Last Veteran's Day on November 11, 2014 I posted a story on Jimmy Stewart and his military experience. Now that it is Memorial Day, I figured I'd post an interesting story about Mel Brooks and his time in the military during World War II...
Mel Brooks is best known for his award-winning comedy films such as Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles. But Brooks was also a combat veteran of World War II who fought under General Patton in the Battle of the Bulge: a four-week-long battle that resulted in the death of over 60,000 Allied troops.
Brooks, who was studying psychology at Brooklyn College at the time, was drafted into the Army and sent to war as a combat engineer in the 1104 Combat Engineer Battalion, 78th Infantry Division. During his time in the Army, Brooks was primarily responsible for disarming land mines.
While fighting in Germany, Brooks often heard Nazi propaganda being played from loudspeakers, which must have really got on his nerves because he went about creating his own speaker system to play Al Jolson, a Jewish singer, back at the Nazis, according to Military.
Brooks, when asked about his time at war, said, “War isn’t hell . . . War is loud. Much too noisy. All those shells and bombs going off around you. Never mind death. A man could lose his hearing.”
So the next time you watch Spaceballs, remember that Mel Brooks once fought Nazis with music because apparently he really hated how loud warfare was...
Monday, May 25, 2015
Saturday, May 23, 2015
I love checking out celebrity advertisements, especially the older ones featuring classic Hollywood stars. The print ad below featured Vincent Price (1911-1993) hawking Creamettes Macaroni. I do not know what Vincent Price and pasta have to do with each other, but Price was a great chef. I don't have a date on this ad, but I would place it as the mid to late 1970s...
Thursday, May 21, 2015
Thelma Ritter appeared in high school plays and was trained at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. In the 1940s she worked in radio. Her movie career was started with a bit part in the 1946 Miracle on 34th Street (1947). In the movie she played a weary Xmas shopper. Her performance in the short scene was noticed by Darryl F. Zanuck who insisted her role be expanded.
Her second role, in writer-director Joseph L. Mankiewicz's A Letter to Three Wives (1949), left a mark, although Ritter was again uncredited. Mankiewicz kept Ritter in mind, and cast her as "Birdie" in All About Eve (1950), which earned her an Oscar nomination. A second nomination followed for her work in Mitchell Leisen's' classic ensemble screwball comedy The Mating Season (1951) starring Gene Tierney and John Lund. She enjoyed steady film work for the next dozen years.
She appeared in many of the episodic drama TV series of the 1950s, such as Alfred Hitchcock Presents, General Electric Theater, and The United States Steel Hour. Other film roles were as James Stewart's nurse in Rear Window (1954) and as Doris Day's housekeeper in Pillow Talk (1959). Although best known for comedy roles, she played the occasional dramatic role, most notably in With a Song in My Heart (1952), Pickup on South Street (1953), Titanic (1953), and The Misfits (1961).
During the period 1951 to 1963 Ms. Ritter was nominated for 6 Academy Awards. She is one of the most nominated actors who never won the statue. Shortly after a 1968 performance on The Jerry Lewis Show (1967), Ms. Ritter suffered a heart attack which proved fatal. Ritter died on February 5, 1969 a few days short of her 67th birthday. She was survived by her husband of 41 years and her two children. Amazingly Thelma Ritter was only a part of Hollywood for two decades, but the countless movie roles she had will never be forgotten and a testament to what a wonderful character actress she was...
Tuesday, May 19, 2015
"I probably discovered the Marx Brothers when I was in high school and I wondered where they had been hiding all my life," Steve Stoliar said in a recent interview with us.
"They were such a wonderful blend of physical comedy and clever wordplay -- either Groucho's wordplay or Chico's mangling of the language."
Marx mania swept college campuses in the late '60s and early '70s. Their anarchic shenanigans resonated with baby boomers who weren't even alive when the Marx Brothers were making movies. Abbie Hoffman once said, "Groucho Marx had more to do with my subversion than Karl Marx."
Stoliar's campaign led to a campus visit from Groucho himself, who sat down and chatted with damn-near levitated Stoliar. After collecting a few thousand signatures, Universal announced that they would strike two prints of the film and premiere it in Westwood and New York. It broke the box-office record at the United Artists Westwood.
Groucho hired Stoliar to work out of the comedian's Beverly Hills home to handle fan mail and organize all of the memorabilia -- an extraordinary job that would last three years and become the basis for one of the more honest and complex show-biz memoirs in modern memory Raised Eyebrows: My Years Inside Groucho's House.
Stoliar's storied tenure as Groucho Marx's secretary is tempered with highs and lows, bookended by the psychotic Erin Fleming -- Groucho's young and mercurial life manager and companion who hitched her wagon to the star in his declining years. But before the shadow of Erin Fleming would darken the day -- at least for Stoliar--at 1083 Hillcrest Road, it was an auspicious start to a young man's dream-come-true.
"Erin helped me set up the campaign to get Animal Crackers rereleased," Stoliar said. "She would call me at all hours and just start talking about whatever was on her mind. I felt like I had been specially selected that she'd share all of this information with me."
Most extraordinary was Stoliar's free rein around Groucho's house, not to mention Groucho's egalitarian lunch policy which allowed staff to dine with him and freely interact with celebrity guests.
Although several strokes had diminished Groucho's caustic swagger significantly, there were still many flourishes of the wit that made him Groucho--something which never went unnoticed or unappreciated by his secretary.
"He used to love it when I brought him the mail because he subscribed to the Hollywood trade papers," said Stoliar. "One time he came to the table and said, 'Wonderful mail today, nothing but requests for money.' I said, 'You got a Variety didn't you?' 'Yes,' he said. 'A variety of requests for money.'"
"The only limitation was that I was also fighting against time," said Stoliar. "He was getting hazier and having health problems. It wasn't as though the longer I stayed there, the closer we got, because he was pulling away against his will. It was kind of a strange juggling between time and intimacy."
"Steven was being very parental, almost like he was Groucho's bodyguard," recalled Groucho's nephew and Harpo's son, Bill Marx.
"He was a very important figure in Groucho's life at that time from the standpoint of caring."
It was also gratifying for Groucho to have such an enthusiastic and knowledgeable employee in Stoliar.
And then there were the many moods of Erin Fleming, which kept everyone--cooks, nurses, maids, and secretary/archivists -- on eggshells and off-balance.
"She would fly off the handle, slam her fist, and slam doors," said Stoliar. We used to tell what kind of mood she was in by how hard she'd throw her keys in the dish. You never really knew what you were in for and it was a release of tension when she'd leave."
There were others who hadn't seen Fleming's dark side and had an altogether different take on her -- at first.
"I didn't see anything wrong with her when I met her," Dick Cavett said.
"She was a little overwrought, always a little on edge -- or had an edge on from something -- but she seemed rather nice and charming and devoted to Groucho. He was pretty lonely and his children were not all that available."
Stoliar always remained mindful of the fact that it was Fleming, after all, who made the dream possible and who allowed him access to Groucho and his famous friends.
It was impossible to ignore Groucho's diminishing mental and physical condition, which concerned friends and family and only intensified Fleming's megalomania. She alienated him from his children and continued booking him for appearances, despite his failing condition, and members of the household witnessed Erin yelling at Groucho until he cried.
"I began to hear Arsenic and Old Lace-type references to Erin and, of course, lived to find that most of it was true," Cavett said. "Steve was a good source of information and we were friends enough that it wasn't as if he was distributing gossip to a stranger who might make damaging use of it."
"Groucho said to my dear friend [biographer] Hector Arce in the hospital towards the end, 'This is no way to live,'" Stoliar said. "He was painfully aware of how bad things had gotten. It was time and yet still you hate saying goodbye."
Groucho Marx died on August 19, 1977.
In the months before Groucho's death, his son Arthur Marx took Fleming to court for temporary conservatorship of his father. A California Superior Court judge appointed writer Nat Perrin to handle his dying friend's affairs and Perrin tasked Stoliar to not only watch the house on weekends, but gave him the authority to keep Fleming from entering the premises. A battle over Groucho's estate raged on for nearly six years before the case came to trial in 1983, but the judge ruled in favor of Arthur Marx, ordering Fleming to repay $472,000 to the Marx estate, including $221,000 the Bank of America claimed she had swindled from Groucho...
Sunday, May 17, 2015
Here is an excellent online story I found about another great British Dance band singer - Chick Henderson (1912-1944)...
Chick Henderson was born Henderson Rowntree in West Hartlepool, England. As a boy he loved to sing and was an active member of a church choir. He was heard by Harry Leader and given an audition, who immediately signed him up in 1935. Chick started recording with the band in 1935 and made three records on the Eclipse Label. His first recording was ‘Zing Went the Strings of My Heart’, matrix 2544-1, on 15th June 1935, and released on Eclipse 1011. Chick made his first broadcast on the BBC in August 1935. Chick joined the Joe Loss Band in September 1935 after having been heard on radio. He cut the first Joe Loss records on 22nd October 1935 in the London HMV studios, ‘Wyoming in the Gloaming’, OEA-1998-1, and ‘The General’s Fast Asleep’,OEA-2000-1. Chick and Joe Loss went on to record over 250 tracks.
Even though Chick was the principal singer for Joe Loss, he continued to make records on Columbia and Regal Zonophone with Harry Leader. The mid 1930’s is a period which is difficult for record collectors and historians. Columbia used the name Harry Leader but Regal Zonophone released Harry Leader discs under a number of aliases such as Wally Bishop, International Novelty Orchestra, and Mel Rose. To complicate things further these sides were released in Australia under all these names and also as The Rhythmic Troubadours on RZ. Some Joe Loss tracks also used these aliases.
From all accounts Chick Henderson was a shy and modest person who loved to spend quiet weekends with his family and friends, but at least once a month he was in the recording studio with Joe Loss, usually putting down about four numbers each session. Very few recordings required more than one take.
In July 1937 he made his first solo recording‘Greatest Mistake Of My Life’ and ‘Broken Hearted Clown’. He had only accordion and piano as accompaniment. It was not until November 1937 that his other solo disc was recorded on RZ, and it was the only time that the label credit reversed the order, Chick Henderson with Joe Loss. His best seller was ‘Begin The Beguine’ of 5/7/1939, but he made a large number very highly regarded discs. Chick received £4 for the recording session, while Joe Loss picked up a gold disc!
In 1940 Chick recorded eight tracks with Harry Roy, three with Organ Dance Band & Me, and four with London Piano Accordion Band. His last recording session was in 1942 in Glasgow with Joe Loss.
Less than a year following the start of World War II in September 1939, he began serving in the Merchant Navy. He survived two torpedo attacks on his ships, but after four years of service, sustained fatal wounds in Southsea from flying bomb shrapnel. Chick Henderson was 31 years old. A Sub-Lieutenant in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, on strength of HMS Victory at time of his death, he was buried in Haslar Royal Naval Cemetery under his real name.
After a recording career of only seven years, Chick made about 280 tracks although his name is not on the majority of labels. He made 19 with Harry Leader, and 242 (247?) with Joe Loss, plus 2 with instrumental accompaniment. Some of his recordings were not released in Australia in 78 rpm format. Strangely it took many years before EMI started to release compilations on LP and Cassette.
Friday, May 15, 2015
Joseph Cotten was born on May 15, 1905 in Petersburg, Virginia, the son of Joseph Cheshire Cotten, Sr., an assistant postmaster and his wife, Sally Willson Cotten. He worked as an advertising agent after studying acting at the Hickman School of Speech and Expression in Washington, D.C. His work as a theatre critic inspired him to become involved in theatre productions, first in Virginia, then in New York City. Cotten made his Broadway debut in 1930.
In 1934 Cotten met and became friends with Orson Welles, a fellow cast member on CBS Radio's The American School of the Air. Cotten had his first starring role in Welles's second production for the Federal Theatre Project — the farce Horse Eats Hat, adapted by Welles and Edwin Denby from Eugène Marin Labiche's play Un Chapeau de Paille d'Italie. The play was presented from September 26 to December 5, 1936, at the Maxine Elliott Theatre, New York.
In 1937 Cotten became an inaugural member of Welles's Mercury Theatre company, starring in Broadway productions of Julius Caesar, The Shoemaker's Holiday and Danton's Death, and in radio dramas presented on The Mercury Theatre on the Air and The Campbell Playhouse.
Cotten made his film debut in the Welles-directed short, Too Much Johnson, a comedy that was intended to complement an aborted 1938 Mercury stage production of William Gillette's 1890 play. The film was never screened in public; it was reported in 2013 that a print had been discovered in Prodenone, Italy.
Cotten returned to Broadway in 1939, creating the role of C. K. Dexter Haven opposite Katharine Hepburn's Tracy Lord in the original production of Philip Barry's The Philadelphia Story. The play ran for a year at the Shubert Theatre, and in the months before its extensive national tour a film version was to be made by MGM. Cotten went to Hollywood, but discovered there that his stage success in The Philadelphia Story translated to, in the words of his agent Leland Hayward, "spending a solid year creating the Cary Grant role." Hayward suggested that they call Cotten's good pal, Orson Welles. "He's been making big waves out here," Hayward said. "Maybe nobody in Hollywood ever heard of the Shubert Theatre in New York, but everybody certainly knows about the Mercury Theatre in New York".
In mid-1940 filming began on Citizen Kane, portraying the life of a press magnate (played by Welles) who starts out as an idealist but eventually turns into a corrupt, lonely old man. The film featured Cotten prominently in the role of Kane's best friend Jedediah Leland, eventually a drama critic for one of Kane's papers. The rest would be movie history...
Tuesday, May 12, 2015
"Take Me Out to the Ball Game" is a 1908 Tin Pan Alley song by Jack Norworth and Albert Von Tilzer which has become the unofficial anthem of North American baseball, although neither of its authors had attended a game prior to writing the song. The song (chorus only) is traditionally sung during the middle of the seventh inning of a baseball game. Fans are generally encouraged to sing along, and at some ballparks, the words "home team" are replaced with the team name.Jack Norworth, while riding a subway train, was inspired by a sign that said "Baseball Today – Polo Grounds". In the song, Katie's (and later Nelly's) beau calls to ask her out to see a show. She accepts the date, but only if her date will take her out to the baseball game. The words were set to music by Albert Von Tilzer. (Norworth and Von Tilzer finally saw their first Major League Baseball games 32 and 20 years later, respectively.) The song was first sung by Norworth's then-wife Nora Bayes and popularized by many other vaudeville acts. It was played at a ballpark for the first known time in 1934, at a high-school game in Los Angeles, and researchers think it made its debut at a major-league park later that year.
Norworth wrote an alternative version of the song in 1927. (Norworth and Bayes were famous for writing and performing such smash hits as "Shine On, Harvest Moon".) With the sale of so many records, sheet music, and piano rolls, the song became one of the most popular hits of 1908. The Haydn Quartet singing group, led by popular tenor Harry MacDonough, recorded a successful version on Victor Records.
The most famous recording of the song was credited to "Billy Murray and the Haydn Quartet", even though Murray did not sing on it. The confusion, nonetheless, is so pervasive that, when "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" was selected by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Recording Industry Association of America as one of the 365 top "Songs of the Century", the song was credited to Billy Murray, implying his recording of it as having received the most votes among songs from the first decade. The first recorded version was by Edward Meeker. Meeker's recording was selected by the Library of Congress as a 2010 addition to the National Recording Registry, which selects recordings annually that are "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".