Saturday, April 10, 2021

Godspeed Anne Beatts

Anne Beatts, who was a writer on Saturday Night Live in its earliest years and created the classic sitcom Square Pegs, died on April 7 2021 at age 74.

Anne Beatts was born on February 25 1947 in Buffalo, New York. She grew up in Somers, New York. She attended McGill University in Montreal. While there she worked on the campus newspaper, The McGill Daily. It was following her graduation from McGill University that she moved to New York City. She became the first woman to write for National Lampoon. While with National Lampoon she worked on the magazine's stage show National Lampoon Lemmings. She also co-wrote the American version of the French/Belgian adult animated film Tarzoon: Shame of the Jungle with Michael O'Donoghue.

It was in 1975 that Anne Beatts signed with NBC's new series Saturday Night Live, making her among the earliest writers on the show. Ms. Beatts wrote many of the television commercial parodies for the shows and created the recurring "Nerds" sketches.  It was not unusual for Anne Beatts to appear in front of the camera as well on Saturday Night Live, often in small, uncredited parts in sketches. She remained with Saturday Night Live from 1975 to 1980. She also wrote material for the comedy documentary Gilda Live (1980).

Following Saturday Night Live, Anne Beatts created the classic sitcom, Square Pegs, which ran on CBS from 1982 to 1983. The series proved to be a hit with critics and, while it was routinely bested in the ratings by That's Incredible on ABC, proved popular with the key demographic (18 to 54 year olds). CBS only cancelled the series because of rampant drug use on the set. In addition to serving as the show's executive producer and a writer, Anne Beatts appeared in two episodes of the show as Miss Rezucha. Following Square Pegs, in the Eighties Anne Beatts wrote an episode of Faerie Tale Theatre. She served as a producer on the sitcom A Different World. She wrote the book for the jukebox musical Leader of the Pack.

In the Nineties Anne Beatts served as a writer and executive producer on The Stephanie Miller Show. She served as a writer and an executive producer on the show The Belles of Bleaker Street. She wrote episodes of Murphy Brown, Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child, and Hollywood Off-Ramp. In the Naughts she wrote episodes of Committed. She served an executive producer on Dr. Lupe's Love Picante. Most recently she was working with Judy Belushi-Pisano and Dan Aykroyd on an animated Blues Brothers series.

Anne Beatts also co-wrote the book Titters: The First Collection of Humor by Women with  Deanne Stillman and the books Titters 101 and The Mom Book with Deanne Stillman and Judith Jacklin Belushi.

Anne Beatts was a brilliant writer. Her commercial parodies on Saturday Night Live were often the funniest parts of the show. Square Pegs remains one of the best, most realistic sitcoms about high school life to ever air. She was gifted with a dark sense of humour, characterized by a sharp wit and and a talent for satire. Her comedy was often characterized by small details that might be overlooked by other writers. If Square Pegs remains better known than many high school sitcoms that lasted longer, if it perhaps because Anne Beatts included various details that other shows have missed. As part of both National Lampoon and SNL when it was at its best, as well as the creator of Square Pegs, Anne Beatts was one of the best comedic writers of the late 20th and early 21st Centuries.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Godspeed James Hampton

James Hampton, who played Trooper Hannibal Dobbs on the classic sitcom F Troop and appeared in the movie The Longest Yard (1974), died on April 7 2021 at the age of 84. The cause was complications from Parkinson's disease.

James Hampton was born on July 9 1936 in Oklahoma City. He grew up in Dallas, Texas. He attended North Texas State College in Denton, Texas. He held such jobs as bodyguard, bartender, and photojournalist before he was drafted into the United States Army. Interestingly enough given his role on F Troop, he served in the cavalry at Fort Knox before being stationed in Germany. Following his stint in the Army, James Hampton studied acting under Baruch Lumet at the Knox Street Theatre in Dallas. He acted at the Casa Mañana Theatre in Fort Worth and also performed summer stock in Texas. He moved to New York to pursue his career in acting. He appeared in the short "The Cliff Dwellers" (1962), which was nominated for the Oscar for Best Short Subject, Live Action Subjects. This led to Mr. Hampton's first trip to Los Angeles, where he was signed by agent Walter Kohner.

James Hampton made his television debut in an episode of Gunsmoke in 1963. He guest starred on such shows as Death Valley Days, Gomer Pyle: USMC, Gunsmoke, and Rawhide before being cast as Trooper Hannibal Dobbs on F Troop. Trooper Dobbs was the troop's bumbling bugler, who could play both "Dixie" and "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," but could manage such bugle calls as "Reveille" or "Charge." F Troop only lasted two seasons, but proved to be a success in syndication. Afterwards James Hampton played the regular role of ranch hand Leroy B. Simpson on the three seasons of The Doris Day Show. In the Sixties he also guest starred on Bracken's World. He made his film debut in Soldier Blue in 1970.

In the Seventies James Hampton had a recurring role on the Saturday morning, live action show The Red Hand Gang. He guest starred on The Wonderful World of Disney; The F.B.I.; Hawkins; Love, American Style; Run, Buddy, Run; The Manhunter; Mannix; The Rockford Files; Mary; Kaz, B.A.D.Cats; The Dukes of Hazzard, and Insight. He appeared in the mini-series Centennial. He appeared in the movies Justin Morgan Had a Horse (1972), The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing (1973), The Longest Yard (1974), W. W. and the Dixie Dance Kings (1975), Mackintosh and T.J. (1975), Hustle (1975), Hawmps! (1975), The Cat from Outer Space (1978), The China Syndrome (1979), and Hangar 18 (1980).

In the Eighties James Hampton was a lead on the short--lived sitcom Maggie and a regular voice on the animated series Teen Wolf. He had a recurring role on the soap opera Days of Our Lives in 1989. He guest starred on the shows Insight; Tales of the Gold Monkey; Boone; Goodnight, Beantown; The Greatest American Hero; Matt Houston; Otherworld; Who's the Boss?; Simon & Simon; Murder, She Wrote; Crazy Like a Fox; Punky Brewster; She's the Sheriff; Superboy; Mama's Family; 1st & Ten; Perfect Strangers; Newhart; Full House; and Get a Life. He appeared in the movies Condorman (1981), Teen Wolf (1985), Teen Wolf Too (1987), Police Academy 5: Assignment: Miami Beach (1988), Pump Up the Volume (1990), and The Giant of Thunder Mountain (1990).

In the Nineties Mr. Hampton guest starred on Evening Shade, Valerie, Hearts Afire, Melrose Place, Hope & Gloria, and Fired Up. He broke into television directing with Evening Shade. He directed several episodes of the show, as well as several episodes of the shows Hearts Afire; Boston Commons; Grace Under Fire; Sister, Sister; and Smart Guy. He also directed episodes of Kirk; Hudson Street; American Pie; The Tony Danza Show; Rude Awakening; Katie Joplin; Linc's; and Zoe, Duncan, Jack & Jane. He appeared in the movies Sling Blade (1996), Lost in the Pershing Point Hotel (2000), and Danny and Max (2009).

In the Naughts James Hampton appeared in the movie Fire from Below (2009). In the Teens he appeared in the movies The Last Ride (2011), Jacob (2011), Flutter (2014), Big Stone Gap (2014), and Divine Access (2015).

James Hampton excelled in playing comedic bumblers like Trooper Dobbs on F Troop and Leroy on The Doris Day Show, but he was capable of other roles. In the final episode of Mannix, "Hardball," he played a villain as far removed from Trooper Dobbs as one could get. In The China Syndrome he played Bill Gibson, the public relations man who keeps his calm during an accident at his company's nuclear power plant. In Sling Blade he played psychiatrist Jerry Woolridge. While there is no doubt that James Hampton will always be known as Trooper Hobbs, he performed a wide variety of other roles as well.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

The 20th Anniversary of the BET Television Movie Fire & Ice (2001)

Vanessa Marquez &
Lark Voorhies
Last night marked twenty years since the TV movie Fire & Ice (2001) made its television debut on BET (Black Entertainment Television). The made-for-TV movie centred on a senator's daughter and co-owner of a high-tech home security firm (Lark Voorhies). Following a scandal involving her ex-boyfriend, she falls in love with a late night television show host (Kadeem Hardison). If you are wondering why I am writing about a made-for-TV romance movie, it's because Fire and Ice marked the last appearance on screen of my dearest Vanessa Marquez save for an exploitative reality show (which I won't name here) and a cameo in the Star Wars fan film Return of Pink Five (2007).

Fire & Ice was based on the romance novel Fire and Ice by Carla Fredd. The novel was published in 1995 by Arabesque, an imprint of BET Books dedicated to romance novels. Arabesque was launched by BET Books (the publishing arm of cable channel BET) in July 1994 and was dedicated to publishing African American-themed novels. It was in 1999 that BET began adapting Arabesque romance novels as television movies, making ten of them in 1999 alone. After airing on BET, these made-for-TV movies would be released on VHS and DVD.

Here it should be pointed out that while Fire & Ice (2001) made its television debut on BET on April 6 2001, its premiere occurred a little over a week earlier. On March 27 2001 a private screening was held at the club Brave New World in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. After its television debut on BET, Fire & Ice had encore showings on BET on April 14 2001 and June 25 2001.

Going by online reviews of Fire & Ice (2001), fans of romance movies appear to have positive opinions of the film. As someone who does not count made-for-TV romance movies among his favourites, I find Fire & Ice largely conforms to the formulae of the genre: woman meets man, woman and man don't get along, woman and man go on a date, woman and man fall in love, and so on. That having been said, Lark Voorhies (best known for Saved by the Bell) and Kadeem Hardison (who may be best known from the sitcom A Different World) give sincere performances that make Fire & Ice enjoyable. Fire & Ice also benefits from good performances from its other performers. Tempest Bledsoe (best known for The Cosby Show) does well as Lark Voorhies' partner at the security firm, even lending some humour to the proceedings. Here I have to point out that Fire & Ice was rare for the early Naughts in portraying African Americans in important positions. Lark Voorhies and Tempest Bledsoe's characters Holly Aimes and Pam Moore head a home security firm. Kaddem Hardison's character Michael Williams is a late night TV show host.  

As to Vanessa Marquez, she plays one of the security firm's technicians, Wanda Hernandez. As Wanda, Vanessa acts as comedy relief, adding a bit of humour to Fire & Ice. While the role isn't too different from Wendy Goldman on ER or Janice Ramos on Malcolm & Eddie, she still gives one of the best performances in the film, if not the best. And while I realize I am probably biased on this point, I think Vanessa looks her loveliest on screen in Fire & Ice. While Vanessa Marquez is not listed very high on the credits of Fire  & Ice, she actually appears more in the film than some of the actors listed higher in the credits than her. Here I have to point out that the character of  Wanda was changed from the novel. In the novel the character of the head technician is named "Wanda Johnson" and we really don't know her ethnicity. In the made-for-TV movie she is named "Wanda Hernandez" and she is clearly a Latina.

Over all Fire & Ice (2001) is a well done, made-for-TV movie. Even people who are not fans of the romance genre might find the movie enjoyable. Certainly, after twenty years Fire & Ice remains popular and still appears on various streaming services and cable channels from time to time. It also remains available on DVD. Of course, for me the movie occupies a special place as the last made-for-TV movie in which my dearest Vanessa Marquez appeared.

Monday, April 5, 2021

Gloria Henry Passes On

Gloria Henry, who appeared in movies with Gene Autry, George Raft, and Marlene Dietrich, and played the title character's mother on the sitcom Dennis the Menace, died on April 3 2021. It was the day after her 98th birthday.

Gloria Henry was born Gloria McEniry on April 3 1923 in New Orleans. She studied at the Worcester Art Museum School in Massachusetts. After graduating from school she moved to Los Angeles where she began work in radio, where she performed in both radio shows and commercials. She signed to Columbia Pictures in 1946. She made her film debut in the following year in Sport of Kings 91947). In the late Forties she appeared in the movies Keeper of the Bees (1947), Bulldog Drummond Strike Back (1947),  Adventures in Silverado (1948), Port Said (1948), The Arkansas Swing (1948), The Strawberry Roan (1948), Triple Threat (1948), Racing Luck (1948), Rusty Saves a Life (1948), Johnny Allegro (1949), Air Hostess (1949), Miss Grant Takes Richmond (1949), Feudin' Rhythm (1949), Riders in the Sky (1949), Kill the Umpire (1950), Rookie Fireman (1950), The Tougher They Come (1950), Counterspy Meets Scotland Yard (1950), and Lightning Guns (1950).

In the Fifties Miss Henry had a regular role on the television series The Files of Jeffrey Jones. It was at the very end of the decade that she began playing Dennis's mother Alice Mitchell on the classic sitcom Dennis the Menace. She guest starred on the shows Fireside Theatre, My Little Margie, The Ford Television Theatre, The Abbott and Costello Show, Mr. & Mrs. North, TV Reader's Digest, Navy Log, Father Knows Best, Perry Mason, The Walter Winchell File, Tales of Wells Fargo, The Life of Riley, Broken Arrow, Rescue 8, Alcoa Theatre, and The Thin Man. She appeared in the films Al Jennings of Oklahoma (1951), Yellow Fin (1951), Rancho Notorious (1952), Hot News (1953), and Gang War (1958).

In the early Sixties Gloria Henry continued to appear on Dennis the Menace. Following Dennis the Menace, she became typecast in motherly roles, so she only appeared occasionally afterwards. On television she guest starred on the shows Hazel and The Farmer's Daughter in the Sixties, The Brady Brides, Bare Essence, Simon & Simon, Newhart, Silver Spoons, Easy Street, Our House, Dragnet, Dallas, Mr. Belvedere, and Doogie Howser M.D. in the Eighties, Sisters in the Nineties, and Parkes and Recreation  in the Teens. She appeared in the movies Doin' Time on Planet Earth (1988) and Her Minor Thing (2005).

While Gloria Henry is now best known as Dennis the Menace's mother, she was a versatile actress who could play a wide variety of roles. She played wholesome romantic interests opposite Gene Autry In Johnny Allegro she played the title character's sweet-natured assistant in a floral shop. In the Abbott and Costello Show episode she played the boys' sexy neighbour who takes advantage of Lou to break up with her gangster boyfriend. In the debut Perry Mason episode, "The Case of the Restless Redhead" she played movie star Helene Chaney. Gloria Henry was capable of a wide range of roles and performed all of them well.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Happy Easter 2021

At A Shroud of Thoughts is a custom to post pinups on various holiday. Easter is no different. Without further ado, then, here are this year's pinups.
First up is Jocleyn Lane with her Easter basket!
Next is Debbie Reynolds and her Easter goodies.
Paula Prentiss poses with a bunny.
Signe Hasso is also posing with a bunny.
Here is Vera-Ellen with a rather monstrous looking bunny!
And finally, here is Ann Miller with a bunny!

Happy Easter!