Friday, May 31, 2013

THE LAST DAYS OF BUD ABBOTT

Awhile ago I posted a story on comedian Bud Abbott that was done in 1960. It was a year after his beloved partner Lou Costello passed away. Abbott was sad and dejected after feeling left out by the Hollywood scene that once embraced the team. Sadly, his final years got worse and worse. When Bud Abbott died on April 24, 1974 at the age of 78 he was a broke and defeated man.

In 1961, Bud Abbott began performing with a new partner, Candy Candido to good reviews. But Abbott called it quits, remarking that "No one could ever live up to Lou." The following year, Abbott performed in a dramatic television episode of General Electric Theater titled "The Joke's On Me".  After struggling to repay IRS liens that zapped his savings, Abbott thought he found salvation providing his own voice for the Hanna-Barbera animated series The Abbott and Costello Cartoon Show, with Stan Irwin providing the voice of Lou Costello. The cartoon ran in syndication from September 9, 1967 to June 1, 1968 and consisted of 39 individual episodes. However, the money that Abbott made from that voice over would be wiped away as his health began to fade.

By 1970 Abbott was living off a $180 a month social security benefit. His wife worked part time, and he was supported by his two children. In late 1970, he suffered the first in a series of strokes. In 1972, he broke his hip. Later that year his daughter Victoria Wheeler was interviewed for the National Enquirer, and told them:

"The doctors don’t hold any hope for him. He has cancer.My father is a very sick man. He has prostate cancer. He is in a lot of pain and hallucinates a great deal. Doctors say he has three to six months to live, but only God can tell. His condition changes from day to day. Sometimes he seems okay and in the next moment his is incoherent and oblivious to those around him.”


After the National Enquirer ran the article, Bud Abbott was bombarded with cards and letters - some even including money. In September of 1973 the magazine ran a follow up story where Abbott's wife Betty was interviewed:

“We couldn’t possibly answer all the letters, but I want to thank everybody. And please tell them that Bud is not alone. We’ve been together for over 55 years. The doctors never tell me anything except that he’s very sick. If he could only live. I say my prayers for my husband every night, but I want to keep him with me for as long as I can.”

In Bud Abbott's final monthes, he basically faded away in a hospital bed in what was once a dining room. He was unable to move or talk, and his life was pretty much filled with days of suffering. Bud Abbott's suffering finally came to an end on April 24, 1974. He was surrounded by his wife Betty Abbott (1902-1981) and two adopted children Bud Abbott Jr (1942-1998) and Vickie Wheeler (born 1949). It such a shame that in a lifetime of laughter that Abbott gave audiences, his final years were spent in pain and sadness. It is not just sad, it is a tragedy...



Wednesday, May 29, 2013

HISTORY OF A SONG: TO KEEP MY LOVE ALIVE

To Keep My Love Alive
By Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart

This was the final song ever co-written by the legendary lyricist Lorenz Hart with his tunesmith partner Richard Rodgers. It was composed for the 1943 revival of A Connecticut Yankee, a show originated by Rodgers & Hart in 1927. It was introduced on stage by Vivienne Segal. Detailing the methods a serial widow has used to bump off her husbands, it is a classic example of the witty Hart touch. The lyricist died shortly thereafter of pneumonia.


Lyrics:
I've been married and married,
and often I've sighed,
I'm never a brides-maid,
I'm always the bride,
I never divorced them,
I hadn't the heart,
Yet, remember those sweet words,
"Till death do us part."

I married many men, a ton of them, and yet I was untrue to none of them,
because I bumped off ev'ry one of them to keep my love alive.

Sir Paul was frail, he looked a wreck to me.
At night he was a horse's nect to me,
so I performed an appendectomy,
to keep my love alive!

Sir Thomas had insomnia,
he couldn't sleep at night,
I bought a little arsenic,
he's sleeping now all right.

Sir Philip played the harp, I cussed the thing.
I crowned him with his harp to bust the thing,
and now he plays where harps are just the thing,
to keep my love alive, to keep my love alive.

I thought Sir George had possibilites,
but his flirtations made me ill at ease,
and when I'm ill at ease, I kill at ease
to keep my love alive.

Sir Charles came from a sanatorium,
and yelled for drinks in my emporium.
I mixed one drink, he's in memoriam,
to keep my love alive!

Sir Francis was a singing bird,
a night-in-gale,
That's why I tossed him off my balcony
to see if he could fly.

Sir Athelstane indulged in fratricide,
he killed his dad and that was patricide.
One night I stabbed him by my mattress side,
to keep my love alive, to keep my love alive.

Recorded By:
Ella Fitzgerald
Blossom Dearie
Nancy Walker
Elaine Stritch
Ray Charles
Pearl Bailey
Sophia Loren




Monday, May 27, 2013

DEBBIE REYNOLDS AND LIBERACE

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) — In the new film "Behind the Candelabra," veteran entertainer Debbie Reynolds has just three major scenes to flesh out one of the most complicated figures in piano-playing showman Liberace's life: his loving but sometimes manipulative mother Frances.

The Oscar-, Tony- and Emmy-nominated Reynolds didn't need to do any homework for the part. She knew Frances. Reynolds joined Liberace's inner circle while both were doing stage shows in Las Vegas.

"I tell the story when Lee called me one night after work," Reynolds remembered, using Liberace's nickname. "I was at the Desert Inn, he was at the Hilton, and he said, 'Debbie, I'll pick you up after the show, and we'll take Tom Jones. It's his birthday.'"

"I have never had a better time than being Liberace's date," the 81-year-old Reynolds continued. "We all knew he was homosexual. That was a friend: You know what they love and the people that they love, and what they are."

"Behind the Candelabra" picks up the story of Liberace, played by Michael Douglas, in the '70s and focuses on his six-year relationship with the much younger Scott Thorson, portrayed by Matt Damon.

Reynolds, who also knew Thorson, highly praised both of the film's stars. "They had to immerse themselves: two straight men, to make this come off as loving and real."

Liberace died from complications of AIDS in 1987 at age 67. He never publicly acknowledged he was gay.

"I don't want him to be remembered just for being homosexual," Reynolds explained. "He should be remembered as a great entertainer and loved by so many. And this picture does do that."

"Behind the Candelabra" premieres on HBO in the U.S. and on HBO Canada Sunday. On the heels of its theatrical world premiere this week in Cannes, the film begins a run in overseas cinemas starting in June...


SOURCE

Friday, May 24, 2013

HEALTHWATCH: TIM CURRY

One of the truly great character actors is recovering from a stroke. Rocky Horror Show actor Tim Curry is recovering after suffering a major stroke at his home in Los Angeles.

The British star, 67, is said to be 'doing great' following the collapse.

Curry rose to fame as Dr. Frank-N-Furter in the cult musical and went on to a successful stage and film career. His best roles were as Rooster in the movie musical Annie (1982) and as Pennywise, the murderous clown in the television adaptation of It (1990).

Few details were available about the stroke last night, but sources close to the actor refused suggestions that the stroke had made it difficult for him to speak.

'Tim is doing great,' said his longtime Los Angeles agent Marcia Hurwitz. 'He absolutely can speak and is recovering at this time and in great humour', she added. Unmarried, he lives in the Hollywood Hills in a Spanish colonial-style villa.

The son of a Methodist Royal Navy chaplain, James, and his school secretary wife, Patricia, Curry is one of Britain’s best-loved character actors.

In 2011, he was scheduled to portray the Player in a Trevor Nunn production of Tom Stoppard’s 'Rosencrantz and Gildenstern are Dead' at the Chichester Festival Theatre and then in London, beween May and August, but he withdrew from the production at the last minute on May 27 citing ill health.

Recently Tim appeared in an 2010 episode of TV's "Criminal Minds" as an evil murderer on a rampage. Curry looked overweight and sick at the time he appeared on the crime drama. Tim also suffers debilitating asthma attacks...


SOURCE

WHERE ARE THEY NOW: RANDY QUAID

Randy Quaid was always the funnier and kookier brother of Dennis Quaid. Randy, born in 1950, made a name for himself in funny roles and various offbeat characters. Of course he is best known for his appearances alongside Chevy Chase as Cousin Eddie in the National Lampoon Vacation movie franchise. However, it went all wrong a couple of years ago, and since 2010 Randy Quaid has basically lived on the run in Canada.

Quaid has appeared in over 90 films. Peter Bogdanovich discovered him when Quaid was a student at the University of Houston, and he received his first exposure in Bogdanovich's The Last Picture Show. His character escorts Jacy Farrow (played by Cybill Shepherd) to late-night indoor skinny-dipping at a swimming pool. It was the first of his several roles directed by Bogdanovich and/or based on the writings of Larry McMurtry. Quaid's first major role was in the critically acclaimed The Last Detail (1973). He played a young US Navy sailor on his way to serve a harsh sentence for stealing $40 from an admiral's wife's pet charity. Jack Nicholson played the Navy sailor assigned to transport him to prison. Nicholson's character eventually becomes his friend and mentor, helping him experience different aspects of life before he goes behind bars. Quaid was nominated for a Golden Globe, BAFTA and an Academy Award for his role in The Last Detail. He was featured in two science fiction movies, Independence Day and the unsuccessful Martians Go Home.

Other movie roles include Kingpin, where he played the lovable Amish bowler Ishmael alongside Woody Harrelson and Vanessa Angel, a loser father in Not Another Teen Movie, and an obnoxious neighbor to Richard Pryor's character in Moving. He played the lead role in the HBO movie Dead Solid Perfect, a golfer trying to make it on the PGA Tour. He also appeared in the National Lampoon Vacation movies as Cousin Eddie to Chevy Chase's Clark W. Griswold. Shortly after starring in National Lampoon Christmas Vacation, Randy Quaid was also featured in Days of Thunder as comical NASCAR car owner and successful car salesman Tim Dailand, a determined businessman who expects his team to be top-notch for fans and sponsors. Quaid had a pivotal supporting role in Brokeback Mountain (2005) as an insensitive rancher.


On September 18, 2010, in Santa Barbara, California, Randy Quaid and his wife faced burglary charges for living in a guest house without the permission of the owner. They claimed that they had owned the property since the 1990s although a representative of the property owner had called the sheriff's department and produced documents that showed the house as being sold to the current owner in 2007. The previous owner had purchased the property from the Quaids several years earlier. TMZ reported that the Quaids claim that the home was wrongfully transferred to a third party by the use of the forged signature of a dead woman named Ronda Quaid in 1992. The Quaids are being accused of more than $5,000 worth of damage that they are claimed to have caused to the guest house.

They were booked for felony residential burglary under section 459 of the California Penal Code (459PC), and misdemeanor entering a non-commercial building without consent (602.5 PC). Evi Quaid was also booked for misdemeanor resisting arrest (148PC). Their bail was set at $50,000 each. On September 19, 2010 they posted bail and were released. On October 18, 2010, bench warrants for the Quaids were issued following their failure to appear for a hearing on the burglary charges. Their bail was subsequently raised to $500,000 each. The bail was forfeited in November 2010. The company that had posted bail for the Quaids lost a court case in January 2012 to prevent the forfeiture.


On October 22, 2010, Quaid and his wife sought protection under the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, after being arrested in the Kerrisdale neighbourhood of Vancouver. They have since applied for refugee status on the grounds that they fear for their lives in the United States, claiming that numerous actors have died under mysterious circumstances committed by the "Hollywood star whackers". They were granted bail on the condition of $10,000 bond pending further Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada hearings. However, due to their inability to deposit the required bond with the court for several days, they remained in custody of the Canada Border Services Agency. They were released on October 27 after the discovery that Evi Quaid is a "prima facie Canadian citizen".

On July 15, 2011 an attempt to extradite Randy and Evi Quaid from Canada failed when the U.S. Department of Justice turned down a request from the Santa Barbara County district attorney calling for the Quaids to be returned to California to face the felony burglary charges dating from the September 2010 incident. As a result, if Quaid and his wife re-enter the United States, they will be arrested. In January 2013, Canadian immigration officials denied Randy Quaid's request for permanent resident status in Canada while still leaving open the option to challenge this decision in federal court. Randy Quaid hasn't made a movie since 2009, and all I can say is I wish Cousin Eddie would come home...



Wednesday, May 22, 2013

SINGER SPOTLIGHT: JANE FROMAN

Here is an excellent article I found on the internet about Jane Froman. There is no way I could write a better one so I figured I would share it with you now...

Ellen Jane Froman was born on November 10, 1907 in a suburb of St. Louis Missouri. During the first five years of her life, everything seemed just fine within the Froman household. The serene atmosphere was suddenly jolted by the mysterious disappearance of her beloved father, Elmer, whom she absolutely adored. The exact circumstances of the family breakup were never fully learned by Jane, although unfounded sightings of her dad in faraway locations would persist for many years. It was during this uncertain time that young Jane began to stutter; an affliction that would persist in varying degrees throughout the rest of her life.

The family breakup left Jane’s mother Anna in the unenviable position of having to make ends meet as a single parent. Various jobs did not produce enough income, resulting in a move to the home of Jane’s maternal grandmother in Columbia Missouri. In those surroundings, she discovered the indomitable spirit of the female members of her family, making quite an impression on her as a young child.

In a new town and attending a new school, Jane felt ostracized by the other children who taunted her for living in a single parent home. The isolation was painful, but made her defiant and all the more determined to succeed.
Mother Anna was musically adept and sought to cultivate her daughter’s talent, which developed through secondary education at Christian College and later at the University of Missouri. Talented Jane unquestionably became the star of many campus productions and started receiving accolades for her prowess as a singer. Sent to study music at the Cincinnati Conservatory in 1928, she happened upon a party where she met Powell Crosley, the owner of the Cincinnati Reds baseball team. Crosley, who also owned station WLW, heard Jane sing at the party. He liked her contralto voice and asked if she’d consider performing on the radio.

Jane accepted and for the next 2 years she worked tirelessly at WLW, doing mostly an assortment of commercials, during all hours of the day and night. Eventually, she progressed into doing two 15 minute shows a week. It was a 2:00 a.m. broadcast that brought her to the attention of listener Paul Whiteman, who was traveling through Cincinnati with his entourage of musicians, en route back to Chicago.


Another performer on station WLW was announcer Don Ross, who met Jane for the first time as she segued into radio. Initially, they became good friends while making frank and accurate recommendations regarding the career moves of one another. Don reportedly taught newcomer Jane proper microphone technique and other early tricks of the trade.

Ross moved to Chicago in 1931, promising Jane he’d watch for opportunities in the windy city. Upon hearing various female singers on Chicago radio, Don encouraged Jane to head for Illinois, albeit without a job. Soon after arriving, she landed a spot on the Whiteman program; then feisty Jane used her determination to arrange an audition at NBC, getting a job singing on Florsheim Follies. Don and Jane eventually wed and were even termed “Radio’s Happiest Couple” in a 1934 issue of Radio Guide magazine.

New York beckoned and Jane’s singing career really took off in the big city. She debuted on the Chesterfield Hour in 1933, as her popularity rose among listeners. Next, offers from Broadway began to pour in; she was even asked to join the famed Ziegfield Follies for a one year engagement.

In 1934, Jane was appearing regularly on many top radio shows. The ubiquitous radio polls of the day even voted her the year’s top female singer. Despite her stuttering, Jane was able to sing flawlessly. If a show called for speaking role, another actress would be called upon to deliver her lines. At one time, Arlene Francis handled such an assignment for Jane on the Stage Door Canteen program. One evening an unnamed actress, ready to deliver words on Jane’s behalf dropped her script at the last second; gutsy Jane stepped to the microphone and delivered the lines flawlessly. Jane’s stutter was no secret among co-workers and audiences of the day; she stuttered when casually speaking with friends and didn’t care who knew about it.


A short film career ensued, as Jane went to Hollywood and appeared in a handful of less than memorable pictures in the mid 1930’s. Although photogenic in front of the camera, Jane’s stutter hindered the delivery of lines and she was soon relegated back to the ether land.

Famed composer George Gershwin asked Jane to introduce a new ballad penned for the stage play Porgy and Bess. The song was titled Summertime and although it’s been recorded by dozens of artists, Gershwin thought the Froman version to be the most touching rendition, performed with a deep and genuine feeling in her voice.

Jane was one of the first performers to realize our men and women in the armed services may soon be summoned. She began donating her time to entertain troops at military bases and camp shows in 1940. After Pearl Harbor in 1941, Jane pretty much heard the call to action and was a regular on the bond drive scene. The US Army recognized her commitment to service and made her an honorary sergeant; she earned her stripes through hard work and a commitment to the war effort.

In December of 1942, a little less than a year after Pearl Harbor, entertainers were recruited to begin going overseas as a morale boost for our troops. Naturally, Jane was one of the first to be approached and agree to go; she even volunteered to lead a troupe of entertainers. Based on the news of her imminent departure, Jane kept a packed bag with her at all times -- ready to go on a moment's notice. Word finally came down on February 20,1943, with accompanying orders to depart the next day from New York’s Municipal Field at LaGuardia airport. Passengers boarded a Pan American 314, the legendary Yankee Clipper, in service as part of the fleet since 1939; the 39 people on board included flight crew, military personnel, correspondents and entertainers. The planned route would ultimately take them to London, with a stop at Lisbon Portugal.

On the evening of February 22, the ill-fated trip abruptly ended when the plane came to a screaming crash into the murky bacteria laden waters of the Tagus River, near Lisbon. Jane was severely injured, suffering a compound fracture above her right ankle that almost severed her leg; a deep cut below her left knee; multiple breaks in her right arm; assorted sprains, broken ribs, bruises and cuts. Jane bobbed around in the water, helplessly unable to swim; her cries were heeded by crew member John Burn, who helped her stay afloat.


For almost an hour, the injured clutched random pieces of wreckage while help was on the way. Of the 39 people on board, only 15 survived the impact. Everyone seated around Jane perished in the crash. She’d be haunted for the rest of her life over trading seats with singer Tamara Drasin Swann just before the plane went down; Tamara did not survive the wreck. When finally rescued from the icy waters, Jane recalled gripping her right leg for fear it may fall off.

The survivors were rescued by a Portuguese fishing boat and ushered to a Lisbon hospital, where staff was clearly not prepared for such massive injuries to so many people. Jane essentially had to wait for emergency medical help until the next morning, when surgery took place. Doctors wanted to remove her seriously injured right leg, but the determined singer somehow convinced the attending physician not to take her limb. Later she recalled the desperate feelings of isolation she felt as she lay broken in body and spirit; injured in a strange land with literally nothing left but a small cross she wore. She would question her own will to live, yet still fought to stay alive.

The cause of the crash was never fully determined. Port officials reported storm clouds over the river, with a little rain, accompanied by lightning. Radio contact from the aircraft indicated all was well aboard. The runway was in sight of the plane when the last words from the airship were received, indicating a plan to bank right in preparation to land. It was surmised a low air pocket may have caused a wing to touch the water. The Clipper previously had crossed the Atlantic over 240 times, flying more than 1,000,000 miles during its history.

For two months, Jane was literally wrapped in a cast from shoulder to toe. When well enough to travel, she declined a return trip to the states via plane and instead boarded a freighter. Once back in the USA she had her first of the 39 surgeries she’d endure throughout her life. At the time, a new drug called penicillin had been introduced and President Roosevelt stepped in to order heavy doses of the antibiotic on Jane’s behalf.

In October 1943, only eight short months after the ordeal, the Froman determination got her back into the public spotlight when she starred in Artists and Models. The play was met with much adoration by a truly appreciative public admiring her gutsy comeback. Jane looked radiant in her role; however she physically had to be carried on stage to perform. Her deformed and scarred legs were discretely hidden by a long gown; sleeves covered her badly scarred right arm. As surgeries continued, she would graduate to a wheelchair and finally the use of canes to move about. She would learn to carefully walk again mostly through her own determination.



Miraculously, by 1945 she again heeded the call and went overseas to entertain hospitalized troops. Jane performed while on crutches to appreciative audiences of injured servicemen. The fact that she too was injured in the line of duty became an inspiration to the wounded. Her courage lifted the spirits of the men in uniform, many of whom decided if she could do it, they could too. Jane performed thirty five shows in Germany, France, England, Austria and Czechoslovakia, covering over 30,000 miles in 3 months of touring.

All of the medical procedures and rehab eventually led to her dependence on pain killers. During the period after her accident, up until 1949, she realized she had a problem and personally did something about it by literally taking herself off medication. The turmoil of her post war recovery continued; paradoxically, as her physical problems mounted, her stutter began to disappear. After years of marital difficulties, Jane divorced Don Ross in February of 1948. She later, she married John Burn, the crew member on the crashed clipper who helped save her life; they divorced in 1956.


Hollywood made a film about her crash and rescue titled With a Song in my Heart, starring Susan Hayward; Jane performed her own songs and served as technical advisor on the 1952 film. The picture was a hit and revitalized her career, resulting in more radio, club and television work. Renewed interest in her courageous story brought financial rewards, which helped pay her huge backlog of medical bills. Jane had her own TV show, from 1952 until 1955.

She retired in 1961 and essentially only performed in local benefits for charity. Jane married for a third time in 1962 when she and old college chum Rowland Smith tied the knot. Retirement for Jane was unfortunately not entirely a happy time. Although selflessly active in the community and always there to help others, her physical problems advanced with age. Jane deteriorated seriously after a car accident in 1979, which further aggravated her old injuries. She passed away of a heart attack on April 22, 1980 and was buried at Columbia Cemetery with the small gold cross that survived the 1943 crash...


SOURCE

Monday, May 20, 2013

MOVIE REVIEW: GEORGE WASHINGTON SLEPT HERE


The movie George Washington Slept Here (1942) came first, but the movie is an awful lot like Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1947). However, Jack Benny was really great in the Washington movie, and it can stand on its own as a pretty great film.

The play opened on Broadway, in New York City, New York, USA, on Friday, October 18th, 1940 and closed on Saturday, March 15th, 1941, after 173 performances. The cast included Ernest Truex, Dudley Digges, Jean Dixon and Percy Kilbride, who originated his movie role as Mr. Kimber. The film version, sparked up by the completely unexpected chemistry of dry-humored Jack Benny and "Oomph Girl" Ann Sheridan, is every bit as charming.

George Washington Slept Here" was an interesting departure for Jack Benny. Benny usually played a nice guy--a guy who let funny things happen to him and around him. However, since this film was based on a play, Benny played the role as it was written--acerbic and full of snappy one-liners. If you are used to Benny from his TV show or other films, this type of character is pretty different. Now I am NOT saying that this is a bad change. After all, considering how horribly stupid his wife (Ann Sheridan) is in the film, his sour disposition isn't all that bad--most husbands would have killed her! The film begins with Sheridan's dog, Ramy, getting the family tossed out of yet another apartment. So, without telling her husband, she buys a wreck of an ancient house in the country! Supposedly  George Washington is said to have once slept at the house. Needless to say, husband Bill is horrified--and keeps on being horrified as the price of renovation skyrockets.

In order to create the dilapidated farmhouse, the house used in Arsenic and Old Lace (filmed in 1941) was modified by knocking out bannisters, rafters and plaster.

Near the beginning of the movie, while still in his New York apartment, the character played by Jack Benny mentions "Hobby Lobby". This was a radio program that was first broadcast nationally as a summer replacement for "The Jack Benny Show". 


John Emery, playing actor Clayton Evans, says he's arrived in town to appear in a production of "The Man Who Came to Dinner", by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart (who also wrote the play on which this film is based). Ann Sheridan played Lorraine Sheldon in the 1942 film version (The Man Who Came to Dinner), which was also directed by William Keighley.

The dog in the movie, called Terry, was also the same one in The Wizard of Oz, where it gained its fame, as Toto, three years earlier.

Leon Ames, who appears as a neighbor, makes reference to "The Man Who Came To Dinner" (1942), another Moss Hart/Irving Kaufman play. He states that he is appearing in that play in a community theater.


Jack Benny's character mentions The Phil Harris Orchestra, in the movie. The Phil Harris Orchestra was Mr. Benny's Band on The Jell-o Show starring Jack Benny in 1936, later changed to The Jack Benny Show.

After seeing the play on Broadway, Jack Benny insisted that Percy Kilbride should reprise his role as the handyman, Mr. Kimber, in the film version. Benny managed to convince studio head Jack L. Warner to bring Kilbride out to Hollywood for a screen test, even though Warner thought there were plenty of local character actors who could take the handyman role. However, once filming began, Benny and his co-star, Ann Sheridan found they could barely get through a scene with Kilbride without laughing. Warned by director William Keighley that constant re-takes were taking the film over-budget, Benny finally had to resort to not sleeping at night, so that when he came to work in the morning, he would be too tired to laugh at Kilbride's character.

Jack Benny never really made it in movies the way his other comedy counterparts like Bob Hope and Jackie Gleason did. However, George Washington Slept Here as well as To Be Or Not To Be (also released in 1942) were two of Benny's best movies. Ann Sheridan was an underrated gem, and the movie as a whole is just a fun movie to watch. It is not the funniest movie, but it will bring a smile to your face. That is what great movies are all about...

MY RATING: 8 OUT OF 10



Friday, May 17, 2013

LORENZ HART: WHAT DID HE LIVE FOR


Here is an interesting article on the self destructive life of one of the greatest lyricists, Lorenz Hart. Hart is one of my all-time favorite song writers...

Coming from an upper middle-class Jewish American background, lyricist Lorenz Hart known to friends and colleagues as "Larry") was tortured by his diminutive stature and a homosexual orientation he could neither deny nor accept. His brilliant collaboration with heterosexual composer Richard Rodgers brought Hart to the top of his profession. Once there, Hart was too guilt ridden and too frightened to handle the combination of private daring and public tact mastered by Noel Coward and  Cole Porter. Hart opted for a self-destructive path, and the more he tried to suppress his desires, the more they consumed him.

Too insecure to pursue social equals, Hart limited his sexual attentions to chorus boys and male prostitutes – many procured for him by Milton "Doc" Bender, a stage-struck dentist who had been his friend since their college days. Apparently, the opportunistic Bender set aside whatever career he himself had to serve as Hart's hanger-on and procurer. Hart's friends and biographers often suggest that the disreputable Bender was responsible for leading Hart to ruin, but that doesn't make sense. As an intelligent adult who had money, connections and tremendous professional influence, Hart could live life as he chose to. If he slept with men throughout his adult life, common sense suggests that he did so because he was gay, not because a nefarious companion talked him into it. So future historians interested in reality would do well to stop using Bender as an excuse for Hart's homosexual activities. Sexuality does not require an external motivator, and to suggest otherwise is to buy into bigotry masquerading as painfully outdated pop-psychology.

Some of Hart's contemporaries have also suggested that he turned to homosexuality because women rejected him -- which is patent nonsense! Throughout history ambitious women have been all too willing to succumb to homely men who happen to have money and power, and few of those men had Hart's generous spirit or brilliant sense of humor. Plenty of Broadway and Hollywood chorines would have leapt into Hart's bed in hopes of getting a break, and as far as we can tell none of them ever got the chance. Hart peopled his bed with men. Beyond this, it is idiotic to infer Hart somehow chose to be gay. Sexuality is not a matter of choice -- unless of course the people who suggest it is can testify from their own experience that the opposite is true. Who would possibly have chosen to be a homosexual in the repressive atmosphere of the early 20th Century?

Evidence suggests that Hart found little enjoyment in his homosexual liasons. Terrified of intimacy, he would wait for sex partners to fall asleep, then creep out of bed and curl up on the floor of his bedroom closet to get some sleep. In Rodgers & Hart: Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered. G.P. Putnam's Sons: New York, 1976), several of Hart's acquaintances confirm that he went to private all-male orgies, but strictly as a voyeur. He found watching from the sidelines less stressful than participating.


Hart’s lyrics avoided references to homosexuality. Instead, they abound with expressions of frustrated romance ("Take Him"), isolated courtship ("Quiet Night") and unconventional affection ("My Funny Valentine"). No one expressed the painful side of love like Hart did – for obvious reasons. Beginning in his teens, Hart tried to drown his inner demons in alcohol. By the late 1930s, he was disappearing on drinking binges for days at a time. Composing with him became impossible. When an exasperated Rodgers threatened to begin collaborating with Oscar Hammerstein II, Hart endorsed the idea before heading off to Mexico on yet another spree. (Rodgers had his own serious drinking problems, but they did not effect his work habits until his later years.)

On hand for the opening night of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma, Hart was sober and stunned by its unprecedented triumph. He agreed to help Rodgers prepare a revival of A Connecticut Yankee (1943 - 135), giving longtime friend Vivienne Segal the new comic showstopper "To Keep My Love Alive." But by the time the show was in rehearsal, Hart was drinking heavily. He showed up falling-down drunk for the Broadway opening. There are several published versions of what happened next, but at some point Hart started singing along from the rear of the theatre until he was dragged out by bodyguards. After spending the night on his brother's sofa, he disappeared. Days later, he was found sitting on a street curb – drunk, coatless, and soaked to the skin by an icy November downpour. Pneumonia led to his death a few days later. According to a nurse, Hart's last words were, "What have I lived for?" Would it have comforted him to know people would still be singing and celebrating his songs for generations to come...


SOURCE

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

GREAT MOMENTS IN BAD FILMS

Is there any such thing as a truly bad movie? I guess there is, but even with the worst movies Hollywood has produced, there are often moments in the films worth remembering. I wanted to take a look at some of the great moments from movies that I think are bad overall...


STREISAND MEETS SATCMO
Barbra Streisand as Dolly Levi in Hello Dolly (1969) was one of the worst casting jobs Hollywood ever did. In 1969, Streisand was one of the biggest rising stars in the business. However, despite her being a hot property - she should not have been cast as the older widow Levi. Walter Matthau, who I love as an actor, spent the whole movie with a puss on his face. It was his character in the movie, but he also had a strong dislike for Streisand. The one moment in the movie was the main musical number "Hello Dolly". Barbra Streisand took control of the song and made it her own, and her version of that song almost makes you forget that Carol Channing should have been cast as Dolly Levi. The best part of the number was Streisand's pairing with Louis Armstrong. It was Armstrong's last movie role, and Streisand showed a jazzy side by joining Satchmo in some scat singing. The movie is horrible to sit through, but the seven minute musical number makes the movie almost watchable.


DER BINGLE SLAPS CAROLE LOMBARD
Bing Crosby helped to keep Paramount Studios out of bankruptcy in the early 30s, and he was one of the studios most populars stars from 1932 to 1956. Many of Bing's first movies for the studio showcased his singing and not his acting ability. As a result many of those early movies had pretty corny plots. One of those movies was We're Not Dressing (1934). The film cast Bing as a sailor and the great Carole Lombard as a millionaire stranded with Crosby on an island. The film is worth seeing for Bing's singing alone, and he sang some great songs like "May I", "Love Thy Neighbor", and "Once In A Blue Moon". In those terms the movie was good, but at one point Bing even had so sing with a bear (a man in a suit). Do not ask - it was 1934! The best part of the movie was not the singing, but the one scene when Bing slaps Carole Lombard. Remember, it was 1934. Singing Bing strike a woman was the most shocking part of the movie, and it has always stuck with me. In reality Bing and Carole were good friends, and Bing was a pallbearer later in 1934 when Lombard's boyfriend Russ Columbo died tragically.


DIETRICH'S BOOZY LAST MOVIE APPEARANCE
Marlene Dietrich was one of Hollywood's most stunningly beautiful women. From her breakthrough film "The Blue Angel" (1930) through her occasional film roles in the 1950s, she was not only a great beauty but a pretty good actress. Dietrich made one more screen appearance before she disappeared from the screen forever. It was a little role and a pretty awful film called "Just A Gigalo"(1978). Also appearing in the film was David Bowie, Kim Novak, and Curd Jurgens. It was a bizarre cast to say the least. Marlene Dietrich was filmed in Paris but editing makes her seem to be in Berlin with David Bowie. German press reports claimed she was paid $250,000 for two days' work. It was also widely reported that Dietrich was drunk the whole time her scenes were being filmed. Dietrich's show business career largely ended in late 1975, when she fell off the stage and broke her thigh during a performance in Sydney, Australia. The following year, her husband, Rudolf Sieber, died of cancer. By the time she signed on to film "Just A Gigalo", she was dependent on alcohol and painkillers. However, the saving grace in this awful film was Dietrich singing the title song. She looked sick and depressed in the film, and when she sings "there will come a day, when youth will pass away..." it never fails to give me chills. It's another great moment in a bad film.

Do you have any favorite moments in bad movies? Email me at dlobo74@gmail.com with your picks and I will incorporate it into a future blog article...

Monday, May 13, 2013

FORGOTTEN ONES: BOB BURNS

According to my wife, I like anything that was made before 1950. I guess to a degree, that is true. I do gravitate to anything nostalgic or sentimental, but there are some older stars that I just never really get. It's not that I do not like them, I just do not understand their appeal. One of those forgotten so-called nostalgic stars was radio comedian Bob Burns. Burns played a novelty musical instrument of his own invention, which he called a "bazooka". During World War II, the US Army's handheld anti-tank rocket launcher was nickamed the "bazooka".

He was born Robin Burn on August 2, 1890 in Greenwood, Arkansas. When he was three years old, his family moved to Van Buren, Arkansas. As a boy, Burns played trombone and cornet in the town's "Queen City Silver Cornet Band". At 13, he formed his own string band.  Practicing in the back of Hayman's Plumbing Shop one night, he picked up a length of gas pipe and blew into it, creating an unusual sound. With modifications, this became a musical instrument he named a "bazooka" (after "bazoo", meaning a windy fellow, from the Dutch bazuin for "trumpet"). A photograph shows him playing his invention in the Silver Cornet Band. Functioning like a crude trombone, the musical bazooka had a narrow range, but this was intentional. Burns also studied civil engineering and worked as a peanut farmer, but by 1911 was primarily an entertainer.

During World War I Burns enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. He sailed to France with the Marine 11th Regiment. As a sergeant, he became the leader of the Marine Corps's jazz band in Europe. Burns made another "bazooka" from stove pipes and a whiskey funnel, which he sometimes played with the Corps band. After the war, Burns returned to the stage, often playing the bazooka as part of his act. He used it as a prop when telling hillbilly stories and jokes. Burns became known as The Arkansas Traveler and The Arkansas Philosopher. His stage persona was a self-effacing, rustic bumpkin with amusing stories about "the kinfolks" back home in Van Buren.

In 1930, Burns auditioned for a major Los Angeles radio station. He had prepared a 10 minute performance, but was asked to do 30 minutes, which he filled out with improvised stories and bazooka tunes. The managers did not care for his prepared material, but were impressed by his improvised material. Burns was hired. He appeared on an afternoon show, "The Fun Factory", as a character called "Soda Pop".


In 1935, on a visit to New York, Burns asked bandleader and radio star Paul Whiteman for an audition. Whiteman put Burns on his nightly show, the Kraft Music Hall, which was broadcast nationally; Burns was a big hit. Burns also became a regular on Rudy Vallee's show The Fleischmann Hour. Burns returned to Los Angeles in 1936, where Kraft Music Hall was now hosted by Bing Crosby. Burns was a regular, playing the bazooka and telling tall tales about his fictional hillbilly relatives, Uncle Fud and Aunt Doody.

Bob Burns was the host of The 10th Academy Awards held on March 10, 1938 at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles, California. Originally scheduled to be held on March 3, 1938, the ceremony was postponed due to heavy flooding in Los Angeles. In 1941, Burns was given his own radio show, called The Arkansas Traveler (1941-43) and he followed that up with The Bob Burns Show (1943-47).

His last performance was on January 30, 1955, on The Ed Sullivan Show (then called Toast of the Town). Bob left show business in the earlt 1950s though. A wealthy man from his land investments, Burns spent his final years on his 200-acre model farm in Canoga Park, California. Married three times, Bob Burns also had three children. (At one time he was married to entertainer Judy Canova). Burns sadly died of kidney cancer in Encino, California on February 2, 1956, at the age of 65. He is not very well remembered today, but his homespun humor was part Will Rogers and part Jed Clampett. Even though I never thought he was overly funny, he was a popular fixture, especially in radio in the late 1930s and early 1940s...

Friday, May 10, 2013

PHOTOS OF THE DAY: STARS AND THEIR MOTHERS

Behind every great Hollywood star was probably a show business parent or two. To commemorate Mother's Day, I wanted to put together some interesting pictures of classic Hollywood stars and their dear old mothers...


JUDY GARLAND AND HER MOTHER


JIMMY STEWART AND HIS MOTHER


LINDA DARNELL AND HER MOTHER


FRED ASTAIRE AND HIS MOTHER


FRANK SINATRA AND HIS MOTHER


ANN MILLER AND HER MOTHER

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

THE SON OF LOUIS ARMSTRONG


In Louis Armstrong's account in "Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans", he speaks of his only venture into paternity. Clarence (Hatfield) Armstrong was born in 1915 to Louis's teenage cousin, Flora, apparently after she was molested by an old white man, who her father felt powerless to challenge. Louis's first sight of the baby washed "all the gloom out of me." He took it upon himself, at 14, to get a job hauling coal (immortalized in the 1925 "Coal Cart Blues") to support the baby and the ailing mother, and assumed full responsibility after Flora's death. After Louis's teen marriage in 1918 to his first wife Daisy Parker, he adopting three-year-old Clarence Hatfield, when Louis was only 17 years of age.

In that period, Clarence fell off a porch and landed on his head; doctors judged him to be mentally impaired. When Louis later married Lil Hardin in 1924 in Chicago, Clarence joined them. Later Louis never forgave Lil for claiming that Clarence was never legally adopted —for her impatience with him. When he left Lil for Alpha (who he married in 1938), he brought Clarence along.

Years later, Clarence was set up in the Bronx, where he was married -in an arrangement of convenience to a 'Miss Lillian', financed by Louis. Clarence's surname is something of a mystery. According to Armstrong's friend, photographer Jack Bradley, he was listed in the phone book as Clarence Hatfield—but this may have been an expediency to keep nosy fans and biographers at a distance. Clarence often would accompany his father on gigs, and he even appeared with Papa Satch on the Eddie Condon Floor Show, one of Louis's finest television appearances on June 11, 1949. I tried to find out more info on Clarence, especially his later years, but all I could find out is he survived his wife Evelyn Allen Armstrong.

Before Clarence's mother Flora died, she evidently anticipated Louis's involvement and renamed her son Clarence Armstrong. Louis Armstrong died in his beloved Queens, NY neighborhood home, in July 1971, just a month shy of his 70th birthday. Clarence attended his adopted father's funeral, even recognized highly in the lead family lmousine procession. Clarence (Hatfield) Armstrong lived a full life, dying at age 83, on Oct. 15, 1998, and endures in Armstrong's memoir as the happy athletic boy everyone called, much to Louis's pleasure, "Little Louis Armstrong."

Monday, May 6, 2013

MUSIC REVIEW: PERRY COMO


Here is a review I did online way back in 2001 - seems like only yesterday...

I bought this excellent CD only weeks before Perry Como passed away in May of 2001. Whether you're a big fan of Perry Como, like msyelf, or just a casual listener. This CD collection is jam packed with gems of Perry's career. Firstly, you get to hear Como's standard's like "Prisoner Of Love","If","Because", and "Til The End Of Time". Secondly, you get some lesser known Como recordings like "Black Moonlight" (first recorded by Perry's idol Bing Crosby in 1933) and "Over The Rainbow" (Of course a Judy Garland standard. He makes every song he sings his very own, and not many performers could do that. That is why Perry Como was truly one of the best crooners, next to Bing Crosby.

Another moving and touching song on the set, especially since Mr. Como's death is "Last Night When We Were Young". It is moving and powerful. Now Perry never had the most powerful voice, but he could instill drama into a serious song that makes him sound like an opera singer. The CD's sound is faultless, and I can find no flaws in this issue. The only gripe I have is that Mr. Perry Como is no longer with us anymore...

MY RATING: 10 OUT OF 10


Friday, May 3, 2013

MY FIVE FAVORITE BING CROSBY MOVIES

It is hard to believe that today Bing Crosby turns 110 years old. Bing had so many facets to his career. He started out as a band singer with such bands as Paul Whiteman and Gus Arnheim. Then he moved on a recording contract first with Brunswick, and then a long term contract with Decca Records. In the early 1930s radio was the king, so Bing would conquer and dominate that genre for the next 30 years. Finally, Bing became full blown Hollywood movie star. He first starred in a string of Mack Sennett shorts, and then he moved to Paramount Studios where he would remain one of their biggest actors for the next twenty five years. To celebrate his remarkable life and what would be his 110th birthday, I wanted to spotlight my five favorite Bing Crosby films...


5. GOING MY WAY (1944)
The film Going My Way marked the high point of Bing's movie career. In the film Bing played Father Chuck O'Malley, and in the beginning he had some reservations playing a Catholic priest. However, the role won Bing an Academy Award, and it proved that Bing was not just a movie crooner. His take on Father O'Malley made priests seem more human and approachable. The chemistry that Bing had with his co-star Barry Fitzgerald also helped. The movie is full of everything from laughter to tears, and in the foreground is Bing's great role in the timeless film.

4. HIGH SOCIETY (1956)
Bing's first major rival to his status as head crooner was the boy from Hoboken Frank Sinatra. Sinatra rose to super stardom when he left the Tommy Dorsey band in 1943, and he wanted to follow in Crosby's footsteps and become a movie star. In the 1940s there was a fake rivalry that was stirred up between Crosby and Sinatra, but they both admired each other greatly. It would not be until 1956 that they would join forces for a movie. The MGM musical High Society is often considered Bing's last great movie, and it definitely was his last great musical. Bing starred as a lazy songwriter CK Dexter Haven, and Sinatra was a magazine photographer. Thrown in the mix was the beautiful Grace Kelly and the jazz genius Louis Armstrong. Do I need to list any more examples why this is one of Bing's best movies?!


3. HOLIDAY INN (1942)
I hope whatever genius decided to pair up Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, and Irving Berlin songs got a bonus at Paramount, because it made a wonderful film. Of course, the film introduced the timeless Christmas classic "White Christmas" to the world, and it helped to secure Bing's place as Father Christmas, but also made audiences forget about the horror of a world war that we just entered. Bing sang wonderful songs like "White Christmas", "Easter Parade", "Be Careful, It's My Heart", and "Song Of Freedom" while Fred Astaire danced the quickest tapping ever put on film with his number "Say It With Firecrackers". The black face "Abraham" number may seem dated and some cable channels even delete the number now, but it is a wonderful number that shows that in 1942 the world was much more different than it is now 70 years later. A supporting cast of Marjorie Reynolds, Virginia Dale, and Walter Abel help to make this movie one of my all-time favorite holiday films - even though most of the film does not take place at Christmas!

2. BLUE SKIES (1946)
The movie Blue Skies was unique because it reunited Bing, Fred Astaire, and Irving Berlin on film. During the making of the film, Astaire also announced that it would be his last film he made. He wanted to retire from Hollywood. As we know that was not to happen. When Gene Kelly broke his ankle during rehearsals for another Irving Berlin film Easter Parade in 1948, Astaire was lured back to movie making and never stopped. Fred was not even supposed to be in Blue Skies as it was. Dancer Paul Draper was originally cast as Bing's co-star, but Bing had not chemistry with Draper, and he had him removed from the film. There is also a rumor that Paul Draper disliked the leading lady Joan Caulfield, but Bing was having a relationship with her at the time and was very protective of the novice actress Caulfield. Whatever the reason, I am glad that Fred Astaire signed on.

Again the movie featured a slew of great numbers, and this time they were all filmed in glorious technicolor. Bing had the opportunity to croon such great songs as "Blue Skies", "All By Myself", "You Keep Coming Back Like A Song" and "I've Got My Captain Working For Me Now", while Astaire had career toppers with terrific numbers like "Puttin On The Ritz" and "Heat Wave". The film like Holiday Inn is about two guys and a girl. Most of the film is spent with them fighting over the girl, but in the end happiness prevails. Many consider the plot of Blue Skies corny by today's standards, but years later the film can always bring a smile to my face or a tear to my eye.


1. THE COUNTRY GIRL (1954)
By the 1950s the music scene was changing, and Bing tried branching out to more dramatic roles. Like Going My Way a decade earlier, The Country Girl was Bing's role of a lifetime. He played a drunker washed up singer so convincingly that some bios of Bing in recent years erroneously say that he was an alcoholic. For some of the scenes that required Bing to look tired and completely hung over, he had his sons walk with him all night and keep him up so he would have a believable haggard look for the scene the next morning. At first the film was going to have no music, but Bing insisted that a few songs would be in the film so he would not alienate his regular movie fans. The one song that has always stuck with me is "The Search Is Through. Written by Harold Arlen and Ira Gershwin, the song is used throughout the film to not only show his downfall but also to show his rise from the bottom. It is one of Bing's most underrated recordings in my humble opinion.

The cast is not huge in The Country Girl, but rounding out the film was Grace Kelly and William Holden. Kelly played Bing's long suffering wife, and it would win her an Academy Award. William Holden played a director that was giving Bing his last chance resurrect his career and his life. I don't want to give away the plot, but I have not been able to watch the film since having children. However, it remains my favorite Bing Crosby film. It is a great movie to demonstrate Bing's fine voice as well as his underrated acting ability. It is a prime example of why Bing should remain to be remembered 110 years after his birth...

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

BORN ON THIS DAY: LEILA HYAMS

If you look at the movies made just as talking pictures took over, you will see countless stars that were pretty popular for a spell and then faded into celluloid obscurity. On this day, May 1st, in 1905 one of those beautiful but forgotten actresses were born - Leila Hyams. Born in New York, New York to vaudeville comedy performers John Hyams and Leila McIntyre, Hyams appeared on-stage with her parents while still a child. As a teenager she worked as a model and became well known across the United States after appearing in a successful series of newspaper advertisements. This success led her to Hollywood.

She made her first film in 1924, and with her blonde hair, delicate features, and good natured demeanour, was cast in a string of supporting roles, where she was required to do very little but smile and look pretty. She proved herself capable of handling the small roles she was assigned, and over a period of time she came to be taken seriously as an actress. By 1928 she was playing starring roles, achieving success in MGM's first talkie release, Alias Jimmy Valentine (1928) opposite William Haines, Lionel Barrymore and Karl Dane. The following year she appeared in the popular murder mystery The Thirteenth Chair, a role that offered her the chance to display her dramatic abilities as a murder suspect. At Fox that same year she appeared director Allan Dwan's now lost romantic adventure The Far Call opposite Charles Morton.

The quality of her parts continued to improve as the decade turned, including a role as Robert Montgomery's sister in the prison drama The Big House (1930) with Chester Morris and Wallace Beery, for which Hyams once again received positive reviews. She then appeared in Surrender (1931).

Although she succeeded in films that required her to play pretty ingenues, and developed into a capable dramatic actress in 1930s crime melodramas, she is perhaps best remembered for two early 1930s horror movies, as the wise-cracking but kind-hearted circus performer in Freaks (1932), and as the heroine in Island of Lost Souls (1932). Hyams was the original choice to play Jane in Tarzan the Ape Man (1932), but turned it down. The role was ultimately played in that film and several other Tarzan films by Maureen O'Sullivan.

She also appeared in the once controversial Jean Harlow film Red-Headed Woman (1932), the musical comedy The Big Broadcast (1932) with Bing Crosby, George Burns and Gracie Allen, and was widely praised for her comedic performance in Ruggles of Red Gap (1935) opposite Charles Laughton and Charlie Ruggles. After ten years and fifty films, Hyams retired from acting in 1936, but remained part of the Hollywood community for the rest of her life. She was married to the agent Phil Berg from 1927 until her death in Bel Air, California.

I mostly remember Leila in the movie Freaks (1932), and as Bing Crosby's leading lady in his first starring role in The Big Broadcast (1932). It was a shame she retired from acting so young, but her youth and beauty is preserved on film forever. Hopefully other film lovers will remember Leilia Hyams on her birthday as well...