Friday, November 22, 2019

The Late Great Michael J. Pollard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 21, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Niall Tóibín Passes On

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

The 60th Anniversary of Rocky and Bullwinkle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 17, 2019

The Late Great Terry O'Neill

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

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

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

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

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