Saturday, October 2, 2021

Godspeed Tommy Kirk

Tommy Kirk, who starred in a string of Disney features including Old Yeller (1957), The Shaggy Dog (1959), and The Monkey's Uncle (1965), died on September 28 2021 at the age of 79.

Tommy Kirk was born on December 10 1941 in Louisville, Kentucky. His family moved to Downey, California when he was only a baby. His acting career began when he accompanied his older brother Joe to an audition for Ah Wilderness at the Pasadena Playhouse. While his older brother was not cast, Tommy Kirk did get a part in the play. An agent saw him in the play and signed him.

Tommy Kirk made his television debut in an episode of Television Reader's Digest in 1955. It was followed by guest appearances on Lux Video Theatre, Frontier, Big Town, Crossroads, Gunsmoke, and The Loretta Young Show. He made his film debut in an uncredited role in The Peacemaker (1956). In 1956 he auditioned for a part in "The Hardy Boys" segment of The Mickey Mouse Club. He was cast as Joe Hardy and appeared in "Hardy Boys" segments on The Mickey Mouse Club from 1956 to 1957.  It was after his work on the "Hardy Boys" segment of The Mickey Mouse Club that Disney cast him as Travis Coates in Old Yeller (1957), his biggest role to date. He appeared in major roles in the Disney features The Shaggy Dog (1959) and Swiss Family Robinson (1960). He continued to guest star on television shows, including The Californians, Matinee Theatre, Playhouse 90, The Millionaire, and Bachelor Father.

In the Sixties Tommy Kirk continued to appear in various Disney projects, including a string of comedies. He appeared in the Disney films The Absent Minded Professor, Babes in Toyland (1961), Moon Pilot (1962), Bon Voyage! (1962), Son of Flubber (1963), Savage Sam (1963), and The Misadventures of Merlin Jones (1964). It was while shooting The Misadventures of Merlin Jones that Disney learned that Tommy Kirk was seeing a 15 year old boy. The studio decided not to renew his contract. He appeared in the AIP film Pajama Party (1964) before returning to Disney for one more film, The Monkey's Uncle (1965). For the remainder of the Sixties Mr. Kirk appeared in the films Village of the Giants (1965), The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (1966), Unkissed Bride (1966), It's a Bikini World (1967), Catalina Caper (1967), Track of Thunder (1967), Blood of Ghostly Horror (1967), and Mars Needs Women (1968). On television he appeared in two mini-series on Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color, "The Horsemasters" and "Escapade in Florence." He guest starred on the shows Angel, Mr. Novak,  and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. He appeared in the TV special The Weird World of Dr. Goldfoot and the TV movie It's Alive!.

In the Seventies Tommy Kirk appeared in the movies Ride the Hot Wind (1971) and My Name is Legend (1975). He guest starred on The Streets of San Francisco. His appearances after the Seventies would be infrequent. He appeared in the films The Attack of the 60 Foot Centerfolds (1995), Little Miss Magic (1998), Billy Frankenstein (1998), and The Education of a Vampire (2001).

Tommy Kirk was a gifted actor who excelled at both drama and comedy. He gave an impressive performance as Travis Coates in both Old Yeller and its sequel Savage Sam. At the same time, he did well as Merlin Jones in both The Misadventures of Merlin Jones and The Monkey's Uncle. While Tommy Kirk's career was undeservedly short, it included many more memorable films than actors with longer careers. Between the movies Tommy Kirk made for Disney and for American International Pictures, it is safe to say people will be watching his films for years to come.

Friday, October 1, 2021

Hammer Horror on TCM in October 2021

October is the month that every classic horror fan looks forward to on Turner Classic Movies. This is particularly true of fans of Hammer Films, as TCM always show a good number of movies from the studio each October. This October is no different, with an entire morning and afternoon dedicated to Hammer Horrors.

Below is the schedule of Hammer Horrors on TCM this month. All times are Central. On an unrelated note, TCM is airing Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) on Monday October 11 at 5:00 PM Central for the first time in years. Not only is it set at Halloween, but it features what may be the first instance of trick or treating on film.

Thursday, October 21
5:00 AM The Nanny (1965)
6:45 AM Dracula--Prince of Darkness (1965)
8:30 AM Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)
10:15 AM Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1969)
12:00 PM Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1970)
1:45 PM Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970)
3:30 PM Crescendo (1972)
5:15 PM Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972)

Saturday, October 22
5:00 AM The Mummy's Shroud (1967)

Saturday, October 30
10:30 AM The Witches (1966, AKA The Devil's Own)
12:15 PM The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

Halloween, Sunday, October 31
1:00 PM Dracula (1958 AKA Horror of Dracula)

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Jean Hale Passes On

Jean Hale, a frequent guest star on television shows in the Sixties (including Batman and The Wild Wild West), died on August 3 2021 at the age of 82.

Jean Hale was born on December 27 1938 in Salt Lake City, Utah. She majored in ballet at the University of Utah and then Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York. Miss Hale worked as a model at both the Conover Agency and the Huntington Hartford Agency. She studied acting at the Neighbourhood Playhouse under Sydney Pollack and Martha Graham. She was discovered by Len Luskin, the agent for movie star Sandra Dee, while she was walking down Fifth Avenue in New York City. She signed a contract with 20th Century Fox.

Jean Hale made her television debut in 1960 in an episode of Naked City. She made her film debut in 1963 in Violent Midnight. In the Sixties she guest starred on the TV shows The Dick Powell Show; The Eleventh Hour; My Favorite Martian; The Bill Dana Show; The Alfred Hitchcock Hour; Wagon Train; Tom, Dick and Mary; The Virginian; The Rogues; The Fugitive; McHale's Navy; Kraft Suspense Theatre; Perry Mason; The Wild Wild West; The Smothers Brothers Show; The Loner; The Legend of Jesse James; Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre; Hogan's Heroes; Batman; Tarzan; Bonanza; Hawaii Five-O; and The Survivors. She appeared in the movies Taggart (1964), McHale's Navy Joins the Air Force (1965), The Oscar (1966), In Like Flint (1967), and The St. Valentine's Day Massacre (1967).

In the Seventies Jean Hale guest starred on the shows The Virginian, Storefront Lawyers, The Mod Squad, and Cannon. She only made a few more appearances after 1975. She appeared in the TV movies Pals (1987), Thanksgiving Movie (1990), and Lies Before Kisses (1991). In 1984 she formed the production company Coleman-Tanasescu Entertainment with Gino Tanasescu. She began her own production company in 2000.

Jean Hale was a wonderful actress. She did well in comedy, such as her guest shot as The Mad Hatter's hat check girl Polly on Batman. She also did well in drama, such as her guest appearances on The Virginian. It is little wonder that she was very much in demand during the Sixties.

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

The Late Great Melvin Van Peebles

Melvin Van Peebles, the trailblazing independent Black filmmaker who directed Watermelon Man (1970) and Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971), died on September 22 2021 at the age of 89.

Melvin Van Peebles was born Melvin Peebles on August 21 1932 in Chicago. He grew up in the suburb Phoenix, Illinois. Starting at age 10 he worked in his father's tailor shop. It was his mother who encouraged his interest in art history. He attended  Ohio Wesleyan University, where he received a Bachelor's degree in English literature. He was also enrolled in the university's Air Force ROTC program, and after graduating he served three years in the Air Force as a flight navigator. He tried making a living as a painter before moving to San Francisco. Unable to get a job with the airlines as a pilot, he made his living as a trolley gripman.

After being fired from the transit company, he wrote, directed, and acted in the shorts "Three Pickup Men for Herrick" (1957) and "Sunlight" (1957).  He shopped both shorts around Hollywood, but found on one who would hire him as a director. He moved to the Netherlands, where he adopted the name Melvin Van Peebles. There he performed with the Dutch National Theatre for a time. He directed the short "Cinq cent balles" (1961).  When Mad tried a French edition in 1965, they hired Melvin Van Peebles as its editor. He directed his first feature film in Europe, La permission (1967). It won an award at the San Francisco International Film Festival, and attracted the attention of Hollywood.

His first Hollywood feature was Watermelon Man (1970), starring Godfrey Cambridge. Wanting complete control of his next film, he funded most of it by himself. The end result was Sweet Sweetback's Baadassss Song (1971). Made on a shoestring budget, it proved to be a success and is credited as one of the films to launch the cycle of Blaxploitation films in the Seventies. He would go onto direct the films Don't Play Us Cheap (1972), Identity Crisis (1989), Le conte du ventre plein (2000), and Confessions of a Ex-Doofus-ItchyFooted Mutha (2008). He directed the segment "Vroom Vroom Vroooom" in the movie Tales of Erotica (1996). On television he directed an episode of The Bill Cosby Show, the TV movie Gang in Blue, and an episode of the 1990s revival of The Outer Limits.

As an actor he appeared in his own films Watermelon Man, Sweet Sweetback's Baadassss Song, and Identity Crisis. In the Eighties he appeared in the films O. C. and Stiggs (1985), America (1986), and Jaws: The Revenge (1987).  He played the regular role of Mel Spoon on the TV series Sonny Spoon and appeared in the mini-series The Sophisticated Gents. He appeared in the TV movie Taking Care of Terrific and guest starred on In the Heat of the Night.

In the Nineties he appeared in the films True Identity (1991), Boomerang (1992), Posse (1993), Last Action Hero (1993), Terminal Velocity (1994), Panther (1995), Fist of the North Star (1995), Love Kills (1998), Time of Her Time (2000), and Antilles sur Seine (2000). He guest starred on the TV shows Dream On, Living Single, and Homicide: Life in the Street. He appeared in the mini-series The Shining and the TV movies Gang in Blue, Calm in Sunset, and Riot. From the Naughts into the Teens he appeared in the films The Hebrew Hammer (2003), Blackout (2007), Redemption Road (2010), We the Party (2012), Peebles (2013), and Armed (2018). He guest starred on the television soap opera All My Children in 2008.

Melvin Van Peebles also wrote the plays The Hostage (1964),  Ain't Supposed to Die a Natural Death (1971),  Don't Play Us Cheap (1972), Out There by Your Lonesome (1973), Waltz of the Stork (1982), and Champeen (1983). He was co-librettist on the play Reggae (1980). He also wrote several books, including The Big Heart (1957).

Melvin Van Peebles was certainly a remarkable talent, one who worked in multiple media. As a playwright he won a Tony. As a TV writer he won an Emmy. Throughout it all he remained loyal to his own vision. He certainly had an impact on film history. Sweet Sweetback's Baadassss Song presented Black characters as never before seen on screen. And while it is debatable if the film itself is Blaxploitation (it plays in many ways more like an independent art film), there can be no doubt that it sparked the Blaxploitaiton cycle that followed it. Film history would certainly be different had Melvin Van Peebles never existed.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

The Late Great Jay Sandrich

Television director Jay Sandrich, who directed several episodes of such classic shows as Get Smart, He & She, and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, died on September 22 2021 at the age of 89. The cause was complications from dementia.

Jay Sandrich was born in Los Angeles on February 24 1932. He was the son of movie director Mark Sandrich, who directed such films as Top Hat (1935) and Holiday Inn (1942). He attended Beverly Hills High School and the University of California, Los Angeles. He served in the United States Army. He began his career as an assistant director on I Love Lucy. In the late Fifties he also served as an assistant director on Science Fiction Theatre, Official Detective, The Red Skelton Show, Make Room for Daddy, Westinghouse-Desilu Playhouse, and Angel.

In the Sixties he continued working as an assistant director on Make Room for Daddy/The Danny Thomas Show. He also served as an assistant director on The Untouchables; The Dick Van Dyke Show; I'm Dickens, He's Fenster; The Bill Dana Show; and Off to See the Wizard. He made his directorial debut with an episode of Make Room for Daddy. He directed 23 of the 26 episodes of He & She. He also directed episodes of The Bill Dana Show, That Girl, Get Smart, The Ghost & Mrs. Muir, Here's Lucy, The Governor & J.J., Nanny and the Professor, Julia, The Bill Cosby Show, Arnie, and The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

In the Seventies Jay Sandrich continued directing The Mary Tyler Moore Show, ultimately directing 119 of the show's 168 episodes. He also directed several episodes of The Bill Cosby Show, The New Dick Van Dyke Show, The Bob Newhart Show, Beacon Hill, and Soap. He also directed episodes of the shows The Good Life; Here-We-Go-Again; Diana; We'll Get By; The Odd Couple; Laverne & Shirley; Rhoda; Ball Four; Phyllis; The Tony Randall Show; Insight; Soap; Loves Me, Loves Me Not; Welcome Back, Kotter; The Betty White Show; WKRP in Cincinnati; Lou Grant; The Mary Tyler Moore Hour; Stockard Channing in Just Friends; Benson; and The Stockard Channing Show.

In the Eighties Jay Sandrich directed several episodes of The Cosby Show. He also directed episodes of the shows Love, Sidney; It Takes Two; Insight; Night Court; The Four Seasons; Off the Rack; Comedy Factory; It's a Living; The Golden Girls; A Different World; The Van Dyke Show; and Carol & Company.

In the Nineties Mr. Sandrich continued directing episodes of The Cosby Show. He also directed episodes of the shows Love & War, Thea, The Office, Pearl, Ink, The Tony Danza Show, Built to Last, LateLine, Style & Substance, Thanks, and My Family. In the Naughts he directed episodes of Three Sisters, Charlie Lawrence, and Two and a Half Men.

Jay Sandrich's career spanned nearly fifty years. He also served as a mentor for many younger television directors. He was nominated for Emmy awards for directing ten times and won four Emmys. He worked on some of the greatest sitcoms of all times, including I Love Lucy, The Danny Thomas Show, Get Smart, He & She, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and Soap. What is more, he directed some of the best episodes of those shows. He was certainly a very talentd director.

Monday, September 27, 2021

Thank You for a Successful Blogathon

I want to than everyone for a successful 8th Annual  Rule, Britannia Blogathon. This year's posts spanned over 80 years of British film history, with the oldest movie discussed being released in 1924 and the most recent being released in 2005. This year's posts also covered a variety of genres, from thrillers to swashbucklers to comedy to documentary. Stay tuned for the 9th Annual Rule, Britannia Blogathon next Sepetember!