Wednesday, April 12, 2023

A Pictorial Tribute to Ann Miller

Ann Miller was born 100 years ago today. Long time readers of this blog probably realize that I am a big fan of Miss Miller. Indeed, she is my favourite dancer in motion pictures and one of my favourite actresses. I certainly think she was gorgeous, with dark hair and long legs. More importantly, she was an incredibly talented dancer. In fact, she has been credited as the fastest tap dancer in Golden Age of Hollywood.  She was also a talented actress, and played everything from the ambitious Nadine in Easter Parade (1948) to anthropologist Claire in On the Town (1949). For obvious reasons, Ann Miller was a popular pin-up from the early Forties into the late Fifties. I swear she did pinup pictures for nearly every major holiday. Here at A Shroud of Thoughts I am guessing she is the one actress to appear in nearly every one of my holiday pinup posts.

Ann Miller was born Johnnie Lucille Collier on April 12 1923 in in Chireno, Texas. As a child she was afflicted with rickets. It was then that she began dance lessons at age five in an effort to strengthen her legs. Her parents divorced when she was nine years old, and she moved from Houston to Los Angeles with her mother. Her mother was almost entirely deaf, so that finding work was difficult for her. Ann Miller was five foot five when she was only twelve and looked older than she really was. It was then that she began dancing professionally to make a living for the family, taking the stage name "Ann Miller." By age 13 she was a showgirl at the Bal Tabarin in San Francisco. Still only 13, she became a dancer at the Black Cat Club in San Francisco. It was either at the Bal Tabarin or the Black Cat Club that she was discovered by Lucille Ball and talent agent Benny Rubin. She was signed to RKO, falsely claiming to be 18.

At RKO Ann Miller appeared in several movies, including Stage Door (1937), You Can't Take It With You (1938), and Room Service (1938). In 1941 she signed with Columbia Pictures, where she appeared in a number of B musicals, starting with Time Out for Rhythm (1941). Her contract with Columbia ended in 1945, after which she made a number of musicals for MGM, including Easter Parade (1948), On the Town (1949), Lovely to Look At (1952), Kiss Me Kate (1952), and The Opposite Sex (1957). Ann Miller's last movie for several years was The Great American Pastime (1956). By the mid-Sixties the Hollywood musical was going out of fashion, and the cinema had lost ground to television.

Ann Miller turned from the cinema to the stage, appearing in such productions as Can-Can, Mame, Hello Dolly, Sugar Babies, and others. She also made infrequent appearances on television, appearing on such shows as Lux Video Theatre; Love, American Style; The Love Boat; and Home Improvement. In 1971 she starred in a famous commercial for The Great American Soup, created by Stan Freberg, that played as a production number of the sort seen in the classic Hollywood musicals. Her last two movies were Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976) and Mulholland Drive (2001).  Ann Miller died at age 80 from lung cancer on January 22 2004.

Below a number of photos of Ann Miller, including many of her famous holiday themed pinups.

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

The Late Great Al Jaffee

Al Jaffee, the longest running contributor to Mad, died on April 10 2023 at the age of 102. Among other things, he was responsible for such Mad features as the Mad Fold-In and "Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions." According to Guinness World Records, he holds the record for the longest career of any comic artist. While its longest running contributor, Al Jaffee always worked as a freelancer and was never on the staff of Mad.

Al Jaffee was born Abraham Jaffee on March 13 1921 in Savannah, Georgia. He spent part of his childhood in Zarasai, Lithuania, before returning to the United States to live with his father in Far Rockaway, New York. He attended the High School of Music and Art in New York. He took up the name "Al" as a means of avoiding anti-Semitism during World War II. He served in the United States Army. During the war he worked as an art instructor at a rehabilitation centre and later at the Pentagon where he made posters and pamphlets as part of the war effort.

He began his career in comic books in 1942 with a parody of Superman called "Inferior Man" for Will Eisner's studio. The character in copies of  Military Comics, published by Quality Comics. That same year he worked on Joker Comics, a title published by would later become Marvel Comics. At what would become Marvel, he created the humour feature "Ziggy Pig and Silly Seal." Mr. Jaffee worked for what would become Marvel Comics following World War II.

It was in 1955, following its transition from a traditional comic book to a magazine format, that Al Jaffee's work first appeared in Mad. Al Jaffe also contributed to the magazines Trump and Humbug (both published in 1957), edited by Harvey Kurtzman, who had been the editor on Mad. From 1957 to 1963 he drew the comic strip Tall Tales for the New York Herald-Tribune. It was syndicated to over 100 newspapers. In the late Sixties and early Seventies he scripted the comic strips Debbie Deere and Jason.

From April 1964 to April 2013, only one issue of Mad did not include new material created by Al Jaffee. He introduced the Mad Fold-In in 1964. His regular feature "Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions" also originated in Mad in the Sixties. He retired in 2020 at the age of 99.

Al Jaffee was an extraordinary talent. Throughout his work he consistently poked fun at the idiocy and incompetence with which one so often meets in life. These themes are particularly seen in his "Snappy Answers for Stupid Questions," but also in his Mad Fold-In. His work was not only filled with humour, but wit and sophistication as well. Quite simply, Al Jaffee was one of the great humorists of the 20th and 21st Centuries.

Sunday, April 9, 2023

Happy Easter 2023

Here at A Shroud of Thoughts we realize that many people like a bit of cheesecake along with their Easter eggs and Peeps. Here then are this years selection of vintage pinups.

First up is Vera-Ellen, who's helping the Easter Bunny deliver eggs!

Next is Mary Tyler Moore, who is painting eggs with mice (or maybe they're supposed to be bunnies...).

Next is Marla English, who's dressed as the Easter bunny.

Here's Lillian Harvey playing with toy bunnies.

Adele Jergens relaxing in the hay with bunnies.

And here's Ann Miller with bunnies!

Happy Easter!