Wednesday, July 31, 2013
Monday, July 29, 2013
The date was March 29, 1989, and the most famous comedienne in the history of show business was about to make her final TV appearance. The great Lucille Ball was appearing at the annual Academy Awards ceremony, along with the world's most popular other comedian, Bob Hope (an old friend). Hope had talked Lucy into making the joint appearance, after many phone calls and much begging. Finally Lucy conceded, but she hated the very idea of it. Lucy hated putting on the wig she had chosen to wear. She complained the netting gave her a headache. "G--damn Hope," Lucy complained, "No one cares what the hell he looks like, but everybody cares what I look like -God, I am so tired of myself." Lucy did her final TV appearance with Hope all all went smoothly enough. Now she had to go back to real life.
Lucy had been a bit down lately. She had never really completely recovered from the death of her former husband Desi Arnaz, her co-star on the legendary "I Love Lucy". Most intimate friends saw the obvious about Lucy's love for Desi. Although she was currently in a comfortable marriage to Gary Morton, she had always carried a torch for Desi. (Desi always sent Lucy flowers on her birthday and on their anniversary, and the two kept in close touch by phone throughout the years.)
Also, the dismal failure of her recent TV series "Life With Lucy" weighed heavily on her mind. Lucy now occupied her days watching TV, playing Scrabble and backgammon, and having occasional drinks of Bourbon ("slushies" as she called them).
On April 17th, Lucy started experiencing shooting pains in her chest. Her husband called the doctor and tried to talk Lucy into going to the hospital. Lucy refused to go until Gary called Lucy's daughter, who finally convinced her. Lucy only agreed to go if she could get nicely dressed and put on her makeup. Upon arriving, Lucy was given seven hours of open-heart surgery at the hospital. Lucy's operation was a success, and after a few days, she returned home.
But sadly, after Lucy arrived home she was told she couldn't live in her own bedroom. She'd have to stay in the guest room downstairs. As Lucy's house had no elevators, the doctors wanted to make sure she didn't do any stair climbing. This apparently broke Lucy's heart. She did not want to live in a makeshift bedroom and she did not want to be treated as an invalid.
The next morning, Lucy's surgically repaired aorta ruptured again and she went into full cardiac arrest. She was rushed back to the hospital, but this time the doctors couldn't save her. The great Lucy had passed away.
"She really disintegrated so quickly," said Tannen. "Her tombstone should have read 'From Desi's death on Dec. 2, 1986, to her own death on April 26, 1989' because that was the life of her death. On her death certificate it says 'ruptured aorta.' but I believe Lucy died because she didn't want to live anymore." Lucy might not of wanted to live anymore, but because of her great body of entertainment, she will live forever...
Friday, July 26, 2013
May was born at the turn of the century on September 8, 1899 in New York City. Her beauty was such that she dropped out of high school at the age of 17 to star in her first film Hate. Her well-to-do family owned and operated a large livery stable situated where the Waldorf-Astoria now stands. She initially wanted to be a teacher but became intrigued with show business after watching a friend rehearse a show at a nearby vaudeville theater. A model whose first job was a commercial for Domino Sugar, she moved into extra work in films and received her first major break with The Devil's Garden (1920) co-starring Lionel Barrymore. Stardom was hers, however, as the lead in Sentimental Tommy (1921), which led to a Paramount contract. A unassuming brunette, her petite frame and sweet-natured looks belied a surprisingly feisty, independent nature. When Cecil B. DeMille put a halt on her career in 1923 as punishment for refusing a role that required partial nudity, May assertively bought out her contract and freelanced for the next six years.
May's most well known silent film role today is as "Esther" in the 1925 Ramon Novarro version of Ben-Hur, the most expensive silent film ever made. I first discovered May McAvoy in what is considered the first "talkie" movie, The Jazz Singer in 1927. May had the distinction of playing opposite Al Jolson although she did not have any speaking lines in that ground-breaking film. She did speak, however, in Warner's fourth part-talkie The Lion and the Mouse (1928) again working with Lionel Barrymore. May also starred in England's first all-talkie The Terror (1928).
There was a rumor that May had quit Hollywood when talkies came about due to a speech impediment, but clearly this was false because she did appear in a handful of talkies. May was only married once, to the treasurer of United Artists, Maurice Cleary. They were married from 1929 until his death in 1973. They had one son named Patrick. It was Cleary who actually preferred that she not work.
May McAvoy returned to minor film work for MGM in the 1940s and 1950s, but unfortunately she did not appear in anything memorable. It is a sad example of how little minded Hollywood is. May McAvoy made the movie industry a lot of money during the silent era - but the industry was pretty much silent when she tried to come back to movies. She made her last movie appearance in 1957. May McAvoy died in quiet retirement on April 26, 1984 from the side effects of a heart attack suffered the previous year. Petite at only four feet, eleven inches tall, weighing in at only eighty-nine pounds, the silent movie star May McAvoy never let her small stature interfere with her professional ambitions...
Wednesday, July 24, 2013
Fans of the comedian from across the country have made reservations for the grand opening of the Red Skelton Museum of American Comedy, built next to the performing arts center named for Skelton at Vincennes University. It also just happens to be across the street from the home where Skelton grew up.
The last of four children, Skelton was born two months after his father died., though he appeared to have inherited a trait - his father was once a clown for the Hagenbeck & Wallace Circus, at the time the second largest circus in the country. It was another historic building in Vincennes where Skelton, as a boy, decided he wanted to be in show business. "He sold newspapers outside the Pantheon Theater," said Anne Pratt, director of marketing for the Red Skelton Museum. "He credits (comedian) Ed Wynn with igniting his passion for performing."
As Skelton told the story, Wynn was in town to perform at the Pantheon in 1923 and bought every newspaper from the 10-year-old Skelton because he enjoyed the boy's newspaper-selling patter. Skelton says Wynn then gave him a ticket to the show, and later invited him to the stage to get a look at what soon became Skelton's future.
Skelton starred in radio - with his own show for 12 years, and also starred in dozens of movies in the 1940's and early 50's. But many remember Skelton as one of television's longest lasting comics - he had a show on the air without interruption for 20 years - from 1951 until 1971. The only time he took off was when his nine-year-old son died of leukemia in 1958.
The museum will feature items donated by Skelton's widow, Lothian, who was 25 years younger than the 60-year-old Skelton when she became his third wife in 1973 - Lothian Skelton will be among those attending the grand opening. "There will be old-style TV's playing some of his classic shows," said Pratt. "The main feature at this time is the character gallery, and six of his most beloved characters each have a section in the gallery." Lothian Skelton donated original costumes her husband used for each of the characters.
The interactive exhibits also include a biographical film in the museum theatre and Red’s famous interpretation of the Pledge of Allegiance. Plans are already underway to continue to expand the Museum with exhibits of Skelton’s career in Vaudeville, radio, and the movies.
Actor Jamie Farr, best known for his role in M*A*S*H, will also appear at the grand opening. Farr grew up a fan of Skelton's radio show, and one of his first jobs in television was performing skits alongside Skelton in the late 1950's...
Monday, July 22, 2013
Dennis Farina, a Chicago native and police officer who turned to acting, has died at 69 in Arizona, his publicist said today. Farina, best known as detective Joe Fontana on the long-running TV series "Law & Order," suffered a blood clot in his lung, publicist Lori De Waal said.
Farina was an 18-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department, a detective who moonlighted on Chicago theater stages and in small movie roles. In the 1980s he was on the NBC television series "Crime Story."
He became a full-time actor much in demand for feature films ("Midnight Run," "Saving Private Ryan," "Get Shorty," "Snatch"), TV movies ("The Case of the Hillside Strangler," "Empire Falls") and TV series ("The In-Laws," "Buddy Faro").
He then became one of the stars of "Law & Order," playing tough, nattily dressed Detective Joe Fontana.
Farina was born on Feb. 29, 1944, the fourth son and youngest of the seven children of Joseph and Yolanda Farina. The father was a doctor, the mother a homemaker, and they raised their kids in a home at 549 W. North Ave. in an area that was then a working-class neighborhood with a broad ethnic mix predominated by Italians and Germans.
He went to school right around the corner from his home, at St. Michael's Elementary and St. Michael's Central High School.
After graduating from high school, Farina decided to "get the Army out of the way" and served three years before returning to Chicago. He worked for a while at the South Water produce market until, on the advice of his older brother, a lawyer, he joined the police force and studied criminal justice at Truman Junior College.
In October 2008, Farina became the new host of Unsolved Mysteries when it returned to television with a new five-season, 175-episode run on Spike TV. Farina replaced Robert Stack, who had hosted the series for its entire original 15-year run before his death in 2003. The series would include re-edited segments from previous incarnations on NBC, CBS, and Lifetime (all originally hosted by Stack) as well as several new original stories.
Farina played the title role in a 2011 independent film, The Last Rites of Joe May, written and directed by Joe Maggio, shot on location in Chicago. He co-starred in the 2012 HBO horse-race gambling series Luck, with Dustin Hoffman, directed by Michael Mann. He also had a recurring guest role in 2013 in the television comedy series New Girl.
Farina was married to Patricia Farina from 1970 until their divorce in 1980. They have three sons: Dennis Jr, Michael, and Joseph. His youngest son, Joseph, is also an actor. He has two granddaughters, Brianna and Olivia, and four grandsons: Michael, Tyler, Matthew, and Eric...
In 1940, Holiday's mother Sadie Fagan, nicknamed "The Duchess," started her own restaurant called Mom Holiday's. Fagan used the money her daughter earned while shooting dice with members of the Count Basie band, whom she was on tour with in the late 1930s. "It kept mom busy and happy and stopped her from worrying and watching over me," Holiday said. Soon, Fagan began borrowing large amounts of money from Holiday because the restaurant wasn't turning a profit. Holiday obliged, but soon fell upon hard times herself. "I needed some money one night and I knew Mom was sure to have some," Holiday said. "So I walked in the restaurant like a stockholder and asked. Mom turned me down flat. She wouldn't give me a cent." The two argued and then, Holiday, in a rage, hollered "God bless the child that's got his own," and stormed out of the restaurant. With help from Arthur Herzog, Jr., a pianist, the two wrote a song based on the line "God Bless the Child" and added music.
"God Bless the Child" became Holiday's most popular and covered record. It reached number 25 on the record charts in 1941 and ranked third in Billboard's top songs of the year, selling over a million records. In 1976, the song was added to the Grammy Hall of Fame. Herzog later claimed that Holiday contributed little to the lyrics of her music, adding only a few lines. He also stated that Holiday came up with the line "God Bless the Child" from a dinner conversation the two had.
On June 24, 1942, Holiday recorded "Trav'lin Light" with Paul Whiteman. Because she was still under contract with Columbia records, she couldn't release the song under her own name and instead used the pseudonym "Lady Day." The song was a minor success on the pop charts, reaching number 23, but hit number one on the R&B charts, which were called the Harlem Hit Parade at the time. In September 1943, Life magazine complimented Holiday on her work. They wrote, "she has the most distinct style of any popular vocalist and is imitated by other vocalists."
Milt Gabler eventually became an A&R man for Decca Records, in addition to owning Commodore Records, and he signed Holiday to the label on August 7, 1944, when Holiday was 29. Her first recording for Decca was "Lover Man" (#16 Pop, No. 5 R&B), one of her biggest hits. The success and wide distribution of the song made Holiday a staple in the pop community, allowing her to have her own solo concerts, a rarity for jazz singers in the late 40s. Gabler commented on the song's success, saying, "I made Billie a real pop singer. That was right in her. Billie loved those songs." Jimmy Davis and Roger "Ram" Ramirez, "Lover Man"'s songwriters, tried to get Holiday interested in recording the song in 1941, but she didn't take interest. In 1943, a flamboyant male torch singer by the name of Willie Dukes began singing "Lover Man" on 52nd Street. Because of Duke's success with the song, Holiday decided to add it to her live shows. The song's B-side is "No More", a song Holiday considered one of her favorites.
In 1946, Holiday recorded "Good Morning Heartache". Although the song failed to chart, it remained a staple in her live shows with three known live recordings of the song. In September 1946, Holiday began work on what would be her only major film New Orleans. She starred opposite Louis Armstrong and Woody Herman. Plagued by racism and McCarthyism, producer Jules Levey and script writer Herbert Biberman were pressured to lessen Holiday and Armstrong's role in the film as to not give the impression that black people created jazz. Their attempts failed because in 1947 Biberman was listed as one of the Hollywood Ten and sent to jail.
Holiday was not pleased that her role was reduced to that of a maid: "I thought I was going to play myself in it," she said. "I thought I was going to be Billie Holiday doing a couple of songs in a nightclub setting and that would be that. I should have known better. When I saw the script, I did." Before filming, Holiday was assigned a dramatic coach who coached her on how to properly say "Miss Marylee", the lead character's name. "So this coach was trying to get the right kind of tom feeling into this thing," Holiday said. At one point, after feeling cornered and unable to walk off the set, she burst out into tears. Louis Armstrong tried comforting her. "Better look out," he said. "I know Lady, and when she starts crying, the next thing she's going to do is start fighting." Several scenes were deleted from the film. "They had taken miles of footage of music and scenes," Holiday said, "[and] none of it was left in the picture. And very damn little of me. I know I wore a white dress for a number I did... and that was cut out of the picture." She recorded the track "The Blues Are Brewin'", for the film's soundtrack. Other songs included in the movie are "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?" and "Farewell to Storyville".
Unfortunately, Holiday's drug addictions were a growing problem on the set. She earned more than a thousand dollars a week from her club ventures at the time, but spent most of it on heroin. Her lover Joe Guy traveled to Hollywood while Holiday was filming and supplied her with drugs. When discovered by Joe Glaser, Holiday's manager, Guy was banned from the set. Louis Armstrong also tried to talk sense to Holiday, but the drug abuse was becoming a major problem.
By 1947, Holiday was at her commercial peak, having made a quarter of a million dollars in the three years prior. However, her world would start crashing down. On May 16, 1947, Holiday was arrested for the possession of narcotics in her New York apartment. On May 27, 1947, she was in court. "It was called 'The United States of America versus Billie Holiday'. And that's just the way it felt," Holiday recalled. During the trial, Holiday received notice that her lawyer was not interested in coming down to the trial and representing her. "In plain English that meant no one in the world was interested in looking out for me," Holiday said. Dehydrated and unable to hold down any food, she pled guilty and asked to be sent to the hospital. The D.A. spoke up in her defense, saying, "If your honor please, this is a case of a drug addict, but more serious, however, than most of our cases, Miss Holiday is a professional entertainer and among the higher rank as far as income was concerned." At the end of the trial, Holiday was sentenced to Alderson Federal Prison Camp in West Virginia, more popularly known as "Camp Cupcake". Holiday was released early on March 16, 1948, but the damage to her life being jailed was only the beginning of the end for one of the greatest vocal talents the jazz world has ever know...
Friday, July 19, 2013
Firstly, my little lady does not like Robert Preston in that role as Professor Harold Hill. I explained to her that Preston was a great actor of the 1940s and 1950s, and originated the role of Hill on Broadway. My wife thought Robert Preston was too old to be going after a young librarian (Shirley Jones). Preston was 43 and Jones was 27 when the film was made. There have been longer age differences in leading men and leading ladies, and I feel that Preston looked younger than his age. My wife thinks he looks more like her father. When they were casting the movie, Bing Crosby's name came up briefly as playing Harold Hill. I love Bing but he was born in 1903!
My wife can not stand the singing of Robert Preston. She states profusely that Preston had not right to sing. Again, I told her that Bing Crosby was considered for the part, and she stated "at least he can sing!". While on the topic of the singing and the music, my wife did not care for the score as well. She says that all of the songs with maybe the exception of "Til There Was You" were just spoken songs. The only number worth watching in her opinion was "Shipoopi". Although Buddy Hackett was another "non-singer", she thought the number was fun at least.
I tried to get her to say something positive about a musical that means a great deal to me, and other than Shirley Jones and the "Shipoopi" number, I can not get anything more out of her. My wife has a hatred for The Music Man more than River City had for salesmen - even played by Robert Preston. I love The Music Man, but I love my wife more - so I'll probably be watching the goings on at River City in the twilight hours of night from now on!
MY WIFE'S RATING: 4 OUT OF 10 STARS
MY RATING: 10 OUT OF 10 STARS
Wednesday, July 17, 2013
The group was originally composed of four brothers born in Piqua, Ohio, 25 miles (40 km) north of Dayton: John Jr. (1910-1936) bass vocalist and guitarist, Herbert (1912 – 1989) tenor, Harry (1913-1982) baritone, and Donald (1915–1999) lead tenor. Their parents were John Hutchinson (1882-1967) and Eathel Mills. John Sr. owned a barber shop and founded a barbershop quartet, called the '"Four Kings of Harmony"'. John Hutchinson Mills senior was the son of William Hutchinson Mills and Cecilia Simms who lived in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania.
As the boys grew older, they began singing in the choir of the Cyrene African Methodist Episcopal Church and in the Park Avenue Baptist Church in Piqua. After their lessons at the Spring Street Grammar School, they would gather in front of their father's barbershop on Public Square or at the corner of Greene and Main to sing and play the kazoo to passersby. They entered an amateur contest at Piqua's Mays Opera House, but while on stage, Harry discovered he had lost his kazoo. He cupped his hands to his mouth and imitated a trumpet. The success of his imitation led to all the brothers taking on instruments to imitate and created their early signature sound. John Jr. accompanied the four-part harmony first with a ukulele and then a guitar. They practiced imitating orchestras they heard on the radio. John, as the bass, would imitate the tuba. Harry, a baritone, imitated the trumpet, Herbert became the second trumpet and Donald the trombone. They entertained on the Midwest theater circuit, at house parties, tent shows, music halls and supper clubs throughout the area and became well known for their close harmonies, mastery of scat singing, and their ability to imitate musical instruments with their voices.
The Mills Brothers started making records around 1930, and it is nearly impossible to capture their magic abilities in a little article like this. Their first records for Brunwick Records were light years ahead of what was being recorded at the time. Even though the song "Shine" has racial lyrics, the recording the Mills Brothers made of it with Bing Crosby is one of the best records I have ever heard. They made a series of recordings with Crosby including "Dinah" which was another one of their best records of the early 1930s. Other hits followed – "Goodbye Blues," their theme song, "Nobody's Sweetheart," "Ole Rockin' Chair," "Lazy River," "How'm I Doin'," and others. They remained on Brunswick until late 1934, when they signed with Decca, where they stayed well into the 1950s. Unfortunately, while at Decca they did not make any records with Bing, who was the number one recording artist there. It was really a crime.
I feel that every period of the Mills Brothers career is worth listening to. I remember in 1989, I was still a young music collector, and I borrowed from the library an LP box set of the Mills Brothers on the Longines Symphonette Society label. If I remember correctly, it features songs the brothers recorded in the late 1960s. As I got to the librarian, and older gentleman stopped me to tell me that Herbert Mills had died that very day. I did not even know, and even though it was just a coincidence it has stuck with me to this day. All of the brothers are gone now, but their music lives on. When I dsicovered their sound in the early 1980s, I was just a naive kid who liked their sound. Now that I am a music collector, when I listen to the Mills Brothers now I realize that I am still a music lover first and a collector second - and always will be...
Monday, July 15, 2013
Donald O' Connor (1925-2003) was truly one of the greats of the dancing world. He made it look so effortless that he is often overlooked when you are talking about Hollywood dancers. He definitely deserves to be ranked up there with Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. Here are some great picture moments in the life and career of Donald O'Connor...
|Donald with Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire - 1950s|
|Donald with Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire - 1970s|
Friday, July 12, 2013
Mary Ford was born Iris Colleen Summers in El Monte, California on July 7, 1924, the second daughter of Marshall McKinley Summers (1896-1981),a Nazarene minister, who later became a painting contractor, and his wife, Dorothy May White Summers (1897-1988), and was the sister of Byron Fletcher Summers (1918-1994), Esther Eva Summers Wootten (born 1922), Bruce Wendell Summers (1929-2007) and Bob Summers (born 1938). Ford came from a musical family, and her parents left Missouri, traveling cross-country while singing gospel music and preaching at revival meetings across the United States. They eventually settled in Southern California, where they were heard over KPPC-AM, Pasadena's first Christian radio station. Her sisters and brothers were all musicians; Esther, Carol, Fletcher, jazz organist Bruce and film composer Bob Summers.
After being married two other times, she met guitarist Les Paul. By 1947 Summers became romantically involved with Paul, whose first marriage to Virginia M. Webb was failing, as it could no longer endure the stresses and strains of his show-business career.In January 1948, while traveling on Route 66 through Oklahoma, the couple’s car driven by Summers skidded off the road and plummeted 20 feet into a frozen creek bed. After the accident, Summers identified herself to authorities as Iris Watson.Among Paul’s many injuries, his right elbow was shattered, and it would be eighteen months before he could play guitar again After Paul's wife Virginia took their two sons to Chicago, Summers moved in with Paul in his house on Carson Avenue, where she took care of him as he recuperated from the effects of the car accident.
After extensive touring and recording, the couple decided to leave Hollywood and moved to New York City to make the crossover from radio to television. They took a cramped apartment in Paul’s former New York neighborhood, where they conceived and recorded their arrangement of "How High The Moon", a hard-swinging multi-layered arrangement containing twelve overdubs using the guitar and Ford’s voice. While Capitol was reluctant to release this song, after they had scored several more hits with Capitol, including, 'Tennessee Waltz" and "Mockin’ Bird Hill", "How High The Moon" was released in March 1951. Within a month, "How High The Moon" and "Mockin’ Bird Hill" captured The Hit Parade’s number 1 and number 2 spots, respectively. Paul bought a Cadillac to use on their expanding road tours with plenty of space for all their electronic gear. In September 1952, after cutting "I'm Sitting on Top of the World", Ford and Paul sailed for London to appear at the Palladium Theatre, where they debuted before Queen Elizabeth II and the royal family.
In 1953 the couple recorded "Vaya con Dios" (Capitol 2486), the biggest selling song of their career, which was released in June 1953, entered the Billboard charts on June 13, 1953, and reached number one on August 8 and remaining there for a total of nine weeks. The song lasted thirty-one weeks on the charts, but with the advent of rock 'n' roll, they faded from the charts.
In October 1963 Paul initiated divorce proceedings in New Jersey against Ford, on the grounds of adultery and cruelty, claiming she had committed adultery with cowboy singer Foy Willing during a three-year affair and also with building contractor Donald E. Hatfield, and "other various men"; had neglected the care of their children; and had humiliated him in public by boasting of her affection for other men and claiming that he had abused her. While not convinced that her husband was in a current sexual relationship with Ford, Sharon Lee Willing, alleges her husband and Ford had a sexual relationship during their time together on The Hollywood Barn Dance in the mid-1940s; that Ford had a proprietary interest in her husband, often phoning him in the middle of the night; and that her husband recommended his own attorney to Ford to handle her divorce, but that the lawyer eventually resigned as Ford was always drunk, often obstinate, indecisive and forgetful about details in their meetings. After dropping his charges of adultery and desertion, on December 17, 1964 Paul was granted an uncontested divorce on the grounds of extreme cruelty and granted custody of their son.
Mary Ford never had any singing success like the recordings she made with Les Paul. She made a couple of solo recordings, and then created a singing group with her sisters with little success. In 1965, Ford married for the fourth and final time to her childhood sweetheart from back home. As she got older, Mary did not take good care of herself. After falling into a diabetic coma, Mary Ford died eight weeks later on September 30, 1977 at the young age of 53. She might have had personal problems as we all do, but her vocals should be remembered. She deserves to not be hidden in the shadow of a genius like Les Paul...
Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Gwynne was born in New York City, a son of Frederick Walker Gwynne, a partner in the securities firm Gwynne Brothers, and his wife Dorothy Ficken. His paternal grandfather was an Episcopal priest born in Camus, near Strabane, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, and his maternal grandfather was an immigrant from London, England. Gwynne attended the Groton School, and graduated from Harvard University, where he was affiliated with Adams House, in 1951. Although Gwynne grew up in Tuxedo Park, New York, he spent most of his childhood in South Carolina, Florida, and Colorado because his father traveled extensively. At Harvard, he was a member of the Fly Club, sang with the a cappella group the Harvard Krokodiloes, was a cartoonist for the Harvard Lampoon (eventually becoming its president), and acted in the Hasty Pudding Theatricals shows. During World War II, Gwynne served in the U.S. Navy. He later studied art under the G.I. Bill.
Gwynne joined the Brattle Theatre Repertory Company after graduation, then moved to New York City. To support himself, Gwynne worked as a copywriter for J. Walter Thompson, resigning in 1952 upon being cast in his first Broadway role, a gangster in a comedy called Mrs. McThing, which starred Helen Hayes.
Phil Silvers was impressed by Gwynne from his work in Mrs. McThing and sought him for his television show. As a result, in 1955, Gwynne made a memorable appearance on The Phil Silvers Show, in the episode "The Eating Contest" as the character Private Ed Honnergar, whose depressive eating binges are exploited by Sgt. Bilko (Phil Silvers), who seeks prize money by entering Honnergar in an eating contest. Gwynne's second appearance on The Phil Silvers Show (in the episode "Its For The Birds" in 1956 in which Bilko persuades bird expert Honnergar to go on The $64,000 Question) and many other shows led writer-producer Nat Hiken to cast him in the sitcom Car 54, Where Are You? as Patrolman Francis Muldoon, opposite Joe E. Ross. During the two-season run of the program he met longtime friend and later co-star, Al Lewis. Gwynne was then cast next in The Munsters as the head of the family.
Even though he was now identified as Herman Munster, he still worked steadily into the 1990s. One of his best later performances was as Jud Crandall in Pet Sematary. It was based on author Stephen King himself, who is also quite tall — only an inch shorter than the actor — and uses a similarly thick Maine dialect. Gwynne also had roles in the movies Simon, On the Waterfront, So Fine, Disorganized Crime, The Cotton Club, Captains Courageous, The Secret of My Success, Water, Ironweed, Fatal Attraction and The Boy Who Could Fly. Despite his misgiving about having been typecast, he also agreed to reprise the role of Herman Munster for the 1981 TV reunion movie The Munsters' Revenge. In his last film, Gwynne played Judge Chamberlain Haller in the 1992 film comedy My Cousin Vinny, in which he used a Southern accent, and his verbal sparring with Joe Pesci's character over how to pronounce the word "youths" was prominently featured in the film's trailer. Gwynne died at the relatively young age of 66 when he succumbed to pancreatic cancer on July 2, 1993 just eight days before his 67th birthday...
Monday, July 8, 2013
"Smiler" Grogan (Jimmy Durante), suspect in a tuna factory robbery 15 years before and on the run from the police, recklessly passes a number of vehicles on a twisting, mountainous road in Southern California's Mojave Desert before careening his car off a cliff and crashing. Five motorists from four of the passed vehicles stop to assist: dentist Melville Crump (Sid Caesar); furniture mover Lennie Pike (Jonathan Winters); "Dingy" Bell (Mickey Rooney) and "Benjy" Benjamin (Buddy Hackett), two friends on their way to Las Vegas; and entrepreneur J. Russell Finch (Milton Berle). Just before he dies, Grogan tells the men about $350,000 cash buried--"under a big 'W'"--in Santa Rosita State Park in Santa Rosita Beach near the Mexican border. Two detectives (Norman Fell, Nicholas Georgiade) arrive, and the lead detective asks the men pointed questions about their interaction with Grogan. While not-so-artfully dodging the questions, each of the five internally changes from having had compassion for Grogan to becoming greedy to retrieve the treasure. The detectives permit the five to return to their vehicles after receiving Finch's contact information. The motorists then drive away from the accident site, initially testing each other's resolve on the road, then stop to try to reason with one another on how to share the money (in the "17 different ways" conversation), but when they can't agree on any one particular distribution, they run to their vehicles to engage in an all-out race to reach the loot first. All four vehicles are eventually abandoned.
Everyone experiences multiple setbacks en route to the money. Melville and his wife Monica (Edie Adams) charter a shabby World War I-era biplane to Santa Rosita from an unlicensed pilot (Ben Blue) and arrive by cab to a hardware store. After telling the cabbie (Leo Gorcey) to wait outside, a store employee (Doodles Weaver) lets them in just before closing time. But the store's owner, Mr. Dinkler (Edward Everett Horton), closes it down and locks the door to the basement, into which the pair had just descended, intending to find and buy a pick and shovel. Melville wrecks the place in various failed attempts to escape before blasting a hole in the wall with dynamite.
Dingy and Benjy question an attendant (Charles Lane) and, against his objections, convince pilot Tyler Fitzgerald (Jim Backus) to shuttle them to Santa Rosita in his modern twin-engine aircraft. Fitzgerald carelessly lets them operate the controls while he mixes drinks in the back of the plane; soon Benjy's erratic steering knocks him unconscious and the pair have to fly and land the plane on their own. A group of air-traffic controllers (Carl Reiner, Eddie Ryder, Jesse White) are unable to assist them in landing, and a retired Air Force officer (Paul Ford) is brought in to help them land. Dingy and Benjy eventually land their aircraft, crashing into an airport terminal but escaping unharmed. Two other cab drivers (Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, Peter Falk), who respectively whisk Dingy and Benjy away from the airport, and Melville and Monica from the hardware store, also get in on the hunt.
Pike tries to get motorist Otto Meyer (Phil Silvers) to take him to Santa Rosita but foolishly tells him about the scheme, prompting the greedy Meyer to race for the money himself. Pike, outraged, destroys the aforementioned service station at which Meyer has been forced to stop due to a tire blowout. After the rampage, Pike steals the station's tow truck and later picks up Mrs. Marcus and Emmeline. Mrs. Marcus calls her beach-bum son Sylvester (Dick Shawn), who lives near Santa Rosita, to look for the loot, but the Oedipally-obsessed Sylvester, who is dancing with his laconic girlfriend (Barrie Chase), races hysterically to the defense of his mother instead. Meyer experiences his own setbacks, including losing his car in a river. After flagging down a nervous motorist (Don Knotts), persuading the motorist by a conspiracy theory suggesting that he is a CIA agent hunted by Russians, Meyer steals the motorist's car. All the while, the police secretly track their activities while Culpeper bides his time.
When the two taxicab groups notice Culpeper heading away from Santa Rosita with the money, they immediately reverse direction and chase him, foiling his plan to store his police vehicle with the help of Jimmy the Crook (Buster Keaton) in a seaside garage and hop a boat bound for Mexico. After a number of unsuccessful attempts to reach Culpeper by radio, Police Chief Aloysius (William Demarest) realizes what Culpeper is doing, revokes his newly-trebled pension — which Aloysius had secured by arm twisting the mayor (Lloyd Corrigan) less than a half hour before — by tearing up the envelope that the mayor yielded and the pension papers that it presumably contains, and orders Culpeper's arrest.
At the end of the chase, stranded high up the decaying fire escape ladders of an abandoned building are the eleven men in the group, each of whom is continually trying to keep the other ten men from possessing the suitcase containing the money, despite warnings from a speech-maker (Joe E. Brown) that the ladders are unsafe. While the men are trying to avoid falling off the building's disintegrating fire escape, the suitcase accidentally opens, spilling the cash into the air to flutter upon the crowd below. The ladders break away from the building and a fire engine arrives to rescue the men, who then simultaneously attempt to climb down an extended fire truck ladder. But their combined weight breaks the ladder's hydraulic system, causing it to gyrate uncontrollably, flinging or dropping them off to various locations.
The dejected men, now immobile in a prison hospital in bandages and casts, blame one another for their predicament and criticize Culpeper for seizing the money. Replying that their sentences may be lighter because he will probably take most of the blame in court, ex-Captain Culpeper adds that perhaps in 10 or 20 years, there will be something about all this he can laugh about. Benjy throws his banana peel toward a wastebasket, but it misses and lands on the floor, moments before the nagging Mrs. Marcus enters, flanked by Monica and Emmeline, scolding all of the hospitalized men for everything. Mrs. Marcus slips on the banana peel, falls flat on her back, and is hurriedly carried off on a gurney...while Culpeper and all the other injured men laugh hysterically.
Distinguished by the largest number of stars to appear in a film comedy, Mad World opened to acclaim from many critics and tremendous box office receipts, becoming the highest grossing American film of 1963, quickly establishing itself as one of the top 100 highest-grossing films of all time when adjusted for inflation. The film's great success inspired Kramer to direct and produce Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (also starring Tracy in his last role). So much can be written and said about this classic comedy. It is fun to watch for the cameos in the movie from Jerry Lewis playing a crazed driver who runs over Spencer Tracy's hat to Jack Benny who stops on the side of the road only to get yelled at by Ethel Merman. The movie is long but does not seem long, and it is the perfect movie to lose yourself in on a lazy afternoon...
MY RATING: 10 OUT OF 10
Friday, July 5, 2013
In Defense of Dick Haymes
by Christopher Loudon
One of the great, openly sung, rivalries of the 1940s pitted Frank Sinatra against Dick Haymes. Ultimately, of course, Sinatra achieved massively greater success than Haymes; but between the late 1930s, when both enjoyed their first flush of success, and the late 1940s, when both of their careers spiraled downwards, their popularity was neck-and-neck. Actually, though their record sales and appeal as movie stars were comparable, Haymes earned more gold records during that decade (thanks, in part, to his frequent vocal partnerships with Helen Forrest) than did Sinatra.
The career parallels between the two are quite remarkable, with Haymes, it seems, forever playing catch-up. When Sinatra concluded his brief association with Harry James’ band in 1939, Haymes stepped in to replace him. Three years later, when Sinatra famously parted company with Tommy Dorsey, Haymes was again his successor. Both made their screen debuts with Dorsey. By 1945, as both were elevated to major screen star status — Sinatra with the MGM blockbuster Anchors Aweigh and Haymes with the Hollywood adaptation of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s State Fair — their solo careers were in high gear. Then both hit the professional skids as the 1950s dawned. Soon afterward, both were embroiled in tempestuous marriages to fiery screen idols, Sinatra with Ava Gardner (who helped salvage his career) and Haymes with Rita Hayworth (who did nothing to boost Haymes professional standing, but did help bolster Sinatra’s meteoric career recovery, playing opposite him in Pal Joey, the film that would cement his image as a likable cad.)
As anyone with even an inkling of Sinatra rags-to-riches-to-rags-to-mega-riches story knows, his early ’50s comeback, propelled by his Oscar-winning performance in From Here to Eternity, was primarily fueled by his renewed recording success, at Capitol. Working primarily with arrangers Nelson Riddle and Billy May, Sinatra released 16 top-selling albums, many considered the finest of not only his career but of the entire era, before launching his own label, Reprise, in 1961.
A fact that usually goes unnoted is that Haymes also signed with Capitol in the 1950s, marking the only time the archrivals toiled for the same label. Haymes produced only two albums, plus a handful of singles, for Capitol. Neither LP was a strong seller, and Haymes’ tenure with Capitol, begun in 1955, was over in less than two years. There has since been much conjecture that sales of Haymes’ Capitol releases were marred by headline-grabbing tales of his near-deportation (born in Buenos Aires, he had never become an American citizen) and his stormy relationship with Hayworth. (Though equally explosive gossip about Sinatra and Gardner’s turbulent marriage didn’t hurt his sales).
It has often been reported that Capitol offered Haymes the opportunity with Riddle or May, but the he opted to instead work with neophyte Canadian arranger (later turned successful screenwriter) Ian Bernard. One must, however, wonder if Sinatra, surely not eager to have his one-time rival working with either or both of the arrangers who had fueled his dynamic return, might have had a hand in the decision. It is hard to imagine why, given the tatters his career was in, that Haymes would have backed a virtual unknown in favor of two pros with a proven record for career re-ignition (unless it was perhaps to distance himself from the Sinatra sound).
Truth is, Haymes did extremely well by Bernard. The two, ballad-heavy albums — Rain or Shine, captured just prior to Christmas 1955; and Moondreams laid down in April ’56 — are the finest recordings of Haymes’ career. Indeed, both can hold their own against any of Sinatra’s Capitol (or Reprise) sessions. That Haymes’ was, among white singers, possessor of the greatest baritone voice of the 20th-century was never better evidenced than across these 24 tracks.
In an obvious attempt to recapture some of Haymes’ fans from a decade earlier, Rain or Shine is a somewhat nostalgic affair, including new renditions of three of his biggest 1940s hits, “You’ll Never Know,” “Little White Lies” and “It Might As Well Be Spring.” Haymes remains in a warm, deeply romantic mood throughout, delivering impeccably beautiful readings of, among others, “The Very Thought of You,” “How Deep Is the Ocean,” “The More I See You,” “Where or When,” “Love Is Here to Stay” and the quasi-title track, “Come Rain or Come Shine” (the latter two arranged by a young Johnny Mandel).
Moondreams continues in the same romantic vein, though there is no backward-glancing among the 12 tracks, and Haymes (never one to swing with Sinatra fervor) does manage to balance such heartbreakers as “You Don’t Know What Love Is” and “What’s New” with breezy covers of “I Like the Likes of You,” “Isn’t This A Lovely Day” and “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.” I defy you to find more tender or heartfelt interpretations of “Imagination,” “When I Fall In Love” or “The Way You Look Tonight.”
Haymes’ nine Capitol singles, two of which were never released, are comparatively weak, due largely to the inferiority of the material. Two 1956 tracks, recorded with Billy May’s orchestra — the suggestively torrid “C’est La Vie” (a ’55 hit for Sarah Vaughan) and the playful “I Never Get Enough of You” (which bears a striking similarity to the Four Lads’ 1958 hit “There’s Only One of You”) — easily rise above the rest.
When Rain or Shine and Moondreams fell disappointingly flat with the record-buying public, Haymes struck out on his own to deliver the optimistically titled Look at Me Now! Turned down by all of the major and second-string labels, Haymes finally found distribution with Hollywood Records, an ineffectually tiny L.A. outfit. Though the album features decent (if occasionally overwhelming) arrangements, backing by the Maury Laws Orchestra and Cy Coleman at the piano, the limits of Haymes’ financial backing are evident in the extremely poor production values. So budget-driven was the project that, to reduce royalty fees, only 10 of the dozen recorded tracks were included on the finished album. It tempting to consider how superb Look at Me Now! might have been if handled with the skill and care that were Capitol hallmarks. But the platter does have its merits, particularly a satiny “This Time the Dreams on Me” featuring just Haymes and Coleman, and a dark, sensuous “A Sinner Kissed An Angel.”
Haymes delivered just one more album before drifting into semi-retirement in the early 1960s. Again tied to a small label, Warwick, with inadequate distribution muscle, Richard the Lion-Hearted — Dick Haymes That Is! is far better than its corny title and equally silly cover design, featuring a puffy-looking Haymes sharing his copy of Variety with a seemingly nonplussed jungle cat, suggest. Rust has started to appear at the edges of Haymes’ rich baritone, the decay surely accelerated by his losing battle with the bottle, but it only marginally diminishes his surprisingly peppy handling of “Pick Yourself Up,” “Blue Champagne,” “Anything Goes,” “I’ve Heard That Song Before” and “Lulu’s Back In Town,” featuring brassy, sophisticated arrangements by Ralph Burns. Of special interest is Haymes cover of Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh’s “Playboy Theme.” If ever there was a tune custom-tailored for the ring-a-ding-ding Sinatra, it was this one. But Sinatra never touched it, leaving Haymes’ loose, urbane (and distinctly Tormé-esque) reading to stand on its own. The album’s best track is, rather ironically, the one that harkens back a decade-and-a-half to the pinnacle of Haymes’ popularity. It is a rousing, and impressively robust, update of the State Fair gem “That’s For Me.” Though Haymes would return to the recording studio in the 1970s and manage a minor resurgence, it seems a fitting adieu to an underappreciated master who spend too much time in an even bigger giant’s shadow.
Fortunately, Haymes’ has fared well on the CD front. Most of his hit recordings from the 1940s, including those with Helen Forrest, have been reissued in various combinations. For a long while, the Capitol albums were only available as extremely pricy and difficult-to-find Japanese imports. But in 2006, EMI released The Complete Capitol Collection with all 24 tracks from Rain or Shine and Moondreams plus all of the singles and a couple of rare outtakes. The set is still in print, and also downloadable on iTunes. Look at Me Now! has also found its way onto CD (again as a Japanese import), complete with all 12 of the tracks originally intended for the album plus two bonus tracks: 1957 radio transcriptions of “What’s New” and “Moonlight Becomes You.” It doesn’t come cheap (Amazon.com currently lists it at over $50), but is available. Intriguingly, it is part of a series advocated by the Sinatra Society of Japan. And, like so many jazz rarities of the 1950s and ’60s, Richard the Lion-Hearted was, in 1990, released on CD by Barcelona-based Fresh Sound Records. It has since drifted out of print, but used copies are relatively easy to find via Amazon or eBay...
Wednesday, July 3, 2013
At about age twenty-five, Cohan segued with boundless enthusiasm into a career on the musical stage taking all the Cohans and his young wife, Ethel Levey, with him. Cohan used Little Johnny Jones as a vehicle to star all four Cohans and Levey. Cohan himself portrayed the show's young hero, Johnny Jones, an American who goes to Britain to ride his horse Yankee Doodle in a derby. Like Cohan himself, the character Johnny Jones was exuberant, brash and patriotic.
Little Johnny Jones had a brief Broadway run and was not highly praised by the critics, but it had a long national tour. It also had two return engagements on Broadway in 1905 and two brief New York revivals in 1907 and 1982.
Subsequent to Cohan's most successful years on Broadway, a number of shows have incorporated his song "Yankee Doodle Boy" and/or depicted the "Yankee Doodle Boy," himself. Eddie Buzzell sang "Yankee Doodle Boy" in the 1929 motion-picture adaptation of the big hit Little Johnny Jones. Jimmy Cagney played the role of George M. Cohan and sang "Yankee Doodle Boy" in the Academy Award-winning 1942 film Yankee Doodle Dandy. Bob Hope popularized the song further in the 1955 Academy Award-nominated film The Seven Little Foys. And in 1969 Joel Grey played George M. Cohan on Broadway in the smash hit George M!...
Monday, July 1, 2013
The music was written by Jule Styne, the lyrics by Sammy Cahn. The song was introduced by Doris Day in her film debut, Romance on the High Seas, and was published in 1947. Versions which made the Billboard magazine charts in 1948 were recorded by Doris Day, Tony Martin, Dick Haymes, Gordon MacRae, and Sarah Vaughan.
The Doris Day recording was released by Columbia Records as catalog number 38188. The recording spent 21 weeks on the Billboard chart, peaking at position #2.
The Tony Martin recording was released by RCA Victor Records as catalog number 20-2862. The recording spent 13 weeks on the Billboard chart, peaking at position #11.
The Dick Haymes recording was released by Decca Records as catalog number 23826. The recording spent 18 weeks on the Billboard chart, peaking at position #9.
The Gordon MacRae recording was released by Capitol Records as catalog number 15072. The recording spent 17 weeks on the Billboard chart, peaking at position #9.
The Sarah Vaughan recording was released by Musicraft Records as catalog number 557. The recording spent 2 weeks on the Billboard chart, peaking at position #29.
Other versions include the Dinah Washington version. Dinah Washington recorded the song in 1959 for her album "What a Diff'rence a Day Makes!" Keely Smith recorded it in 1959 for her Capital album, Swingin’ Pretty, arranged and conducted by Nelson. Shirley Bassey recorded the song in 1963 for her EP "In Other Words...". As late as 2010, Australian singer Melinda Schneider recorded the song for her Doris Day tribute album "Melinda Does Doris".
The song is absolutely beautiful, just as the 65 year long marriage of my Grandparents were. What they had was definitely "magic". I miss them still...
You sigh, the song begins;
You speak, and I hear violins --
The stars desert the skies,
And rush to nestle in your eyes --
Without a golden wand
Or mystic charms,
Fantastic things begin
When I am in your arms.
When we walk hand-in-hand,
The world becomes a wonderland --
How else can I explain
Those raindrops when there is no rain?
Why do I tell myself
These things that happen are all really true?
When, in my heart, I know the magic is
My love for you.
Why do I tell myself
These things that happen are all really true?
When, in my heart I know, the magic is
My love for you.