Saturday, June 10, 2023

Popeye the Sailor: The 1960s TV Cartoons by Fred M. Grandinetti

Popeye the Sailor was one of the first multimedia superstars. He made his debut on January 17 1929 in E. C. Segar's comic strip Thimble Theatre. Thimble Theatre was nearly ten years old when Popeye first appeared, having debuted on December 19 1919. The comic strip originally centred on a character named Ham Gravy and his girlfriend Olive Oyl. Popeye was meant to only be a character in one storyline, but he proved to be so popular that he was brought back. It wasn't very long before Popeye became the main character in Thimble Theatre. It was also not long before Popeye expanded into other media beyond the newspaper strip. In 1933 Max Fleischer licensed Popeye to appear in a series of cartoons produced for Paramount Pictures. From 1935 to 1938 he appeared in  his own radio show. Popeye would also conquer the relatively new medium of comic books, receiving his own title, published by Dell Comics, in 1948. It was only a matter of time before he conquered the medium of television as well.

The theatrical shorts produced by Fleischer Studios and then Famous Studios proved to be very popular in television syndication. It was then in 1960 that King Features (the newspaper syndicate that owns Popeye) commissioned a new series of animated shorts made for television. This new series of television cartoons also proved to be phenomenally popular in television syndication, so that once more Popeye had conquered another medium. Despite their success, the Popeye the Sailor television cartoons have often been disparaged for their quality and even ignored altogether by historians. Popeye the Sailor: The 1960s TV Cartoons by Fred M. Grandinetti is an indepth look at the Popeye television cartoons. While acknowledging the poor quality of many of the cartoons, Popeye the Sailor: The 1960s TV Cartoons makes the case that many of the television cartoons were of superior in quality, with good, although limited animation and good plotlines.

Author Fred M. Grandinetti is a founding member of the Popeye Fan Club and has been writing about Popeye since 1983. He has written several books on Popeye, including Popeye: An Illustrated Cultural History, Popeye, the Collectible: Dolls, Coloring Books, Games, Toys, Comic Books, Animation, and He Am What He Am!: Jack Mercer, the Voice of Popeye, as well as numerous articles. It should then come as no surprise that Popeye the Sailor: The 1960s TV Cartoons contains a wealth of information on the Sailor Man, even beyond the television cartoons. Readers will learn about a good deal about the history of Thimble Theatre and the Fleischer Studios and Famous Studios theatrical shorts.

Author Fred M.
Grandenetti and dolls he had
specially made.
Popeye the Sailor: The 1960s TV Cartoons
details the production of the Popeye the Sailor televisions cartoons from the very beginning, when King Features Television Productions was formed. It covers producer Al Brodax (the head of King Features' film and television department) and the multiple studios that created the television cartoons. Author Fed M. Grandnetti addresses the quality of the cartoons, detailing which studios produced the cartoons that are lesser in quality as well as which studios produced those that are superior in quality. There are chapters devoted to the success of the Popeye the Sailor television cartoons, the characters in the cartoons, the vocal talent behind the cartoons, and the merchandising associated with the cartoons. To cap everything off is an episode guide, with a summary of each of the 220 cartoons.

Popeye the Sailor: The 1960s TV Cartoons features a number of photos, including advertisements from trade journals, newspaper ads, photos of the voice talent, stills from the cartoons, and more.

Popeye the Sailor: The 1960s TV Cartoons contains such a wealth of information, both on the history of Popeye and the cartoons themselves, that even those of us who consider ourselves knowledgeable about the character will learn a good deal that they did not know. For those of us who grew up with the Popeye television cartoons, it will also bring back many fond memories spent in front of the television set. Fred M. Grandinetti writes with an amiable style, making the book a very easy read. Ultimately Popeye the Sailor: The 1960s TV Cartoons would be a welcome addition to the collection of any Popeye fan.

Popeye the Sailor: The 1960s TV Cartoons is published by BearManor Media and is available through multiple booksellers.

Friday, June 9, 2023

Sheila James Kuehl: More Than Zelda Gilroy

Chances are very good that Sheila James Kuehl will always be remembered as Zelda Gilroy, the exceptionally intelligent girl who was always pursuing Dobie on the classic sitcom Dobie Gillis. While that may be the case, she had a career before being cast on Dobie Gillis and she would eventually a Juris Doctor at Harvard Law School. She would eventually become the first openly gay person to serve in the California General Assembly and later the California State Senate. She would also serve on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

Sheila Ann Kuehl was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma on February 9 1941. For her acting career she would take the stage name "Sheila James." Her acting career began when she was very young. She was only eight years old when she was cast on the radio show The Penny Singleton Show, starring Penny Singleton, Gale Gordon, and Jim Backus. It was her parents who encouraged Sheila James to audition for roles in television shows. She was eventually cast as Stu Erwin's tomboy daughter Jackie on The Stu Erwin Show. She appeared in 69 episodes of the show.

Sheila James also guest starred on the TV shows Four Star Playhouse, General Electric Theatre, My Little Margie, and Mayor of the Town. She had small roles in the movies After The Stu Erwin Show ended she guest starred on the shows The Loretta Young Show, Date with the Angels, The Betty White Show, The Bob Cummings Show, and How to Marry a Millionaire. Among these guest appearances her roles on The Bob Cummings Show are most significant. Future Dobie Gillis co-star (indeed, Dobie himself) Dwayne Hickman played Bob's nephew Chuck on the show. The director on the first episode on which Sheila James appeared was Rod Amateau, who served as producer on Dobie Gillis for its entire run and also directed the majority of the episodes. She was already appearing as Zelda on Dobie Gillis when she guest starred on the shows The Millionaire, National Velvet, and The New Loretta Young Show.

It was also after The Stu Erwin Show ended that Sheila James began attending the University of California, Los Angeles. During the summers she would serve as a counsellor at a children's camp. It was while working as a camp counsellor that she met a fellow counsellor named Kathy and fell in love with her. Because homosexuality was not accepted at the time, they chose to keep their relationship secret. The two would continue to exchange letters once Kathy went back to college in San Diego. Unfortunately, Sheila James's sorority would discover their letters and she was expelled from the sorority. The sorority assured her that nobody would be told why she was expelled, but rumours about her sexuality seemed to be spreading.

Dobie Gillis, under its original title The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, debuted on September 29 1959. The show was based on the "Dobie Gillis" short stories written by Max Shulman and first collected under the title The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis in 1959. Sheila James first appeared as Zelda Gilroy in what was only the third episode of the show, "Love is Science." Along with Dobie and his parents, Zelda was the only character on the TV show to have originated in Max Shulman's short stories. Originally, Zelda was only meant to appear in the one episode, but the character proved to be so popular that she was made a recurring character and then a semi-regular character.

The character of Zelda Gilroy proved popular enough that a pilot for her own show, Zelda, was produced. If it had been picked up it would have debuted during the 1962-1963 season. CBS was initially keen on the pilot and it did well with test audiences. Unfortunately, months passed without any word from the network. Finally, Sheila James asked producer and director Rod Amateau about the pilot and he told her that a network executive found her "too butch." The quote has often been attributed to James Aubrey himself, the president of CBS.

It is difficult to say if someone at CBS thinking Shelia James was "too butch" had an adverse effect on Sheila James's career. At the time she was still deep in the closet and it seems unlikely that anyone at the network would have discovered she was a lesbian. Regardless, in 1962 even rumours of homosexuality were enough to bring an actor's career to an end. And following the pilot for Zelda, Sheila James's career was never quite the same. After appearing throughout the third season of Dobie Gillis, she only appeared in four episodes of the show's fourth and final season. She guest starred on McHale's Navy, Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre, Petticoat Junction, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, and The Donna Reed Show.

Sheila James would be a regular on the single-season spinoff of McHale's Navy, Broadside. Afterwards she never again had a regular role on a TV series. She would also makes three guest appearances in a story arc on The Beverly Hillbillies.  She also guest starred on the shows The Bold Ones: The New Doctors; Marcus Welby, M.D.; Love, American Style; and Emergency!. Her last two appearances were both in projects related to Dobie Gillis. Whatever Happened to Dobie Gillis? was a 1977 half-hour pilot for a sequel series to Dobie Gillis that reunited much of the cast. In 1988 she appeared in the television reunion movie Bring Me the Head of Dobie Gillis, which reunited many of the surviving cast members.

Sheila James Kuehl eventually came out while she was attending Harvard Law School and in her second relationship with a woman. She became an associate at Richards, Watson & Gershon in Los Angeles, where she focused on municipal law, and then an associate at Bersch & Kaplowitz in Beverly Hills, where she focused on civil rights law and family law. Still later she became an adjunct law professor at the University of Southern California, and then an associate professor at Loyola Law School. She was elected to the California General Assembly in 1994 and then the California State Senate in 2000. In 2014 she was elected to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

Zelda Gilroy was a groundbreaking character when she appeared on Dobie Gillis. Intelligent girls were a rarity on television in the late Fifties and early Sixties. Intelligent girls who knew exactly what they wanted and went after what they wanted were practically unknown. Zelda then stood out from the many teenage girls on other shows. What is more, Sheila James played Zelda perfectly. It is impossible to think of anyone else ever playing the role. Of course, she played other roles beyond Zelda. She was memorable as UCLA sociology student Ginny Jennings on The Beverly Hillbillies. On Broadside she played a character very different from Zelda, the wisecracking, man-crazy WAVE  Selma Kowalski. It is sad that Sheila James's career slowed following Dobie Gillis, particularly given she seemed poised for stardom once cast on the show. Of course, following her acting career, Shelia James went into law and then politics, where she accomplished a good deal.

As mentioned above, it seems likely that Sheila James Kuehl will always be best remembered as Zelda Gilory. Even so, she played other roles and accomplished a good deal. Retired and living in Santa Monica, it seems likely she will accomplish yet more.

Thursday, June 8, 2023

The 80th Anniversary of the Zoot Suit Riots

The poster for the movie
Zoot Suit
It was from June 3 to June 8 1943 that a series of assaults were made upon Mexican American youths, as well as some Filipinos and African Americans, wearing zoot suits by white servicemen and some civilians. These attacks would collectively become known as "the Zoot Suit Riots," after the men's suit that was at the centre of it all. Given that white people wearing zoot suits were not attacked, the Zoot Suit Riots are considered to have their roots in anti-Mexican American racism.

As to the zoot suit itself, it is a men's suit with a long coat featuring wide lapels and padded shoulders, and with high-waisted, wide legged trousers pegged at the ankles. The zoot suit originated in Harlem and the Black communities in Chicago and Detroit in the 1930s. It was an adaptation of the drape suit, which originated in London in the 1920s and was popularized by Edward VIII, Duke of Windsor. The zoot suit was popularized by jump blues and jazz musicians, and the legendary Cab Calloway was known for his often exaggerated zoot suits.

By the late Thirties the zoot suit would be adopted by pachucos, young Mexican Americans who were influenced by jump blues, jazz, and swing music. Originating in El Paso, Texas, the pachuco subculture would spread rapidly to other parts of the United States, including Los Angeles. While the pachucos incorporated the zoot suit into their fashions, they also made the zoot suit all their own. Their zoot suits were often dark in colour (black, brown, charcoal grey, sharkskin, and so on) with pin stripes.

Like many youth cultures, particularly those of people of colour, the pachucos would become stereotyped in the media and elsewhere as criminals and members of youth gangs. In turn the zoot suit would become associated with violence and crime in the media. This fuelled anti-Mexican American sentiment in Los Angeles. With the United States' entry into World War II and the rationing that came about because of it, zoot suits would come to be viewed by some white Americans as "unpatriotic" given the amount of cloth any one zoot suit used.

Anti-Mexican American sentiment would increase after the Sleepy Lagoon case, in which  José Gallardo Díaz was found unconscious and dying near the reservoir known as "Sleepy Lagoon" in Commerce, California. The cause of his wounds remain a matter of question, and the autopsy at the hospital revealed he had been drinking and there was a fracture at the base of his skull. Regardless, The media framed José Gallardo Díaz's death as a murder and demanded action be taken against pachucos. The Los Angeles Police Department ultimately arrested seventeen young Mexican Americans despite having insufficient evidence.

It was mounting anti-Mexican American sentiment that would lead to the Zoot Suit Riots in June 1943. It was on June 3 1943 that eleven sailors departed from a bus and began to walk down Main Street in downtown Los Angeles. They then got into an alercation with a group of young Mexican Americans. The young Mexican Americans claimed that the sailors had started at all, while the sailors claimed the Mexican Americans had jumped an assaulted them. It was the following day that 200 sailors took 20 taxi cabs to East Los Angeles. Once there they proceeded to assault young men wearing zoot suits, stripping them of their suits and then burning the suits. The following days saw further assaults on young Mexican Americans by white servicemen. The police were under orders not to arrest the rioters, but they did arrest more than 500 Mexican Americans on everything from vagrancy to rioting. To make matters worse, the media's sympathies were with the white rioters, with some framing the riots as getting rid of "miscreants" and "hoodlums." Exceptions to this were such Black newspapers as The Chicago Defender and The Pittsburgh Courier, who were sympathetic to the Mexican American victims of the riots.  Horace R. Cayton of The Pittsburgh Courier blamed the violence on "non-Mexican servicemen," even going so far as to state the white rioters envied the zoot suiters and lusted after Mexican American women.

Eventually the white rioters would not only assault Mexican Americans, by young Filipinos and African Americans as well. It would be on June 8 that Navy and Marine Corps authorities in the Los Angeles area would confine sailors and Marines to quarters and declared the City of Los Angeles off-limited to them. This ended the Zoot Suit Riots, although both the Navy and Marines maintained the servicemen had been acting in self-defence.  The Zoot Suit Riots would lead to violence against Mexican Americans and members of other minorities wearing zoot suits in Chicago; Detroit; Evansville, Indiana; New York City; Oakland; Philadelphia; and San Diego.

The fallout from the Zoot Suit Riots included a formal protest from the Mexican Embassy to the State Department. Then California Governor Earl Warren established a committee, headed by Bishop Joseph McGucken, to investigate the causes of the riots.The committee determined that racism was at the root of the riots and noted the "aggravating practice" of the media to associate the zoot suit with crime.

Both the zoot suit itself and later the Zoot Suit Riots would have an impact on popular culture. In the mid-Forties it was not unusual for zoot suits to appear in movies, everything from the Tom & Jerry cartoon "Zoot Cat" (1944) to the musical Stormy Weather (1942). Later, in the Three Stooges short "Three Arabian Nuts" (1951), Shemp is featured in a zoot suit. The debut single of The High Numbers, soon to be renamed "The Who," was "Zoot Suit." On the 1975 Saturday morning sitcom The Ghost Busters, the lead character Eddie Spenser (Larry Storch) wore a zoot suit. In the 1976 Sanford and Son episode "The Escorts," Fred Sanford appears wearing a zoot suit.

The year 1978 would see two works drawing upon the Zoot Suit Riots for inspiration. The novel Zoot-Suits Murders by Thomas Sanchez in which the Zoot Suit Riots serve as a backdrop for a murder mystery. The play Zoot Suit by Luis Valdez draws upon both the Sleepy Lagoon case and the Zoot Suit Riots. It would later be adapted for the big screen as the movie Zoot Suit (1981). While zoot suits don't appear in the episode, the Zoot Suit Riots were referenced in the 8th season episode The Waltons, "The Medal," which a Chicano paratrooper who visits Walton's Mountain. The title character in the movie The Mask (1994) wore a zoot suit.  The zoot suit would make a comeback during the Swing Revival of the Nineties and as a result would appear in music videos from the era. Indeed, in 1997 the swing and ska band Cherry Poppin' Daddies recorded the song "Zoot Suit Riot." Their 1997 compilation album bore the same name.The 2018 novel Jazz Owls: A Novel of the Zoot Suit Riots was centred around the Zoot Suit Riots and was told in free verse. The 2020 graphic novel Lizard in a Zoot Suit is set in 1943 and features an anthropomorphic lizard wearing a zoot suit. Over the years there have also been many non-fiction books and documentaries on the Zoot Suit Riots.

The Zoot Suit Riots are certainly one of the darkest moments in the history of Los Angeles and remain one of the worst instances of racist violence in the city, or any other city for that matter. An argument can be made that the Zoot Suit Riots and other acts of violence against Mexican Americans during World War II would lead to the Chicano Movement of the Sixties and Seventies. The Zoot Suit Riots should certainly never be forgotten.

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

A Belated 19th Anniversary Post

On June 4 2023 A Shroud of Thoughts turned 19 years old. I generally do a special blog post each year on its anniversary, but this year it totally slipped my mind. During the month of May I was very concerned about my health, as I felt absolutely miserable. As it turned out, my blood pressure medication was not working and, worse yet, had saddled me with side effects (headaches, body pains, et. al.) that made me feel miserable. Fortunately, my cardiologist changed my medication and now I feel much better.

As to the origins of A Shroud of Thoughts, in 2004 blogs were a bit of fad. I had a lady friend who had one and it looked like it might be fun. Originally A Shroud of Thoughts was meant to be on a variety of subjects, some of them quite personal. It was not long before it evolved into the pop culture/nostalgia blog that it is today and the more personal posts fell by the wayside. As to the title, in 2004 the big trend in blog titles included words like "thoughts," "musings," et. al. I then took the title from a quote from Lord Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. I have to admit that I have since regretted not choosing a title more befitting a pop culture/nostalgia blog. Unfortunately, by the time I thought about changing it, the blog already had a readership and I feared changing the title might confuse my readers. It would be a bit like the movie That Thing You Do! (1996), "Whatever happened to The Oneders?" "Whatever happened to A Shroud of Thoughts?"

Next year A Shroud of Thoughts will turn 20, which astounds me. If someone told me in 2004 that I would still be writing this blog after 19 years, I would have thought they were joking. I hope to continue writing it for many more years to come.

Each year I post what I think were my best posts from the past year. Here are this year's best posts.

"The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars", June 16 2022

"The Lasting Influence of Vanessa Marquez", August 20 2022

"The 50th Anniversary of The Waltons", September 15 2022

"The TV series M*A*S*H Turns 50
", September 17 2022

"The 60th Anniversary of The Beverly Hillbillies", September 26 2022

"Seinfeld: 'The Cheever Letters", October 22 2022

"Kenny & Company (1976)"
, October 29 2022

"The 80th Anniversary of I Married a Witch (1942)", October 30 2022

"American Graffiti (1973)"
, November 20 2022

"The Norelco Santa Claus"
, December 16 2022

"The 54th Birthday of Vanessa Marquez", December 21 2022

"The 50th Anniversary of The Poseidon Adventure (1972)", December 30 2022

"Jack Carson, What a Character", January 7 2023

"The 30th Anniversary of Twenty Bucks (1993)", January 22 2023

"Barbarella (1968)", February 24 2023

"DC Comics Movie Serials of the Forties Part One", March 3 2023

"DC Comics Movie Serials of the Forties Part Two", March 4 2023

"The 1970-1971 Television Season: When the Networks Tried to Be 'Relevant'", March 18 2023

"The X-Files, "Home'", March 25 2023

The Week of My Four-Part Series on the 100th Anniversary of Warner Bros., April 4-April 7 2023

"Death Race 2000 (1975)", April 28 2023

"The 30th Anniversary of Blood In Blood Out (1993)", April 30 2023

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

The Late Great Barry Newman

Barry Newman, who starred in the movie Vanishing Point (1971) and the TV series Petrocelli, died May 11 2023 at the age of 92.

Barry Newman was born on November 7 1930 in Boston, Massachusetts. He graduated from Boston Latin School in 1948. He later graduated from Brandeis University. In 1952 he was drafted into the United States Army. He played saxophone and clarinet  in the 3rd Army Band. After he was discharged he attended Columbia University and received a master's degree in anthropology. One of his friends invited Mr. Newman to sit in on an acting class with Lee Strasberg. Barry Newman afterwards decided to abandon anthropology and take up acting, studying with Lee Strasberg himself.

In 1957 he made his debut on Broadway in Nature's Way. The following year he appeared on Broadway in Maybe Tuesday. He made his film debut in Pretty Boy Floyd in 1960. In the Sixties he appeared on Broadway in Night Life? and What Makes Sammy Run?. He made his television debut in an episode of Way Out in 1961. In the Sixties he had a brief, recurring role on the daytime serial The Edge of Night. He guest starred on the shows The Defenders, The United States Steel Hour, Naked City, Armstrong Circle Theatre, and Get Smart. He appeared in the movies The Moving Finger (1963) and The Lawyer (1970). It was in the latter that he originated the role of Tony Petrocelli.

It was in 1974 that Barry Newman reprised the role of Tony Petrocelli on the TV series Petrocelli, which was based on the movie The Lawyer. He appeared in the TV movies Night Games, Sex and the Married Woman, and King Crab. He appeared in the movies The Vanishing Point (1971), The Salzburg Connection (1972), Fear is the Key (1972), and City on Fire (1979).

In the Eighties he was one of the stars of the short-lived TV series Nightingales. He guest starred on the shows Quincy, M.E. and The Fall Guy. He appeared in the mini-series Fatal Vision. He appeared in the TV movies Fantasies, ...Deadline, Second Sight: A Love Story, and My Two Loves. He appeared in the movie Amy (1981). In the Nineties he guest starred on the TV shows Miss Marple; L.A. Law; Murder, She Wrote; JAG; NYPD Blue; and  Cupid. He appeared in the movies Daylight (1996), Next Year in Jerusalem (1997), Goodbye Lover (1998), Brown's Requiem (1998), The Limey (199), Bowfinger (1999), and G-Men from Hell (2000).

In the Naughts he had a brief, recurring role on The O.C. He guest starred on the TV shows The Cleaner and The Ghost Whisperer. He appeared in the movies Jack the Dog (2001), Good Advice (2001), True Blue (2001), 40 Days and 40 Nights (2002), Manhood (2003) and Grilled (2006). In the Teens he appeared in the film Raise Your Kids on Seltzer (2015).

Barry Newman was a very talented actor, something borne out by the fact that his two best known roles were very different. Kowalksi in The Vanishing Point was a reserved Vietnam vet and former police officer who is intent on delivering a 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T 440 Magnum as quickly as possible. Petrocelli was a Harvard educated lawyer who champions those innocent of the crimes of which they are accused. The one thing both characters had in common was that they liked to drive really fast. While both roles were very different, Barry Newman gave remarkable performances in both roles. On Miss Marple, in an adaptation of The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side, he played film producer Jason Rudd. In Fear is the Key, he played the protagonist John Talbot, a man accused of robbing a bank and killing a police officer who finds himself involved in intrigue. Barry Newman played a variety of roles throughout his career, from lawyers to doctors to yet other occupations, and he did all of them well.