Friday, November 18, 2022

Jay Silverheels as Geronimo

Today Jay Silverheels is best remembered as Tonto on the television series The Lone Ranger. This is unfortunate, as Jay Silverheels played many other roles in his career, roles that are not regarded as stereotypical as Tonto is today. Indeed, what is often overlooked is that Jay Silverheels played Apache leader Geronimo no less than three times.

The first time Jay Silverheels portrayed Geronimo was in the 1950 movie Broken Arrow. Broken Arrow starred James Stewart as Tom Jeffords, a historical figure who was friends with Apache leader Cochise and who was instrumental in ending the Indian wars in Arizona Territory. While today Broken Arrow is problematic insofar as it stars Jeff Chandler in redface as Cochise, as well as other white actors portraying Native Americans, it is one of the earliest movies to portray American Indians sympathetically.

Jay Silverheels only appears briefly as Geronimo in the film, but that appearance is significant. Geronimo is not portrayed as a savage bent on killing white settlers, but instead as a leader among his people seeking the best path forward for them. When he opposes the peace treaty Tom Jeffords has negotiated with Cochise, it is clear he has his reasons for doing do. Although brief, Jay Silverheels's performance as Geronimo numbers among his best, lending the Apache leader the gravitas one would expect of him.

It would be two years later that Jay Silverheels would once more portray Geronimo in the movie The Battle at Apache Pass (1952). Like Broken Arrow, The Battle at Apache Pass was also based on history, in this case it was loosely based on both The Bascom Affair from 1961 and the Battle of Apache Pass from 1862. The Battle at Apache Pass had two more things in common with Broken Arrow. First, Cochise was once more played by Jeff Chandler in redface and Geronimo was played by Jay Silverheels. Second, the movie also treats Native Americans sympathetically.

Unfortunately, while Jay Silverheels does a good job in the role, the movie's portrayal of Geronimo is less than would be desired. At one point Geronimo plots with two white men to frame Cochise for an attack on a ranch, something that not only never happened historically, but would have been out of character for the historical Geronimo. Sadly, the makers of The Battle of Apache Pass chose to make Geronimo a traditional screen villain instead of portraying him accurately.

The final time Jay Silverheels would play Geronimo was in the Audie Murphy Western Walk the Proud Land (1956). Walk the Proud Land was also based on history, in this case on introduction of limited self-government to the Apache by Indian agent John Clum (Audie Murphy). Like Broken Arrow and The Battle at Apache Pass, Walk the Proud Land features examples of redface, namely Anne Bancroft as an Indian widow who is John Clum's housekeeper and Robert Warwick as Apache leader Eskiminzin. Even so, like Broken Arrow and The Battle at Apache Pass before it, Native Americans are treated with sympathy in Walk the Proud Land. Indeed, Geronimo fares better in Walk the Proud Land that he had in The Battle at Apache Pass. Like Broken Arrow, Geronimo is portrayed as doing what he believes is best for his people, even if that means resorting to violence.

Over the years Jay Silverheels has received a lot of criticism for having played Tonto on The Lone Ranger, but throughout his career he played many other roles as well, roles that were not stereotypes. His three performances as Geronimo were all fine, even if the portrayal of the Apache leader is less than is desired in The Battle of Apache Pass. In both Broken Arrow and Walk the Proud Land he brought a dignity to the historical figure at time when American Indians were still often being portrayed as savages.

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Godspeed Robert Clary

Robert Clary, best known for playing Corporal Louis LeBeau on Hogan's Heroes, who also had regular roles on the soap operas Days of Our Lives and The Bold and the Beautiful, died on November 16 2022 at the age of 96.

Robert Clary was born Robert Max Widerman on March 1 1926 in Paris, France. He came from an Orthodox Jewish family of 14 children, of which he was the youngest. He began singing and performing when he was 12 years old. When he was 16 he and his family were sent to the Nazi concentration camp at Ottmuth. He would later be sent to Buchenwald concentration camp. At Buchenwald he would sing every other Sunday for SS officers. He also worked in a factory each day, making wooden shoe heels). He would be the only one of his family to survive the concentration camps. He was liberated from Buchenwald on April 11 1945. For decades Mr. Clary did not discuss his experiences during the Holocaust.

Robert Clary returned to France following World War II. There he began singing in dance halls. By 1948 he was recording songs which not only became popular in France, but in the United States as well. It was in 1949 that he moved to Los Angeles where he had a contract with Capitol Records. Mr. Clary released several singles in the late Forties. He made his television debut on Hollywood on Television in 1949. He also appeared on The Ed Wynn Show in 1950.

In the Fifties Robert Clary first album Meet Robert Clary, was released in 1955. He appeared on the variety, game, and talk shows The Colgate Comedy Hour, The Arthur Murray Party, The Blue Angel, The Martha Raye Show, The Stork Club, Pantomime Quiz, Tonight!, The Rosemary Clooney Show, The Spike Jones Show, The Arlene Francis Show, Club 60. The Gisele MacKenzie, The Lux Show, The Garry Moore Show, The Pat Boone-Chevy Showroom, Your Hit Parade, and The Big Party. He guest starred on the shows Appointment with Adventure and Play of the Week. He appeared in the Max Liebman Spectaculars adaptation of Heidi. He made his film debut in Ten Tall Men in 1951 and appeared in the movie Thief of Damascus. He made his Broadway debut in Leonard Sillman's New Faces of 1952. He also appeared on Broadway in Seventh Heaven and La Plume de Ma Tante.

It was in 1965 that Robert Clary began playing Corporal Louis LeBeau on Hogan's Heroes. He remained with the show for the entirety of its six year run. He guest starred on the show Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre; The High Chaparral; and Love, American Style. He also appeared on the variety shows, game shows, and talk shows The Merv Griffin Show, International Cabaret, The Hollywood Palace, The Pat Boone Show, Gypsy, The Hollywood Squares, House Party, The Mike Douglas Show, Las Vegas, Everybody's Talking, The Joey Bishop Show, Pat Boone in Hollywood, The John Gary Show, Win with the Stars, Della, It Takes Two, Pantomime Quiz, The Leslie Uggams Show, and Playboy After Dark. He appeared in the movie A New Kind of Love (1963). In 1961 his album Lives It Up at the Playboy Club was released.

Hogan's Heroes
ended its run in 1971, cancelled during the Rural Purge. He began his long run on Days of Our Lives in 1972. He guest starred on the shows Arnie, Love They Neighbour, Young and the Restless, and Fantasy Island. Mr. Clary appeared in the talk shows and game shows The Mike Douglas Show, It's Your Bet, What's My Line?, The Merv Griffin Show, The Cross-Wits, Celebrity Bowling, and Dinah!. He appeared in the movie The Hindenburg.

In the Eighties Robert Clary continued to appear on Days of Our Lives until 1997. In 1990 he began a two year stint on The Bold and the Beautiful. He guest starred on the shows Masquerade, General Hospital, The Munsters Today, and The New Adam-12.

Chances are good that Robert Clary will always be remembered as Corporal LeBeau, who was unfailingly loyal to France, had an eye for the ladies, and has such a gift for animals that he even befriended the guard dogs at Stalag 13. He was remarkable in the role. Even so, he did play other roles, some of which were very different from LeBeau. In the High Chaparral episode "The Last Hundred Miles" he played a crooked freight shipper who faked attacks by the Apaches in order to raise his prices. In the movie The Hindenburg he played real life acrobat and Hindenburg passenger Joseph Spah. In the Masquerade episode "The Defector," Robert Clary played a Russian physicist who was defecting to the United States. In addition to being a versatile actor, Robert Clary was also a gifted singer, something he put to use both on Broadway and on television variety shows. Robert Clary had considerable talent for which he will always be remembered.

Monday, November 14, 2022

The Film Noirs of Veronica Lake

A promotional photo
from This Gun for Hire
Veronica Lake was born 100 years ago on this date. Among her best known films today are comedies, such as Sullivan's Travels (1941) and I Married a Witch (1942), but she made other types of films as well. Indeed, among classic movies buffs, Veronica Lake is also remembered for film noirs she made with Alan Ladd. When people think of film noir actresses, Veronica Lake might not be the first name that comes to mind, she starred in a few influential film noirs made during the movement's formative years.

Indeed, the first film she made with Alan Ladd, This Gun for Hire (1942), was the movie that made Alan Ladd a star. The film starred Macdonald Carey as Lt. Michael Crane, a police detective investigating the murder of a blackmailer by paid assassin Philip Raven (Alan Ladd). Veronica Lake played Lt. Crane's girlfriend, stage magician and nightclub singer Ellen Graham. While Veronica Lake and Macdonald Carey were technically the stars of This Gun for Hire, it was arguably Alan Ladd who stole the show. His star power was obvious even before the movie was finished, as was his chemistry with Veronica Lake. It was even before This Gun for Hire was completed that Paramount announced him as the star of The Glass Key.

This Gun for Hire received positive reviews, with Alan Ladd often singled out for praise. It also did well at the box office. Beyond cementing Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake as co-stars in crime films, it would also have an influence on the development of film noir. Released in 1942, it was among the earliest movies that is identifiably noir.

As mentioned above, Alan Ladd was cast in The Glass Key (1942) even before This Gun for Hire as finished. The Glass Key was an adaptation of the Dashiell Hammett novel of the same name. Paramount had already released an adaptation of the novel in 1935 starring George Raft. While that version would prove to be one of George Raft's most successful movies of the Thirties, it was not particularly well received by critics. Regardless, Paramount apparently thought it was the perfect vehicle for Alan Ladd. It probably helped that The Maltese Falcon (1941), also based on a Dashiell Hammett novel, had been a hit for Warner Bros. the previous year.

In The Glass Key Veronica Lake played Janet Henry, the daughter of a candidate for governor (Moroni Olsen). Political boss Paul Madvig (Brian Donlevy) falls in love with Janet, and for that reason decides to help get her father elected. Alan Ladd played Madvig's right-hand man, Ed Beaumont, who also falls in love with Janet. Janet's brother Taylor (Richard Denning) creates problems for everyone in that he owes gambling debts to gangster Nick Varna (Joseph Calleia), who is already unhappy with Madvig and Henry after being informed by Madvig that he plans to clean up the city.

Oddly enough, in The Glass Key it is Brian Donlevy who gets top billing, followed by Veronica Lake and then Alan Ladd. Like This Gun for Hire before it, however, it is Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd who are the real stars. And like This Gun for Hire, it also received positive reviews.

Despite the success of This Gun for Hire and The Glass Key, it would be a few years before Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd would make another film noir together, although they had cameos in the film adaptation of the popular radio show Duffy's Tavern (1945). Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd's next film noir, The Blue Dahlia, was not released until 1946. Among other things, The Blue Dahlia was the first and only original screenplay written by Raymond Chandler.

The Blue Dahlia starred Alan Ladd as Johnny Morrison, a United States Navy pilot whose discovers his wife is having an affair with Eddie Harwood (Howard Da Silva), owner of the Blue Dahlia nightclub. Ultimately, Johnny finds himself accused of murder when his wife Helen (Doris Dowling) winds up dead. Veronica Lake's part in the film is small. She plays Joyce Harwood, the estranged wife of Eddie Harwood, whose path crosses with Johnny Morrison in the film The Blue Dahlia received positive reviews and did well at the box office in the United Kingdom.

It would be two years later that Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake would appear in their final film noir together. Saigon (1948) starred Alan Ladd as Major Larry Briggs, who, with two of his buddies from the war, run afoul of a dangerous criminal. Veronica Lake played Susan Cleaver, the secretary of a war profiteer from who Larry has taken work as a pilot. Saigon did not received particularly good reviews, with critics pointing out the weakness of the movie's story. The film did not do as well at the box office as Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd's previous films, although it was not a bomb by any stretch of the imagination.

Saigon would be the last film Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd made together. This was perhaps in part because Veronica Lake's career would go into decline. Her last few films of the Forties did not match the success of her earlier films. In 1948 Paramount decided not to renew her contract. After leaving Paramount, Veronica Lake would only make four more films in her lifetime.

Veronica Lake only appeared in four film noirs. Indeed, her career was coming to an end even as the film noir movement was reaching its peak in the late Forties. Even so, her earliest film noirs would leave an impact on the movement. This Gun for Hire and The Glass Key laid the blueprint for many film noirs to come, with Alan Ladd playing morally ambiguous characters and Veronica Lake playing the good girl who initially seems bad. The Blue Dahlia remains a beloved film noir, respected for its atmosphere and dialogue. Although she appeared in far fewer film noirs than other actresses, Veronica Lake remains tied to the movement to this day.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

The Late Great Kevin Conroy

Kevin Conroy, who first provided the voice of Batman in Batman: The Animated Series and voiced the character longer than any other actor, died on November 10 2022 at the age of 66. The cause was cancer.

Kevin Conroy was born on November 30 1955 in Westbury, New York. He grew up in Westport, Connecticut. He studied acting at Julliard under actor and director John Houseman, and was room mates with Robin Williams. Among those at Julliard at the same time as Mr. Conroy was future Superman Christopher Reeve. After he graduated from Julliard he toured as part of The Acting Company.

Mr. Conroy made his television debut in a bit part as a bartender in the TV movie How to Pick Up Girls in 1978. He had a regular role on the soap opera Another World from 1980 to 1981. In the Eighties he had  recurring or regular roles on Search for Tomorrow, Dynasty, Ohara, and Tour of Duty. He guest starred on the shows Matlock, Kay O'Brien, Spenser: For Hire, Cheers, and WIOU. He played Ted Kennedy in the mini-series Kennedy and John Laurens in the mini-series George Washington.

It was in 1992 that Kevin Conroy began his long stint playing Batman with Batman: The Animated Series. He would play Batman on the TV shows The New Batman Adventures, Superman: The Animated Series, Batman Beyond, Static Shock. The Zeta Project, Justice League, Justice League Unlimited, Justice League Action, Teen Titans Go, and Scooby Doo and Guess Who?. He provided the voice of Batman in the TV movies The Batman Superman Movie: World's Finest and Batman Beyond: the Movie, as well as the mini-series Tales of Metropolis. He also appeared in live action as Bruce Wayne in the Batwoman episode of the crossover miniseries Crisis on Infinite Earths. He provided the voice of Batman in several feature films, starting with Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993). He voiced Batman in the feature films Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero (1998), Batman Beyond; The Return of The Joker (2000), Batman: Mystery of The Batwoman (2003), Justice League: Starcrossed (2004), Baman: Gotham Knight (2008), Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009), Superman/Batman: Apocalypse (2010), Justice League: Doom (2012), Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox (2013), Batman: Assault on Arkham (2014),  Batman: The Killing Joke (2016), Batman and Harley Quinn (2017), and Justice League vs. the Fatal Five (2019). He provided the voice of Bruce Wayne's father Thomas Wayne in Batman vs. Robin (2015) and guest starred as Robin's father John Grayson in an episode of The Batman. He also voiced Batman in several video games, beginning with The Adventures of Batman & Robin in 1996. He last voiced Batman in a video game in MultiVersus, released this year.

During the Nineties Kevin Conroy also had a regular role on the TV show Rachel Gunn, R.N. He had a recurring role on The Office. He guest starred on the shows Murphy Brown and The Real Adventures of Johnny Quest. Kevin Conroy made his movie debut in Chain of Desire in 1992.

In the Naughts, in addition to voicing Batman in various DC Comics projects, he guest starred on the shows Ben 10: Alien Force and The Venture Brothers. On Batman: Brave and the Bold he voiced The Phantom Stranger and Batman of Zur-En-Arrh.

In the Teens Kevin Conroy continued to voice Batman. He also provided the voice of Zeus in the mini-series Shazam and was a guest voice on Turbo FAST and The Gang's All Here. He guest starred on The Daly Show. He was a regular voice on the series Welcome to the Wayne. He provided a voice for Jay and Silent Bob's Super Groovy Cartoon Movie (2013) and appeared in the movie Yoga Hosers (2016). In the Twenties he was a guest voice on the animated shows Masters of the Universe: Revelation and He-Man and the Masters of the Universe.

Kevin Conroy is considered by many, perhaps most fans as the definitive voice of Batman. When many hear the voice of Batman in their head, it is not Adam West, Michael Keaton, or Christian Bale they hear, but Kevin Conroy. If Kevin Conroy is the quintessential Batman, it is with good reason. He brought a suitable air of menace to the character, but with an underlying humanity. He drew upon his own life to channel a character whose life had been shaped by tragedy. More so than any other actor, Kevin Conroy brought out the fact that at his core, Batman was someone who had lost his parents at a very young age. This made it much easier for viewers to identify with Kevin Conroy's Batman than any Batman before or since.

Of course, Kevin Conroy played more roles than Batman. He played the extremely patient Captain Rusty Wallace on Tour of Duty. On Dynasty he played gay politician Bart Fallmount. He also had a successful stage career. He appeared on Broadway in Lolita in 1981. In 1989 he appeared in Eastern Standard, in which he played a television producer recently diagnosed with AIDS.

While Kevin Conroy was an extremely talented actor, he was also a true gentleman known for his kindness and thoughtfulness. Following the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks, Mr. Conroy volunteered to cook for firefighters, police officers, and other emergency service workers. He frequently attended conventions, where he would always take time with his fans, who always said that he was the nicest person one could meet. Kevin Conroy was also on Cameo, the video-sharing service that allows celebrities to send personalized messages to their fans. He was well-known for creating longer messages than he had to, taking time to let fans know how much they meant to him. Following Mr. Conroy's death, a DC Animated Universe fan shared on Twitter a Cameo video they had received from him following the death of their grandmother. Opening the video as Batman, Kevin Conroy shared his own experiences with death and grief and gave comfort to the fan. When it came to his fellow human beings, particularly his fans, Kevin Conroy always gave more than he was expected to. He was a kind, loving man who truly cared for his fellow human beings. In the end, Kevin Conroy not only played a superhero, he was a superhero.