Saturday, June 24, 2023

The Radio Show Escape

Paul Frees, one of the narrators
of Escape
is counted by many Old Time Radio aficionados among the greatest radio shows of all time. This is impressive given that it rarely had a regular time slot. It might disappear for weeks at a time to reappear in a whole, new time slot. It also aired without a sponsor, except for five months in 1950 when it was sponsored by Richfield Oil. Regardless, it proved to be somewhat popular. Debuting on CBS on July 7 1947, it ran until September 25 1954.

In many respects Escape was a sister show to the legendary anthology series Suspense. It was created by William N. Robeson, and by his own admission, Escape was "pretty darned close to Suspense. Even so, there were some fundamental differences between Suspense and Escape, beyond the fact that Suspense had a regular time slot and sponsors. Quite simply, while Suspense was devoted to thrillers and mystery, Escape was devoted to adventure. Another difference between the two shows was that while Suspense mostly featured original radio plays with the occasional adaptation of a novel, short story, or play, Escape mostly featured adaptations of a novel, short story or play with the occasional original radio play.

In keeping with its focus on adventure, episodes of the show would begin with the strains of Night on Bald Mountain by Modest Mussorgsky accompanied by an introduction voiced by William Conrad and later Paul Frees, "Tired of the everyday grind? Ever dream of a life of romantic adventure? Want to get away from it all? We offer you...Escape!"

While Escape was devoted to adventure stories, it featured episodes in a wide variety of genres. There were adaptations of classic action adventure yarns, including The Man Who Would Be King by Rudyard Kipling and "The Most Dangerous Game" by Richard Connell. There were also adaptations of works of science fiction, including The Time Machine by H. G. Wells and "Mars is Heaven" by Ray Bradbury. Other episodes would have been right at home on Suspense, with adaptations of Orient Express by Graham Greene, "The Lost Special" by Arthur Conan Doyle, and The Great Impression by  E. Phillips Oppenheim, Yet other episodes fell in the category of horror, including "Casting the Runes" by M. R. James, "The Fall of the House of Usher" by Edgar Allan Poe, "The Birds" by Daphne du Maurier. Some of the stories used on Escape would later be used on Suspense.

Episodes of Escape featured some well known actors, including Art Carney, Jack Webb, Hans Conreid, Jeff Corey, and Vincent Price, among others. Both William Conrad and Paul Frees, who served as narrators on the show at various times, would star in episodes.

Like Suspense, Escape also made its way to television. The television adaptation was handled by Wyllis Cooper, the legendary creator of the radio show Lights Out.  It was narrated by William Conrad. It would also feature some well known actors, including Kim Stanley, Lee Marvin, and Brian Keith. Unfortunately, the television version of Escape would not prove as successful as either the radio version of Escape or the television version of its sister show Suspense. Debuting on CBS on January 5 1950, it ended its run on March 30 1950 after thirteen episodes.

Escape aired one last time on September 25 1954. Its final episode was "The Heart of Kali." The majority of the 228 episodes of Escape have survived in good condition and are widely available on CD from Old Time Radio sites and on streaming sites as well. If you are ever tired of the everyday grind, then you can find Escape.

Friday, June 23, 2023

Save TCM

It was earlier this week that news of layoffs at Tuner Classic Movies broke. Among those laid off were Pola Changnon, general manager of TCM (who had been with the channel for 25 years), Charles Tabesh, senior vice president in charge of content and programming (who had been with TCM from the beginning), Genevieve McGillicuddy, vice president of enterprises and strategic partnerships (who organized the annual TCM Classic Film Festival), and Anne Wilson, vice president of studio production. The layoffs sent shock waves throughout TCM fandom, with many concerned that Turner Classic Movies may not have long to last. The hashtag SaveTCM began trending on Twitter and was still trending as of today. A campaign to save TCM by emailing David Zaslav and writing the Warner Discovery Board of Directors started almost immediately.

News of the layoffs was followed almost immediately by news that directors Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, and Paul Thomas Anderson, all of them ardent supporters of TCM, had met with David Zaslav, CEO of Warner Discovery, to discuss the future of the cable channel. The three directors issued a joint statement which said, among other things, "We are heartened and encouraged by the conversations we've had thus far, and we are committed to working together to ensure the continuation of this cultural touchstone that we all treasure." This statement allayed some of the fears held by many TCM fans, particularly given it came from Martin Scorsese, one of the most beloved figures in classic film fandom. Still, many TCM fans remain concerned that even if Turner Classic Movies is not closed down, it could be changed beyond all recognition. Hence the reason that the campaign to save TCM continues and the hashtag SaveTCM is continuing to trend on Twitter.

The fact is that if Turner Classic Movies were closed or if it was changed from what it has been for the past 29 years, it would be an enormous loss to the classic film community and to the cause of film preservation. As it is, laying off many of those responsible for the curation of films on TCM cannot help the channel in the short or long run. Indeed, not only do TCM fans know who Pola Changon, Charles Tabesh, and Genevieve McGillicuddy are, but we hold them in high esteem.Some fans were even privileged to call them friends. Those laid off were fellow classic film fans who insured that TCM continued its mission of showing classic films and never succumbed to  the temptation to show only the latest hits.

Indeed, while many of us discovered classic cinema on the independent television stations that proliferated in the Seventies and Eighties, there is a whole generation that discovered classic films on TCM. I don't know how many of my fellow TCM fans are Millennials or Zoomers who discovered the wonderful world of classic movies on the channel. The stereotype that TCM only appeals to an older audience is very, very false. For those of us who were already classic movie fans when TCM debuted in 1994, Turner Classic Movies would introduce us to many classics we had never seen before. TCM is where I first saw Baby Face (1933), It Happened on 5th Avenue (1947), Mystery Street (1950), The Loved One (1960), and many other favourites. Without Turner Classic Movies, my experience of classic movies would be much, much poorer.

Of course, Turner Classic Movies is much more than a cable channel. It is even more than a brand. For many of us it is an extension of our identities. We identify as TCM fans and we feel camaraderie with other TCM fans. And for many of us TCM has made a huge difference in our lives. I discovered many of my closest friends through TCM fandom, most through TCMParty, the informal group of fans who live tweet films shown on TCM using the hashtag of that name (and of which I was one of the original members). It was through TCMParty that I met the single most important person in my life, Vanessa Marquez. When Vanessa was murdered nearly five years ago, it was Turner Classic Movies and my fellow TCM fans who helped me get through those dark days following her death. I truly don't think I would be alive if it had not been for TCM and my fellow fans.

What is more, mine is not an isolated case. Others like me believe that TCM saved their lives. TCM has been a comfort to many suffering not only from grief, but from illness, divorce, or the loss of a job. Quite simply, Turner Classic Movies is a positive force in people's lives and it makes people's lives better. It has had an enormous impact on its fans. I don't think the same thing can be said about TLC or VH1 (at least in their current forms).

For those of you who want to save Turner Classic Movies, I would suggest writing the Warner Brothers Discovery Board of Directors at Board of Directors; Warner Discovery; c/o Office of the Corporate Secretary; 230 Park Avenue South; New York City, New York 10003. You can also email David Zaslav (if you're a TCM fan you have probably already seen his email address on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter--just search #SaveTCM). While I know many of you are angry (I know I am), by all means please be polite. Insults and disrespect won't accomplish anything. Simply explain why TCM is important and how it has had an impact on your life. I have already emailed David Zaslav. I plan to write the Board of Directors tomorrow.

Turner Classic Movies is different from other cable channels not only in that it shows classic movies, but in that it is an integral part of its fans' lives. Indeed, I have friends and acquaintances who work for the channel, and I am hardly alone in that. In many ways TCM and its employees, from the hosts to those working behind the scenes, are like family. More importantly, Turner Classic Movies has introduced new generations to classic cinema and proven pivotal in the preservation of classic movies. To lose TCM would not simply be a loss to TCM fans or the film industry, but to all of us.

Thursday, June 22, 2023

"Life on Mars?" by David Bowie

It was fifty years ago today that David Bowie's song "Life on Mars?" was released as a single. The song originally appeared on his 1971 album Hunky Dory. The song originated as a parody of "My Way" by Frank Sinatra. Despite the title, the song is not about the planet Mars or any life that might be there. When Hunky Dory was released, Davie Bowie summed "Life on Mars?" up as "A sensitive young girl's reaction to the media." This can be seen in such lyrics as "...And she's hooked to the silver screen"and "Oh man, wonder if he'll ever know/He's in the best selling show."

"Life on Mars?" went to no. 3 on the UK singles chart. Upon its initial release it did not chart in the United States. It remains one of David Bowie's best known songs and is considered by many to number among his best. The British TV series Life on Mars took its name from the song and featured it often. It has also appeared on various other TV shows and movies as well.

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Announcing the 10th Annual Rule, Britannia Blogathon

I am proud to announce the 10th Annual Rule, Britannia Blogathon, which will take place on September 22, 23, and 24 2023.

While many people think of Hollywood when they think of classic movies, the fact is that the United Kingdom made many significant contributions to film over the years. From the Gainsborough melodramas to Hammer Films to the British New Wave, cinema would be much poorer without the British.

Here are the ground rules for this year's blogathon:

1. Posts can be about any British film or any topic related to British films. For the sake of simplicity, I am using "British" here to refer to any film made by a company based in the United Kingdom or British Crown dependencies. If you want to write about a film made in Northern Ireland or the Isle of Man, then, you can do so. Also for the sake of simplicity, people can write about co-productions made with companies from outside the United Kingdom. For example, since 2001: A Space Odyssey is a British-American co-production, someone could write about it if they chose.

2. There is no limit on subject matter. You can write about any film in any genre you want. Posts can be on everything from the British New Wave to the Gainsborough bodice rippers to the Hammer Horrors. I am also making no limit on the format posts can take. You could review a classic British film, make an in-depth analysis of a series of British films, or even simply do a pictorial tribute to a film. That having been said, since this is a classic film blogathon,  I only ask that you write about films made before 2013. I generally don't think of a film as a classic until it has been around for thirty years, but to give bloggers more options I am setting the cut off point at ten years ago.

3. I am asking that there please be no duplicates. That having been said, if someone has already chosen to cover From Russia with Love (1963), someone else could write about the James Bond series as a whole.

4. I am not going to schedule days for individual posts. All I ask is that the posts be made on or between September 22, 23, and 24 2023.

If you want to participate in the Rule, Britannia Blogathon, you can simply comment below or get a hold of me on Twitter at mercurie80 or at my email:  mercurie80 at

Below is a roster of the participants:

A Shroud of Thoughts: Local Hero (1983)

The Stop Button:
A Matter of Life and Death

Realweegiemidget Reviews:  Melody (1971)

Taking Up Room: The Lady Vanishes (1938)

In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood: Tiger Bay (1959)

The Midnite Drive-In: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003)

Films From Beyond the Time Barrier: Island of Terror (1966)

Silver Screenings: Gaslight (1940)

Moon in Gemini
: Day of the Triffids

Classic Movie Man
: The Forbidden Street

Paula's Cinema Club: Midsomer Murders

: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Make Mine Film Noir: The Third Man (1949)

Liberal England:
Tunes of Glory (1960)

The Wonderful World of Cinema: The Italian Job (1969)

By Rich Watson
: The Red Shoes (1948)

Shadows and Satin: It  Always Rains on Sunday (1947)

Whimsically Classic: Brief Encounter (1945)

Below are graphics you can use for the blogathon or you can always make your own!

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

The 75th Anniversary of The Ed Sullivan Show

It was 75 years ago today, on June 20 1948, that The Ed Sullivan Show debuted on CBS under the title Toast of the Town. Ed Sullivan was a well known syndicated entertainment columnist. He had already hosted multiple radio shows, the first of which debuted in 1932. From 1943 to 1944 he hosted the radio show Ed Sullivan Entertains, a variety show which served as a template for his television show. It was Marlo Lewis, then with the Blaine Thompson Advertising agency, who convinced CBS to hire Ed Sullivan as the host of a weekly variety show in 1948.

The show debuted under the title Toast of the Town, but was known informally as "The Ed Sullivan Show"years before it was officially retitled The Ed Sullivan Show on September 25 1955. It featured its own regular performers, including ventriloquist Señor Wences and the Italian mouse puppet Topo Gigio. The Ed Sullivan Show was well known for its wide variety of performers, from acrobatic troupes to performances from Broadway shows to the latest, popular music acts. It was notable for the live television debuts of many notable performers, including Martin and Lewis, Bob Hope, Dinah Shore, Fred Astaire, Eddie Fisher, The Beatles, and The Beach Boys, among others.

The Ed Sullivan Show proved to be a hit for CBS and ran for 24 seasons. It was still popular when it was cancelled in 1971 as part of the Rural Purge. Quite simply, most of its viewers were too old, older than the key demographic of 18 to 54 desired by the networks and advertisers. As it is, The Ed Sullivan Show probably would not have survived much longer. It was in September 1974 that Ed Sullivan was diagnosed with an advanced stage of oesophageal cancer. He died on October 13 1974 at the age of 73. Of course, one could not have The Ed Sullivan Show without Ed Sullivan.

On the occasion of the 60th anniversary of The Ed Sullivan Show I wrote a much more detailed post. You can read it here.

Monday, June 19, 2023

Happy Juneteenth 2023

The Juneteenth flag designed by Ben Haith in 1997.

Today is Juneteenth, also known as Emancipation Day, Freedom Day, and Juneteenth Independence Day. It was on January 1 1863 that Abraham Lincoln issued the final Emancipation Proclamation, freeing all enslaved people in the Confederate States of America. It would take some time to enforce the Proclamation in more remote areas. It was then on June 19 1965 that Major General Gordon Granger  of the United States Army came to the island of Galveston, Texas. He was take command of the Union troops there to enforce the emancipation of the slaves there. It was then that an order declaring that all slaves were free in accordance with the Emancipation Proclamation was read. This effectively ended slavery in the South, although it would continue in the Border States of  Delaware and Kentucky until the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified on December 9 1965.

It was then a year later, on June 19 1866 that the first Juneteenth celebration was held. That day the formerly enslaved people of Galveston gathered to celebrate "Jubilee Day." Juneteenth celebrations would spread from Gavelston to other parts of Texas. As the name, "Juneteenth," it dates back to the 1890s.

The holiday was officially recognized by the State of Texas in 1938 when then Governor James Allred issued a proclamation set aside June 20 1938 for observance of Emancipation Day (June 19 fell on a Sunday that year).  The Great Migration of African Americans between 1910 and 1970 would spread the celebration to other parts of the United States. The celebration of Juneteenth would decline in the mid-20th Century, only to be revived in the late Sixties and the Seventies. It was in the late Seventies that Juneteenth was recognized by the State of Texas as an official state holiday. Since then it was recognized by other states. It became a Federal holiday with the signing of the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act on June 17 2021.

Wishing everyone a very happy Juneteenth!