Saturday, July 6, 2019

Sid Ramin Passes On

Sid Ramin, the orchestrator, arranger, and composer who orchestrated the score of West Side Story and other musicals, died on July 1 2019 at the age of 100.

Sid Ramin was born on January 22 1919 in Boston, Massachusetts. He began his career in television, arranging music for Texaco Star Theatre Starring Milton Berle. He also composed theme song, "Smile, You're on Candid Camera," of Candid Camera. Still later he composed the theme songs for The Patty Duke Show and The Trials of O'Brien. He also worked on such shows the Sixties version of Blondie and All My Children.

Sid Ramin's first work on Broadway would be as the assistant to Don Walker on the musical Wonderful Town, with music by Leonard Bernstein. It was a coincidence that the two men were working on the musical, as they had been friends in their childhoods in Boston. Sid Ramin would go onto orchestrate such Broadway musicals as West Side Story, Gypsy, The Girls Against the Boys, Wildcat, The Conquering Hero, Kwamina, I Can Get It for You Wholesale, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Sophie, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Smile, Crazy for You, and The Red Shoes. He arranged music for the musicals Vintage '60, Wildcat, The Conquering Hero, and Sophie.

He served as musical supervisor and orchestrator on the film adaptation of West Side Story (1961). He served as an orchestrator on Honeymoon Hotel (1964) and Stiletto (1969).  He composed music for the movies Too Many Thieves and Stiletto.

He wrote the instrumental "Music to Watch Girls By," which would be a hit for The Bob Crewe Generation. Lyrics would be added to the song by Tony Velona and a version featuring the vocals of Andy Williams would also be a hit.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Friday Night Videos

Among the things most closely associated with the Eighties are music videos. MTV (which was originally short for Music Television) launched on August 1 1981 and brought attention to an art form that had actually existed in some way, shape, or form for decades (an example being the Soundies of the Forties). Despite the importance of MTV in the history of music videos, it seems likely that most people in the Eighties may have seen their first music video elsewhere. Quite simply, they might have seen it on the long running TV show Friday Night Videos.

Friday Night Videos debuted on July 29 1983 on NBC. It was produced by Dick Ebersol, who had been Director of Weekend Late Night Programming at NBC from 1974 to 1981 and served as a producer on The Midnight Special. At the time a TV show devoted to music videos probably made a a lot of sense to NBC. Even before the launch of MTV interest had been growing in music videos. Once MTV launched, music videos became something of a fad, with music video shows debuting on various cable channels and in syndication. While MTV was largely responsible for launching the music video fad, as of 1983 it was still unavailable to many American households. In 1983 only 40.5% of all homes in the United States had cable television. Of those households, there were many that were not on cable systems that offered MTV as part of their line-up. With Friday Night Videos, then, NBC could capitalise on the music video fad.

Friday Night Videos originally aired at 12:30 AM Eastern and it was ninety minutes in length. The first video aired on the programme was "Beat It" by Michael Jackson. Originally Friday Night Videos differed from MTV in several respects. Rather than relying on on-screen VJs, Friday Night Videos used off-screen announcers (originally Nick Michaels and later Scott Muni and yet later Frank Crocker). MTV in its early days focused primarily on rock and pop music, playing almost exclusively white artists. It would not be until Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" in 1983 that the cable channel would air music videos by black artists. In contrast, Friday Night Videos played a wide variety of musical acts, not only rock and pop, but also R&B and rap. Among the features of Friday Night Videos in its early days was "Video Vote." During the Video Vote two music videos would be played back to back and then viewers (except for those on the West Coast) could call via a 900 number to vote for one of the videos. The winning video would return the next week to face a new challenger.

The success of Friday Night Videos would lead rival network ABC to launch its own music video show. ABC Rocks debuted on June 22 1984 and aired at 12:00 AM Friday night (or Saturday morning, if you prefer). ABC Rocks would not prove to be a success. Much of this might have been due to the fact that it was only a half hour in length at a time when Friday Night Videos was a full 90 minutes. ABC Rocks last aired on August 2 1985, only a little over a year after its debut.

Friday Night Videos actually won an Emmy Award. It was in 1985 that it won the Emmy for Outstanding Graphic and Title Design.  The titles were designed by Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel.

Friday Night Videos would change over the years. It was on October 18 1985 that Friday Night Videos began featuring guest hosts on each show. The very first guest hosts were Malcolm-Jamal Warner and Lisa Bonet of The Cosby Show. It was in 1987 that Late Night With David Letterman, which had aired for only four nights a week since its debut in 1982, expanded to five nights a week. Friday Night Videos was then cut to an hour a week and began airing at 1:30 AM Eastern. It was in 1990 that NBC created a spinoff of Friday Night Videos. Saturday Morning Videos aired for a half hour on Saturday mornings. Because of its time slot, it was naturally geared towards a younger audience than that of Friday Night Videos. It proved much less successful, lasting only until 1992.

It would be in late 1990 that yet another change would occur with Friday Night Videos, as the show began featuring segments centring on comedians and so on. The guest hosts would come to an end on March 29 1991. The year 1991 would see even more changes to Friday Night Videos. On April 5 1991 Tom Kenney, later the voice of SpongeBob SquarePants, became the show's on-screen host. At the same time Frankie Crocker, who had been the show's announcer, began appearing on screen in his own segment, "Frankie Crocker's Journal," which covered important dates in music history. Tom Kenny would not remain as the host of Friday Night Videos. Eventually Frankie Crocker would take over as the show's host. He would be succeeded by Darryl M. Bell and still later by Branford Marsalis.

As the years passed, ratings for Friday Night Videos gradually declined. The music video fad had ended in the late Eighties, with many of the music video shows on various cable shows and in syndication being cancelled towards the end of the decade. At the same time the number of American households with cable television had increased. By 1993 62.5% of all homes in the United States had cable. Naturally, this meant more people had access to MTV. It is for that reason that the format of Friday Night Videos was changed entirely.

It was on January 14 1994 that the title of Friday Night Videos was shortened to Friday Night. While one to two music videos would still be shown, the focus of the show was now general entertainment. Friday Night now featured live performances, stand-up comedy, comedy sketches, movie reviews, and celebrity interviews. The show's two new hosts were Henry Cho and Rita Sever. There was also a new segment, "The World According To Copeland," with Brian Copeland offering humorous commentary on a variety of topics. Friday Night would change over the years. Eventually the segments with Brian Copeland would fall by the wayside. Rita Sever became the show's sole host in 1996 and would remain its host for the rest of its run.

Ratings for Friday Night would grow and by 2000 it was experiencing the highest ratings it ever had. Unfortunately, NBC decided that the show cost too much. It was then on December 29 2000, after having debuted as Friday Night Videos in 1983, that Friday Night aired for the last time. It was replaced by an entirely new show titled Late Friday, which focused exclusively on stand-up comedians. Late Friday would prove much less successful than Friday Night Videos had. It went off the air in May 2002 when Last Call with Carson Daly expanded to five nights a week.

Today Friday Night Videos is largely forgotten, but the show did have an impact. At a time when the majority of Americans did not have access to MTV, it introduced many people to the concept of "music videos." Even in its original format as a show primarily devoted to music videos, it outlasted the many music video shows that had proliferated on cable and in syndication in the Eighties. Certainly a run of seventeen years for any show would be impressive. In some respects Friday Night Videos was nothing remarkable. After all, it was merely a show that aired music videos. That having been said, it brought music videos to its largest audience up to that point and it remained on the air for years.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Happy 4th of July 2019

Here at A Shroud of Thoughts it is a tradition to post vintage pinups on holidays. The 4th of July is no different. Here then are this year's selection of vintage pinups.

First up is Adele Jergens, who is setting off fireworks on the beach!

Next up is Gloria Henry, who is getting ready for her fireworks display.

Here is Pamela Tiffin, who is preparing for a loud boom!

Dorothy Arnold is getting ready to launch a rocket!

Myrna Dell is enjoying a relaxing 4th of July.

And it wouldn't be the 4th of July without Ann Miller!

Happy 4th of July!

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Godspeed Arte Johnson

Arte Johnson, most famous as a regular on the hit TV show Rowan& Martin's Laugh-In, died today, July 3 2019, at the age of 90.

Arte Johnson was born on January 20 1929 in Benton, Harbour, Michigan. He spent much of his childhood in Chicago. He started attending Austin High School when he was only 12 years old and enrolled in the University of Illinois when he was only 16. He majored in radio journalism. He tried finding a job with one of the advertising agencies in Chicago without success. He then moved to New York City where he worked as a writer for a calender company. Afterwards he served in the United States Army. After his service he returned to New York City and got a job in publicity at Viking Press. Unhappy with working in publishing, he was walking during his lunch hour when he came upon an audition for Gentleman Prefer Blondes. He talked his way into the audition and won the part of a 65-year-old Frenchman.

Arte Johnson made his television debut in one of the Max Liebman Spectaculars, Best Foot Forward, in 1954. He appeared on Broadway in No Time for Sergeants in 1955. He made his film debut in 1956 in Miracle in the Rain. In the Fifties he had recurring roles on the television sitcoms It's Always Jan, Sally, and Hennesy. He guest starred on the shows  Make Room for Daddy, December Bride, Schlitz Playhouse of Stars, and The Red Skelton Show. He appeared in the films The Wild and the Innocent and The Subterraneans.

Arte Johnson appeared in the pilot for Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In in 1967 and was one of the regular performers when the show debuted in 1968. He was known for playing such recurring sketch characters on the show as Wolfgang (a German soldier who did not realise World War II had ended) and Tyrone F. Horneigh (a "dirty old man" who was constantly pursuing Gladys Ormphby, played by Ruth Buzzi). He was also a regular on the short-lived sitcom Don't Call Me Charlie. In the Sixties he guest starred on such shows as The Twilight Zone, Peter Loves Mary, The Dinah Shore Chevy Show, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Frontier Circus, 87th Precinct, Dr. Kildare, The Andy Griffith Show, G.E. True, General Hospital, McHale's Navy, No Time for Sergeants, The Jack Benny Program, Broadside, Bewitched, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Donna Reed Show, Lost in Space, I Dream of Jeannie, Sesame Street (as Wolfgang from Laugh-In), and Love, American Style. He provided voices on episodes of the Saturday morning cartoons The Super 6 and The Pink Panther. He appeared in the films The Third Day (1965), That Funny Feeling (1965), The President's Analyst (1967), and P.J.  (1968).

In the Seventies he was the voice of Rhubarb on the Saturday morning cartoon The Houndcats and Tyrone on the Saturday morning cartoon Baggy Pants & the Nitwits (the "Nitwits" portion of the show being based on the characters of Tyrone and Gladys from Laugh-In). He guest starred on such shows as Love, American Style; The Partridge FamilyHere's Lucy; Get Christie Love!; The Rookies; Kojak; Captain Kangaroo; The Love Boat; and The Dukes of Hazzard. He appeared in the films Charge of the Model T's (1977) and Love at First Bite (1979).

In the Eighties Arte Johnson increasingly voiced characters on Saturday morning cartoons. He was a voice on the cartoons  The Dukes, The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo, The Flintstone Kids, and Smurfs. He was a regular on the primetime TV show Glitter. He guest starred on such shows as Fantasy Island; The Love Boat; McClain's Law; Fame; Hotel; Trapper John, M.D.; Airwolf; The A-Team; Mike Hammer; Murder, She Wrote; and The New Adam 12. He appeared in the films Cannoball Run II (1984), What Comes Around (1985), A Night at the Magic Castle (1988), Tax Season (1989), and Evil Spirits (1990).

In the Nineties Arte Johnson returned to Broadway in Candide. He was a voice on the Saturday morning cartoon Yo Yogi!. He was a guest voice on such cartoons as Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventures and The Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries. He guest starred on such shows as Pros and Cons, Parker Lewis Can't Lose, Cafe Americain, and Mad About You. He appeared in the films Evil Toons (1992), Munchie (1992), Assault of the Party Nerds 2: The Heavy Petting Detective (1995), Captiva Island (1995), and The Modern Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1998). His last work was the voice of Virman Vundabar on an episode of Justice League Unlimited in 2005.

Arte Johnson was a wonderful performer. He had a gift for comedy and a talent for creating memorable characters. While he will probably be best remembered for Wolfgang and Tyrone from Laugh-In, he also played Sullivan in The President's Analyst, Renfield in Love at First Bite, and Doc Bailey in Charge of the Model T's, as well as numerous guest appearances on television. Any time Arte Johnson appeared in a role, he was guaranteed to generate laughs.

Monday, July 1, 2019

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) remains one of the most popular films of all time. It was enormously successful upon its initial release, going onto become the fourth highest grossing film of 1938. It also received a good deal of critical acclaim. The Adventures of Robin Hood won three Oscars (for Best Art Direction, Best Film Editing, and Best Original Score) and was nominated for a fourth (Best Picture, which it lost to You Can't Take It With You). It has remained highly regarded to this day. It is one of the few movies to have a rating of 100% among critics at review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes. To this day when many people picture Robin Hood and Maid Marian, it is Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland they see.

The Adventures of Robin Hood began with a memo from July 1935, from period costume consultant Dwight Franklin, who was then working on Captain Blood (1935), to Jack Warner. In the memo Mr. Franklin suggested that James Cagney should be cast as the lead in a "Robin Hood" movie. James Cagney had recently played Bottom, the Weaver, in Warner Bros.' all-star version of Shakespeare's A Midummer Night's Dream (which featured Olivia de Havilland as Hermia). In the memo Mr. Franklin also suggested casting other actors best known for playing gangsters as the Merry Men, including Ross Alexander, Hugh Herbert, Allen Jenkins, and Frank McHugh. 

As strange as this idea sounds today, Warner Bros. actually bought it. On the one hand, romantic adventure movies and period pieces had come back into fashion. It had only been in 1934 that MGM had released adaptations of The Count of Monte Cristo (1934) and Treasure Island (1934) to great success. It was largely due to the success of those two movies that Warner Bros. began production on Captain Blood, starring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland. On the other hand, James Cagney had been very vocal about wanting to play something other than gangsters. Originally a song and dance man, the success of The Public Enemy (1931) insured that he was cast consistently in similar roles. Playing Robin Hood would be a big change of pace.

It was then that Warner Bros. forged ahead with a Robin Hood movie. Producer Hal B. Wallis hired screenwriter Rowland Leigh, who had earlier written The Charge of the Light Brigade (1935), to write the script. James Cagney was set to play Robin Hood, while Guy Kibbee would play Friar Tuck. Unfortunately for Warner Bros., James Cagney was not happy with the studio. It was in late 1935 that he sued them for breach of contract. Suddenly, Warner Bros. was without its Robin Hood.

Fortunately,Warner Bros. was able to cast another actor as Robin Hood, namely Errol Flynn. Now given the success of both Captain Blood and The Charge of the Light Brigade (1937), one would think Errol Flynn's co-star in both movies, Olivia de Havilland, would have been cast as Marin from the moment Mr. Flynn had been cast. In fact, the production staff of The Adventures of Robin Hood wanted Miss de Havilland for the role. That having been said, Jack Warner decided Anita Louise should play Marian, and this would be confirmed by producer Hal B. Wallis in early September. This would change in mid-September when Olivia de Havilland was cast in the role. It was then that Olivia de Havilland would be Marian to Errol Flynn's Robin. Olivia de Havilland wasn't the only veteran of Captain Blood to be cast in the film. Basil Rathbone was cast as the villainous Sir Guy of Gisbourne

While Warner Bros. had its lead actors, the screenplay would take more work. Roland Leigh turned in the first draft in November 1936. Producer Hal B. Wallis found the script lacking and then assigned Norman Reilly Raine to rewrite it. Mr. Raine was then best known as the creator of "Tugboat Annie." Ultimately, Hal B. Wallis would be dissatisfied with Norman Reilly Raine's script, and brought Seton I. Miller to revise the screenplay yet again. Fortunately, Mr. Miller's revision would be found acceptable.

From the beginning The Adventures of Robin Hood was meant to be a blockbuster. To this end, in 1936, Jack Warner decided that the film would be shot in Technicolor. In fact, it would be Warner Bros.' first major colour film using the three-strip Technicolor process. Much of The Adventures of Robin Hood would be shot on location in California, with Bidwell Park in Chico, California standing in for Sherwood Forest. Ultimately, The Adventures of Robin Hood would cost an estimated $2 million, making its Warner Bros.' most expensive film to date.

Much as Warner Bros. had difficulty casting The Adventures of Robin Hood and getting a screenplay made, it also had problems with the film's original director. The film's first director, William Keighley, was very slow in shooting scenes. Eventually Hal B. Wallis sent second unit director H. Reeves Eason to Chico to pick up the pace on the production by shooting additional scenes. Unfortunately, by November 30 1927 William Keighley was a full 15 days behind the film's schedule. It was then that Michael Curtiz was brought onto The Adventures of Robin Hood

All of the problems Warner Bros. had in bringing The Adventures of Robin Hood to the screen proved to be worth it. It was clear from previews of the film in Pomona, California and later in Los Angeles and Hollywood, that audiences loved it. The Adventures of Robin Hood received overwhelmingly positive notices from critics. It also performed very well at the box office. It earned nearly $4 million at the box office and proved to the fourth highest grossing film of the year. Arguably, it is better remembered than the three films that out-grossed it in 1938 (Alexander's Ragtime Band, Test Pilot, and Boy's Town).

Seen today it is easy to understand why The Adventures of Robin Hood was a success. Decades before the advent of CGI, it features some of the most exciting scenes in cinema history, all shot in lush Technicolor. Erich Wolfgang Korngold's score is one of the greatest ever written and would have a lasting impact on movie scores to come, particularly John Williams's score for Star Wars (1977). Of course, much of the credit most go to the cast. Errol Flynn makes a fine Robin Hood, exuding the confidence and bluster necessary for the role. Olivia de Havilland makes Lady Marian more than a mere token love interest. Miss de Havilland's Marian is intelligent and independent and can more than hold her own with any man. Basil Rathbone shines as Guy of Gisbourne, one of the all time great screen villains The rest of the cast, from Alan Hale, Sr. as Little John to Claude Rains as Prince John all do wonderfully. It is hard picturing The Adventures of Robin Hood being as good as it is without this cast.

The Adventures of Robin Hood was a true summer blockbuster of its time. It was made for a big budget and did incredibly well at the box office. It was the 1930s equivalent of today's Marvel superhero movies, although there can be no doubt that it will be remembered better than any of them will be. There can be no doubt that 81 years from now it will still be considered one of the greatest action movies of all time.