Saturday, May 18, 2019

Machiko Kyō Passes On

Actress Machiko Kyō, who appeared in such films as Rashomon (1950), Ugetsu monogatari (1953), and The Teahouse of the August Moon (1956), died on May 12 2019 at the age of 95.

Machiko Kyō was born Yano Motoko in Osaka, Japan in March 25 1924. Her father left her family when she was only five years old, and she would be raised by her mother and grandmother. When she was twelve years old she enrolled in the Osaka Shochiku Kagekidan, at which point she adopted the stage name Machiko Kyō. She worked as a dancer before joining the film studio Daiei Co. in 1949. She made her film debut in Hana kurabe tanuki-goten in 1949. She appeared in the films Chijin no ai (1949), Harukanari haha no kuni (1950), and Fukkatsu (1950), before appearing in Akira Kurosawa's classic Rashomon. She played a pivotal role in Rashomon, that of the samurai's wife who had been raped.

In the Fifties Miss Kyō appeared in other significant films In Kenji Mizoguchi's Ugetsu monogatari (known simply as Ugetsu in English speaking countries) she played Lady Wakasa, a noblewoman whose father's ghost haunts their estate. In Jigokumon (1953), known in English as Gate of Hell, she played lady-in-waiting Kesa, whom the samurai Morito (played by Kazuo Hasegawa) wants to marry. During the decade she appeared in her only English-language film, The Teahouse of the August Moon, playing the young geisha called Lotus Blossom. Miss Kyō played Sumiko, the lead actress of an acting troupe, in Yasujirō Ozu's Ukigusa (1959), known in English as Floating Weeds. During the Fifties she also appeared in such films as Itsuwareru seiso (1951), Taki no Shiraito (1952), Sen-hime (1954), Yōkihi (1955), Ana (1957), Chūshingura (1958), Kagi (1959), and Jokyō (1960).

In the Sixties Machiko Kyō appeared in such films as Shaka (1961), Kurotokage (1962), Tanin no kao (1966), Jinchoge (1966), and Genkai yûkyôden: Yabure kabure (1970).  In the Seventies she appeared in the 1977 television series Yokomizo Seishi shirîzu. She appeared in the films Karei-naru ichizoku (1974), Kinkanshoku (1976), Yoba (1976), and Otoko wa tsurai yo: Torajirô junjô shishû (1976). In the Eighties she appeared in the 1981 TV movie Haha taru koto wa jigoku no gotoku. In 2000 she guest starred on the television series Haregi, koko ichiban.

There should be little wonder that Machiko Kyō worked with some of Japan's most acclaimed directors. She was an actress of considerable talent, who played a variety of roles throughout her career. Over the years she played everything from princesses to noblewomen to a wife who may possibly be cheating on her husband. She often played complex characters that other actresses might have found difficult to portray. It should be little wonder that in her native Japan she is something of a legend.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Peggy Lipton Passes On

Peggy Lipton, who starred on the classic TV shows The Mod Squad and Twin Peaks, died on May 11 2019 at the age of 72. The cause was colon cancer.

Peggy Lipton was born on August 30 1946 in New York City. She attended Lawrence Junior High School and the Professional Children's School there. She began modelling while she was still young and took acting lessons as well. She was only 15 when she became a model for the Ford Agency. In 1964 her family moved to Los Angeles. She made her television debut in a small guest appearance on Bewitched in 1965. That same year she made guest appearances on Mr. Novak, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, and The John Forsythe Show.

For the remainder of the Sixties Miss Lipton guest starred on such shows as The Virginian, Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Colour, Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre, The F.B.I., The Road West, and The Invaders. It was in 1968 that she began playing Julie Barnes on The Mod Squad. She remained with the show for its entire run, which lasted from 1968 to 1973. She made her film debut in Mosby's Marauders (a compilation of a two part Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Colour episode) in 1967. In the Sixties she appeared in the films Blue (1968) and A Boy...a Girl (1969).

In 1974 Peggy Lipton married music producer Quincy Jones and retired from acting for a time to raise her family. Her only acting appearance until 1988 was in the television reunion movie The Return of the Mod Squad in 1979. In 1988 she appeared in the TV movie Addicted to His Love. She guest starred on the TV show The Hitchhiker in 1990. That same year she began playing Double R Diner owner Norma Jennings on the cult TV show Twin Peaks. She remained with the show until its cancellation in 1991. She reprised her role as Norma in the spin-off feature film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992). In the late Eighties she appeared in the feature films War Party (1988), Purple People Eater (1988), and Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects (1989).

In the Nineties Miss Lipton had the recurring role of Kelly Foster on the short-lived TV show Popular. She guest starred on the shows Angel Falls and Wings. She appeared in the mini-series Secrets and the TV movies The Spider and the Fly, Deadly Vows, and Justice for Annie: A Moment of Truth Movie. She portrayed Gloria Steinem in the TV movie The 70's. She appeared in the films True Identity (1991), The Postman (1997), The Intern (2000), and Skipped Parts (2000).

In the Naughts Peggy Lipton had the recurring role of Olivia Reed on the TV show Alias and a recurring role on the TV show Crash. She guest starred on the TV shows Cuts and Rules of Engagement. She appeared in the films Jackpot (2001) and When in Rome (2010). In the Teens Miss Lipton reprised her role as Norma Jennings in the revival of Twin Peaks. She also appeared as Norma in the film Twin Peaks: The Missing Pieces (2014), which was compiled from unused footage from Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. She guest starred on the shows House of Lies, Pscyh, Angie Tribeca, and Claws. She appeared in the film A Dog's Purpose (2017).

Peggy Lipton also had a career as a singer. She released a self-titled album in 1968 as well as various singles.

I have to confess I was never a regular viewer of The Mod Squad. Mid-Missouri would not get a dedicated ABC affiliate until 1971 (prior to that KOMU and KRCG divided ABC programming between themselves and aired the shows at odd times). Once our local ABC affiliate went on air it seemed as if The Mod Squad was always opposite something my family regularly watched. That having been said, I did see Peggy Lipton in her guest appearances on reruns of classic TV shows from the Sixties (Bewitched, The Virginian, and so on). I first took notice of Miss Lipton on Twin Peaks. She was wonderful as Norma Jennings. Her roles on TV series following Twin Peaks were very different from Norma: former homecoming queen Kelly Foster on Popular and the villainous Olivia Reed on Alias. Peggy Lipton was quite versatile, and played a variety of roles over the years.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

National Classic Movie Day: 5 Favourite Films From the 50s

Today is National Classic Movie Day. Every year in honour of the day, Classic Film and TV Cafe holds a blogathon. For this year's blogathon the theme is "Five Favourite Films from the Fifties."  To a small degree this was easy for me as my two favourite movies of all time come from the Fifties. Once I got beyond those two films, however, it quickly became difficult. Quite simply, so many great films came from the Fifties that it is difficult to chose only three. Do I pick Singin' in the Rain (1952) or La Dolce Vita (1960)? Mister Roberts (1955) or 3:10 to Yuma (1957)? I finally settled on three more movies, although I have to confess that they might well change if I did this blog post tomorrow!

By the way, I am treating the Fifties as taking place from 1951 to 1960. In the Gregorian calendar there was no year 0. For that reason it seems to me that decades should run from 1 to 10. Released in 1950, Sunset Boulevard is then a movie from the Forties. Released in 1960, Psycho is then a movie from the Fifties! I am telling you all of this because one of my choices is from 1960.

Anyway, without further ado, here are my five favourite films from the Fifties.

1. Seven Samurai (1954): Seven Samurai is not only my favourite film from the Fifties. It is my favourite film of all time. In fact, I consider it the greatest movie ever made. Seven Samurai has certainly had an impact. It was officially remade as The Magnificent Seven (1960), but there have been a number of "unofficial" remakes, from Battle Beyond the Stars (1980) to A Bug's Life (1998).

Of course, while Seven Samurai has been remade numerous times, no remake has ever matched the original. The film benefited from an excellent script by Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto, and Hideo Oguni. There is never a slow moment in the film, so that while Seven Samurai is a long movie (the original version clocks in at three hours, twenty-seven minutes), it seems like it is much shorter than it actually is. Seven Samurai also boasts great performances from the entire cast, from Takashi Shimura as Kambei, the experienced samurai who is tired of war, to Toshiro Mifune as Kikuchiyo, a temperamental rogue who isn't what he seems. Asakazu Nakai's cinematography is incredible, giving us some of the greatest black and white photography ever seen on screen. Bringing all of this together is Akira Kurosawa's direction. I have no doubt that directing Seven Samurai was not easy, particularly given it featured a large cast and complex action scenes that have yet to be matched sixty five years after its release. There aren't many perfect films out there, but to me Seven Samurai is one of them.

2. The Apartment (1960): The Apartment isn't only my second favourite film from the Fifties, nor is it simply my favourite film directed by Billy Wilder. It is my second favourite movie of all time. The inspiration for The Apartment came from Brief Encounter (1945), in which the lead characters try to make a tryst in a friend's apartment. The friend who owns the apartment is never seen, but Mr. Wilder found himself fascinated more by the friend than either of the two lead characters. Unfortunately, the Production Code of the Forties was much too strict to allow for a movie about someone who lends his apartment to various individuals for rendezvous. Fortunately, during the Fifties the Production Code would be relaxed a bit, so that Billy Wilder could finally make The Apartment. Even then, the movie met with some controversy, with some critics condemning its subject matter.

In the end, I think The Apartment surpassed the movie that inspired it (Brief Encounter). It is certainly a romantic comedy, but a very dark one. Indeed, The Apartment includes some material that would be fairly dark even for a drama. That having been said, it is beautifully executed. The screenplay by Billy Wilder and I. A. L. Diamond effortlessly blends comedy and tragedy, social satire and drama. The entire cast is in top form. Jack Lemmon is brilliant as nebbish C. C. Baxter, who simply cannot say, "No," when it comes to lending his apartment to his superiors at a major insurance company. Shirley MacLaine is also fantastic as Fran Kubelik, the elevator girl with an inferiority complex with whom Baxter is smitten. Fred MacMurray does a great job playing against type as the insurance company's chief executive and outright sociopath Jeff Sheldrake. Even the supporting roles are played by top notch actors, including Ray Walston, Jack Kruschen, Edie Adams, and David White. The combination of an excellent script, a cast in top form, Billy Wilder's direction, and Joseph La Shelle's cinematography make The Apartment one of the greatest films ever made in my opinion.

3. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954): Not counting The Wizard of Oz (1939) and A Hard Day's Night (1964), Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is my favourite musical of all time. Much of what makes the movie so remarkable is the choreography by the legendary Michael Kidd. Mr. Kidd had to reconcile the characters of seven backwoodsmen with the dancing that would feature so prominently in the movie. He did so wonderfully, using activities normally performed by backwoodsmen, such as chopping wood, as the basis for the dance. The end result is some of the most spectacular dance sequences in the history of musicals, sequences that display the sheer athleticism of the performers.

While Michael Kidd's choreography is much of the appeal of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, it is hardly the only thing appealing about the movie. The film benefits from incredible songs by lyricist Johnny Mercer and composers Saul Chaplin and Gene de Paul, including "Bless Your Beautiful Hide" and "Goin' Courtin'." Of course, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers features an incredible cast, led by the great Jane Powell. Miss Powell delivered what may be the best performance of her career as Millie, who is strong-willed enough to more than hold her own with seven backwoodsmen and insure they do the right thing. As oldest brother Adam, Howard Keel also delivers a solid performance. Even the supporting actors give great performances. This should come as no surprise, as several of them would soon be famous. They included Russ Tamblyn, Julie Newmar (using her birth name Julie Newmeyer), Ruta Lee (using her birth name Ruta Kilmonis), and Virginia Gibson. The script for Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is so good that one could remove the songs and still have a great comedy. Bringing all of this together is Stanley Donen's direction, proving that he was a great director without frequent collaborator Gene Kelly.

4. High Noon (1952): As if Seven Samurai wasn't a clue, I have always been drawn to tales of heroism. It is certainly heroism that lies at the centre of High Noon. The plot centres on Gary Cooper as Marshal Will Kane, who finds himself all alone against outlaws when the town of Hadleyville refuses to come to his aid. The screenplay was written by Carl Foreman, who was a former member of the American Communist Party and had recently refused to give names of fellow Communist to the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). He would be blacklisted as a result of this. It is for this reason that some see High Noon as an allegory for McCarthyism. Producer Stanley Kramer saw High Noon in somewhat simpler terms as being about "..a town that died because no one there had the guts to defend it." It would seem that director Fred Zinnemann was accurate when observed that "The story seems to mean different things to different people."

Regardless, Marshal Will Kane has to be one of the most heroic figures ever portrayed on screen. Marshal Kane could easily have guaranteed his survival by leaving Hadleyville. Instead he remains, not because of his ego or any need to demonstrate his manhood, but because he fears what the outlaws will do to the town if he isn't there to defend it. Like the heroes of Seven Samurai, he is willing to sacrifice himself for the needs of others. What makes Will Kane so convincing as a hero is Gary Cooper's performance, reserved and yet brimming with emotion just beneath the surface. Mr. Cooper's performance was aided by Fred Zinnemann's direction, which maximised the building tension as the clock moves closer and closer to, well, high noon. Helping as well is the movie's theme song, "Do Not Forsake Me, My Darling", sang by the legendary Tex Ritter. The song serves as a leitmotif throughout the film. Not only is High Noon one of my favourite films of all time. I consider it the greatest Western ever made.

5. Pillow Talk (1959): Pillow Talk is probably among the first of Doris Day's movies I ever saw, and it remains one of my favourites. It is historic as the first of the "Sixties sex comedies (even though it was released in 1959)." Today there is a tendency for people to view Pillow Talk and its fellow Sixties sex comedies as "sexless." Okay, the sex act never appears on screen in any of the films, but there is plenty of sexual tension and sexual innuendo to be had in them. This is particularly true of Pillow Talk. What is often forgotten today is that Pillow Talk and the sex comedies that followed it were considered quite racy at the time. It is part of the fun of Pillow Talk and its fellow Sixties sex comedies in that they give the appearance of being quite naughty at times, while at the same time there isn't anything truly dirty in the films.

Of course, part of what makes Pillow Talk so good is the chemistry between stars Doris Day and Rock Hudson. The two quickly became friends on the set and would remain very close friends for the rest of their lives. The sexual tension between the two characters is palpable. What is more, Miss Day and Mr. Hudson aren't the only ones who give great performances. Tony Randall is great as neurotic millionaire Jonathan Forbes, who is not only Rock Hudson's college buddy but Doris Day's persistent admirer. Pillow Talk can quite rightfully be termed a "farce", and the screenplay features more than enough cases of mistaken identity, comic misunderstandings, innuendo, and physical comedy to satisfy any fan of the genre. Pillow Talk proved extremely successful at the box office and was well received by critics, so much so that it sparked an entire cycle of sex comedies (many starring Doris Day). It is easy to see why.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

The Late Great Tim Conway

Chances are good that if you ask a Baby Boomer or Gen Xer who the funniest man around was, his or her answer would be "Tim Conway." Many Baby Boomers probably first encountered him on The Steve Allen Show, McHale's Navy, or The Carol Burnett Show. Many Gen Xers probably first encountered him on The Carol Burnett Show or one of the many Disney movies he made in the Seventies. He was a comic actor and comedian so funny that he could even make his fellow performers laugh in the middle of skits. Even simply thinking about Tim Conway would put one in a better mood. Sadly, Tim Conway died yesterday, May 14 2019, at the age of 85. The cause was complications from normal pressure hydrocephalus.

Tim Conway was born Thomas Daniel Conway on December 15 1933 in Willoughby, Ohio. He grew up in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. He graduated from Bowling Green State University in Ohio with a degree in television and radio. Following his graduation from college, Mr. Conway enlisted in the United States Army. He served from 1956 to 1958 in the Eighth Army Assignment Team. Following his service he took a job working for well known radio personality Ernie Anderson at Cleveland NBC affiliate KYW-TV. Messrs. Conway and Anderson later moved to Cleveland CBS affiliate WJW-TV. There they appeared on the local programme Ernie's Place. Eventually WJW fired Tim Conway because he lacked the skills to direct. The station's termination hardly slowed down Mr. Conway's career, as the legendary Rose Marie discovered him when she visited WJW. Rose Marie would get Tim Conway a spot on The Steve Allen Show on ABC.

It was while he was a regular on The Steve Allen Show that he went from being "Tom Conway" to being "Tim Conway," in order to avoid confusion with British actor (and George Sanders's brother) Tom Conway. Tim Conway remained on The Steve Allen Show until its cancellation by ABC. Mr. Conway was then cast as Ensign Charles Parker on McHale's Navy starring Ernest Borgnine. The show proved to be a hit and ran for four seasons. Tim Conway also starred in two feature films spun off from the hit sitcom, McHale's Navy (1964) and McHale's Navy Joins the Air Force (1965).

The Sixties would prove to be a very good time for Tim Conway's career. While his own sitcom, Rango (on which he starred as an inept Texas Ranger in the Old West), only lasted for 17 episodes. he would find a good deal of success on The Carol Burnett Show. Contrary to popular belief, he was not a regular on The Carol Burnett Show from the beginning. That having been said, he first guest starred on the show in its first season and would appear so frequently on the show that he might as well have been considered to be a recurring performer on the show. He would finally join the show as a regular in 1977. Another sitcom, The Tim Conway Show, would have little success, only running for eleven episodes. He was also the host of the short-lived show Operation Entertainment. In 1970 he had his own short-lived variety show, The Tim Conway Comedy Hour.

While Tim Conway saw little success with his own shows in the Sixties, he was a frequent guest star on other shows besides The Carol Burnett Show. In fact, he was the only guest host of the notorious TV show Turn-On, which ended its run after only one episode. He also guest starred on such shows as Channing, That's Life, and Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In. He appeared frequently on talk shows and variety shows, including The Gary Moore Show, The Mike Douglas Show, The Danny Kaye Show, The Sammy Davis Jr. Show, American Bandstand, The Steve Allen Comedy Hour, The Red Skelton Show, The Hollywood Palace, This is Tom Jones, The John Gary Show, The Jim Nabors Hour, The David Frost Show, and The Merv Griffin Show.

Tim Conway would continue to see a great deal of success in the Seventies. He joined the regular cast of The Carol Burnett Show in 1977 and remained with the show for the rest of its run. During the 1980-1982 season he had his own variety show, The Tim Conway Show. He also appeared on Carol Burnett's summer replacement series Carol Burnett & Company. He continued to appear regularly on talk shows and variety shows, including The Bobby Darin Show, The New Bill Cosby Show, The Dean Martin Show, Flip, The Mac Davis Show, Cher, Dinah!, The Mike Douglas Show, The Jacksons, and The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. He also appeared as a guest on Carol Burnett's summer replacement series Carol Burnett & Company.

The Seventies would also see Tim Conway have a good deal of success in feature films. Starting with The Worlds Greatest Athlete in 1973 he would appear in several Disney movies, including The Apple Dumpling Gang (1975), Gus (1976), The Shaggy D.A. (1976), and The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again (1979). He appeared with Don Knotts in the "Apple Dumpling" movies, and would appear with him in two movies not produced by Disney: The Prize Fighter (1979) and The Private Eyes (1980). Mr. Conway also appeared in the films The Billion Dollar Hobo (1977) and They Went That-A-Way & That-A-Way (1978).

In the Eighties Tim Conway had another short-lived sitcom, Ace Crawford, Private Eye. He guest starred on the shows Faerie Tale Theatre and Newhart. He appeared in the feature films Cannonball Run II (1984) and The Longshot (1986). It was in the Eighties that Tim Conway began appearing as diminutive Scandinavian Dorf in a series of direct-to-video films. After first appearing as Dorf in a 1986 sketch on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, Mr. Conway would appear as Dorf in six direct-to-video films that lasted through the Nineties. From 2009 to 2010 he appeared as Dorf in videos on the website iSpotSanta, in which Dorf tried to help Santa. He last appeared as Dorf in the 2016 feature film Chip and Bernie Save Christmas with Dorf

In the Nineties Tim Conway began recurring roles on both Married with Children and Coach. He began a long stint as the voice of Barnacle Boy on the animated series SpongeBob SquarePants. Fittingly, Barnacle Boy was the sidekick of Mermaid Man, who was played by his old McHale's Navy co-star Ernest Borgnine. He guest starred on Carol Burnett's show Carol & Company, as well as the shows The Golden Palace, Cybill, The Larry Sanders Show, Cosby, Touched by an Angel, Suddenly Susan, The Drew Carey Show, Hiller and Diller, Ellen, Clueless, 7th Heaven, Mad About You, and Diagnosis Murder. He was a guest voice on the animated shows Hercules and The Wild Thornberrys. He appeared in the films Dear God (1996), Speed 2: Cruise Control (1997), Air Bud: Golden Receiver (1998), and The View from the Swing (2000).

In the Naughts Tim Conway had a regular role on the sketch comedy show On the Spot and a recurring role on the sitcom Yes, Dear. He continued to voice Barnacle Boy on SpongeBob Squarepants. He guest starred on 30 Rock and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. He was a guest voice on the animated show The Proud Family. In the Teens Tim Conway continued to be the voice of Barnacle Boy on SpongeBob SquarePants. He guest starred on the shows Mike & Molly, Wizards of Waverly Place, Hot in Cleveland, Major Crimes, Two and a Half Men, Glee, and Melissa & Joey. He was a guest voice on Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Pound Puppies, and WordGirl. He was a regular voice on the animated show Dragons: Riders of Berk. He was a voice in the movie The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water (2015). He appeared in the movies Chip & Bernie's Zomance (2015) and Chip and Bernie Save Christmas with Dorf (2016). Chip and Bernie Save Christmas with Dorf would be Tim Conway's last appearance.

Here it must be pointed out that Tim Conway was not simply a performer, but a writer as well. He was one of the writers on The Carol Burnett Show and wrote episodes of McHale's Navy and Ace Crawford... Private Eye. He also wrote the Dorf films as well.  He wrote or co-wrote five feature films: The Billion Dollar Hobo, They Went That-A-Way & That-A-Way, The Prize Fighter, The Private Eyes, and The Longshot.

To call Tim Conway a comic genius would be something of an understatement. His talent was such that on The Carol Burnett Show he could crack his co-stars up during sketches, all the while staying in character. Among the most notorious example of this was the sketch "The Dentist", which aired very early in the run of the show (it was in the 20th episode of the 2nd season). Tim Conway played the incompetent dentist so well that Harvey Korman, who was playing his patient, burst out laughing so hard that he wet his own pants, according to Mr. Korman himself.

As good as Tim Conway was at cracking up his co-stars, he was fantastic in making audiences laugh. Mr. Conway's comedy was character driven, and no matter what he did (which often wasn't even in the script) he remained in character. And he certainly had a gift for creating hilarious characters. He had a gift for funny accents (his character of Dorf is a perfect example of this). What is more, he was more than willing to don any number of wigs and costumes to transform into various characters. In addition to Dorf, Mr. Conway played various inventive characters in sketches on The Carol Burnett Show, including Mr. Tudball (a businessman whose accent wasn't quite Swedish or Romanian) and the Oldest Man (who had a variety of jobs, from conductor to fireman). Tim Conways' gift for creating memorable characters wasn't only on display in The Carol Burnett Show. As Ensign Parker he played easily the funniest character on McHale's Navy. Although the show was all too short-lived, he was hilarious as private eye Ace Drummond. Tim Conway could transform himself into any character he chose to, and he could invoke laughs with never breaking character.

What is more, Tim Conway was a master of nearly every aspect of comedy. He had a gift for funny accents and wordplay, but at the same time he could get laughs without saying a thing. He was a master of physical comedy, whether it was the most subtle of body language or outright slapstick. His timing was perfect. Few comic actors or comedians were as good as comedy as Tim Conway was.

While Tim Conway was a comic genius, from all reports he was also truly a nice man. Despite the fact that he was always making them crack up (or perhaps because of it), his co-stars on The Carol Burnett Show loved him. Following his death, Carol Burnett said of Mr. Conway, "He was one in a million, not only as a brilliant comedian but as a loving human being. I cherish the times we had together both on the screen and off. He'll be in my heart forever." Vicki Lawrence said of him, "Hysterical, crazy, bold, fearless, humble, kind, adorable…all synonyms for Tim Conway. I am so lucky to ever have shared a stage with him. Harvey and Tim are together again. The angels are laughing out loud tonight." Many others who knew him have expressed similar sentiments about Mr. Conway. He was not simply a very funny man, but a wonderful human being as well.

Tim Conway was an enormous talent with a gift for creating memorable characters and eliciting howls of laughter even from his fellow performers. No matter how bad one's day has been, it would be made a little better by seeing Tim Conway perform one of his routines on television or in movies. Tim Conway may have stood only five foot six, but when it came to comedy he was a giant.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

The Late Great Doris Day

Doris Day occupies a very special place in my life. It is quite possible that she was the first classic movie star I ever discovered. She was the top box office star in the United States the year I was born. Her movies were still shown in prime time on the broadcast networks. When I was little she even had her own television show, The Doris Day Show, that aired every week on CBS. Doris Day has been a part of my life for so long that I cannot remember where I first saw her. I suspect it might have been on her weekly sitcom, but it could just as easily have been one of her many movies.

Of course, that Doris Day occupied a very special place in my life is not at all unusual. I suspect she occupied a very special place in many people's lives. It occurred to me yesterday that when her recording and film careers are combined, Doris Day probably ranks among the most successful performers of the 20th Century. From 1949 to 1958 she was ranked nine times as the top female vocalist in the annual poll of disc jockeys conducted by Billboard. She ranked in the top twenty of the Motion Picture Herald's poll of exhibitors sixteen times--ten of those times in the top ten and four of those times as the number one box office star in the United States. Nearly fifty one years since her last movie was released (With Six You Get Eggroll in 1968), Doris Day's death was major news yesterday. Even people who are not fans of classic movies posted about her to social media, many of them not yet born when her last movie was released. An argument can be made that while there are stars who are as big as Doris Day, there are none bigger.

It was yesterday that Doris Day died at age 97. She had been in good physical health of late, but had recently contracted pneumonia.

Doris Day was born Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff on April 3 1922 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Her father was a music teacher and choir director, while her mother was a housewife. The two divorced while Miss Day was young. From when she was very young Doris Day took dance classes. As a teenager she regularly won dance contests alongside her partner Jerry Doherty. Unfortunately, Miss Day's aspirations to be a dancer would end when her car was struck by a train. One of her legs was so badly damaged that it took her months to recover. To pass the time she sang along to songs on the radio. Her favourite singer was Ella Fitzgerald, whose style she would try to emulate. Seeing her daughter's interest in singing, Miss Day's mother arranged for her to take voice lessons. She eventually got a job singing on radio station WLW's  programme Carlin's Carnival. Her appearances on the show brought her to the attention of band leader Barney Rapp, who hired her as the female vocalist for his band. It was Mr. Rapp who gave Doris Day her stage name. He felt that Kappelhoff was too long for marquees and he liked how she sang the song "Day After Day." Doris Kappelhoff then became Doris Day.

Doris Day would later perform with such band leaders as Jimmy James and Bob Crosby. It was in 1940 that she began singing with Les Brown and His Band of Renown. She would appear in three Soundies featuring the band. It was in 1945 that her recording of "Sentimental Journey" with the band became her first hit, going all the way to #1. It was followed the same year by another #1 song, "My Dreams Are Getting Better All the Time." It was the start of a slough of hits that would last through the Fifties. In the late Forties alone Doris Day had around thirty top twenty hits and three number one records. Her first album, You're My Thrill, was released in 1949.

It was in 1947 that Doris Day joined The Pepsodent Show Starring Bob Hope alongside Les Brown and His Band of Renown. They would remain with the show even after Pepsodent dropped their sponsorship and it became The Bob Hope Show in 1948. Miss Day, Les Brown, and his band remained on The Bob Hope Show until 1950. It was in 1948 that Doris Day made her film debut in Romance on the High Seas. The song, "It's Magic," performed by Miss Day, would be nominated for the Oscar for Best Song. She would make several more movies in the late Forties, including My Dream is Yours (1949), It's a Great Feeling (1949), Young Man with a Horn (1950), Tea for Two (1950), and The West Point Story (1950).

If anything, Doris Day's recording career would continue to be successful in the Fifties, as she transitioned from being the lead vocalist of a big band to a solo artist. During the decade she had around 14 top twenty hits. Among these were the no. 1 hit "Secret Love" from the movie Calamity Jane and "Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)" from the movie The Man Who Knew Too Much (which went to no. 1). During the decade she also released several more albums. From 1952 to 1953 Miss Day had her own radio show, The Doris Day Show.

It was during the Fifties that Doris Day also became a major movie star. The movie Calamity Jane (1953) would be a breakthrough for Miss Day. Not only would it give her one of her most recognisable songs ("Secret Love"), but it also proved to be a success at the box office. Having appeared in primarily comedies and musicals up to that point, Doris Day took a dramatic turn in the movie Love Me or Leave Me (1955), which also proved to be a box office success. She also appeared in the thrillers The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) and Julie (1956). Her career would take another turn in 1959 with the release of Pillow Talk. Co-starring Rock Hudson, it would be the first of the Sixties sex comedies. Despite only appearing in three films together, Rock Hudson and Doris Day would become the stars most associated with the genre. In the Fifties Miss Day also appeared in the films Storm Warning (1951), Lullaby of Broadway (1951), On Moonlight Bay (1951), I'll See You In My Dreams (1951), The Winning Team (1952), April in Paris (1953), Lucy Me (1954), Young at Heart (1955), The Pajama Game (1957), Teacher's Pet (1958), Tunnel of Love (1958), It Happened to Jane (1959), Please Don't Eat the Daisies (1960), and Midnight Lace (1960).

During the Fifties Doris Day also made a few appearances on television. She was twice the mystery guest on the game show What's My Line? and appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show and This is Music.

With the advent of rock 'n' roll, Doris Day's recording career would see less success than it previously had. During the Sixties, however, her film career was at its height. She was the top box office star for the years 1963, 1964, and 1965, and ranked in the top ten until 1966, when she finally dropped out of the list of top box office stars. Some of her most recognisable films were released during the decade, most of them Sixties sex comedies. These included such movies as Love Come Back (1961) with Rock Hudson, The Thrill of It All (1962) with James Garner, Move Over, Darling (1963) with James Garner, Send Me No Flowers (1964) with Rock Hudson, and The Glass Bottom Boat (1966) with Rod Taylor. She also appeared in the films That Touch of Mink (1962), Billy Rose's Jumbo (1962), Do Not Disturb (1965), Caprice (1967), The Ballad of Josie (1967), Where Were You When the Lights Went Out? (1968), and With Six You Get Eggroll (1968). Sadly, after years as a top box office star, Doris Day's career went into decline after 1966. Several of her movies in a row failed at the box office. An exception was With Six You Get Eggroll, which proved to be very successful at the box office. Despite this, it would be Doris Day's last film.

While Doris Day would no longer see success in movies in the late Sixties, she would see success on television. It was after the death of her husband Martin Melcher that she learned he had signed her to a TV show on CBS without her knowledge. Worse yet, she also learned that Mr. Melcher and his his business partner Jerome Rosenthal had spent her earnings, leaving her effectively bankrupt. Miss Day felt obligated to honour the agreement with CBS, and at the same she had to get herself out of bankruptcy. It was then that Doris Day starred in the The Doris Day Show from 1968 to 1973. The show proved moderately successful in the ratings, despite frequently shifting its format with little warning from season to season. Miss Day would eventually win a multimillion lawsuit against Jerome Rosenthal for legal malpractice.

From the late Sixties into the mid-Seventies Doris Day continued to appear on The Doris Day Show. She also appeared in the TV specials The Doris Mary Anne Kappelhoff Special and Doris Day Today. She was a guest on the shows The Merv Griffin Show, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, The Doris Day Show, and The Mike Douglas Show.

Interested in animal welfare from her childhood, it was also in the Seventies that Doris Day became truly active as an animal welfare activist. She co-founded Actors and Others for Animals in 1971. In 1978 she founded the Doris Day Pet Foundation, now the Doris Day Animal Foundation. In 1987 she founded the Doris Day Animal League.

Following the Seventies, Miss Day would be primarily active with her animal welfare activism, but from 1985 to 1986 she hosted her own talk show on CBN (later the Family Channel and now Freeform) titled Doris Day's Best Friends. The show was historic for Miss Day's interview with her dear friend Rock Hudson, who was sick with AIDS. It would not only be the first time that the public saw just how ill Mr. Hudson was with the disease, but the first time the public saw anyone suffering from it. Sadly, Doris Day's Best Friends would only last a single season and 26 episodes.

The Nineties would see the release of The Love Album. Recorded by Miss Day in 1967, it was not released until 1994. In 2011 Miss Day's final album, My Heart, was released. Since the Eighties Doris Day had rarely given interviews. In 2011 she gave the breakfast programme Good Morning America a telephone interview. She gave ABC another telephone interview in 2016 on her birthday. This past April she provided an interview to The Hollywood Reporter.

In the 1978 M*A*S*H episode Colonel Sherman Potter confesses that he fell in love with Doris Day and, what is more, he has seen every single one of her movies alone. I am certain that Colonel Potter was not the only person to have fallen in love with Doris Day from afar. Men and women, straight and gay, I think many people have fallen in love with her over the years. Doris Day wasn't simply America's Sweetheart, she was the Whole World's Sweetheart. There was a quality about Miss Day that simply brought people joy. I am convinced that for most people it is impossible not to see Doris Day on the screen or to hear her voice in her songs and not be happy. I have to believe that this stemmed from an inner goodness about Doris Day. She truly was the girl next door. All of her co-stars and everyone else with whom she worked simply adored her. One never heard a bad word uttered about Doris Day. This was perhaps because Miss Day was truly a nice person. One almost never heard Doris Day utter a bad word about anyone else either. Miss Day once said, "I like joy; I want to be joyous; I want to have fun on the set; I want to wear beautiful clothes and look pretty. I want to smile, and I want to make people laugh. And that's all I want. I like it. I like being happy. I want to make others happy." She certainly did make others happy.

Of course, Doris Day was an enormous talent. There is a tendency on the part of many to think Miss Day only played wholesome, virginal roles. There is even a quote, variously attributed to Groucho Marx or Oscar Levant, "I knew Doris Day before she was a virgin." In truth, very few of Miss Day's roles could be described as "virginal," and in fact she played a wide variety of roles and played them well. Despite claims otherwise, Doris Day was certainly not virginal in her many Sixties sex comedies, even if she was wholesome. Indeed, in The Thrill of It All (1963), Move Over, Darling (1963), Send Me No Flowers (1964), and Do Not Disturb (1965), Miss Day played a married woman. In The Glass Bottom Boat (1966) she played a widow. In yet other sex comedies, such as Pillow Talk (1959) and Love Come Back (1961), Doris Day was certainly virtuous, but I don't think she could be described as virginal--her characters had clearly been around the block once or twice in their lives. What is more, in many of the Sixties sex comedies she played successful career women who showed no signs of giving up their careers even after getting married (which they inevitably did at the end of each movie). While I suppose some of Doris Day's earlier roles could be described as "virginal," it hardly held true for her whole career.

Indeed, throughout Doris Day's career she played a wide variety of roles. With her dulcet voice and incredible acting talent, she was certainly well suited to musicals. And even in her musicals Miss Day's roles could vary. In April in Paris (1952) she played a Broadway chorus girl who accidentally gets chosen to represent a theatre at an art exposition in Paris. In Calamity Jane (1954) she played the title character. One has to suspect that Calamity Jane may have been one of the characters closest to Miss Day in real life (she confessed that she was a tomboy growing up, which explains why it was her favourite among her films). In The Pajama Game she played a worker in a pyjama factory.

Of course, Miss Day appeared in more than musical comedies. What is often overlooked is that Doris Day was very good in dramas. In Storm Warning (1951) she played a newlywed whose sister  has witnessed a violent assault. She gave a bravura performance as singer turned movie story Ruth Etting in Love Me or Leave Me (1955).  In Julie she played a woman who is stalked by her psychopathic second husband. Although best known for her musicals and comedies, Doris Day was excellent in her dramas. Quite simply, the gifts she brought to her musicals and comedies benefited her in drama as well. She could convey emotion with simply a look, and the timing that proved so useful in singing and performing comedy allowed her to deliver lines so as to maximise their effect while all the time seeming perfectly natural.

While Doris Day appeared in several dramas throughout her career, she was certainly best known for her comedies. She had a natural gift for comedy, so much so that co-star James Garner called her, "the Fred Astaire of comedy." Miss Day had perfect comic timing and even a bit of a gift for physical comedy in addition to her natural talent for delivering lines and conveying emotions with just a look. What is more, she played a wide variety of roles in her many comedies, from a drama critic's wife in Please Don't Eat the Daisies (1960) to an unemployed computer operator in That Touch of Mink (1962) to an industrial designer caught up in intrigue in Caprice (1967). While today many identify Doris Day with a particular sort of role, she played a wide variety of parts even in her comedies.

Of course, Doris Day began her career as a singer. What is more, she was one of the most successful singers of all time. Miss Day had a naturally mellifluous voice. She took what she learned from listening to Ella Fitzgerald and built upon that. Her style was clear and casual, but at the same time conveyed emotion better than any other singer around. It was a style that was suited to a wide variety of songs, from the slightly melancholic "Sentimental Journey" to the novelty song "Celery Stalks at Midnight" to love songs such as "If I Give My Heart to You." Contrary to the prevailing image of Doris Day, she could even be sexy when singing a song. There are few more songs more passionate than her rendition of "Blame My Absent Minded Heart." There was an honesty about the way Doris Day sang that is often sorely lacking in more overwrought vocalists.

Doris Day was a  very singular star, and not simply because she was a triple threat. It is true that she could dance, sing, and act and did all of them well. At the same time, she brought a quality to her work that few performers ever have. There was a sincerity to her singing and acting that few could duplicate. Audiences picked up on that sincerity and they loved her for it. What is more, she had a natural talent for making people happy. To see or hear Doris Day will bring a smile to most people's faces. It is little wonder that she was one of the biggest stars of all time. 

Monday, May 13, 2019

A Sentimental Journey with Doris Day: A Personal Remembrance

This morning I awakened to news that no classic film buff or lover of classic American pop music wants to awaken to. Quite simply, I learned that Doris Day had died at age 97. Until today I had literally never known a world without Doris Day. She was the top money making star the year I was born. When I was little the broadcast networks still aired her romantic comedies from the Fifties and Sixties in prime time. Also, when I was little, she had a hit sitcom, The Doris Day Show, that aired each week on CBS. Her songs were still played frequently on the radio. It is because of her long career and the impact Miss Day had on my life that I do not feel ready to write a eulogy for her yet. Instead I thought I would write about the impact she has had on my life.

Quite simply, I cannot remember a time that I was not aware of Doris Day. Like The Beatles and Adam West, she has simply always been a part of my life. I suspect she was the first classic movie star of whom I was aware. It should come as no surprise, then, that I do not remember where I first saw Doris Day. I suspect it might have been her TV show, but it could just as easily have been one of her movies. I saw many of her films while I was still very young. She was one of my first crushes.

Indeed, while Doris Day's recording career was still going strong in the Sixties, it was as an actress that I was first aware of her. I saw many of the Sixties sex comedies in which she appeared when I was a very young child. And while a lot of the jokes in those films went well over my head, I still enjoyed them very much. The films portrayed a world that was wholly unknown to a boy growing up on a farm in mid-Missouri. It was a world of impeccable fashions, posh apartments, and fancy cars. It was a world where, even after many misunderstandings, everything worked out in the end. It was a world with which I was fascinated. If the Sixties remains my favourite decade for fashion and industrial design, Doris Day is largely responsible.

Of course, I was also fairly young when I first saw Doris Day's earlier movies. It was there where I really became aware of Miss Day as a singer. While she sang the theme songs to most of her romantic comedies, it was through her movie musicals that I really became aware of her vocal talents. Movies such as April in Paris (1952) and Calamity Jane (1953) let me know that she wasn't just a great actress, but a great vocalist as well. Doris Day had a mellifluous voice and she could deliver a song better than anyone else. As time went by I became aware of her career as a Big Band singer, as well as her many hits of the Fifties and Sixties. While I listened to The Beatles, The Who, Led Zeppelin, and Cheap Trick when I was growing up, I also listened to Dean Martin and Doris Day.

It is often the case that what people love as a child, they do not necessarily love as an adult. Many people look back at TV shows or singers that they loved as children and wonder what they ever saw in them. This was certainly not the case with me with regards to Doris Day. If anything, my appreciation of her only grew. I remember several cable channels would show her movies, everything from the Fifties musicals to the Sixties sex comedies, regularly in the Eighties and Nineties. What is more, they were always something my entire family enjoyed, from my mother to my older sister (who has never been a classic movie fan). I would hear many more of her songs as an adult, becoming familiar not only with her hits from the Fifties and Sixties, but her early work with Les Brown and His Band of Renown. At no point in my life have I never been a Doris Day fan. Indeed, one of the first conversations I ever had with my dearest Vanessa Marquez was about Doris Day and the Sixties sex comedies. Like me, Vanessa also adored Miss Day. So too do all of my other classic film friends.

Indeed, Doris Day is one of the few stars in any medium whose appeal everyone can understand. Miss Day could do everything. She could dance. She could sing. She could act. What is more, she did all of these things very well. Of course, there was much more to Doris Day's appeal than her massive talent. There have been many stars who can dance, sing, and act, but none of them are Doris Day. Quite simply, Doris Day was the ideal girl next door. She was not only American's Sweetheart, but sweetheart to the whole world. Miss Day was certainly beautiful on the outside, but it was surpassed by her inner beauty. Her co-stars all adored her. They all spoke of her kindness and generosity. In my entire life I don't think I ever heard Doris Day say a truly unkind word about anyone. What is more, she simply radiated joy. Whether performing in a movie or being interviewed for a news story, one could not help but feel happy seeing Doris Day. Miss Day once said, "I like joy; I want to be joyous; I want to have fun on the set; I want to wear beautiful clothes and look pretty. I want to smile, and I want to make people laugh. And that's all I want. I like it. I like being happy. I want to make others happy." She certainly succeeded in making others happy.

Of course, Doris Day's compassion for others extended beyond her fellow human beings. She was as famous as an animal welfare activist as she was an actress or singer. Miss Day had become interested in animal welfare when she was only a teen. She co-founded Actors and Others for Animals in 1971. In 1978 she founded the Doris Day Pet Foundation, now the Doris Day Animal Foundation. In 1987 she founded the Doris Day Animal League. She would lobby politicians for legislation related to animal welfare. As someone who loves animals myself and worries about their welfare, I have always looked up to Doris Day. Indeed, for animal welfare activists, Doris Day is our patron saint.

I never met Miss Day, nor did I ever correspond with her. Still, given how long I have been a Doris Day fan, it feels as if I have lost a friend. I am sure there are many others around the world who feel the same. It was one of Doris Day's many gifts that she able to bring joy to so many. While Miss Day is no longer with us, I know that when I am feeling down I can put on one of her movies or her albums and I will feel better. I believe it might be well be impossible to see Miss Day and not feel happy. In a world where sorrow is all too common, this gift made Doris Day truly special.