Saturday, October 30, 2021

The Baby Snooks Show: "Halloween" (1946)

Many, perhaps most, radio shows in the days of Old Time Radio had Halloween episodes. Indeed, The Jack Benny Program very nearly had one every year. The Baby Snooks Show, starring comedienne Fanny Brice as the title character, was among the many shows that had Halloween episodes. Indeed, the November 1 1946 episode "Halloween" is significant as one of the earliest references to trick or treating in popular culture.

Baby Snooks was a mischievous toddler created by Fanny Brice. Fanny Brice first played Baby Snooks on vaudeville, drawing inspiration for the name from George McManus's comic strip The Newlyweds, which featured an infant named Baby Snookums. She would later draw inspiration from the popular child star Baby Peggy. First appearing in a successful series of shorts starting in 1921, Miss Brice transformed Baby Snooks into a caricature of Baby Peggy. It was in 1934 that Fanny Brice began appearing as Baby Snooks in The Ziegfeld Follies on Broadway. Baby Snooks made her radio debut in 1936 on The Ziegfeld Follies of the Air. The following year Fanny Brice (then 46 years old) played Baby Snooks in the film Everybody Sings (1937).  Starting in 1938 she occasionally appeared on the radio show Good News of 1938. In 1940 Baby Snooks was a regular on Maxwell House Coffee Time.

It was in 1944 that Baby Snooks received her own radio show. The Baby Snooks Show starred Fanny Brice as Baby Snooks, who lives with her parents, Lanhcelot "Daddy" Higgins (played by Hanley Stafford) and Vera "Mommy" Higgins (played by Arlene Harris by the time of the 1946 Halloween episode). While Baby Snooks was essentially a good kid at heart, she had a rather impish sense for mischief, often driving Daddy up the wall.

In "Halloween" Baby Snooks is doing exactly that. As the episode starts, Baby Snooks wants to go out trick or treating with her friends. Unfortunately, Daddy won't let her as a doctor for the life insurance will be dropping by to examine him and he wants peace and quiet lest his blood pressure goes up. While Daddy is trying to rest, Baby Snooks gets on his nerves until he finally lets her go out trick or treating. It is then that Daddy dons a mask with huge tusks to scare the kids and teach them a lesson about running about and wreaking havoc on the streets. Unfortunately, Daddy's plan backfires when one of the fathers of Baby Snooks's friends takes offence at him scaring the kids, resulting in the two fathers pulling a series of pranks on each other that escalate in their outrageousness.

Of interest to those fascinated by the history of Halloween is the scene in which Baby Snooks and her friends are trick or treating. Here it must be pointed out that trick or treating was a relatively recent development. It had originated in Canada in the late Twenties and then spread throughout the United States in the 1930s. It is for that reason that one does not begin to see references to the custom until the 1940s. As odd as it might seem today, The Baby Snooks Show episode "Halloween" is then one of the earliest references to trick or treating in popular culture. In "Halloween"Baby Snooks and her friends trick or treat at announcer Harlow Wilcox's house. Mr. Wilcox gives the kids a treat of Jell-O. If that seems like an odd treat for Halloween, keep in mind that Jell-O was the show's sponsor and the scene is effectively a commercial for the product.

The Baby Snooks Show episode "Halloween" is a lot of fun, with Daddy's pranks growing more and more outrageous as the episode progresses. As might be expected, his pranks don't always work out as intended. Over all, it is an enjoyable listen any time around Halloween.

Friday, October 29, 2021

The 30th Anniversary of the TV Movie Locked Up: A Mother's Rage

Vanessa Marquez and Cheryl Ladd
It was thirty years ago today, October 29 1991, that the television movie Locked Up: A Mother's Rage debuted on The CBS Tuesday Movie. The movie centred on a single mother of three children, Annie Gallagher (Cheryl Ladd), who is wrongly convicted of selling drugs and sent to prison for 15 years. Her sister Cathy was played by Jean Smart, who must take care of Annie's children while she is locked up. Locked Up: A Mother's Rage follows Annie's adjustment to life in prison and the impact it had on her children. As to why I would be writing about a thirty year old television movie, it starred my dear friend Vanessa Marquez in one of her earliest major roles. She played Yolanda, nicknamed "Yo-Yo," who was sent to prison for killing her abusive boyfriend, apparently in self defence.

Locked Up: A Mother's Rage was based on the documentary They're Doing My Time (1988), directed by Patricia Foulkrod. They're Doing My Time centred on the plight of children whose mothers have been sent to prison. They're Doing my Time  aired on PBS in July 1989.  In fact, the original title of Locked Up: A Mothers Rage was the same as the documentary, They're Doing My Time.

While Locked Up: A Mother's Rage was inspired by the documentary They're Doing My Time and even begins with the prerequisite "Based on a True Story," it is in many ways a typical of TV movies of the era. The script takes a simplistic approach to the social problems it is tackling, with some things presented in purely black and white. Indeed, such complicated topics as motherhood and incarceration are reduced to their simplest terms. And while Locked Up: A Mother's Rage is supposed to have been "based on a true story," the subplot involving Cathy's marital difficulties seem unrealistic, especially given its resolution. At times some of the characters seem to act with no reason other than it is required of the plot.

That Locked Up: A Mother's Rage is a rather typical TV movie of the Nineties is even exemplified by the performances of its two leads. Both Cheryl Ladd and Jean Smart's performances are sincere, but they are overwrought in a way that most performances in 1990s TV movies tended to be. Similarly, the performances of the actors playing Annie's children also tend to be over the top. While the film's script and the performances of its two leads might dissuade one from watching Locked Up: A Mother's Rage, the performances of its supporting players make it worth watching.  Angela Bassett did a good job of portraying Willie, an inmate who is initially unfriendly to Annie but eventually befriends her. Diana Muldaur does well as Frances "the Quaker Lady," a social worker seeking to help the inmates. One of the best performances is given by Kimberly Scott, who plays Sherisse. Sherisse is in charge of the prison library and helps Annie in her fight to be released. As to my dear Vanessa Marquez, she also gives one of the best performances in the film. Her role as Yo-Yo could not have been an easy one to play, particularly given what she's goes through in the film, but Vanessa made Yo-Yo and the subplot dedicated to her believable.

Locked Up: A Mother's Rage was repeated on July 19 1992 on The CBS Sunday Movie. For the remainder of the Nineties, like many made-for-TV movies "based on a true story," it would be rerun on the cable channel Lifetime. Locked Up: A Mother's Rage was released on DVD in the mid-Naughts, although for some strange reason it was retitled The Other Side of Love. It is under that title that today it can be found on some streaming services. Personally, I think the original title was better, particularly given The Other Side of Love has nothing to do with the film's plot.

Locked Up: A Mother's Rage
is a rather typical made-for-TV movie from the 1990s, overwrought and tending to oversimplify many of the issues it addresses. That having been said, it is worth watching for the performances of the supporting cast. And while I might be biased, it is worth for Vanessa Marquez's performance as Yo-Yo, one of her earliest and best roles.

Thursday, October 28, 2021

The Woman Who Came Back (1945)

As hard as it might be to believe, prior to the Seventies horror movies rarely mentioned Halloween. In fact, during the Golden Age of Hollywood, comedies, such as The Boy Friend (1939), Arsenic and Old Lace (1944), and Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), referenced Halloween more often than horror movies. One horror movie made during the Golden Age that referenced Halloween was The Woman Who Came Back (1945). Even though it was made in the mid-Forties, The Woman Who Came Back was one of the earliest horror movies to mention the holiday.

In The Woman Who Came Back Lorna Webster (Nancy Kelly) is returning to her home town of Eben Rock on the night of Halloween. She is descended from Judge Elijah Webster, a notorious witch-hunter who had several women burned at the stake for witchcraft. She is sleeping on the bus when an old woman boards it in the middle of nowhere. The old woman claims that she is one of the witches hanged by Elijah Webster. She further claims that she made a deal with the Devil so that when she dies her spirit will enter the body of a young woman over the course of 300 years. The bus on which Lorna is riding crashes and she is the only survivor. While recovering in Eben Rock she begins to suspect that the spirit of the old witch has entered her. Worse yet, after a series of strange incidents, the residents of Eben Rock tend to believe this too. Only the local minister, Reverend Jim Stevens (Otto Kruger) and her love interest, Dr. Matt Adams (John Loder), believe otherwise.

In the mid-Forties movies about witchcraft and diabolism became somewhat fashionable. In 1942 I Married a Witch took a humorous look at witchcraft. Val Lewton's The Seventh Victim (1943) centred on a Satanic cult. In the horror movie Weird Woman (1944) based on Fritz Leiber's novel Conjure Wife, a professor's wife is suspected of being a witch. Given the release of movies about witchcraft or diabolism, it should come as no surprise that Republic Pictures made The Woman Who Came Back.

Republic Pictures was not particularly known for the quality of its horror movies. Some examples of Republic's horror movies are The Lady and the Monster (1944) and The Catman of Paris (1946), neither of which are particularly respected. While Republic Pictures was not known for quality horror movies, The Woman Who Came Back is the exception. In fact, it could very nearly be a Val Lewton movie save for the fact that Val Lewton did not produce it. Like Mr. Lewton's movies, The Woman Who Came Back relies more upon the power of suggestion and the film's atmosphere than anything graphic. Like Val Lewton's films, The Woman Who Came Back has a deliberate pace that allows the suspense in the film to build and build. If the movie has one flaw, it is in its ending, which goes to a bit too much effort to explain everything. One has to suspect Val Lewton would have given it a more ambiguous ending.

The Woman Who Came Back benefits from a capable cast. Nancy Kelly, who would later play the mother of the title character in The Bad Seed (1956), is very convincing as Lorna as the character's hysteria gradually grows throughout the movie. Veteran character actor Otto Kruger is great as Reverend Stevens, the voice of reason in the small town of Eben Rock. John Loder is also quite good.

While Halloween does not play an overly large role in The Woman Who Came Back, given the era it is significant that the holiday is mentioned at all. Halloween certainly adds weight to the idea that Lorna may be a witch given the bus crash takes place on the holiday. When Lorna arrives at the tavern in town following the bus crash, there are children dressed in costumes. Given how rarely Halloween was mentioned in horror movies prior to the Seventies, even the small role Halloween plays in The Woman Who Came Back is notable.

I would recommend The Woman Who Came Back to anyone who enjoys 1940s horror movies, particularly those made by Val Lewton. It is a remarkable film put out by a studio not often known for the quality of its horror movies.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Halloween is Grinch Night

While animated Halloween television specials were common from the late Seventies into the Eighties, there was a time when they were virtually unknown on American television. As hard as it may be to believe, It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, which debuted in 1966, was the first animated Halloween special. When Halloween is Grinch Night debuted in 1977, it was then one of the earliest animated Halloween specials in the history of American television history.

Halloween is Grinch Night was based on the well-known character created by Dr. Seuss and its teleplay was written by Dr. Seuss as well. Although it is sometimes referred to as a sequel to How the Grinch Stole Christmas, it was intended as a prequel to that special. Indeed, in Halloween is Grinch Night, it is clear that the Grinch's heart has yet to grow three sizes. In Halloween is Grinch Night, a Sour-Sweet Wind descends upon Whoville. This causes the Whos to take refuge in their homes, as they know the wind means the Grinch will be in a bad mood. And indeed he is. The Grinch descends upon Whoville to wreak havoc, only to be confronted by a young Who named Eukariah.

While Halloween is Grinch Night was a prequel to How the Grinch Stole Christmas, it was made by a different production company. How the Grinch Made Christmas was made by Cat in the Hat Productions in conjunction with MGM. It was directed by Chuck Jones. Staring with The Cat in the Hat in 1971, DePatie-Freleng Enterprises began producing a series of animated specials based on the works of Dr. Seuss. Halloween is Grinch Night was directed by Gerard Baldwin, who had earlier directed several episodes of the Jay Ward television series Rocky and His Friends and George of the Jungle. Halloween is Grinch Night was also broadcast on another network than the previous Dr. Seuss specials. Starting with How the Grinch Stole Christmas, every single Dr. Seuss special had aired on CBS. Halloween is Grinch Night was the first of several Dr. Seuss specials to air on ABC.

Halloween is Grinch Night
would also have a slightly different cast from How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Boris Karloff, who provided the original voice of the Grinch, had died February 2 1969. Hans Conried then provided the voice of the Grinch in Halloween is Grinch Night. While Dallas McKennon provided the voice of the Grinch's dog Max in How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Henry Gibson provided his voice in Halloween is Grinch Night. Returning from How the Grinch Stole Christmas was singer Thurl Ravenscroft, who provided vocals on the songs.

While many of the Dr. Seuss animated specials were based on specific Dr. Seuss books, Halloween is Grinch Night was not. It was instead an original work. That is not to say that it did not draw upon some of Dr. Seuss's books. The howling Hakken-Kraks come from Dr. Seuss's book Oh, the Places You'll Go!. A landscape of tall mushrooms was drawn from the book Oh, the Thinks You Can Think!. Other imagery from the special also resembles that found in yet other Dr. Seuss's books.

Despite its title, Halloween is never specifically mentioned in Halloween is Grinch Night. This could be the reason that when released on VHS the special was re-titled It's Grinch Night or simply Grinch Night. That having been said, Grinch Night would seem to be the Who's equivalent of Halloween. It takes place when the Sour-Sweet Wind arrives. Of course, Halloween marks the beginning of colder weather in some parts of the United States. Furthermore, the use of the imagery of ghosts and monsters by Grinch to try to scare the Whos would indicate that Grinch Night is similar to Halloween.

Halloween is Grinch Night won the Emmy for Oustanding Children's Program. That having been said, it would not repeat the success of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. It would be repeated regularly on ABC in the late Seventies and Eighties. In the Nineties it would enter syndication.

Halloween is Grinch Night may not have been as successful as How the Grinch Stole Christmas, but it is fondly remembered by many Gen Xers and older Millennials. It was the second work in any medium to feature the Grinch and one of the earliest animated Halloween specials.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Halloween Ads From the Past

Given how much of a role trick or treating plays in the modern day celebration of Halloween, most people probably think of ads for candy when they think of the holiday. As the celebration of Halloween grew in the 20th Century, companies would capitalize on Halloween to advertise products that I doubt many would associate with the day. Here are a few ads from the past for products that really wouldn't seem to have much to do with Halloween.

Hot dogs are not the first food to come to mind when it comes to Halloween, but for a portion of the 20th Century certain people wanted them to be. In the 1940s makers of Skinless Frankfurthers or Wieners created their own mascot, the Weeny Witch, and then spent a few decades trying to convince people to incorporate hot dogs into their Halloween celebrations. In some ads they even encouraged Halloween games involving hot dogs, such as "bobbing for franks..."

This ad for Lucky Strike cigarettes not only incorporates Halloween imagery in the form of a jack o'lantern, but references to the U.S. Navy football team and encourages people to buy U.S. Defence Bonds.

Like cigarettes, beer is not exactly something one necessarily associates with Halloween. That didn't stop Schlitz from including Halloween imagery in this 1956 ad.

Coffee is not necessarily associated with Halloween either. Regardless, this ad for Chase & Sanborn Instant Coffee from 1956 uses Halloween imagery.

Here is an ad for Royal Crown Cola (also known as RC Cola) from 1961.

Monday, October 25, 2021

Halloween Apples

Apples have long been linked to Halloween. Games using apples, such as apple bobbing, are often played on the holiday. Candy apples and caramel apples are often served as treats during the holiday. There are few fruits more associated with Halloween than the apple.

Of course, this makes sense. In both Europe and North America, September marks the height of the apple harvest, so that they would be readily available in October. And while there is not substantial evidence that apples played a role in the Celtic festival called in Modern Irish Samhain and in Scottish Gaelic Saimhainn, its status in Celtic mythology makes it quite possible that it did. A silver apple branch plays a role in both the Irish poem Imram Bran and the Irish narrative Echtra Cormaic. Among the many myths about the king of Munster Cú Roí is that after he was killed by Cú Chulainn, his soul is hidden in an apple in the stomach of a salmon living in a stream in the Slieve Mish Mountains. Among the mythical islands of Irish mythology is Emain Ablach, which has been interpreted as "Island of the Apples" by some. There are several other Irish myths including apples, so it seems quite possible that apples played a role in the Celtic pagan festival of Samhain and hence traditions regarding apples made their way into the Christian holiday of Halloween.

One claim on how apples became tied to Halloween that seems unlikely is that Romans in Britain brought the worship of Pomona, the goddess of fruit trees and orchard,  and her festival influenced the festival of Samhain or Samhainn. This seems highly unlikely. First, it must be considered that Pomona was honoured in conjunction with her consort Vertumnus at the festival Vertumnalia around August 13, about a month and a half before the Celtic festival of Samhain. Second, it must also be considered the most of our traditions regarding Halloween come from Scotland with some in put from Ireland. The Romans never conquered, let alone occupied what would become known as Scotland or Ireland. It then seems likely that the worship of Pomona was unknown in Pagan Scotland and Pagan Ireland.  If apples are a significant part of Halloween, it seems likely that it is because they were significant to the Celts whose holiday of Samhain may have influenced many Halloween traditions.

Regardless, apples would play a part in games played at Halloween, perhaps the best known of which is bobbing for apples, known as "dooking" in Scotland and "apple ducking" or "duck-apple" in Northern England. Like many traditions observed at Halloween, apple bobbing appears to have originally been divinatory in nature. According to the most basic variation on apple bobbing, the first person to bite into an apple would be the first to marry. In another variation, the names of unmarried persons would either be carved into the apples or written on a piece of paper attached to the apples stems. Biting into an apple would then reveal the name of the person one was meant to marry. Of course, as time wore on, apple bobbing would simply be performed for fun, and it would cease to be divinatory in nature.

Another bit of fortune telling involving apples that was performed at Halloween was the counting of apple seeds. An apple was cut in two  and its core removed. The number of seeds would then foretell the coming year. The meaning between any given seeds tended to vary from place to place, but an example is that one seed meant one would be lonely, two seeds meant that one would marry, and so on.

A potentially more dangerous game than apple bobbing or counting apple seeds was Snap-Apple. In one variation of the game, an apple was placed at one end of a stick and a lit candle at the other end. The stick was then suspended from its middle and twirled. The goal of the blindfolded players was to bite into the apple while avoiding biting into the candle. A much safer version of Snap-Apple involved simply attached apples to strings and then the blindfolded players would try to bite into them. At one time Snap-Apple was significant enough that in some places Halloween was called "Snap-Apple Night."

Of course, apples have always been consumed at Halloween. Curiously, candy apples are a relatively recent development. It was in 1908 that at Christmastime candy maker William Kolb was trying out various recipes in  his shop. It occurred to him to dip apples into cinnamon candy boiling on a stove. William Kolb sold the candy apples in his shop and they proved to be a hit. While he originally made them at Christmas, they would become associated with Halloween.

It is quote possible today that caramel apples are better known than candy apples. And while caramel apples were certainly developed after candy apples, it is difficult to say when. The 1920 edition of the book Rigby's Reliable Candy Teacher includes a recipe in which apples were dipped in a mixture of Molasses Taffy and other ingredients. While not exactly the same as caramel apples, it would be quite similar. It seems possible that at some point some candy maker simply substituted caramel for molasses taffy. Regardless, it was in 1948 that Affy Taple out of Chicago offered its first caramel apple. It was in the 1950s that Dan Walker of Kraft Food developed his own method of creating caramel apples while experimenting with caramel candy left over from Halloween. While Affy Taple's claim to the caramel apple pre-dates Kraft's claim, Kraft did provided individuals at home with an easy way of making their own caramel apples. Regardless, it was in 1960 that Vito Raimondi of Chicago invented the first automated caramel apple machine.

Apples have played a significant role at Halloween for centuries, so much so that they form part of the popular culture surrounding the holiday. Irish artist Daniel Maclise's painting "Snap-Apple Night" from 1933 portrays apple bobbing. In Agatha Christie's novel Hallowe'en Party, a young woman is drowned in an apple bobbing tub. There is also a scene involving apple bobbing in the classic animated television special It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. Candy apples and caramel apples are still treats to be enjoyed at Halloween. Whatever the origins of the fruit's link to the holiday, it is safe to say people will be enjoying apples at Halloween for years to come.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

The Apple TV+ Who Stole Halloween

Among the earliest and most Halloween specials is beloved as It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. In fact, it could well be the most popular Peanuts special, even more so than A Charlie Brown Christmas. The special was a hit upon its debut on October 27 1966 on CBS and has remained popular ever since. Sadly, for the first time in 55 years, It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown did not air on broadcast television.

It was in October 2020, not long before It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown usually aired, that Apple TV+ obtained exclusive rights to the Peanuts specials and thereafter they would only be available on that platform. It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown would be available to Apple TV+ subscribers any time while it would be available free to non-subscribers from October 30 to November 1 2020. The outrage on the part of fans of the Peanuts special was no small matter.

While defenders of Apple pointed out that It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown would be available free on Apple TV+ for three days, Apple's critics pointed out that not only would individuals have to install Apple TV+ on their televisions, phones, tablets, or computers, but they would have to create an account to do so. Yet others pointed that not every family has access to the high speed internet that makes streaming media possible. Many Peanuts fans were angry that it broke with tradition. It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is perhaps the only Halloween special to have aired every single year since its debut.

Indeed, one of the biggest arguments against It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown not airing on broadcast television is that 2020 may well have been the year we needed it the most. 2020 was dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic, a time when most people did not go out as they used to. In times of trouble people often seek out TV shows, movies, and so on that are familiar to them as a source of comfort. As beloved as It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is, there were no doubt many who were looking forward to watching it in 2020, particularly given their children might not be able to go trick or treating due to the pandemic. Whether Apple TV+ intended to or not, they effectively stole Halloween from many.

Ultimately, It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown did not air on broadcast television in 2020, the first time since it had debuted in 1966. Fortunately, the widespread outrage would put an end to Apple TV+'s plan to make the Peanuts specials exclusive to that platform. It was announced in November 2020 that a deal had been struck so that both A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and A Charlie Brown Christmas would air once each on PBS. This year It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown airs on PBS as well. In fact, it airs tonight at 6:30 PM Central Time.

Aside from the general cluelessness of Corporate American and the fact that broadcast television apparently still has a place in American's lives, last year's outrage at Apple TV+ over preventing It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown demonstrates just how beloved the special really is. These days television shows sometimes move exclusively to streaming services with little being said, but the anger at It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown not airing last year was great indeed. It perhaps serves as an object lesson for corporations not to mess with certain traditions.