Saturday, March 27, 2021

The Late Great Beverly Cleary

Short of Dr. Seuss, Beverly Cleary may well be the most influential children's author of the 20th Century. She certainly influenced multiple generations over her long writing career. Indeed, she was a successful writer before I was even born. She created several beloved characters, including Henry Huggins, Beezus Quimby, Ramona Quimby, and Ralph S. Mouse. It is a mark of her success that her books have remained in print, decades after they were first published. Beverly Cleary died on March 25 2021 at the age of 104.

Beverly Cleary was born Beverly Bunn on April 12 1916 in McMinnville, Oregon. She spent her early years on her family farm, and when she was six years old her family moved to Portland, Oregon. While she would later become a very successful author, in first grade she had difficulty learning to read, primarily due to a series of illnesses she had throughout the year (chickenpox, tonsillitis, and smallpox).  Fortunately, her reading improved, but she found many of the books for children at the time rather dull. As she once said in an interview, "So many books in those days, back in the 1920s, had been published in England," she says, "and the children had nannies and pony carts. They seemed like a bunch of sissies to me." It was in third grade that she discovered the book The Dutch Twins by Lucy Fitch Perkins, which unlike many other books at the time was about ordinary children. It was in sixth grade that her teacher, based on her writing assignments, suggested that she become a children's author.

Beverly Cleary attended Chaffey Junior College in Ontario, California and later the University of California, Berkeley. She graduated in 1938 with a degree in English. It was during this period that she met Clarence Cleary, who would become her husband. She earned another bachelor's degree, this one in the library science, at the University of Washington. In 1940 she married Clarence Cleary and the two remained married until his death in 2004.

Mrs. Cleary worked as a children's librarian and noticed that they were often unimpressed by the books available to them. She was asked once by a little boy, "Where are the books about kids like us?" Beverly Cleary sympathized with her young patrons, and as a result wrote her first book, Henry Huggins. It was published in 1950 and proved to be an immediate success. It would be followed by several more chapter books staring Henry Huggins, his dog Ribsy, his friend Beezus (given name Beatrice), and her little sister Ramona. Beezus and Ramona would be featured in their own book, Beezus and Ramona, published in 1955.

While Beverly Cleary's chapter books about Henry Huggins proved successful, she also wrote books for older readers. These included Fifteen (1956), The Luckiest Girl (1958), Jean and Johnny (1959), Sister of the Bride (1963), and others. She also wrote three novels based on the sitcom Leave It to Beaver: Leave It to Beaver (1960), Beaver and Wally (1961), and Here's Beaver! (1961).

Beverly Cleary would follow the success of her Henry Huggins books with books about Ralph S. Mouse. Ralph was a mouse who can talk to humans (although he generally only speaks to children) and lives in a rundown inn. In The Mouse and the Motorcycle (1965) he is given a toy motorcycle by one of the young visitors to the inn, and learns he can ride it. Ralph was featured in two more books: Runaway Ralph (1970) and Ralph S. Mouse (1982).

What may well be Beverly Cleary's most successful series of books was a spinoff of the Henry Huggins books. Ramona Quimby originated as a supporting character as Beezus's little sister in the Henry Huggins books. In Beezus and Ramona she was given a larger role. The Ramona series originated after a publisher had asked her to write a book about a kindergarten student. Having never attended kindergarten, Mrs. Cleary initially resisted, but decided to go ahead and write a book about a kindergarten student after the birth of her twins. Ramona the Pest (1968) gave Ramona a starring role. It was followed by six more books.

Beverly Cleary wrote several books outside of her series, including Otis Spofford (about a precocious fourth grader), Emily's Runaway Imagination (set in the 1920s), and Socks (about a cat who runs away from home after his family have a new baby).  She also wrote two memoirs, A Girl from Yamhill (1988) and On My Own Two Feet (1995).

Beverly Cleary's works have been adapted to other media. In the late Eighties and early Nineties, the Ralph S. Mouse books were adapted as three episodes of the ABC Weekend Specials. The Ramons series was adapted as a ten episode Canadian TV series in 1980. The books Ramona Forever and Ramona's World were adapted as the feature film Ramona and Beezus (2010).

Beverly Cleary's success came from more than being a skilled writer with an incredible wit. Much of it came from the fact that she filled a niche. Prior to Beverly Cleary, there were few books that featured ordinary, American children. Until the publication of Henry Huggins, there were very few characters in books that American, 20th Century children could relate to. In contrast, Beverly Cleary's characters were entirely relatable. What is more, she had a gift for writing about the minutiae of children's lives, whether it's Henry Huggins's attempts to earn money for a new book or Beezus having to put up with her younger sister Ramona's antics. Even in the Ralph S. Mouse books, Mrs. Cleary dealt with topics of importance to children (longing for a more exciting life, getting aggravated at one's family, and so on). While Socks is about a cat and written from the cat's point of view, many children might be able to identify with Socks's jealousy of his family's new baby.

Beverly Cleary has been among one of my favourite authors since childhood. I read the Henry Huggins books and the Ralph S. Mouse books, and I enjoyed them immensely. Beverly Cleary's career lasted so long and she was so successful, that my older sister read some of her books and my nieces as well. She wrote for nearly fifty years, producing an oeuvre that remains in print to this day. Given how relatable her characters were and how universal the themes in her books, Beverly Cleary's books will likely be in print 100 years from now.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

The Late Great Jessica Walter

Actress Jessica Walter died in her sleep at age 80 yesterday, March 24 2021. She played a deranged stalker in Play Misty for Me (1971). On television she played Lucille on the sitcom Arrested Development and the voices of Fran Sinclair on Dinosaurs and Malory Archer on Archer.

Jessica Walter was born on January 31 1941 in Brooklyn, New York. She grew up in Astoria, Queens. Her father, David Walter, was a violinist who played with the NBC Symphony Orchestra and the New York City Ballet Orchestra. Her mother, Esther, was a Russian immigrant. Her brother, Richard Walter, became a writer and chairman of the graduate program in screenwriting.

Jessica Walter studied acting at Manhattan's High School of Performing Arts and later the Neighbourhood Playhouse. In 1960 she made her debut on Broadway in Advise and Consent. That same year she made her television debut in an episode of Diagnosis: Unknown.

In the Sixties Jessica Walter played the regular role of Phyllis Koster, wife of assistant district attorney David Koster (William Shatner) on the short-lived series For the People. She was also a regular on the soap opera Love of Life from 1962 to 1965. She guest starred on Naked City, Route 66, East Side/West Side, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Ben Casey, Flipper, The Nurses, The Reporter, The Rouges, The Defenders, The Trials of O'Brien, The F.B.I., The Fugitive, Preview Tonight, It Takes a Thief, The Immortal, Then Came Bronson, Mission: Impossible, and The Most Deadly Game. She made her film debut in Lilith in 1964. She appeared in the movies The Group (1966), Grand Prix (1966), Bye Bye Braverman (1968), and Number One (1969). Miss Walter appeared on Broadway in Night Life, Photo Finish, and A Severed Head.

In the Seventies Jessica Walter played deranged stalker Evelyn Draper in Play Misty for Me (1971). She also appeared in the movies Goldengirl (1979) and Concorde...Airport '79 (1979). On television she played the lead of the title in the short-lived series Amy Prentiss. She guest starred on Storefront Lawyers; The Name of the Game; Alias Smith and Jones; The Sixth Sense; Banyon; Cannon; Marcus Welby, M.D.; Banacek; Mannix; Tenafly; Medical Center; Love, American Style; Columbo; The Magician; Ironside; Barnaby Jones; Hawaii Five-O; McCloud; The Streets of San Francisco; Visions; All That Glitters; Wonder Woman; What Really Happened to the Class of '65; Gibbsville; Quincy, M.E. She appeared in several TV movies, including playing Morgan Le Fay in Dr. Strange.

In the Eighties Jessica Walter was a regular on the nighttime soap opera Bare Essence, the sitcom Three's a Crowd, and the family drama Aaron's Way. She played the recurring role of the title character's ex-wife on Trapper John, M.D. She was a voice on the animated series Wildfire. She guest starred on the shows Love Boat, Aloha Paradise, Knot's Landing, Joanie Loves Chachi, Matt Houston, Hotel, Magnum P.I., and J. J. Starbuck. Miss Walter appeared in the movies Going Ape! (1981), Spring Fever (1982), The Flamingo Kid (1984), and Tapeheads (1988). She appeared on Broadway in Rumors.

In the Nineties Jessica Walter was the voice of Earl Sinclair's long-suffering wife Fran Sinclair on the sitcom Dinosaurs. She was a regular on the sitcom Oh Baby. She had a recurring role on the sitcoms Coach and Jack & Jill, as well as the soap opera One Life to Live. She guest starred on the shows The Round Table; Murder, She Wrote; Babylon 5; Law & Order; You Wish; Poltergeist: The Legacy; and Just Shoot Me!. Miss Walter appeared in the movies Ghost in the Machine (1993), PCU (1994), Temptress (1995), and Slums of Beverly Hills (1998).

In the Naughts Jessica Walter played Lucille Bluth on the sitcom Arrested Development. She was a regular on 90120 for the first half of its first season. She began her long run as the voice of Malory Archer on the animated series Archer. She had recurring roles on Saving Grace and Gravity. She guest starred on Touched by An Angel, Rules of Engagement, The Wedding Bells, The Life and Times of Juniper Lee, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Happy Hour, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and Make It or Break It. She appeared in the movies My Best Friend's Wife (2001), Dummy (2002), and Unaccompanied Minors (2006).

In the Teens she continued to voice Malory Archer on Archer. She reprised her role as Lucille on Arrested Development. She was a regular on Retired at 35 and Jennifer Falls. She guest starred on The Big Bang Theory, The Odd Couple (2016), NCIS, Difficult People, At Home with Amy Sedaris, Good Girls, and American Housewife. She was a regular voice on the animated series Star vs. the Forces of Evil, and provided guest voices on the animated shows Justice League Action and Harley Quinn. She appeared on Broadway in Anything Goes. She appeared in the movies Bending the Rules (2012), Keep the Change (2017), Undercover Grandpa (2017), and The Mimic (2020).

I cannot begin to describe my admiration for Jessica Walter. She was simply an incredible actress. I have only seen a few episodes of Arrested Development (it was always opposite one of my regularly watched shows during its original run), but I know many will always remember her as Lucille Bluth, the domineering matriarch of the Bluth family. Even for those who have only seen a few episodes of Arrested Development or none at all, there are a number of other roles they will probably remember Miss Walter for. For me, it will perhaps be two voice roles. The first was the voice of Fran Sinclair on Dinosaurs, the level headed, sensible, always patient wife of Earl Sinclair. She was truly Alice Kramden to Earl's Ralph. Malory Archer was about as far from Fran as one could get. She was the former head of spy agency ISIS and Archer's mother. She was also an utterly ruthless alcoholic who generally thinks of no one but herself. Although it is not well-remembered today, Jessica Walter played the title role on the short-lived Seventies series Amy Prentiss. Amy Prentiss was San Francisco's first chief of detectives. Miss Walter excelled in the role, winning the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series.

Jessica Walter was prolific. She somehow found time to be a regular on several TV shows, guest star on many more, and appear in movies and on Broadway to boot. What is more, she never gave a bad performance. As far as movies go, she will always remembered as the mentally disturbed stalker in Play Misty for Me. She also gave impressive turns as a racecar driver's wife in Grand Prix, the ambitious Libby in The Group, and widow Inez Braverman in Bye Bye Braverman. While Jessica Walter may be particularly remembered for her work in comedy, she was equally adept at drama. She excelled in both drama and comedy in playing complex, intelligent women. She did it so well that few actresses could ever match her. If Jessica Walter was prolific, if she had a career in television, in movies, and on Broadway, it was because she was so extraordinarily talented.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

The Late Great George Segal

George Segal, the actor who starred in such films as King Rat (1965) and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), died yesterday, March 23 2021, from complications from bypass surgery. He was 87 years old.

George Segal was born on February 13 1934 in Great Neck, New York. He was nine years old when he saw the movie This Gun for Hire (1942), starring Alan Ladd, and then decided to become an actor. He graduated from the George School, a private Quaker boarding school, in Newtown, Pennsylvania in 1951. He then attended Haverford College in Philadelphia. There he played banjo in Bruno Lynch and His Imperial Jazz Band. He was drafted into the United States Army and was stationed on Staten Island. He received his bachelor's degree from Columbia University in New York City in 1955.

George Segal made his stage debut off-Broadway in Moliere's Don Juan in 1956. The production also included Peter Falk. He later appeared in a production of The Iceman Cometh with Jason Robards and Leave it to Jane. For a time he was a member of the New York Shakespeare Festival Company. In the early Sixties he formed the comedy troupe The Premise.

He was working with The Premise when he was discovered by producer Larry Thurman. He was then cast in the role of Dr. Howard in the movie The Young Doctors (1961). In the Sixties he appeared in such notable films as Ship of Fools (1965), King Rat (1965), Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), and The Owl and the Pussycat (1970). He also appeared in the movies The Longest Day (1962), Act One (1963), The New Interns (1964), Invitation to a Gunfighter (1964), Lost Command (1966), The Quiller Memorandum (1966), The St. Valentine's Day Massacre (1967), Bye Bye Braverman (1968), No Way to Treat a Lady (1968), Tenderly (1968), The Southern Star (1969), The Bridge of Regmagen (1969), Loving (1970), Where's Poppa? (1970), and The Owl and the Pussycat (1970).  On television he guest starred on the shows Play of the Week, The United States Steel Hour, Armstrong Circle Theatre, Naked City, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Channing, The Robert Taylor Show, The Nurses, and Arrest and Trial. He appeared on Broadway in the productions Gideon and Rattle of a Simple Man.

The Seventies saw George Segal as a leading man in several movies, including such films as The Hot Rock (1972), Blume in Love (1973), California Split (1974), and Fun with Dick and Jane (1977). He also appeared in the movies Born to Win (1971), A Touch of Class (1973), The Terminal Man (1974), Russian Roulette (1975), The Black Bird (1975), The Duchess and the Dirtwater Fox (1976), Rollercoaster (1977), Who is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? (1978), Lost and Found (1979), and The Last Married Couple of America (1980).

In the Eighties he starred on the short-lived TV shows Take Five and Murphy's Law. He appeared in such TV movies as The Deadly Game, The Zany Adventures of Robin Hood, and Many Happy Returns. He appeared in the mini-series The Endless Game. He appeared in the movies Carbon Copy (1981), Killing 'em Softly (1982), Stick (1985), Run for Your Life (1988), All's Fair (1989), and Look Who's Talking (1989).  He appeared on Broadway in Requiem for a Heavyweight.

In the Nineties George Segal began a seven season run on the sitcom Just Shoot Me!. He also appeared on the short-lived shows High Tide and The Naked Truth. He had a recurring role on the show Tracey Takes On and provided the voice of Dr. Benton Quest on the animated series The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest. He guest starred on the show Murder, She Wrote; Burke's Law; Picture Windows; The Larry Sanders Show; Caroline in the City; and Bette. He appeared on Broadway in Art. He appeared in the movies For the Boys (1991), Feofaniya, risuyushchaya smert (1991), Un orso chiamato Arturo (1992), Me, Myself and I (1992), Look Who's Talking Now (1993), Joshua Tree (1993), Deep Down (1994), The Babysitter (1995), It's My Party (1996), Flirting with Disaster (1996), The Cable Guy (1996), and The Mirror Has Two Faces (1996).

In the Naughts Mr. Segal continued to appear on television in Just Shoot Me!. He guest starred on The War at Home, Private Practice, Boston Legal, Pushing Daisies, and Entourage. He appeared in the movies Heights (2005), Three Days to Vegas (2007), Made for Each Other (2009), 2012 (2009), and Love & Other Drugs (2010). In the Teens he was a regular on the TV shows Retired at 35 and The Goldbergs. He appeared in the movie Elsa & Fred.

George Segal is probably best known for his light comedies, but he was a versatile actor who performed equally well in drama. I remember him best from the classic caper movie The Hot Rock, in which he played Andy Kelp, the eternally optimistic brother-in-law of professional thief John Dortmunder (Robert Redford). While Mr. Segal excelled in this comedy, he also did well in the war film King Rat, which he played Corporal King, the wheeler-dealer who survives life in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp through various less than honest enterprises. In Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf he played Nick, one half of a young couple who become entangled in the constant fighting in which an older couple engage. He played a police detective who is a bit too close to his mother in No Way to Treat a Lady, a hairdresser who has become addicted to drugs in Born to Win, a book clerk and would-be novelist in The Owl and the Pussycat, and a card shark in The Duchess and the Dirtwater Fox. George Segal played a wide variety of roles throughout his career. What is more, he did all of them well.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

The 2021 TCM Classic Film Festival

On March 10 2021 (which also happens to be my birthday), Turner Classic Movies announced the 12th Annual  TCM Classic Film Festival. Because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this year's festival will unfold virtually on both Turner Classic Movies and, for the first time, on the streaming service HBO Max. It runs from May 6 2021 to May 9 2021.

The 12th Annual TCM Classic Film Festival will open with a 60th anniversary screening of West Side Story (1961). New interviews with Rita Moreno, George Chakris, and Russ Tamblyn will air alongside the screening on TCM and will also be available on the Classics Curated by TCM hub on HBO Max. While TCM has yet to release the schedule, the 2021 TCM Classic Film Festival will include introductions by such directors as Rob Reiner and Mira Nair and tributes to Danny Glover and Ali McGraw.

I am certainly looking forward to this year's TCM Classic Film Festival. I thoroughly enjoyed last year's virtual version of the event. I hope that I am able to host a TCMParty during this year's festival. Last year I hosted a TCMParty for A Hard Day's Night. I only have one caveat about this year's festival. That is that apparently there be content exclusive tto HBO Max. Sadly, HBO Max is rather expensive for a streaming service at $14.99 a month. That places it out of the price range of those of us living on rather limited budgets. That means many TCM fans will be missing out on any content that is exclusive to HBO Max. While I appreciate that WarnerMedia wants to promote HBO Max, I don't think this is quite the best way to do it.

Regardless, last year's virtual film festival was a lot of fun. I thin I watched more movies during those four days that I did entire months of last year. I don't think this year's festival will be any different.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Thanks for a Successful Blogathon

Thank you to those who contributed for making the 7th Annual Favourite TV Show Blogathon a success! This year I think we had much more variety than any year before, with every decade from the Fifties to the Eighties represented. And there really wasn't any genre that dominated over the others (I can remember one year where everyone seemed to be writing about Westerns). Shows covered in blog posts ranged from anthology series to sitcoms. Anyway, the Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon will return next year, so stay tuned for the announcement around January 2 2022!