Thursday, December 31, 2020

Good Riddance to 2020

I think most people can agree that 2020 has not been a good year. It has been a year that has been dominated by a pandemic that has so far caused 1.8 million deaths worldwide. In the United States and elsewhere the pandemic has resulted in the largest economic recession since the Great Depression. It has been a year full of disasters, from bushfires in the western United States and Australia to multiple hurricanes. More so than other years, 2020 has seen the death of many beloved celebrities as well.

As mentioned above, 2020 has been dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic. To prevent its spread many places have locked down, with stay-at-home orders in place. Of course, this has caused many to work from home and yet others to lose their jobs entirely. Restaurants, museums, theatres, and other venues have closed for long periods of time. While the pandemic would have a large impact on many, I have to admit that in some ways my life has changed very little. I have worked from home for the past nine years and, being a bit of a homebody, I rarely go out except to get groceries. I don't generally eat at restaurants and my trips to the cinema are infrequent. The only real difference now is that when I do go out I wear a mask and remain six feet away from other people.

In other ways, however, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a big impact on me. I have cousins and friends who have contracted COVID-19 and survived. I have also lost two friends to COVID-19. One was an older gentleman who had been in bad health the past few years, but the other was a woman who was only ten years older than I am and had been in fairly good health. Even if I hadn't lost any friends to COVID-19, however, I don't see how anyone but a sociopath could not feel the impact of the disease. The United States currently stands at 341,000 deaths caused by COVID-19. Many are out of work and yet others are not making the money they once did. I think only someone totally without empathy would not react to that.

Of course, as sad as the COVID-19 pandemic has been, it is not entirely what has made 2020 a very bad year for me. It was on March 2 2020 that the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office released their report on the officer involved shooting of my beloved Vanessa Marquez. The report came to the conclusion that the officers who shot her acted in self defence and strongly implied that Vanessa was suicidal. To do so the report omitted evidence (such as interviews with Vanessa's friends, all of who said she wasn't suicidal), relied too much on the testimony of one of the officers who shot Vanessa, and even misrepresented some of the facts. Indeed, the report claims I am "a woman from Oklahoma" and claims that I told the paramedics that Vanessa wasn't acting right when I said no such thing. Furthermore, according to the damage claim filed on behalf of Vanessa's mother, the claim of Gilberto Carrillo (one of the officers who shot Vanessa) that she pointed a BB gun at them is false.

It seems to me that District Attorney Jackie Lacey and her office were less concerned with getting to the truth of the matter than satisfying the local police union by not charging the officers. I think they fully realized the report would not stand up to close inspection and could adversely affect Lacey's re-election campaign, which is why I think it was released on March 2 2020, the day before the election. As it was, that same day, Jackie Lacey's husband David Lacey pointed a gun at unarmed Black Lives Matters protestors. And as it was, the March 3 election resulted in a run-off election that Lacey ultimately lost. Anyway, I have already posted about my criticisms of the report. You can read it at "Justice for Vanessa Marquez."

To make matters worse, it was also on March 2 2020 that the City of South Pasadena, California released an edited video of the officer involved shooting of Vanessa. They did this without warning Vanessa's mother Delia or anyone else who knew Vanessa that they would do so. Various media outlets insisted on sharing the video. I was particularly angered by the tabloid television show Inside Edition, who referred to Vanessa as "mentally disturbed (she was no such thing)" and the tabloid the Daily Mail. Both received angry emails from me informing them of the truth. Neither apologized, but at least the Daily Mail published a much more sympathetic story when the lawsuit was filed on behalf of Vanessa's mother.

What South Pasadena thought to accomplish with the release of the video I don't know, as it does not absolve Officers Gilberto Carrillo and Christopher Perez of their guilt. Indeed, I know of at least one person who has watched the video who has said that in doing so he watched those officers murder his friend. I also have to condemn South Pasadena in the way they handled the release of the video. They should have warned Vanessa's mother that they were going to do so and they should not have released it to the media at large. But then South Pasadena has behaved abominably throughout this whole ordeal. They have consistently ignored Vanessa's mother. And despite the fact that I have written them several times over the past two years and four months, they have not acknowledged even one of my letters.

To make matters worse, it was in October that South Pasadena Police Chief Joe Ortiz claimed that the officers present in Vanessa's apartment on August 30 2020 complied with the South Pasadena Police Department's use of force policies. If what those officers did that day was "by the book," then it is obvious to me that the South Pasadena Police Department's use of force policies should be changed. I am convinced that those officers present in Vanessa's apartment that day behaved unprofessionally, inappropriately, and irresponsibly.  Indeed, after having examined the evidence in Vanessa's case for two years and four months now, I am still so convinced of the officers' unprofessional conduct that I believe that had I been in Vanessa's apartment that day they would have shot me as well. Curiously, in November Joe Ortiz announced his intention to retire in March 2021. All I have to say is that if Ortiz honestly thought for a moment that Gilberto Carrillo's use of force was justified, then in my opinion he should never have chosen law enforcement as a profession.

By now you probably realize that I spent much of 2020 both angry and hurt. I have to admit I was foolish enough to think that the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office would hold the officers who murdered Vanessa accountable. I did not count on the fact that Jackie Lacey has always been supportive of police unions and has always been hesitant to charge officers in cases of misconduct. As far as I am concerned, Gilberto Carrillo and Christopher Perez belong in prison for the rest of their lives without parole. It is because the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office failed to get justice for Vanessa that on June 24 2020 a lawsuit was filed on behalf of Vanessa's mother.

Of course, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office and the City of South Pasadena aren't the only people I would be angry with over Vanessa this year. I am also angry at actor George Clooney. George Clooney has spoken out against police violence this year, namely with regards to George Floyd and Breonna Taylor's murders, yet he has never spoken out against the murder of his ER co-star Vanessa Marquez. In my opinion, if Clooney ever cared about racism in the United States and the murder of innocent people by police officers, he would spoken out on behalf of Vanessa long ago.

While we are on the subject of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor's murders, I must admit that I was happy to see the mass protests against police violence that occurred this summer. It might surprise some to learn that I do have enormous respect for law enforcement officers. I come from a law enforcement family and I have friends who are police officers. That having been said, as the murders of Vanessa Marquez, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor have proven, there are some very bad cops out there. The plain truth is that Latinos, Native Americans, and Blacks are killed in disproportionate numbers when compared to other ethnicities. I was glad to see that a large number of people rose up and demanded that it stop.

As rough as 2020 has been for me, I must admit that some good things have come out of the year. Stephanie DeWolfe, the South Pasadena City Manager who issued a rather cold and callous statement on September 2 2018 regarding Vanessa's murder, was forced out of office in September. I don't think I had anything to do with it, but I had been demanding that she be fired for nearly the past two years. It was this November that Jackie Lacey lost the Los Angeles County District Attorney race to George Gascón. I don't know if George Gascón will be a better district attorney or not, but he is reform minded and that bodes well. At any rate, I think he would have to be an improvement over Jackie Lacey, who seems to care more for keeping the police unions happy than justice for the average person or law and order for society at large.

Perhaps the happiest night of 2020 for me was September 30 2020, when Turner Classic Movies aired Stand and Deliver (1988). On Twitter I hosted the TCMParty for it. For the intro and outro, Ben Makiewicz interviewed Edward James Olmos, but as far as those who participated in the Stand and Deliver TCMParty were concerned, it was Vanessa Marquez who was the star. I have to admit that I broke down crying at the outpouring of love for Vanessa. So many told how she had touched their lives. To me it was one of the finest tributes Vanessa could have ever received.

With regards to entertainment in 2020, for some time motion pictures and television shows were on hold because of the pandemic. With many theatres closed throughout the United States, the releases of movies from Black Widow to Wonder Woman 1984 were delayed. This fall the broadcast television networks debuted little in the way of new shows and many old shows did not return. Some of the old shows are returning in January 2021, but for others it will be even later.

Of course, because of the pandemic streaming media received a boost. As it was, streaming was already growing in 2019. That year saw the debut of Disney+. This year has seen the debuts of Peacock and HBO Max. With many theatres closed, some movies have been released straight to streaming. Disney elected to debut some of their movies on Disney+ rather than theatres. Warner Bros. announced that for the year of 2021, their movies will be released simultaneously to theatres and to HBO Max. Some have seen this as the death knell for theatres, which have already been hurt by the pandemic. As for myself, I am not so sure about that. Quite simply, I don't think people who prefer to watch movies on streaming media are necessarily the same people who watch movies in theatres. Even if a movie is available on streaming, I think many people who prefer to see movies in theatre will go see that movie in the theatre. If a movie is in theatres, but not yet on streaming media, people who prefer to watch movies on streaming media will simply wait until that movie is available in streaming. I think theatre goers and streaming media viewers are, to some degree, different audiences. Because of that, movie theatres will survive.

I wish I could talk about the new shows that debuted this year, but because the fall television season was pretty much delayed I really don't have anything to say. There were quite a few shows that debuted on streaming, but I must confess I don't watch much on streaming media beyond movies and old favourites. I did watch the 2nd season of The Umbrella Academy, the first season of The Mandalorian, and every season of Doom Patrol. I can tell you that some of the hits on streaming media this year appear to be Cobra Kai, The Mandalorian, The Queen's Gambit, and The Witcher.

Sadly, 2020 seems to have seen the deaths of more celebrities than most years. What is more, it took some of the biggest names in entertainment history. Olivia de Havilland was not the last star from the Golden Age of Hollywood (Ann Blyth and a few others are still alive), but she was certainly the last major star from the era. Dame Diana Rigg saw success on stage, in television, and in motion pictures, but for many she will remain Emma Peel from The Avengers. Honor Blackman, who played John Steed's previous partner, Cathy Gale, also died earlier in the year. Sean Connery, the first actor to play James Bond in feature films, died this year. 2020 also took one of the great television legends, Carl Reiner, cast member of Your Show of Shows and creator of The Dick Van Dyke Show. With regards to music, we lost Little Richard, Steve Priest of Sweet, Fleetwood Mac founder Peter Green, Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne, Dame Vera Lynn, Spencer Davis, and Phyllis McGuire, the remaining member of the McGuire Sisters. For many 2020 saved the cruellest death for the end of the year. Dawn Wells played Mary Ann on Gilligan's Island, and in doing so became America's sweetheart. The list of those who died in 2020 is a long one, far too many for me to list here, but some of those who also died were guitarist Eddie Van Halen,  Buck Henry, Robert Conrad, James Drury, Edd Byrnes, Terry Jones, Orson Bean, Jerry Stiller, Alex Trebeck, Max Von Sydow, Chadwick Bowman, Rhonda Fleming, Marge Champion, Pamela Tiffin, Dame Barbara Windsor, cartoonist Mort Drucker, and comic book writer Denny O'Neil.

As I said earlier, I think most people can agree that 2020 was not a good year. For me it was dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the utter and complete failure of the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office to get justice for my dearest Vanessa Marquez. As bad as 2020 has been, however, I still have hope for 2021. As I interpret decades as running from 1 to 10 (there was no year 0 CE, after all), 2021 is the start of a new decade. The United States will have a new president. Even as I write this, vaccines for COVID-19 are being distributed. It is a cliché, but it is often the case that it is darkest before the dawn. 2020 may have been a bad year, but with 2021 there is reason for hope.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

The Late Great Dawn Wells

Among my childhood crushes was Mary Ann on Gilligan's Island. I was far from being alone in this, as it seems as if every other man a bit older than me, my own age, or a bit younger than me had a crush on Mary Ann. In fact, I think if one did a survey of Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, and older Millennials as to their childhood crushes, Mary Ann could very well come in at no. 1.  Of the cast of Gilligan's Island, it was always Dawn Wells who received the most fan mail. In polls as to whom people prefer, Mary Ann or Ginger, Mary Ann always seems to win, often by a large margin. Sadly, Dawn Wells died today, December 30 2020, from complications due to COVID-19 at the age of 82.

Dawn Wells was born on October 18 1938 in Reno, Nevada. As a young girl she wanted to be a dancer, but her plans changed after she shattered her knee. At Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri she majored in chemistry. She later studied at the University of Washington in Seattle. In 1959 she was crowned Miss Nevada and participated in the Miss America pageant.

Miss Wells later moved to Los Angeles to pursue her career in acting. She made her television debut in an episode of The Roaring 20's in 1961. She went on to become a frequent guest star on American television shows in the early Sixties. She appeared several times on Warner Bros.' various shows, including Maverick, Cheyenne, 77 Sunset Strip, Lawman, Surfiside 6, and Hawaiian Eye. She also appeared on such shows as Wagon Train, Everglades!, Tales of Wells Fargo, Boanaza, 87th Precinct, Laramie, Ripcord, The Third Man, Channing, The Joey Bishop Show, Burke's Law, and Valentine's Day. It was in 1964 that she began a three year run as Mary Ann Summers on Gilligan's Island. The show proved popular even in its initial network run, and was cancelled after three seasons only because the previously cancelled Gunsmoke had been returned to the network schedule. It would prove even more popular as a syndicated rerun, and it can still be found on local stations, cable channels, and streaming services around the country.

For the remainder of the Sixties, Dawn Wells guest starred on the shows The Invaders, The Wild Wild West, Bonanza, and The F.B.I. She made her film debut in Palm Spring Weekend (1963) and appeared in the movie The New Interns (1964).

In the Seventies, Dawn Wells reprised her role as Mary Ann on the television reunion movies Rescue from Gilligan's Island and The Castaways on Gilligan's Island. She guest starred on Vegas, Hagen, and The Love Boat. Miss Wells appeared in the movies Winterhawk (1975), The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1978), and Return to Boggy Creek (1977).

In 1982 Dawn Wells appeared on Broadway in They're Playing Our Song. She reprised her role as Mary Ann (and voiced Ginger as well) on the Saturday morning cartoon Gilligan's Planet, as well as the television reunion movie The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island and a guest appearance on the sitcom Alf. She guest starred on the shows Fantasy Island, Matt Houston, and Growing Pains. She appeared in the TV movie High School U.S.A.

In the Nineties Miss Wells reprised her role as Mary Ann on episodes of Baywatch and Herman's Head, as well as an unaired episode of Meego. She played Darlene in an episode of Roseanne that featured a Gilligan's Island parody. She guest starred on Columbo. She reprised her role as Mary Ann in the feature film Lover's Knot (1995).

In the Naughts Dawn Wells guest starred on Whatever Happened To? and Pastor Greg. She appeared in the movies Super Sucker (2002) and Forever For Now (2004). In the Teens she she appeared in the films Silent But Deadly (2012) and This is Our Time (2013). She guest starred on the TV shows The Bold and the Beautiful, Heaven's Waiting Room, See Ya, Kaplan's Korner, and the animated series The Epic Adventures of Captain Underpants.

Dawn Wells also appeared in several theatrical productions throughout the Seventies and Eighties. She appeared in national tours of Chapter Two, They're Playing Our Song, The Odd Couple, and others. Miss Wells was active in several charities, including Children's Miracle Network Hospitals, Terry Lee Wells Foundation, and the Elephant Sanctuary. For 15 years she hosted and produced the Children's Miracle Network broadcasts in Columbia, Missouri.

Dawn Wells's role as Mary Ann Summer was so iconic and such a major part of American pop culture in the late 20th Century that many often forget that she did play other roles. She was a frequent guest star on television shows in the Sixties, playing everything from a dance hall girl on Tales of Wells Fargo to a young woman whose grandfather has sheltered her from the world. Dawn Wells always gave good performances whenever she appeared on television.

Of course, it is as Mary Ann that nearly everyone will remember Dawn Wells. And it is with good reason. Never mind the fact that Mary Ann could cook, sew, and do numerous other things, never mind that she was beautiful, I think the appeal of Mary Ann was that she was sweet, warm-hearted, honest, and loyal. One never had to worry about her being rude, and if one were lucky enough to win her heart, they knew she would never stray. Mary Ann embodied the qualities that almost everyone would like to find in a man or woman.

If Dawn Wells did such a good job of playing Mary Ann, it is perhaps because she was very much like the character. Not only did many of my fellow classic movie and television fans get to meet her, so did many people around mid-Missouri, including my own sister (she kind of rubbed in, given I have had a crush on Mary Ann since I was a kid). According to everyone, Dawn Wells was exactly what you would expect her to be: sweet, gracious, charming, considerate, and down-to-earth. If so many of us were just a little bit in love with Dawn Wells, it is not because she played Mary Ann, but because she was the warm, thoughtful girl-next-door in real life as well.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Noir Alley in January 2021

As a fan of Noir Alley on Turner Classic Movies, January is a bit of a special month. After all, with February Noir Alley will be pre-empted by TCM's 31 Days of Oscar programming block. While I never try to miss Noir Alley, in January I make absolutely certain I don't. As to this January, it features an old favourite, another movie I have also seen before, and some movies new to me.

January 2, The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry (1945): I have never seen this film, although I have always wanted to. It was directed by Robert Siodmak (who also directed such films as the 1946 version of The Killers and The Crimson Pirate) and stars George Sanders, Geraldine Fitzgerald, and Ella Raines. As to the plot, it centres on bachelor Harry Quincey who lives with his two single sisters. Problems arise after he develops a romance with a colleague.

January 9, The Glass Key (1942): This is the old favourite to which I was referring. The Glass Key is based on the Dashiell Hammett novel of the same name. It stars Brian Donelvy as a political boss, Alan Ladd as his right hand man, and Veronica Lake as the woman they develop a rivalry over.

January 16, Witness to Murder (1954): This is another film I haven't seen, but I want to, particularly given it stars Barbara Stanwyck. Barbara Stanwyck plays the witness of the title, who sees a young woman being strangled to death.

January 23, Born to Kill (1947): I haven't seen Born to Kill yet, but it is intriguing. It was directed by Robert Wise and stars Claire Trevor and Lawrence Tierney. The cast alone makes me want to see the movie.

January 30, The Killers (1964): This is not the classic 1946 version of The Killers, but the 1964 movie of the name. Despite being based on the same Ernest Hemingway short story of  the same time, it has an entirely different plot. While it is not as good as The Killers (1946), it does stand up on is own, and features some solid performances from Lee Marvin, Clu Gulagher, and Claude Akins.

Monday, December 28, 2020

The Studio System on Tuesdays on TCM in January

The theme for Tuesday nights on Turner Classic Movies this January is "The Studio System." While I am sure that most classic movie buffs are aware of what the studio system was, for those of you who might not be, the studio system was the system under which the American movie industry operated during much of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Under the studio system the film industry was controlled by only a few major studios, many of who owned their own theatre chains and used block booking (a practice whereby multiple films would be sold to theatres at once) to further sell the movies they made. Under the studio system most stars were under contract to studios, who effectively controlled their careers. As to the major studios who operated under the studio system, they were the Big Five (MGM, Paramount, Warner Bros., 20th Century Fox, and RKO) and the Little Three (Universal, Columbia, and United Artists).

During The Studio System on Tuesday nights in January, TCM will show movies that characterized the various  major studios during the Golden Age of Hollywood. For MGM they will be showing such films as The Women (1939) and The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946). For Paramount they will be showing such films as I'm No Angel (1933) and The Nutty Professor (1963). For Warner Bros. they will be showing such films as The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) and The Maltese Falcon (1941). For 20th Century Fox they will be showing such films as The Mark of Zorro (1941) and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947). For RKO they'll be showing such films as Swing Time (1936) and Citizen Kane (1941). For Universal they are showing such films as Dracula (1931) and It Started with Eve (1941). For Columbia they will be showing such films as His Girl Friday (1940) and Gilda (1946).

I am not going to be recommending any films as I usually would, as every single film being shown on "The Studio System" on Tuesday nights in January is a classic and worth checking out. Quite simply this is not only one of the best line-ups ever on Turner Classic Movies, it is a line-up featuring some of the greatest films ever made. That having been said, I do have two caveats about the films selected for "The Studio System." The first is that the only musical being show as representative of MGM is Summer Stock (1950). Given how closely associated MGM is with the Hollywood musical in most people's minds (people think of MGM and musicals the same way they think of Warner Bros. and gangster movies or Universal and horror movies), I would think they would have shown at least one other MGM musical. The Wizard of Oz (1939), Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), Singin' in the Rain (1952), or Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) would have been great choices. The second is that out of the various "Road to..." movies produced by Paramount, they chose Road to Utopia (1946). While I love Road to Utopia, I think I can speak for most fans of the "Road to..." movies when I say they should have shown Road to Morocco (1942), generally considered to be the best of the "Road to..." movies.

Regardless, The Studio System on Tuesday nights on TCM in January is well worth checking out, whether one is an experienced classic movie buff revisiting old favourites or a new fan discovering some of the best movies ever made.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Godspeed Chad Stuart

Chad Stuart, who with Jeremy Clyde formed the British music duo Chad & Jeremy, died on December 20 2020 at the age of 79. The cause was pneumonia. Chad & Jeremy had a string of hits in the United States in the 1960s.

Chad Stuart was born David Stuart Chadwick on December 10 1941 in Windermere, Cumbria. His father was a foreman in the lumber industry, while his mother was a nurse. His family moved to West Hartlepool, although Chad Stuart spent much of his childhood at Durham Cathedral Chorister School. As a chorister he received a scholarship to the school.

Afterwards he attended the Central School of Speech and Drama in London, which is where he met Jeremy Clyde. The pair's backgrounds couldn't be more different. Chad Stuart hailed from a northern town, while Jeremy Clyde grew up in Buckinghamshire and is the great grandson of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington. Regardless, they quickly became friends. By 1962 the two were performing as a folk music duo.

In 1963 Chad & Jeremy regularly performed at a coffeehouse named Tina's. It was there that they were discovered by composer John Barry. Mr. Barry got the duo signed to the small recording label Ember. It was on Ember that their first single, "Yesterday's Gone," was released in the United Kingdom. There it was a minor hit, peaking at no. 37 on the singles chart.

With the demand for British music artists in the United States in the wake of Beatlemania, Chad & Jeremy arrived in the U.S. in 1964. While their folk music bore little resemblance to such popular beat groups as The Beatles, The Kinks, and The Hollies, nonetheless they proved successful in the United Stats. Released on the minor label World Artists Records, "Yesterday's Gone' went to no. 21 on the Billboard Hot 100. They would have even more success with the single "A Summer Song." While the song did not chart at all in the United Kingdom, it went all the way to no. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100. Their first album, Yesterday's Gone, was released in the United States in July 1964.

With their success in the United States, Chad & Jeremy appeared frequently on television in the Sixties, more so in the United States than the United Kingdom. . In the United Kingdom they appeared on Thank Your Lucky Stars. In the U.S. they appeared on such music and variety shows as Shindig!, Hollywood a Go Go, The Merv Griffin Show, Where the Action Is, American Bandstand, The Andy Williams Show, Hullabaloo, The Hollywood Palace, The Red Skelton Show, and The Kraft Summer Music Hall. They appeared on The Julie London Special. They even appeared together on the game show The Hollywood Squares. Unlike many music groups of the time, Chad & Jeremy also appeared frequently on narrative television programs. They guest starred on The Dick Van Dyke Show (playing a group called The Redcoats), The Patty Duke Show, Laredo, and Batman. The Laredo episode, "That's Noway, Thataway," was a backdoor pilot for a pilot for a Western series that would have starred Chad & Jeremy as British actors in the Old West. Chad Stuart also provided the voice of Vulture in the classic Disney movie The Jungle Book (1967).

Chad and Jeremy continued to have hits in the United States through 1966, including "Willow Weep for Me," "If I Loved You," "Before and After," and "Distant Shores." Following "You Are She (which only reached no. 87 on the Billboard Hot 100) in 1966, their singles failed to chart. They released several albums between 1964 and 1965, including Chad & Jeremy Sing for You, Before and After, and I Don't Want to Lose You Baby. They became more ambitious with their albums Distant Shores, Of Cabbages and Kings, and The Ark. They also recorded songs for the movie Three in the Attic (1968).

It was in 1968 that Chad & Jeremy broke up.  Jeremy Clyde continued his acting career, while Chad Stuart continued to work in the music industry. He continued to perform for a time, even opening for the band Mountain. He also worked as a staff producer for A&M Records. Later he composed commercial jingles for radio and gave music lessons. Chad & Jeremy reunited to record the album Chad Stuart & Jeremy Clyde, released in 1983. From 1984 to 1985 they appeared together in the West End production of Pump Boys and Dinettes. In 1986 they toured the United States with other British Invasion bands Freddie and the Dreamers, Gerry and the Pacemakers, The Searchers, and The Mindbenders. In 1987 they had a two-week residency at Harrah's in Lake Tahoe, Nevada.

In 2002 Chad & Jeremy recorded a new version of "Yesterday's Gone" as an additional track for the album In Concert (The Official Bootleg), which contained performances from their residency at Harrah's. In 2003 they appeared on the PBS special Pop-Rock Reunion. They re-recorded many of their songs for the album Ark-elogy, which was released in 2008 with the 40th anniversary of The Ark. 2010 saw the release of Chad & Jeremy's last album, the limited-edition Fifty Years On.

I have always thought that Chad & Jeremy have been under appreciated as music artists. Their hit songs were pleasant and conveyed both intimacy and longing. They were a sharp contrast to the more aggressiveness of rock music at the time and the rawness of the folk music of the time. Of Cabbages and Kings and The Ark, from later in their career, are often dismissed, but both albums show the musical genius of Chad & Jeremy. Side one of Of Cabbages and Kings features some of the most artful songs to emerge from the Psychedelic Era. Over all, The Ark was even better than Of Cabbages and Kings, a mix of psychedelia, British wit, and rich orchestration. Unfortunately, The Ark was abandoned by Columbia Records as Chad & Jeremy broke up. I rather have to think Chad & Jeremy will always be remembered for "Yesterday's Gone" and "The Summer Song," both tunes worthy of being called classics, but they did so much more worth listening to and worth being rediscovered.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Post-Christmas Day Blues

It doesn't happen every year, but often I feel a bit blue the day after Christmas (Boxing Day in the UK and the Commonwealth). This is the case this year. This is not unusual for me, as I also experience the blues following such holidays as the 4th of July and Halloween. What sets my post-Christmas Day blues apart from the blues I experience after the 4th of July and Halloween, is that while I might at most be blue for one or two days following those holidays, the blues I experience after Christmas Day can vary in length. Sometimes I may only be blue on Boxing Day. Sometimes it might well extend past New Year's Day. Here I want to stress that I am not depressed. I don't lose interest in the activities I enjoy, and I can still feel pleasure from the things I enjoy. I simply feel a bit of melancholy. I also have to say that I know it is not due to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), otherwise it would happen every single year. In fact, I don't experience SAD in winter. For me that is something I go through every summer.

Of course, I am not alone in experiencing post-Christmas Day blues. It appears to affect a large swathe of the population. As to the cause, a lot of articles on the internet seem to attribute it to Christmas not living up to individuals' expectations. Quite simply, the reality of Christmas did not live up to the individuals' expectations of what they thought Christmas should be. That having been said, I don't think this is true for many people and I know it certainly isn't for me. I usually have very good Christmases, filled with everything I love about the holiday. This year was certainly no different. If I am blue today, it is not because Christmas did not live up to my expectations.

I think in my case my post-Christmas Day blues stem more from two things. First is the fact that Christmas is my favourite holiday. It is literally the most wonderful time of the year for me. Second is the fact that the time during which the United States celebrates Christmas is at odds with Christmastide as observed by various Christian denominations (Catholicism, Anglicanism, Methodism, and others), the traditional 12 Days of Christmas. In the United States the Christmas shopping season, and hence the time when Christmas has been celebrated the past many years, lasts from Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) to Christmas Day. In many, many ways, this is an awkward time to celebrate Christmas. Christmas in American popular culture is closely tied to winter. Images of Christmas evoke snow, icicles, snowmen, and so on. In contrast, on Black Friday it is still very much autumn. In most of the United States, snow is a very remote possibility in late November. In fact, it is very remote possibility in much of the United States even in December.  The Christmas shopping season actually ends at the time when the possibility of snow is at its greatest the entire season.

In contrast, Christmastide as observed by various Christian denominations runs from sunset on December 24 (Christmas Eve) to sunset on January 6. Quite simply, Christmastide is the traditional Twelve Days of Christmas from the song. For much of the United States, the traditional Twelve Days of Christmas fits the imagery of Christmas much better than the Christmas shopping season. The chances of snow increase dramatically the further one gets into winter. Here in mid-Missouri, I can recall a few actual white Christmases in my lifetime. I can recall many more white New Year's Days and even more snowy days in the first week of January.

Anyway, what all of this amounts to is that many in the United States are through celebrating Christmas not long after it actually begins to feel like the holiday to me. On Boxing Day many individuals and businesses will take down their decorations. Except for a few industries (such as the automobile industry), Christmas themed commercials disappear from television stations. Radio stations stop playing Christmas songs. It is true many will keep their Christmas decorations up until New Year's Day or even January 2. It is true the Hallmark Channel will continue to show Christmas movies until January 1 (of course, they started them before it was even Halloween *grumble*). Still, so many have ceased celebrating Christmas that it can't help but affect my mood. For many Christmas is over, so that while I recognize the traditional Christmastide, I can't help but feel blue.

Fortunately post-Christmas blues don't last long for me. Often I am over them by the day after Boxing Day. For those times when my post-Christmas blues do last longer, I do have ways of dealing with them. If the weather permits, I will go for walks, which usually lift my spirits. As is the custom in my family, I keep my Christmas decorations up, including the lights and tree, until New Year's Day or January 2. I will continue to listen to Christmas music and watch the occasional Christmas movie. Over the years I have learned that this tends to lift my spirits and help me make it into the New Year.

For those of you who are also suffering post-Christmas blues, all I have to say is that you should hang in there. Continue to celebrate Christmas as long as you wish (the whole Christmastide if you wish). Eventually the New Year will come around. And Christmas will return next year.

Friday, December 25, 2020

Merry Christmas 2020

Today is Christmas and as is the tradition here at A Shroud of Thoughts I am posting vintage Christmas pinups. 2020 has been a rough year, so I hope these lovely ladies and one handsome gentleman cheer you up!
First up is director and actress Ida Lupino who has a gigantic wreath for her door!

Next is Julie Adams, who is reminding us how many days there are until Christmas! 
Next is Robert Mitchum, who is delivering presents!

Here is Vera-Ellen, who is trying to go down a chimney!

Diana Dors is busy placing her presents under the tree. 

Finally, it wouldn't be Christmas without Ann Miller!

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Fellow Bloggers' Favourite Holiday Movies

This year I thought I would do something a little different for Christmas Eve and ask some of my fellow bloggers about their favourite Christmas movies. I am sure you will find some old favourites and perhaps some movies that are new to you as well! And for those who are curious, my favourite Christmas movies are The Apartment (1960), It's a Wonderful Life (1946), Christmas in Connecticut (1944), Holiday Affair (1949), The Bishop's Wife (1947), and It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1946).

Dr. Annette Bochenek of Hometowns to Hollywood:

When the holidays come around, I love revisiting my favorite holiday films. For me, it’s simply part of the season to decorate my house, spend time with family and friends checking out some holiday lights, and enjoying these beloved holiday classics. While these films are certainly not new to me, they never fail to help me ring in the holiday season. Here’s a short listing of some of my favorites:

A Christmas Carol (1951):  I think that this is the first holiday classic I can recall enjoying as a child with my parents. We watched lots of holiday films but this was among the black-and-white features I would typically see around the holidays. I feel like I notice something different in this film every year as I’m another year older and hopefully wiser! Alastair Sim’s performance here is nothing short of brilliant, with him aptly navigating the miserly Scrooge character through his journey of greed, selfishness, fear, anger, sorrow, repentance, joy, and love. As a child, I definitely remember Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Future being quite frightening, be it this version or even the much lighter Disney rendition! Now, as an adult, I adore Dickens’s tale and commentary. Moreover, I find immense warmth in the Cratchit family’s scenes and especially delight in Scrooge’s rebirth as a loving, compassionate individual, eager to begin truly living again.

Holiday Inn (1942): This early Bring Crosby-Fred Astaire pairing never fails to leave a song in my heart. Packed with delightful songs by Irving Berlin, the film actually introduces “White Christmas,” as the plot progresses with an array of additional wonderful tunes. Because this film focuses upon an inn that is open on all public holidays, I think this film is easily enjoyed at any time of year. The song and dance numbers here are truly stellar. Additionally, this is one of those rare roles in which Astaire is actually not so nice to his co-star! While he sings and dances beautifully, it’s fun to see him at least slightly outside of the realm of his usual roles.

It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947): This film is such an overlooked gem and I am so glad that it’s now publicly available for audiences to enjoy. While this film is Capra-esque in taking on social and political commentary of the day, it leans more towards comedy than it does drama. The story focuses on a homeless man who strategically moves into a 5th Avenue mansion each winter when its millionaire owner vacates for his summer estate. While the homeless man usually operates alone, one winter, he meets an array of individuals who are down on their luck and invites them to live with him for the winter. All goes according to plan until the millionaire’s actual daughter returns home to find strangers living there. Nonetheless, she remains incognito and even convinces her estranged parents to return to the mansion—also incognito. Chaos, comedy, romance, and drama ensue, in addition to some beautiful lines and scenes along the way.

White Christmas (1954): While this film has some parallels to Holiday Inn, it is a visual delight on its own. A bit lighter on the plot, the musical numbers really shine in this film, as do the fine costumes worn by the stars. Once again packed with a Berlin score and taking place in an inn—actually the same set from Holiday Inn—we meet a different cast of characters who are putting on shows for a different purpose. Being a Berlin musical, the songs never fail to delight and are highly memorable, including the postcard-perfect scene featuring his Oscar-winning title number.

There are many more holiday films to enjoy. Whether new to you or a frequently-viewed favorite, they are well worth watching year after year.

KC of A Classic Movie Blog

Holiday Affair is my favorite holiday film because while it deals with loss and need, it does so gently and with a light touch. It’s Christmas spirit without the tear-jerking. I adore its sweet spirit. Also two great performances from Janet Leigh and Robert Mitchum.

 Dan of The Hitless Wonder Movie Blog:

I have to say my favorite Christmas movie is the 1951 British-made version of A Christmas Carol. Alastair Sim is a great Scrooge--he plays him not as a over-the-top ogre, but as a real flawed man. The entire production (filmed in shadowy black & white) has a dark, brooding, English Gothic tone to it, which perfectly matches the work and world of Charles Dickens. It's chilling and moving at the same time.

Paula of TCMParty and Paula's Cinema Club:

The Apartment — I'm not really sure how a film in which the main characters, particularly the men, do such questionable things makes you feel so good, but it does.<
Christmas in Connecticut — This film has become like a Christmas tree or lights, if you don't have them, it's not Christmas.

We're No Angels — It's just such a happy fantasy

It Happened on Fifth Avenue — If worrying about Mr. McKeever and his dog is crazy, I don't want to be sane.

Love Actually — Just let it wash over you. Half the fun is seeing now-famous actors in early roles.

Scrooged (1988) Probably my favorite version of A Christmas Carol.

Trading Places — Possibly even more relevant than when it came out as a social commentary and really hilarious.

Shop Around The Corner / In The Good Old Summertime — A good story is a good story.

Christmas Under Fire — So poignant.

The Man Who Came to Dinner — I don't know why I think it's so funny, Sheridan Whiteside is really a horrible person.

The Lemon Drop Kid (1951) —  It's sweet but Bob Hope keeps it a little edgy so it won't give you a cavity.

Gill of Realweegiemidget Reviews:

The Gift of Love (TV Movie, 1978). When it comes to my Christmas movie, I love nothing more than this TV movie with Marie Osmond and Timothy Bottoms. The plot is based on O' Henry's "Gift of the Magi". The film is a turn of the century soppy romance and tells of a rich girl Beth (Osmond) who falls for a poor guy, Rudi (Bottoms). Both are engaged to others, so she has to choose between love and money... but she's pretending to be poor. Of course,  true love wins the day, and events lead to a very happy Christmas Eve ending... and yes, Marie Osmond does sing, that is Ann Ramsey aka the Bad Guy from The Goonies and you will cry (probably).

Lê of Crítica Retrô: 

I love Christmas and, of course, Christmas movies. However, my favorite holiday film is an underrated one: The Lemon Drop Kid (1951). What makes this film stand out to me was the fact that it was one of the first movies I watched and live tweeted with the #TCMParty group. I remember it was right after Peter O’Toole and Joan Fontaine passed away, so the whole classic film community was mourning and we needed a distraction. Whenever I listen to the song "Silver Bells," featured in this movie, I think about our lovely film community.

Barry P. of Cinema Catharsis

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010) Director/co-writer Jalmari Helander’s unconventional Christmas-themed movie, set amidst a stark winter landscape, explores Santa’s more sinister origins. Unlike the jolly old elf popularized in modern stories, Rare Exports recalls the Finnish legend of Joulupukki, a malevolent beast that punishes naughty children for their misdeeds. While the plot concerns the mayhem that ensues after an ancient force is unleashed, at its heart, the story is about a relationship between a widower and his young son. With its balance of family drama, dark humor and creepy supernatural lore, it’s the perfect choice for those who prefer something a little left of center for their holiday viewing.

Terence: I have to apologize if I somehow missed any of my fellow bloggers! Whether you are a blogger or not, be sure to let everyone know what your favourite Christmas movies are in the comments. And to all of you, Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

My Favourite Christmas TV Episodes

Christmas episodes have long been a tradition on American television, ever since the beginning of regular American network broadcasts in the mid-Forties. Christmas episodes of TV shows form the experience of many Americans during the holidays, so that most of us have our all time favourite Christmas episodes of shows. These are my five favourites. Since I can't decide which one I like best, they are in chronological order.

The Andy Griffith Show, "The Christmas Story," December 19 1960: The Andy Griffith Show only did one Christmas episode in its 8 seasons on the air, but it was one of the all-time greatest Christmas episodes of any show. In "The Christmas Story," Mayberry's department store owner Ben Weaver (Will Wright) insists that Sheriff Andy Taylor (Andy Griffith) arrest moonshiner Sam Muggins (Sam Edwards). Andy isn't particularly anxious to do so, as it would mean that Sam could not spend Christmas with his family. Andy comes up with a solution that will somewhat satisfy Ben Weaver, while at the same time insuring Sam gets to spend the holiday with his family.

What makes "The Christmas Story" so good is not simply that it evokes the Christmas spirit so well, but because it is funny and touching without being maudlin. It numbers among the best episodes of a show known for a number of truly great episodes.

The Dick Van Dyke Show, "The Alan Brady Show Presents," December 18 1963: In "The Alan Brady Show Presents," the staff of The Alan Brady Show find themselves stuck creating a Christmas episode of The Alan Brady Show when they would rather spend the holidays with their families. Things begin looking up when Rob Petrie (Dick Van Dyke) enlists the help of his family.

"The Alan Brady Show Presents" is an unusual episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show, or any other sitcom for that matter, because it plays less like an episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show than it does an episode of the fictional show-within-a-show, The Alan Brady Show. In other words, it resembles a Christmas variety show episode. Of course, with such extraordinary talents as Dick Van Dyke, Mary Tyler Moore, Morey Amsterdam, Rose Marie, and Carl Reiner, the results are actually better than the average Christmas variety special. Included are various skits, as well as a classic performance of "I'm a Fine Musician" by Dick Van Dyke, Mary Tyler Moore, Morey Amsterdam, and Rose Marie as toy soldiers. It is often counted among the greatest Christmas TV show episodes ever made.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show, "Christmas and the Hard-Luck Kid II," December 19 1970: Mary (Mary Tyler Moore), who loves Christmas so much she has decorated her entire desk at WJM, finds out that she must work on Christmas Day. When a co-worker asks if Mary could cover his shift for him on December 24 so he can spend it with his family, she winds up working on Christmas Eve as well. Fortunately, Mary''s Christmas does not prove as depressing as it initially seemed it would be.

"Christmas and the Hard-Luck Kid II" is often counted among the greatest Christmas episodes of all time, and with good reason. It is extremely funny, and touching without being mawkish. For those of you who are wondering about the title, it refers to the 1966 That Girl episode, "Christmas and the Hard-Luck Kid," also written by James L. Brooks.

ER, "Blizzard," December 8 1994: "Blizzard" is actually one of two Christmas episodes of ER in its first season, the second being "The Gift." That having been said, "Blizzard" is by far the superior of the two episodes. Not long before Christmas, a blizzard has hit Chicago. For that reason it is an unusually slow shift at County General, so that the ER staff finds other ways to fill their time. Dr. Mark Greene (Anthony Edwards) and Dr. Susan Lewis (Sherry Stringfield) prank medical student John Carter (Noah Wylie) by putting a cast on his leg. Nurse Wendy Goldman (Vanessa Marquez) is roller blading around the hospital. Several members of the staff play a game of wheelchair soccer. Unfortunately all of this changes when there is a 30 car pile up on the Kennedy Expressway. While this might not sound very Christmasy, the episode features Nat King Cole's classic rendition of "The Christmas Song" and ends with an impromptu Christmas party in the ER after their work is done.

"Blizzard" is a remarkable episode and also a historic one for ER. It is the second episode in which the staff of County General must deal with the extremes of Chicago weather (the first being "Chicago Heat"). More importantly, it is the first of many episodes in which the staff must deal with mass casualties. Since then mass casualty events have become a bit of a cliché on medical dramas. What makes "Blizzard" superior to other "mass casualty" episodes is how well the episode flows. It changes tone several times, from the humour and Christmas spirit early in the episode to the drama and tension of dealing with a mass casualty event to the Christmas spirit at the end of the episode.

The X-Files, "How the Ghosts Stole Christmas," December 13 1998: The X-Files did multiple Christmas episodes, but "How the Ghosts Stole Christmas" is by far the best. In "How the Ghosts Stole Christmas," Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) summons Scully (Gillian Anderson) to a house haunted by a pair of lovers who committed suicide during the Christmas of 1917.  Scully is not at all happy about cancelling her Christmas plans, but goes along with Mulder nonetheless. This being The X-Files, the house is indeed haunted by the dead lovers, whose plans for Mulder and Scully aren't at all benign.

What makes "How the Ghosts Stole Christmas" so great is that it is a perfect blend of humour, horror, and Christmas spirit. Making the episode even better than it might have otherwise been is the fact that the dead lovers are played by two of the all-time greats, Ed Asner and Lily Tomlin. It is not only the best Christmas episode of The X-Files, but one of the best Christmas episodes of a show ever.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

The 50th Anniversary of Rankin/Bass's Santa Claus is Comin' to Town

Fred Astaire voiced S.D. Kluger
The television special Santa Claus is Comin' to Town, produced by Rankin/Bass, first aired on December 14 1970 on ABC. This year then marks its 50th anniversary. It would be the third TV special to be created by Rankin/Bass using their stop motion animation technique called "Animagic," following Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and The Little Drummer Boy. It was their fifth Christmas special over all, following Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, The Cricket on the Hearth, The Little Drummer Boy, and Frosty the Snowman. It has aired annually ever since its debut, although not always on one of the broadcast networks.

In 1964 Rankin/Bass had success with the now classic special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. They would follow that success in 1968 with The Little Drummer Boy and in 1969 with Frosty the Snowman. One thing each special had in common is that they were based on popular Christmas songs. "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town" was written by J. Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie and was first recorded in 1934 by Harry Reiser and his band. That same year it was sung on Eddie Cantor's show, turning the song into a hit. Over the years it would be covered by many different artists, including Bing Crosby and the Andrew Sisters and Gene Autry. 

That having been said, "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town" did present one difficulty for Rakin/Bass. While the songs "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," "The Little Drummer Boy," and "Frosty the Snowman" each had their own storylines, "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town" did not. The song simply advises children to "be good for goodness' sake" and relates such activities Santa was already well known for, such as making his list. As a result Romeo Muller, who had already written several of Rankin/Bass's specials (including Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman), then had to create a whole new storyline from scratch. The end result was an origin story for Santa Claus, explaining various aspects of the Santa Claus mythos.

Romeo Muller was not the only Rankin/Bass veteran who worked on Santa Claus is Comin' to Town. Except for "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town," the songs were written by co-producer Jules Bass and Maury Laws. They had previously written songs for the Rankin/Bass specials Cricket on the Hearth and The Little Drummer Boy. The character design was created by Paul Coker, a regular contributor to Mad magazine. He had done uncredited character design work for the Rankin/Bass feature film The Wacky World of Mother Goose. The first Rankin/Bass special for which he was character designer was Frosty the Snowman. Santa Claus is Comin' to Town would be the first Rankin/Bass special using Animagic on which Paul Coker worked.

Arguably, Santa Claus is Comin' to Town featured the best known cast in a Rankin/Bass special up to that time. Fred Astaire voiced S.D. "Special Delivery" Kluger, a postman who narrates the special. Mickey Rooney voiced Kris Kringle/Santa Claus. Keenan Wynn voiced the Winter Warlock. Well known voice artist Paul Free voiced the Burgomeister, as well as several other voices.  Fred Astaire would reprise his role as S.D. Kluger in the 1977 special The Easter Bunny is Comin' to Town. Mickey Rooney would reprise his role as Santa Claus in A Year Without a Santa Claus, Rudolph and the Frosty's Christmas in July, and A Miser Brothers' Christmas.

Santa Claus is Comin' to Town would see some success when it premiered in 1970. When it aired in 1971, Santa Claus is Comin' to Town came in fifth in the ratings for the week of November 28 to December 4. While Santa Claus is Comin' to Town did well in the ratings for many years, in the end it would not see the lasting success that either Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman have seen. It aired on ABC until 1981 and with 1982 it entered syndication where it remained for many years. In 1995 it returned to network television for one year when it aired on the now defunct UPN. Beginning in 1997 it began airing on the Family Channel. It would air on the various permutations of that channel (Fox Family, ABC Family, and Freeform) until 2016.. Since then AMC has aired it every year. Santa Claus is Comin' to Town would eventually return to network television. It returned to ABC in 2005 and has aired there ever since.

Over the years Santa Claus is Comin' to Town has been edited for broadcast. As the Seventies progressed this was largely because of the increase in commercial time throughout the decade. That having been said, in later broadcasts it would be edited for content as well. With lyrics like "If you sit on my lap today/A kiss a toy is the price you'll pay," the song "Be Prepared to Pay"might have seemed innocent in 1970, but in following decades it could be considered downright creepy. As a result, it has been cut in later broadcasts. The song "My World is Beginning to Day" has also been cut, although it is not entirely clear why. It could be because the song is accompanied by some rather odd visuals, which have been described as "psychedelic." Freeform would also cut various sequences that the channel thought might be traumatizing to younger viewers.

While Santa Claus is Comin' to Town did not initially prove to be as popular as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, or even The Little Drummer Boy, since its debut it has come to be regarded as a classic.  It is safe to say it will continue to air on various television venues for years.

Monday, December 21, 2020

The 52nd Birthday of Vanessa Marquez

"'I have come to believe that the highest compliment is not remembering someone; it is missing them." Vincent Price

My dearest Vanessa Marquez was born on December 21 1968 in Los Angeles County, so that today would have been her 52nd birthday.Vanessa loved her birthday and was particularly proud of being a "solstice baby." She was also happy that her birthday fell so close to Christmas, which was quite possibly her favourite holiday. For those of you who are wondering, unlike some people whose birthdays fall close to Christmas, Vanessa did receive presents for both her birthday and Christmas. Regardless, today is difficult for me, but at the same time it is a happy occasion. It is difficult because I am unable to wish Vanessa a happy birthday as I always did and spend part of the day with her. It is happy because it is the anniversary of the birth of my dearest friend, an actress I admire, and a woman I adore.

Even now it seems incredible to me that Vanessa and I were so close. After all, she was a talented, famous, and beautiful actress known for the movie Stand and Deliver (1988) and the TV show ER. What is more, Vanessa's background was somewhat different from my own. Vanessa's maternal grandfather was born in the Mexican state of Sinaloa. Her maternal grandmother was born in Hermosillo, Sonora. The couple married in Nogales, Sonora and later moved to Nogales, Arizona, which is where Vanessa's mother was born. Vanessa was very proud of her Mexican heritage and referred to herself as "Mexican American." She didn't use the term "Chicana" of herself, although she had no objections to the term.

The family would later move to California, which is where Vanessa Marquez was born. She grew up in Montebello, California. One thing common to both Vanessa's background and my own is that we were both of an artistic bent from an early age. Vanessa often said that she wanted to be an actress as soon as she emerged from the womb. She certainly wanted to be an actress after first seeing The Wizard of Oz (1939) when she was three or four. Her mother told me how, when Vanessa was eight years old, she marched into their living room and said, "I am going to be a movie star, just like Judy Garland!"

Vanessa certainly was determined to be an actress. When she was a tween she wanted to take tap dancing lessons. When her mother told her that they couldn't afford them, Vanessa simply took to baking. Every Saturday and Sunday her mother would drive her to the local supermarket where she would sell her cookies and cakes. Vanessa then paid for her lessons herself. In school she took every single performing arts class, even though she was generally overlooked when it came to school plays. She was still in high school when she won the role of Ana Delgado in Stand and Deliver. Vanessa graduated from Schurr High School in Montebello, and attended Los Angeles City College.

Of course, while our backgrounds were different, Vanessa and I had a lot in common beyond the fact that she was an actress and I am a writer. We were both fans of classic television and shared many favourite shows in common: Batman, The Monkees, Space 1999, Star Trek, The Twilight Zone, and so on. We even loved many of the same recent shows: Downton Abbey, Mad Men, and The X-Files. We were both huge fans of classic films and were two of the original members of TCMParty, the group of Turner Classic Movie fans who live tweet movies on the channel using that hashtag. Like many Gen Xers, The Wizard of Oz was among the first classic films we ever saw, and we both loved the movie as well as its star Judy Garland. We were also both huge Star Wars fans. In fact, I don't think I ever knew a Star Wars fan as big as Vanessa was. She had an extensive collection of Star Wars merchandise. If I ever had a rival, it would had to have been R2-D2.

Even when it came to politics Vanessa and I were largely in agreement. She worked with the United Farm Workers and knew both Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta. Vanessa did some publicity for the UFW and even took part in a December 7 1989 rally and march protesting the exposure of farmers to pesticides used on grapes. She also worked with Amnesty International. Vanessa was one of the famous Latinas who appeared in the award winning 1994 Latina Vote public service announcement, directed by Julie Carmen, encouraging Latinas to vote. Vanessa was very passionate about her views, and they emerged from the fact that she genuinely cared about people.

Indeed, while many know Vanessa was a beautiful and talented actress, they might not know just how wonderful she really was. Vanessa Marquez was the kindest, gentlest, most warm-hearted person I knew. She was very loyal to her friends and would help them when she could. When Jaime Escalante, the mathematics teacher upon whom the movie Stand and Deliver was based, developed cancer, Vanessa was relentless in raising money for his medical treatment. When Turner Classic Movies aired Stand and Deliver on September 30 this year, even I was impressed when, during the TCMParty for the movie on Twitter, an extremely large number of people told how Vanessa had touched their lives and how much they appreciated her. Vanessa's warm-heartedness extended to animals as well. She volunteered for a time at a local animal shelter in Los Angeles County.

More than the fact that she was intelligent and talented, more than the fact that we had so much in common, it was because Vanessa was so warm and kind that I loved her so much. She had more of an impact on my life than anyone else. I was closer to her than anyone I have ever known, even my best friend Brian and my siblings. I am in love with Vanessa and I have no doubt that she knew that, even though we never were actually boyfriend and girlfriend. It should be little wonder that I am still grieving her and that I miss her so much. I have no doubt that I will miss her until the day that I die.  Vanessa Marquez was a wonderful woman, and the most remarkable person I have ever known. While I might be a bit sad today, the anniversary of her birth is still reason to celebrate.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

"Jingle Bell Rock" by Bobby Helms

Those of you who know me, as well as regular readers of this blog, might realize that tomorrow is a very important day for me. They might also realize that I have a blog post planned for it. For that reason I thought tonight I would simply leave you with a seasonal song. Here then is "Jingle Bell Rock" by Bobby Helms 

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Christmas Crackers

The United States having originated from thirteen British colonies, the United Kingdom and the United States share quite a few Christmas traditions in common.  One tradition they do not have in common is that of Christmas crackers, although many Americans may be familiar with them from British TV shows and movies. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with Christmas crackers, they are essentially tubes of brightly coloured paper that make a cracking noise when pulled apart. Christmas crackers almost always contain some sort of prize, such as a small trinket or paper hat, as well as a joke. Christmas crackers are found at Christmas dinner and Christmas parties.

Christmas crackers appear to have originated with Tom Smith, a confectioner in London. It was in 1846 that Tom Smith visited Paris and encountered French bonbons. It was in 1847 that he introduced what he called "Cracker Bonbons" in his London sweetshop. Cracker Bonbons were bonbons wrapped in paper that included a short message or joke with the sweet. Eventually Tom Smith's Cracker Bonbons slumped in sales. It was in 1860 that Tom Smith then came up with the idea of his crackers making a noise when pulled apart. He bought the formula for the explosive element in his crackers from chemist Tom Brown, who had worked for Brock Fireworks. Initially called "Bangs of Expectation" and still later Cosaques (French of "Cossaks"), people insisted on still calling them "crackers" after the sound they made.

Tom Smith died in 1869, after which his three sons further developed the Christmas cracker. It would be his youngest son, Walter Smith,  who would introduce the somewhat humorous mottos found in Christmas crackers. He also introduced the paper hats and various trinkets into the crackers. This was done to differentiate the Tom Smith Cracker company from its competitors.

Tom Smith's Christmas crackers proved to be so popular that by the 1890s the company had 2000 people on staff. The company also had to move from its original premises on Goswell Road in Clerkenwell to larger premises in Finsbury Square in London.

While Christmas crackers have only been around for about 160 years, they have become as much of a Christmas tradition in Britain as decking the halls with boughs of holly.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Department Stores at Christmas

Thelma Ritter and Philip Tonge in
Miracle o 34th Street
In the movie A Christmas Story (1984) the opening scene features Ralphie and his friends rushing to see the Christmas window display at Higbee's department store. The scene reflected real life for many Americans in the 20th Century, as families would visit a local department store to see the window displays during the holiday season, which were always more spectacular than any other time of year. In the days before such discount stores as Kmart, Walmart, and Target, department stores could be found across the United States, not only in large cities. Most small towns had their own local department stores or stores belonging to a larger chain (such as Montgomery Ward).

The Christmas shopping season has long been important to American retailers, and the Christmas shopping season evolved rather early in the United States. It was as early as the 1820s and 1830s that sweet shops and candy stores in New York City began capitalizing on Christmas.By the 1840s many retail shops were already advertising themselves as "Santa Claus's headquarters."

In the late Nineteenth Century other factors came into play that would help shape Americans' experiences at department stores during the Christmas shopping season. It was in the late 19th Century that plate glass became widely available. As a result retailers began fitting their shops with large windows that spanned the full width of the building. Quite naturally, these windows would be used to display merchandise the shops had for sale. In other words, the late Nineteenth Century saw the birth of the window display.

Given the importance of the Christmas shopping season to retailers, it was not long before department stores would dedicate their window displays specifically to Christmas during the shopping season. While it is difficult to definitively say what the first Christmas window display in the United States was, a likely candidate is Macy's very first Christmas window display in 1874. Other department stores in New York City would soon follow suit.

After 1874, Christmas window displays would evolve rather quickly, as department stores competed to have the most eye-catching displays. What might have been the very first animated Christmas window display appeared at Ehrich Brothers in 1881. Ehrich Brothers' "dolls' circus" was notable enough to have an article dedicated to it in the November 27 1881 issue of The New York Times. In 1883 Macy's featured a Christmas window display that included steam-powered figures.

By 1897 department store window displays had become such a large concern that there would be an entire magazine dedicated to the subject. L. Frank Baum, now best known as the author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and its sequels, founded The Show Window, a magazine dedicated to window displays and their use in attracting customers. It was later retitled Merchants Record and Show Window.

With the 20th Century, window displays would become even more extravagant. As early as 1914, Lord & Taylor in New York City was using what is known as "elevator windows," whereby the entire floor of a window display can be lowered to the basement and dressed. For many years Lord & Taylor was the only department store to use elevator windows, and the shop became particularly well known for them.

It would be at Lord & Taylor that the first purely decorative Christmas window display was created; that is, it was a window display with no merchandise at all. James Albert Bliss, a renowned window dresser who had worked for Macy's and Wanamakers, as well as Lord & Taylor, created a display in 1937 called "Bell Windows." It featured no merchandise, only ringing bells over a winter wonderland.

Of course, Christmas window displays weren't the only means department stores had drawing customers into their shops. Even recent generations of Americans might have memories of visiting Santa Claus in a department store. Much like Christmas window displays, having Santa Claus in department stores was something that developed relatively early in the history of retail business in the United States. While it is difficult to say precisely what the first store to have its own Santa Claus was, it could have been Philadelphia merchant J. W. Parkinson in 1841. That year Mr. Parkinson had "Cris Cringle" or "Santa Claus."

Macy's in New York City first hosted Santa Claus in 1861. In fact, this will be the first year that Santa Claus will not be present in the store during the Christmas shopping season (this is due to the pandemic). Santa Claus would become such a tradition at Macy's that his arrival is marked by the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade (which was originally called the "Macy's Christmas Parade" when it was first held in 1924, even though it took place on Thanksgiving).

While J.W. Parkinson and Macy's both had Santa Claus in their store in the mid-19th Century, many credit James Edgar for introducing the department store Santa as we now currently know him. In the late 19th Century James Edgar was the founder and owner of Edgar Department Stores in New England. Mr. Edgar was known for being both friendly and generous, and he enjoyed dressing up in costume. For the 4th of July he showed up at The Boston Store, his department store in Brockton, Massachusetts, dressed as George Washington. It probably surprised no one when, in 1890, he took inspiration from an 1862 illustration of Santa by  Thomas Nast on the cover of Harper's Weekly to dress as Kris Kringle at The Boston Store. While James Edgar may not have been the very first retailer to have Santa Claus in his department store, given that artist Thomas Nast largely shaped the modern appearance of the character, he may have been the first to actually look like Santa Claus as we know him.

Of course, in addition to having Christmas window displays and Santa Claus in the stores, the interiors of department stores would usually be decorated for the holiday. Upon entering any given department store, it was not unusual for individuals to be greeted by a huge Christmas tree. The walls might often be literally decked with boughs of holly. Christmas lights might often be in evidence throughout any given department store.

Given how common department stores were throughout the United States and the importance of Christmas to those department stores, it should come as no surprise that department stores have figured in holiday themed movies. Bachelor Mother (1939) features more of New Year's Eve than it does of Christmas, but we still get to see a department store during the holiday season. Ginger Rogers's  character, Polly Parrish, begins the movie temporarily employed by the fictional department store John B. Merlin & Son. We then get to see a department store during Christmas shopping season, complete with the crowds.  It would later be remade as Bundle of Joy (1956).

While the average American may not be familiar with Bachelor Mother these days, they are certainly familiar with Miracle on 34th Street (1947). What is more, Miracle on 34th Street is largely set at a real life department store, Macy's itself. Lending authenticity to the film is the fact that as much of it was shot in New York City as possible. Indeed, the movie even begins with the actual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Some of the film's earliest scenes were shot during the 1946 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. As the parade would not be stopped because of the movie being shot, the cast and crew had to work as quickly as possible. Each scene could only be shot once. For those who may be wondering, Edmund Gwenn did indeed play Santa at the 1946 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.  The crowds present to watch the parade were not aware that it was Edmund Gwenn. They found out only after The New York Times published an article on Mr. Gwenn's stint as Santa the next day.

Not only were there scenes shot at the actual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, but many scenes were actually shot at Macy's in New York City. This required the cast and crew to shoot in the store at night, because it would have been impossible to shoot during the day given the holiday shoppers that crowded the store during the day. This means that in Miracle in 34th Street we get to see something of the Christmas shopping season in Macy's during 1946.

Once Miracle on 34th Street finished shooting, 20th Century Fox had to screen the movie for Macy's executives and then for Gimbels executives (Gimbels was Macy's chief competitor, both in the film and in real life). Either company's executives could reject the movie if they didn't approve of it. Fortunately, both sets of executives were enthusiastic about Miracle on 34th Street, and felt that it presented Macy's and Gimbels in a positive light.

While Miracle on 34th Street centred on Macy's, Holiday Affair (1949) centred on another department store. There actually was a Crowley's department store, but it was located in Detroit. They did not have a store in New York City, as portrayed in Holiday Affair. In the movie, widow Connie Ennis (played by Janet Leigh) works as a comparative shopper for the fictional department store of Fisher & Lewis. Steve Mason (played by Robert Mitchum) is clerk at Crowley's and figures out that she is a comparative shopper. Unfortunately for Steve, he finds himself fired when he does not report her.

Unlike Miracle on 34th Street, Holiday Affair was not shot at an actual department store, although the interiors of a department store were realistically re-created on the RKO lot. We get to see Crowley's in all its holiday finery, complete with wreaths hanging on the wall. The movie also re-creates the crowds of holiday shoppers found in department stores during December.

While department stores figure in the plots of both Miracle on 34th Street and Holiday Affair, a department store figures only in two scenes in A Christmas Story (1983). That having been said, both scenes are significant to the plot. What is more, the department store featured in A Christmas Story was an actual department store. Higbee's was founded in 1860 in Cleveland. It moved to its Public Square location where it spent most of its history and was featured in A Christmas Story. Of course, here it must be pointed out that Higbee's stores were only found in northeast Ohio, while the film is set in the fictional town of Hohman, Indiana. The actual department store located in the hometown of Jean Shepherd (who wrote the stories upon which A Christmas Story) was Goldblatt's, a chain with stores in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

As mentioned earlier, the first scene in the movie involves Ralphie and his friends looking at the Christmas window display at Higbee's, it is here that we first learn that Ralphie wants an "official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle." The second scene in A Christmas Story in which Higbee's appears is when Ralphie and his brother visit Santa Claus there. Just as the window display scene was shot at Higbee's, so too was the visit to Santa Claus. Here it must be pointed out that A Christmas Story turns the tropes of visiting Santa Claus on their heads. Many of the children are downright frightened of Santa. Santa and his elves aren't particularly polite. Of course, here it must be pointed out that A Christmas Story is largely told from Ralphie's point of view. As Ralphie and his family leave the store, there is a long shot of Santa and his elves. Santa is jolly as one would expect him to be, while the elves are polite to the kids. One can only assume that Ralphie's desire for a Red Ryder air rifle affected his perception (and memories) of the experience. Higbee's effectively ceased to exist in 1992, when it was bought out by Dillard's and its stores rebranded as Dillard's stores.

Sadly, department stores would begin a slow decline in the Sixties with the rise of such discount stores as Kmart, Target, and Walmart. By the mid-Seventies many department stores were experiencing difficulties. Since then, many of them have closed. Gimbels closed in 1987, as did Orbach's. Barker Bros. closed in 1992. The original Montgomery Ward shut down in 2001.  Many of the local department stores in small towns across the United States closed down much earlier. Today actual department stores can only be found in large metropolitan areas.

While department stores no longer play the role in Americans' lives that they did in the 20th Century, because of their ties to Christmas they continue to appear in recently released holiday themed movies.  Department stores feature in such movies as Serendipity (2001), Bad Santa (2003), Elf (2003), and yet others. Department stores may be a thing of the past and it can be argued they represent the epitome of Christmas commercialism, but for many Americans they form some of their earliest memories of the holiday experience.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

TCM Remembers 2020

Yesterday Turner Classic Movies released the 2020 edition of TCM Remembers, their annual tribute to those movie figures who have died in the past year. This year saw more film-related personages die than other years, and many of them were big names. This year has seen the deaths of Rhonda Fleming, Alex Trebek, Sean Connery, Orson Bean, Honor Blackman, Carl Reiner Olivia de Havilland, Dame Diana Rigg, and many others. Because of the sheer number of film-related individuals who have died this year, it seems to me that most are displayed on screen more briefly than they had in past years. Of course, with as many people who have died this year, TCM was bound to miss a few. Robert Conrad, Adam Slesinger, James Drury, and Dame Barbara Windsor were not included this year's TCM Remembers. I have to think they might be added later.

Anyhow, here is this year's TCM Remembers:

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

The Late Great Ann Reinking

Dancer, choreographer, and actress Ann Reinking died December 12 2020 at the age of 71. She worked extensively on Broadway, appearing in such productions as Goodtime Charley, Chicago, and Sweet Charity.

Ann Reinking was born on November 10 1949 in Seattle, Washington. She started ballet lessons while still a child and studied with former Ballets Russes dancers Marian and Illaria Ladre. She was only twelve years old when she made her professional debut, appearing in Giselle with the English Royal Ballet. While she attended junior high and high school she studied at the San Francisco Ballet on a scholarship. It was following her graduation from Bellevue High School that she took at the Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington, offered by the Joffrey Ballet.

When Miss Reinking was 18, she moved to New York City. She danced with the corps de ballet at Radio City Music Hall. She was part of the ensemble in the tour of Fiddler on the Roof in 1968. In 1969 she made her Broadway debut as part of the ensemble in Cabaret. Ann Reinking would appear regularly on Broadway throughout her career. After appearing in the ensembles of Coco, Wild and Wonderful, and Pippin, she played the role of Maggie in Over Here!. Over the years she would appear on Broadway in Goodtime Charley, Chicago, Dancin', and Sweet Charity. She began work as a choreographer Tommy Tune Tonite! in 1992. She would contribute choreography to the 1996 revival of Chicago, Fosse, The Look of Love, and An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin.

Ann Reinking also appeared at theatres outside Broadway. She appeared in Girl Crazy at The Muny in St. Louis in 1975, The Unsinkable Molly Brown in St. Louis in 1982, and Pal Joey at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago (on which she also contributed choreography). Miss Reinking toured with several productions through the years, including A Chorus Line and Bye Bye Birdie. She later provided choreography for a 1996 tour of Applause, a 1999 tour of Chicago, The Visit at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, and No Strings at the New York City Centre, among others.

Ann Reinking appeared very infrequently in films and on television. She made her film debut in Movie Movie in 1978. Afterwards she played Kate Jagger in All That Jazz (1979), Grace Farrell in Annie (1982), and Micki Salinger in Micki + Maude (1984). On television she guest starred on Ellery Queen, The Andros Targets, and The Cosby Show, and appeared in the TV movie A Night on the Town.

There can be no doubt that Ann Reinking was one of Broadway's most incredible talents, both as a dancer and a choreographer. Indeed, she won multiple awards throughout her career, everything from the Tony Award to the Drama Desk Award. Few dancers could move quite the way that Ann Reinking did, and her choreography was among the most inventive. As both a dancer and a choreographer, she was certainly remarkable.