Wednesday, February 26, 2014

HOLLYWOOD REMEMBERS HAROLD RAMIS

When writer and director Harold Ramis died a few days ago, the world really lost a comedy genius. Some of my biggest laughs growing up were from movies like Ghostbusters or Groundhog Day. Ramis was well liked in Hollywood, and he left behind not only a wealth of great films but great friends as well...

BILL MURRAY
"Harold Ramis and I together did the National Lampoon Show together off Broadway, Meatballs, Stripes, Caddyshack, Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day," Murray said in a statement obtained by Time magazine. "He earned his keep on this planet. God bless him."

ADAM MCKAY
"Thank u Harold Ramis for 1000's of laughs and for being a warm, decent person. You will be very missed."

STEVE MARTIN
"So sorry to hear about the death of Harold Ramis, a comedy master. Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day, and more."

STEVE CARELL
"Harold Ramis. Funny, gracious, kind hearted. A joy to have known"

OLIVIA WILDE
"Harold Ramis was a kind, wise, hilarious, brilliant guy with a buddhist heart. So grateful to have worked for him. Sending love to his fam."

NICK SWARDSON
"The world lost Harold Ramis today. Sad day for comedy and a sad day for a wonderful life gone. Take note and pay respects."

JON FAVREAU
"No no not Harold Ramis. Worked for him years ago. He was the real deal. Growing up, his work changed my life. He will be missed."

DAN ACKROYD
"Deeply saddened to hear of the passing of my brilliant, gifted and funny friend, co-writer/performer and teacher Harold Ramis. May he now get the answers he was always seeking"....

Monday, February 24, 2014

RIP: HAROLD RAMIS

Harold Ramis was one of Hollywood’s most successful comedy filmmakers when he moved his family from Los Angeles back to the Chicago area in 1996. His career was still thriving, with "Groundhog Day" acquiring almost instant classic status upon its 1993 release and 1984's "Ghostbusters" ranking among the highest-grossing comedies of all time, but the writer-director wanted to return to the city where he’d launched his career as a Second City performer.

"There's a pride in what I do that other people share because I'm local, which in L.A. is meaningless; no one's local," Ramis said upon the launch of the first movie he directed after his move, the 1999 mobster-in-therapy comedy "Analyze This," another hit. "It's a good thing. I feel like I represent the city in a certain way."

Ramis, a longtime North Shore resident, was surrounded by family when he died at 12:53 a.m. from complications of autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis, a rare disease that involves swelling of the blood vessels, his wife Erica Mann Ramis said. He was 69.

Ramis' serious health struggles began in May 2010 with an infection that led to complications related to the autoimmune disease, his wife said. Ramis had to relearn to walk but suffered a relapse of the vaculitis in late 2011, said Laurel Ward, vice president of development at Ramis' Ocean Pictures production company.

Ramis leaves behind a formidable body of work, with writing credits on such enduring comedies as "National Lampoon's Animal House" (which upon its 1978 release catapulted the film career of John Belushi, with whom Ramis acted at Second City), "Stripes" (1981) and "Ghostbusters" (in which Ramis also co-starred) plus such directing efforts as "Caddyshack" (1980), "National Lampoon's Vacation" (1983), "Groundhog Day" and "Analyze This."

Previously he was the first head writer (and a performer) on Second City's groundbreaking television series "Second City Television (SCTV)" (1976-79). More recently he directed episodes of NBC’s "The Office."

With his round glasses lending a professorial air, Ramis would become the calm center of storms brewed by fellow actors, playing the bushy-haired, low-key wisecracker to Bill Murray's troublemaker in "Stripes" and being the most scientific-minded "Ghostbuster." Later roles included the sympathetic doctor of James L. Brooks' "As Good as It Gets" (1997) and the "Knocked Up" (2007) dad, whose dialogue, Apatow said, was almost all improvised...

WHAT A CHARACTER: EDWARD ANDREWS


I was watching an odd episode of the Boris Karloff hosted television show "Thriller", and I saw an actor I had seen in countless films and televisions shows. I did not even know his name, but I would soon find it out! Edward Andrews was one of the most recognizable character actors on television and films between the 1950s and the 1980s. His stark white hair, imposing build and horn-rimmed glasses added to the type of roles he received, as he was often cast as an ornery boss, a cagey businessman, or a strict disciplinarian of some type.

He was born on October 8, 1914 in Griffin, Georgia, the son of an Episcopal minister, and grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Cleveland, Ohio, and Wheeling, West Virginia. As a child, he attended Pittsburgh's Nixon Theatre and would nab a balcony seat so as to catch a good view of the 'headliners'. At the age of twelve, he did a walk-on in a stock theatre production which featured James Gleason and he was 'hooked' on an acting career.

He attended the University of Virginia, and at age 21, made his stage debut in 1935, progressing to Broadway the same year. During this period, Andrews starred in the short-lived but very well received military drama "So Proudly We Hail" in the lead role opposite Richard Cromwell. In 1936, Andrews debuted in the film Rushin' Art. However, it was not until 1955 that he appeared in his second film. He was cast as the subversive and corrupt character of Rhett Tanner, head of a knock-them-off political machine, in The Phenix City Story.


While Andrews' film acting career began in earnest in his forties, he was consistently typecast as a grandfatherly type, and thus he is most strongly associated with these roles in later films. Among his roles are those that are soft and friendly though Andrews was equally adept at portraying sleazy businessman types or sinister bureaucrats and officials.

Well-known films in which Andrews acted include Send Me No Flowers, with Doris Day and Rock Hudson, Advise and Consent, The Young Savages, Elmer Gantry, in which he was memorable as George F. Babbitt, The Absent-Minded Professor and Son of Flubber, in both of which he played the Defense Secretary, and Avanti!, in which he was a very convincing agent of the State Department. Among his other film credits are: Summertime (1955) with Katharine Hepburn; Tension at Table Rock (1956); The Harder They Fall (1956) with Humphrey Bogart; Tea and Sympathy (1956); Three Brave Men (1957); The Young Doctors (1961); Youngblood Hawke (1964); Good Neighbor Sam (1964); The Glass Bottom Boat (1966); The Trouble with Girls with Elvis Presley (1969); Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970) as Admiral Harold R. Stark; How to Frame a Figg (1971); Charley and the Angel (1973); and The Seniors (1978). In 1984, he played the character of Howard Baker in John Hughes' Sixteen Candles. He also appeared in Gremlins, filmed later the same year, which would be his final film.

Andrews was a regular on the ABC series, Broadside (1964–1965) as Commander Rogers Adrian. Kathleen Nolan held the lead role. Andrews played the character of Charley in the 1966 dramatization of Death of a Salesman, and constantly acted throughout the 1970s as Elton Dykstra on The Intruders, Ernest W. Stanley on The Man Who Came to Dinner, Mayor Chrisholm alongside Don Knotts in the 1971 film How to Frame a Figg, and Mayor Massey on The Whiz Kid and the Mystery at Riverton. In 1968, he played a safecracker in a 4-part episode of I Dream of Jeannie and later, in early 1969, he was a drug-dealing mortician on Mod Squad. He played Conductor Harry Flood on the short-lived series Supertrain. He was cast as Jack Tripper (John Ritter)'s grandfather in an episode of ABC's Three's Company. It would be his last appearance.

On March 8, 1985, Andrews died suddenly of a heart attack in Santa Monica, California, at the age of 70 and was cremated; his ashes were scattered at sea. Every role Edward Andrews was in was worth seeing, no matter what the movie or what the television show. That is a sign of an expert character actor...

Friday, February 21, 2014

THE SON OF SPENCER TRACY

It is always interesting to look into the offspring of some of our favorite stars. Some of them - well a lot of them do not deal with having a famous parent very good. The lives of Hollywood children are filled with drugs, heartache, and often suicide. However, there are some children that seemingly live normal lives. The son of Spencer Tracy was born with huge physical obstacles - however, John Tracy seemingly overcame many of them to have a wonderful life. His story is an inspiration to not only other Hollywood offspring but to anyone fighting a physical handicap in general.

When actor Spencer Tracy and his wife Louise had a boy on June 26,1924 - John Broeck Tracy, Louise noticed he wasn't responding to their voices. When Tracy was 10 months old, his mother became alarmed when a door that accidentally slammed shut failed to wake him.

"I stopped suddenly.... I stood motionless beside his crib. I called his name again -- and then I shouted it. He slept on. And so I discovered our baby was deaf," she said years later. Afraid to tell anyone, even her husband, she consulted several doctors who told her that her son had "nerve damage, cause unknown." They also said he would never talk. The Tracys refused to accept doctors' advice to "wait -- in a few years he'll be old enough for a state school," a reference to deaf education that would start when he was 6.

"We went right on talking to Johnny, singing to him, telling him nursery rhymes, and as it turned out, that was just the right thing to do," Louise once said, according to a 1983 Times story.


A specialist in New York told them John could live a “normal” life if he learned to lip read and talk. As Louise worked with her son, she realized other parents need help too with their deaf child[ren]. She started a daycare in 1942, next to the University of Southern California. The business incorporated into the John Tracy Clinic (JTC) the next year with Walt Disney as one of the first board members alongside Spencer. Over the years it grew, developing a correspondence course as well to reach those who couldn't travel to them. In 1952 the clinic moved to more modern facilities. The clinic highly promotes oralism. JTC now servers over 25,000 families a year, focusing on those aged 0-5 years.
"As a child, John Tracy couldn't have known that he would be the inspiration of a whole movement to give new hope to parents of children with hearing loss," Barbara F. Hecht, president of the clinic, told The Times.

The clinic was among the first to start a hearing-impaired child's training in infancy and make parental education a critical component. It has helped an estimated 245,000 parents and children.

It tries to educate "deaf children through their mothers and fathers, who otherwise would not know what to do with them.... I hoped it would help a great deal," John Tracy wrote in 1946 in the Volta Review, the journal of the Alexander Graham Bell Assn. for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

Despite a bout with polio at 6 that left him with a weakened leg, Tracy began riding horses at 9 and competed in Riviera Country Club riding contests, he wrote in Volta. He also became a dedicated polo and tennis player.

With his father's acting career taking off, the family put down roots in 1936 on an eight-acre ranch in Encino, where they lived for 19 years.


After attending what is now the California Institute of the Arts, Tracy worked for several years in the art props department at Walt Disney Studios; Disney was a close family friend. Tracy stopped working when his eyesight started to fail in the late 1950s. Well into adulthood, he learned that his deafness was due to Usher syndrome, a genetic disease that was also to blame for his fading vision. By the early 1990s, he was legally blind from retinitis pigmentosa.

In 1953, he married Nadine Carr, a neighbor with whom he used to ride horses. They had a son, Joseph Spencer Tracy, before divorcing in 1957. A year before his mother died in 1983, Tracy moved to a Santa Monica retirement home, then later to Acton. His father died in 1967.

When asked whether he had a message for the hearing-impaired children who attend the clinic that bears his name, Tracy told the Daily News in 2003 that "I want to let the kids know they can live a full life. Sports, schools, hobbies, interests, dating, marriage, have a family, drive a car -- all of it."

John Tracy led a fullfilling life even though in the 1920s and 1930s being born with deafness was nearly a prison sentence, never being able to communicate with society. However, John and his parents changed that all. John died on June 15, 2007 - nearly 40 years to the day after his father Spencer Tracy died. In addition to his sister, Susie, and his son, Joseph, who is an artist, Tracy was survived by three grandchildren. He was not only survived by his family , but he was survived by the countless people and their families that he inspired through the years...


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

RECENTLY VIEWED: COLLEGE HUMOR

Bing Crosby made quite an impact as a leading man in his first feature film The Big Broadcast in 1932. Paramount Studios quickly signed him up to a contract and next up for Bing would be the college musical College Humor. In this film at least they had the decency to cast 30 year old Bing as a professor. As students they had 30 year old Jack Oakie and 34 year old Richard Arlen! This film was basically a Jack Oakie movie with Bing thrown in for added appeal.

Barney Shirrel (Jack Oakie) starts his first semester at Mid West University and works his way up in the fraternity with the help of Tex Roust (Joe Sawyer) and Mondrake (Richard Arlen), an alcoholic college football star. Barney is passionate about engineering and the law, and between his varied studies, football, and the fraternity, he neglects his girl friend Amber (Mary Kornman).

In the next term, Mondrake gives his class sweater to Barney's sister Barbara (Mary Carlisle). His drinking problem intensifies, however, when he learns that Barbara is falling in love with Professor Danvers (Bing Crosby), the singing drama teacher. When Mondrake fails to show up at an important football game against a rival university, Danvers finds him in jail. With the school's reputation at stake, Danvers has him released and takes him to the football field in time to play in the game.


Afterwards, Danvers is called before the college president (Lumsden Hare). Although rivals for Barbara's affections, Danvers stands up for Mondrake. The college president expels Mondrake for drunkenness and forces Danvers to resign because of his involvement in the matter. Feeling guilty over causing Mondrake's expulsion, Barbara proposes marriage to him. Later, however, she admits that she is not in love with him, but with Danvers. Mondrake bows out of the relationship, and Barbara rushes to Danvers' side before he leaves.

During the next term, Barney has followed Mondrake's example and taken up drinking and smoking, which is not appealing to Amber. At the big football game, Barney is in sorry shape. Mid West is losing until he receives inspiration from Tex, who has returned to watch the game. After being knocked out, Barney recovers and wins the game for Mid West.


Some time later, Barney and Amber get married and they move to his father's dairy, where Barney works his way up from the lowest position. Barney and Amber enjoy listening to Danvers singing his song on the radio.

The best part of the film was Bing's singing, and he sang some good ones like: "Down The Old Ox Road", "Moonstruck", and "Learn To Croon". Another wonderful draw of the film is Mary Carlisle, who is with us as of this writing, at the age of 101. She is probably the last person alive who was involved in this 80 year old film. There was not enough Bing and Mary Carlisle, and too much Jack Oakie for my taste. The only movie I ever liked Oakie in was The Great Dictator in 1940. I loved my years in college, but I only remotely liked this collegiate offering. If it was not for Bing, this film would have been a horrible bomb...

MY RATING: 6 OUT OF 10

Monday, February 17, 2014

THE FORGOTTEN DEATH OF TAMARA DRASIN


When air planes crash, it always amazing that one person may survive and then another person near that person might sadly perish. There is really no reasoning, and no matter what your belief system is, our fates is still not up to us. Tamara Drasin, a singer and an actress, is one such person who met her fate because of some bad luck or chance.

Tamara Drasin often credited as simply Tamara, was a singer and actress who introduced the song Smoke Gets in Your Eyes in the 1933 Broadway musical Roberta. She was born in 1905 in the Imperial Russian village of Sorochints├», in what is modern-day Ukraine.

With her dark, exotic looks and throbbing vocal style, Drasin was ideal casting material for European characters in musicals of the 1930s. In Free For All, she was Marishka Tarasov; in Roberta, she was Princess Stephanie of Russian nobility; and in Right This Way and Leave It to Me!, she portrayed Frenchwomen. In all, Drasin appeared in seven musicals, from 1927 to 1938.

Besides "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" and another ballad, "The Touch of Your Hand", in Roberta, Drasin introduced three other standards: "I Can Dream, Can't I?" and "I'll Be Seeing You" in Right This Way and "Get Out of Town" in Leave It to Me!.

Ironically, as I'll Be Seeing You was becoming one of the homefront anthems of World War II, Drasin was killed tragically. 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. Tamara and vocalist Jane Froman were one of the first two entertainers to be approached and agree to go. 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.

Her story was partially told in the Jane Froman biopic With a Song in My Heart (1952), as both were in the same plane crash. Froman later said that she had given Drasin her seat, which bothered Froman for the rest of her life. Jane Froman almost lost her leg in the tragic crash and needed surgeries for the rest of her life. Tamara Drasin was believed to have perished on impact. The world lost a real talent as a result of just a switch of airplane seats. Drasin was yet another casuality of World War II and even though Jane Froman is not exactly remembered, Drasin is completely forgotten some seventy years after her death...



Friday, February 14, 2014

BORN ON THIS DAY: JACK BENNY

I already spotlighted Jack Benny's birthday in 2012, but he deserves to remembered again. It is hard to believe comedian Jack Benny would have been 120 years old today. His comedy is timeless and is still remembered today. In my humble opinion he was and is one of the greatest comedians of all-time. Benny was born Benjamin Kubelsky February 14, 1894, in Chicago, Illinois, and grew up in neighboring Waukegan, Illinois. He was the son of Meyer Kubelsky and Emma Sachs Kubelsky. Meyer was a Jewish saloon owner, later, a haberdasher, who had emigrated to America from Poland. Emma had emigrated from Lithuania.

Benny began studying violin, an instrument that became his trademark, at the age of six, his parents hoping for him to become a professional violinist. He loved the instrument, but hated practice. His teacher was Otto Graham Sr., a neighbor and father of Otto Graham of NFL fame. At 14, Benny was playing in dance bands and his high school orchestra. He was a dreamer and poor at his studies, and was ultimately expelled from high school. He did poorly in business school later, as well as attempts to join his father's business. At age 17, he began playing the violin in local vaudeville theaters for $7.50 a week.

Benny spent the next twenty years in and out of vaudville with minimal success. He bacame known as a great master of ceremonies, and he even went to Hollywood. In 1929 Benny's agent, Sam Lyons, convinced Irving Thalberg, American film producer at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, to watch Benny at the Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles. Benny signed a five-year contract with MGM, where his first role was in The Hollywood Revue of 1929. The next movie, Chasing Rainbows, did not do well, and after several months Benny was released from his contract and returned to Broadway in Earl Carroll's Vanities. At first dubious about the viability of radio, Benny grew eager to break into the new medium. In 1932, after a four-week nightclub run, he was invited on to Ed Sullivan's radio program, uttering his first radio spiel "This is Jack Benny talking. There will be a slight pause while you say, 'Who cares?'..." For the next year 80 years we definitely did care...

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

RIP: SID CAESAR

Sid Caesar, at once one of the greatest improvisors and one of the most rigorous sketch-comedy artists in television history, has died at the age of 91. His friend Larry King revealed Caesar’s passing Wednesday on Twitter.

Caesar was a modest dynamo, a man who disappeared into his comedy as though it was his escape from reality. A New York-born nightclub performer, he helped to usher in the dawn of the TV revolution. His 90-minute Saturday night variety program, Your Show of Shows, premiered in 1950. The live broadcast became a hit that lasted four years and immediately morphed into Caesar’s Hour, from 1954 to 1957.

The legendary writing staff of Your Show of Shows included Woody Allen, Neil Simon, Mel Brooks, and Larry Gelbart (the latter would go on to adapt M*A*S*H for TV). They wrote sketches that played off Caesar’s tall, broad-shouldered physique, casting him as everyone from Tarzan to blustering military types. (Brooks’ famous description of Caesar: “He could punch a Buick in the grille and kill it.”)

Caesar could rattle off dense thickets of dialogue with his diminutive co-star, Imogene Coca, matching him word for word. At other times, Caesar let loose his gift for dialect double-talk, able to spout spontaneous gibberish that sounded, to those untrained in the languages, exactly like German, French, and Italian.

Caesar was a compulsive worker who had little gift for small talk. Boisterous when in-character, he once admitted that the most difficult part of doing his variety shows was the opening moment, when he had to appear as himself and wish the audience a good evening. Once past that awkwardness, however, Caesar rarely failed to give people a rollicking good time...

AT HOME WITH JUDY GARLAND


Whether you remember her as Liza Minnelli's mother or as the girl who donned the ruby slippers, it's always fun to remember what a great talent Judy Garland was. Judy Garland, whose birth name was Frances Ethel Gumm, died over 40 years ago but the fascination with her life continues today.

Here is Judy's first home, where she lived from 1922 to 1926 before the Gumm Family moved out to Hollywood. Though it's not quite the Kansas ranch we were expecting, Garland's first four years were spent in a quaint home that resonates with the starlet's sweet and charming demeanor. Architectural Digest covered the residence in a feature last year, characterizing the property as a "late-19th-century white-clapboard house." The space is now available for public viewing thanks to the efforts of the Judy Garland Museum...





Tuesday, February 11, 2014

RIP: SHIRLEY TEMPLE

Shirley Temple Black, who as a dimpled, precocious and determined little girl in the 1930s sang and tap-danced her way to a height of Hollywood stardom and worldwide fame that no other child has reached, died on Monday night at her home in Woodside, Calif. She was 85.

Her publicist, Cheryl Kagan, confirmed her death.

Ms. Black returned to the spotlight in the 1960s in the surprising new role of diplomat, but in the popular imagination she would always be America’s darling of the Depression years, when in 23 motion pictures her sparkling personality and sunny optimism lifted spirits and made her famous. From 1935 to 1939 she was the most popular movie star in America, with Clark Gable a distant second. She received more mail than Greta Garbo and was photographed more often than President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The little girl with 56 perfect blonde ringlets and an air of relentless determination was so precocious that the usually unflappable Adolphe Menjou, her co-star in her first big hit, “Little Miss Marker,” described her as “an Ethel Barrymore at 6” and said she was “making a stooge out of me.”


When she turned from a magical child into a teenager, audience interest slackened, and she retired from the screen at 22. But instead of retreating into nostalgia, she created a successful second career for herself.

After marrying Charles Alden Black in 1950, she became a prominent Republican fund-raiser. She was appointed a delegate to the United Nations General Assembly by President Richard M. Nixon in 1969. She went on to win wide respect as the United States ambassador to Ghana from 1974 to 1976, was President Gerald R. Ford’s chief of protocol in 1976 and 1977, and became President George H. W. Bush’s ambassador to Czechoslovakia in 1989, serving there during the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe.

After winning an honorary Academy Award at the age of 6 and earning $3 million before puberty, Shirley Temple grew up to be a level-headed adult. When her cancerous left breast was removed in 1972, at a time when operations for cancer were shrouded in secrecy, she held a news conference in her hospital room to speak out about her mastectomy and to urge women discovering breast lumps not to “sit home and be afraid.” She is widely credited with helping to make it acceptable to talk about breast cancer.

A statement released by her family said, “We salute her for a life of remarkable achievements as an actor, as a diplomat, and most importantly as our beloved mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and adored wife for fifty-five years of the late and much missed Charles Alden Black.”

Shirley Jane Temple was born in Santa Monica, Calif., on April 23, 1928. From the beginning, she and her mother, Gertrude, were a team (“I was absolutely bathed in love,” she remembered); her movie career was their joint invention. Her success was due to both her own charm and her mother’s persistence.

In “Child Star,” her 1988 autobiography, Mrs. Black said her mother had made a “calculated decision” to turn her only daughter into a professional dancer. At a fee of 50 cents a week, Mrs. Temple enrolled 3-year-old Shirley in Mrs. Meglin’s Dance Studio.

In 1932, Shirley was spotted by an agent from Educational Pictures and chosen to appear in “Baby Burlesks,” a series of sexually suggestive one-reel shorts in which children played all the roles. The 4- and 5-year-old children wore fancy adult costumes that ended at the waist. Below the waist, they wore diapers with oversize safety pins. In these heavy-handed parodies of well-known films like “The Front Page” (“The Runt Page”) and “What Price Glory” (“War Babies”), Shirley imitated Marlene Dietrich, Mae West and — wearing an off-the-shoulder blouse and satin garter as a hard-boiled French bar girl in “War Babies” — Dolores Del Rio. Into adulthood she would make a lasting comedy with "The Bachelor And The Bobby Soxer" with Cary Grant.

On a personal note, Shirley Temple was one of my late Grandfather's favorite movie stars. He was born the same year as Ms. Temple. My Mother even had a Shirley Temple doll growing up. With the death of Shirley Temple it is the end of an era...

Monday, February 10, 2014

ACCIDENTAL OVERDOSES OF CLASSIC HOLLYWOOD

With the recent passing of Phillip Seymour Hoffman of a drug overdose, and the many drug related deaths that have plagued Hollywood in recent years, I wanted to take a look at the drug overdoses that hit classic Hollywood. Accidental death by drug overdose is not something new, but in the older days of Hollywood it was hidden a lot better...


HANK WILLIAMS SR (1923-1953)
Hank was regarded as one of the most significant country music artists, Williams recorded 35 singles (five released posthumously) that would place in the Top 10 of the Billboard Country & Western Best Sellers chart, including 11 that ranked number one. Williams died extremely young of an accidental overdose of morphine and alcohol.

TOMMY DORSEY (1905-1956)
Tommy was an American jazz trombonist, trumpeter, composer, and bandleader of the Big Band era. He had such great vocalists as Frank Sinatra, Jo Stafford, and The Pied Pipers working for his organization at one time or another. Dorsey did not die of a drug overdose exactly but he died of the effects of it. He choked to death while sleeping. He was so sedated on sleeping pills that he was unable to awaken.

MARLYN MONROE (1926-1962)
One of the most famous celebrity cases of drug overdose was that of Marilyn Monroe. Over fifty years after her death, Monroe is still a viable icon of classic Hollywood. Looking back at her film roles in Bus Stop (1956) and Some Like It Hot (1959), she was a great actress as well. Monroe was found dead of a barbiturate overdose. Officially listed as "probable suicide" though several conspiracy theories exist.

DINAH WASHINGTON (1924-1963)
Dinah was an American singer and pianist, who has been cited as "the most popular black female recording artist of the '50sEarly on the morning of December 14, 1963, Washington's seventh husband Lane went to sleep with his wife, and awoke later to find her slumped over and not responsive. Doctor B. C. Ross came to the scene to pronounce her dead. An autopsy later showed a lethal combination of secobarbital and amobarbital, which contributed to her death at the age of 39.


ALAN LADD (1913-1964)
Alan was an American film actor and one of the great celebrities of the 1940s and early 1950s. After this, his fame diminished, though he continued to appear in popular films until his premature death. In November of 1962, Ladd attempted suicide by shooting himself but survived. On January 29, 1964 he was found dead in Palm Springs, California, of an acute overdose of "alcohol and three other drugs", at the age of 50; his death was ruled accidental.

DOROTHY DANDRIDGE (1922-1965)
Dorothy was an American actress and singer. Dandridge was the first black actress to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress. On September 8, 1965, Dandridge was scheduled to fly to prepare for her nightclub engagement at Basin Street East. Several hours after her conversation with Branton ended, Dandridge was found dead by her manager, Earl Mills. Two months later, a Los Angeles pathology institute determined the cause to be an accidental overdose of Imipramine, a tricyclic antidepressant.

SCOTTY BECKETT (1929-1968)
Scotty was an American child actor. He starred in the Our Gang and Rocky Jones, Space Ranger television series. As an adult actor, he continued making movies. On May 8, 1968, he checked into a Hollywood nursing home, needing medical attention after suffering a serious beating. He died two days later at age 38. Although pills and a note were found, no conclusion was made by the coroner as to the exact cause of death; however, some speculate he overdosed on barbiturates or alcohol.

NICK ADAMS (1931-1968)
Nick was noted for his roles in several Hollywood films during the 1950s and 1960s along with his starring role in the ABC television series The Rebel (1959). Decades after Adams' death from a prescription drug overdose at the age of 36, his widely publicized friendships with James Dean and Elvis Presley would stir speculation about both his private life and the circumstances of his death.


JUDY GARLAND (1922-1969)
One of the most famous child stars of all-time, Garland started taking drugs on the set of 1939's The Wizard Of Oz. Her adult life was riddled with suicide attempts and drug overdoses. When Judy died in 1969, she was a shell of her formal self. Garland died of a secobarbital overdose Her death certificate states the overdose was "accidental" however there is speculation it was intentional.

PIER ANGELI (1932-1971)
Pier was an Italian-born television and film actress. Her American cinematographic debut was in the starring role of the 1951 film Teresa, for which she won a Golden Globe Award. Twenty years later, she had been chosen to play a part in The Godfather, but died before filming began of a barbiturate overdose.


ELVIS PRESLEY (1935-1977)
Presley was without a doubt, the king of rock 'n' roll. However, the last years of his life was filled with a very unhealthy lifestyle. The King literally died on the throne (toilet). Presley died of a cardiac arrhythmia. The autopsy found in his system "significant" levels of ethinamate, methaqualone, codeine and different barbiturates, including amobarbital, pentobarbital, and phenobarbital.

These are just some of the accidental drug overdoses of classic Hollywood. Many other classic stars were dimmed by drug overdoses associated with suicides. With all the glamour, fame, and money - it could not buy happiness. It could not buy happiness in the 1930s and 1940s Hollywood, just as it can not buy happiness in 2014. The death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman was not the first fatal drug overdose in Hollywood, and it will not be the last one...

Friday, February 7, 2014

HISTORY OF A SONG: SMILE

I have a lot of favorite songs, but I think one of the most brilliant songs ever written was a song simply titled "Smile". "Smile" is a song based on an instrumental theme used in the soundtrack for the 1936 Charlie Chaplin movie Modern Times. Chaplin composed the music, while John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons added the lyrics and title in 1954. In the lyrics, the singer is telling the listener to cheer up and that there is always a bright tomorrow, just as long as they smile. "Smile" has become a popular standard since its original use in Chaplin's film.

The song, originally sung by Nat King Cole, charted in 1954. Singer Sunny Gale also covered the song, sharing sales with Cole, as shown in the music trade Cashbox. It was also covered by Cole's daughter, Natalie, on her 1991 album, Unforgettable... with Love. Other great versions of the song include recordings done by Jimmy Durante, Dinah Washington, and Dean Martin.

In Britain, rival versions were released by Lita Roza and Petula Clark in 1954. Clark later re-recorded it for her 1968 album The Other Man's Grass Is Always Greener, by which time she was a personal friend of Charlie Chaplin. Jazz guitarist Royce Campbell recorded it on his album, "Get Happy (2007).

Singer Michael Jackson recorded the song for his 1995 double album HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I. It was planned to be released as the eighth and final single from the album in 1998 but was canceled days before its release date. Only a few copies from the Netherlands, Germany and South Africa (where the record distribution was started previous to the withdrawal) were saved as the other copies were withdrawn.

The song was also featured extensively in the 1992 biography film Chaplin which starred Robert Downey Jr. Downey also later recorded an updated version of this great song. The song has always spoken to me because it talks about smiling and keeping a happy front even though you may be torn up inside. It has summed up how I felt a lot of times during my life...


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

HOLLYWOOD BEAUTY: ANN-MARGRET

For this new feature, I want to spotlight some of the stunning beauty that was a major part of classic Hollywood. For my first feature I wanted to spotlight Ann Margret. She has been a fixture in Hollywood since the 1960s. Born in 1942, I have had a crush on her since I first saw her in movies. Here are six reasons why I have a crush on her...





Monday, February 3, 2014

IRVING BERLIN: THE EARLY YEARS


I asked my wife a couple of months ago to name five songs that songrwriting genius Irving Berlin wrote. Sadly, she could only name one song - "God Bless America", and even that impressed me. To anyone born after the assassination of President Kennedy, the name Irving Berlin would unfortunately not mean much, but as a fan of Tin Pan Alley music, Berlin means a lot to me. He was one of the best songwriters America has ever seen. However, even though I pride myself in my knowledge of this great era of music, I admit I did not know much about Irving Berlin's early life. Researching this article got me to learn a lot more about Irving Berlin.

Berlin was born on May 11, 1888, one of eight children of Moses and Lena Lipkin Beilin. There are several possibilities concerning his birth city. It could be Tumen or any one of several villages near the city of Mogilyov, Belarus. His father, a cantor in a synagogue, uprooted the family to America, as did many other Jewish families in the late 19th century. In 1893 they settled in New York City.

They eventually settled on Cherry Street, a "cold-water basement flat with no windows," in the Yiddish Theater District on the Lower East Side, and had a Yiddish-speaking home. His father, unable to find comparable work as a cantor in New York, took a job at a kosher meat market and gave Hebrew lessons on the side, and struggled to support his family. He died a few years later when Irving was thirteen years old. With only a few years of schooling, Irving found it necessary to take to the streets to help support his family He became a newspaper boy, hawking The Evening Journal. On his first day of the job, according to Berlin’s biographer and friend, Alexander Woollcott, the boy “stopped to look at a ship about to put out for China. So entranced was he that he failed to notice a swinging crane, and he was knocked into the river. When he was fished out, after going down for the third time, he was still holding in his clenched fist the five pennies that constituted his first day's receipts, his contribution to the family budget." His mother took jobs as a midwife, and three of his sisters worked wrapping cigars, common for immigrant girls. His older brother worked in a sweatshop assembling shirts.

With few survival skills and little education, he realized that formal employment was out of the question. His only ability was acquired from his father's vocation: singing. He joined with a few other youngsters and went to saloons on the Bowery to sing to customers. These itinerant young singers were common on the Lower East Side. He would sing a few of the popular ballads he heard on the street, hoping that customers would "pitch a few pennies in his direction." As Bergreen notes, "it was in these seamy surroundings that the runaway boy received his real and lasting education." Music became his sole source of income and he emerged culturally from the ghetto lifestyle, learning the "language of the street."

To survive, Berlin began to recognize the kind of songs that appealed to audiences: "well-known tunes expressing simple sentiments were the most reliable." He began plugging songs at Tony Pastor's Music Hall in Union Square and finally, in 1906 when he was 18, working as a singing waiter at the Pelham Cafe in Chinatown.  His first attempt at songwriting was "Marie From Sunny Italy," written in collaboration with the Pelham's resident pianist, Mike Nicholson. The sheet music to this song made history because of a printer's error in the score. The name printed on the cover read: 'I. Berlin.' Interestingly, Berlin never learned to play in more than one key and used a custom-made 1940 Weser Brothers piano with a transposing lever to change keys.


In 1908, at the age of 20, Berlin took a new job at a saloon in the Union Square neighborhood. There, he was able to collaborate with other young songwriters, such as Edgar Leslie, Ted Snyder, Al Piantadosi, and George A. Whiting, and in 1909, the year of the premiere of Israel Zangwill's The Melting Pot, he got his big break as a staff lyricist with the Ted Snyder Company.

From this early position, Hamm writes, his "meteoric rise as a songwriter" in Tin Pan Alley and then on Broadway, began with his first world-famous hit song, "Alexander's Ragtime Band," in 1911. The song was such an astronomical success that Berlin became an overnight songwriting legend. The song was such a success that it was one of the songs played on the ill-fated voyage of the Titanic. For the next almost fifty years Irving wrote the songs that America sang, hummed, and lived their lives through. That is not bad for a poor immigrant who came to America for a better life. Berlin is living proof that the American dream does happen to people...

Sunday, February 2, 2014

RIP: PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN


There is sad news to report among this generation of future classic stars. Wonderful actor Philip Seymour Hoffman has died at the age of 46. Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead of an apparent drug overdose — in the bathroom with a hypodermic needle still in his arm — inside a Greenwich Village home on Sunday morning, cops said.

A personal assistant found Hoffman’s body in the apartment at 35 Bethune St. and called 911 around 11:30 a.m, sources said.

Last month, Hoffman, 46, appeared out of it at the Sundance Film Festival at a party for his movie “God’s Pocket,” witnesses told The Post. He seemed “slightly disheveled and pasty” and initially declined interviews while his co-stars, Christina Hendricks and John Slattery, talked to the media, witnesses said.

A rep said at the time, “He needed a minute and didn’t feel like coming down yet.”
Later, Hoffman seemed more relaxed and agreed to do some interviews but would only talk about the movie. He was later spotted at another party chatting to actor Sam Rockwell.


Hoffman had been shooting “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2” and was in post-production for a Showtime series “Happyish.” He was also set to direct the movie “Ezekiel Moss” a Depression-era script, which follows a drifter with the ability to communicate with the dead starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Amy Adams.

He was seen in the audience just over a week ago at Broadway’s “Waiting for Godot.”
The “Mission Impossible” star won the Best Actor Oscar for the 2005 film “Capote,” and received three Academy Award nominations as Best Supporting Actor for other flicks.

Hoffman publicly admitted in 2006 that he nearly succumbed to substance abuse after graduating from NYU’s drama school, but got sober in rehab.

“It was all that (drugs and alcohol), yeah. It was anything I could get my hands on…I liked it all,”  he told “60 Minutes” as the time.

Last year, Hoffman reportedly checked himself into rehab again for ten days after relapsing in 2012...



Saturday, February 1, 2014

RIP: MAXIMILIAN SCHELL

(CNN) -- Austrian-born actor Maximilian Schell, winner of an Academy Award for his portrayal of a defense lawyer in "Judgment at Nuremberg," has died, his agent, Patricia Baumbauer, said Saturday. He was 83.

Schell died at an hospital in Innsbruck, Austria, with his wife, Iva, at his side, Baumbauer told CNN. "He was died of a quick illness after being treated for pneumonia," Baumbauer said. "My mother was Schell's agent for over 50 years, and when she died four years ago, he remained with the agency. He was like a father to me and knew me my entire life."

Maximilian Schell died in a Austrian hospital with his wife by his side, his agent Patricia Baumbauer said.

Schell was nominated for an Oscar three times. He won in 1962 for "Judgment at Nuremberg." Schell, one of the most successful German-speaking actors in English-language films, made his Hollywood debut in 1958 in the World War II film "The Young Lions," according to IMDb. In his second Hollywood role, as defense attorney Hans Rolfe in Stanley Kramer's classic "Judgment at Nuremberg," he won the 1961 Academy Award for Best Actor and beat out costar Spencer Tracy for the Oscar, according to IMDb.

He also earned a Golden Globe and the New York Film Critics Circle Award for the role, which brought him international acclaim. Schell's acting eventually won him two more Oscar nominations -- in 1976 for Best Actor for "The Man in the Glass Booth" and in 1978 for Best Supporting Actor for "Julia," according to IMDb. As a director, Schell's 1984 documentary on Marlene Dietrich, "Marlene" was nominated for a Best Documentary Oscar and praised as a masterpiece of the nonfiction genre, according to IMDb. Dietrich allowed herself to be recorded but refused to be filmed, bringing out the most in Schell's talent to penetrate images and uncover reality. Schell was born in Vienna, Austria, on December 8, 1930, and raised in Zurich, Switzerland.


In 2002, he produced his most intimate film, My Sister Maria, a documentary about his sister, noted actress Maria Schell. In the film, he chronicles her life, career and eventual diminished capacity due to illness. The film, made three years before her death, shows her mental and physical frailty, leading to her withdrawing from the world.] In 2002, upon the completion of the film, they both received Bambi Awards, and were honored for their lifetime achievements and in recognition of the film

One of his later roles that American audiences would know would be as Tea Leoni's father in the disaster epic Deep Impact in 1999. In 2007, he played the role of Albert Einstein on the German television series Giganten (Giants), which enacted the lives of people important in German history...