vending machine" sketch) appeared in the 2002 documentary TV's Most Censored Moments on the cable channel Trio. What is more, it seems unlikely that it will ever be seen in its entirety again. According to George Schlatter in interviews, Schlatter-Friendly Productions were paid by the network only on the condition that they never show Turn-On again anywhere. Those who want to see episodes of the show need not give up hope, however, as both the Paley Centre in New York City and the Paley Centre in Los Angeles have copies of the only two episodes of the show.

Turn-On has remained notorious ever since it aired for its one and only time on February 5 1969. To this day it is still counted among the biggest debacles ever to air on American television (or anywhere else for that matter). It also often makes lists of the worst TV shows of all time. And while it aired only once, Turn-On would have a lasting impact. Had Turn-On not turned out to be the flop that it was, ABC might well have gone ahead with the pilot from Norman Lear that ultimately became All in the Family on CBS. Given it was a topic of the Senate Communications Subcommittee, there can be little doubt that Turn-On gave television's detractors another weapon for their arsenal. While the content of Turn-On might seem mild by today's standards, in 1969 it proved highly controversial.

Monday, February 4, 2019

The Late Great Julie Adams

Julie Adams, the beautiful star of the classic Creature from the Black Lagoon who made numerous guest appearances on television, died yesterday at the age of 92.

Julie Adams was born Betty Adams in Waterloo, Iowa on October 17 1926. Her family moved often. The place in which they lived the longest was Blytheville, Arkansas. She attended Little Rock Junior College, but dropped out after she won the Miss Little Rock pageant. She moved to Hollywood with the goal of becoming an actress.

Julie Adams made her film debut in an uncredited role in Red, Hot and Blue in 1949. She appeared under her given name in the movies The Dalton Gang (1949), Hostile Country (1950), Marshal of Heldorado (1950), Crooked River (1950), Colorado Ranger (1950), West of the Brazos (1950), and Fast on the Draw (1950). When she signed to Universal, the studio renamed her "Julia Adams". It was under that name that she appeared in such films as Bright Victory (1951), Hollywood Story (1951), Bend of the River (1952), The Treasure of Lost Canyon (1952), The Lawless Breed (1953), The Man from the Alamo (1953), Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), and Francis Joins the WACS (1954). Miss Adams never liked the name "Julia" and so she convinced Universal to change her name to "Julie". The first film in which she was billed as "Julie Adams" was Six Bridges to Cross (1955). For the remainder of the Fifties she appeared in such movies as The Private War of Major Benson (1955), Four Girls in Town (1957), Slaughter on 10th Avenue (1957), The Gunfight at Dodge City (1959), and Raymie (1960).

Under her given name of Betty Adams, Miss Adams made her television debut in an episode of the series Your Show Time. In the mid to late Fifties she guest starred on such shows as The Colgate Comedy Hour, Studio One, Lux Video Theatre, Climax!, Playhouse 90, Yancy Derringer, Zane Grey Theatre, The Loretta Young Show, One Step Beyond, Steve Canyon, Cheyenne Maverick, Goodyear Theatre, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and The Rifleman.

In the Sixties Julie Adams appeared in the films The Underwater City (1962) and Tickle Me (1965). In the Sixties she guest starred on such shows as Bonanza, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Hawaiian Eye, The Andy Griffith Show, Dr. Kildare, 77 Sunset Strip, Perry Mason, Amos Burke Secret Agent, The Virginian, The Big Valley, Ironside, The F.B.I., and Dan August.

In the Seventies she played opposite James Stewart in the short-lived sitcom The Jimmy Stewart Show. She guest starred on such shows as Night Gallery, The Doris Day Show, The Mod Squad, Search, Mannix, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, The Streets of San Francisco, Marcus Welby M.D., Ellery Queen, Cannon, Medical Centre, McMillan & Wife, Police Woman, The Incredible Hulk, and Trapper John M.D. She appeared in the films The Last Movie (1971), McQ (1974), The Wild McCullochs (1975), Psychic Killer (1975), The Killer Inside Me (1976), Goodbye, Franklin High (1978), and The Fifth Floor (1978).

In the Eighties Julie Adams had a recurring role in the TV series Code Red and a recurring role on Murder, She Wrote. She guest starred on such shows as Vega$, Cagney & Lacey, Quincy M.E., Too Close for Comfort, and Capitol. She appeared in the films Champions (1984), Black Roses (1988), and Catchfire (1990).

In the Nineties Miss Adams continued to appear on Murder, She Wrote. She guest starred on the TV shows Beverly Hills 90120, Diagnosis Murder, Melrose Place, Sliders, and Family Law. In the Naughts she appeared in the film World Trade Centre (2006). She guest starred on the shows Close to Home, Lost, Cold Case, and CSI: NY. Her last work was providing the voice of a secretary in the movie Carnage (2011).

Although Julie Adams is best known for Creature from the Black Lagoon and many B-Westerns, as well as her work in television, in many ways she was the ideal leading lady. She was beautiful, shapely, and possessed a mellifluous voice. Indeed, generations of men have had crushes on her ever since the release of Creature from the Black Lagoon. And while she was primarily cast in the role of love interests in various films, she was capable of other roles. In the movie The Private War of Major Benson she played a medical doctor. Miss Adams played the owner of a ranch in the Elvis Presley vehicle Tickle Me. Julie Adams was capable of playing so much more than girlfriends and wives, and she could do so convincingly.

In her later years Julie Adams frequently attended conventions for horror fans and Western fans. While I never had the honour of meeting Miss Adams, I know plenty of people who did. From all reports Julie Adams was exactly what one would expect her to be. She was a very nice, sweet, and gracious woman who treated her fans with both respect and affection. Quite simply, Julie Adams was a true lady. It should be little wonder that many classic movie fans, particularly fans of genre movies, are mourning her passing.