Saturday, October 21, 2023

The 100th Anniversary of Disney Part Two

Founded in 1923 as the Disney Brothers Studio, Walt Disney Productions established itself as one of the top producers of theatrical cartoons and the foremost producer of animated features. In 1950 the studio broke into live-action feature film production with Treasure Island (1950). It was only four years later that the studio would expand into television as well.

Walt Disney wanted to produce a television show that would help finance his planned amusement park, Disneyland. His proposal was rejected by both CBS and NBC, and so Walt Disney turned to ABC, then struggling to survive against the two older, established networks. He signed with ABC on March 29 1954, and the TV show Disneyland debuted on the network on October 27 1954. As originally conceived, Disneyland was an anthology series with themes based on what would be the four main parts of Walt Disney's planned amusement park: Adventureland, Fantasyland, Frontierland, and Tomorrowland. The episodes of the show were then eclectic, everything from classic Disney cartoons to documentaries to scripted adventure mini-series such as Davy Crockett. As might be expected, the show featured teasers for the planned amusement park Disneyland. Disneyland proved to have a hit on its hand with the mini-series Davy Crockett, which first aired on Disneyland on December 15 1954. Davy Crockett became an outright fad in 1955. Ultimately, Disneyland itself proved to be a hit, coming in at no. 6 for the year in the Nielsen ratings.

The success of Disneyland led ABC to pick up two more shows from Walt Disney Productions. The Mickey Mouse Club in 1955 and Zorro in 1957. As to Disneyland itself, it was retitled Walt Disney Presents in 1958. ABC and Walt Disney would have a falling out, in part because the network refused to sell its stake in the amusement park Disneyland and would not do so until 1960. Another problem between ABC and Walt Disney is that he wanted the show to air in colour, and ABC was not anywhere near to moving towards colour broadcasting. Walt Disney's anthology series then moved to NBC, who already had facilities for colour and had already broadcast various programs in colour. The show was then retitled Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color and first aired on NBC on September 24 1961. It would remain on NBC for 19 years, with its title changing in 1969 to The Wonderful World of Disney and then again to Disney's Wonderful World in 1979. In 1981 it moved to CBS where it aired two more years. Since then the show has returned from time to time under different titles, and still airs from time to time on ABC. It was in 1996 that Disney bought ABC and has owned it ever since.

As to Walt Disney's amusement park, Disneyland, he first conceived it after visiting Griffith Park in Los Angeles with his daughters and watching them ride the merry-go-round there. Initially called Disneylandia, Walt Disney finally settled on the name Disneyland. His brother Roy had some doubts about Disneyland, and so Walt Disney founded a separate company for the amusement park, originally called Walt Disney Enterprise and then W.E.D. Enterprises. It was in 1953 that Walt Disney bought 160 acres near Anaheim, California where the park would be located.

Disneyland opened on July 17 1955. While the opening day did not go particularly well, with rides malfunctioning and the restaurants running out of food, Disneyland would soon be running properly and proved to be a success. It success would lead to the opening of a second resort, Walt Disney World, in Florida in 1971. Since then several more Walt Disney theme parks have opened around the world.

The mid-Fifties would prove to be an active time for Walt Disney Productions. Until that time, the studio had been dependent on others to distribute their films, with Columbia distributing their animated theatrical shorts in the early days, United Artists in the mid-Thirties, and RKO for much of the Golden Age of Animation. In 1953 RKO showed little enthusiasm for Walt Disney Productions' feature length nature documentary The Living Desert, and so the two studios entered into a dispute. Ultimately, Walt and Roy Disney formed their own subsidiary of Walt Disney Productions to handle distribution. It was named Buena Vista Film Distribution Company Inc. after the street in Burbank where the Disney studio was and still is located. The Walt Disney Company would discontinue the use of Buena Vista in its branding in 2007.

The Sixties saw Walt Disney Productions expand into new film genres. In 1961 they released their first live-action musical, Babes in Toyland, which failed both with critics and at the box office. While Babes in Toyland proved to be a failure, their next live-action musical, Mary Poppins, proved to be a roaring success. Released in 1964, it received overwhelmingly positive reviews from critics. What is more, it was nominated for several Academy Awards and won the Oscars for Best Actress for Julie Andrews, Best Film Editing for Cotton Warburton, Best Music Score – Substantially Original for the Sherman Brothers, and Best Special Visual Effects. It also proved to be a hit at the box office, becoming the top grossing film in the United States in 1964. It was also during the Sixties that Walt Disney Productions released several successful comedies, including The Parent Trap (1961) and That Darn Cat! (1965).

Unfortunately, after seeing a good deal of success in the Fifties and Sixties, Disney began to falter in the Seventies. By the early Eighties, the majority of the studio's profits actually came from its theme parks rather than its movies and films. With the studio in decline, Disney began to shake up the sort of films they released. The science fiction movie The Black Hole (1979) would be the first PG-rated movie the studio ever released. In 1982 Disney released Tron (1982), one of the first movies to make extensive use of computer-generated imagery.

With Disney's fortunes continuing to decline and many thinking of the studio as releasing primarily children's fare, it was in 1984 that the subsidiary Touchstone Pictures would be founded. Touchstone Films was meant to release movies directed at primarily adult audiences and with more mature themes. It was renamed Touchstone Pictures in 1986, the same year it released its first R-rated film, Down and Out in Beverly Hills (1986). Touchstone also produced television series under the name Touchstone Television, staring with the TV series Wildside in 1984. Touchstone Television would see a good deal of success with The Golden Girls. Home Improvement, and other shows. Although Touchstone Pictures still exists, Touchstone Television would be renamed ABC Television Studio in 2007 and Disney would move away from releasing films under the Touchstone banner and releasing them under Walt Disney Pictures instead.

Touchstone would not be the only subsidiary established by Disney in the Eighties to release more adult fare. Hollywood Pictures was formed in 1989 to release films similar to Touchstone, although the the films released under Hollywood Pictures had even more mature themes than those released under Touchstone. Among the movies released by Hollywood Pictures were Arachnophobia (1990), Encino Man (1992), Blood In Blood Out (1993), Father Hood (1993), The Joy Luck Club (1993), and Quiz Show (1994). While Touchstone saw a good deal of success, Hollywood Pictures saw only a little. In 2001 Hollywood Pictures was phased out. The name would be revived briefly in 2006 for low-budget movies.

It was in 1986 that Walt Disney Productions was renamed the Walt Disney Company, the name it has borne ever since. It would be in 1991 that the Walt Disney Company entered into a feature film agreement with Pixar. Pixar had originated as The Graphics Group at Lucasfilm. Pixar became an independent company in 1986. It was in 1995 that Pixar's first feature film was released, Toy Story (1995). The entirely computer animated film proved to be a success, and established Pixar as a studio. Since then Pixar has released several hit movies. It was in 2006 that the Walt Disney Company bought Pixar and so the studio became a subsidiary of Disney. Despite this Pixar has retained something of its independence, with its movies released under the "Pixar" label.

Of course, Pixar would not be the only company acquired by Disney. In 2004 Disney acquired the Muppets franchise from the Jim Henson Company. In 2009 Disney acquired Marvel Comics. In 2012 Disney bought Lucasfilm, a move which has proven controversial given some Star Wars fans' doubts about the company's stewardship of the franchise. It was in 2019 that Disney acquired 20th Century Fox, a move that would prove controversial among classic movie buffs who have accused Disney of vaulting classic 20th Century Fox movies.

It was in 2005 that Disney released it first entirely computer animated movie, Chicken Little (2005) under the Disney brand, ten years after Pixar's Toy Story. Chicken Little would receive largely negative reviews from critics, although it performed moderately well at the box office. It was in 2009 that the Walt Disney Company released its last traditional cel animated feature film, much to the disappointment of fans of cel animation.The Princess and the Frog (2009) received good notices from critics. While it did moderately well at the box office, it still performed below expectations. Disney's disappointment at the box office performance of The Princess and the Frog at the box office would lead the studio to rename its upcoming, computer animated film Rapunzel, "Tangled," to distance the film from the princes concept.

The 21s Century has seen Disney expand into new areas. In 2019, when Disney acquired 20th Century Fox, it also acquired a 60% stake in the streaming service Hulu. It was that May that Comcast relinquished its stake in Hulu to Disney, making the streaming service entirely owned by the studio. It was later that year that the Walt Disney Company launched the streaming service Disney+. The difference between Hulu and Disney+ is that Disney+ primarily features films and TV shows produced by Walt Disney Studios, while Hulu includes products from other companies as well.

One hundred years after being founded by Walt and Roy Disney, the Walt Disney Company has become a juggernaut in the entertainment industry. They have gone from being an independent animation studio to be an independent studio that produced both animation and live action, and finally one of the major studios. There can be no doubt that Disney had left its imprint on popular culture. Many of the characters that originated in their theatrical animated shorts, from Mickey Mouse to Chip & Dale, remain popular. Disney comic books from the Golden Age and Silver Age are highly sought after collectibles. Disney has highly successful theme parks around the world. Merchandise featuring the Disney characters, from Donald Duck to the Disney Princesses, still fill store shelves. In 1923 the Disney Brothers Studio was one of several animation studios. Today the Walt Disney Company is so much more.

Friday, October 20, 2023

The 100th Anniversary of Disney Part One

It was on October 16 1923 that Walt and Roy Disney founded the Disney Brothers Studio, later known as Walt Disney Studios, Walt Disney Productions, and, currently, the Walt Disney Company. During the Golden Age of Hollywood, Walt Disney Studios was one of the top producers of animated shorts and the top producer of animated features. They would expand into production of live action features and television in the Fifties. From their beginnings 100 years ago, the Walt Disney Company has gone from an independent studio dedicated to animation to one of the major studios in the American film industry.

The origins of the Walt Disney Company go back to Laugh-O-Gram Studio, founded on June 28 1921 by Walt Disney and animator Ub Iwerks. Walt Disney had been contracted by Milton Feld, the manager of the local theatre chain, Newman's Theatres, to create a series of animated shorts to be called "Newman's Laugh-O-Grams." In addition to Ub Iwerks, Laugh-O-Gram would employ other soon-to-be legendary animators, including Firz Freleng, Hugh Harman, and Ruby Isling. Unfortunately, Newman's Theaters declared bankruptcy only a few months into their deal with Walt Disney. It was after they had completed some of the editing on the short "Alice's Wonderland" that Laugh-O-Gram itself was forced to declare bankruptcy. Walt Disney moved to Los Angeles to live with his uncle Robert and his brother Roy, taking the incomplete "Alice's Wonderland" with him. "Alice in Wonderland" starred Virginia Davis in the title role and was notable for combining live-action with animation.

In Los Angeles, Walt Disney showed "Alice's Wonderland" around and eventually he was able to get a contract to produce an entire series of "Alice Comedies." The short "Alice's Day at Sea" would become the first animated short to originate at Disney Brothers Studio. They would continue to produce the "Alice Comedies" from 1924 to 1928. It was in 1927 that Charles Mintz approached Walt Disney about producing a series of animated shorts for Universal Pictures. It was then that Walt Disney Studio (the Disney Brothers Studio having been renamed in 1926) created Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Oswald proved to be very popular, so that in 1928 Walt Disney asked for a larger fee for his films. Unfortunately, Universal Pictures owned the rights to the character, and Charles Mintz simply hired away four of Walt Disney's animators to make the films.

Of course, this left Walt Disney Studio without a character to star in their cartoons. It was while the Walt Disney Studio was producing their last Oswald the Lucky Rabbit shorts that Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks conceived a new character. They came up with a character called "Mortimer Mouse," but Walt Disney's wife Lillian convinced him to change the name. Mortimer Mouse then became Mickey Mouse. Mickey Mouse made his debut in the short "Plane Crazy," on May 15 1928. The character failed to make an impression with audiences in the short. A second short starring Mickey Mouse, "The Gallopin' Gaucho," was completed, but was not released until sound was added it to it later. "Steamboat Willie' was the third Mickey Mouse cartoon to be produced and the second to be released. "Steamboat Willie" differed from the first two Mickey Mouse cartoons in that it was produced with sound, making it one of the earliest cartoon talkies to ever be produced.

"Steamboat Willie" proved to be a hit and Mickey Mouse's popularity soon approached that of Felix the Cat, the top animated character of the time. By the early Thirties Mickey Mouse was the most popular star of animated shorts. Walt Disney Studio would follow Mickey Mouse with other popular animated characters. Donald Duck first appeared in the short "The Wise Little Hen" in 1931. Donald Duck would also prove to be very successful, so that by the mid-Forties he became more popular than Mickey Mouse himself. It was in the 1932 short that Walt Disney Productions introduced a character named "Dippy Dog." He would have a larger role in the 1932 Mickey Mouse short "The Whoopee Party." It was with the 1934 short "Orphan's Benefit" that he was renamed "Goofy." He would graduate to his own cartoon series in 1939 with ""Goofy and Wilbur."

It was following the success of "Steamboat Willie" that Walt Disney launched a new series of shorts that generally did not feature continuing characters. The "Silly Symphonies" combined animation with pieces of music. The series would be notable in its use of the multiplane motion picture camera, as well as Technicolor. The success of the "Silly Symphonies" would lead other studios to adopt similar names for their series of animated cartoons, for instance Warner Bros.' "Merrie Melodies" and "Looney Tunes."

It was in 1929 that Walt Disney Studio was incorporated as "Walt Disney Productions." The change in name was perhaps fitting given it would enter into the production of its first feature film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, in 1934. When Walt Disney announced the project, it was met with such scepticism that it was often called "Disney's Folly." As it was, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs proved costly to produce, with a budget that eventually grew to $1,488,422.74. It also took some time to produce. With production beginning in 1934, it was not completed until 1937. Premiering at the the Carthay Circle Theatre in Hollywood on 21 December 1937, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs proved its sceptics wrong. Not only did the film receive largely positive reviews, it became the highest grossing film of all-time until surpassed by Gone with the Wind (1939).

In its early days Walt Disney Productions was a pioneer in movie merchandising. Following the incorporation of the studio Walt Disney Productions, on December 16 1929 a division to handle merchandising, Walt Disney Enterprises, was created. A "Mickey Mouse" newspaper comic strip debuted on January 13 1930. That same year there would be a Mickey Mouse doll.  By 1934 there would be  Mickey Mouse watches manufactured by Ingersoll Watch Company. Mickey Mouse was not the only character merchandised by Disney in its early days. The 1933 "Silly Symphony" short "Three Little Pigs" would also be merchandised, with a book, figurines, a game, and so on. As might be expected, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was also heavily merchandised. There was a newspaper comic strip adaptation of the film, a soundtrack album (making it one of the first films to have a soundtrack album), radios, banks, books, dolls, games, and much more. Among the Disney merchandise produced in the Thirties were Halloween costumes based on Disney characters manufactured by F. S. Fishbach, Inc., which would be bought out by Ben Cooper in 1937.

With their 1941 feature film The Reluctant Dragon, Walt Disney Productions made history. It was their first feature film to incorporate live-action. The Reluctant Dragon would make a modest profit, but unfortunately this would not be the case for some of Disney's animated feature films in the early Forties. While Pinocchio (1940) received positive reviews and won the Academy Awards for Best Original Score and Best Original Song, it performed poorly at the box office. The same would be true of Fantasia (1940) and Bambi (1942). To make matters worse, it was in 1941 that 300 of Walt Disney Productions' animators went on strike for five weeks, demanding unionization and higher wages. Sadly, Walt Disney would fire many of the strikers. Ultimately, Federal mediators urged the studio to recognize the Screen Cartoonists Guild. The strike would cost Walt Disney Productions dearly. Several animators left the studio, so that in the end they were left with only 694 employees.

During World War II Walt Disney Productions produced propaganda films in order to rally Americans to support the war. The Forties would also see Walt Disney Productions produce a number of package films, films that would feature two or more animated films. The first of these was Saludos Amigos (1943), which had been commissioned by the United States Department of State as part of the Good Neighbour Policy, a policy began by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to promote goodwill towards Latin America. Saludos Amigos would be followed by several more package films, the last of which would be The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad in 1949.

It was in 1948 that Walt Disney Productions began producing a series of live-action, education shorts called "True-Life Adventures." The shorts focused on nature, with entries on seals, bears, elk, and lions. The series would be produced until 1960. "True-Life Adventures" would lead to the 1953 feature film The Living Desert, the first feature-length nature documentary produced by Walt Disney Productions.

The year 1950 would prove to be historic for Walt Disney Productions. Early in the year saw the release of Cinderella (1950), the studio's first animated feature film that was not a package film in eight years. It proved to be Disney's biggest financial success since Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and also received positive reviews from critics as well. It was later in the year that Treasure Island (1950) was released. Treasure Island was Disney's first completely live-action feature film. It proved to be a success at the box office, so that Walt Disney Productions has continued to produce live-action movies ever since.

It was also in 1950 that Walt Disney Productions would have their first exposure on television. The television special One Hour in Wonderland was produced by Disney to promote their upcoming feature Alice in Wonderland (1951). Walt Disney hosted the special, with  appearances by Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, Bobby Driscoll, Kathryn Beaumont (the voice of Alice in the feature film), and others. One Hour in Wonderland was aired on NBC on December 25 1950. It would only be in a few years that viewers would be exposed to Disney every week. A company that had originated as an animated studio would soon expand into television and beyond.

Thursday, October 19, 2023

The Late Great Dwight Twilley

Power pop Dwight Twilley died yesterday, October 18 2023, at the age of 72. On Saturday he had a stroke while driving and his car crashed into a tree. He died four days later in the hospital. Dwight Twilley was best known for his hits "I'm On Fire" and "Girls."

Dwight Twilley was born on June 6 1951 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He had taken an interest in music while young and was an Elvis Presley, but it was seeing The Beatles' appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show that led him to pursue music as a career. While still in junior high he formed his first band, The Intruders. It was at a screening of The Beatles' movie A Hard Day's Night (1964), that he met future collaborator Phil Seymor. They formed a band called Oisler, splitting the duties of lead vocals between them. In 1969 they left Tulsa for Memphis, Tennessee. They returned to Tulsa and then in late 1974 the band Oisler went to Los Angeles. They signed with Shelter Records, who insisted they change their name to the Dwight Twilley Band. It in one night at Church Studio that the Dwight Twilley Band recorded their hit "I'm On Fire." It was released in April 1975.

"I'm on Fire" proved to be a hit, going to no. 16 on the Billboard Hot 100. The single was followed by the Dwight Twilley Band's first album, Sincerely. Unfortunately, the Dwight Twilley Band was not able to capitalize on the momentum from "I'm on Fire." Dwight Twilley and Phil Seymour both sang on the debut album of fellow Shelter artists Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers. Their second album, Twilley Don't Mind, was released in September 1977. While it reached no. 70 on the Billboard album chart, none of their singles charted. The Dwight Twilley Band split up only a few months after the release of Twilley Don't Mind.

Dwight Twilley became a solo artist and his first album as such, Twilley, was released in 1979. Dwight Twilley's second album as a solo artist, Blueprint, was rejected by Arista Records. As a result, his next album would not be released until 1982. Scuba Divers performed better than Twilley, reaching no 109 on the Billboard album chart. Jungle, released in 1984, produced Dwight Twilley's second hit single. "Girls" reached no. 16 on the Billboard Hot 100. The second single from the album, "A Little Bit of Love," reached no. 77 on the chart.

Unfortunately, Dwight Twilley would not see the success on the chart that he had with  Jungle again. He left EMI America for Private I Records, for whom he recorded his next album Wild Dogs. The album failed to chart. His next album, The Luck, would remain unreleased for several years. In fact, his album Tulsa would be released before it was, in 1999. The Luck was finally released in 2001. His final album, Always, was released in 2014 and featured Ken Stringfellow of The Posies and Mitch Easter, known as the front man of Let's Active and a producer for R.E.M.

Dwight Twilley was a true pioneer in power pop. The Dwight Twilley Band's single "I'm on Fire" hit at a time when only a few power pop artists (Badfinger, The Raspberries) had charted before. They would pave the way for other power pop acts, including Cheap Trick, The Knack, and The Romantics. He would influence such acts as The Posies and Matthew Sweet. Dwight Twilley's music was archetypal power pop. It was characterized by Beatlesque harmonies and clear, crisp guitars. It is sad that while Dwight Twilley was often a darling of the critics, for the most part he rarely saw success on the charts. Among the innovators of power pop, his music really deserves to be heard.

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

The Late Great Keith Giffen

Keith Giffen, the comic book artist and writer who created Ambush Bug, Blue Beetle (Jaime Reyes), Lobo, and Rocket Raccoon, died on October 9 2023 at the age of 70. The cause was a stroke. Much of his career was spent with DC Comics, where he had long runs on the titles Justice League and Legion of Super-Heroes.

Keith Giffen was born on November 20 1952 in Queens, New York. He was first published in Marvel Premiere no. 4 (January 1976). In the Seventies, at Marvel, he also worked on such titles as Amazing Adventures, Deadly Hands of Kung Fu, The Defenders, Iron Man, and Super-Villain Team-Up. With Bill Mantlo he created Rocket Raccoon, who made his first appearance in Marvel Preview no. 7 (summer 1976). Mr. Giffen would do later work at Marvel on such titles as Annihilation, Beast, Captain Marvel, Daredevil, Excalibur, Fantastic Four, Marvel Comics Presents, Marvel Westerns, Micronauts, Nick Fury's Howling Commandos, and Spectacular Spider-Man.

His first work for DC Comics was also in 1976, on All-Star Comics no. 60 (June 1976). In the Seventies he also worked on the DC titles Challengers of the Unknown, Claw the Unconquered, Kamandi, and Kobra. It was in 1982 that he began work on Legion of Super-Heroes. He would continue working on titles featuring the Legion of Super-Heroes into the Nineties. His run on Justice League began in 1987 and would last until 1992. He would work on various Justice League titles on and off into the Naughts. In 1982 he created the character of Ambush Bug, who first appeared in DC Presents no. 52 (December 1982). Lobo, an interplanetary bounty hunter and mercenary, first appeared in Omega Men no. 3 (June 1983). The character eventually received his own title. In the Eighties Keith Giffen also worked on the DC Comics titles Action Comics, Amethyst. Aquaman, Blue Devil, Cosmic Boy, DC Comics Presents, The Flash, Ghosts,.House of Mystery, Mister Miracle, Omega Men, The Unexpected, Weird War Tales, and Wonder Woman.

In the Nineties Keith Giffen did work on such DC titles as Demon, Eclipso, Ragman, and Starman. He continued work on Justice League and Legion of Super-Heroes titles. It was in the mid-Naughts that the character of Jaime Reyes, the third Blue Beetle, was introduced in Infinite Crisis (February 2006). The character would go onto appear in his own ongoing series and this year headlined his own theatrical feature film. In the Naughts, Keith Giffen also worked as the layout artist on the limited series 52 and such DC titles as Ambush Bug: Year None, Doom Patrol, Green Arrow, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. Looney Tunes, and Suicide Squad. In the Teens he worked on such titles as Green Arrow and O.M.A.C.

Keith Giffen also did work for Image Comics on the titles Badrock & Company, Bloodstrike, Freak Force, Phantom Force, SuperPatriot, and Trencher. At Valiant Comics he worked on Magnus, Robot Fighter; Punx; Solar, Man of the Atom; and X-O Manowar. He worked on Agents of Law at Dark Horse and Nexus at First Comics.

Keith Giffen also worked in animation. He was a writer on such series as The Real Ghostbusters; Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi; and Ed, Edd n Eddy. He served as a storyboard artist on Spider-Man Unlimited; Batman Beyond; and Static Shock.

Keith Giffen proved to be a pivotal creator in the history of comic books. The late Eighties into the Nineties saw comic books take on a darker tone. It was a period with anti-heroes such as The Punisher, Spawn, and Wolverine became extremely popular. While other comic book creators were making their titles darker and darker, Keith Giffen brought fun back to comic books. He was well known for his sardonic, often subversive sense of humour, and he was not below taking down even well-known, beloved characters such as Batman. Indeed, many of the characters created or co-created by him were purposefully humorous. The initial idea for Ambush Bug was "Bugs Bunny as a super-villain." Lobo was a parody of the ultraviolent anti-heroes of the era. On top of being a talented writer and plotter, Keith Giffen was also a fine artist. His style was generally slick and clean, but he could vary it to fit nearly any genre, from superhero to horror to humour. Keith Giffen was a man of multiple talents, and he brought all of them to bear in his work.

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Suzanne Somers Passes On

Suzanne Somers, best known for starring on the TV shows Three's Company and Step by Step, died on October 15 2023 at the age of 76. In 2000 he had been diagnosed with stage II breast cancer.

Suzanne Somers was born Suzanne Mahoney on October 16 1946 in San Bruno, California. She performed in plays in high school and graduated from Capuchino High School in San Bruno, California. She attended Lone Mountain College in San Francisco, but dropped out when she learned she was pregnant. She married the father of the child, Bruce Somers. They divorced in 1968.

Suzanne Somers made her film debut in a bit part in Bullitt in 1968. She also appeared as an extra in the movies Daddy's Gone A-Hunting (1969) and Fools (1970). She was a model on the syndicated show Anniversary Game, which ran from 1969 to 1970. She appeared as the blonde in the Thunderbird in American Graffiti (1973) and that same year in Magnum Force (1973). In the Seventies she guest starred on the shows Lotsa Luck!, The Rockford Files, One Day at a Time, The Love Boat, Starsky and Hutch, The Six Million Dollar Man, Billy, and The Ropers. She was cast as Chrissy Snow on the TV show Three's Company following an appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. The show proved to be a hit in the Nielsen ratings. It was with the show's fifth season that Suzanne Somers demanded to be paid as much as men on similar, but lower rated series. She missed two episodes, and ABC eventually fired her.

In the Eighties Suzanne Somers starred on the syndicated sitcom She's the Sheriff for two seasons. She appeared in the mini-series Hollywood Wives. In the Nineties she starred on the sitcom Step by Step. She guest starred on the shows Sisters, The Larry Saunders Show, Full House, The Naked Truth, and The Simpsons. She appeared in the movie Serial Mom (1994), and provided a voice for Rusty: A Dog's Tale (1998). In 1994 she was the host of her own talk show, The Suzanne Somers Show. Her last appearance in a feature film was in Say It Isn't So (2001). In 2012 she hosted The Suzanne Show on the cable channel Lifetime.

Chances are very good that Suzanne Somers will be best remembered as Chrissy Snow on Three's Company. While Chrissy had many of the characteristics of the dumb blonde stereotype, Suzanne Somers made the character sympathetic and even convincing within the reality of Three's Company. She also did fine on Step by Step as widowed mother Carol Foster Lambert, who married a divorced father (Patrick Duffy). The role was a far cry from Chrissy Snow, particularly given Carol was a beautician who operated her own business. Of course, she'll always be remembered as the blonde in the T-Bird in American Graffiti as well. While it was a bit part, with her facial expressions and body language she brought the character to life and made her appealing. With two hit series and an appearance in a classic film, Suzanne Somers won't soon be forgotten.

Monday, October 16, 2023

The Late Great Lara Parker

Lara Parker, best known for playing the witch Angelique on the Gothic soap opera Dark Shadows, died on October 12 2023 at the age of 84.

Lara Parker was born Mary Lamar Rickey on October 27 1938 in Knoxville, Tennessee. She grew up in Memphis, where her father was a prominent attorney. She graduated from Memphis High School, then attended Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, where she was majoring in philosophy. She switched to Rhodes College in Memphis, where she received her Bachelor of Arts degree. While attending Rhodes, she served as Wink Martindale's assistant on the show Dance Party on WHBQ-TV. She later received a Master of Arts degree at the University of Iowa.

Lara Parker spent a summer acting at the Millbrook Playhouse in Pennsylvania, and then went to New York to further pursue her career in acting. Her second-only professional audition there resulted in Lara Parker being cast as Angelique on Dark Shadows. Angelique was the primary antagonist on the show, a powerful witch born in the 17th Century who had fallen in love with Barnabas Collins and became his enemy after he fell in love with Josette du Prés. Lara Parker would remain with Dark Shadows until its very end, playing the role of Alexis Stokes (Angelique's twin) on the show. She reprised the role of Angelique in the feature film Night of Dark Shadows (1971). In the late Sixties she also appeared on the soap opera One Life to Live and guest starred on the show N.Y.P.D. She appeared in the movies Hi, Mom! (1970) and April in the Wind (1970). In 1968 she appeared on Broadway in Woman is My Idea.

In the Seventies Miss Parker appeared on the television mini-series Washington: Behind Closed Doors. She guest starred on the shows Kung Fu; The F.B.I.; Insight; Medical Center; Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law; Lucas Tanner; The Rockford Files; Police Woman; Kolchak: The Night Stalker; S.W.A.T.; Mobile One; Emergency!; Doctors' Hospital; The Six Million Dollar Man; Jigsaw John; City of Angels; Kojak; Alice; The Incredible Hulk; Switch; Barretta; Quincy M.E.; Sword of Justice; The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo; Barnaby Jones; Hawaii Five-O; Mrs. Columbo; Hagen; Galactica 1980; and This is the Life. She appeared in the movies Save the Tiger (1975), Airport 1975 (1974), and Race with the Devil (1975).

In the Eighties Lara Parker was a regular on the short-lived show Jessica Novak and the soap opera Capitol. She guest starred on the shows The Fall Guy, A New Day in Eden, Manimal, Remington Steele, Highway to Heaven, and The Highwayman. She appeared in the movie Foxfire Light (1983). In the Nineties she guest starred on the show P.S.I. Luv U.

In the Teens she had a cameo in the movie Dark Shadows (2012). She appeared in two "Dr. Mabuse" films alongside other veterans of Dark Shadows: Doctor Mabuse (2013) and Doctor Mabuse: Etiopomar (2014). She guest starred on the YouTube series Theatre Fantastique.

Lara Parker wrote four Dark Shadows novels (Angelique's Descent, The Salem Branch, Wolf Moon Rising, and Heiress of Collinswood). Lara Parker also reprised the role of Angelique in audio dramas by Big Finish Productions. She also taught high school English and received a Master in Fine Arts from Antioch University.

Lara Parker was an immensely talented actress. She did an incredible job of playing Angelique on Dark Shadow. Indeed, her performance was so good that there are those who count Angelique among the greatest television villains of all time. Of course, she played other roles than Angelique. In Save the Tiger she played Margo, the prostitute who is heartbroken when one of her clients dies of a heart attack. In Race with the Devil she played Kelly, the wife of Roger Marsh (Peter Fonda), who finds herself having to deal with Satanists. In the Kung Fu episode "King of the Mountain" she played the owner of a ranch in a severe state of disrepair, for whom Caine (David Carradine) goes to work. In the Rockford Files episode "Sleight of Hand," she played Diana Lewis, who looks suspiciously like a woman whose disappearance Jim Rockford (James Garner) is investigating.

Of course, in addition to being a talented actress, Lara Parker was also a very talented writer. On top of all that, she was also an incredibly nice person. Those fortunate enough to have met her describe her as sweet and personable. If Dark Shadows fans loved her so, it was not simply because she kept the legacy of the show alive for years. It is because she was a true lady.

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Godspeed Piper Laurie

Piper Laurie, who starred in the movies The Hustler (1961) and Carrie (1976), as well as the cult TV show Twin Peaks, died on October 14 2023 at the age of 91.

Piper Laurie was born Rosetta Jacobs on January 22 1932 in Detroit, Michigan. When she was five years old she stayed at a children's asylum with her sister, who was there because of her health.  She was six years old when her family moved to Los Angeles. As a child she was terribly shy, and so her parents enrolled her in elocution lessons. Those lessons helped spark her interest in acting. In high school she trained with a Los Angeles theatre group. She left high school at age 17 to sign a contract with Universal. She was given the stage name "Piper Laurie" by an agent. She made her film debut in 1950 in Louisa, starring Ronald Reagan. The same year she appeared in The Milkman, starring Donald O'Connor.

In the Fifties she appeared in the films Francis Goes to the Races (1951), The Prince Who Was a Thief (1951), No Room for the Groom (1952), Has Anyone Seen My Gal (1952), Son of Ali Baba (1952), The Mississippi Gambler (1953), The Golden Blade (1953), Dangerous Mission (1954), Johnny Dark (1954), Dawn at Socorro (1954), Smoke Signal (1955), Ain't Misbehavin' (1955), Kelly and Me (1956), and Until They Sail (1957). She made her television debut in an episode of The Best of Broadway in 1955. She guest starred on the shows Robert Montgomery Presents, Front Row Center, General Electric Theatre, Studio One, The Seven Lively Arts, Playhouse 90, Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse, Goodyear Theatre, and Play of the Week. She was nominated for two Emmy Awards, one for Actress – Best Single Performance – Lead or Support for the Studio One episode "The Deaf Heart" and one for Best Single Performance by an Actress for the Playhouse 90 episode "Days of Wines and Roses."

In 1961 she starred as Sarah Packard in the movie The Hustler, for which she was nominated for the Oscar for Best Actress. She guest starred on the shows General Electric Theatre, Westinghouse Presents, The United States Steel Hour, Naked City, Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre, Ben Casey, The Eleventh Hour, and Breaking Point. She appeared on Broadway in 1965 in a production of The Glass Menagerie.

In the Seventies Piper Laurie appeared in the movies Carrie (1976), The Woman Rebel (1976), Ruby (1977), The Boss' Son (1978), and Tim (1979). She was a regular on the short-lived TV series Skag. For her role in Carrie she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.

In the Eighties she appeared in the mini-series The Thorn Birds and Tender is the Night. She had a recurring role for at time on the TV series St. Elsewhere and was a regular on Twin Peaks. She guest starred on the shows Hotel; Murder, She Wrote; The Twilight Zone; Matlock; and Beauty and the Beast. She was nominated for the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series for St. Elsewhere, nominated for the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for Twin Peaks, and again nominated for an Emmy for Twin Peaks, this time for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series. She appeared in the movies Return to Oz (1985), Children of a Lesser God (1986), Appointment with Death (1988), Distortions (1988), Tiger Warsaw (1988), and Dream a Little Dream (1989). She nominated for the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for Children of a Lesser God.

In the Nineties she continued to appear on Twin Peaks. She was a regular on the TV series Traps. She guest starred on the shows ER, Diagnosis Murder, Touched by an Angel, Brother's Keeper, Frasier, and Will & Grace. She was nominated for the Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series for her guest appearance on Frasier. She appeared in the movies Other People's Money (1991), Storyville (1992), Rich in Love (1992), Trauma (1993), Wrestling Ernest Hemingway (1993), The Grass Harp (1995), The Crossing Guard (1995), St. Patrick's Day (1997), The Faculty (1998), Palmer's Pick-Up (1999), and The Mao Game (1999).

In the Naughts she appeared on Broadway in Morning's at Seven. She appeared in the movies Eulogy (2004), The Dead Girl (2006), Hounddog (2007), Saving Grace B. Jones (2009), Hesher (2010), and Another Harvest Moon (2010). She guest starred on the TV shows Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Dead Like Me and Cold Case.

In the Teens Piper Laurie guest starred on MacGyver. She appeared in the movie White Boy Rick (2018).

Piper Laurie leaves behind a legacy of great performances in varied roles. In The Hustler she played Sarah Packard, who enters into a relationship with pool shark Eddie (Paul Newman). In Carrie she played the mother of the title character, an unstable religious fanatic. In Ruby she played the title character, a former gangster's moll whose drive-in theatre is haunted by her dead lover. On Twin Peaks she played Catherine Martell, a tough as nails businesswoman who runs the local lumber mill. On St. Elsewhere she played Fran Singleton, a stroke victim. It should be little wonder that Piper Laurie was nominated for multiple awards. She had the ability to transform herself into any character in which she cast, and given an extremely convincing performance.