Saturday, January 25, 2020

Godpseed John Karlen

John Karlen, who played Willie Loomis and other roles on the daytime soap opera Dark Shadows and Mary Beth Lacey's husband Harvey Lacey on the TV show Cagney & Lacey, died on January 22 2019 at the age of 86. The cause was congestive heart failure.

John Karlen was born John Adam Karlewicz on May 28 1933 in Brooklyn, New York. He studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. He made his television debut in 1957 in an episode of Kraft Television Theatre. In the late Fifties he guest starred on the shows Naked City, Armstrong Circle Theatre, The Big Story, and Deadline. He made his debut on Broadway in Sweet Bird of Youth as a replacement for Tom Junior (originally played by Rip Torn).

Mr. Karlen appeared frequently on stage in the early Sixties. He was an understudy on the Broadway production Invitation to a March. He appeared on Broadway in Arturo Ui, The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore, All in Good Time, and Postmark Zero. He also appeared off Broadway in Monopoly. John Karlen guest starred on the shows The Detectives, The Gallant Men, Stoney Burke, East Side/West Side, Another World, Brenner, Hawk, Love is a Many Splendored Thing, and Hidden Faces. He had a recurring role in a story arc on the daytime drama The Doctors.

It was in 1967 that John Karlen took over the role of Willie Loomis from James Hall on Dark Shadows, who left the show after only five episodes. Willis Loomis was a con artist who arrived in Collinsport to visit Jason McGuire (played by Dennis Patrick). It was not long after his arrival in Collinsport that Willie released the vampire Barnabas Collins and subsequently became his servant (Renfield to Barnabas's Dracula). Mr. Karlen played other roles on Dark Shadows as well as Willie. He played Carl Collins, practical joker and black sheep of the family, in 1897 Collinswood, the doomed Desmond Collins in 1840s Collinswood, Kendrick Young in 1840s Parallel Time (an alternate reality on Dark Shadows), and the alcoholic author Will Loomis in present day Parallel Time. John Karlen also appeared as Willie Loomis in the feature film inspired by the soap opera, House of Dark Shadows (1970) and played Alex Jenkins in Night of Dark Shadows (1971).

In the Seventies John Karlen continued to appear on Dark Shadows until its final episode on April 2 1971. He made frequent guest appearances on television shows during the decade, among them The Sixth Sense, Night Gallery, The Mod Squad, The Magician, Shazam!, The Wide World of Mystery, Mannix, Medical Center, Mobile One, Hawaii Five-O, The Waltons, The Streets of San FranciscoAll in the FamilyPolice Story, Charlie's Angels, The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries, Kojak, The Rockford Files, Barnaby Jones, Starsky and Hutch, Kaz, Lou Grant, Quincy M.E., and Vega$. He also appeared in several TV movies, including Night of Terror, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Shirts/Skins, The Invasion of Carol Enders, Melvin Purvis G-Man, Trilogy of Terror, The Kansas City Massacre, Colorado C.I., and The Long Days of Summer. Mr. Karlen appeared in the feature films Les lèvres rouges (1971), A Small Town in Texas (1976), and Killer's Delight (1978).

Ir was in 1983 that John Karlen began playing Mary Beth Lacey's supportive husband Harvey on the show Cagney & Lacey. He remained with the show for the entirety of its run. In the Eighties he also had a regular role on the short-lived show Snoops. During the decade he made guest appearances on such shows as Trapper John, M.D.; American Dream; Fame; Hill Street Blues; Strike Force; King's Crossing; American Playhouse; Bay City Blues; Finder of Lost Loves; Mike Hammer; 227; and Murder, She Wrote. He appeared in such TV movies as Rosie: The Rosemary Clooney Story and Downpayment on Murder. He appeared in the mini-series The Winds of War. During the Eighties Mr. Karlen appeared in the films Pennies from Heaven (1981), Racing with the Moon (1984), Impulse (1984), Gimme an 'F' (1984), Native Son (1986), and Daddy (1987).

In the Nineties John Karlen appeared in several TV movies, among them Nightmare on the 13th Floor, Perry Mason: The Case of the Glass Coffin, Calendar Girl, Cop, Killer? The Bambi Bembenek Story, Without Warning: Terror in the Towers, and MacShayne: Winner Takes All. He reprised his role as Harvey Lacey in the TV reunion movies Cagney & Lacey: The Return, Cagney & Lacey: Together Again, Cagney & Lacey: The View Through the Glass Ceiling, and Cagney & Lacey: True Convictions (his final appearance on screen). He guest starred on the shows Murder, She Wrote and Mad About You. He appeared in the films The Dark Wind (1991) and Surf Ninjas (1993).

In more recent years Mr. Karlen reprised his role as Willie Loomis in a series of Big Finish Productions audio dramas.

John Karlen was an extraordinary actor. His work on Dark Shadows alone is proof of that. His Willie Loomis was "James Dean meets Renfield," a scoundrel in service of a vampire that one could not help but like. In addition to Willie Loomis he played three more roles on the show that were entirely different from Willie Loomis, even the one who was Willie's doppelgänger in Parallel Time. Willie Loomis and the other roles Mr. Karlen played on Dark Shadows were worlds away from Harvey Lacey, the liberal, supportive husband of Marty Beth Lacey on Cagney & Lacey. John Karlen's two best known roles of Willie Loomis and Harvey Lacey could be very different from many of his movie roles: the cheer camp director Bucky Berkshire in Gimme an 'F', The Detective in Pennies from Heaven, and the killer of the title in Killer's Delight. John Karlen's talent was such that even when a particular movie might not be very good, he always was.

Friday, January 24, 2020

110 Years Ago Today Hollywood Became Part of Los Angeles

Except for people living in Southern California and historians, not many people realize that at one time Hollywood was a separate city from Los Angeles, just as Brooklyn was a separate city from New York City and Carondelet was a separate city from St. Louis. It was 110 years ago today that the two cities took the first step to consolidate Hollywood with Los Angeles.

What would become Hollywood was located in what was once the Cahuenga Valley, located between the Santa Monica Mountains and Baldwin Hills. As of 1853 there was a lone adobe hut there. That would change by 1870, by which time the area was a thriving agricultural community. It was the arrival of real estate magnate Harvey Henderson Wilcox that would transform that agricultural community into Hollywood. He bought 160 acres of land at the foothills of the Cahuenga Pass. Legend has it that the name "Hollywood" came from his wife Daeida, although the account of how she came upon the name varies. One account is that she learned of the name from a woman she met on a train, who described her summer home near Chicago. Another is that she learned of the name from their neighbour Ivar Weid, who grew toyon, also known as "California Holly," on his land.

It was on February 1 1887 that Harvey Henderson Wilcox submitted a grid map of his planned new town to the Los Angeles County Recorder. The grid map would be the very first official document to have the name "Hollywood" printed on it. The first street was Prospect Avenue, which would be renamed "Hollywood Boulevard" in 1910 following the consolidation of Hollywood with Los Angeles.

The town of Hollywood would grow in the following years. By 1900 its population was 500. That year it already had two markets, a post office, a newspaper, and a hotel. H.J. Whitley, often called "the Father of Hollywood," built the Hollywood Hotel in 1902. The president of the Los Pacific Boulevard and Development Company, H. J. Whitley opened the hotel for potential buyers of individual lots in Hollywood.

It was on November 14 1903 that Hollywood was finally incorporated as a city. Curiously for a place that would later become known for its restaurants and bars, it was on January 30 1904 that a vote of 113 to 96 resulted in the sale of alcohol being banned in Hollywood except for medicinal purposes. Curiously for a place whose name would become synonymous with cinema, movie theatres were also banned in Hollywood prior to its consolidation with Los Angeles in 1910.

As prosperous as Hollywood was in the 1900s, the city had one big problem. Quite simply, Hollywood had an inadequate water supply. To solve the problem, it was then decided that Hollywood should consolidate with Los Angeles, so as to have access to Los Angeles's water supply. The vote occurred on January 24 1910. In Hollywood 409 people voted for consolidation with Los Angeles and 18 against. In Los Angeles 6224 voted for consolidation, with 373 against. The consolidation became official once the proper paperwork was filed with the California Secretary of State.

1910 would prove to be a big year for Hollywood. Not only would the city be consolidated with Los Angeles, but it would take its first steps towards becoming the movie capital of the world. It was that year that D. W. Griffith made In Old California, a 17 minute short. It was the first film ever made in Hollywood. In 1911 the Nestor Film Company became the first company to establish a permanent movie studio in Hollywood. It was in late 1913 and early 1914 that Cecil B. Demille shot the first feature length film, The Squaw Man, in Hollywood. It was shot in a barn at the southeast corner of Selma and Vine Streets that would later be known as the Lasky-DeMille Barn. It would later become the Hollywood Heritage Museum. Over time several studios would either move to Hollywood or be founded there, until Hollywood became the movie making capital of the world.

It is difficult to say what would have happened had Hollywood not consolidated with Los Angeles in 1910. Certainly the city's inadequate water supply would be an ongoing concern. It also seems possible that the very conservativism of Hollywood at the time (no booze and no movie theatres) might have made it less attractive to the studios, who might well have located elsewhere in Los Angeles County. Regardless, the consolidation of Hollywood with Los Angeles would change both cities forever.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

The Late Great Terry Jones

Terry Jones, founding member of Monty Python, director, writer, and medieval scholar, died yesterday, January 21 2020, at the age of 77. In 2015 he had been diagnosed with primary progressive aphasia, a type of dementia that impairs the ability to communicate. The cause of his death was complications from that dementia.

Terry Jones was born Terence Graham Parry Jones on February 1 1942 in Colwyn Bay, North Wales. When he was around 5 years old his family moved to Claygate, Surrey, a suburb of London. He was very young when he became a fan of The Goon Show, the legendary British radio comedy program featuring Spike Milligan, Harry Secombe, Peter Sellers, and Michael Bentine. He attended Royal Grammar School in Guildford, Surrey. He attended Oxford, where he developed an interest in the medieval era and Geoffrey Chaucer. While at Oxford he joined the university's Experimental Theatre Club. It was also while at Oxford that he met fellow future Monty Python member. Michael Palin.

It was in 1963 that Terry Jones performed in and wrote part of what was his first revue, Loitering With Intent, to which Michael Palin also made contributions. Another Experimental Theatre Club show, Hang Down Your Head and Die, on which Messrs. Jones and Palin worked, went onto a six week run at the Comedy Theatre on London's West End in 1964.

Terry Jones and Michael Palin appeared on the sketch comedy television program Twice a Fortnight in 1967. That same year they appeared on, as well as contributed writing to, the children's show Do Not Adjust Your Set, alongside future Monty Python member Eric Idle. Future Monty Python member Terry Gilliam was also a writer on the show. Among the fans of Do Not Adjust Your Set were Graham Chapman and John Cleese. It was because of Do Not Adjust Your Set that Terry Jones and Michael Palin became charter members of Monty Python. Terry Jones also appeared on the TV programs Marty and The Complete and Utter History of Britain. He wrote material for The Late Show, The Frost Report, A Series of Bird's, Horne A'Plenty, and Broaden Your Mind.

Monty Python's Flying Circus debuted on BBC1 on October 5 1969. The show proved extremely popular in the United Kingdom from the start. In 1974 it grew in popularity in the United States when PBS stations began running it. The success of Monty Python's Flying Circus led to several movies, the first of which was And Now for Something Completely Different in 1971. The cult film Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), was co-directed by Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam. Their next film, Life of Brian (1979), Mr. Jones directed alone. He would also direct Monty Python's final film, The Meaning of Life. Over the years Terry Jones appeared in various Monty Python reunions.

In the Seventies Terry Jones also wrote on the series The Two Ronnies, as well as wrote and appeared in the series Ripping Yarns. He appeared in Terry Gilliam's feature film debut as a solo director, Jabberwocky (1977). He also appeared in an episode of Saturday Night Live.

In the Eighties Terry Jones had a cameo in The Great Muppet Caper (1981).  In addition to The Meaning of Life, he directed the movies Personal Services (1987) and Erik the Viking (1989). He also played King Arnulf in Erik the Viking. He wrote episodes of the TV miniseries Bombardemagnus and the TV show East of Moon. He guest starred on the TV show The Young Ones.

In the Nineties Mr. Jones wrote episodes of the medieval documentary TV series Crusades. He co-created the animated series Blazing Dragons. He wrote episodes of the documentary TV miniseries Ancient Inventions. He wrote the screenplay for the movie The Wind in the Willows (1996), which he also directed. He played Toad in the film as well. He was the English voice of Obelix in Astérix & Obélix contre César (1999), appeared in the feature film Le créateur (1999), and provided the voice of Professor Mac Krill in Hjælp! Jeg er en fisk (2000).

In the Naughts Terry Jones did a good deal as a medieval historian, writing the documentary TV movie The Surprising History of Rome, the documentary TV movie The Surprising History of Egypt, the documentary TV movie The Surprising History of Sex and Love, the documentary TV series Medieval Lives, and the documentary TV series Barbarians. He provided the voice of the Messenger Bird in the mini-series Dinotopia, guest starred on the TV series Comedy Lab, and served as the narrator on The Legend of Dick and Dom.   In the Teens he wrote, directed, and appeared in the film Absolutely Anything (2015). He appeared in the TV series The Secret Policeman's Ball.

In addition to being a British comedy legend, Terry Jones was also a medieval historian of note. He was one of the world's foremost experts on Geoffrey Chaucer. He wrote Chaucer's Knight: The Portrait of a Medieval Mercenary (1980), in which he argues that rather than the traditional interpretation of the Knight in The Knight's Tale as a exemplar of Christian virtues, he can be interpreted as an ordinary mercenary. He co-wrote the book Who Murdered Chaucer? (2003) with Robert F. Yeager, Terry Doran, and Alan Fletcher. As noted above, he wrote several television documentaries on history. He was known for challenging popular views of history. For example, in Barbarians he portrays the people conquered or opposing Rome as considerably more sophisticated than many historians have before.

He also wrote several children's books illustrated by Michael Forman and later Brian Froud, as well as novels for adults. He wrote columns for The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, and The Observer. He wrote poetry as well.

Terry Jones was a true Renaissance man who achieved much in his life, so much so that it is difficult to include everything he did in one blog post (I have to think that I have missed some of his career). Of course, chances are good that he will always be remembered as a comedy legend. Although not as well known in the United States, his work on Do Not Adjust Your Set is remembered in Britain to this day. He as regarded as the heart of Monty Python and often considered the driving force behind shaping the comedy troupe. He was well known for playing what the BBC termed "ratbag old women"and played notable parts in some of Monty Python's most famous sketches, including Cardinal Biggles in "The Spanish Inquisition," the nude organist who punctuated many sketches, a reserved, upper class man in "Nudge, Nudge," and the tobacconist in the "Hungarian translation sketch." Behind the scenes Terry Jones wrote much of Monty Python's material. He also co-directed Monty Python and the Holy Grail and directed The Life of Brian and Monty Python's The Meaning of Life. He would go onto other comedy projects beyond Monty Python, including the classic comedy series Ripping Yarns and the movie Erik the Viking, which blended his interest in medieval history with comedy.

Of course, Terry Jones was much more than a comedy legend. He was also a medieval historian of note. It was Mr. Jones's gift as a historian to reveal other ways of looking at history than what many would have us believe. For anyone who has been taught that the tribes who often opposed the Roman Empire were nothing more than savages, the TV series Barbarians can be a revelation. As someone who has always had a keen interest in the Dark Ages (particularly Anglo-Saxon England), I have always had a keen appreciation for Terry Jones's work as a historian.

Terry Jones was also a rather prolific author, writing everything from a book of fantasy stories titled Evil Machines to medieval adventures such as The Tyrant and the Squire. He wrote a large number of critically acclaimed and award winning children's books.

Terry Jones was certainly appreciated in the entertainment industry, particularly by his fellow members of Monty Python. Michael Palin, who may well have been closest to Mr. Jones out of all the members of Monty Python, said in a statement, "He was kind, generous, supportive and passionate about living life to the full...He was far more than one of the funniest writer-performers of his generation, he was the complete Renaissance comedian – writer, director, presenter, historian, brilliant children’s author, and the warmest, most wonderful company you could wish to have." In the end Terry Jones was a most remarkable man, comedy legend, historian, author, and poet. He was a true scholar and a gentleman.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Some Thoughts on Federico Fellini

100 years ago today Federico Fellini was born in Rimini, Italy. He would not only become one of the most famous directors of all time, but one of the most influential as well. For a time he may well have been the most famous movie director in the world aside from Alfred Hitchcock. He had an influence on such diverse directors as Tim Burton, Barry Levinson, George Lucas, Martin Scorsese, and Lina Wertmüller. Mr. Fellini has also been one of my all-time favourite directors for much of my life.

Unlike many of my favourite directors, I would not be exposed to the work of Federico Fellini until I was already an adult. After all, I grew up in a rural area where foreign films were almost never shown at our theatres or on the local television stations. Fortunately, as I entered adulthood, the advent of the VCR would change things. Video rental stores sprang up everywhere, among them the greatest of the them all, 9th Street Video in Columbia. It had everything, from silent movies to films from the Golden Age of Hollywood to a substantial collection of foreign films. My friend Brian and I made frequent trips to Columbia to rent movies there. It was through 9th Street Video that I would see my first films directed by Federico Fellini.

The very first Federico Fellini movie I ever watched would also be one of his most famous. La Dolce Vita (1960) is not only one of the best known foreign films of all time, but also one of the most famous. The title itself would enter the English language, and the name of  a photojournalist character, Paparazzo, would lead to the word paparazzi, used of independent photographers of high-profile people. Both Brian and I had been looking forward to La Dolce Vita, and neither of us was disappointed. To say we were blown away by the movie would be an understatement. To this day, that first viewing of La Dolce Vita, would leave a lasting impression on me.

Quite naturally, Brian and I sought out Federico Fellini's other movies. It should come as no surprise that the next Felllini movie we watched was 8 1/2 (1963). 8 1/2 (1963) did not impress me as much as La Dolce Vita did, but watching it was still an incredible experience. As a writer I could identify with the lead character, director Guido Anselmi (played by Marcello Mastroianni), as he suffered through director's block. The inability to be creative is a crisis that no creator wants to go through. Over the next few years Brian and I would watch more of Federico Fellini's films: La strada (1954), Giulietta degli spiriti (1965), Le notti di Cabiria (1957), Fellini Satyricon (1969), and others.

Over all I preferred Federico Fellini's earlier work to his later work. La Strada, Le notti di Cabiria, La Dolce Vita, 8 1/2, and Giulietta degli spiriti are all masterpieces to me. For me, at least, Mr. Fellini's later works sometimes became so exaggerated as to be self-parody (in my opinion this is particularly true of Fellini Satyricon), but even when I might not appreciate some of his later films, I still had to respect the artistry behind them.

Federico Fellini may be the most famous Italian director of all time, but, except for his earliest films, he never really delved into the most famous movement to emerge from that country, Italian neorealism except in his earliest movies. Mr. Fellini was less interested in capturing reality as it is than he was in capturing the inner world of the human experience. For that reason the imagery in Mr. Fellini's films could often felt more like it came from dreams rather than real life. From the nightmarish sea creature caught in fishermen's nets in La Dolce Vita to a sacrilegious fashion show a noblewoman holds for a Cardinal (which, among other things, included priests on roller skates), the visuals in a Federico Fellini film could be stunning, uplifting, surreal, shocking, and even offensive, but they were never forgettable.

In the end, while every single one of Federico Fellini's movies might not be a masterpiece, they are all in his own voice. What is more, he dared try to do something few directors have ever done. He tried to capture the world of dreams, with all their illogic and chaos, rather than record reality. When he was successful in doing so, he made movies better than any other director to ever live.