Saturday, February 12, 2022

The TV Series Julia

It was on September 17 1968 that the sitcom Julia, starring  Diahann Carroll, debuted. The show centred on Julia Baker, the widow whose husband had died in Vietnam, and her young son Corey (Marc Copage). Julia worked as a registered nurse for Dr. Morton Chegley (Lloyd Nolan), a physician for an aerospace company. For the first two seasons Hannah Yarby (Lurene Tuttle) was Dr. Chegley's clinic manager. Other regulars included neighbour boy Earl J. Waggedorn (Michael Link) and his mother Marie Waggedorn (Betty Beaird),  Julia was historic as the first sitcom to star an African American since Amos 'n' Andy and Beulah in the Fifties. It was also the first sitcom to feature an African American woman as a professional. Beulah on the show of the same name had been a domestic.

Julia was created by Hal Kanter, who already had an extensive career at the time. He had written the screenplays for such films as Road to Bali (1952), Casanova's Big Night (1954), and Move Over, Darling (1963), among others. He had also worked on the TV series The Ed Wynn Show and The George Gobel Show. Julia was not the first show he had created. Mr. Kanter also created the sitcom Valentine's Day, which was historic in featuring the first East Asian American in a supporting role on an American sitcom (Jack Soo as Rocky Sin).

Hal Kanter's inspiration for Julia emerged from a luncheon honouring NAACP Executive Director Roy Wilkins. He was greatly impressed by what he described as Mr. Wilkins's "calm, objective appraisal of what was happening in America." Hal Kanter then pondered what he could do himself with regards to race relations, and the result was the script for the pilot of what was then called Mama's Man, which was later changed to Julia. Hal Kanter's agent was impressed with the script and pitched it to NBC. NBC would buy Julia as a series.

Hal Kanter auditioned several actresses for the role of Julia, but upon noticing Diahann Carroll decided that she must be Julia. Miss Carroll already had a highly successful career. She was the first Black woman to win a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical for her role in No Strings. She had already appeared in such movies as Paris Blues (1961) and Hurry Sundown (1967). Miss Carroll was initially reticent to do the series, as she did not think it would work. It was David Tebet, NBC's  vice president for talent relations, who convinced her to sign on to the series.

Despite Hal Kanter's well intentions, Julia would become the source of controversy well before it even debuted. In April 1968, a full five months before the show's debut, Robert Lewis Shayon wrote in The Saturday Review that Julia was "...a far, far cry from the bitter realities of Negro life in the urban ghetto." Not only would criticism of Julia continue after the show debuted, but throughout its three year run. In Time magazine it was remarked that Julia "...would not recognize a ghetto if she stumbled into it, and she is, in every respect save colour, a figure in a white milieu." Much of the criticism of Julia centred on the fact that the show lacked a Black male figure, the lead character being a widow. Other critics claimed that the show did not recognize the racism faced by African American every day.  Much of the criticism also centred on the fact that Julia belonged to the middle class and lived in an impossibly nice apartment. Many felt that the life Julia led on the show was far removed from the reality of the lives led by many African Americans. Similar criticisms would be directed at The Cosby Show in the Eighties, which portrayed an upper middle class Black family.

As the star of the show, much of the criticism of Julia was directed at Diahann Carroll herself. To her credit, Miss Carroll fought for changes on the show behind the scenes. She was able to win some battles, while she lost others. Miss Carroll objected to a scene in which her character said her first experience of racism was at her high school prom, knowing as a Black woman that African Americans experience bigotry much, much earlier, and she even left the set in protest the day the scene was to be shot. While she ultimately won that battle, she was not able to convince the producers to let her wear an Afro. The stress from the controversy over Julia would ultimately lead Diahann Carroll to be hospitalized twice during the show's run.

Seen today, much of the criticism towards Julia during its original run must be considered valid. Julia lived in a lavish apartment that a nurse, even one working at an aerospace company could not possibly afford. Similarly, her wardrobe would have been out of reach not only of many Black women, but of nurses living a middle class lifestyle as well. Her friends (Marie, Dr. Chegley, and Hannah) were all white, as were her neighbours in her apartment building. Aside from Julia and Corey, the only other Black characters to appear on the show were Julia's two boyfriends during the run of the show (Fred Williamson as Steven Bruce and Paul Winfield as Paul Cameron).  Julia's apartment was devoid of anything related to Black culture, and could easily have belonged to any white character of the era.

For all the criticism Julia received, it did receive support from Ebony and Jet, although both magazines admitted it was a slight, sugary confection. And for all the criticism that Julia did not address the prejudice faced by African Americans every day, some episodes of the show did tackle the subject. In the episode "Romeo and Julia," there are awkward moments when Julia drops Corey off at a white classmate's birthday party and the mother did not realize Corey was black. In the episode "Paint Your Waggedorn," a neighbour accuses Corey and Earl of crayon drawings made in the hallway and even complains that " "turning into a ghetto" because of "those people." This leads Julia to explain prejudice to Corey. While it is true Julia did not encounter some of the more severe instances of prejudice experienced by not only African Americans, but other minorities, it was not entirely absent from the show.

While many of the other criticisms of Julia are valid, today they can easily explained by the shape of American television at the time. Portrayals of poverty in American sitcoms were virtually unknown in the Sixties. Even when a sitcom did not portray wealthy or upper middle class characters (such as the Stephens on Bewitched or Bill Davis on Family Affair) sitcoms characters were portrayed as living more lavishly than they would have in real life. On That Girl Ann Marie (Marlo Thomas) was a struggling actress who realistically have lived below the poverty line, but she lived in a fancy apartment and had a very posh wardrobe. The absence of a father on Julia can also be viewed through the lens of television in 1968. In the Sixties, the single parent was something of a sitcom standard. Andy Taylor on The Andy Griffith Show, Steven Douglas on My Three Sons, Doris Martin on The Doris Day Show, and Carolyn Muir on The Ghost & Mrs. Muir, among others, all raised children without a spouse. In portraying Julia as a widow, Julia was once again conforming to sitcom tropes of the 1960s.

It must also be pointed out that in the Sixties it was exceedingly rare for American sitcoms to address any sort of social or political issues. Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. centred on the Marine of the title and took place on a military base, yet the Vietnam War was not mentioned during the entire run of the show. The Andy Griffith Show took place in small Southern town, but there were no Black regulars (although Blacks did appear on the show) and it never dealt with racial issues (the Civil Rights Movement was never addressed at all). In the Sixties American sitcoms were devoted to escapism, and any political or social issues were avoided for the most part. That Julia's husband is acknowledged to have died when his helicopter was shot down in Vietnam was then a major break from other sitcoms of the era.  And while Julia may have been timid in its approach to racism, the fact that it acknowledged its existence at all was also a major break from other sitcoms of the era.

While audiences may have well been ready for a realistic portrayal of African Americans living in the ghetto in 1968, it would seem that most television producers and the broadcast networks were not. It would not be until All in the Family debuted in 1971 that a sitcom would actually address political and social issues, and even then CBS felt it had to include a warning before its first several episodes. Many of the criticisms of Julia at the time are valid, but at the same time one has to wonder if the show would have even made it to the air if Julia and Corey had been living in a ghetto and had experienced more extreme forms of prejudice than they had. In 1968 both the networks and TV producers were very cautious with regards to programming. While I am not certain that the theory of the least offensive program was as dominant in the late Sixties as some would lead one to believe, given the emphasis on escapism during the Sixties, network executives and television producers tended to avoid anything that might be too controversial.

Regardless of the controversy, Julia proved to be a popular show. In its first season it ranked no. 7 for the year in the Nielsen ratings. For its second season, facing new competition in the form of the ABC Movie of the Week (which ranked no. 22 for the year),  it came in at a still respectable no. 28 for the year. In its third season NBC moved Julia to an earlier time slot (although it remained on Tuesday night) opposite The Mod Squad. It dropped out of the top thirty for the year, but still it did well enough to warrant renewal. Sadly, the stress over the constant criticism of Julia, some of which included personal attacks on herself, led Diahann Carroll to ask to be released from her contract in 1970. Julia then ended its run after three seasons on the air. Its last original episode aired on March 31 1971.

While today Julia might seem to an unrealistic, if innocuous, sitcom, it can be considered groundbreaking given the shape of television in the Sixties. As mentioned earlier, it was the first sitcom with an African American since Amos 'n'  Andy and Beulah (the latter of which had gone off the air 15 years before Julia debuted). What is more, while Amos 'n' Andy featured gross, racist stereotypes, Julia and the other Black characters on the show were not caricatures. While this might not seem particularly remarkable now, one must consider the fact that for most of the Sixties regular, African American characters were virtually unknown on American sitcoms. In fact, the only one that comes to mind is Sgt. James "Kinch" Kinoche (played by the great Ivan Dixon) on Hogan's Heroes.As a nurse, Julia Baker was also the female African American character who was a professional on American television. Earlier female Black characters (such as Beulah) were domestics. As mentioned earlier, in having Julia's husband die in Vietnam the show broke with the sitcom tradition of avoiding any important issues.

Julia certainly did have its flaws. Belonging to the middle class, living in a nice apartment, and wearing posh clothing, Julia Baker had little in common with many African Americans in the late Sixties. The show failed to address more extreme types of prejudice even as the Civil Rights Movement was under way.The show lacked a black male lead, something which led to much of the criticism of the show. Still, the fact remains that Julia proved that a show with a Black lead could be successful. In this way Julia led to the many, more realistic sitcoms with Black characters in the Seventies. Controversial in its day and in some ways not very revolutionary, Julia id change American television.

Friday, February 11, 2022

TCM's 31 Days of Oscar 2022

While I realize there are many who love it, 31 Days of Oscars is my least favourite time of year on Turner Classic Movies. I have always had two problems with the programming block. The lesser of the two is that it pre-empts all of TCM's usual programming. That means no Noir Alley during the month, no Silent Sunday Nights, no TCM Underground. Now Summer Under the Stars also pre-empts all of TCM's usual programming, but I love it because it means Turner Classic Movies will air many, many films I love. That brings me to my other reason for not enjoying 31 Days of Oscar. It is often the case that TCM shows fewer of my favourite movies than any time of year. Worse yet, when they do show one of my favourite movies, it is often at an awkward time (like 6:00 AM).

Fortunately this year is a bit better than most years, with TCM showing several of my favourite movies and, what is more, showing them at good times for viewing. Indeed, they are even showing some of my favourite films in primetime!

Below are my picks for this year's 31 Days of Oscar. All times are Central.

Tuesday, March 1
11:00 AM Mighty Joe Young (1949)
3:15 PM The Naked City (1948)
5:00 PM Key Largo (1948)
7:00 PM The Lost Weekend (1945)
11:15 PM Laura (1944)
1:00 AM Gaslight (1944)

Wednesday, March 2
2:00 AM Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)

Thursday, March 3
10:30 AM The Lion in the Winter (1968)
7:00 PM The Apartment (1960)
10:15 PM The Graduate (1967)
11:15 PM Bullitt (1968)
1:15 AM 8 1/2 (1963)

Friday, March 4
4:30 PM Cabaret (1972)
7:00 PM Network (1976)
9:15 PM The French Connection (1971)
1:30 AM The Omen (1976)
3:30 AM Cries and Whispers (1972)

Sunday, March 6
9:15 PM The Lavender Hill Mob (1952)
11:00 AM Citizen Kane (1942)
5:00 PM Pillow Talk (1959)

Monday, March 7
7:00 PM Wings (1927)
9:30 PM The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
1:15 AM Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1932)

Tuesday, March 8
11:00 AM The Adventures of Don Juan (1948)
2:45 PM The Red Shoes (1948)
5:00 PM Cover Girl (1944)
9:15 PM The Philadelphia Story (1940)
11:15 PM The More the Merrier (1943)
1:15 PM Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)
3:30 AM On the Town (1949)

Wednesday, March 9
11:00 AM The Defiant Ones (1958)
12:45 PM Mister Roberts (1955)
11:45 PM From Here to Eternity (1953)

Thursday, March 10 (my birthday)
5:30 AM The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964)
10:00 AM The Great Race (1965)
4:15 PM The Dirty Dozen (1967)
10:15 PM A Man for All Seasons (1966)

Friday, March 11
11:00 AM The Summer of '42 (1971)

Saturday, March 12
7:00 AM Johnny Eager (1942)
11:00 AM Cool Hand Luke (1967)
1:15 PM Topkapi (1964)
3:30 AM Spartacus (1960)

Sunday, March 13
12:00 PM Elmer Gantry (1960)
5:00 PM Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
7:00 PM Sense and Sensibility (1995)

Monday, March 14
8:15 AM The Divorcee (1930)
1:30 PM Wuthering Heights (1939)

Tuesday, March 15
9:15 AM Easter Parade (1948)
3:00 PM Pride and Prejudice (1940)
12:00 PM The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
2:15 AM Anchors Aweigh (1945)

Wednesday, March 16
7:00 PM Marty (1955)
1:00 AM Mon Uncle (1958)
3:15 AM Rashomon (1950)

Thursday, March 17
11:00 PM Z (1969)
7:00 PM The Music Man (1962)

Friday, March 18
1:15 AM Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
3:30 AM Shaft (1971)

Saturday, March 19
11:00 PM Lilies of the Field (1963)
1:00 PM Sergeant York (1941)
12:00 AM Places in the Heart (1984)
2:00 AM A Fish Called Wanda (1988)

Sunday, March 20
1:00 PM Mildred Pierce (1944)
7:00 PM A River Runs Through It (1992)

Monday, March 21
8:15 AM "The Music Box" (1932)
3:00 PM The Awful Truth (1937)
4:45 PM You Can't Take It With You (1938)
7:00 PM Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939)

Tuesday, March 22
11:30 PM  A Letter to Three Wives (1948)
1:30 AM Kitty Foyle (1940)
3:30 AM Blithe Spirit (1945)

Wednesday, March 23
5:15 AM That Hamilton Woman (1941)
7:30 AM Les Girls (1957)
5:00 PM Cyrano De Bergerac (1950)
7:00 PM Harvey (1950)
1:15 AM A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

Thursday, March 24
11:30 AM It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)
2:30 PM The Time Machine (1960)
7:00 PM The Producers (1968)
1:15 AM Planet of the Apes (1968)
3:15 AM What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)

Friday, March 25
7:00 PM Fiddler on the Roof (1971)
10:15 PM All That Jazz (1979)

Saturday, March 26
6:45 AM The Best Years of Their Lives (1946)
10:00 AM Casablanca (1942)
3:00 PM The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
1:00 AM Dangerous Liaisons (1988)
4:45 AM Grand Hotel (1932)

Sunday, March 27
7:45 AM It Happened One Night (1934)
10:30 AM All About Eve (1950)
3:00 PM Gone with the Wind (1939)
7:00 PM The Artist (2011)
9:00 PM The Age of Innocence (1993)

Monday, March 28
5:15 PM Stagecoach (1939)

Tuesday, March 29
5:00 PM Now, Voyager (1942)
7:00 PM Mrs. Miniver (1942)
12:00 PM The Razor's Edge (1946)

Wednesday, March 30
5:00 AM Destination Moon (1950)
1:15 PM Giant (1956)
4:45 PM East of Eden (1955)

Thursday, March 31
7:00 PM To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
4:00 AM The Virgin Spring (1960)

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Sounder (1972)

It was last year that the classic film Sounder (1972) was finally added to the National Film Registry. Many people, myself included, were shocked that it had not been added years ago. Sounder is a classic film that received critical acclaim upon its release and is still acclaimed now. It was nominated for four Academy Awards and was nominated for yet other awards. It won the National Board of Review Award for Best Actress for Cicely Tyson and the National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actress for Miss Tyson as well. Released at the height of the Blaxpoitation cycle, Sounder has come to be regarded as a major achievement in Black Cinema. The movie celebrates its 50th anniversary on September 24 of this year.

Sounder was based on the young adult novel of the same name by William H. Armstrong. Sounder centred on an African American boy, his sharecropper family, and their dog. Sounder. In the novel , Sounder is the only character whose name is given. The boy is simply called "the boy," the father "the father," and so on. The time period is also kept vague. References to "mule-drawn wagons" make it clear Sounder is set before automobiles became common. The fact that the family use a chunk stove also make it clear that the novel is set sometime before electricity was commonplace. References to "chain gangs" make it clear it was set before 1955, when the practice was abolished. As to the place, references to Bartlow County and Gilmer County make it clear it is set in Georgia.

Sounder was critically acclaimed upon its publication in 1969, and it won the Newbery Medal in 1970. At the time it should have come as no surprise that Robert B. Radnitz, a producer known for such family films as A Dog of Flanders (1960), Misty (1961), and My Side of the Mountain (1969), decided to adapt the novel Sounder as a movie. Robert B. Radnitz called director Martin Ritt and sent him a copy of the novel. While Martin Ritt had seen some success with such movies as Hud (1963) and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965), his last two films, The Great White Hope (1970) and The Molly Maguires (1970) had failed at the box office. Martin Ritt did not want to make another big motion picture, so he agreed to direct Sounder for an eighty percent cut because Robert B. Radnitz could not afford to pay him anything.

To write the screenplay African American playwright Lonne Elder III was contacted. He initially turned it down, but producer Robert B. Radnitz and director Martin Ritt convinced him to work on the film. Mr. Elder wanted to keep the film historically accurate. The film would see some changes from the novel. While the novel appears to be set in Georgia, the film is set in Louisiana, where it was shot on location (St. Helena Parish and East Feliciana Parish, to be exact). Here it must be pointed out the movie was set to film in Macon, Georgia, but reportedly did not do so due to racial tensions. While the time of the novel is vague as to when it set, the film is set in the year 1933. While human characters are unnamed in the novel, in the movie they are given names (for example, the family of sharecroppers are the Morgans). The film also centres more on the Morgan family and  less on the dog Sounder than the novel had.

As mentioned earlier, Sounder was shot on location in Louisiana. Both director Martin Ritt and cinematographer John A. Alonzo elected to film Sounder as realistically as possible. They took inspiration from photographers Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange, who both documented sharecroppers and farmers during the Great Depression.

As hard it might be to believe, initially Cicely Tyson was not cast as the mother, Rebecca Morgan. Initially she was cast as the schoolteacher. Martin Ritt offered the role to another actress, who turned it down. Cicely Tyson then approached Mr. Ritt about playing the role of the mother. Martin Ritt was reluctant to cast Cicely Tyson in the role, thinking she was "too beautiful." Fortunately, he eventually cast her in the role. Paul Winfield, who had guest starred on several television shows and appeared in the films The Lost Man (1969) and R.P.M. (1970), was cast in the role of the father, Nathan Lee Morgan. Many of the non-supporting roles were played by local people from around St. Helena Parish and East Feliciana Parish. In fact, the judge and the preacher in the film were a judge and a preacher in reality (Judge William Thomas Bennett and Reverend Thomas N. Phillips).

As mentioned earlier, Sounder would be nominated for several awards. It was the first film in which two Black actors (Paul Winfield for the Best Actor award and Cicely Tyson for the Best Actress award) were nominated for Oscars. This would not happen again until  What's Love Got to Do with It (1993), for which both Laurence Fishburne and Angela Bassett were nominated for Oscars.

A sequel, Part 2, Sounder was released in 1976. While Robert B. Radnitz produced the film and Lonne Elder III wrote the screenplay, Martin Ritt did not return as the film's director. Of the original cast, only Taj Mahal as Ike and Ted Airhart as Mr. Perkins returned. The film did not repeat the success of Sounder. Part 2, Sounder received poor reviews and did badly at the box office. In 2003 The Wonderful World of Disney aired a television adaptation of the novel Sounder. Kevin Hooks, who played David in the 1972 film, directed the movie, while Paul Winfield played the teacher in the film.

Sounder was released on September 24 1972 to nearly universal critical acclaim. It also did well at the box office. Made for only $1.9 million, Sounder made $16.9 million. What is more, Sounder has maintained its reputation over the years. The film was included AFI's list AFi's 100 Years...100 Cheers. It also made the list of Filmsite's Greatest Tearjerkers and Movie Moments of All-Time. As mentioned earlier, it was added to the National Film Registry last year.

Sounder has been one of my favourite movies since childhood. I grew up on a farm outside a small town, and I have always had plenty of Black friends. The movie largely appealed to me because it portrayed an African American family living in a rural area at a time when most Black characters in the media were portrayed as living in big cities. Despite being set in the 1930s and lacking much of the technology my friends and I grew up with (the average person did not own a TV set in 1933), the movie's milieu then seemed much more familiar to me than New York City, Chicago, or Los Angeles. Even as a boy, I could identify with David Lee Morgan (Kevin Hooks), his love for his dog Sounder, and his love of reading. As I got older I also appreciated its fine writing, its excellent performances, and it historical accuracy. Indeed, while Sounder is suitable viewing for older children, it does not shy away from the brutal realities of racism in the era. Sounder isn't only a landmark achievement in Black Cinema, it is a landmark achievement in American cinema and cinema all over the world.

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

The Late Great Douglas Trumbull

Legendary special effects artist Douglas Trumbull died yesterday, February 7 2022, at the age of 79. The past two years he had cancer, a brain tumour, and a stroke. Mr. Trumbull had worked on such movies as 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Silent Running (1972), and Blade Runner (1982).

Douglas Trumbull was born on April 8 1942 in Los Angeles. His father was Don Trumbull, who had been a special effects artist on The Wizard of Oz (1939). Growing up he enjoyed building crystal radio sets. He was also a fan of science fiction movies and serials. Initially planned to become an architect. He worked at an electronics contracting firm while attending El Camino Junior College where he was studying technical illustration. He was eventually hired by Graphic Films to provide art for a spiralling galaxy for their New York Worlds Fair film "To the Moon and Beyond." The film caught the attention of director Stanley Kubrick and author Arthur C. Clarke. Stanley Kubrick then hired both Douglas Trumbull and Graphic Films director Con Pederson to provide preliminary designs for 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).

Stanley Kubrick decided to move production of 2001: A Space Odyssey to England and cancelled his contract with Graphic Films. In the interim Douglas Trumbull worked for a furniture company. Determined to work on the film, he asked Con Pederson for Stanley Kubrick's phone number and called the director. Douglas Trumbull's initial work on 2001: A Space Odyssey was designing the computer screen readouts on the monitors of the spaceship Discovery One. As he continued to work on the film, he received more and more responsibility.

Following 2001 Douglas Trumbull created the opening and closing sequences for the movie Candy (1968). He provided special effects for the movies The Andromeda Strain (1971), Silent Running (1972, which he also directed), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), and Blade Runner (1982). He was also a visual effects consultant on the movie The Tree of Life (2011). His final visual effects credit was The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot (2018), on which he also served as an executive producer. He also provided special effects for the debut episode of the TV series The Starlost. He also served as an executive producer on the show.

Douglas Trumbull also directed the films Silent Running (1972), Brainstorm (1983), and Luxor Live (1993).

In 1974 Douglas Trumbull co-founded the research/visual effects house Future General Corp., which was based at Paramount. It was also that year that he founded Magicam, Inc. at Paramount. In 1994 Douglas Trumbull was Vice Chairman of Imax Corporation and President of its subsidiary Ridefilm for a time.

Douglas Trumbull also animated the opening sequence for ABC's movie anthology ABC Movie of the Week. The sequence was designed by Harry Marks. He also created the Showscan process, which was introduced with his film Brainstorm.

Douglas Trumbull brought movie special effects into the late 20th Century and his influence has been seen ever since. He was capable of creating effects that looked real, something that can be seen in both 2001 and Blade Runner. What is more, he could even do it on a low budget. Silent Running was made for only $1,350,000, but looked better than more expensive films. The opening sequence to The Tree of Life, portraying the creation of life, was simply mind boggling. If Douglas Trumbull was not the greatest special effects artists thus far, he certain numbered among the absolute greatest.

Sunday, February 6, 2022

The 100th Birthday of Patrick Macnee

I can still remember the first time I saw The Avengers. It was a rainy Sunday when I was about six years old. In those days we had a fairly tall television aerial, so we could pick up stations from both St. Louis and Kansas City at times. With nothing better to do, my brother and I turned on the TV in hopes of finding something to watch other than sports. It was then on one of the Kansas City stations that we saw a television show about a dapper Englishman in a bowler and a beautiful woman who could fight better than most men. With that episode I was hooked. My brother and I would tune in and watch The Avengers any time we could pick up that Kansas City television station on a Sunday afternoon. It was then at the age of six that I became a fan of The Avengers and the great Patrick Macnee.

Given the large role he played in my childhood, it is hard for me to believe that it was 100 years ago today, on February 6 1922, that Patrick Macnee was born in Paddington, London. From that first episode of The Avengers I watched, John Steed would become one of my all time favourite characters and one of my earliest heroes, along with his partner Emma Peel (played by Diana Rigg). John Steed was the epitome of the English gentleman and, aside from my parents, aunts, and uncles, it was from him that I learned what a gentleman should be. He was brave, honourable, and loyal to a fault. He was gallant towards women, although he treated them as equals. Steed never talked down to Emma nor did he treat her as anything other than the competent woman she was. Even as I got older and saw The New Avengers and later episodes of the original series on The CBS Late Movie, John Steed remained one of my heroes.

Of course, as a I got older I also realized that Patrick Macnee played more roles than John Steed. When I watched Battlestar Galactica in the late Seventies, I knew Mr. Macnee was the voice of the Imperious Leader of the Cylons. He would later play Count Iblis on the show. Of course, I would also see Patrick Macnee pop up in guest appearances on the many reruns I watched as  a child and a young adult. In the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode "Arthur," he played the police sergeant investigating the title character. He was Dr. Watson to Roger Moore's Holmes in the TV movie Sherlock Holmes in New York. In the classic Christmas movie Scrooge (1951, also known as A Christmas Carol) he played a young Jacob Marley. I would later see him in such movies as The Howling (1981) and This is Spinal Tap (1984).

Regardless of the role, regardless of the project, Patrick Macnee always gave a good performance. He was as good in the classic Les Girls (1957) as he was in the not so classic A View to a Kill (1985). What is more, Mr. Macnee was as good at drama as he was at comedy. He could play a Scotland Yard police sergeant in all seriousness, but at the same time play a mad scientist in a parody equally well. I have to suspect that, other than the fact that Patrick Macnee was the epitome of English gentlemen, the reason he was so good as John Steed is because he could play both comedy and drama well. Played largely tongue in cheek, The Avengers is a mixture of both.

Patrick Macnee died on June 15 2007 at the age of 93. I won't deny that I cried that day. Patrick Macnee had played one of my childhood heroes. As I got older I realized that he was a great actor who played a variety of roles over the years. While there are many actors I admire, few have had the impact on me that Mr. Macnee did.