Thursday, January 25, 2024

The Late Great Charles Osgood

Charles Osgood, the long-time host of CBS Sunday Morning on television and The Osgood File on radio, died on January 23 2024 at the age of 91. The cause was complications from dementia.

Charles Osgood was born Charles Osgood Wood III in the Bronx in New York City. He attended Fordham University. While there he volunteered at the college FM radio station, WFUV. Among his fellow students were Alan Alda and Jack Haley, Jr. After graduating from Fordham, he worked as an announcer at WGMS (AM) and WGMS-FM in Washington, DC. It was in 1954 that he met the announcer for the United States Army Band, who told him that he was getting out soon. Knowing that he would soon be drafted, Mr. Osgood then enlisted in the United States Army and then spent the next few years as the announcer for the United States Army Band. He was based out of Fort Myer in Virginia and would fill in as an announcer at WGMS when he went to Washington. When President Dwight D. Eisenhower had a heart attack, it was Charles Osgood who hosted a closed-circuit radio broadcast to President Eisenhower's hospital room.

It was while he was in the United States Army that he and his roommate, John Cacavas (who would later compose scores for television shows and movies), collaborated on various songs. Their composition "The Gallant Men" featured Senator Everett Dirksen of Illinois reading a patriotic poem by H. Paul Jeffers. It reached no. 16 on the Billboard Hot 100. It would later be used in the movie Easy Rider (1969).

After his service Charles Osgood returned to WGMS, as a full-time announcer, using his given name Charles Wood. The following year he became the station's program director. He provided introduction and commentary for a six-record album of a collection of thirty-three speeches by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt titled FDR Speaks. It was in April 1962 that RKO General, owner of WGMS, transferred Mr. Osgood to WHCT in Hartford, Connecticut where he would be the station's general manager. WHCT was an early subscription television service, so that subscribers needed a decoder to watch the station. As it turned out, WHCT was not a success and Charles Osgood was not a success.

Out of work, Charles Osgood contacted a former classmate from Fordham, Frank Maguire, who was in charge of program development for ABC in New York. He hired Charles Osgood as a co-host and writer for the ABC Radio program Flair Reports. To avoid confusion with radio announcer Charles Woods, Charles Osgood then began using his first and middle name, "Charles Osgood," professionally.

It was in 1967 that Charles Osgood moved to CBS Radio. He worked as a reporter and anchor at WCBS (AM). It as also in 1967 that The Osgood File began as a segment on WCBS. It went national in 1971. It was in 1971 that Charles Osgood made the move to television and joined CBS News. He served as the anchor on The CBS Sunday Night News from 1981 to 198. He served as co-anchor on The CBS Morning News and an occasional news reader on CBS This Morning. He served as the host of CBS News Sunday Morning from 1994 to 2016, the longest serving host in the show's history. It was in 2017 that he retired from The Osgood File due to health concerns.  Over the years he contributed several stories to CBS News.

Charles Osgood served as the narrator on the animated movie Horton Hears a Who (2008). He wrote a syndicated news paper column for Tribune Media Services, as well as several books. He wrote a three-act play, A Single Voice, in 1956. 

As a radio and television commentator, Charles Osgood was ideal. He was affable and eloquent, and even utilized verse from time to time. Whether on CBS News Sunday Morning or The Osgood File, he was able to deliver stories that would both entertain and educate viewers and listeners. What is more, he was a light in the often dark world of television and radio news. The stories he covered were upbeat and positive, covering everything from popular culture to the arts to everyday people. He was in many ways a bright light in the darkness of television and radio news, where bad news often outnumbers the good news. To borrow some words from his family's statement upon his death, Charles Osgood highlighted the better parts of humanity. He was a rarity during his career and, sadly, even more of a rarity now.

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Dial L for Latch-Key by Scott Fivelson

Forty-three years after his death, Alfred Hitchcock remains one of the best known directors of all time. Even those few who have never seen his films can recognize him when they see him. Over the years Hitchcock's films and the tropes common to those films have been parodied many times, but few of those parodies are as funny as the one-act play Dial L for Latch-Key by screenwriter/director Scott Fivelson.

Dial L for Latch-Key takes its title from Alfred Hitchcock's 1954 film Dial M for Murder, which in turn was based on the 1952 play by Frederick Knott. It draws heavily upon Dial M for Murder for inspiration, with characters based upon the stars of that film (Ray Milland, Grace Kelly, and Robert Cummings). At the same time, Dial L for Latch-Key goes well beyond being a mere parody of Dial M for Murder, with its own twists and turns. Even those who have seen Dial M for Murder repeatedly will not be able to predict how Dial L for Latch-Key ends.

What makes Dial L for Latch-Key all the more fun are the many references to Alfred Hitchcock's films throughout the play. The play references Hitchcock's more famous works, such as The Birds (1963), as well as works that are not quite as famous, such as Stage Fright (1950). Dial L for Latch-Key also plays with the various tropes to be found in many of Hitchcock's films, not just Dial M for Murder. What makes Dial L for Latch-Key even better is that from time to time it very subtly breaks the fourth wall. In particular, the character of the Inspector seems to be in on the joke with the audience.

Dial L for Latch-Key
has been produced onstage in London at the Upstairs at the Gatehouse theatre starring jazz singer/actor James Torme, at the Accidental Theatre in Belfast, and on stages in San Francisco, Toronto, and elsewhere. Dial L for Latch-Key has been adapted as a radio play and released as an audiobook (Blackstone Audio), has been broadcast on Resonance FM in London, and has been published as an eBook (Blackstone Publishing).

Dial L for Latch-Key is a delightful, yet respectful send-up of Alfred Hitchcock and his movies. What is more, it is done in such a way that one need not be a Hitchcock fan to appreciate it.

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

The Late Great Norman Jewison

Norman Jewison, who directed such films as In the Heat of the Night (1967), Fiddler on the Roof (1971), Jesus Christ Superstar (1973), and Rollerball (1975), died on January 20 2024 at the age of 97.

Norman Jewision was born on July 21 1926 in Toronto, Ontario. His parents ran a general store. His interest in the arts began when he was young, and he studied piano and music theory at the Royal Conservatory. In high school he appeared in musicals and comedies. During World War II he served in the Royal Canadian Navy. In 1949 he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Victoria College in the University of Toronto.

Norman Jewison worked as a taxi cab driver and as a radio actor on CBC programs. It was in 1950 that he did his first work in the United States, directing the first episode of the television version of Your Hit Parade for CBS. In 1950 he moved to London for work-study at the BBC. In 1952 he returned to Canada where he went to work for CBC Television. There he directed such shows as The Big Revue, The Denny Vaughan Show, The Wayne & Shuster Show, The Barris Beat and The Adventures of Chich. At the CBC he produced the shows Let's See, On Stage, and The Barris Beat. It was in 1958 that he was hired by NBC in New York City. He directed episodes of Your Hit Parade, The Chevy Showroom Starring Andy Williams, The Big Party, The Revlon Revue, and the television specials An Hour with Danny Kaye and Belafonte, New York 19. He also directed the documentary The Fabulous Fifties, and TV special The Secret World of Eddie Hodges.

Norman Jewison began the Sixties directing the TV movie The Million Dollar Incident and the TV special The Broadway of Lerner and Loewe. He directed the 1962 TV special The Judy Garland Show, and would go onto produce Judy Garland's short-lived 1963-1964 variety show. He directed this first feature film, 40 Pounds of Trouble, which was released in 1962. He followed 40 Pounds of Trouble with The Thrill of It All (1963), Send Me No Flowers (1964), The Art of Love (1965), The Cincinnati Kid (1965), and The Russians Are Coming The Russians Are Coming (1966). He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director for In the Heat of the Night (1967). Norman Jewison finished the Sixties with The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), and Gaily, Gaily (1969). 

In the Seventies Norman Jewison directed Fiddler on the Roof (1971), for which he was again nominated for the Oscar for Best Director. He directed the films Jesus Christ Superstar (1973), Rollerball (1975), F.I.S.T. (1978), and ...And Justice for All (1979). In the Eighties he directed Best Friends (1982), A Soldier's Story (1984), and Agnes of God (1985). He was nominated for the Oscar for Best Director for Moonstruck (1987). He directed In Country (1989).

In the Nineties he directed Other People's Money (1991), Only You (1994), Bogus (1996), and The Hurricane (1999). He directed an episode of the mini-series Picture Windows and the TV documentary The 20th Century: Funny is Money. In the Naughts he directed the TV movie Dinner with Friends and the feature film The Statement (2003).

Norman Jewison directed some of my favourite films, including Send Me No Flowers,The Russians Are Coming The Russians are Coming, In the Heat of the Night, Fiddler on the Roof, Jesus Christ Superstar, Rollerball, and Moonstruck. He was certainly versatile. He directed everything from light comedies to crime dramas to musicals to science fiction. Whether he was dealing with comedy or drama, he had a gift for dealing with serious issues. Over the years he dealt with xenophobia and nationalism, racism, religion, corporatism, and religion. What is more, he handled such weighty topics very well. As a director Norman Jewison had a gift for bringing out the best in his actors. While Norman Jewison was nominated for the Oscar for Best Director only a few times, actors in his movies were nominated for Oscars twelve different times. Norman Jewison may well have been the most honoured Canadian director in film history, but he was also among the best directors of all time from any country. He certainly ranks among my favourite directors.