Monday, April 6, 2020

The Late Great Honor Blackman

Honor Blackman, best known for her roles as Cathy Gale on The Avengers and Pussy Galore in the James Bond film Goldfinger (1964), died yesterday at the age of 94. She numbers among those actors who have never known life without. Indeed, she played the goddess Hera in the very first movie I can remember watching all the way through, Jason and the Argonauts (1963). Later I encountered her in Goldfinger when it debuted on The ABC Sunday Night Movie. Still later I would see her in such films as A Night to Remember (1958) and The Secret of My Success (1965). While I was aware that she played John Steed's partner on The Avengers before Diana Rigg joined the show as Emma Peel, with the first three series of The Avengers unavailable in the United States, I would be an adult before I finally got to see Honor Blackman as Cathy Gale. Once I did, Cathy Gale became one of my favourite television characters and the role that will forever come to my mind when I think of Honor Blackman. Miss Blackman was an incredible actress, elegant, intelligent, and powerful. She was perfect for such empowered characters as Cathy Gale, Hera, and Pussy Galore.

Honor Blackman was born on August 22 1925 in Plaistow, Essex. She attended North Ealing Primary School and Ealing County Grammar School for Girls. For her fifteenth birthday her parents gave her elocution lessons. She began her training as an actor at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in 1940. She made her film debut in an uncredited role in Fame is the Spur in 1947. In the late Forties she appeared in the films Daughter of Darkness (1948), Quartet (1948), A Boy, a Girl and a Bike (1949), Conspirator (1949), Diamond City (1949), and So Long at the Fair (1950).

Miss Blackman made her television debut in 1951 in the BBC production Joseph Proctor's Money in 1951. In the Fifties she had recurring roles on the TV shows Probation Officer and The Four Just Men. She guest starred on the shows Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Presents, I tre moschettieri, Boyd Q.C., The New Adventures of Charlie Chan, Hour of Mystery, The Invisible Man, African Patrol, The Vise, Suspense, The Third Man, and Danger Man. She appeared in the movies Green Grow the Rushes (1951), Manchas de sangre en la luna (1952), The Rainbow Jacket (1954), Diplomatic Passport (1954), The Devaline Affair (1955), The Glass Cage (1955), Breakaway (1956), You Pay Your Money (1957), Suspended Alibi (1957), Account Rendered (1957), A Night to Remember (1958), and The Square Peg (1958).

It was in 1962 that Honor Blackman began playing one of her best known roles, that of  Catherine Gale on The Avengers. Cathy Gales was one of two replacements introduced in the second season for John Steed's original partner, Dr. David Keel. In the second season Cathy Gale rotated episodes with Steed's other partner, nightclub singer Venus Smith, but it was Mrs. Gale who proved to be the most popular of the two. While Venus was a more traditional female character, Cathy Gales was a woman as television had never seen before. Cathy Gale was an anthropologist with a doctorate in anthropology. Not only was she self-assured and assertive, but she was a skilled combatant as well. Clad in leather, Mrs. Gale regularly dispatched opponents using judo. Popular in its first season, the presence of Cathy Gale on The Avengers turned the show into a sensation in the United Kingdom. For the show's third series, Cathy Gale was Steed's only partner. It was following the third season of The Avengers that Honor Blackman left the show to take the role of Pussy Galore in The Avengers.

In the Sixties, prior to her role in The Avengers, Honor Blackman guest starred on the shows Knight Errant Limited, Bootsie and Snudge Kraft Mystery Theatre, Top Secret, The Pursuers, Ghost Squad, and The Saint. Following The Avengers she guest starred on ITV Play of the Week, ABC Stage 67, Armchair Theatre, ITV Playhouse, The Name of the Game and ITV Saturday Night Theatre. Arguably the Sixties marked the height of Honor Blackman's film career. In addition to playing Hera in Jason and the Argonauts and Pussy Galore in Golfinger, she also played Lily, Baroness von Lukenberg in The Secret of My Success (1965), Norah Hauxley in Life at the Top (1965), and Lady Daggett in Shakalo (1968). She also appeared in the movies A Matter of WHO (1961), Serena (1962), Moment to Moment (1966), A Twist of Sand (1968), Kampf um Rom I (1968), Twinky (1970), The Last Grenade (1970), and The Virgin and the Gypsy (1970).

In the Seventies Miss Blackman appeared in the movies Fright (1971), Something Big (1971), To the Devil a Daughter (1976), Age of Innocence (1978), and The Cat and the Canary (1978). She guest starred on the shows Boney, Columbo, Jubilee, Robin's Nest, and Crown Court. She played Margaret Stevenson in the mini-series The Lives of Benjamin Franklin.

In the Eighties Honor Blackman had the regular role of Veronica Barton on the TV show Never the Twain, Later in the decade she began playing Laura West in the long-running sitcom The Upper Hand. She guest starred on the shows Holding the Fort, In Performance, Minder, Doctor Who, and Crossbow.

In the Nineties she continued to star on The Upper Hand. She guest starred on The ABC Weekend Specials and Doctors. She appeared in the movies Tales of the Mummy (1998) and To Walk with Lions (1999). In the Naughts she appeared in the movies Bridget Jones' Diary (2001), Jack Brown and the Curse of the Crown (2004), Colour Me Kubrick: A True...ish Story (2005), and Reuniting the Rubins (2010). She guest starred on the television shows The American Embassy, Midsomer Murders, The Royal, Revolver, Coronation Street, New Tricks, and Hotel Babylon.

In the Teens she guest starred on Casualty, and You, Me & Them. She appeared in the mini-series By Any Means.She appeared in the movies I, Anna (2012) and Cockneys vs. Zombies (2012).

Honor Blackman also had a considerable stage career, appearing in such productions as Mr. & Mrs.; Move Over, Mrs Markham; Night and Day, The Sound of Music; My Fair Lady; and Cabaret. More recently she toured in her own showy Honor Blackman as Herself, a look back at her life and career.

Chances are good that Honor Blackman will always be remembered as Cathy Gale and Pussy Galore, but she played a variety of roles throughout her long career. In Britain Miss Blackman will also be remembered as Laura West on The Upper Hand, lead character Caroline Wheatley's glamorous mother who dates a succession of men. In the Danger Man episode "Colonel Rodriguez," she played the wife of an American journalist arrested on a small island nation. She made one of her best known guest appearances on television in the Columbo episode "Dagger of the Mind." She played Shakespearean actress Lillian Stanhope, who proves to be a worthy opponent to Lt. Columbo.

The fact is that Honor Blackman was an enormous talent. What she brought to her many roles was more than beauty and elegance, but also intelligence, determination, professionalism, and, when the role called for it, even physical prowess. Much like Cathy Gale and Pussy Galore, Honor Blackman was a remarkable woman in real life, well known for her political activism. Honor Blackman wasn't simply a talented actress, but she was also a lady through and through.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Godspeed Bill Withers

Bill Withers, the singer-songwriter who produced such classic songs s "Ain't No Sunshine," "Lean on Me," and "Just the Two of Us," died March 30 2020 at the age of 81. The cause was heart complications.

Bill Withers was born on July 4 1938 in Slab Fork, West Virginia, a small coal mining town. He grew up in nearby Beckley, West Virginia. His father died when he was only 13 years old. Mr. Withers enlisted in the United States Navy when he was 17. He served for nine years as an Aviation Boatswain's Mate. It was while he was serving in the Navy that he became interested in singing and songwriting.

Following his service in the Navy he moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in music. He worked in factories for various companies, among them Douglas Aircraft Corporation,  performing at clubs at night. During this same period he made various demo tapes. One of these demo tapes found its way to Clarence Avant, owner of Sussex Records. Mr. Avant signed Bill Withers to Sussex Records.

His first album, Just As I Am, was released in 1971. While the first single from the album, "Harlem," failed to chart, the second single, "Ain't No Sunshine," proved to be a hit. It went to no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and no. 6 on the Billboard R&B chart. The third single, "Grandma's Hands," also performed well. While it went to only no. 42 on the Billboard Hot 100, it went to no. 18 on the Billboard  R&B chart.

The biggest hit of Bill Withers's career would come from his second album, Still Bill. "Lean on Me" was the first single from the album. It went to no. 1 on  both the Billboard Hot 100 and the Billboard R&B charts. The second single from the album, "Use Me," also did well. It went to no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and no. 2 on the Billboard R&B chart.

In 1973 the live album Bill Withers at Carnegie Hall was released. It was followed by his final album on Sussex Records, +'Justments. It was also during this period that he wrote and produced the songs "Better You Go Your Way" and "Tenderness is His Way" for the Gladys Knight & the Pips album I Feel a Song.

After Sussex Records folded, Mr. Withers signed with Columbia Records. His first album with Columbia Records, Making Music, was released in 1975. It was followed by the album Naked & Warm. Bill Withers's third album on Columbia Records, Menagerie, produced the minor hit "Lovely Day." "Lovely Day" went to no. 30 on the Billboard Hot 100 and no. 6 on the Billboard R&B chart. Menagerie  was followed by the album 'Bout Love in 1979.

Bill Withers's next major hit would be a collaboration with saxophonist Grover Washington, Jr., and appeared on Mr. Washington's 1980 album Winelight. "Just the Two of Us" reached no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and no. 3 on the Billboard singles chart. He also collaborated on "Soul Shadows" with The Crusaders and In the Name of Love" with Ralph MacDonald.  Despite the success of "Just the Two Of Us," Bill Withers would record only one more studio album. Watching You Watching Me was released in 1985. "Oh Yeah," a single from that album, reached no. 22 on the Billboard R&B chart.

Bill Withers elected not to renew his contract with Columbia Records due to disagreements with the label. He then effectively retired from his music career.

Bill Withers was unlike any other music artist of his era. Whether it was because he grew up in a small town or because he started his musical career later than most, his songs were always grounded in reality and addressed the concerns of ordinary adults. "Lean on Me" was about having a sense of community. "Grandma's Hands" was simply about his grandmother. Bill Withers's songs displayed a maturity sometimes lacking in popular music of the Seventies. Of course, what made his music even better was his voice soulful and genuine. It was a voice that could relay both comfort and warmth. Between his talent and maturity as a songwriter and his remarkable voice, Bill Withers remains one of the greatest singers and songwriters in the history of American popular music.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

The Late Great Adam Schlesinger

Those who know me well know that quite possibly my favourite subgenre of rock music is power pop. Among my favourite latter day power pop bands numbers Fountains of Wayne. From 1996 to 2011 Fountains of Wayne recorded a series of albums filled with hook-laden power pop songs written by Adam Schesinger and Chris Collingwood. I have been a fan of Fountains of Wayne ever since that first album. Of course, Adam Schlesinger had a career that when well beyond Fountains of Wayne. Prior to Fountains of Wayne he had recorded with indie pop Ivy. He was later part of the supergroup Tinted Windows. Adam Schlesinger wrote the song "That Thing You Do!" for the 1996 movie of the same name, as well as "Pretend to Be Nice" for Josie and the Pussycats and yet other songs for other movies. Sadly, Adam Schlesinger died yesterday, April 1 2020, from complications caused by COVID-19. He was 52 years old.

Adam Schlesinger was born in New York City on October 31 1967. He grew up in Montclair, New Jersey. From when he was a young child he played music and wrote songs. It was also as a young child that he took notice of a lawn ornament shop in Wayne, New Jersey called Fountains of Wayne. He told his mother that Fountains of Wayne would be a great band name. Adam Schlesinger attended Montclair High School. After high school he studied philosophy at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. It was there that he met Chris Collingwood.

After receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree from Williams College, Adam Schlesinger moved to New York City. It was there that he answered an ad placed by Andy Chase. Together the two formed Ivy with Dominique Durand. In 1994 Seed Records signed Ivy. Their first single, "Get Enough," was released that same year. Their debut album, Realistic, followed in 1995. Ivy made five more albums: Apartment Life (1997); Long Distance (2000); Guestroom (2002); In the Clear (2005); and All Hours (2011).

It was after Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood reconnected that the two of them formed a band. Chris Collingwood had played with the band The Mercy Buckets. The band went through such names as Woolly Mammoth and Are You My Mother? before settling on Fountains of Wayne. Fountains of Wayne was signed to Atlantic Records and their self-titled, debut album was released in 1996. While the album did not chart, their debut single "Radiation Vibe," met some success, reaching no. 14 on the Billboard alternative chart. Their debut album was followed by the album Utopia Parkway in 1999. Utopia Parkway also did not chart. Their single, "Denise," did respectively well, reaching no. 34 on the Billboard alternative chart. Unfortunately, it would be later in 1999 that Atlantic Records dropped Fountains of Wayne.

Fountains of Wayne would be inactive for a time before the release of their next album, Welcome Interstate Managers on S-Curve Records.  The album produced the hit "Stacy's Mom," which peaked at no. 21 on the Billboard Hot 100. Welcome Interstate Managers went to no. 115 on the Billboard album chart. It was followed by Traffic and Weather in 2007, which went to no. 97 on the Billboard album chart. Their final album, Sky Full of Holes, was released in 2011. It charted higher than any of their previous albums, peaking at no. 37 on the Billboard album chart, no. 4 on the Billboard alternative album chart, no. 3 on the Billboard indie chart, and no. 6 on the Billboard rock chart. Unfortunately, tensions between Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood would lead to the band never recording again.

Adam Schlesinger was also a part of the supergroup Tinted Windows. In addition to Adam Schlesinger, Tinted Windows also consisted of singer Taylor Hanson of Hanson and Bun E. Carlos of Cheap Trick. The band recorded one, self-titled album released in 2009.

In addition to his work with Ivy and Fountains of Wayne, Adam Schlesinger also served as a producer for several acts over the years. Over the years he produced such artists as Dan Bryk, They Might Be Giants, America, Bowling for Soup, The Sounds, and The Monkees. Adam Schlesinger served as the producer for synth pop duo Fever High. He produced both their 2015 EP All Work and their 2017 album FHNY.

Adam Schlesinger also wrote songs for motion pictures. He wrote the title song for the movie That Thing You Do! (1996), for which he was nominated for an Oscar for Best Song. He wrote the songs "Pretend to Be Nice" and "Come On" for Josie and the Pussycats. Over the years he provided songs for such movies as There's Something About Mary (1998), Me, Myself & Irene (2001), Insomnia (2002), Robots (2005), and Music and Lyrics (2007).

Mr. Schlesinger worked extensively in television. He wrote theme music for the TV shows The Dana Carvey Show, The Howard Stern Radio Show, My Kind of Town, Too Late with Adam Carolla, Crank Yankers, Kathy, Wedding Band, The Haunted Hathaways. and Supernoobs. He served as executive music producer for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and contributed several songs to the show. He received several Emmy nominations for his work on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and in 2019 he won the Emmy Awards for Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics for "Antidepressants Are So Not a Big Deal" for the show.

Adam Schlesinger also worked in theatre. With David Javerbaum, he co-wrote the songs for the 2007 musical theatre adaptation of the John Waters film Cry-Baby. He wrote the closing song "I Have Faith in You" for David Javerbaum's 2015 play An Act of God. He had been collaborating with Sara Silverman on a musical based on her memoir The Bedwetter and with Rachel Bloom of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend on a musical adaptation of the TV show The Nanny.

Fountains of Wayne has always been one of my favourite latter day power pop bands, and Adam Schlesinger is one of my favourite songwriters. He had a talent for writing catchy, hook-laden pop songs that get stuck in one's head. What is more, the songs were always so good that one didn't mind them replaying in one's mind over and over. Mr. Schlesinger also addressed an audience largely ignored by rock music, those members of the middle class who longed for something more. The subject matter of Fountains of Wayne covered everything from despondent businessmen to adolescent boys fantasising about their friends' mothers. Adam Schlesinger was capable of both humour and pathos in his songs. Often they would be present in the same song.

While Adam Schlesinger was a songwriting genius, he was one who was more than willing to collaborate with others. The songs of Fountains of Wayne were always credited to Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood.  On Crazy Ex-Girlfriend he worked with Rachel Bloom and music supervisor Jack Dolgen. Adam Schlesinger may have had considerable talent, but he was not afraid to share that talent with others.

Adam Schlesinger was never a superstar. It was only as part of Fountains of Wayne that he was a front man and even then he shared that position with Chris Collingwood. Despite this, one could not dismiss Adam Schlesinger as just another composer of hook-laden pop songs. Quite simply, he was a master craftsman, perfectly aware of the emotional impact of a combination of lyrics, the progression of certain chords, and even changes in volume. As a master craftsman of power pop, Adam Schlesinger ranks along such greats as Ray Davies, Pete Townshend, Rick Nielsen, John Auer, and Ken Stringfellow. He may never have been a superstar, but he will never be forgotten.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

10 Great Performances by Toshiro Mifune

Toshiro Mifune in Yojimbo
It was 100 years ago today that Toshiro Mifune was born in Japanese occupied Qingdao, Shandong, China, where his parents were working as Methodist missionaries. When he was young he worked in his father's photography shop. At 19 he was drafted into the Imperial Japanese Army. During World War II, he served in the Aerial Photography unit. Following the war, Mr. Mifune was accepted for a position as an assistant cameraman at Toho Company, Ltd.

It was in 1947 that a number of Toho's actors left to form a new company called Shintoho. It was then that Toho held a contest to attract new talent to replace the actors who had left. One of Toshiro Mifune's friends submitted his photo and an application for him without him knowing it. He was on 48 applicants who was accepted out of around 4000. He then took a screen test for director Kajirō Yamamoto. Afterwards he was cast in his first feature film, the comedy Shin Baka Jidai (1947).  Ultimately, Toshiro Mifune's career would last for 48 years and would include many classic films. He worked with several of Japan's top directors, most notably Akira Kurosawa. Toshiro Mifuen and Akira Kurosawa would make sixteen films together.

Below are some of Toshiro Mifune's best performances from throughout his career.They are listed in chronological order.

Stray Dog (1949): Stray Dog was the third film that Toshiro Mifune made with Akira Kurosawa. It is a prime example of Japanese noir. In the film Mr. Mifune plays homicide detective Murakami, whose gun is stolen by a pickpocket. He gives a bravura performance as the rookie cop who finds himself amidst the underworld to retrieve his stolen weapon.

Rashomon (1950): Rashomon was the first of Akira Kurosawa's films to receive international attention, and it is with good reason. It is a remarkable film all around, with an excellent script, incredible cinematography by Kazuo Miyagawa, and solid performances by its actors. In the film Toshiro Mifune plays a character far removed from the stalwart samurai he is known for. The bandit Tajōmaru is boastful, cowardly, dishonest, and dishonourable.

The Samurai TrilogyHiroshi Inagaki directed three films based on the life of famed swordsman Musashi Miyamoto. The films, Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto (1954), Samurai II: Duel at Ichijoji Temple (1955), and Samurai III: Duel at Ganryu Island (1956), followed Miyamoto through his life from an overly confident young warrior to to a wise and philosophical samurai. Samurai I: Musahshi Miyamoto begins following the battle of Sekigahara, while Samurai III: Duel at Ganryu Island ends with his famous duel with rival Kojirō Sasaki. Toshiro Mifune does a masterful job of playing Miyamoto, taking him from youthful and inexperienced samurai to a more grounded warrior.

Seven Samurai (1954): Seven Samurai may well be the best known film of both Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune's careers. And it is with good reason. The film regularly ranks in lists of the greatest films of all time, and I personally considered the greatest movie ever made. Seven Samurai was certainly influential, with films still being made that bear its impact. Given Seven Samurai centres on a band of samurai protecting a farming village from bandits, one might expect Toshiro Mifune to play a traditional, brave, and noble samurai. Instead, to a large degree Mr. Mifune played comic relief in Seven Samurai. Kikuchiyo is temperamental, volatile, and often comical. In fact, he is not even truly a samurai, but a farm boy who wanted to be a samurai. That having been said, Kikuchiyo is also brave and resourceful, and he understands the farmer's plights more than the other samurai. Kikuchiyo is one of the most sophisticated roles Toshiro Mifune ever played, a character who provides humour, but can be taken seriously nonetheless.

Throne of Blood (1957): Throne of Blood takes the plot of Macbeth and moves it to feudal Japan. Toshiro Mifune then finds himself in the role corresponding to Macbeth, Taketoki Washizu. Toshiro Mifune does an incredible job portraying the samurai general who, following a prophecy from a spirit, is manipulated by his wife into murder and more.

The Bad Sleep Well (1960):  Another one of Akira Kurosawa's film noirs, The Bad Sleep Well also owes a bit to Hamlet. Toshiro Mifune plays Kōichi Nishi, a young man who takes a job with a major corporation in order to bring to justice the man responsible for his father's death. Mr. Mifune does a remarkable job playing the grieving son intent on exposing the corporation's corruption.

Yojimbo (1961) and Sanjuro (1962): Yojimbo is one of Akira Kurosawa's most famous films, and certainly one of his most influential. The film is based largely on Dashiell Hammett's novel The Glass Key, with the action moved to the end of the Edo Period in Japan (1860). The film would prove successful, so that a sequel, Sanjuro, was made. In both films Toshiro Mifune plays a ronin who is reluctant to give his real name (in Yojimbo when asked his name he simply says it is "Kuwabatake Sanjuro"--"mulberry field thirty years old).  In Yojimbo Sanjuro plays two warring clans against each other. In Sanjuro he deals with corrupt officials. In both movies Sanjuro is crafty and not below using means that could be considered dishonourable. Yojimbo would prove to be influential. Arguably, the whole concept of a morally ambiguous hero with no name can traced back to it, though Sergio Leon's  unauthorised remake A Fistful of Dollars.

High and Low (1963): In High and Low Toshiro Mifune plays shoe company executive Kingo Gondo who is in a struggle to maintain control of his company when a friend of his son is kidnapped. Based on the "87th Precinct" novel King's Ransom by Ed McBain, High and Low is very much a police procedural.

Samurai Assassin (1965): Directed by Kihachi Okamoto, Samurai Assassin is a solid jidaigeki set in 1860, the last days of the Edo period. The film was inspired by actual history, namely the Sakuradamon Incident, in which Japanese chief minister Ii Naosuke was assassinated by rōnin. Toshiro Mifune plays Niiro Tsurichiyo, the illegitimate son of a noble who sides with various clans opposing a powerful man in the shogunate.

Hell in the Pacific (1968): Hell on the Pacific centres on an American serviceman (played by Lee Marvin) and a Japanese serviceman (played by Toshiro Mifune) stranded on an island in the Pacific during World War II. Although the two are initially distrustful of each other, they eventually decide to work together and even bond together. Both actors do a remarkable job in their respective roles, a particularly remarkable feat given how little dialogue there is in the film. While many of the roles Toshiro Mifune took outside of Japan failed to display his considerable talent, Hell in the Pacific displays the full range of his considerable skill as an actor.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

The Late Great Stuart Gordon

Stuart Gordon, who directed such movies based on the works of H. P. Lovecraft as Re-Animator (1985), From Beyond (1986), and Dagon (2001), died on March 24 2020 at the age of 72.

Stuart Gordon was born on August 11 1947 in Chicago, Illinois. He attended Lane Technical High School in Chicago. He attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison. It was there that he founded his first theatre company, the Screw Theatre. It was at the Screw Theatre that Mr. Gordon staged a politicised version of Peter Pan in the fall of 1968. Both he and his eventual wife, Carolyn Purdy, were charged with obscenity. While the story made national headlines, the charges would be dropped in November 1968. Afterwards the University of Wisconsin demanded that any future plays staged by the Screw Theatre be overseen by a university professor. Stuart Gordon then broke with the university and founded the Broom Street Theatre without their support.

It was later in 1969 that Mr. Gordon and his wife Carolyn moved to Chicago where they founded the Organic Theatre Company. The company operated through the Seventies and into the early Eighties. Among the plays Mr. Gordon produced with the Organic Theatre Company were Sexual Perversity in Chicago, Bleacher Bums, and E/R (upon which the short-lived sitcom of the same name was based). It was following E/R that Stuart Gordon left Chicago for Los Angeles.

Stuart Gordon made his directorial debut with a 1979 adaptation of the play Bleacher Bums. It was in 1985 that he made his first feature film, Re-Animator. An adaptation of  H. P. Lovecraft's novelette "Herbert West–Reanimator," it did well at the box office and received largely positive reviews from critics. Mr. Gordon followed it with another H. P. Lovecraft adaptation, From Beyond (1986), based on H. P. Lovecraft's short story of the same name. He closed the Eighties with the films Dolls (1987) and Robot Jox (1989). With Brian Yuzna and Ed Naha, he provided the story for the film Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989). On television he directed the 1990 TV movie Daughters of Darkness.

Stuart Gordon began the Nineties with the Edgar Allan Poe adaptation The Pit and the Pendulum (1991). During the decade he directed the movies Fortress (1992), Space Truckers (1996), and The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit (1998). He wrote the screenplays for Body Snatchers (1992) and The Dentist (1996), and the story for Progeny (1998). On television he directed an episode of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: The TV Show.

In the Naughts he directed the H. P. Lovecraft adaptation Dagon (2001), based on novella The Shadow Over Innsmouth rather than the short story of the same name. He also directed the movies King of the Ants (2003), Edmond (2005), and Stuck (2007). On television he directed two episodes of Masters of Horror and one episode of Fear Itself. In 2009 he returned to the stage to direct Nevermore...An Evening with Edgar Allan Poe.

In 2011 Stuart Gordon produced, directed, and co-wrote the book for the stage production Re-Animator: The Musical. In 2014 his play, Taste, premiered at Sacred Fools Theatre Company in Los Angeles.

There can be little doubt that Stuart Gordon will always be best known for his work in the horror genre. In fact, many believe that he directed the absolute best adaptations of H. P. Lovecraft's work ever made. Much of his power as a horror director was his willingness to push the boundaries of what was acceptable in the genre.It is with good reason that Re-Animator and From Beyond are considered horror classics. At the same time, however, Mr. Gordon was versatile. He made the relatively family friendly science fiction film Robot Jox. He also made the sci-fi films Fortress and Space Truckers. He even made a comedy, The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit, based on a short story of Ray Bradbury (who considered it the best film based on any of his works).

While Stuart Gordon is best known for his work in film, his career in theatre must also be acknowledged. There are no bigger names in Chicago theatre than Stuart Gordon. He worked with such talents as David Mamet, Joe Mantegna, and Dennis Franz. It was Stuart Gordon, often pushing the boundaries of what had been on stage before, who essentially put Chicago on the map where the theatre was concerned. No less than David Mamet himself said of his ideas in his eulogy for Mr. Gordon in The Chicago Tribune, " fact, many of them came from Stuart Gordon." Stuart Gordon was a major talent whose work spanned not only genres, but also media. He revolutionised both horror cinema and the Chicago stage.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

TCM Classic Film Festival: Special Home Edition

Because the 2020 TCM Classic Film Festival was cancelled this year, Turner Classic Movies will be airing the TCM Classic Film Festival: Special Home Edition from April 16 to April 19 2020. It will include TCM hosts, guests, and events that one can follow on TCM and online. Unfortunately, as of yet, Turner Classic Movies does not have the ability to transmit TCMFF swag to fans through their television sets, computers, smartphones, or tablets.

The schedule for the TCM Classic Film Festival: Special Home Edition is already available and you can see it here. As might be expected, it consists of some of the best programming on TCM all this year. On Thursday, April 16, at 11:00 PM Eastern/10:00 PM Central, TCM is airing the silent classic Metropolis (1927).

Friday TCM is showing The Seventh Seal at 6:45 AM Eastern/ 5:45 AM Central. At 12:30 PM Eastern/11:30 AM Central, one of my all time favourite movies is airing, A Hard Day's Night (1964). As usual, I will be on hand with trivia. on Twitter using the hashtag #TCMParty. At 2:00 PM Eastern/1:00 PM Central TCM is showing the interview with Eva Marie Saint from the 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival, followed at 3:15 PM Eastern/2:15 Central by North By Northwest (1959). At 8:00 PM Eastern/7:00 PM Central, TCM is showing the documentary Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story.

Saturday morning TCM is airing Mad Love (1935), with an introduction from Bill Hader from the 2019 TCM Classic Film Festival, at 8:00 AM Eastern/7:00 AM Central. It is followed by the Pre-Code movie Double Harness (1933) at 9:15 AM Eastern/8:15 AM Central. I am told at the 2016 film festival it was sold out! At 1:30 PM Eastern/12:30 PM Central there is Safety Last! (1923), introduced by Suzanne Lloyd. At 8:00 PM Eastern/7:00 PM Central TCM is showing Casablanca (1942), with an introduction by Peter Bogdanovich and Monika Henreid. at 11:45 PM Eastern/10:45 PM Central Night and the City (1950) is airing, with an introduction by Eddie Muller.

Sunday evening Singin' in the Rain (1954) airs at 6:00 PM Eastern/5:00 PM Central. It is followed by Floyd Norman: An Animated Life at 8:00 PM Eastern/7:00 PM Central. Animator Floyd Norman was set to be honoured at this year's festival. At 12:15 AM Eastern (Monday morning)/11:15 PM Central Turner Classic Movies is showing the Pre-Code classic Baby Face (1933). Film historian Bruce Goldstein was set to present this film at this year's festival, addressing the censorship the film experienced.

The TCM Classic Film Festival: Special Home Edition will be a real treat for TCM fans and a means for the festival to go on after a fashion. Now if only the technology to transmit TCMFF swag through television screens could be perfected before April 16....

Monday, March 23, 2020

Thank You for a Successful Blogathon

I want to thank everyone who contributed to the Sixth Annual Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon for making it a success. This year saw a good variety of posts, with no one genre standing out over the others (it was the 3rd Annual Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon in which Westerns seem to dominate). I do believe that this may have been the first blogathon in which there were no episodes from The Twilight Zone or Star Trek covered. Another way this blogathon differed from previous blogathons is that the decades of the Fifties and Sixties didn't dominate things have they had in the past. We had posts covering shows from the Sixties, Seventies, and Eighties. Anyway, I want to thank everyone who participated in this year's blogathon. I would also like to state that, barring unforeseen circumstances, there will be a Seventh Annual Favourite TV show Episode Blogathon next March!

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Batman, "The Purr-fect Crime"/"Better Luck Next Time"

(This blog post is part of the 6th Annual Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon hosted by A Shroud of Thoughts)

It has often been said that the Sixties were dominated by the Three B's: Bond, The Beatles, and Batman. Today it might be difficult for many to understand just how huge the TV show Batman was. The show debuted on January 12 1966 to phenomenal ratings. What is more, it maintained those ratings throughout the winter and spring of 1966. In 1966 alone Batman accounted for $150 million worth of merchandise sold. 

For those unfamiliar with the TV series Batman, it was essentially a spoof of the comic book character that was nonetheless faithful to the comic books in spirit, if not in tone. When ABC called upon William Dozier to create a TV show based on the comic book character Batman, he figured there was little way adults of the time would take a show about a man who fights crime dressed as a bat seriously. He then decided to approach Batman in such a way that it would work on two levels: for children it would be high adventure, while for adults it would be high comedy. In reality Batman was millionaire Bruce Wayne (played by Adam West), who took to fighting crime after his parents had been murdered by a mugger. Batman was assisted by his sidekick Robin, who was in reality Bruce Wayne's youthful ward Dick Grayson (played by Burt Ward). Bruce Wayne's butler, Alfred (played by Alan Napier), knew the Dynamic Duo's identities and was often called upon to help them on cases. The two often came to the aid of the Gotham City Police, headed by Commissioner Gordon (played by Neil Hamilton) and Chief O'Hara (played by Stafford Repp).

Of course, much of the appeal of the TV show Batman was the supervillains played by big-name celebrities. Cesar Romero played The Joker. Burgess Meredith played The Penguin. Frank Gorshin played The Riddler.  Among the most popular villains on the show was The Catwoman. Ultimately Catwoman would be played by three different actresses: Julie Newmar in the first and second seasons of the show; Lee Meriwether in the 1966 feature film spun off from the TV series, and Eartha Kitt in the third season of the show. Through the years the best known and most popular of the actresses to play Catwoman has remained the original, Julie Newmar. She made her debut in the first part of a two part Batman episode titled "The Purr-fect Crime," which aired on March 16 1966. It was followed by the second part, "Better Luck Next Time," which aired the following night, on March 17 1966.

In "The Purr-fect Crime" The Catwoman steals a pair of Golden Cat statuettes from a museum. As it turns out, the pair of statues are only the start of Catwoman's scheme. Her real goal is the lost treasure of notorious pirate Captain Manx. "Better Luck Next Time" features the Dynamic Duo trying to foil Catwoman's plot. While "The Purr-fect Crime"/"Better Luck Next Time" is the first episode to feature The Catwoman, from dialogue in the episode we know that it is not the first time she has crossed paths with Batman. In fact, when Batman first encounters Catwoman in the episode, she says to him, "Aw, is that any way to greet an old friend, Batman?."

Catwoman in Batman no. 1
In the comic books, Catwoman had been one of Batman's longest running opponents. She first appeared in Batman no. 1, spring 1940 (the same issue in which The Joker first appeared). In her first appearance she was simply called "The Cat." It was with her second appearance in Batman no. 2,  summer 1940, that she was first called The Catwoman. Over the years she would become one of Batman's most frequent opponents. There can be no doubt that much of her popularity was not simply due to the fact that she was a woman, but because she differed from the rest of Batman's opponents in other ways. Unlike The Joker, Penguin, and Two-Face, Catwoman never committed murder and she was not evil in the way that Batman's other enemies were. What is more, she had a flirtatious relationship with Batman, to the point that the Caped Crusader was always trying to reform her. In the end, Catwoman would become Batman's longest lasting love interest.

Unfortunately, the late Forties and early Fifties would see a moral panic over comic books, spearheaded by psychiatrist Dr. Fredric Wertham. In his 1954 book Seduction of the Innocent, Dr. Wertham attacked Catwoman in particular, referring to her as "vicious" and and noted that she "...uses a whip." While Catwoman certainly used cat o'nine tails, Dr. Wertham's characterisation of her as "vicious" was far off the mark. Ultimately the moral panic over comic books would lead to the formation of the Comics Magazine Association of America and the creation of the Comics Code, a set of rules by which the comic book industry would censor itself. Between Dr. Wertham's attacks and the Comics Code, Catwoman would cease appearing in comic books in 1954. By the time Julie Newmar played her in "The Purr-Fect Crime," Catwoman had been absent from comic books for nearly twelve years.

Although Julie Newmar may still be the actress most identified with the role, she might not have played Catwoman if not for her younger brother John Newmeyer, who would later achieve fame as an epidemiologist, author, and winemaker. Dr. Newmeyer and five of his friends from Harvard were visiting Miss Newmar in her Manhattan penthouse when she received a phone call from the producers of Batman asking if she would play the role of Catwoman. John Newmeyer and his friends told Julie Newmar that Batman was their favourite TV show and that they would actually cut class or take a break from homework to watch it. 

Julie Newmar then found herself flying to  Los Angeles at the last minute on the weekend. As Miss Newmar recalled in an interview with Smithsonian Magazine, she got a script and went in for a costume fitting on Monday and they were already at work on the episode on Wednesday. Being unfamiliar with Batman comic books, much less the character of Catwoman (who at that point hadn't appeared in the comic books since 1954), Miss Newmar drew upon other sources to play the role. Much of this was her training as a dancer, which allowed her to move in ways most humans can't. Much of it was simply acting like a cat. While Catwoman is now Julie Newmar's best known role, she had already had a considerable career before Batman. She played Dorcas in the classic musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) and she had a memorable role as Stupefyin' Jones in the musical Li'l Abner (1959).  In 1964 she received her own show, playing the robot Rhoda (designated by the Air Force as AF 709) in the sitcom My Living Doll. While My Living Doll would last only one season, it would be remembered by many.

Among other things Catwoman is remembered for the costume that Julie Newmar wore on the TV series. Unlike the costumes worn by Cesar Romero as The Joker and Burgess Meredith as The Penguin, Catwoman's costume was dramatically different from what the character had worn most of the time in the comic books (a purple dress with a cowl, complete with ears). On the TV show Catwoman wore a form-fitting, black bodysuit. The costume was made from a fabric called Lurex and was designed specifically to Julie Newmar's body. Miss Newmar would have some impact on the design of the costume. She added the gold belt that went around Catwoman's hips and the inside seams were sown to her specifications. Of course, it must be kept in mind that Julie Newmar stands 5' 11". With the costume's high-heeled boots, then, as Catwoman she stood well over 6 feet.

Gemini 8 launch
"The Purr-fect Crime"/"Better Luck Next Time" aired when Batman was at its peak. The second part of the episode, "Better Luck Time," aired on Thursday, ranked no. 3 for the week in the Nielsen ratings. The first part of the episode, "The Purr-fect Crime," came in at no. 22 for the week. It was as "The Purr-fect Crime" aired that something happened that made it all too apparent just how popular Batman had become. On Wednesday, March 17 1966, the NASA mission Gemini 8, manned by Neil Armstrong and Major David Scott, experienced problems with its control system. Both NBC and CBS pre-empted their primetime programming to cover the emergency. ABC went ahead and aired Batman. That having been said, they interrupted the broadcast three times to report on the Gemini 8 emergency. While all three networks received complaints, ABC received over 1000 phone calls protesting the interruptions during Batman. Many of those calls came from  adults making it clear they were not calling on behalf of their children.

As might be expected, many commentators at the time were critical of those who had complained about ABC's news updates during "The Purr-fect Crime," expressing the opinion that some viewers were more concerned about a television show episode than the fate of the two astronauts. Newspaper readers were divided in their response to the commentators. Some took offence at being criticised for being upset that Batman was interrupted by news updates, with many saying that it was more because the two later news updates were repeats of the first. Others agreed with the commentators and were similarly dismayed that anyone would be more concerned with a fictional television show than a real life emergency involving astronauts. Regardless, the controversy was more proof of just how big the TV show Batman had become.

It is mark of the popularity of  "The Purr-fect Crime"/"Better Luck Next Time" that "The Purr-fect Crime" served as the basis of a View Master reel. It was also perhaps due to the popularity of the episode in part that Catwoman would make several more appearances on the show. Catwoman appeared in the 1966 feature film Batman, although because Julie Newmar was unavailable the role was played by Lee Meriwehter. Julie Newmar would reprise her role as Catwoman in five more episodes during the second season. In the third season Catwoman was played by Eartha Kitt.

It would be Catwoman's appearances on the TV show Batman that would ultimately lead to her reappearing in Batman comic books. As mentioned above, Catwoman had last appeared in comic books in 1954. With the popularity of the character on television, she returned in comic books and she has remained a part of Batman comic books ever since.

Of course, there is little wonder why "The Purr-fect Crime"/"Better Luck Next Time" should have proven to be one of the more popular episodes of Batman, as it is also one of the best episodes of the show. Julie Newmar lights up the screen as Catwoman. What is more, the traps she sets for Batman and Robin are truly original. And while the episode lacks the level of flirtation that would appear in later episodes with Julie Newmar as Catwoman,  there still appears to be a good deal of affection between Batman and Catwoman. One gets the feeling that Catwoman does not mean to kill Batman with her traps and it is more just a way of playing with him. And when Catwoman is in danger, Batman expresses genuine concern over her in a way he would not if it had been The Joker or Penguin in danger. While the level of flirtation between the Caped Crusader and the Princess of Plunder is less than in later episodes and Julie Newmar's performance is not quite as refined as it would later be, "The Purr-fect Crime"/"Better Luck Next Time" benefits from more realistic traps than would be seen during the second season and a level of seriousness that actually makes the episode simultaneously funnier and more suspenseful.

Since "The Purr-fect Crime"/"Better Luck Next Time" first aired in March 1966, several other actresses have played Catwoman, including Michelle Pfeiffer, Anne Hathaway, and Camren Bicondova. That having been said, it seems likely that for many Julie Newmar will remain the definitive Catwoman. I have to think that much of this is due to the fact that her debut episode on Batman numbers among the best episodes of the show.

Friday, March 20, 2020

The 6th Annual Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon

The 6th Annual Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon has arrived. This year's blogathon spans several decades worth of classic television.

For those of you who are participating in the blogathon, I ask that you link to this page. I will be updating this page with links to the various blog posts that are part of this blogathon throughout the weekend. If you want a graphic for your post, I have several on the announcement page here.

Anyhow, without further ado, here are the blog posts!

The Midnite Drive-In: "Nuts to You" (The Dick Van Dyke Show, "It May Look Like a Walnut")

Various Ramblings of Nostalgic Italian: "Home Sweet Home – Sanford and Son"

Caftan Woman: Magnum, P.I., "Holmes is Where the Heart Is", 1984 

The Wonderful World of Cinema: "The Alfred Hitchcock Hour: 'See the Monkey Dance' (Joseph Newman, 1964)"

Realweegiemidget Reviews: "TV… The Fall Guy (1981-86), S2 Ep6  Reluctant Travelling Companion" 

The Horn Section: "Favourite Episode Blogathon: High Chaparral: "It Takes a Smart Man" (1970)" 

A Shroud of Thoughts: "Batman, 'The Purr-fect Crime"/"Better Luck Next Time'" 

Taking Up Room:"Go Team" (MacGyver, "Halloween Knights")

Dubsism: "Sports Analogies Hidden In Classic Movies – Volume 73: The Rockford Files – 'The Competitive Edge'"

Críticô Retrô: "Desenho Retrô: Manda Chuva Retro Cartoon: Top Hat"

Hollywood Genes: "Faerie Tale Theatre and 'The Boy Who Left Home to Find Out About the Shivers'"

Moon in Gemini: "The Six Wives of Henry VIII: Catherine Howard"

The Movie Rat: "Favorite TV Show Episode Blogathon: Tiny Toons 'Acme Bowl'" 

Hamlette's Soliloquy: "'Showdown in Limbo' (The Big Valley) 1967 "

The Everyday Cinephile: "Police Squad: Testimony of Evil (Dead Men Don't Laugh)" 

A Scunner Darkly: "Baywatch Nights – 'Night Whispers'"

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Godspeed Lyle Waggoner

Lyle Waggoner, who was a regular on The Carol Burnett Show for seven seasons and appeared as Steve Trevor and Steve Trevor, Jr. on the Seventies TV series Wonder Woman, died yesterday, March 17 2020, at the age of 84 after a brief illness.

Lyle Waggoner was born on April 13 1935 in Kansas City, Kansas. He spent a large part of his childhood in Excelsior Springs, Missouri. He graduated from Kirkwood High School in Kirkwood, Missouri. Afterwards he attended Washington University in St. Louis for a brief time before enlisting in the United States Army. In the army he served as a radio operator. Following his service Mr. Waggoner studied mechanical engineering at the General Motors Institute of Technology and later worked as a door-to-door salesman. After being told by many customers that he should be an actor, he appeared in a local production of Li'l Abner. Afterwards he moved to Los Angeles where he signed with MGM's "new talent" school for six months. After receiving no work at MGM, he signed with 20th Century Fox's "new talent" school.

In 1965 Lyle Waggoner auditioned for the title role in the upcoming TV series Batman. He made a screen test with child actor Peter Deyell as Robin, but the pair lost the roles to Adam West and Burt Ward. In 1966 he made his television debut in a guest appearance on Gunsmoke. He also guest starred in a small part on Lost in Space in 1967. It was in 1967 that Mr. Waggoner was hired as the announcer on The Carol Burnett Show. It was not long before he was appearing in skits. He ultimately remained with the show until 1974. In the late Sixties Lyle Waggoner also guest starred on The Governor & J. J. He made his film debut in Swamp Country in 1966. During the decade he appeared in the films Catalina Caper (1967) and Journey to the Centre of Time (1967). He hosted the syndicated version of the game show It's Your Bet.

In the Seventies Mr. Waggoner continued to appear on The Carol Burnett Show. He left the show in 1974. It was in 1975 that he was cast as Major Steve Trevor on the TV series Wonder Woman. When the show moved from ABC to CBS in its second season and was updated from World War II to the 1970s, Lyle Waggoner continued to appear on the show, playing Steve Trevor, Jr., the son of his original character. He guest starred on the shows Maude, The San Pedro Beach Bums, Flying High, Supertrain, Time Express, and Charlie's Angels. He continued to host the game show It's Your Bet until 1973. He also appeared as a guest on such talk shows, variety shows, and games shows as The Merv Griffith ShowThe Sonny and Cher Hour, Tattletales, and The Mike Douglas Show. He appeared in the films Love Me Deadly (1972) and Zero to Sixty (1978).  In 1979 he started the company StarWaggons, a company that rented motor homes for actors, makeup artists, and on for use on film and television sets.

In the Eighties Lyle Waggoner guest starred on such shows as Mork & Mindy; The Love Boat; Romance Theatre; Fantasy Island; Gun Shy; Happy Days; Hardcastle & McCormick; Simon & Simon; Mike Hammer; It's a Living; and Murder, She Wrote.  He appeared in such movies as Surf II (1984), Murder Weapon (1989), Mind Trap (1989), Gypsy Angels (1990), and The Girl I Want (1990).

In the Nineties Mr. Waggoner guest starred on the TV shows Daddy Dearest, Burke's Law, Ellen, Pauly, The Naked Truth, Love Boat: The Next Wave; and That '70s Show. He appeared in the movies Wizards of the Demon Sword (1991) and Dead Women in Lingerie (1991). In the Naughts he guest starred on the TV show The War at Home.

Lyle Waggoner was certainly handsome. He was also charming. Of course, he also had a voice like velvet. That having been said, he was much more than just a good looking guy with a great voice. On The Carol Burnett Show he proved he had a gift for comedy and was able to keep up with such comedic talents as Carol Burnett and Harvey Korman. On Wonder Woman he played Steve Trevor and Steve Trevor, Jr. with a perfect balance of seriousness and humour that was necessary for a superhero show that was largely played tongue in cheek. With his gift for comedy it should not be a surprise that most of Mr. Waggoner's roles tended to be comedic, but he did play dramatic roles from time to time, including guest appearances on Marcus Welby M.D. and Mike Hammer. Any time Lyle Waggoner appeared on the screen, one was guaranteed to be entertained.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Godspeed Stuart Whitman

Stuart Whitman, who appeared in the movies The Comancheros (1961) and Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines (1965), and had regular roles on the TV shows Highway Patrol, Cimarron Strip, and Superboy, died yesterday at the age of 92.

Stuart Whitman was born on February 1 1928 in San Francisco. He was three years old when his family moved to Brooklyn, New York. His family moved to Hollywood, California at the start of World War II. After graduating from Hollywood High School, he served a three year stint in the United States Army Engineer Corps. Following his military service, he attended Los Angeles City College and later studied acting the Ben Bard Drama acting school.

It was while he was at Los Angeles City College that Mr. Whitman was discovered by a Hollywood talent scout. He made his film debut in a bit part in When Worlds Collide in 1951. After several uncredited roles he received his first on-screen credit with the movie The All American (1952). In the Fifties he appeared in such films as Rhapsody (1954), Silver Lode (1954), King of the Carnival (1955), 7 Men from Now (1956), Crime of Passion (1956), The Girl in Black Stockings (1956), Johnny Trouble (1957), Hell Bound (1957), Darby's Rangers (1958), Ten North Frederick (1958), China Doll (1958), The Decks Ran Red (1958), The Sound and the Fury (1959), These Thousand Hills (1959), Hound-Dog Man (1959), The Story of Ruth (1960), and Murder, Inc. (1960). He made his television debut in an episode of Boston Blackie in 1952. He had a regular role on the TV series Highway Patrol. He guest starred on such shows as The Ranger Rider, Lux Video Theatre, Four Star Playhouse, Cavalcade of America, Gunsmoke, Dr. Christian, Zane Grey Theatre, Alcoa Theatre, Goodyear Theatre, Trackdown, Have Gun--Will Travel, and Target.

In the Sixties Stuart Whitman played the lead role on the single-season Western television series Cimarron Strip. He guest starred on the TV shows Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre and Bracken's World. He appeared in the films The Mark (1961), The Fiercest Heart (1961), Francis of Assisi (1961), The Comancheros (1961), Convicts 4 (1962), The Longest Day (1962), Shock Treatment (1964), Rio Conchos (1964), Signpost to Murder (1964), Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines or How I Flew from London to Paris in 25 hours 11 minutes (1965), Sands of the Kalahari (1965), An American Dream (1966), Ternos Caçadores (1969), The Last Escape (1970), and The Invincible Six (1970).

In the Seventies Mr. Whitman appeared in the films Captain Apache (1971), Night of the Lepus (1972), Run, Cougar, Run (1972), Welcome to Arrow Beach (1974), Shatter (1974), Las Vegas Lady (1975), Crazy Mama (1975), Mean Johnny Barrows (1975), Una Magnum Special per Tony Saitta (1976), Eaten Alive (1976), Cuibul salamandrelor (1977), The Ransom (1977), The White Buffalo (1977), Ruby (1977), Run of the Roses (1977), La mujer de la tierra caliente (1978), Guyana: Crime of the Century (1979), Delta Fox (1979), The Treasure Seekers (1979), Cuba Crossing (1980), and Traficantes de pánico (1980).  He guest starred on such TV shows as Ghost Story; Night Gallery; The Streets of San Francisco; The F.B.I.; Love, American Style; Hec Ramsey; The Wonderful World of Disney; Police Story; Cannon; S.W.A.T.; Ellery Queen; Harry O; Quincy M.E.; The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries; and Fantasy Island. He appeared in the mini-series The Last Convertible and The Seekers.

In the Eighties Stuart Whitman had recurring roles on Knot's Landing and Superboy. He guest starred on Tales on the Unexpected; Knight Rider; The Master; Fantasy Island; Matt Houston; Cover Up; Finder of Lost Loves; Tales from the Darkside; Hunter; The A-Team; Simon & Simon; Hotel; J.J. Starbuck; and Murder, She Wrote. He appeared in the films Demonoid (1981), The Monster Club (1981), When I Am King (1981), Butterfly (1981), Horror Safari (1982), Vultures (1984), Treasure of the Amazon (1985), First Strike (1985), Deadly Intruder (1985), Bersaglio sull'autostrada (1988), Deadly Reactor (1989), Omega Cop (1990), The Colour of Evening (1990), and Smoothtalker (1990).

In the Nineties Mr. Whitman continued to appear on Superboy. He guest starred on the TV shows The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.; Walker, Texas Ranger; and Courthouse. He was a guest voice on the animated series Aaahh!!! Real Monsters and he appeared in the TV movie The President's Man. He appeared in the films  Sandman (1993), Lightning in a Bottle (1993), Trial by Jury (1994), Improper Conduct (1994), Land of Milk & Honey (1996), and Second Chances (1998).

While he was best known for Westerns and action roles, Stuart Whitman was a remarkable actor. It was with good reason he was nominated for the Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role for The Mark. Over the years he played a wide variety of roles. Of course, he may always be best known as the roguish hero of The Comancheros and Marshal Jim Crown on the TV show Cimarron Strip, but he played everything from heroes to villains during his career. He was Jonathan Kent (the adopted father of Clark) on Superboy, the title hitman in the movie Shatter, a character obviously based on Jim Jones in Guyana: Crime of the Century, a singer forced to help mobsters in Murder Inc, a heroic pilot in Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines.., and many other roles. Stuart Whitman was certainly versatile. It should be little wonder he was so prolific.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Reminder: the Sixth Annual Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon Begins This Friday

As my close friends and possibly even my loyal readers know, the past two weeks have been hard on me. That having been said, the show must go on, so that the the Sixth Annual Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon will take place this coming weekend as scheduled.

On Friday I will publish a page for the blogathon. For those participating in the blogathon, I ask that you link your posts to that page. On the announcement page for the blogathon, I have some graphics that you can use.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

TCM Classic Film Festival 2020 Cancelled

This past week has seen many events cancelled to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. With regards to cinema, both the South by Southwest Film Festival and the remainder of Noir City Hollywood have been cancelled. It was on Thursday, March 12 2020, that Turner Classic Movies announced the cancellation of the TCM Classic Film Festival.

TCM's official announcement read "Nothing is more important to TCM than the safety of our fans. In light of the increasing public health concerns related to coronavirus, we have made the difficult decision to cancel the 2020 TCM Classic Film Festival." The announcement was accompanied by a video message from Ben Mankiewicz, which I have embedded below.

Turner Classic Movies has stated that all pass purchasers will receive a 100% refund on their pass purchases. There is no need for written refund requests and refunds will take 10 to 15 business days to process. There will be a TCM Classic Film Festival in 2021. It will be announced in late summer or early autumn of this year. In the video Ben says that TCM has reached out to the many artists who had committed to attending the 2020 TCM Classic Film Festival and asked them to attend the 2021 festival.

Here I have to say that I do not think various groups are being alarmist in cancelling events in California. So far there are 247 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in California. 11,400 people have been advised to monitor themselves for the virus. There have been 5 deaths from the coronavirus in California so far. Those numbers might not sound particularly large given the size of California, but it must be considered that coronavirus is a contagious disease and cases in California have continued to climb since January.

Of course, I am disappointed that the TCM Classic Film Festival has been cancelled I have never attended TCMFF and I was not going to this year, but I have always enjoyed the many photos, posts, and stories from my friends who have, as well as TCM itself. Even for those of who don't attend the festival, the TCM Classic Film Festival is a bit of a holiday along the lines of Halloween or Christmas. I know all of us look forward to it whether we attend TCMFF or not. That having been said, I am sure that this will make the 2021 TCM Classic Film Festival all the more special.

Friday, March 13, 2020

The Late Great Max von Sydow

Max von Sydow, the legendary actor who starred in films from Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal (1957) to Flash Gordon (1980), died on March 8 2020 at the age of 90.

Max von Sydow was born Carl Adolf von Sydow on April 10 1929 in Lund, Scania, Sweden. He attended Lund Cathedral School where he learned English while very young. He became interested in the theatre after seeing a performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream in Malmö during a class trip. He served in the Swedish Army Quartermaster Corps, where he changed his name to "Max" as people were constantly misspelling his name. The name "Max" came from a flea he had played in a sketch. Following his service he studied acting at the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm. He joined the Norrköping-Linköping Municipal Theatre in 1951 and in 1953 he joined the City Theatre in Hälsingborg.  Mr. Von Sydow made his film debut in 1949 in Only a Mother. Over the next few years he appeared in such films as Miss Julie (1951), Ingen mans kvinna (1953), and Rätten att älska (1956).

It was in 1955 that he joined the Malmö City Theatre, whose head director at the time was Ingmar Bergman. Mr. Bergman cast Max Von Sydow in the lead role of Antonius Block in The Seventh Seal (1957). The film, in which a knight plays a chess game against death as the plague overtakes Sweden, established Messrs. Bergman and Von Sydow on the international stage. It has since become one of the most iconic films of all time. The director and actor would ultimately make 13 films together. In the late Fifties Max von Sydow appeared in the Bergman films Wild Strawberries (1957), So Close to Life (1958), The Magician (1958), and The Virgin Spring (1960).  He also appeared in the movies The Minister of Uddarbo (1957), Spion 508 (1958), and The Wedding Day (1960).

In the Sixties Max von Sydow continued to appear in Ingmar Bergman's movies, including Through a Glass Darkly (1961), Winter Light (1963), The Silence (1963), Hour of the Wolf (1968), Shame (1968), and The Passion of Anna (1969). He also appeared in such films as The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), The Reward (1965), Hawaii (1966), The Quiller Memorandum (1966), Made in Sweden (1969), and The Kremlin Letter (1970).

In 1971 Max von Sydow appeared in Ingmar Bergman's film The Touch. In the Seventies he also appeared in such films as Embassy (1972), The Exorcist (1973), Steppenwolf (1974), Three Days of the Condor (1975), The Ultimate Warrior (1975), Cuore di cane (1976), Foxtrot (1976), Voyage of the Damned (1976), Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977), March or Die (1977), Brass Target (1980), and Flash Gordon (1980). On television he appeared in the mini-series Kvartetten som sprängdes. He appeared on Broadway in The Night of the Tribades

In the Eighties Mr. von Sydow appeared in such movies as Victory (1981), Conan the Barbarian (1982), The Adventures of Bob & Doug McKenzie: Strange Brew (1983), The Soldier's Tale (1984), Dreamscape (1984), Dune (1984), Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), Duet for One (1986), The Second Victory (1987), Father (1990), and Awakenings (1990). On television he appeared in the mini-series Quo Vadis?, Christopher Columbus, The Last Place on Earth, and Gösta Berlings saga. He appeared in such TV movies as Samson and Delilah, Kojak: The Belarus File, and Red King, White Knight. He appeared on Broadway in Duet for One.

In the Nineties Max von Sydow appeared in such films as A Kiss Before Dying (1991), Oxen (1991), Needful Things (1993), Time is Money (1994), Judge Dredd (1995), Jerusalem (1996), What Dreams May Come (1998), and Snow Falling on Cedars (1999).  He appeared on television in the mini-series Den goda viljan and Radetzkymarsch. He guest starred on the TV shows The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles and Screen One. He was a regular on the show Professione fantasma.

In the Naughts Max von Sydow appeared in such movies as Vercingétorix (2001), Intacto (2001), Minority Report (2002), Heidi (2005), Rush Hour 3 (2007), Emotional Athematic (2007), Solomon Kane (2009), Shutter Island (2010), and Robin Hood (2010). In the Teens he appeared on the TV shows The Tudors and Game of Thrones. He guest starred on The Simpsons. He appeared in the mini-series Nuremberg and the TV movie Ring of the Nibelungs He appeared in the movies Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (2011), Branded (2012), The Letters (2014), Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens (2015), Les premiers les derniers (2106), and Kursk (2018).

There is a good reason that Max von Sydow was an acting legend. Quite simply, he appeared in a wide array of movies in a wide array of roles. The first film he ever made with Ingmar Bergman, The Seventh Seal, is considered one of the greatest films ever made. In it he played Antonius Block, a knight who returns to Sweden from the Crusades to find the country overtaken by the plague. He would play an entirely different sort of role in another Ingmar Bergman film, Through a Glass Darkly. In the film he played a doctor whose wife suffers from schizophrenia.

While Max von Sydow may be best known for appearing in the cerebral films of Ingmar Bergman, he appeared in many other sorts of films as well. Indeed, aside from Ingmar Bergman's movies, Mr. von Sydow may be best known for playing Father Lankester Merrin, the title exorcist in the classic horror movie The Exorcist. He may be equally well known for playing Flash's archenemy Ming the Merciless in Flash Gordon. Over the years Mr. von Sydow played several historical figures, including Jesus in The Greatest Story Ever Told, Otto Frank in a 1967 television adaptation of The Diary of Anne Frank, Gustav Schröder in Voyage of the Damned, the apostle Peter in the mini-series Quo Vadis?, and Sigmund Freud in the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles episode "Vienna, November 1908." In many respects Max von Sydow's career spanned the whole of cinema, from time honoured classics to big budget blockbusters to low budget genre films. And in all of them Max von Sydow gave great performances. Every film in which Max von Sydow ever appeared was better because he was in it.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

James Lipton Passes On

James Lipton, the actor, writer, and lyricist best known for hosting the long-running TV show Inside the Actors Studio, died on March 2 2020 at the age of 93.

James Lipton was born on September 19 1926 in Detroit, Michigan. His mother, Betty, was a teacher and librarian. His father was journalist, beat poet, and graphic designer Lawrence Lipton. His parents divorced when James Lipton was six. To help support his family, James Lipton went to work when he was a teenager as a copy boy at The Detroit Times. At the same time he acted at the Catholic Theatre of Detroit. He also worked in radio. It was following his graduation from high school that he played the role of The Lone Ranger's nephew, Dan Reid, on the hit radio show The Lone Ranger.

James Lipton enlisted in the United States Air Force during World War II. Following his service in the Air Force, he went to New York City in hopes of becoming a lawyer. To support his education, he continued acting. He studied acting under Stella Adler for two and a half years, under  Harold Clurman for four years, and Robert Lewis for two years. Eventually he abandoned his plans for becoming a lawyer to concentrate on acting.

In the early Fifties Mr. Lipton continued to appear on radio in such shows as Now Hear This. In the Fifties he appeared on such television shows as Pulitzer Prize Playhouse, Armstrong Circle Theatre, The Guiding Light, You Are There, Inner Sanctum, The Goldbergs, and Kraft Television Theatre. He appeared in the movie The Big Break (2003). It was during the Fifties that he also began work as a writer. He was a writer on the soap opera The Guiding Light. He also wrote on the daily serial The Edge of Night and he wrote an episode of The United States Steel Hour. In 1952 he appeared on Broadway in The Autumn Garden.

In the Sixties James Lipton wrote the books and lyrics for the Broadway shows Nowhere to Go But Up and Sherry!. He wrote episodes of the soap opera Another World and he served as head writer on the soap opera The Best of Everything. His book, An Exaltation of Larks, was published in 1968.

In the Seventies James Lipton wrote for the soap opera The Doctors and was head writer on the soap opera Return to Peyton Place. He wrote for three Bob Hope television specials, Happy Birthday, Bob; All-Star Birthday Party for Bob Hope... at Sea; and Bob Hope on the Road to China. He produced the Broadway shows The Mighty Gents and Monteith & Rand.

In the Eighties he was the head writer on the soap opera Capitol. He wrote the TV movies Mirrors (based on his own novel) and Copacabana.

It was in the Nineties that James Lipton created Inside the Actors Studio. The show was originally conceived to be a master class in acting and soon became one of the most popular and successful shows on the cable channel Bravo. James Lipton served as the show's host, interviewer, writer, and executive producer. He remained with Inside the Actors Studio until 2018.

In the Naughts James Lipton continued on Inside the Actors Studio. He also guest starred on the TV shows Cold Squad and According to Jim. He played himself in the movie Bewitched (2005) and provided the voice of The Director in the animated film Bolt (2008). In the Teens he guest starred on the TV show Suburgatory and had a recurring role on Arrested Development. He retired from Inside the Actors Studio in 2018.

I honestly think that to say James Lipton was one of the greatest television writers, hosts, and interviewers of all time would not be an understatement. As a writer he was articulate and eloquent, a master of words who could make things simple and clear so that even those unfamiliar with acting techniques could understand what he was saying. As an interviewer he was gifted not only with considerable knowledge of the craft of acting, but the ability to put his subjects at ease so that they would open up to him. James Lipton was able to get actors to discuss things on Inside the Actors Studio that they had not or would not discuss anywhere else. Frances Berwick, President of NBCUniversal's Lifestyle Networks (of which Bravo is one), called Mr. Lipton, "...a titan of the film and entertainment industry..." That he certainly was.

Friday, March 6, 2020

In Defence of Vanessa Marquez

 "You may not be able to change the world, but at least you can embarrass the guilty." Jessica Mitford

Many of you may realise why I have not made a post this week. Others of you may be wondering why I have not. It was this past Monday, March 2 2020, that Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey released her findings in the officer involved shooting of Vanessa Marquez (curiously, this was also the day before the Los Angeles District Attorney election). The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office is attempting to justify the shooting of Vanessa, while at the same time portraying her as suicidal. As might be expected, I have serious issues with the report because of this. To say that the report has upset and angered me is an understatement.

To begin with, the report does not explain why police were sent to Vanessa's apartment rather than paramedics. As many of you already know, on August 30 2018 Vanessa asked me to call the paramedics because she was having severe seizures. I then called the fire department to request that paramedics be dispatched to Vanessa's apartment to treat her for the seizures. Apparently, before my call, a woman from Alabama, who identified herself was one of Vanessa's friends, called the paramedics and said that Vanessa was "not acting right" and was concerned because of Vanessa's history of medical problems. This call was then referred to the South Pasadena Police Department for a "welfare check." The police then arrived at 11:49 AM Pacific Time (I made my call at 11:48 AM Pacific Time). Here I want to stress that in my call I only told them that Vanessa was having severe seizures. I did not ask for a wellness check. I did not ask for the police to be sent to her apartment. In no way, shape, or form did I indicate that she was a danger to herself or anyone else. My call was not referred to the South Pasadena Police Department and I would have protested if it had been.

Now I do not know who this woman from Alabama was and I have no idea what the contents of her phone call may have been, but I think it was a mistake for the call to be be referred to the South Pasadena Police Department for a welfare check.  Instead, paramedics should have been dispatched right away, particularly given Vanessa's medical history. Obviously paramedics have the training necessary to deal with medical issues. The average police officer does not. For that reason, even for a welfare check, the paramedics should have been dispatched instead of the police. I think if paramedics had initially been sent to Vanessa's apartment on that day, then the whole situation may have played out very differently.

Not only do I have issues with the police having been sent to her apartment instead of paramedics, but I have serious objections to a portion of the report that uses specially selected posts from Vanessa Marquez's Facebook account out of context to make it look like she was suicidal. Vanessa was not a physically healthy woman. She suffered from  stage 2 refractory coeliac disease and fibromyalgia. She regularly experienced seizures. Despite this Vanessa generally kept her sunny disposition, discussing classic movies and TV shows, joking around, and generally enjoying her friends and life. Like many of us, however, there would be those times when her illness would get her down. Like many of us, she might say things to the effect of "I just wish I could die" or even, rarely, post them to Facebook. I am sure all of us have done that. When I have had particularly bad toothaches I have been known to say, "I just want to just die." That having been said, I didn't mean it when I said it and I certainly was not suicidal. All of us, when we are sick and in pain, sometimes say these things and we never mean them. Vanessa did not mean it when she made those Facebook posts and she certainly was not suicidal.

Among Vanessa's few Facebook posts included in the report is one that I find very questionable and has aroused my suspicions regarding the whole investigation. They claim that Vanessa's final Facebook post, allegedly made around 1:46 PM Pacific time, was "there shooting cremate me pour ashes over Hollywood sign." Now I had Vanessa set to notifications on Facebook so that I saw every post she made. On top of that, on August 30 2018, I was very worried about Vanessa. After all, the South Pasadena Fire Department never bothered to call me back to let me know what was going on. I was then checking her Facebook profile constantly to see if she had posted any updates. I then find it very curious that I do not remember seeing this Facebook post at all. What is more, it is not now visible on her Facebook profile and has never been visible on her Facebook profile, at least not to me. Vanessa's other friends I have talked to do not remember this alleged post either. Now it is possible that Vanessa made the post so that only specific friends could see it and I was not among those friends.  While Vanessa made nearly all of her posts publicly, I cannot rule this out as a possibility. That having been said, until I see a screenshot of that post and can have it definitively verified as not being a forgery, I am always going to have serious doubts as to whether she made it at all.

The fact is that not only was Vanessa not suicidal, but she still had a good deal of enthusiasm for life. Despite her illness, Vanessa could be very lively and animated, and she took enjoyment out of the things she loved. Even shortly before her death, Vanessa was still very much looking forward to life. In our final conversation on the phone, we talked about the 25th anniversary X-Files marathon that was going to be on  BBC America that September. She was also very excited about an upcoming John Williams concert that was going to be in the area. As always, we talked about me visiting her one day. She talked to another friend about a sale at Sephora that weekend. Individuals who want to commit suicide do not talk about the future because as far as they are concerned, they have none. Vanessa was still enthusiastic about life and she thought she still had a future.

This brings me to another issue that I have with the Los Angeles District Attorney's report regarding Vanessa's death. I know for a fact that the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department interviewed some of Vanessa's friends. I know that I was among them. When I was interviewed I was asked if Vanessa had ever expressed a desire to commit suicide or a desire to harm herself. In each instance I told the deputy "NO" so strenuously that he was taken aback. I cannot say what every single one of  Vanessa's other friends may have said in their interviews, but I know that many of them also said that Vanessa was not suicidal. Despite this, none of these interviews are included in the District Attorney's report. I cannot say for certain why the interviews of Vanessa's friends were not included in the report, but my suspicion is that they were not included because they would have refuted the District Attorney Office's claim that Vanessa was suicidal. I am guessing the District Attorney's Office thought that a woman committing "suicide by cop" would play better than police officers killing a disabled woman, who had been having seizures all day, in her own home. Here I have to point out that, insofar as I know, Jackie Lacey has never prosecuted an officer involved shooting. I know for a fact that in the past police unions have contributed millions of dollars to political action committees supporting Jackie Lacey and she has also been endorsed by police unions.

As to the issue of whether the police officers were justified in shooting Vanessa, even after reading the report I am convinced that they were not. What is more, given the sheer number of shots fired, I personally think they may have used excessive force. As to the police officers feeling threatened by Vanessa, I cannot see how they possibly could have been. She stood all of 5'3" and weighed all of 87 pounds. Even if they had felt threatened by her, I do not think a police officer being "scared out of his mind" is reasonably sufficient grounds for them to even draw their firearm, much less respond with gunfire. If a civilian killed someone and claimed they felt threatened, even if they said that they were "scared out of their mind," that civilian would be charged with murder. Police should be held to the same standards as civilians. I also have to question why the police officers did not use non-lethal measures to deal with Vanessa. As tiny as she was, they could have simply taken the gun from her. They could have used pepper spray. They could have used a taser. They could have used BolaWrap.  Now many of these non-lethal alternatives could have seriously  injured Vanessa--they may have even killed her--but they would have shown that the police officers were trying to preserve Vanessa's life. From the way the report reads to me, it sounds like they made little effort at all to defuse the situation or, for that matter, try to preserve her life.

Here I also have to question why the police officers or anyone else present that day did not call one of Vanessa's friends to talk her down. I would think that they would have the numbers of the woman from Alabama and myself. I would also think they would have the phone number of her emergency contact. They called none of us. I don't know if I could have talked Vanessa down or not, but I would at least liked to have had the opportunity to do so. It would have been much better than allowing her to be senselessly killed by police officers. Here I have to also point out that when Vanessa died, they did not call any of Vanessa's friends for whom they had numbers. I had to learn about Vanessa's death from the website The South Pasadenan that night.

I do have my own theory as to what happened on that terrible day. I know for a fact that Vanessa had been having seizures all day. Individuals having seizures often experience a period of confusion and even psychosis following a seizure. Vanessa was then not thinking clearly to begin with. On top of this I think it is likely that she was startled by police officers bursting into her apartment (I know I would be, and I have friends who are police officers). Beyond even this, one has to consider that Vanessa did not want to go back to the hospital, because she had bad experiences there. I know in July, after she had experienced heatstroke, that I begged her go to the hospital if she felt even a little bit odd, but she wouldn't listen. Although I have no proof of this, I also have to wonder if the disposition of the police officer on the scene did not make matters worse. Anyway, between experiencing confusion or even psychosis due to her seizures, possibly being alarmed at police officers barging into her home, the officers' insistence that she go to the hospital, and her fear of returning to the hospital, Vanessa took the only course she felt she had left to her. Ultimately, I have to wonder if things would have gone differently if paramedics had been sent instead of police officers or the police officers had handled the situation more responsibly.

I know there are those who will claim that I am so consumed by grief and anger that I am not seeing things clearly. And I cannot deny that I am consumed by grief and anger. Vanessa was the dearest person in my entire life, a woman I will always love, and even one year and six months following her death my grief is still palpable. That having been said, I think neither my grief nor my anger invalidate many of my points here. There are many things about the Los Angeles County District Attorney Office's report that do not make sense. In many ways it brings up more questions than it offers answers. It is because of this that I still honestly believe that Vanessa did not have to die. I am still hopeful that we can still get justice for Vanessa Marquez.