Saturday, December 31, 2022

Goodbye, 2022

Buster Keaton
I have to be honest. In many ways 2022 was a rough year, but not necessarily an entirely bad one. More so than most years, it seemed as if we lost several beloved stars. The world of classic film blogging lost one of its most popular bloggers. As for myself, I lost my beloved cat Malcolm and then this month, December, I came down with the flu for the first time in years. Still, there were a few bright spots in the year, so that I cannot say that 2022 was all bad.

Of course, many classic film bloggers are still grieving the loss of Patricia Nolan, known as Paddy Lee to her friends. Paddy wrote the blog Caftan Woman and was very prolific when it came to commenting on other classic film and television blogs. Her knowledge of classic movies and classic television was encyclopaedic. What is more, Paddy had a sunny disposition and could cheer up anyone, no matter how bad things may be going. She truly loved classic movies and classic TV shows, and she loved her fellow fans as well. She died on March 7 2022.

My cat Malcolm died in September. He arrived on our porch as a kitten one hot summer day. He couldn't have been more than three months old. We kept him and he quickly became one of the family. He was possibly the most loving, most cuddly cat I ever had. He always slept with me and loved sitting on my lap. When Vanessa died, he would not leave my side, even as I was crying my eyes out. He loved being groomed and petted. I don't know that I ever loved any cat more than Malcolm, and I am still grieving him three months later.

Of course, many celebrities died this year. Perhaps the most famous person to die was Her Royal Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Regardless of what one thinks of the British monarchy, there is no denying the impact that she had on the United Kingdom and the world. The world of film also lost royalty this year. Sir Sidney Poitier died not long after 2022 began. Later in the year Dame Angela Lansbury died. The legendary Marsha Hunt also died this year. I cannot begin to list every actor that died this year, but here is a list of some that did. Please forgive me if I have left your favourite out, as so many actors died this year it is hard to include all of them. Any, here they are: Dwayne Hickman,  Howard Hesseman, Veronica Carlson, Robert Morse, Joe Turkel, Larry Storch, L. Q. Jones, Lenny Von Dohlen, David Warner, Nichelle Nichols, Bernard Cribbins, Paul Sorvino, Pat Carroll, Clu Gulager, Robbie Coltrane, and Robert Clary. We also lost the esteemed directors Peter Bogdonovich, Bob Rafelson, Jean-Luc Godard, and Mike Hodges. Many people from the world of music died this year, including Don Wilson of The Ventures, Bobby Rydell Ronnie Hawkins, Alan White of Yes, Andy Fletcher of Depeche Mode, Manny Carlton of Nazareth, Olivia Newton John, Dan Mcafferty of Nazareth, and Terry Hall of the Specials. The world of comic books lost legendary artists Neal Adams and George Pérez, as well as writer Alan Grant. Artist James Bama, known for the covers of the Bantam reprints of the Doc Savage novels, the illustrations on the boxes of Aurora's classic movie monster model kits, and Western art, also died this year.

For once this year I actually watched new movies and new television shows. I watched  Guillermo del Toro's new adaptation of Nightmare Alley and I was impressed. I can't say it is as good as the 1947 adaptation, but it is almost as good. It was a very fine adaptation of the novel. I also watched Steven Spielberg's remake of West Side Story. West Side Story (2021) is a well done movie, although I do not think it is quite as good as the 1961 film, even with Latinos playing the roles of the Puerto Rican characters. I also watched The Batman (2022), which may be the best movie featuring the Caped Crusader short of The Dark Knight (2008). One of the things I love about the movie is that, unlike other Batman movies, we actually get to see Batman function as a director. The cast did an excellent job, with Robert Pattinson ranking among the best Batman actors in my opinion. Prey (2022) is the first Predator movie I have loved since the first. The movie is set in the 18th Century and features a young Comanche woman battling a predator. It treated the Comanche with dignity and, near as I can tell, was accurate to their culture.

As far as television shows go, I got caught up on Reservation Dogs. The show is the first to have a writing and directing staff that is entirely Native American. It centres on four Native American characters living on a reservation in rural Oklahoma. The show is well written and notable for the accuracy with which it portrays life on a reservation. I also watched Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. It is the best new Star Trek series since Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (which itself was the best new Star Trek series since the original). It follows the adventures of Captain Pike, the captain of the Enterprise before Captain Kirk, and his crew (which includes a young Mr. Spock). They did a very good job of capturing the feel of the original series, and I must admit I am a big fan of Strange New Worlds.

With regards to 2023, I will continue writing A Shroud of Thoughts, which will turn 19 this coming June. I also hope to get more books out next year. I am also hoping that 2023 will be better than 2022. I hope as few beloved celebrities die as possible, and I lose no dear friends or pets. I also hope your 2023 will be a happy one.

Friday, December 30, 2022

The 50th Anniversary of The Poseidon Adventure (1972)

The Poseidon Adventure (1972) premiered in New York City on December 12 1972. It was released to the rest of the United States the following day, December 13 1972. The movie proved to be a huge hit at the box office. It would ultimately earned $42,000,000, making it the second highest grossing film of 1972 following The Godfather (1972). Hollywood certainly took notice of its success. Along with Airport (1970), it sparked the cycle towards all-star disaster films that dominated much of the Seventies. The song "The Morning After" from the film not only won the Oscar for Best Song, but a version of the song performed by Maureen McGovern went to no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.

The Poseidon Adventure (1972) centred on the ageing luxury liner the SS Poseidon, which capsizes on New Year's Eve after an earthquake beneath the ocean. The Reverend Frank "Buzz" Scott (Gene Hackman) then has to lead a group of survivors to safety. Among the survivors are Detective Lieutenant Mike Rogo (Ernest Borgnine), singer Nonnie Parry (Carol Lynley), store owner Manny Rosen (Jack Albertson) and his wife Belle (Shelley Winters), and yet others.

The Poseidon Adventure (1972) was based on the 1969 novel of the same name by Paul Gallico. The novel was inspired by an experience Mr. Gallico had in 1937. He was going back to England from the United States aboard the Queen Mary when an enormous wave struck the ship and knocked it hard to port. Fortunately the Queen Mary righted itself and none of the passengers died. Still, the experience stayed with Paul Gallico, who eventually used it as inspiration for the novel The Poseidon Adventure.

While the novel The Poseidon Adventure did not sell particularly well, Hollywood did take notice of producer Irwin Allen, then perhaps best known for such sci-fi television shows as Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Lost in Space. He had signed a three movie deal with AVCO Embassy and convinced them to buy the rights to the novel. AVCO Embassy would ultimately cancel the project, Irwin Allen found another production company in 20th Century Fox. 20th Century Fox was nervous about what could be a very expensive movie, so Mr. Allen offered to raise half of the movie's budget. Additional money was provided by Steve Broidy, former president of Monogram Pictures, and cinema owner Sherill C. Corwin. 20th Century Fox then approved of the production.

The cast that Irwin Allen initially had in mind was somewhat different from the cast that ultimately appeared in the movie. Mr. Allen wanted George C. Scott to play Reverend Scott, Petulia Clark as Nonny, and Esther Williams as Belle. Shelley Winters, who was a skilled swimmer, was ultimately cast as Belle. Burt Lancaster was offered the role of Reverend Scott, but turned it down. Gene Wilder was cast as shy bachelor James Martin, but dropped out of the project. Red Buttons played James Martin in the movie.

Largely out of necessity, The Poseidon Adventure (1972) used state-of-the-art special effects. A scale model, based on the Queen Mary, was constructed, and used in the scene where the Poseidon capsizes. 20th Century Fox built the sets for the ship inside a large gimble that would give the actors the sensation of an actual rolling ship. The famous scene of a passenger falling from the floor (now rightside up) through a skylight was a practical special effect using famed stuntman Ernie F. Orsatti (whose father was Ernie Orsatti, former outfielder and first baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals). For the most part the cast did their own stunts, including a scene requiring Shelley Winter to swim through a flooded corridor.

The Poseidon Adventure (1972) received largely positive reviews from critics, who gave high marks to the film's special effects. The Poseidon Adventure was the no. 1 movie at the box office by Christmas Day and would remain at no. 1 through New Years. The Getaway (1972) displaced The Poseidon Adventure (1972) for a week, after it which retook the number one spot and kept it for eight full weeks.

The Poseidon Adventure (1972) made its television debut on ABC on October 27 1974. It did very well in the ratings, become the sixth highest rated movie to air on television at the time. ABC had paid $3.2 million for the rights, which given its ratings was well worth it.

The Poseidon Adventure (1972) was followed by a sequel, Beyond the Poseidon Adventure (1979), which not only bombed with the critics, but also with audiences. In the Naughts there would be two new adaptations of the novel The Poseidon Adventure was a made-for-TV movie that aired on NBC on November 20 2005. Poseidon (2006) was a feature film directed by Wolfgang Petersen. It received negative reviews and bombed at the box office.

The Poseidon Adventure (1972) has become a cult film and remains popular, particularly as a movie to watch on New Years Eve. It also remains influential. As stated earlier, with Airport (1970), it started the cycle towards all-star disaster movies that lasted for much of the Seventies. Arguably, it would have an influence on every disaster movie made ever since. While its characters may not be well developed and its dialogue banal, the realistic special effects and well-executed sequences make it well worth watching.

Thursday, December 29, 2022

Female Detectives on TCM Fridays in January 2023

Bonita Granville as Nancy Drew

Each Friday next month, January 2023, Turner Classic Movies will show movies centred on female detectives. The first Friday of the month is devoted to films featuring amateur sleuth Nancy Drew, played by Bonita Granville. The second Friday of the month TCM will be showing movies featuring Torchy Blane, the reporter played by Glenda Farrell. The third Fridas features yet other female detectives.

Below is the schedule of movies featuring female detectives this January. All times are Central. .

Friday, January 6:
7:00 PM Nancy Drew: Detective (1938)
8:15 PM Nancy Drew...Reporter (1939)
9:30 PM Nancy Drew...Trouble Shooter (1939)
10:45 PM Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase (1939)

Friday, January 13:
7:00 PM Smart Blonde (1936)
8:15 PM Fly Away Baby (1937)
9:30 PM Torchy Blane, the Adventurous Blonde (1937)
10:45 PM Blondes at Work (1938)
12:00 AM Torchy Blane in Panama (1938)

Friday, January 20:
7:00 PM Lured (1947)
9:00 Wanted! Jane Turner (1936)
10:15 PM Stranger on the Third Floor (1940)
11:30 Deadline at Dawn (1946)

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

The Jewish Experience on TCM on Thursdays in January 2023

Topol as Tevye in
Fiddler on the Roof
Next moth, in January 2023. the special on Turner Classic Movies is the Jewish Experience. Every Thursday night TCM will show movies that seek to portray the Jewish experience. The various movies address such themes as assimilation, antisemitism, family life, religion, and the Holocaust. The films range in genres from a musical to a Western to a comedy.

Following is a schedule for TCM's special theme on the Jewish Experience next month. All times are Central. (Here I have to point out that the schedule is not yet complete, as Turner Classic Movies doesn't have the schedule for January 26 onwards up yet. I will update this page when they update the schedule)

Thursday, January 5:7:00 PM Fiddler on the Roof (1971)
10:15 PM Gentleman's Agreement (1947

Friday, January 6:
12:30 AM Crossfire (1947)
2:25 AM I Accuse! (1958)

Thursday, January 12:
7:00 PM Bye Bye Braverman (1968)
9:00 PM The Angel Levine (1970)
11:00 PM Annie Hall (1977)

Friday, January 13:
1:00 AM Soup for One (1982)
2:45 AM Set Me Free (1999)

Thursday, January 19:
7:00 PM Crossing Delancey (1988)
11:00 AM Girlfriends (1978)

Friday, January 20:
12:45 AM The Frisco Kid (1979)
3:00 AM Au Revoir, Les Enfants (1987)

Thursday, January 26:
7:00 PM Biloxi Blues (1988)
9:00 PM The Chosen (1981)
11:00 PM Portnoy's Complaint (1972)

Friday, January 27:
1:00 AM The Last Metro (1980)
3:15 AM Tevya (1939)

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Godspeed Mike Hodges

Mike Hodges, who directed such movies as Get Carter (1971), Pulp (1972), and Flash Gordon (1980), died on December 17 2022 at the age of 90.

Mike Hodges was born on July 29 1932 in Bristol. He qualified as chartered accountant before his two years of national service aboard a British minesweeper. Following his service, he worked as a teleprompter operator in British television. The job allowed him to observe television production and learn about writing scripts for television shows. He wrote a script for Armchair Theatre that was not produced, but led him to get writing commissions.

In the Sixties Mike Hodges served as a producer on the TV movie Sound??, as well as the TV shows World in Action, Tempo, The Tyrant King, and ITV Playhouse. For television he wrote two episodes of ITV Playhouse. He directed episodes of the TV shows World in Action, Tempo, The Tyrant King, and ITV Playhouse.

In the Seventies he wrote an episode of The Frighteners. He also wrote or co-wrote the screenplays for the films Get Carter (1971), Pulp (1972), The Terminal Man (1974), and Flash Gordon (1980). He was the original director on the film Damien: Omen II (1978), but received no credit for his work. He also directed the Queen video for the song "Flash" (the theme song for the movie Flash Gordon).

In the Eighties Mike Hodges directed the movies Morons from Outer Space (1985), A Prayer for the Dying (1987), and Black Rainbow (1989). He directed the music video for the Queen song "Body Language," and the TV movies Missing Pieces and Squaring the Circle.

In the Nineties Mike Hodges directed the movie Croupier (1998). He directed episodes of the television mini-series Dandelion Dead. He directed the TV movie The Healer. In the Naughts he directed the movie I'll Sleep When I'm Dead (2004) and the documentary Murder By Numbers (2004).

Mike Hodges also wrote plays for the theatre, including Soft Shoe Shuffle (1985) and Shooting Stars and Other Pursuits (2000). He also wrote for radio and wrote the novel Watching the Wheels Come Off and the collection of novellas Bait, Grist, and Security.

Mike Hodges was a very talented director and one who was also very versatile. Each of his films had their own particular style. Get Carter was a tough, edgy neo-noir. Pulp was a comedy thriller that sent up pulp fiction and Old Hollywood. Flash Gordon was a camp science fantasy that had the look of a comic strip on film. Black Rainbow was a psychological thriller. Croupier was another rough-edged neo-noir. Mike Hodges was comfortable in a number of genres and always produced great work regardless of the type of film he was directing. He really should make any list of the great directors of the later half of the 20th Century.

Monday, December 26, 2022

Godspeed Diane McBain

Actress Diane McBain, who starred on the TV show Surfside 6 and appeared in such movies as Spinout (1966) and The Mini-Skirt Mob (1968), died on December 21 2022 at the age of 81. The cause was liver cancer.

Diane McBain was born on May 18 1941 in Cleveland, Ohio. Her family moved to Glendale, California in 1944. As a teenager she did modelling for magazine ads and appeared in television commercials. It was not long before she graduated from high school that she was spotted by a talent scout for Warner Bros. She signed the contract with the studio on her 18th birthday. She made her television debut in 1959 on an episode of Maverick. She played Richard Burton's daughter in her film debut in Ice Palace in 1960. In the late Fifties she guest starred on various Warner Bros. shows in addition to Maverick, including The Alaskans, Sugarfoot, Lawman, and Bourbon Street Beat. It was also in 1960 that she began a two year run playing Daphne Dutton on Surfside Six.

In the Sixties Diane McBain continued to star on Surfside 6 as Daphne. She guest starred on Burke's Law four times and guest starred in two episodes of Batman. She also guest starred on Hawaiian Eye; 77 Sunset Strip; Arrest and Trial; Wendy and Me; Valentine's Day; Kraft Suspense Theatre; Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre; Vacation Playhouse; The Wild Wild West; The Man From U.N.C.L.E.; Love, American Style; Mannix; To Rome with Love; and Land of the Giants. She played the title role in the movie Claudelle Inglish (1961), and also appeared in the movies Parrish (1961), Black Gold (1962), The Caretakers (1963), Mary, Mary (1963), A Distant Trumpet (1964), Spinout (1966), Thunder Alley (1967), Maryjane (1968), The Mini-skirt Mob (1968), Five the Hard Way (1969), and I Sailed to Tahiti with an All Girl Crew (1969).

In the Seventies Miss McBain guest starred on the shows The Mod Squad; The Wide World of Mystery; Police Story; Barbary Coast; Marcus Welby, M.D.; The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams; Hawaii Five-O; and Charlie's Angels. She appeared in the movies Temporada salvaje (1971), Huyendo del halcón (1973), Wicked, Wicked (1973), and The Deathbed Virgin (1974).

In the Eighties Diane McBain had a recurring role on the soap opera Days of Our Lives from 1982 to 1984 and the soap opera General Hospital in 1988. She guest starred on the shows Charlie's Angels; Eight is Enough; Dallas; Matt Houston; Airwolf; Crazy Like a Fox; Knight Rider; and Jake and the Fatman. She appeared in the movies Legend of the Wild (1981) and The Red Fury (1984).

In the Nineties she guest starred on the shows Sabrina the Teenage Witch; Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman; and The Young and the Restless. She appeared in the movies Puppet Master 5 (1994), The Christmas Path (1998), and The Broken Hearts Club: A Romantic Comedy (2000). In the Naughts she appeared in the movie Besotted (2001) and guest starred on the show Strong Medicine.

Diane McBain wrote two novels, The Laughing Bear in 2020 and The Colour of Hope in 2021.

Diane McBain was a very fine actress. She played a number of bad girls in her career, a fact about which she complained in the book Fantasy Femmes of Sixties Cinema by Tom Lisanti. In the book she said, "I wanted to play the ingenue. I could never understand why everyone wanted to play the bitch." While in real life Miss McBain was a kind, gentle woman and nothing like those characters, she did do a good job playing them. She played Dean Jagger's spoiled daughter in Parrish, the vixen of the title of the movie Claudelle Inglish, a snobbish society girl in Mary Mary, and the brutal leader of The Mini-Skirt Mob. While Miss McBain did a good job at playing bad girls, she was also quite capable at other roles. After all, among her best known roles is the eccentric Daphne on Surfside 6. She also played socialite Pinky Pinkston, owner of the Pink Chip Stamp Factory and a rare love interest for Bruce Wayne, on Batman. In The Caretakers she played a caring, gentle nurse. She played a farm owner on whose land oil is found in the movie Black Gold. Diane McBain played these roles as well as, enough better than, her many bad girl roles. Diane McBain was a remarkable actress who could play a wide variety of roles and play all of them well.

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Merry Christmas 2022

I want to wish all of you who celebrate the holiday a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. If you are like me, you have had a long year and I think all of us deserve a break, filled with everything we love. Of course, here at A Shroud of Thoughts I realize that there are many who appreciate a bit of cheesecake with their turkey or ham, sugarplums, and eggnog. As is the tradition at this blog then, here are some vintage Christmas pinups for you.

First up is the lovely Joan Leslie, ring a bell at the Hollywood Canteen during World War II.


Next is Phyllis Coates, who has a hit a snag while delivering her Christmas packages!


The lovely Shirley Anne Field is reminding everyone to get their Christmas mail out early!


Annette Funicello is dressed for both Christmas and the winter weather.


Ann Rutherford is trimming her tree.


And last but not least, it wouldn't be Christmas without the lovely, leggy Ann Miller!

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 24, 2022

"The Changing of the Guard": The Twilight Zone Christmas Episode That Didn't Air at Christmas

Donald Pleasance as
Prof. Fowler
Perhaps because he was born on Christmas Day, Rod Serling had a particular gift for writing Christmas stories. He wrote the classic 1964 TV movie A Carol for Another Christmas, not to mention Christmas episodes of The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery. Curiously, what in my opinion is the best Christmas episode of The Twilight Zone did not originally air at Christmastime. Instead, "The Changing of the Guard" aired in the spring, on June 1 1962.

"The Changing of the Guard" centres on elderly Professor Ellis Fowler (Donald Pleasance), who teaches English Literature at Rock Spring School, a Vermont prep school. It was at Christmastime that Professor Fowler learns he is being retired after 51 years of teaching, although he will receive free housing and a salary from the school for the rest of his life. Professor Fowler then grows depressed, feeling that he has made no impact in his life and that his lessons have come to nothing. He then decides to kill himself on Christmas Eve. Fortunately, an event occurs that makes Professor Fowler realize just how much good he had done as a teacher.

It is no secret5 that Rod Serling sometimes drew upon his own life in his writing, His Playhouse 90 episode "The Velvet Alley," as well as such episodes of The Twilight Zone as "Walking Distance" and "A Stop at Willoughby" both featured semi-autobiographical elements. I have to wonder if this isn't the case with "The Changing of the Guard." Certainly, the quote that Professor Fowler reads from a plinth of a statue of Horace Mann comes from Rod Serling's life. "Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity" is the school motto of Rod Serling's alma mater, Antioch College. Horace Mann, Antioch College's first president, made the quote at the school's first  commencement. I also have to wonder if the character of Professor Fowler wasn't drawn from one of Rod Serling's professor or perhaps wasn't drawn from several of his professors. Here I want to stress that I have never read anywhere that this was the case. Regardless, Ellis Fowler is one of Rod Serling's best realized characters.

Of course, much of this is due to Donald Pleasance's performance. Donald Pleasance was only 42 years old when he appeared in "The Changing of the Guard," yet he is utterly convincing as Professor Fowler. We know Professor Fowler has been teaching for 51 years and the headmaster (Liam Sullivan) states that he passed the usual retirement age long ago. At any rate, Donald Pleasance is entirely convincing in the role and it remains one of the best  roles he ever played on television.

Ultimately, while "The Changing of the Guard" aired in June rather than December, for me it remains the best of The Twilight Zone's Christmas episodes. It is a better written and better performed episode than "The Night of the Meek," the show's first Christmas episode. And while "Five Characters in Search of an Exit" is arguably a better episode, its ties to Christmas are less powerful than "The Changing of the Guard," making "The Changing of the Guard" the better episode to watch for the holiday.

Indeed, "The Changing of the Guard" deals with Christmas themes of rebirth and redemption. In many ways, it can be considered a blend of Goodbye, Mr. Chips and It's a Wonderful Life. "Changing of the Guard" also features many of the trappings of the holiday, from Christmas trees and other Christmas decorations to "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" performed by carolers (some of Professor Fowler's students). Ultimately, it would seem to be very difficult to come away from watching "Changing of the Guard" without feeling a good deal of holiday spirit.

While "Changing of the Guard" may have first aired in June, today many television outlets (MeTV among them) choose to air it at Christmastime. There should be little wonder why. While there are other Twilight Zone Christmas episodes, I would argue it is the best.

Friday, December 23, 2022

The Rankin/Bass Christmas Special Frosty the Snowman


In American television history, as of 2022, there have been only two Christmas special that have aired every year without interruption on one of the broadcast networks. What is more, both were produced by Rankin/Bass Productions. The first is Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, which debuted on December 6 1964. The second is Frosty the Snowman, which debuted on December 7 1969. While Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer debuted on NBC and would later move to CBS, Frosty the Snowman is the only Christmas special to have aired every year on the same network. It debuted on CBS and has remained on that network ever since.

In 1969 Rankin/Bass Productions was not yet the premier producer of Christmas television special that they would be in 1970, but they were already well on their way. Upon it debut in 1964 Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer would become one of the most successful Christmas specials of all time. In 1968 Rankin/Bass followed the success of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer with another special based on a Christmas song, The Little Drummer Boy. With the success of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and The Little Drummer Boy, it was quite natural that Rankin/Bass would produce another Christmas special based on a holiday song.

Frosty the Snowman was based on the song by Walter E. Rollins and Steve Nelson song of the same name. It had been a huge hit for Gene Autry in 1950, reaching no. 7 on the Billboard pop singles chart that year. "Frosty the Snowman" would be covered by man other artists. In 1950 alone it was covered by Jimmy Durante, Nat King Cole, and Guy Lombardo in addition to Gene Autry. Given the song's success through the years, it must have seemed to Rankin/Bass to have be obvious fodder for a television special.

While Frosty the Snowman was based on a song much as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and The Little Drummer Boy were, Frosty the Snowman differed from the other two specials in one important regard. While Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and The Little Drummer Boy were produced using Rankin/Bass's stop-motion process known as Animagic, Frosty the Snowman was produced using tradition cel animation. It was not Rankin/Bass's first cel-animated. Their 1967 Christmas special Cricket on the Heart (based on the Charles Dickens novella of the same name) was their first special that used cel animation. It was followed by Rankin/Bass's 1968 Thanksgiving special The Mouse on the Mayflower, which also produced using cel animation.

The animation for both The Cricket on the Hearth and The Mouse On the Mayflower had been provided by Japanese animation studios. This would also be the case with Frosty the Snowman, whose animation was produce by Mushi Productions. If the name "Mushi Productions"sounds familiar, it is because they were the animation studio founded by the legendary Osamu Tezuka. By 1969 they had already produced such classic anime series as Astro Boy. Princess Knight, and Kimba the White Lion. By 1969 Osamu Tezuka had already left Mushi Productions in 1968 and formed a new company, Tezuka Productions.

While the animation was provided by Mushi Productions, the character designs and backgrounds were created by an American. Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass wanted Frosty the Snowman to have the look of a Christmas card. To this end they hired Paul Coker Jr., a greeting card artist who also had also provided art for Mad magazine starting in 1961. Paul Coker Jr. had earlier did uncredited work on the Rankin/Bass feature film The Wacky World of Mother Goose (1967) and his first credited work for Rankin/Bass on The Cricket on the Hearth. After Frosty the Snowman, Paul Coker Jr. would work as production designer on several more Rankin/Bass specials, including Santa Claus is Comin' to Town, Here Comes Peter Cottontail, 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, Rudolph's Shiny New Year, The Year Without a Santa Claus, Frosty's Winter Wonderland, and yet others.

Frosty the Snowman
was written by Romeo Muller, who had also written the teleplays for the Rankin/Bass specials Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Cricket on the Hearth, The Mouse on the Mayflower, and The Little Drummer Boy, as well as the screenplays for the Rankin/Bass feature films as The Daydreamer (1966) and The Wacky World of Mother Goose (1967). Romeo Muller expanded upon the plot of the song, in which a snowman comes to life after an old silk hat, in which "there must have been some magic in,"  upon his head. In the special it snows on Christmas Eve. The local children, among them Karen, build a snowman and place an old silk hat on his head that had been thrown away by inept stage magician Professor Hinkle (Billy De Wolfe). Unfortunately for Frosty (Jackie Vernon), as the children named the snowman, it begins to warm up and so Karen accompanies Frosty the North Pole in the refrigerated car of a train. They are pursued by Professor Hinkle, who wants the hat back after learning it had some magic in it. Here it must be pointed out that, despite being played at the holiday season, the song "Frosty the Snowman" makes no reference to Christmas.

The special was narrated by Jimmy Durante, who had recorded his own version of the song "Frosty the Snowman" in 1950. The voice of Frosty was provided by comedian Jackie Vernon. Professor Hinkle was voiced by Billy De Wolfe, a character actor who had appeared in such films as Blue Skies (1946), The Perils of Pauline (1947), and Lullaby of Broadway (1951). In the original version of Frosty the Snowman, the voices of the school teacher, Karen, and the other children were all provided by legendary voice actor June Foray, then as now best known as the voice of  Rocky the Flying Squirrel and Natasha Fatale on Rocky and His Friends and The Bullwinkle Show. For reasons that remain unknown, after the special originally aired, child actress Suzanne Thompson replaced Miss Foray as the voice of Karen while child actor Greg Thomas replaced Miss Foray as the voices of the other children. Legendary voice actor Paul Frees (the voice of Boris Badenov on Rocky and His Friends and The Bullwinkle Show) provided the voices of a traffic cop, a ticket taker at the train station, and Santa Claus.

The success of Frosty the Snowman would lead to two sequels produced by Rankin/Bass. Frosty's Winter Wonderland aired in 1976 and provided Frosty with a wife (a snowwoman the children make for him). Like the original special, it took inspiration from a holiday song, in this case "Winter Wonderland" by Dick Smith. Frosty's Winter Wonderland was followed in 1979 by a feature length sequel to both Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman. Like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and unlike Frosty the Snowman and Frosty's Winter Wonderland, Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July used Rankin/Bass's stop-motion process Animagic. It was marked the first and only time Frosty appeared using Animagic rather than cel animation. Billie Mae Richards returned as the voice of Rudolph, while Jackie Vernon returned as the voice of Frosty.

A third special is not a sequel to the Rankin/Bass special Frosty the Snowman, although it is often mistaken for such. Frosty Returns was a half hour special produced by Broadway Video and long time "Charlie Brown" special animator Bill Melendez for CBS. The animation style is entirely different from that of the Rankin/Bass specials, while the voice of Frosty is provided by John Goodman. Furthermore, Frosty Returns makes no reference to the earlier Rankin/Bass specials. One thing odd about Frosty Returns is that it makes absolutely no reference to Christmas, with the post centred around a winter carnival. Despite having no connection to the original special beyond being based on the same song, CBS usually airs Frosty Returns back to back with Frosty the Snowman.

A direct-to-video feature released in 2005 has a bit more of a connection to Rankin/Bass's Frosty the Snowman. The Legend of Frosty the Snowman was produced by Classic Media, who still own the rights to the original special. The character design of Frosty closely copies Paul Coker Jr.'s original, while the character of narrator Old Tommy (Burt Reynolds) greatly resembles the original special's antagonist Professor Hinkle.

Aside from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman is the most successful animated Christmas special of all time. At no point in the 53 years since it debuted has it not aired on American broadcast television each year. Indeed, at no point in the past 53 years has it not aired on CBS. After decades on the air, there appears to be no sign that Frosty the Snowman will ever cease airing on television. It seems likely people will still be watching it fifty years from now.

Thursday, December 22, 2022

The 70th Anniversary of The Holly and the Ivy

When many think of classic Christmas movies, they may well think of a film made in the United States. It's a Wonderful Life (1946), Miracle on 34th Street (1947), The Bishop's Wife (1947), and others all originated in Hollywood. Even so, the United Kingdom has produced its share of Christmas classics. What many considered the best film adaptation of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, Scrooge (1951--also known as A Christmas Carol) originated in Great Britain. Another British Christmas is The Holly and the Ivy (1952). With a cast that includes Sir Ralph Richardson, Celia Johnson, and Margaret Leighton, it was released seventy years ago today, on December 22 1952.

The Holly and the Ivy (1952) centres on a widowed English parson (Sir Ralph Richardson) who has devoted his life so much to his congregation that he has neglected his children's emotional being. Everything comes to a head over the Christmas holiday, when his family returns to the parsonage.

The Holly and the Ivy was based on the play of the same name by Wynyard Browne. The title comes from a tradition British folk Christmas carol, "The Holly and the Ivy." Produced in 1950, the play proved to be a hit at the box office. It was then natural that the play would be adapted for film. Producer Anatole de Grunwald wrote the screenplay for the film, and it was directed by George More O'Ferrall,  a director best known for his work in television. The movie was produced and distributed by British Lion.

The Holly and the Ivy was produced on a modest budget, but features a well-known cast nonetheless. Sir Ralph Richardson, who played Reverend Gregory, had already appeared in such classic films as Things to Come (1936), Anna Karenina (1948), and The Fallen Idol (1948). Celia Johnson, who played the parson's eldest daughter Jenny, was best known for her work on stage, but had appeared in the classic film Brief Encounter (1945). Margaret Leighton, who played the parson's younger daughter Margaret, had appeared in Under Capricorn (1949). The cast included such notables as Denholm Elliott, John Gregson, Margaret Halstan, and Maureen Delany, as well as the First Doctor on Doctor Who, William Hartnell, in a small role.

The cast of The Holly and the Ivy rehearsed for three weeks before shooting began. Shooting the film only took fourteen days. What is more, the film was shot in sequence, which may well have helped the cast develop the characters as the film's plot unfolded.

Despite the play's success and a good deal of critical acclaim, the film version of The Holly and the Ivy did not do well at the box office following its release in the United Kingdom on December 22 1952. The Holly and the Ivy was released in the United States two years later, in 1954. While it was well received by critics, it did not do very well at the box office here either. It was picked up by NBC Films for television distribution, who in 1955 sold its distribution, along with other British films, to Clift TV films, who in turn sold the distribution rights for The Holly and the Ivy and three other British films to WCBS.

It would be through television that The Holly and the Ivy would finally find its audience. Although it remains better known in the United Kingdom than the United States, it has developed a following among American classic film fans. While it may not have as high a profile as some classic Christmas movies, the performances of its cast and the well-written screenplay has made it a favourite of many at Christmastime.

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

The 54th Birthday of Vanessa Marquez

Today Vanessa Marquez would have turned 54. She was born in Los Angeles County on December 21 1968 and grew up in Montebello, California. For those of you who might not know who Vanessa Marquez was, she was an actress best known for playing Ana Delgado in the classic film Stand and Deliver (1988) and Nurse Wendy Goldman on the hit TV show ER. She was also a regular on the first season of the TV show Culture Clash, starring the comedy troupe of the same name, and she had a recurring role on the TV show Wiseguy. Vanessa Marquez guest starred on such shows as Tequila and Bonetti, Seinfeld, Nurses, Melrose Place, and Malcolm & Eddie. She appeared in such movies as Blood In Blood Out (1993), Twenty Bucks (1993), and Father Hood (1993).

For me Vanessa Marquez wasn't just a famous actress. She was also my dearest friend. We met through Twitter as original members of TCMParty, the loosely affiliated group of Turner Classic Movies fans who live tweet movies on the channel using the hashtag "TCMParty," as well as live tweeting episodes of Mad Men. We soon learned we had a good deal in common, from a love of the movie Star Wars to the TV shows Star Trek and The X-Files. Very soon we were in touch very nearly every day through social media and eventually texts and phone calls. Vanessa and I became very close. As for myself, I was in love with her.

There was very little Vanessa and I ever disagreed on, although one thing was that she thought she was only cute at best, while I maintained she was beautiful. Over the years I have collected a few head shots of Vanessa from her career as an actress. I submit some of these head shots as proof that she was indeed gorgeous.

This first photo is from Vanessa's last years on ER. Her last movie before this photo was taken was Hit Me (1996), originally titled The Ice Cream Dimension.

This photo is from the same photo shoot as the above photo.

This is another photo of Vanessa from the same era. I am guessing it may be from the same photo shoot as the first two.

This head shot of Vanessa is from 1993, the same year that she appeared in the movies Blood In Blood Out, Twenty Bucks, and Father Hood.

This is a head shot of Vanessa from 1991. At this point her only credits were Stand and Deliver (1988), Night Children (1989), the TV movie To My Daughter, the TV show Wiseguy, the Wonderworks TV movie Sweet 15, and the TV movie Locked Up: A Mother's Rage.

This is the oldest head shot of Vanessa that I have. At this point in her career, her only credits were Stand and Deliver (1988), Night Children (1989), the Wonderworks TV movie Sweet 15, and the stage play Demon Wine. This would have been about 1990.

I realize I may be biased, but I honestly think Vanessa Marquez was incredibly beautiful. Of course, she always much more than a pretty face or even a talented actress. Vanessa was sweet, warm hearted, open, intelligent, and she possessed a great sense of humour. She cared deeply about her friends and had this uncanny ability to remember the smallest details about them. She was always swift to defend her friends and worried about them if they were sick. She was happy when things were going well for them and sad when things weren't. In the end Vanessa meant more to me than anyone else in my life, and I miss her to this day. While I miss Vanessa terribly and I am still grieving her over four years after her death, her birthday is still a happy day for me. It marks the anniversary of the birth of the one person who means more to me than anyone else. My life would have been much poorer had I not known Vanessa Marquez.

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Babes in Toyland (1961)

When most people think of a movie version of Victor Herbert's operetta Babes in Toyland, they probably think of the 1934 film starring Laurel & Hardy, also know by the title of a 73 minute, edited version of the movie, March of the Wooden Soldiers. While Babes in Toyland (1934) may remain the best known version of the operetta, it was in 1961 that Walt Disney Productions released their own version of the operetta. In fact, Babes in Toyland (1961) is historic as the first live action musical ever released by Walt Disney.

Walt Disney had considered adapting Babes in Toyland much earlier than the late Fifties. In the early Thirties, when Walt Disney was considering various stories for his first animated feature film, among the things he considered was an adaptation of Babes in Toyland. He ultimately settled on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs for the subject of his first feature film, and it would be Hal Roach Studios that would adapt the Victor Herbert operetta, the famous 1934 Babes in Toyland.

It was in May 1955 that Walt Disney announced the studio would produce an animated featured film based on Babes in Toyland. By October 1956 Walt Disney had decided that Babes in Toyland would not be an animated feature, but instead would be a live action musical. At the time Bill Walsh was set to produce and Sidney Miller was set to direct. It was set for release in 1957. Ultimately, this would not come to pass and the Babes in Toyland project would be delayed for for a few years. It was announced in August 1959 that the project had been restarted. Legendary animator Ward Kimball was set to direct the live action feature, while Mel Leven would write new lyrics for Victor Herbert's songs.

While Mel Leven would remain with Babes in Toyland, Ward Kimball would not. While Walt Disney was on vacation in Europe, Mr. Kimball set about casting the film, something which actually required Mr. Disney's approval. The publicity department realized that the studio's rights to Babes in Toyland were set to expire with the year, and as a result placed ads in the Hollywood trade papers, something which also did not please Walt Disney. As it was, Ward Kimball and Walt Disney came to disagreements over casting. Ward Kimball had one particular actress in mind for the role of Mary Contrary, while Walt Disney wanted Annette Funicello. Ultimately, Walt Disney removed Ward Kimball from the film and assigned Jack Donohue to direct the film.

Babes in Toyland would be Annette Funicello's first starring role in a feature film. Ray Bolger was cast as Barnaby, the villain of the film and the first villain he ever played in his career. Tommy Sands was cast as Tom Piper, Mary's love interest. Walt Disney had wanted Dean Jones for the role, and according to Annette Funicello, Michael Callan and James Darren were also considered for the role. The roles of villains Gonzorgo and Roderigo were filled by two veterans of Disney's television series Zorro, Henry Calvin and Gene Sheldon respectively. Ed Wynn was cast in the all important role of The Toymaker, while Tommy Kirk was cast as his assistant Grumio.

Babes in Toyland departed from the plot of Victor Herbert's operetta a great deal, much as the 1934 version had as well. Only some of Mr. Herbert's music remained, and even then it was sometimes altered a good deal. While Babes in Toyland (1961) was released at Christmas and is often thought of as a Christmas movie, the holiday only plays a role in the plot towards the end of the movie. In some ways this should be no surprise, as Christmas plays no role in Victor Herbert's original operetta. Christmas doesn't play a role in the 1934 film version either (unless one counts a summertime visit from Santa to The Toymaker), despite having been released at Christmas and being shown repeatedly on television during Christmas time.

As it turned out, Walt Disney may have regretted departing from the operetta so much. Babes in Toyland opened on December 1961 to reviews that were indifferent at best and hostile at the worst. To make matters worse, audiences appear to have agreed with the critics. In the early Sixties it was rare for a Walt Disney movie to do relatively poorly at the box office, but Babes in Toyland bombed at the box office. Ultimately, the only thing anyone had good to say about the movie was the "March of the Toys" sequence that formed its climax, complete with stop-motion animated wooden soldiers.

It would be the wooden soldiers from Babes in Toyland (1961) that would prove to be the movie's most lasting impact. Almost immediately they would become a part of Disneyland and would figure in the park's holiday celebrations. They have remained a part of Disneyland's holiday celebrations ever since, as well as those of other Walt Disney Resorts. They would even appear in the stop-motion nursery sequence in Walt Disney's much more successful live-action musical, Mary Poppins (1964).

Babes in Toyland  (1961) would air in two parts on Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Colour on December 21 and December 27 1969, and it would appear on television a few times since then. In 2002 it was released on DVD and in 2012 it was released on Blu-Ray. It is currently available on the streaming service Disney+. 

With Babes in Toyland (1961) Walt Disney had wanted to create a film that would match The Wizard of Oz (1939). At the same time, one had to think he hoped Babes in Toyland (1961) would become a holiday tradition. While it failed at both, Babes in Toyland remains important in the history of Walt Disney. It was the studio's first live-action musical, paving the way for Mary Poppins, Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971), and others. It would also be the first time Annette Funicello played the lead in a feature film (she had appeared in a supporting role in 1959's The Shaggy Dog). Furthermore, the toy soldiers featured in the film have been a part of Walt Disney parks ever since. Babes in Toyland (1961) may not be regarded as a classic even today, but it was an important film nonetheless.

Monday, December 19, 2022

TCM Remembers 2022

I have to be frank. This years TCM Remembers is one of the harder ones to watch. We lost some beloved stars this year. I made it to Nichelle Nichols before I teared up, but if I hadn't started tearing up then, I might have done it when they reached Larry Storch, Marsha Hunt, or Paul Sorvino. By the time they reached Dame Angela Lansbury and Sir Sidney Poitier at the end, I seriously doubt many Turner Classic Movies fans wouldn't have teared up at some point. Of course, for me their choice of song did not make it any easier to avoid crying. This year's song is "The Night We Met" by Lord Huron. It is one of the best songs ever used in a TCM Remembers, but for me the problem comes down to the fact that Turner Classic Movies used Lord Huron's "When the Night is Over" for TCM Remembers 2018, the one that included my beloved Vanessa Marquez. Ever since then I cannot hear Lord Huron without crying.

I have only watched this year's TCM Remembers a few times, but I think I have only caught one omission, although it is a really big one. For some reason they did not include Betty White. While Betty was best known for television, she did appear in movies as well. I was actually expecting her towards the end, along with Dame Angela Lansbury and Sir Sidney Poitier. I have to think they will include her later.

Anyway, get some tissues ready, because here is TCM Remembers 2022.

Saturday, December 17, 2022

Johnny Marks: Composer of Christmas Songs

The average person might not recognize the name "Johnny Marks," but it is an almost certainty that they have heard more than one of the songs he wrote. Quite simply, Johnny Marks was the composer of some of the most famous Christmas songs of all time, including "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day," "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," and "A Holly Jolly Christmas." It is an interesting fact that while Mr. Marks wrote some of the most successful Yuletide songs of all time, he did not celebrate Christmas himself. Quite simply, Johnny Marks was Jewish.

Johnny Marks entered the field of writing Christmas songs through one of his family. His sister was married to Robert L. May, the former advertising copywriter for Montgomery Ward who, in 1939, wrote the children's story "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" as a promotion for the retailer. Eventually Montgomery Ward would give Robert L. May the rights to the story and the character. It was in 1948 that Mr. May persuaded his brother-in-law Johnny Marks to adapt "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" as a song.

"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" was offered to Gene Autry, who had already seen some success with his own Christmas song, "Here Comes Santa Claus (Right Down Santa Claus Lane." Gene Autry initially rejected the song, but his wife convinced him to record. He recorded "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" in June 1949 and it was released that September. It proved not only to be the biggest hit of Gene Autry's career, but quite possibly the most successful Christmas single of all time besides "White Christmas" by Bing Crosby.

Johnny Marks would follow "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" with several more Christmas songs, among them "When Santa Claus Gets Your Letter" and "An Old-Fashioned Christmas," but he would not have another hit until "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" by Bing Crosby in 1956. While Johnny Marks wrote the music to "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day," it had originated as the poem "Christmas Bells" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in 1863. "Christmas Bells" had been set to music as early as 1872, when organist John Baptiste Calkin did so. Johnny Marks set the poem to his own music in 1956 and it was recorded by Bing Crosby.

It was two years later that Johnny Marks would receive a writing credit on the song "Run Rudolph Run" by Chuck Berry, although Mr. Marks actually had nothing to do with the song and was simply given a credit due to the character of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. While Johnny Marks actually had little to do with "Run Rudolph Run," he would write a rock 'n' roll Christmas song also released in 1958. Johnny Marks asked twelve year-old Brenda Lee to record "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," although she did not understand why given she had yet to see a good deal of success. Upon its initial release in 1958, "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" did not perform particularly well on the charts. It also did not do well when it was re-released in 1959. "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" finally took off in 1960, when it reached no. 14 on the Billboard Hot 100. It would continue do well afterwards every holiday season.

Johnny Marks's next hit Christmas songs would come about because his very first Christmas hit, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." One of Johnny Marks's neighbours in the early Sixties was Arthur Rankin Jr., a producer with Videocraft International Ltd. (later known as Rankin/Bass Productions Inc.). It was Arthur Rakin Jr. who suggested to Mr Marks that the song "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" could be adapted as a stop-motion animated television special. Johnny Marks was initially reluctant, but eventually Arthur Rankin Jr. was able to sell him on the idea of the television special, but to provide songs for the special as well.

The songs Johnny Marks wrote for the television special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer would prove to be a success. Indeed, two of the songs would become hits for Burl Ives (who narrated the special) and would go onto become Christmas standards. "A Holly Jolly Christmas" has since been covered by several artists, and the original Burl Ives version would return to the charts several times over the years. "Silver and Gold" from the special would also prove to be popular.

Johnny Marks would not repeat the success of the songs from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, although he would write songs for two more Christmas television specials. Johnny Marks also wrote songs for the 1975 DePatie-Freleng cel-animated television special The Tiny Tree, and the special included his 1959 song "A Merry Merry Christmas to You." The following year he provided songs for Rankin/Bass's sequel to their classic 1964 television special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Rudolph's Shiny New Year.

Johnny Marks died on September 3 1985 at the age of 75 from complications from diabetes. He left behind a legacy of hit Christmas songs that are matched by very few. "Johnny Marks" may not be a household name, but his songs certainly are.

Friday, December 16, 2022

The Norelco Santa Claus

Chances are good that if you are an American of a certain age, you remember television commercials done in stop motion animation of Santa Claus riding an upside-down, electric razor across a snowy landscape. The commercials were for Norelco electric razors and aired for years each holiday season. They proved to be among the most popular commercials of all time and remain fondly remembered by many.

Norelco is the brand name used by Koninklijke Philips N.V. for its electric razors in the United States. Phillips was founded in 1891in Eindhoven by Gerard Philips as company that made light bulbs. It was in 1939 that Philips expanded into the electric razor market, although they were unable to introduce their electric razors into the United States until 1948 due to World War II. Philips was prevented from using the "Philips" name in the United States by American electronics company Philco, who argued that the names of the two companies were similar enough to result in confusion. For the American market Philips then created the name Norelco, short for "North American Philips [electrical] Company." It was in 1981 that Philips bought Philco, thus allowing Philips to use their name in the United States if they chose to. Of course, by that time Norelco was a recognizable brand name in United States and as a result Philips would continue to use the name. It was in 2005 that Philips started branding their electric razors in the United States "Philips Norelco," in the first step in phasing out the "Norelco" name. As of 2022, however, their razors are still branded "Philips Norelco."

The Norelco stop-motion animation television commercials featuring Santa Claus first aired in 1961. There really isn't any information on the origin of the commercials to be found online. Norelco's advertising agency at the time was C. J. LaRoche & Company, so I would presume the idea for the ad originated in their offices. As to who actually created the stop-motion animation for the commercial, that remains a mystery. Because of its similarity to the stop-motion animation of the Rankin/Bass television specials, there are those who have assumed that they were responsible for the Norelco Santa Claus ads. That is not the case and, in fact, the first Norelco Santa Claus ad aired three years before Rankin/Bass's first Christmas special, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (which debuted in 1964).

From the beginning the plot of the Norelco Santa Claus ads roughly remained the same. It featured Santa Claus riding an upside down electric razor attachment over a snowy landscape, usually with an instrumental version of "Jingle Bells" playing. Apparently in some of the earlier commercials there was a jingle, performed to the tune of "Jingle Bells," that  went "Floating heads, floating heads, floating all the way/Norelco is the shaving gift to give on Christmas day." The commercials would end with "Norelco" spelled as "Noëlco," with the slogan, "Even our name says, 'Merry Christmas.'"

The Norelco Santa Claus ads proved popular from the beginning, and in the Sixties and Seventies were nearly ubiquitous. They aired during everything from NFL games to prime time programming. As Norelco razors would change over the years, the commercials would be updated from time to time. The Norelco Santa Claus commercials would be pulled in 1986 as Norelco decided to spend their advertising money on other campaigns. Viewers missed the Norelco commercials, however, so that in 1997 a new version of the Norelco Santa Claus commercial was introduced, this time done in computer animation rather than stop-motion. After a time the Norelco Santa Claus commercials would disappear again, only to be revived again in 2011.

The success of the Norelco Santa Claus commercials perhaps came down to two factors. The first is that when the commercials debuted in 1961, stop-motion animation was rarely seen on television and particularly not in commercials made for adults. The Norelco Santa commercials were then unlike anything else on the air at the time. The second is the sheer novelty of Santa Claus riding an oversized electric razor attachment across snowy hills. Whoever had the initial idea that the top of an electric razor resembles a sleigh had a stroke of genius.

Below is a collection of Norelco Santa commercials over the years.

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Godspeed Stuart Margolin

Stuart Margolin, who played Angel on the classic television series The Rockford Files and appeared in such movies as Kelly's Heroes (1980) and Death Wish (1974), died on December 12 2022 at the age of 82.

Stuart Margolin was born on January 31 1940 in Davenport, Iowa. He spent much of his childhood in Dallas, Texas. Growing up he was kicked out of various local Dallas public schools, and ultimately attended a boarding school in Nashville and a private school in Dallas.

Stuart Margolin moved to New York City to live with his older brother Arnold Margolin when the latter was appearing on Broadway as a replacement in The Diary of Anne Frank. Afterwards he attended a summer theatre camp in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. There he met Barney Brown, an acting instructor who mentored Robert Duval, Gene Hackman, and Dustin Hoffman. He graduated from Scottsdale High School in Arizona in 1958. He moved to California to continue his studies under Barney Brown at the Pasadena Playhouse.

Stuart Margolin made his television debut in 1961 on The Gertrude Berg Show in the recurring role of Lester Wexley. The following year he appeared in a recurring role on the show Ensign O'Toole. In the Sixties he guest starred on the shows The Lieutenant, Burke's Law, Channing, Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre, The Fugitive, Ben Casey, 12 O' Clock High, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Branded, Blue Light, Hey Landlord, Pistols 'n' Petticoats, Occasional Wife, The Second Hundred Years, He & She, The Virginian, The Monkees, Bewitched, The F.B.I., Judd for the Defense, That Girl, It Takes a Thief, Land of the Giants, and My World and Welcome to It. He made his film debut in Women of the Prehistoric Planet in 1966. During the Sixties he also appeared in the movies Don't Just Stand Thee (1968), Kelly's Heroes (1970), and The Gamblers (1970). He wrote the TV movie The Ballad of Andy Cocker.

In the Seventies Stuart Margolin played Deputy Sheriff Mitch Mitchell, the sidekick of the title character on the television Western Nichols. It was the first time he worked with James Garner. He played the recurring role of Angel Martin on James Garner's next television series, The Rockford Files. He guest starred on the television shows Getting Together; The Partridge Family; Love, American Style; The Mary Tyler Moore Show; Cannon; Gunsmoke; M*A*S*H; Rhoda; Lanigan's Rabbi; and The Associates. He appeared in the movies Limbo (1972), The Stone Killer (1973), Death Wish (1974), The Gambler (1974), The Big Bus (1976), Futureworld (1976), Heroes (1977), and Days of Heaven (1978).

It was in the Seventies that Stuart Margolin broke into directing with Love, American Style. He directed episodes of The Texas Wheelers, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Phyllis, Sara, Wonder Woman, The Rockford Files, The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries, The Love Boat, and The Fitzpatricks, as well as TV movies. He write screenplay for the movie A Man, a Woman and a Bank (1979).

In the Eighties Stuart Margolin played the recurring role of  Philo Sandeen on the TV series Bret Maverick. He also had regular roles on the shows Mr. Smith and Mom P.I. He guest starred on the shows The Fall Guy; Magnum, P.I.; CBS Children's Mystery Theatre; Hill Street Blues; Danger Bay; Crazy Like a Fox; The Tracey Ullman Show; and A Family For Joe. He appeared in the mini-series Vendetta: Secrets of a Mafia Bride. He appeared in the movies S.O.B. (1981), Class (1983), Running Hot (1984), A Fine Mess (1986), Iron Eagle II (1988), Bye Bye Blues (1989), and Deep Sleep (1990). He directed episodes of Bret Maverick; Hart to Hart; Magnum, P.I.; CBS Children's Mystery Theatre; Crazy Like a Fox; Danger Bay; Tough Cookies; Neon Rider; and B. L. Stryker. He directed episodes of the mini-series Vendetta: Secrets of a Mafia Bride. He wrote episodes of Neon Rider and Vendetta: Secrets of a Mafia Bride.

In the Nineties Mr. Margolin reprised his role as Angel in several Rockford Files television movies. He guest starred on the shows Matlock, The Ray Bradbury Theatre, Monkey House, Johnny Bago, E.N.G., Dead Man's Gun, Promised Land, Jake and the Kid, Touched by an Angel, 18 Wheels of Justice, and Beggars and Choosers. He appeared in the movies Guilt by Suspicion (1991), Impolite (1992), The Lady of the Land (1997), and The Hi-Line (1998). He directed episodes of the shows Fly by Night, The Ray Bradbury Theatre, Quantum Leap, North of 60, Lonesome Dove: The Series, Promised Land, and Beggars and Choosers. He wrote an episode of North of 60 and the story for the film Grizzly Falls (1999).

In the Naughts Stuart Margolin had a regular role on the TV show Tom Stone.  He guest starred on the shows Da Vinci's Inquest, Strange Frequency, These Arms of Mine, Intelligence, Saturday Night Live, 30 Rock, and The Bridge. He appeared in the film The Hoax (2006). He directed episodes of the shows These Arms of Mine, Tom Stone, Wild Card, The Handler, Da Vinci's Inquest, Da Vinci's City Hall, Intelligence and The Bridge.

In the Teens Stuart Margolin guest starred on the TV shows Call Me Fitz, Republic of Doyle, NCIS, and The X-Files. He appeared in the movies Arbitrage (2012), The Discoverers (2013), The Second Time Around (2016), SGT. Will Gardner (2019), and What the Night Can Do (2020).

Chances are very good that Stuart Margolin will always be best remembered as Angel Martin on The Rockford Files. Jim Rockford's former cell mate, Angel was a bit shifty and was often trying to run some con game or another. At the same time, Angel was loyal to Jim, who was at time exasperated by his antics. Of course, Mr. Margolin played many more roles than Angel over the years. In the X-Files episode "The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat," he played a NASA scientist who learned how to manipulate memory. In The Stone Killer he played a contractor who sets up hits for the mob and in A Fine Mess he played a bumbling criminal out to get the two lead characters after they overhear him and his partner doping a horse. Over the years he played a wide array of roles from the captain of an alien spaceship in the Monkees episode "The Monkees Watch their Feet" to a mill foreman in Days of Heaven. Of course, Mr. Margolin also directed several hours worth of television. He was an immensely talented and versatile man.

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Influenza

Regular readers have probably noticed that I have not posted a blog post since Tuesday, December 6. The simple fact is that I have had the flu for the past week. This is a highly unusual situation for me, as I almost never catch the flu. In fact, I honestly can't remember the last time I had influenza. Anyway, I am still not feeling well, although I feel much better than last week when I spent most of my time sleeping. I intend to get back to regular posts tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Godspeed Bob McGrath

Bob McGrath, who starred on Sesame Street from its very first episode in 1969 to 2017, died on December 4 2022 at the age of 90.

Bob McGrath was born on a farm between Ottawa, Iowa and Grand Ridge, Iowa on June 13 1932. He sang from when he was very young, and began performing in local theatres when he was five years old He was nine years old he won a talent contest at the NBC radio station in Chicago.

While he was attending high school, Bob McGrath had his own radio show. He majored in voice at the University of Michigan School of Music. After graduating from college, he served in the United States Army for two years. During his stint in the service he was attached to the Seventh Army Symphony in Stuttgart, Germany. He received a Master of Music degree at Manhattan School of Music. During this period he taught music appreciation and theory to students at St. David's School in New York City.

In 1961 Bob McGrath became part of the chorus on the show Sing Along with Mitch. He eventually became a featured male soloist on the show. After Sing Along With Mitch was cancelled, Mitch Miller and his company of singers performed at the Desert Inn in Las Vegas and then went a 30 date tour of Japan. As a result of this, Bob McGrath had a career in Japan. He performed at the Latin Quarter and Copacabana night clubs in Tokyo, performed concerts throughout the country, and even recorded albums there.

During this period Bob McGrath appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. He also appeared on the panel shows To Tell the Truth and  I've Got a Secret, on which his "secret" was his singing career in Japan. He appeared on the game show Dream Girl of  '67 and The Kraft Music Hall in 1967 and 1968 respectively.

Bob McGrath was cast on Sesame Street after he met an old fraternity brother, David Connell, by chance. David Connell had worked on the children's show Captain Kangaroo when he left to join the newly formed Children's Television Workshop as a vice president in charge of production. He asked Bob McGrath to audition for a new show they had planned, Sesame Street. Bob McGrath would remain on the show for 47 years and would continue to appear at live Sesame Street events for some time after that.

There can be no doubt that Bob McGrath was responsible for much of the success of Sesame Street. He was a gifted tenor who had a way with songs. He also had a gentle demeanour that was perfectly suited to a children's show. For many children he may well have seemed more like a kindly neighbour than a television personality. Indeed, for many Sesame Street may not seem possible without Bob McGrath.

Friday, December 2, 2022

Clarence Gilyard Passes On

Clarence Gilyard, who played computer hacker Theo in Die Hard (1988), the title lawyer's detective Conrad McMasters on the TV series Matlock, and Ranger James Trivtte on Walker, Texas Ranger, died on November 28 2022 at the age of 66 following a long illness.

Clarence Gilyard was born on December 24 1955 in Moses Lake, Washington. As his father was an Air Force officer, he spent his childhood on military bases in Hawaii, Texas, and Florida.

He spent a year at the Air Force Academy before attending Sterling College in Kansas. He later moved to Long Beach, California where he attended California State University, Long Beach. He finished his bachelor's degree at California State University, Dominguez Hills and later received a master's degree at Southern Methodist University.

In 1979 Clarence Gilyard moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting. He made his television debut in a guest appearance on Diff'rent Strokes in 1981. In 1982 he began playing the recurring role of Officer Benjamin Webster on CHiPs. During the Eighties he also had a recurring role on the short-lived sitcom The Duck Factory. It was in 1989 that he began his run as Conrad McMasters on Matlock. He guest starred on the shows Making the Grade, Riptide, Simon & Simon, 227, and The Facts of Life. He made his movie debut in 1986 in Top Gun. In the Eighties he appeared in the movies Off the Mark (1987) and Die Hard (1988).

In the Nineties Clarence Gilyard continued to appear on Matlock. He his run as Ranger Trivtte on Walker, Texas Ranger in 1993. He guest starred on the TV show Sons of Thunder, playing Ranger Trivette. He appeared in the movie Left Behind (2000). In the Naughts he continued to appear on Walker, Texas Ranger. He appeared in the movie Left Behind: Tribulation Force (2002).

In the Teens he appeared in the movies Little Monsters (2012), Chasing Shakespeare (2013), A Matter of Faith (2014), The Track (2015), Rabbit Days (2016), The Sector (2016),  and The Perfect Race (2019). He appeared the TV movie Christmas on the Coast.

Clarence Gilyard was a talented and versatile actor. This can be seen in what may be his two best known roles. In Die Hard he played villain Hans Gruber's computer hacker Theo. Theo was arrogant and sarcastic, and a bit lacking in feelings for others (he even jokes when people die). On Matlock he played Conrad McMasters. In contrast to Theo, Conrad is easy going and good natured. He truly cares for others. Clarence Gilyard could play a variety of characters and play all of them well.

Thursday, December 1, 2022

IMDB Should Return to the Old Name Page Design

Today IMDB debuted its redesign for Name Pages for actors, writers, filmmakers, and other crew members. To say that it is mess would be putting it lightly. The Name Page redesign is harder to navigate and it is also much less intuitive than the old Name Page Design was. It also happens to be aesthetically unappealing.

To wit, in the redesign there is a huge amount of empty space on the screen, in contrast to the old design which was tightly put together. Both the Photos section and the "Known for" section on the Name Page redesign are much too large. The items on the right sidebar are also much too large.  In fact, even the fonts used in the redesign are too large.

Of course, the right sidebar on IMDB's Name Page redesign has other problems besides the items on it being too large. It is missing some important information, such as Awards, Trivia, and so on. Now some of this information can be found by scrolling down on the page, but some (such as Awards) have apparently disappeared. With regards to the items that are included on the sidebar, I noticed that on the user lists there is no way to view all of the lists on which an individual may be included.

The Name Page redesign is harder to navigate in yet other ways as well. By default filmographies are sorted by year. I know many IMDB users, myself included, prefer to have the filmographies sorted by media (television, movies, et. al.). Now one can still view filmographies this way, but to do so one must use filters, which might not be obvious to everyone. Worse yet, IMDB does not save your filters, so if you visit another actor, director, producer, writer, or crew member's page you have to apply the filters all over again.

Perhaps the worst change made with the redesign is the way individual episodes of television shows in an actor or other crew member's filmography are handled. In the old Name Page design, the episodes on which a particular artist, be they an actor, director, writer, or whatever, worked were all listed under the particular television series. For instance, with my dearest Vanessa Marquez, every ER episode in which she appeared would be listed under ER. On the Name Page redesign there is merely a link reading how many episodes on which a crew member worked (in Vanessa's case with regards to ER, "27 episodes"). One has to click on this link to see the individual episodes, which are displayed in a pop up. This pop up is not particularly easy to navigate, with the episodes divided by season. Worse yet, for many it may not be easy to read, given it has a charcoal grey background.

IMDB claims that the Name Page redesign is meant to "make your IMDb experience easier and more enjoyable by providing better access to photos and videos, an upgraded view of an individual’s credits, and improved mobile navigation making it easier to view IMDb features on the go." Quite frankly, none of this is true. The redesign does not give better access to photos and videos than the old design. The view of an individuals' credits is a downgrade rather than an upgrade. As to the navigation, it would be horrible on a smart phone, let alone a computer. Worst of all, the redesign is, to put it bluntly, ugly and far from sleek or modern. A commentor on the IMDB community compared it to a combination of Windows 8 Metro and the redesign of Netflix from many years ago.

At any rate, given to the reaction on the IMDB community, IMDB users seem to be united in their hatred of the Name Page redesign. My suggestion to IMDB is that they revert to the old Name Page design immediately and fire anyone and everyone involved with the Name Page redesign. Yes, it is that bad.