Saturday, October 24, 2020

A Halloween Unlike Any Other

This year's COVID-19 pandemic has altered the way people live around the world. One of the things impacted by the pandemic has been the celebrations of various holidays. Halloween in 2020 is no different. In many areas of the United States, traditional events have been cancelled and there are restrictions in place in many locations that make some traditional Halloween activities impossible. In most parts of the United States, both Halloween parties and haunted houses are actively discouraged, if not outright banned. A perfect example of how this Halloween will be different from others is Los Angeles County. The Los Angeles County Department of Health will not permit any large gatherings, whether they are inside or outside, this year. For this reason haunted houses, Halloween parties, and carnivals have been cancelled throughout the county. The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health allows trick-or-treating, but is actively discouraging it. What are allowed in Los Angeles County this Halloween are drive-in movies and car parades.

In my hometown the city council has placed no restrictions on the celebration of Halloween, but they are actively discouraging trick-or-treating, large Halloween parties, or haunted houses. In some respects, it doesn't matter that there aren't any restrictions, as I don't know of anyone planning on handing out treats this year or holding Halloween parties. No one has opened a haunted house this year. I know of only one Halloween event in this area and that is a trunk or treat. Even then, this trunk or treat will require masks (not Halloween masks, but masks to protect against COVID-19) and as much social distancing as possible.

For those of us who love Halloween, this can all be depressing. While I decorated for the holiday as usual, it won't be the same without trick-or-treaters. What do I plan to do for Halloween. Well, aside from handing out treats, I will do what I always do. I will watch a lot of horror movies and Halloween themed movies. I might buy some candy for myself, as I always wind up eating any leftover Halloween candy anyway!

Like all of us I am hoping that this pandemic will soon come to an end. I have to admit that as I work from home and have never been one to go out a lot, its impact on my life has been minimal. That having been said, Halloween is one place where the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting me a good deal. I am truly hoping that next year we can have a more typical Halloween.

Friday, October 23, 2020

The Late Great Marge Champion

I have always had a bit of a crush on Marge Champion. She was certainly beautiful and graceful. And, as a dancer she certainly had great legs. That having been said, there was much more to Marge Champion than grace and beauty. She was a woman of some talent. As a dancer she served as the dance model for Snow White in Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), the Blue Fairy in Pinocchio (1940), and Hyacinth Hippo in the "Dance of the Hours" segment of Fantasia (1940).  As dancer she also appeared on Broadway, in film, and on television, often alongside her second husband, Gower Champion. Sadly, Marge Champion died yesterday, October 21 2020, at the age of 101.

Marge Champion was born Marjorie Belcher on September 2 1919 in Los Angeles. Her father, Ernest Belcher, was a choreographer who worked on such films as Heroes of the Street (1922) Phantom of the Opera (1925), The Merry Widow (1925), and The Jazz Singer (1927). He also taught dance and among his students was his daughter's future husband, Gower Champion. Her mother was Gladys Lee Baskette. Marge Champion had an older half-sister though her mother, Lina Basquette, who became an actress.

Marge Champion studied acting from a young age, initially taught by her father. At age five she went to New York to study dance. She made her debut at age 11 at the Hollywood Bowl in the ballet "Carnival in Venice" in 1930. At age 12 she was already teaching ballet at her father's dance studio. At Hollywood High School she sang Girls' Senior Glee Club and played Tina in the school's production of The Red Mill.

Marge Champion was only a teenager when she was hired by Walt Disney Studio as a dance model for Snow White for their upcoming animated feature Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. She would work again for Disney as the model for the Blue Fairy in Pinocchio and Hyacinth Hippo in Fantasia. She married Disney animator Art Babitt in 1937. The two divorced in 1940.

Marge Champion made her film debut in 1938 as a dancer in Delinquent Parents. In the late Thirties she also appeared in the films Honor of the West(1939), The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (1939), Sorority House (1939), What a Life (1939), and All Women Have Secrets (1939). She appeared in the short subject "Sunday Night at the Trocadero" (1937).

Marge Champion made her Broadway debut in 1943 in What's Up. In 1945 she appeared on Broadway in Dark of the Moon. She appeared on Broadway in Beggar's Holiday in 1946. It was in 1947 that Marge Champion married Gower Champion. The two son became a popular dance team. She assisted Gower Champion as choreographer on the Broadway production Lend an Ear. Marge and Gower Champion were regulars on The Admiral Broadway Revue, which debuted in January 1949. Marge Champion guest starred on the episode "Dark of the Moon" of The Philco Television Playhouse. The Champions appeared in the movie Mr. Music (1950).

The Fifties would be a busy decade for Marge Champion. She appeared in the movies Show Boat (1951), Lovely to Look At (1952), Everything I Have Is Yours (1952), Give a Girl a Break (1953), Jupiter's Darling (1955), and Three for the Show. On television Marge and Gower Champion had their own show, The Marge and Gower Champion Show, in 1957. She guest starred in such shows as Lux Video Theatre, The Red Skelton Show, Front Row Center, Shower of Stars, Screen Directors Playhouse, General Electric Theatre, The Dinah Shore Show, The Jack Benny Program, House Party, The Eddie Fisher Show, Juke Box Jury, The Perry Como Show, The Garry Moore Show, To Tell the Truth, The Arthur Murray Party, The Ed Sullivan Show, The Bell Telephone Hour, The United States Steel Hour, and Person to Person. She assisted her husband Gower Champion in the choreography for Make a Wish on Broadway in 1951. On Broadway she appeared in 3 for Tonight.

In the Sixties Marge Champion appeared on television on The Bell Telephone Hour, Here's Hollywood, Candid Camera, The Mike Douglas Show, and The Movie Game. She appeared in the movies The Party (1968), The Swimmer (1968), and The Cockeyed Cowboys of Calico County (1970). She assisted her husband Gower Champion in choreographing the Broadway play Hello, Dolly!.

Marge and Gower Champion divorced in 1973, but her career did not slow down. On television she appeared in the ABC's Wide World of Entertainment episode "That's Entertainment: 50 Years of MGM" and Film '76. She served as the choreographer for the movie Queen of the Stardust Ballroom and the mini-series The Awakening Land and Ike. She was a dialogue coach for the TV movie The Diary of Anne Frank.

In the Eighties Marge Champion was the choreographer for the movie Whose Life is It Anyway (1981). She both choreographer and dialogue coach on the TV movie When the Circus Came to Town. She was the choreographer on the TV movie I Do! I Do!. She was a dialogue coach on the mini-series Masada. She appeared in the television documentaries To Dance for Gold, Crazy About the Movies: Ava Gardner, and Live from Broadway: Hello, Dolly!. She appeared in the television specials Night of 100 Stars II and Harry Belafonte in Concert. She appeared on Broadway in Stepping Out.

In the Nineties Marge Champion guest starred on the TV show Fame. She also appeared in the TV series Archive of American Television and Barrymore on Broadway. In the Teens Marge Champion appeared on Broadway in Follies. She appeared in the TV series The Paul O'Grady Show. She appeared in the TV documentaries The 100 Greatest Family Films, Words and Music by Jerry Herman, and Hollywood Singing and Dancing: A Musical Treasure. In the Teens she appeared on the TV shows Move TV and Theatre Talk. She appeared in the TV documentaries Countdown to the Oscars: 15 Movies That Changed American Cinema, Behind the Magic: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and The Nation's Favourite Disney Song. She was a guest at the TCM Classic Film Festival.

Marge Champion was an incredible dancer. She and her one-time husband Gower Champion were one of the greatest dance teams of all time. That having been said, I think Marge Champion would have been a success without Gower Champion. She was trained in ballet and knew multiple other dance styles. Marge Champion moved in ways that only a few other dancers could. She may have been petite and slender, but she was truly an athlete, capable of both grace and strength. It is little wonder that Disney employed her multiple times as a dance model. Of course, she also had considerable talent as a choreographer. She won an Emmy Award for her choreography on Queen of the Stardust Ballroom. Although she was a dancer, Marge Champion was also a good actress. In both her facial expressions and the way she moved, she was very expressive. She gave excellent performances in everything from the movie Give a Girl a Break to the TV show Fame.

Of course, Marge Champion was beloved by classic movie buffs for more than just her talent. She was a guest at the TCM Classic Film Festival and many other events. Those fans lucky enough to meet her often came away even more in love with her. Marge Champion was sweet, open, and down-to-earth. She possessed a great, often self-deprecating sense of humour and a sunny disposition. Sometimes classic movie fans come away disappointed after meeting their idols. This was never the case with Marge Champion. She was a beautiful, wonderful, and extremely talented woman who loved life and loved her fans.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Godspeed Spencer Davis

Spencer Davis, founding member of The Spencer Davis Group, died on October 19 at the age of 81. The cause was pneumonia.

Spencer Davis was born Spencer Davies in Swansea, South Wales on July 17 1939. He changed the spelling of his last name from "Davies" to "Davis" when he began performing ("Davies" and "Davis" are pronounced the same in Wales). He was interested in music from a young age, learning to play harmonica and accordion when he was six years old. He later switched to playing guitar. He was influenced by such diverse music artists as Long John Baldry, Huddy Ledbetter, Buddy Holly, and Alexis Korner. He began playing in bands as a teen. He played in a band called The Saints with a bassist named Bill Perks, who later changed his name to Bill Wyman. After having moved to London when he was 16 to work as a clerical officer at the Post Office Savings Bank in Hammersmith and later the HM Customs and Excise, Spencer Davis moved to Birmingham to resume his studies. He continued to play on stage after school. He sometimes performed with Christine Perfect, later known as Christine McVie.

It was in 1963 that Spencer Davis went to the pub the Golden Eagle to watch the the Muff Woody Jazz band perform. Two  of the members of the band were Muff Winwood and his brother, a young teen named Steve Winwood. Mr. Davis asked the Winwoods to form a band with him and drummer Peter York. The band was named the Rhythm and Blues Quartet, but was soon renamed The Spencer Davis Group, as Spencer Davis was the only one comfortable doing interviews.

The Spencer Davis Group proved popular performing around London and signed to Fontana Records. Their first single, "Dimples," failed to chart, but their second single, "I Can't Stand It," went to 47 on the UK singles chart. Their first major hit would be their fifth single, "Keep On Running," which hit no. 1 on the UK singles chart. It was also their first single to hit the Billboard Hot 100, reaching no. 76 on the chart. They followed "Keep  on Running Up" with "Somebody Help Me," which also hit no.1. They would have further hits with "Gimme Some Lovin'" and "I'm a Man." "Gimme Some Lovin'" proved to be their first major hit in the United States, reaching 7 on the chart. It reached no. 2 on the UK singles chart. "I'm a Man" reached no. 9 on the UK singles chart and no. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100. Unfortunately, "I'm a Man" was their last major hit on either side of the Pond.

The Spencer Davis Group released four albums in the Sixties. Their First LP went to no. 6 in the UK. Their Second Album went to no. 3 in the UK. Autumn '66 went to no. 4 in the UK. It was in 1967 that Steve Winwood left to form Traffic in 1967. Muff Winwood left to work in the record industry. The Winwood brother were replaced by guitarist Phil Sawyer and keyboardist/vocalist Eddie Hardin. With their performance on the charts in decline, The Spencer Davis Group disbanded in 1969.

After The Spencer Davis Group broke up, Spencer Davis moved to California. He recorded an acoustic solo album, It's Been So Long, in 1971. It was followed by a second solo album, Mousetrap. Afterwards he retuned to the UK and formed a new incarnation of The Spencer Davis Group. They released two albums: Gluggo (1973) and Living in a Back Street (1974).

In the mid-Seventies Spencer Davis went to work as an executive at Island Records. At Island Records he worked with both Bob Marley and Robert Palmer, as well as his old Spencer Davis Group bandmate Steve Winwood. In the Nineties he formed two supergroups. The first, Class Rock All-Stars, was formed in 1993. In 1995 he left the group to form World Class Rockers, which also featured guitarist Denny Laine. In 2006 another new incarnation of The Spencer Davis Group was formed, although only Spencer Davis and Eddie Hardin were the only two who were members of the band in the Sixties. With changes in their line-up, this new incarnation of The Spencer Davis Group continued to perform until 2016.

The Spencer Davis Group would prove to be one of the most influential groups of the Sixties. Their influence could be seen in such acts as The Blues Brothers, The Jam, Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes, and others. Steve Windwood credited Spencer Davis with influencing his tastes in music and said that "he became like a big brother to me at the time." As a executive at Island Records, he helped develop such artists as Bob Marley and Robert Palmer. He was a remarkable musician who was instrumental in creating British blues.

Monday, October 19, 2020

The Late Great Rhonda Fleming

Rhonda Fleming was known as "the Queen of Technicolor," a title she shared with Maureen O'Hara. And there should be little wonder why. With red hair, big blue eyes, and a pale complexion, she was certainly striking in colour. That having been said, many classic movie fans might best remember her in black-and-white. She known for her appearances in such classic film noirs as Out of the Past (1947), Cry Danger (1951), The Killer is Loose (1956), Slightly Scarlet (1956), and While the City Sleeps (1956). She was a remarkable actress who played films made in a number of genres in addition to film noir, including Westerns, adventure movies, and swashbucklers. Sadly, Rhonda Fleming died on October 14 2020 at the age of 97.

Rhonda Fleming was born Marilyn Louis in Los Angeles on August 10 1923. Her father was an insurance salesman, Harold Louis. Her mother was a stage actress, Effie Graham. While still in high school she was discovered by legendary agent Henry Wilson. It was Mr. Wilson who gave her the stage name, "Rhonda Fleming."

Miss Fleming appeared in an uncredited part in In Old Oklahoma (1943) before she was put under contract to David O. Selznick. She appeared in a bit part in his film Since You Went Away (1944) before receiving her first screen credit in Selznick's film Spellbound (1945). Selznick loaned her out for the Western Abilene Town (1946) before she appeared in another Selznick movie, The Spiral Staircase (1946). Rhonda Fleming received her first leading role in the low-budget adventure film Adventure Island (1947). That same year she appeared in the classic film noir Out of the Past. For the remainder of the Forties she appeared in the Bing Crosby musical A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1949), the Bob Hope comedy The Great Lover (1949), and the Western The Eagle and the Hawk (1950).

In the Fifties Rhonda Fleming appeared in such films as Cry Danger (1951), The Redhead and the Cowboy (1951), The Last Outpost (1951), Little Egypt (1951), Crosswinds (1951), Hong Kong (1952), The Gold Hawk (1952), Tropic Zone (1953), Serpent of the Nile (1953), Pony Express (1953), Those Redheads from Seattle (1953), Jivaro (1954), Tennessee's Partner (1955),  The Killer is Loose (1956), Slightly Scarlet (1956), While the City Sleeps (1956), The Buster Keaton Story (1957), Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957), Gun Glory (1957), Home Before Dark (1958), Alias Jesse James (1959), and The Crowded Sky (1960). Miss Fleming made her television debut in an episode of The Best of Broadway in 1955. In the late Fifties she guest starred on the shows The Ford Television Theatre and Wagon Train.

In the Sixties she appeared in the films The Patsy (1964), Pão de Açúcar (1964), and Una moglie americana (1965). She guest starred on the TV shows Hong Kong, The Investigators, The Dick Powell Show, Follow the Sun, Death Valley Days, The Red Skelton show, Wagon Train, Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre, Burke's Law, and The Virginian.

In the Seventies Rhonda Fleming appeared on the TV shows Search, Needles and Pins, McMillan & Wife, Police Woman, Kung Fu, Ellery Queen, and The Love Boat. She appeared in the movies Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976) and The Nude Bomb (1980).

Rhonda Fleming was known as a screen beauty, but she was also a very talented actress. She played hypersexual mental patient Mary Carmichael in Spellbound, displayed her singing talent as Alisande in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, and the femme fatale secretary in Slight Scarlet.In the Wagon Train episode "The Jennifer Churchill Story," she played the spoiled, young daughter of a railroad executive convincingly, despite being 35 at the time. Miss Fleming played a number of different roles in a number of different genres and she did all of the quite well.

In addition to being a talented actress, Rhonda Fleming was also a genuinely nice person. She was a guest at the 2012 TCM Classic Movies Film Festival and everyone who met her described her as gracious. She was a generous woman who always had time for her fans. Rhonda Fleming was certainly physically lovely, but she was lovely inside as well.