Sunday, March 7, 2021

Geoffrey Scott R.I.P.

Geoffrey Scott, who appeared on the TV shows Dark Shadows, Cliffhangers, and Dynasty, died February 23 2021 at the age of 79. He had suffered from Parkinson's disease for many years. 

Geoffrey Scott was born on February 22 1942 in Hollywood. He grew up in the San Fernando Valley and lived on the same street as John Wayne and Clark Gable. He was signed by Dick Clayton, the agent who also signed James Dean and Burt Reynolds.

Geoffrey Scott made his television debut on Dark Shadows in 1970, playing Sky Rumson, a wealthy man loyal to the Leviathans. He also appeared on the short-lived soap opera Where the Heart Is.  Later in the Seventies he was the lead on the Cliffhangers segment "The Secret Empire," playing a marshal in the Old West fighting aliens. He guest starred on the shows Cannon, Adam-12, The Wide World of Mystery, Kojak, Harry O, Barnaby Jones, and Dallas

In the Eighties Mr. Scott was one of the leads on the short-lived TV series Concrete Cowboys. Late in the decade he had regular roles on Dynasty and 1st & Ten. He also appeared on the soap opera General Hospital. He guest starred on the shows Fantasy Island; It's Your Move; Hotel; Matt Houston; Night Court; The Love Boat; Webster; Married with Children; Hooperman, She's the Sheriff; and Murder, She Wrote. He appeared in the movies The Morning After (1986) and Under Crystal Lake (1990). 

In the Nineties Geoffrey Scott guest starred on P.S. I Luv U, FBI: The Untold Stories, Baywatch, Murphy Brown, and The Guiding Light. His last appearance on screen was in the movie Hulk (2003).

During his career Geoffrey Scott also appeared in several commercials, including ones for Marlboro, Camel, and Maxwell House.

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Joan Weldon Passes On

Joan Weldon, who starred in the science fiction classic Them! (1954), died on February 11 at the age of 90.

Joan Weldon was born on Joan Welton August 5 1930 in San Francisco. When she was only six years old her mother died. It was while she was still a student as Galileo High School that she began singing in the San Francisco Opera chorus. It was following a performance with the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera that she was signed by Warner Bros.

Miss Weldon made her film debut in The System in 1953. She appeared in the movies So This is Love (1953), The Stranger Wore a Gun (1953), The Command (1954), The Boy from Oklahoma (1954), and Riding Shotgun (1954) before appearing in Them! (1954). The film did well at the box office and received reasonably positive reviews when it was first released. In the mid to late Fifties she appeared in the films Deep in My Heart (1954), Gunsight Ridge (1957), Day of the Badman (1958), and Home Before Dark (1958).

Joan Weldon also appeared on television. She was both the host and a singer on the show This is Your Music in 1955. She guest starred on the shows The Millionaire, Lux Video Theatre, Cheyenne, Perry Mason, Have Gun--Will Travel, Colt .45, Maverick, Matinee Theatre, and Shirley Temple's Storybook.

For three years she played Marian the Librarian opposite Forrest Tucker as Harold Hill in a national tour of The Music Man. She appeared in the play Kean on Broadway. She also took part in a national tour of Oklahoma! in 1963. In 1964 she appeared at the New York State Theatre/Lincoln Center in The Merry Widow. Miss Weldon retired in 1980.

Joan Weldon was an extremely versatile actress. While she may be best known as scientist Dr. Pat Medford in Them!, she had a long career in musical theatre. On film and in television she played wide variety of roles. In the Perry Mason she played the girlfriend of the murder victim, the mourner in the episode's title "The Case of the Angry Mourner." In the Maverick episode "Plunder of Paradise," she played Grace Wheeler, a widow who tells Bart Maverick about a gold mine in Mexico. Joan Weldon could both act and sing, making one of those rare individuals of multiple talents.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Reframed: Classic Films in the Rearview Mirror on TCM Thursday in March

Every Thursday in March, Turner Classic Movies will be airing "Reframed: Classic Films in the Rearview Mirror." The series focuses on classic films that when seen today can be problematic and even offensive. The series will examine the history of these films and examine the cultural context of these movies. Ultimately, there will be a discussion on how these films can be reframed so that they can be kept alive by future generations.

Each episode will discussed by a team of TCM's current hosts, which include Ben Mankiewicz, Dave Karger, Alicia Malone, and Professor Jacqueline Stewart. Among the films airing on "Reframed: Classic Films in the Rearview Mirror" are Gone with the Wind (1939), Gunga Din (1939), The Jazz Singer (1927), The Searchers (1956), Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), and The Children's Hour (1961).

I have to say that I am very happy that Turner Classic Movies is doing this series. I think most classic film fans are aware that many of our favourite films contain moments that are problematic. All of my friends and acquaintances find Mickey Rooney's portrayal of Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany's extremely offensive. I can't think of any of us that are happy with the "Abraham" sequence in Holiday Inn (1942).  That having been said, there are still those movies that are problematic, yet some classic film fans don't understand why these films might offend some of us. As someone of Cherokee blood, I find the portrayal of Indigenous people in The Searchers extremely offensive in that it is stereotypical and the Native characters are underdeveloped. That having been said, I have had to explain to fellow classic film fans why I am uncomfortable with the movie. This is where discussions, such as the ones that will take place in "Reframed: Classic Films in the Rearview Mirror" can be very helpful.

The only caveat I have with "Reframed: Classic Films in the Rearview Mirror" is that I wish that in addition to the TCM hosts they had guest hosts of various ethnicities to discuss the various movies. For instance, it would be nice if for The Searchers they had Wes Studi or Tantoo Cardinal to discuss the film from an Indigenous point of view. For another example, it would be nice to have Priyanka Chopra or Aziz Ansari on hand to discuss Gunga Din.

Regardless, I am very proud that TCM is airing "Reframed: Classic Films in the Rearview Mirror." I do not believe that movies should be removed from circulation (as Disney has done with Song of the South), but I do think such movies should be discussed whenever they are shown. Indeed, I would love to see "Reframed: Classic Films in the Rearview Mirror" become a regular series where each week one movie is shown and discussed, albeit with guest hosts in addition to TCM's regular hosts.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Please Help TCMParty Co-Founder Paula Guthat

If you regularly taken part in TCMParty, the live tweets to movies on Turner Classic Movies using that hashtag, chances are good that you know Paula Guthat. If you live in Detroit, you might also be familiar with Cinema Detroit, the only independent cinema in the Detroit metropolitan area. It was founded by Paula and her husband Tim and was voted by readers of The Detroit Metro Times as "the best place to see an indie movie." Paula is also one of my dearest friends and I literally owe her my life, as she helped through what was the darkest time in my life.

Sadly, Paula has the autoimmune disease lupus, and the disease has recently started attacking her kidneys. Treatment for lupus nephritis, the inflammation of the kidneys, can be very expensive. To help offset Paula's medical bills, her friend Dave Mersey has set up a fundraiser for her on Gofundme.

If you can help, please do so. Paula is a treasure for both the TCM fan community and even Turner Classic Movies itself. For many of us she is among our closest friends. You can donate to the fundraiser here. Any amount would be greatly appreciated.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Blacks and Film Noir

Richard Widmark and Sidney
Poitier in No Way Out
Among the most influential movements in movie history was film noir. There is a good deal of argument as to when the era of classic noir ended, but I believe it safe to say it unfolded from the mid-Forties into the Fifties. This period, which spanned the end of World War II and the post-war years, was also a time of changes in American society, including the culmination of the Civil Rights Movement. In the post war period, American movies began to be more progressive in their portrayal of African Americans. This was particularly true of film noir. It is true that stereotypes, such as the train porter in The Narrow Magin (1952), occasionally appeared in noir, for the most part Black characters in film noir are portrayed as three dimensional characters, well beyond the stereotypes of earlier years. Despite this, there were only a few film noirs made during the classic period that featured Black protagonists.

With regards to notable performances by Blacks in film noir, among the most memorable is Theresa Harris as Eunice Leonard in Out of the Past (1961). Her scene is brief, but it is significant. While Miss Harris is once more playing a maid, she is out on the town with her boyfriend and she is actually allowed to appear glamorous for a change. Eunice is portrayed as a three dimensional character rather than a simple stereotype. Perhaps my only caveat with the scene is that Eunice gives her weight as 131 pounds. Standing only 5' 2", Theresa Harris probably weighed 100 pounds at most.

Body and Soul, also released in 1947, featured another notable performance by an African American, in this case the great Canada Lee. Canada Lee played a welterweight boxer, Ben Chaplin, who becomes the trainer and confidant of John Garfield's character Charley Davis. Throughout the film Charley treats Ben as an equal and the two address each other by their first names. What is more, Ben is not a minor character, playing a major role throughout Body and Soul. In playing Ben Chaplin, Canada Lee gives  one of his best performances in a film that was much more progressive in its portrayal of an African American character than most movies before it.

The Breaking Point (1950) features another progressive portrayal of a Black character. Juano Hernández plays Wesley Park, lead character Harry Morgan's (John Garfield) partner on a fishing boat. Harry treats Wesley as an equal and it is clear that he cares for him deeply. Wesley isn't just Harry's partner; he is his friend. What is more, Wesley is given his own life. He has a son, played by Juano Hernández's real life son Juan.

While Canada Lee and Juano Hernández receive a good deal of screen time in Body and Soul and The Breaking Point, Mauri Leighton (billed as Mauri Lynn) appears only briefly in The Big Night (1951), but her appearance is significant. The Big Night refers to a night during which 17 year old George La Main (John Barrymore, Jr.) takes a major step towards manhood. In one scene George enters a night club where he is fascinated by the singer there, played by Mauri Leighton. When she leaves, George attempts to compliment her, but inadvertently makes a racist comment in doing so. To George's credit, he does regret the comment, as he realizes he has hurt her.  The scene is significant in that it actually portrays a white boy attracted to a black woman, something that would have been forbidden only a few years earlier. Furthermore, the scene demonstrates  the sort of casual racism that exists to this day. While she is not on screen for long, Mauri Leighton gives a great performance of the song "Am I Too Young" and the hurt in her face in reaction to George's comment says more than an entire monologue could.

While there are other performances by Black actors I could discuss, I want to take this time now to move onto film noirs in which the protagonist was Black. Only a very few such films were made during the classic period, but those few films are significant in that they demonstrate the progress Hollywood had made in its portrayal of African Americans since the Thirties and early Forties.

What might have been the first film noir to feature a Black protagonist was No Way Out (1951). The film starred Sidney Poitier in his first major role. He played Dr. Luther Brooks, the first Black doctor at an urban hospital. Unfortunately for Dr. Brooks, attempted robbers, Ray Biddle (Richard Widmark) and Johnny Biddle (Dick Paxton), are brought to the hospital ward after both were shot in the leg. Ray is extremely racist, and makes his hatred of Dr. Brooks very clear from the beginning.The film features early appearances by Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee (their first film together).

No Way Out originated as a story by screenwriter Lesser Samuels, based on the experiences of his son-in-law, who was a doctor. As hard as it maybe, in Lesser Samuels's original story, the doctor was white. After Joseph L. Mankiewicz bought the rights to the story, he transformed the story from being about a a white doctor working alongside Black doctors to one about a Black doctor. In doing so he created a script that broke with stereotypes in featuring a powerful, educated Black doctor. Sidney Poitier's performance further made it clear that Dr. Luther Brooks was an intelligent man of great responsibility.

In addition to presenting a very progressive portrayal of African Americans, it also presented an all-too-accurate portrayal of racism, not only in the form of Ray Biddle, but in other white characters as well. Richard Widmark, who was very different in real life from the characters he played, became friends with Sidney Poitier and actually apologized to him every single time he was required to abuse Mr. Poitier mentally or physically. Because of its progressive portrayal of a Black doctor and its portrayal of racism, No Way Out was met with some controversy. It ran into censorship issues around the country (including a temporary ban in Chicago following race riots there) and did not play in much of the South.

As controversial as No Way Out was, Native Son (1951) would be even more so. The film was based on Richard Wright's 1940 novel Native Son. Both the film and the novel centred on Bigger Thomas, a young Black man who becomes chauffeur to a wealthy family and finding himself plunged into a world of violence. The novel was adapted into a play that opened on Broadway in 1941. That having been said, it would be some time before it was adapted to film. MGM offered Richard Wright $25,000 for the rights on the condition that it had an all white cast. As might be expected, Mr. Wright turned them down. Independent producer Harold Hecht made an offer for the film rights, but his plans would also have made big changes to the novel's plot. Rather than being a young Black man, Bigger would have belonged to an oppressed white minority, such as a Pole or Italian. There would have also been a Jewish character and a Black character in the cast, who at the film's end would realize that what happened to Bigger could have happened to them as well. Richard Wright also rejected this offer.

It was after Richard Wright moved to Paris that he came in contact with Uruguayan producer James Prades and French director Pierre Chenal. Messrs. Prades and Chenal expressed interest in producing a movie based on Native Son that would remain faithful to the novel. They also wanted Richard Wright to write the screenplay. Ultimately, the film was shot in Argentina. Richard Wright had wanted Canada Lee to play the lead role of Bigger Thomas, but he was unable to do so. Having difficulty finding a leading man, Richard Wright wound up playing the role himself.

The major studios in the United States refused to release Native Son, and ultimately it was released by a small outfit called Independent Classic Pictures. The movie's problems did not end there, as it ran afoul of local censorship boards. Several scenes would be cut from the movie, including  scene in which Bigger kills a rat in his family's tenement in Chicago and various lines, including references to lynching in the South. In Ohio the film was rejected outright. Ultimately, in various regions of the country so much of the film was cut that it affected its continuity. Given how much various censorship boards chopped up Native Son, it failed at the box office. Fortunately in the Teens, the Library of Congress would restore the film, which had not been scene in its original state for literally decades.

Seen today it is easy to understand why Native Son evoked such controversy. It was an unflinching look at systemic racism in the United States, with an all too realistic portrayal of race hatred and police violence for many Americans in the early Fifties to stomach. Native Son is not a perfect film. Some of the acting is over the top and Pierre Chenal's direction at times leaves a bit to be desired. That having been said, Richard Wright's script is brutal in its portrayal of racism in America at the time, and George Garate's cinematography is exceptional. Although often criticized, I find Richard Wright's performance as Bigger Thomas to be fairly good. While Mr. Wright was obviously too old at 40 to be convincing as a 25 years old, he often hits just the right emotional notes in the role, sometimes doing better than the more experienced actors in the movie.

It would be several years after Native Son that Edge of the City (1957) would be released. The film centred on the friendship between  longshoreman Axel Nordmann (John Cassavetes) and the head of stevedore gang Tommy Tyler (Sidney Poitier). Unfortunately, their friendship is complicated by the head of another stevedore gang, the vicious racist Charlie Malick (Jack Warden).

Edge of the City originated as the teleplay "A Man Is Ten Feet Tall," which aired on The Philco Television Playhouse on October 2 1955. It was in the teleplay that Sidney Poitier originated the role of Tommy Tyler. While the movie adaptation of the teleplay in the United States would be titled Edge of the City, it retained the teleplay's title A Man is Ten Feet Tall in the United Kingdom. MGM was a bit nervous about the film given it centred on race relations and worried about its profitability in the South. For that reason it was budgeted at only $500,000.

Edge of the City was well received by preview audiences and also received positive notices from critics. Unfortunately, it would do well at the box office. Although Edge of the City was not banned outright, many exhibitors in the South refused to book the film because of its portrayal of an interracial friendship. Of course, its portrayal of a friendship between a Black man and a white man is precisely what made Edge of the City a revolutionary film. It was something that had very rarely been seen before.

It was two years after Edge of the City that Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) was released. In fact, there are those who believe Odds Against Tomorrow is the final film of the classic period of film noir. Odds Against Tomorrow was based on the novel of the same name by William P. McGivern. Odds Against Tomorrow stars Harry Belafonte as Johnny Ingram, a compulsive gambler who down on his luck. In need of money, Johnny joins in on a plan for a heist engineered by an embittered former police officer (David Burke, played by Ed Begley). Unfortunately, the third member of the heist's crew is Earle Slater (Robert Ryan), an ex-convict who also happens to be a die-hard racist.

Odds Against Tomorrow was financed by HarBel Productions, a company owned by Harry Belafonte. This allowed Mr. Belafonte complete control over the production, something he would not have been permitted had it been produced by a major studio. Among the cast and crew hand-picked by Harry Belafonte was screenwriter Abraham Polonsky, who had written the screenplays for such films as Golden Earrings (1947), Body and Soul (1947), and, with Ira Wolfert, Force of Evil (1948), which he also directed. Unfortunately, Mr. Polonsky found himself blacklisted after he refused to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1951. As he was still blacklisted, Black novelist John O. Killens, was used as a front. Abraham Polonsky's credit would be restored by the Writer's Guild of America in 1996.

At its core Odds Against Tomorrow is essentially a heist film where race relations play a major role. Earle Slater casually drops the word "piccaninny" as well as the N-word itself. For most of the film David Burke finds himself trying to keep Earle Slater and Johnny Ingram from each other's throats even as they are executing the heist. Here it must be pointed that Odds Against Tomorrow broke with earlier films in another way. A henchman for mobster Bacco, Coco (Richard Bright), is portrayed as overtly gay. In the late Fifties even veiled references to homosexuality were considered taboo in film.

In Odds Against Tomorrow Harry Belafonte, Robert Ryan, and Ed Begley were all in top form. Furthermore, Robert Wise's direction is excellent and Abraham Polonsky's screenplay powerful. Despite this, Odds Against Tomorrow did not do particularly well at the box office, although it received positive notices from critics. Fortunately, it has developed a following over the years.

The year 1959 marked the end of the classic period of film noir. And while Black leads were rare during that period, the noirs of the classic period would have influence on the neo-noirs of the coming decades. The casts of Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970), Dead Presidents (1995), and Devil in a Blue Dress (1995) all feature predominantly Black casts in non-stereotypical roles. While Black leads were rare in film noirs of the late Forties and the Fifties, it would be films such as No Way Out and Odds Against Tomorrow that would pave the way for African Americans in non-stereotypical roles not only in neo-noir, but in other genres as well.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Online Friends Are Real Friends

I have had internet access since 1995. In that time I have made many friends online, most of whom I have never met in person. Many of these friends number among my very closest friends, among them the dearest friend I have ever had. Many of my friends, both those I have met in person and those I have met online, have had similar experiences. Despite this, there are those who will insist that online friends are not "real friends." Indeed, there is even the phrase "real life friends," which seems to say that what occurs online somehow is not real.

Given the World Wide Web has existed for nearly 28 years, I am not sure why some people have this attitude that online friends are not real friends or, at the very least, are somehow lesser in quality than people one meets in person. Making friends online can go well beyond simply chatting with people on Facebook or Twitter. Today there is no shortage of video chat software, from Skype to Zoom. Some of my online friends have my phone number and we have texted and talked on the phone. There are several different ways one can bond with friends one has made online. And often this bonding can be every bit as strong as the bonding one has with those friends they have met in person.

Now I do realize it is fully possible for someone online to pretend to be someone or something they are not. There is the phenomenon of catfishing, whereby someone creates a fake persona online, whether for attention or some more nefarious ends. And I have had the sad experience of befriending people online, only to learn later they are not what they initially appeared to be. In one case I knew someone for a year before they turned on me, something that took me by surprise. That having been said, I have had this happen offline with people I have met in person as well. In fact, I daresay it has happened many more times to me with people I have met in person than it has people I have met online. There are always going to be those insincere or unscrupulous people who will behave nicely when they want something from an individual and then turn on that individual when they are through with them.

Fortunately, in my experience, such people are the exception to the rule. It seems to me that most people behave the same online as they do offline. I think most people online are honest about who and what they are. Over the years I have gotten to meet friends I have made online and in each case they behave the same offline as they do online. What is more, we did not suddenly become friends because we met in person. Quite simply, we were already friends and behaved as such.

For those not willing to take my word for it, a study conducted by the University of California Irvine in 2017 revealed that online friendships are just as meaningful as face-to-face friendships for teens.  There is no reason to assume that the same is not true for many adults. Ultimately I don't think the means through which people connect (online vs. in person) is nearly is as important is as how strong that connection is.

As I said earlier, I won't pretend to understand why some people think online friends are not real friends or think that online friends are somehow lesser in quality than those one has met in person. Maybe they haven't spent that much time online or maybe they just never "clicked" with someone online. That having been said, for many of us our online friendships are every bit as real and every bit as meaningful as our face-to-face friendships. To say, "Too bad you never met so-and-so in person" of someone's online friend is then not only rude, but wholly unwarranted and can be downright cruel. For years now people have connected through multiple platforms beyond in person, through the telephone, through ham radio, and now through the internet. It is not the means through which two people connect that is important. It is the fact that they connected at all and how strong that connection is that is important.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Actress and Singer Martha Stewart Passes On

Martha Stewart, the actress and singer who appeared in such films as Daisy Kenyon (1947) and In a Lonely Place (1950), died on February 17 2021 at the age of 98.

Martha Stewart was born Martha Haworth on October 7 1922 in Bardwell, Kentucky. She was very young when her family moved to Brooklyn, New York. She graduated from New Utrecht High School there. After graduating from high school, she entered a singing contest which led to a career as a professional singer. During World War II she sang on NBC radio shows Glenn Miller, Harry James and Claude Thornhill. It was at an engagement at the Stork Club that she was spotted by Hollywood talent scout.

Martha Stewart made her film debut in Doll Face in 1945. She appeared in the films Johnny Comes Flying Home (1946) and I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now (1947). In Daisy Kenyon (1947) she played a friend of the title character (played by Joan Crawford). She appeared in Are You With It? (1948) with Donald O'Connor before playing hat-check girl and murder victim Mildred Atkinson in In a Lonely Place (1950). She appeared in only a few movies following In a Lonely Place, those being Convicted (1950), Aaron Slick from Punkin Creek (1952), and Surf Party (1964).

Miss Stewart appeared on Broadway in Park Avenue in the late Forties and Guys and Dolls in the early Fifties. Martha Stewart made her television debut on Texaco Star Theatre Starring Milton Berle in 1950. She was a co-host of the variety show Those Two. In the Fifties she guest starred on Footlights and Klieglights, Cavalcade of Stars, Songs for Sale, The Jackie Gleason Show, The Colgate Comedy Hour, The Arthur Murray Party, The Red Skelton Show, The Stork Club, and Musical Chairs. In the Sixties she guest starred on Our Man Higgins, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, and My Three Sons

Martha Stewart was a talented singer with a lovely voice, as anyone who has seen her musicals knows. She also displayed a good deal of talent as an actress. She played a variety of roles, from singer Frankie Porter in Doll Face to an older rich woman in Surf Party. She was equally at home in musicals and in dramas, and she always gave good performances.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Comic Book Legend Dwayne McDuffie

It was ten years ago that comic book and animated TV series writer Dwayne McDuffie died at age 49 following complications of emergency heart surgery. Mr. McDuffie was born during the Silver Age and his career in comic books would not begin until the Modern Age of Comic Books, yet he had an impact on the medium as few other writers have. Quite simply, if comic books today include more diversity than they once did, Dwayne McDuffie deserves much of the credit.

Dwayne McDuffie was born on February 20 1962 in Detroit. It was following Mr. McDuffie's death that Keegan-Michael Key of Key & Peele fame learned he was his half-brother through their father. Like many young boys in the Seventies, Dwayne McDuffie read comic books. He attended the Roeper School in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. He later attended the University of Michigan, where he received a degree in English, and then a master's degree in physics at the same school. He moved to New York City where he attended New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. He was a copy editor at Investment Dealers Digest when a friend recommended him for a job as an assistant editor at Marvel Comics.

At Marvel Dwayne McDuffie wrote the limited series Damage Control, the limited series Deathlok, and specials and one-shots related to such characters as She-Hulk, Captain Marvel, and Spider-Man. He later wrote a few issues of The Demon for DC Comics and a few issues of Back to the Future: Forward to the Future for Harvey Comics. It would be in 1993 that Dwayne McDuffie would make his mark in comic book history with the founding of Milestone Media.

Milestone Media was founded in 1993 by Dwayne McDuffie, Denys Cowan, Michael Davis, and Derek T. Dingle, with the goal of addressing the lack of diversity in American comic books at that time. Dwayne McDuffie served as the editor-in-chief at Milestone and also created several of its characters. Milestone Media's titles were published through DC Comics, although Milestone retained full ownership of their characters. Dwayne McDuffie co-created several of Milestone's most popular characters, including Hardware, Blood Syndicate, Icon, Static, and The Shadow Cabinet. Dwayne McDuffie also wrote the Milestone's titles Hardware and Icon.

Milestone Media was a major break from previous comic book companies in that they had people of colour had much greater representation there than any other comic book company at the time. Hardware, Icon, and Static were all Black. Xombi was Korean American. Kobalt was of Cuban descent. Both Blood Syndicate and The Shadow Cabinet featured characters of various ethnicities and sexual orientations. What is more, the various Milestone titles, particularly Icon, often addressed real world issues. Icon presented a conflict before the more economically and socially conservative Icon and his more progressive sidekick Rocket. In the pages of Icon, Rocket became the first unwed mother in the history of comic books. Other topics covered by Milestone Media's title included drug addiction, alcoholism,  gang warfare, sexuality, and, as might be expected racism.

Sadly, Milestone Media was founded at a time when there was a boom in new comic book publishers. Between the late Eighties and the early Nineties such companies as Malibu Comics, Valiant Comics, Image, and yet others were founded. Most of these publishers introduced their own lines of superheroes. As a result, there was a glut on the market of new superhero titles. Milestone's chances may have also been hurt by the speculator boom of the Nineties, whereby speculators would buy various titles in hopes that they would be valuable later. The speculator boom peaked just as Milestone was founded and then ended only a few years later. As a result, comic book sales dropped dramatically. With sales of its titles in decline, Milestone Media ceased publishing comic books in 1997, although the company still exists today as a licensing company for its characters.

It would be Milestone Media that would lead Dwayne McDuffie into animation. Even though Static had ended its run in 1997, the character of Static was licensed for the animation Static Shock in 2000. Michael McDuffie would go onto write episodes not only of Static Shock, but Justice League, Justice League Unlimited, various Ben 10 series, and Young Justice. He served as a producer on Justice League, Justice League Unlimited, Ben 10: Alien Force, and Ben 1: Ultimate Alien. He also wrote direct-to-video features for DC comics, including Justice League: Starcrossed, Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, All-Star Superman, and Justice League: Doom. He would return to comic books, writing the mini-series Beyond for Marvel, as well as Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight, Fantastic Four, and Justice League of America.

During his lifetime Dwayne McDuffie received nominations for the Eisner Award for Best Writer, Best Editor, and Best Continuing Series. He won the Golden Apple Award from the Roeper School (his alma mater) for "use of popular art to promote and advance human worth and dignity." He won the Humanitas Award for in Children's Animation for the Static Shock episode "Jimmy." Two awards are named for him, the Dwayne McDuffie Award for Diversity in Comics and the Dwayne McDuffie Award for Kids' Comics.

Both as a founder of Milestone Media and as a writer, Dwayne McDuffie did much to advance diversity in comic books. Even after the introduction of several important African American characters in the Seventies (The Falcon and Luke Cage at Marvel, John Stewart and Black Lightning at DC), there were still few Black superheroes to be found in comic books in the early Nineties. There were also few Asian, Latino, or Native American superheroes. In co-founding Milestone Media, Dwayne McDuffie did much to change that. He wrote Black characters and characters of other ethnicities as human beings, not caricatures or stereotypes. What is more, Dwayne McDuffie's characters were ones that anyone could identify with, regardless of ethnicity. Hardware is an inventor who found he was being used by his criminal patron. Static is an intelligent teenager and pop culture geek who just happened to get superpowers. Rocket is a teenage aspiring writer who fell in with the wrong crowd until she met Icon. In writing characters that were wholly relatable, often dealing with issues that the average person might face in their everyday life, Dwayne McDuffie helped advance diversity in comic books in a way that few writers before him had.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Sounds of the City: A Seventies Radio Show

In the Seventies there was a revival of radio drama that lasted for much of the decade. The revival produced such memorable programs as NPR's Earplay and CBS Radio Mystery Theatre. One show that is not particularly remembered today would have an impact despite its short time on the air. Sounds of the City was a fifteen minute soap opera that centred on Black characters. It focused on an African American family from the South and their efforts to transition to life in the North.

Sounds of the City was creation of Byron Lewis, president of UniWorld Group Inc., a multicultural advertising agency. Founded in 1969, UniWorld Group Inc. first made its mark handling the promotional campaign for the movie Shaft (1971). Unfortunately, the Seventies were not a particularly good time for minority-owned advertising agencies, and by 1974 UniWorld Group Inc. was struggling. The agency was in real need of something that would improve their fortunes. Byron Lewis remembered how his family listened to soap operas such as Stella Dallas and Our Gal Sunday on the radio. He then came up with the idea of a Black radio soap opera, Sounds of the City.

A sponsor for Sounds of the City was found in Quaker Oats, who would remain a client of UniWorld Group Inc. even after the show went off the air. In course of  the run of Sounds of the City, both actors that were already famous and some that soon would be appeared on the show, including Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Robert Guillaume, and Adam Wade. Scripts were written by Shauneille Perry, who had already a career as a director of plays such as Black Girl and the author of the play Mio. The characters on Sound of the City ranged from a minister to a police officer to the head of a numbers racket.

Sounds of the City debuted on May 1 1974 on the Mutual Black Network. It ultimately lasted 39 weeks. While Sounds of the City did not last long, it was successful in saving UniWorld Group Inc. In fact, it was Sounds of the City that earned UniWorld Group Inc. its first million dollars. The advertising agency started producing television commercials in 1975, with its first being for Avon. As to Sounds of the City itself, Robert Guillaume was among its regular cast, playing the part of Calvin. Within a few years he would be playing Benson on Soap and later on the spinoff Benson. While Sounds of the City lasted only briefly, it did leave its mark.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Christopher Pennock Passes On

Christopher Pennock, who played various roles on Dark Shadows (including Leviathan leader Jeb Hawkes and astrologer Sebastian Shaw), died on February 12 at the age of 76. He had been diagnosed with melanoma last summer.

Christopher Pennock was born on June 7 1944 in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. He attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. He was an understudy for the part of Jack Hunter in the Broadway production The Rose Tattoo. In the late Sixties he appeared on Broadway in A Patriot for Me. He first appeared as Jeb Hawkes on Dark Shadows in 1970. Until the end of the run of the series, he played various characters in various timelines, including Cyrus Longwoth, Sebastian Shaw, and Gabriel Collins.

Mr. Pennock continued on Dark Shadows in the early Seventies. Later in the decade he appeared on the soap operad General Hospital and Days of Our Lives. He also guest starred on Cannon and the soap opera Somerset. He appeared in the TV movies The Court-Martial of George Armstrong Custer and The Women's Room. He appeared in the movie Night of Dark Shadows (1971), playing the role of Gabriel Collins. He also appeared in the movies Savages (1971), The Great Texas Dynamite Chase (1976), and California Suite (1978). He appeared on Broadway in Abelard and Heloise.

In the Eighties Christopher Pennock appeared on the soap operas The Young and the Restless and The Guiding Light. He guest starred on the TV shows The Love Boat, Strike Force, Tucker's Witch, Cagney & Lacey, The A-Team, Dynasty, Riptide, Hotel, Houston Knights, Simon & Simon, High Mountain Rangers, and Knot's Landing. He appeared in the movies Frances (1982), Basic Training (1985), and Caged in Paradise (1990).

In the Nineties Mr. Pennock guest starred on Melrose Place, Baywatch, and Silk Stalkings. He appeared in the movie Running Woman (1998). In the Naughts he appeared in the movies High (2009) and Legacy (2010). In the Teens he appeared in the movies Lost on Purpose (2013), Doctor Mabuse: Etiopomar (2014), A Journey to a Jorney (2016), and The Night-Time Winds (2017). He was a regular on the TV series Theatre Fantastique and High.

Mr. Pennock also wrote a series of comic books based on his experiences on Dark Shadows.

Christopher Pennock was an immensely talented actor capable of playing a wide variety of roles. On Dark Shadows alone he played the Leviathan leader Jeb Hawkes, the astrologer Sebastian Shaw, and the Dr. Jekyll inspired Cyrus Longworth and his Hyde inspired alter ego John Yaeger. In shows from The A-Team to Melrose Place, he played a wide variety of characters, from essentially good characters to outright villains. Throughout his career he displayed an enormous amount of talent.

Monday, February 15, 2021

St. Louis Blues (1958)

In 1958 African Americans had made considerable strides in Hollywood since its Golden Age. That having been said, movies with primarily Black casts were still rare. That alone makes St. Louis Blues (1958) remarkable. What makes it even more remarkable is that the movie featured some of the most famous Black performers of the time, including Nat King Cole, Earth Kitt, Cab Calloway, Pearl Bailey, Ruby Dee, Mahalia Jackson, and Ella Fitzgerald, among others.

The opening credits of St. Louis Blues state that it is based on the life and music of W. C. Handy. That having been said, viewers should take that statement with a grain of salt. Just as Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) departed considerably from the life of George M. Cohan and Stormy Weather (1943) departed considerably from the life of Bill "Bojangles" Robinson (even with Mr. Robinson playing himself), so too does St. Louis Blues depart considerably from the life of W. C. Handy. While I won't go into detail about how the movie departs from Mr. Handy's life for fear of spoilers, I will point out that among other things, there was never anyone named Gogo Germaine (Earth Kitt) in Mr. Handy's life.

Of course, I am guessing some of you may be asking, "Who is Mr. Handy?" W. C. Handy was a composer and a musician who is often called "the Father of the Blues." While W. C. Handy did not invent the blues, he was the first composer to actually publish Delta blues compositions. Among his many songs are "Beale Street Blues," "St. Louis Blues," "Chantez Les Bas,"and "The Storybook Ball."

As mentioned earlier, St. Louis Blues has a remarkable cast. Even the young actor who plays William Christopher Handy is to be noted; he is none other than musician Billy Preston. Nat King Cole was at the height of his fame when he played W. C. Handy in St. Louis Blues. It was after Mr. Cole was cast that he visited W. C. Handy at the legendary composer's 84th birthday to discuss the film with him. Sadly, W. C. Handy died on March 28 1958, not long before the premiere of St. Louis Blues on April 10 1958 in St. Louis. While critics at the time dismissed Nat King Cole as W. C. Handy, I thought his performance was quite solid. 

Nat King Cole was not alone in giving a good performance in St. Louis Blues. Earth Kitt does a great job as Gogo Germaine, as does Ruby Dee as Mr. Handy's love interest Elizabeth. Many might find the casting of Pearl Bailey as W. C. Handy's Aunt Hagar unusual given she was only a year older than Nat King Cole, but she is entirely convincing in the role. Juano Hernandez gives a great performance as W. C. Handy's father, a Methodist minister who disapproves of his son playing secular music (something in the film that is based on fact). Cab Calloway does well in a largely unsympathetic role as a none-too-honest club owner.

As might be expected with such a cast, much of the appeal of St. Louis Blues is its music. There are performances from Nat King Cole, Eartha Kitt, Mahalia Jackson, and Pearl Bailey. And while many of the songs are those written by W. C. Handy, the soundtrack also includes such traditional works as "Open Up the Window" and "Hush the Wind." For those of you who may be wondering, I have to point out that while he is one of the cast, Cab Calloway does not perform any of the songs in St. Louis Blues. I am sure even Mr. Calloway's biggest fans won't be disappointed, however, given the number of great performers in the movie.

Of course, St. Louis Blues does not simply have a great cast and several good musical performances, it also has a good script. While it does depart considerably from W. C. Handy's life, the film's plot is engaging and gives the actors ample opportunity to flex their dramatic muscles.

St. Louis Blues did not perform particularly well at the box office. Sadly, today it is not as well remembered as other biopics. That having been said, it is well worth watching given its cast and its musical performances.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Happy Valentine's Day 2021

For reasons that should be obvious to anyone who knows me, Valentine's Day is not a particularly happy day for me. That having been said, it wasn't always that way and I have fond memories of Valentine's Days past. It is a nice day for individuals to celebrate with people they love. And while candy and roses are the traditional gifts for Valentine's Day, I also know that there are those who might prefer some cheesecake for the day. Here, then, are this year's Valentine's Day pinups.

First up is Peggy Castle from a photo spread in Look magazine in the Fifties. She's apparently resting after a busy day of playing Cupid!

Next up is Lynn Merrick, reminding people of the date!

Not a Valentine's Day pinup per se, but as a promotional photo of Debbie Reynolds for the movie I Love Melvin it does fit the holiday!

What better Valentine's Day gift could there be than Cyd Charisse?

Sue Carol wants a Valentine!

And finally, you can't have Valentine's Day without Ann Miler!

Happy Valentine's Day!

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Godspeed Chick Corea

Jazz legend Chick Corea died February 9 2021 at the age of 79. The cause was cancer.

Chick Corea was born Armando Corea in Chelsea, Massachusetts on June 12 1941. His father was a jazz trumpeter and the bandleader of a Dixieland band in Boston in the Thirties and Forties. It was his father who started him on the piano when Chick Corea was only four years old. He was eight he took up the drums. At age eight, Chick Corea studied piano under concert pianist Salvatore Sullo. From when he was very young he was influenced by such jazz greats as Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker.

Chick Corea began playing gigs when he was only in high school. Mr. Corea studied musical education for only a month at Columbia University in New York City and six months at the Juilliard School. Even though he stopped attending both Columbia University and Julliard, Chick Corea stayed in New York City to pursue his music career.

He began his career in the early Sixties and played with such artists as Mongo Santamaria, Stan Getz, Hubert Laws, Miles Davis, and others. He released his first solo album, Tones for Joan's Bones, in 1966. It would be followed by over 75 more solo albums. In 1970 he formed Chick Corea formed the band Circle with bassist Dave Holland. Throughout the Seventies he continued to play as a sideman with other artists, such as Miles Davis and Stanley Clarke. In 1992 he founded his own label, Stretch Records.

Chick Corea numbers among the most talented jazz keyboardists. He had a skill with the keys that few others possessed. He was among the pioneers of jazz fusion, and with Circle he explored free jazz. Among his many talents was a gift for improvisation.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Experiencing Technical Difficulties

Before anything else, I want to apologize for not making a real blog post this evening. Currently I have a cold that makes it difficult to do much of anything. And please don't worry about me. It's not COVID-19. I particularly feel guilty about not making a post today as for the past few weeks A Shroud of Thoughts has been dominated by eulogies of celebrities who have died. I don't know what it is about the month of January, but I swear more celebrities die that month than any other. And, sadly, as in the case of this year, those deaths sometimes continue into February. Indeed, tomorrow I will try to get a eulogy for jazz legend Chick Corea out.

Anyway, next week I hope to put out my annual Black History Month posts. I want to write a post on Milestone Comics character Static (Nineties kids might remember the animated series Static Shock) and the film St. Louis Blues (1958), among other things.

Anyway, I will leave you with a photo of my dearest Vanessa Marquez. This is a headshot from when she was only 21. At the time her only screen credits were Stand and Deliver (1988), Night Children (1989) and the WonderWorks television movie Sweet 15 (1990). 

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

The Late Great Mary Wilson of The Supremes

Mary Wilson, founding member of The Supremes and the only member to remain with The Supremes for the entirety of their history, died yesterday at the age of 76. The Supremes were the best charting female group in American history and in the Sixties their success at times rivalled The Beatles.

Mary Wilson was born on March 6 1944 in Greenville, Mississippi. Her parents moved to St. Louis and later Chicago. For a time she lived with her aunt and uncle in Detroit. Her mother eventually joined her in Detroit. Mary Wilson befriend fellow future Supreme Florence Ballard when they were both in elementary school. It was in 1958 that Miss Ballard met Paul Williams and Eddie Kendricks of a singing group called The Supremes. The Primes' manager, Milton Jenkins, decided to form a sister group to The Primes to be called The Primettes. The first two members of The Primettes were BettyMcGlowan and Florence Ballard.  Florence Ballard brought Mary Wilson into The Primettes, who then brought in a classmate, Diana Ross.

The Primettes developed a local following. It was after the group won a local talent contest that Diana Ross asked an old neighbour, Smokey Robinson (who was then a member of The Miracles, one of Motown's biggest groups) to get them an audition with Motown. Motown executive Barry Gordy thought they were too young and inexperienced and asked them to return following their high school graduation. Later in the year The Primettes recorded a single for Lu Pine Records in Detroit, "Tears of Sorrow." The single failed to chart and it was not long after that Betty McGlown left The Primettes to get engaged. She was replaced by Barbara Martin.

n an effort to get signed to Motown, The Primettes began visiting Hitsville U.S.A. (the headquarters of Motown at the time) regularly after school. After some time Barry Gordy let them contribute backing vocals and hand claps to the songs of such artists as Mary Wells and Marvin Gaye. It was in January 1961 that Mr. Gordy finally decided to sign the group, but on the condition that the group's name would be changed. He gave the group various names to choose from, and they settled on The Supremes.

The Supremes' first single for Motown was "I Want a Guy." It failed to chart, as did their next single. The third single, "Your Heart Belongs to Me" peaked at 95 on the Billboard Hot 100, while their fourth single peaked at no. 90 on the Billboard Hot 100 and at no. 25 on the Billboard R&B chart. The Supremes would have their first minor hit with "When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes," which hit no. 23 on the Billboard Hot 100 and no. 2 on the Billboard R&B chart. It was in 1964 that The Supremes had their first major hit. "Where Did Our Love Go" hit no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and the Billboard R&B chart. It went to no. 3 on the British singles chart.

"Where Did Our Love Go" was the first of four consecutive no. 1 records in the United States for The Supremes. Ultimately, The Supremes would have twelve singles hit no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. They would proved to be the best charting female group in American history. Through the years, changes would come to The Supremes. It was in 1967 that Barry Gordy decided to change the name of the group to "The Supremes with Diana Ross" and later to "Diana Ross & The Supremes."

It was also in 1967 that Florence Ballard was suffering from depression and failing to show for recording dates and arriving at shows late. Barry Gordy eventually asked Cindy Birdsong of Patti LaBelle & the Blue Belles to Florence Ballard in The Supremes. It was in 1970 that Diana Ross left The Supremes to pursue a solo career. Jean Terrell replaced her as the group's lead singer. It was after Diana Ross's final concert with The Supremes on January 14 1970 that Barry Gordy wanted to replaced Jean Terrell with Syreeta Wright. Mary Wilson refused to go along with this change and as a result Jean Terrell remained the lead vocalist of The Supremes.

While The Supremes would not see the success that they had in the Sixties, they did well on the charts in the early Seventies. The Supremes would undergo more changes as the decade wore on, with Cindy Birdsong leaving to be replaced by Lynda Laurence and Jean Terrill leaving to be replaced by Scherrie Payne. While The Supremes remained a popular live act, their fortunes on the charts declined as the Seventies continued. They performed their last concert at the Drury Lane Theatre in London on June 12 1977. Mary Wilson was the only original Supreme remaining.

In the Sixties The Supremes appeared frequently on variety and music shows, including Top of the Pops, Shivaree, Shindig, Ready Steady Go!, Hullabaloo, and The Hollywood Palace. They also guest starred on an episode of Tarzan, playing a trio of nuns. Mary Wilson appeared with the other Supremes on the game show To Tell the Truth as well as on her own. The Supremes also appeared on the game show What's My Line. In the Seventies the appeared on The Merv Griffin Show, Soul Train, The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour, and The Mike Douglas Show.

After The Supremes disbanded, Mary Wilson launched a solo career. She released a self-titled solo album in 1979 and another solo album, Walk the Line, in 1992. A live album, Up Close: Live from San Francisco, was released in 2007. She continued to be popular as a live performer, performing in Las Vegas and elsewhere. She appeared in the TV movies Tiger Town and Jackie's Back!, as well as the feature film Golden Shoes (2015). Mary Wilson also continued to appear regularly on television, even competing on Dancing with the Stars in 2019. It was only two days before her death that she announced she planing to release new material with Universal Music Group.

In addition to her music career, Mary Wilson also worked with the NAACP, the Susan G. Komen foundation, and St. Jude's Hospital.

The Supremes formed a large part of my childhood. While I am too young to remember much of the group's success in the Sixties, their songs were still frequently played on radio stations in the Seventies beyond. Mary Wilson was always my favourite of The Supremes. I always thought she was the best vocalist out of all of them. Her solo career proved that she was a talented performer all on her own. Not only was Mary Wilson an incredibly talented artist who, with The Supremes, changed the course of musical history, but she was also pivotal in preserving the history of Motown. On her YouTube channel she had uploaded 51 videos, everything from  old Supremes footage to performances from Las Vegas to her own thoughts on various Motown legends. Mary Wilson was much more than one of The Supremes. She was very much a star in her own right.

Monday, February 8, 2021

Super Bowl Commercials 2021

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on many things, among them Super Bowl commercials. In fact, such big name advertisers as Budweiser, Coca-Cola, and Pepsi did not buy ads during this year's big game. There were also some first time advertisers during this Super Bowl, such as Uber Eats and Door Dash. There were even commercials for things one does not usually see advertised during the Super Bowl, such as diapers.

Perhaps because of the pandemic and the fact that many traditional advertisers bowed out this year, 2021's crop of Super Bowl commercials were an unimpressive lot. Many tried for humour and missed the mark. Others simply weren't that interesting. Regardless, I managed to find a few that do seem worthy of airing during the Super Bowl.

Cheetos: "It Wasn't Me"

I thought this commercial with Ashton Kutcher, Mila Kunis, and Shaggy was funny. And Shaggy's parody of his own song "It Wasn't Me" was great.

M&M's: "Sorry"

This commercial features various people apoligizing for various things, some of which are timely. I love the punchline with M&M's spokescandies.

Uber Eats: "Wayne's World" and "Shameless Manipulation"

These are two interrelated commercials that feature the return of Mike Meyers and Dana Carveey as Wayne and Garth. That alone makes them worth watching for this Gen Xer. Fortunately, they are both funny as well. The first commercial aired prior to the game, while the second one aired during the game.

With any luck by the time of the next Super Bowl the pandemic will be over and the 2022 crop of Super Bowl commercials will be better.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

The Late Great Christopher Plummer

Christopher Plummer, who starred in such movies as The Sound of Music (1965), Triple Cross (1966), and The Man Who Would Be King (1975), died on February 5 2021 at the age of 91.

Christopher Plummer was born on December 13 1929 in Toronto, Ontario. His family divorced not long after he was born and he was raised by his mother in Senneville, Quebec. When he was young he wanted to be a concert pianist, but developed an interest in acting. He apprenticed at the Montreal Repertory Theatre.

Christopher Plummer made his television debut in 1953 in a Canadian production of Othello that aired on the TV series General Motors Presents. In the Fifties he guest starred on Studio One, Suspense, Broadway Television Theatre, The Web, Kraft Television Theatre, Producer's Showcase, General Electric Theatre, Appointment with Adventure, The Alcoa Hour, Eye on New York, Omnibus, Sunday Showcase, and Our American Heritage. He appeared in television productions of Little Moon of Alban, Johnny Belinda, A Doll's House, and The Philadelphia Story.

In the Sixties, Mr. Plummer appeared in the television movies Time Remembered, Cyrano De Bergerac, Hamlet at Elsinore, and The Secret of Michaelangelo. He appeared on the shows The Dupont Show of the Month. In the Seventies he appeared in the mini-series Arthur Hailey's The Moneychangers and Jesus of Nazareth. He appeared on the TV shows BBC Play of the Month, Witness to Yesterday, and The Sunday Drama. He appeared in the TV movies After the Fall, Riel, The Shadow Box, and Desperate Voyage

In the Eighties he appeared in the mini-series Little Gloria... Happy at Last, The Thorn Birds, Crossings, and Spearfield's Daughter. He guest starred on the show The Cosby Show. He appeared in the TV movies When the Circus Came to Town, Dial M for Murder, The Scarlet and the Black, Prototype, The Tin Soldier, A Hazard of Hearts, and Nabokov on Kafka.

In the Nineties Christopher Plummer was a regular on the TV series Counterstrike. He appeared in the TV movies Young Catherine, A Marriage: Georgia O'Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz, The First Circle, and Secrets, A Stranger in the Mirror, Skeletons, Winchell, The Dinosaur Hunter, Possessed, and American Tragedy . He appeared in the mini-series Nuremberg.

In the Naughts he appeared in the TV movies On Golden Pond, Night Flight, Agent of Influence, Odd Job Jack, Our Fathers, and Four Minutes. He appeared in the mini-series The Summit. In the Teens, he appeared on the TV show Great Performances. He was a regular on the TV show Departure.

Christopher Plummer made his film debut in Stage Struck in 1958. In the late Fifties he also appeared in the film Wild Across the Everglades (1958). In the Sixties he appeared in the movies The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964), The Sound of Music (1965), Inside Daisy Clover (1965), Triple Cross (1966), The Night of the Generals (1967), Oedipus the King (1968), Nobody Runs Forever (1968), Lock Up Your Daughters! (1969), Battle of Britain (1969), The Royal Hunt of the Sun (1969), and Waterloo (1970).

In the Seventies he appeared in the movies The Pyx (1973), The Spiral Staircase (1975), The Return of the Pink Panther (1975), Conduct Unbecoming (1975), Atentat u Sarajevu (1975), The Man Who Would Be King (1975), Aces High (1976), Uppdraget (1977), The Disappearance (1978), International Velvet (1978), The Silent Partner (1978), Starcrash (1978), Murder By Decree (1979), Hanover Street (1979), and Somewhere in Time (1980).

In the Eighties Christopher Plummer appeared in the films Eyewitness (1981), The Amateur (1981), Highpoint (1982), Ordeal by Innocence (1984), Dreamscape (1984), Lily in Love (1984), The Boy in Blue (1986), I Love N.Y. (1987), Dragnet (1987), Nosferatu a Venezia (1988), Shadow Dancing (1988), Souvenir (1989), Mindfield (1989), Where the Heart Is (1990), and Red Blooded American Girl (1990).

In the Nineties, Mr. Plummer appeared in the movies Firehead (1991), Money  (1991), Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991), Liar's Edge (1992), Impolite (1992), Malcolm X (1992), Wolf (1994), Crackerjack (1994), Dolores Claiborne (1995), Twelve Monkeys (1995), The Clown at Midnight (1998), Blackheart (1998), Hidden Agenda (1999), The Insider (1999), and Dracula 2000 (2000).

In the Naughts he appeared in the movies Lucky Break (1991), A Beautiful Mind (2001), Ararat (2002), Nicholas Nickleby (2002), Blizzard (2003), Cold Creak Manor (2003), National Treature (2004), Alexander (2004), Must Love Dogs (2005), Syriana (2005), The New World (2005), Inside Man (2006), The Lake House (2006), Man in the Chair (2007), Closing the Ring (2007), Emotional Arithmetic (2007), Already Dead (2008), Caesar and Cleopatra (2009), The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009), The Last Station (2009), Beginners (2010), and The Tempest (2010). He was the voice of Charles Muntz in Up (2009).

In the Teens Christopher Plummer appeared in the films Priest (2011), Barrymore (2011), The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011), Muhammad Ali's Greatest Fight (2013), Elsa & Fred (2014), Hector and the Search for Happiness (2014), The Forger (2014), Danny Collins (2015), Remember (2015), The Exception (2016), The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017), All the Money in the World (2017), Boundaries (2018), Cliffs of Freedom (2019), Knives Out (2019), and The Last Full Measure (2019).

Christopher Plummer appeared frequently on stage. He made his debut on Broadway in The Starcross Story in 1954. In the Fifties he also appeared on Broadway in Home is the Hero, The Dark is Light Enough, The Lark, Night of the Auk, and  J.B.. In the Sixties he appeared in Arturo Ui and The Royal Hunt of the Sun. In the Seventies he appeared in Cyrano De Bergerac and The Good Doctor. In the Eighties he appeared in Othello and Macbeth. In the Nineties Mr. Plummer appeared on Broadway in No Man's Land and Barrymore. In the Naughts he appeared in King Lear and Inherit the Wind.

Christopher Plummer was an incredible actor. He won two Tony Awards, two Emmys, and one Academy Award, and he was nominated multiple times for each of those awards. He won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Beginners, making him the oldest actor to ever win an Academy Award. It should be little wonder that Mr. Plummer should have been nominated many times for various awards, as he was extremely versatile. Throughout his career he played a wide range of historical figures, including Rommel in The Night of the Generals, Duke Wellington in Waterloo, Kipling in The Man Who Would Be King, and John Barrymore in Barrymore. Among the fictional characters played by Mr. Plummer was Sherlock Holmes in Murder By Decree. He was convincing in all of these roles.

Christopher Plummer's versatility extended to the sorts of movies he made. Over the years he appeared in dramas, period pieces, comedies, science fiction movies, and yet other sorts of films. He was as at home in the espionage thriller Triple Cross as he was the sci-fi movie Twelve Monkeys. What is more, he played many remarkable roles in various types of movies. In Inside Daisy Clover he played producer Charles Swann, a man who was equal parts manipulative and intimidating. He was an outright psychopath in The Silent Partner. In Beginners he played a role far removed from either of those he played in Inside Daisy Clover or The Silent Partner, playing an older man with cancer who is also coming to terms with the fact that he is gay. Even in movies that were not particularly good (Red Blooded American Girl, for example) Christopher Plummer could still deliver solid performances. Few actors ever had the sheer amount of talent that Christopher Plummer did.

Friday, February 5, 2021

Diana Millay Passes On

Diana Millay, who played Laura Collins on the classic soap opera Dark Shadows, died on January 8 2021 at the age of 85.

Diana Millay was born on June 7 1935 in Rye, New York. She was a child model for the Montgomery Ward catalogue. She was later a model for John Robert Powers's modelling agency. During summer vacations in high school, she appeared in summer stock productions.

Diana Millay made her television debut on Star Tonight in 1955. In the Fifties she guest starred on the shows The Investigator, Omnibus, Father Knows Best, The Westerner, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, Lock Up, The Aquanauts, Stagecoach West, Dobie Gillis, Maverick, Michael Shayne, Thriller, The Rifleman, and The Tab Hunter Show. She appeared in the movie Street of Sinners (1957). She made her debut on Broadway in the play Fair Game in 1957. She also appeared in the production Drink to Me Only.

In 1966 Diana Millay was cast as Laura Collins on the soap opera Dark Shadows. She would be the first supernatural character on the show, pre-dating even the vampire Barnabas Collins. Laura Collins was actually an immortal entity known as the Phoenix that burns to death every 100 years only to be reborn. After the "Laura Collins the Phoenix" storyline ended, Diana Millay continued to appear on the show, playing different Laura Collinses through the ages. She guest starred on the shows The Tab Hunter Show, The Americans, Dante, Bonanza, Gunsmoke, Perry Mason, Whispering Smith, Hawaiian Eye, Route 66, The New Breed, King of Diamonds, Target: The CorruptorsLaramie, The Dick Powell Show, Wagon Train, Tales of Wells FargoMy Three Sons, The United States Steel Hour, Rawhide, The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters, Redigo, Temple Houston, 77 Sunset Strip, The Eleventh Hour, Arrest and Trial, The Virginian, and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. She appeared in the film Tarzan and the Great River (1967). She appeared on Broadway in Boeing-Boeing.

In the early Seventies she continued to appear on Dark Shadows. She had a recurring role on the soap opera Secret Storm in 1971. She also appeared in the movie Night of Dark Shadows (1971).

Diana Millay also wrote the books I'd Rather Eat Than Act, The Power of Halloween, and How to Create Good Luck.

Diana Millay appeared frequently on television in the Fifties and Sixties, precisely because she was capable of playing a wide variety of characters. It can be little wonder why she was cast as Laura Collins, a role that by its very nature was demanding. Prior to the "Laura Collins the Phoenix" storyline Dark Shadows was a Gothic soap opera. With the "Laura Collins the Phoenix" story arc it became a supernatural soap opera. Had Diana Millay not excelled in the role of Laura Collins, it's very possible that Dark Shadows might not have continued its path to becoming a supernatural soap opera. That means we might never have been introduced to Barnabas Collins, but it might never have been the success that it was.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Mike Henry Passes On

Mike Henry, the former NFL player who starred as Tarzan in three movies, died on January 8 2021 at the age of 84. He had been diagnosed in 1988 with Parkinson's disease and for years had dealt with chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

Mike Henry was born on August 15 1936 in Los Angeles. He played football in high school and played for the University of Southern California. Following his graduation from college. Mike Henry played for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1958 to 1961. He requested a transfer to the Los Angeles Rams as he was interested in becoming an actor.

Mike Henry made his film debut in a small role in Curfew Breakers in 1958. In the early Sixties he was the choice of Ed Graham Productions to play Batman in a prospective television series, that would have been more serious than the classic 1966 TV series Batman produced by William Dozier. Mike Henry never got a chance to play Batman, as Ed Graham lost the rights to the character. Mike Henry appeared in small roles in Spencer's Mountain (1963) and Palm Springs Weekend (1963) before playing Tarzan in three films: Tarzan and the Valley of Gold (1966), Tarzan and the Great River (1967), and Tarazan and the Jungle Boy (1968). Mike Henry was offered the lead role in the TV series Tarzan, but declined the role. It then went to Ron Ely. In the Sixties he also appeared in the movies The Green Berets (1968), More Dead Than Alive (1969), Number One (1969), and Rio Lobo (1970). He guest starred on the shows General Hospital, 77 Sunset Strip, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, Daniel Boone, and Dan August.

In the Seventies Mike Henry guest starred in the M*A*S*H  "The M*A*S*H Olympics" as Major Margaret Houlihan's fiancé  Lt. Colonel Donald Penobscott. He also guest starred on the shows The Smith Family, The Wonderful World of Disney, The New Dick Van Dyke Show, Temperatures Rising, The Bob Newhart Show, The Six Million Dollar Man, Rhoda, and Lou Grant. He played Junior, the none too bright son of Sheriff Buford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason), in the movies Smokey and the Bandit (1977) and Smokey and the Bandit II (1980). He appeared in the movies Skyjacked (1972), Soylent Green (1973), The Longest Yard (1974), Mean Johnny Barrows (1975), and Adiós Amigo (1975).

In the Eighties Mike Henry guest starred on Fantasy Island and appeared in the movies Smokey and the Bandit Part 3 (1983) and Outrageous Fortune (1987).

Athletes turned actors are generally not noted for their talent, but Mike Henry actually displayed talent in his acting career. Indeed, he played both Tarzan in three movies and Junior Justice in the "Smokey and the Bandits" movies, two roles that could not be more different. He was even convincing playing the corrupt Sheriff "Blue Tom" Hendricks in Rio Lobo. He gave solid performances in guest appearances on many television shows. While some athletes turned actors aren't known for their acting talent, Mike Henry should be.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

The Late Great Hal Holbrook

Hal Holbrook, well known for his one-man show Mark Twain Tonight, died on January 23 2021 at the age of 95.

Hal Holbrook was born on February 17 1925 in Cleveland, Ohio. He and his older sisters were abandoned by their parents when he was two years old. They were raised by their paternal grandparents. The Holbrook children and their grandparents initially lived in Weymouth, Massachusetts and later in Lakewood, Ohio. Hal Holbrook attended Culver Military Academy in Culver, Indiana. He graduated from Denison University in Granville, Ohio. At Denison University he did an honours project about Mark Twain. It would lead him to later develop his one-man show, Mark Twain Tonight. He trained in acting at HB Studio in New York City.

During World War II Hal Holbrook served in the United States Army, attaining the rank of staff sergeant. While in the Army he performed in various stage productions. He received an honourable discharge in 1946.

It was at Lock Haven State Teachers College in 1954 that Hal Holbrook first performed as Mark Twain. The performance came to the attention of Ed Sullivan, who featured him in the February 12 1956 episode of The Ed Sullivan Show. He also appeared on Tonight! in 1956 and Tonight Starring Jack Paar in 1958. Hal Holbrook made his television debut in 1954 in a recurring role on the soap opera The Brighter Day. During the Fifties he also appeared on the show Mr. Citizen.

In the Sixties Hal Holbrook made his debut on Broadway in Do You Know the Milky Way?. He appeared in the productions After the Fall, Marco Millions, Incident at Vichy, Man of La Mancha, his one-man show Mark Twain Tonight, The Apple Tree, I Never Sang for My Father,and  Does a Tiger Wear a Necktie?. He made his film debut in The Group in 1966. He appeared in the movies Wild in the Streets (1968), The Brotherhood (1968), The People Next Door (1970), and The Great White Hope (1970). On television he played the lead on the TV show The Senator, part of the wheel series The Bold Ones. He guest starred on the shows Coronet Blue, The F.B.I., The Name of the Game, and The Wonderful World of Disney. He appeared in a television production of The Glass Menagerie and A Clear and Present Danger.

In the Seventies he played Abraham Lincoln in the television mini-series Lincoln. He appeared in such TV movies as Travis Logan D.A.; Goodbye, Raggedy Ann; That Certain Summer; Pueblo; 33 Hours in the Life of God; Our Town; Murder by Natural Causes; The Legend of the Golden Gun; When Hell Was in Session; and Off the Minnesota Strip. He appeared on the  TV shows Great Performances and Omnibus and the mini-series The Awakening Land. He appeared in the movies They Only Kill Their Masters (1972), Magnum Force (1973), The Girl from Petrovka (1974), All the President's Men (1976), Midway (1976), Rituals (1977), Julia (1977), Capricorn One (1977), Natural Enemies (1979), The Fog (1980), and The Kidnapping of the President (1980). On Broadway he appeared in a revival of Mark Twain Tonight.

In the Eighties Hal Holbrook played John Adams in the television mini-series George Washington, Abraham Lincoln in the mini-series North and South, Abraham Lincoln in the mini-series North and South: Book II, Dr. Andrew McKaig in the mini-series The Fortunate Pilgrim, and Jonas Coe in the mini-series Emma: Queen of the South Seas. He had a recurring role on the TV series Designing Women and in 1990 he began his regular role as Evan Evans on Evening Shade. He appeared in the TV movies The Killing of Randy Webster; The Three Wishes of Billy Grier; Behind Enemy Lines; Under Siege; Plaza Suite; Day One; Sorry, Wrong Number; and A Killing in a Small Town. He appeared in the movies Creepshow (1982), Girls Nite Out (1982), The Star Chamber (1983), Wall Street (1987), The Unholy (1988), and Fletch Lives (1989).

In the Nineties he continued to appear on the TV show Evening Shade. He guest starred on the shows The Outer Limits and Family Law. He appeared in the TV movies A Perry Mason Mystery: The Case of the Grimacing Governor, A Perry Mason Mystery: The Case of the Jealous Jokester, She Stood Alone: The Tailhook Scandal, Innocent Victims, Operation Delta Force, All the Winters That Have Been, The Third Twin, Beauty, My Own Country, and A Place Apart. On Broadway he appeared in An American Daughter. He appeared in the movies The Firm (1993), Carried Away (1997), Eye of God (1997), Hush (1998), Walking to the Waterline (1998), Judas Kiss (1998), Rusty: A Dog's Tale (1998), The Florentine (1999), The Bachelor (1999), Waking the Dead (2000), and Men of Honor (2000). He provided voices for the animated movies Cats Don't Dance (1997) and Hercules (1997).

In the Naughts Mr. Holbrook guest starred on the TV shows Becker; The West Wing; Good Morning, Miami; Hope & Faith; The Sopranos; NCIS; and ER. He had a regular role on the series The Event. He appeared on Broadway in Mark Twain Tonight. He appeared in the movies The Majestic (2001), Purpose (2002), Shade (2003), Into the Wild (2007), Killshot (2008), and That Evening Sun (2009), Flying Lessons (2010). 

In the Teens Hal Holbrook had a recurring role on the TV show Sons of Anarchy. He appeared on the TV shows Monday Mornings, Rectify, Bones, Grey's Anatomy, and Hawaii Five-0. He appeared in the movies Good Day for It (2011), Water for Elephants (2011), Lincoln (2012), Promised Land (2012), Savannah (2013), and Go With Me (2015).

Hal Holbrook had the amazing ability to transform himself entirely to any character he played. It for this reason that while he was best known for playing Mark Twain, he was cast as multiple historical figures. He played Abraham Lincoln more than once. Lloyd Bucher, the captain of the U.S.S. Pueblo, in the TV movie Pueblo. Commander Joseph Rochefort in Midway,  Jeremiah Denton in When Hell Was in Session, and John Adams in George Washington. Each time Mr. Holbrook was entirely convincing as the historical figure he was playing. Of course, Mr. Holbrook's talent extended beyond playing historical figures. Over the years he was nominated or won multiple Emmy Awards for everything from The Bold Ones: The Senator to Our Town. Hal Holbrook was definitely one of the most talented actors to emerge in the mid-20th Century.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Godspeed Ron Campbell

Animator Ron Campbell, who worked on the animated series The Beatles and Cool McCool as well as the film Yellow Submarine (1968), died on January 22 2021 at the age of 81.

Ron Campbell was born on December 26 1939 in Seymour, Victoria, Australia. He had wanted to become animator ever since he was six years old and learned that the "Tom and Jerry" cartoons he watched in the theatre were essentially drawings. He attended the Swinburne Art Institute in Melbourne.

Ron Campbell began his career in animation in the late Fifties, making animated commercials for Australian television. When Al Brodax of King Features looked to Australia to produce animated television shorts of "Krazy Kat" and "Beetle Bailey," Ron Campbell went to work for King Features. He served as an animator on both the "Krazy Kat" cartoons and the animated TV series The Beatles. Working for King Features, he directed segments the animated series The Beatles and Cool McCool. He also served as animator on the feature film Yellow Submarine. In the late Sixties he served as an animator on the animated TV series Moby Dick and the Mighty Mightor, The Adventures of Gulliver, the 1969 revival of Winky Dink and You, Harlem Globe Trotters.

In 1971 he founded his own animation studio Ron Campbell Films Inc. In the Seventies he served as animation director on The Big Blue Marble and Sesame Street. He was animator on Sealab 2020; The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan; Inch High, Private Eye; and Goober and the Ghost Chasers. He served as a story director or storyboard artist on The New Scooby-Doo Movies, Scooby's All Star Laff-A-Lympics, The All-New Popeye Hour, Galaxy Goof-Ups, Yogi's Space Race, The Plastic Man Comedy/Adventure Show, Heathcliff, and ABC Weekend Specials.

In the Eighties Mr. Campbell served as animator on the TV specials My Smurfy Valentine and Which Witch is Which. He served as a story director or storyboard artist on the television series Space Stars, ABC Weekend Specials, Shirt Tales, The Scooby and Scrappy-Doo Puppy Hour, The Dukes, Pac-Man, Snorks, The Jetsons, Paw Paws, Yogi's Treasure Hunt, Ghostbusters, Bionic Six, Smurfs, Garbage Pail Kids, Police Academy: The Series, Camp Candy, Tiny Toon Adventures, DuckTales, and Bobby's World. He served as a story director or storyboard artist on the television specials My Smurfy Valentine, The Smurfs Springtime Special, The Smurfs Christmas Special, and The Jetsons Meet the Flintstones.

In the Nineties Ron Campbell did work for Disney and Nickelodeon. He served as an animator or animation timer on the TV shows Goof Troop, Duckman: Private Dick/Family Man, Rugrats,. and Rocket Power. He served as a storyboard artist or story director on Bobby's World, The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, James Bond Jr., Goof Troop, Darkwing Duck, Bonkers, Duckman: Private Dick/Family Man, Jumaji; Aaahh!!! Real Monsters, Men in Black: The Series' Dragon Tales; Rugrats, and Rocket Power. He was an animator supervisor on the feature film Die Abenteuer von Pico und Columbus (1992).

In the Naughts Ron Campbell served as an animation timer on Rocket Power and an exposure sheet director on Ed, Edd n Eddy. He was a storyboard artist on the series Stuart Little.

Ron Campbell may not have been a household name, but over the years he worked on several classic animated projects. His work was literally seen by generations, from The Beatles and Cool McCool to Smurfs and DuckTales to Darkwing Duck and Rugrats. He certainly had talent as an animator. With Duane Crowther, Ron Campbell was charged with animating the connecting sequences on Yellow Submarine, ultimately animating 12 minutes of the film. Producer Al Brodax credited Ron Campbell and Duane Crowther with tying the film all together. From his work with King Features to Hanna-Barbera to Disney, many animated projects would not be the same without Ron Campbell.