Saturday, December 31, 2016

THE PASSING SCENE OF 2016

Every year brings new hope and more exciting personal adventures. However, with every year we must say good bye to entertainers that have made us laugh a little bit more, cry a little bit harder, and make our daily problems go away. Here are just a few of the the great entertainers that have left us in 2016...


Actor and comedian Gene Wilder died from complications from Alzheimer's disease on August 28th at the age of 83. Wilder began his career on stage, and made his screen debut in the TV-series Armstrong Circle Theatre in 1962. Although his first film role was portraying a hostage in the 1967 motion picture Bonnie and Clyde, Wilder's first major role was as Leopold Bloom in the 1968 film The Producers for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. This was the first in a series of collaborations with writer/director Mel Brooks, including 1974's Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, which Wilder co-wrote, garnering the pair an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. Wilder is known for his portrayal of Willy Wonka in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971) and for his four films with Richard Pryor: Silver Streak (1976), Stir Crazy (1980), See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989), and Another You (1991). Wilder directed and wrote several of his own films, including The Woman in Red (1984).  His third wife was actress Gilda Radner, with whom he starred in three films. Her death from ovarian cancer led to his active involvement in promoting cancer awareness and treatment, helping found the Gilda Radner Ovarian Cancer Detection Center in Los Angeles and co-founding Gilda's Club.

Actress Carrie Fisher died of a heart attack on December 27th at the age of 60. She was known for playing Princess Leia in the Star Wars films. Fisher was also known for her semi-autobiographical novels, including Postcards from the Edge and the screenplay for the film of the same name, as well as her autobiographical one-woman play and its nonfiction book, Wishful Drinking, based on the show. Her other film roles included Shampoo (1975), The Blues Brothers (1980), Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), The 'Burbs (1989), and When Harry Met Sally... (1989). She was also the daughter of singer Eddie Fisher and actress Debbie Reynolds. She was on a flight from London to Los Angeles when she suffered the initial heart attack on December 23rd.

Oscar winning actress Patty Duke died on March 29th at the age of 69. She was an American actress of stage, film and television. She first became famous as a teen star, winning an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress at age 16 for her role in The Miracle Worker, which she had originated on Broadway. She later starred in the sitcom, The Patty Duke Show. She progressed to more mature roles upon playing Neely O'Hara in the 1967 film Valley of the Dolls.

Opera star Patricia Munsel died at the age of 91 on August 4th. She was an American coloratura soprano. Nicknamed "Princess Pat", she was the youngest singer to ever star at the Metropolitan Opera. Munsel ended her career as an opera singer in 1981, and began to perform in musical comedies. She retired from performing in 2008.

Rock icon Prince died at the age of 57 on April 21st. Prince, was an American singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, record producer, and actor. Prince was renowned as an innovator, and was widely known for his eclectic work, flamboyant stage presence, and wide vocal range. He is widely regarded as the pioneer of Minneapolis sound. His music integrates a wide variety of styles, including funk, rock, R&B, soul, psychedelia, and pop. He changed his stage name in 1993 to an unpronounceable symbol , also known as the "Love Symbol".


Italian crooner Julius LaRosa died on May 12th at the age of 86. He was an Italian-American traditional popular music singer, who worked in both radio and television beginning in the 1950s. In the 1950s, he was famous for getting fired from Arthur Godfrey's television show. After consulting with CBS President Frank Stanton, on the morning of October 19, 1953 (in a segment of the show broadcast on radio only), after La Rosa finished singing "Manhattan" on Arthur Godfrey Time, Godfrey fired La Rosa on the air, announcing, "that was Julie's swan song with us." La Rosa tearfully met with Godfrey after the broadcast and thanked him for giving him his "break." La Rosa was then met at Godfrey's offices by his lawyer, manager and some reporters.

Rock star and actor David Bowie died on January 10th at the age of 69. Bowie was an English singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, record producer, arranger, painter and actor. He was a figure in popular music for over five decades, and was considered by critics and other musicians as an innovator, particularly for his work in the 1970s. Bowie stopped concert touring after 2004, and last performed live at a charity event in 2006. In 2013, he returned from a decade-long recording hiatus, remaining musically active until his death from liver cancer three years later.

Actress and entertainer Debbie Reynolds died of a stroke at the age of 84 on December 28th, only a day after her daughter Carrie Fisher died. Debbie's breakout role was the portrayal of Helen Kane in the 1950 film Three Little Words, for which she was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Most Promising Newcomer. However, it was her first leading role in 1952 at age 19, as Kathy Selden in Singin' in the Rain, that set her on the path to fame. In 1959, she released her first pop music album, entitled Debbie.She starred in How the West Was Won (1963), and The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964), a biographical film about the famously boisterous Molly Brown. Her performance as Molly Brown earned her a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress. Her other notable films include The Singing Nun (1966), Divorce American Style (1967), What's the Matter with Helen? (1971), Mother (1996 Golden Globe nomination), and In & Out (1997).

Singer and big band vocalist Kitty Kallen died on January 7th at the age of 94. Kallen was an American popular singer whose career spanned from the 1930s to the 1960s—to include the Swing era of the Big Band years, the post-WWII pop scene and the early years of rock 'n roll. She is best known for her 1954 solo recording '"Little Things Mean a Lot" — a song that stayed at the U.S. number one spot for nine consecutive weeks, charted in the U.S. for almost seven months. She started out singing for the legendary bands of Jack Teagarden, Harry James, and Jimmy Dorsey.

Character actor Alan Rickman died at the age of 69 on January 14th of cancer. An English actor best known for playing anagonist roles, he was popular on the stage and screen.His big break was his role as the Vicomte de Valmont in the stage production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses in 1985, for which he was nominated for a Tony Award. Rickman gained wider notice for his film performances as Hans Gruber in Die Hard and Severus Snape in the Harry Potter film series. His last film was the just completed film Alice Through the Looking Glass, released May of 2016.


Child star Bobby Breen died on September 19th at the age of 88. He was first discovered by Eddie Cantor in the 1930s. He was a popular male child singer during the and reached major popularity with film and radio appearances. After fighting in World War II, he largely quit performing. He made a few records on the Motown label in the 1960s. He lived with his family in Tamarac, Florida, and worked as the owner/operator of Bobby Breen Enterprises, a local talent agency.

Singer Kay Starr died on November 3rd at the age of 94. She was an American pop and jazz singer who enjoyed considerable success in the 1940s and 1950s. She is best remembered for introducing two songs that became #1 hits in the 1950s, "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Rock And Roll  Waltz". Starr was successful in every field of music she tried: jazz, pop and country. But her roots were in jazz; and Billie Holiday, considered by many the greatest jazz singer of all time, called Starr "the only white woman who could sing the blues.

Character actor George Gaynes died on February 15th at the age of 98. Born to Dutch and Russian parents in Finland, he grew up in France, England and Switzerland and was a US citizen for most of his life. Gaynes' most recognized role in cinema was arguably that of Commandant Eric Lassard in the Police Academy movie series from 1984 to 1994. To television fans, he is perhaps best known as the curmudgeonly but lovable Henry Warnimont on the NBC series Punky Brewster from 1984 to 1988.

Singer Gogi Grant died on March 10th at the age of 91. She is best known for her No. 1 hit in 1956, "The Wayward Wind". In 1957, she supplied the vocals for Ann Blyth's portrayal of Helen Morgan in the biographical film, The Helen Morgan Story. The soundtrack occasioned her return to RCA (the soundtrack album climbed to No. 25 in the Billboard album chart), where she had a minor hit the following year with "Strange Are the Ways of Love." Grant continued to perform into her 80s.


Character actor Alan Young died of pneumonia on May 19th. He was 96. Young was an English-born Canadian-American actor, voice actor, comedian, radio and television host, and personality, whom TV Guide called "The Charlie Chaplin of Television" best known for his role as naive Wilbur Post in the television comedy series Mister Ed from 1961-1966 and as the voice of Scrooge McDuck in Disney films, TV series and video games. He also appeared in a number of feature films, starting from 1946, including the 1960 film The Time Machine and from the 1980s gaining a new generation of viewers appearing in numerous Walt Disney Productions films as both an actor and voice artist.

Director Garry Marshall died from complications from a stroke on July 19th.  His notable credits included creating the television show Happy Days and its various spin-offs, developing Neil Simon's 1965 play The Odd Couple for television, and directing Pretty Woman, Runaway Bride, Valentine's Day, New Year's Eve, Mother's Day, The Princess Diaries, and The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement. His last directing credit was this year's movie Mother's Day (2016).

Singer Natalie Cole died of heart failure on January 1st.. She was 65. The daughter of Nat King Cole (1919-1965), Natalie rose to musical success in the mid–1970s as an R&B artist with the hits "This Will Be", "Inseparable", and "Our Love". After a period of failing sales and performances due to a heavy drug addiction, Cole re-emerged as a pop artist with the 1987 album Everlasting and her cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Pink Cadillac". In the 1990s, she re-recorded standards by her father, resulting in her biggest success, Unforgettable... with Love, which sold over seven million copies and also won Cole numerous Grammy Awards. She sold over 30 million records worldwide.

Actress and singer Gloria Dehaven died a week after her 91st birthday on July 30, 2016. She was a contract star for MGM during the "Golden Years Of Hollywood".  Despite featured roles in such films as Best Foot Forward (1943), The Thin Man Goes Home (1944), Scene of the Crime (1949) and Summer Stock (1950), and being voted by exhibitors as the third most likely to be a "star of tomorrow'" in 1944, she did not achieve film stardom. She portrayed her own mother, Flora Parker DeHaven, in the Fred Astaire film Three Little Words (1950). Her last film role was playing the love interest of Jack Lemmon in the comedy Out to Sea (1997).


Character actor George Kennedy died on February 28th at the age of 91 of lung cancer.  He is best remembered for portraying "Dragline" opposite Paul Newman in 1967'S Cool Hand Luke, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. His eclectic roster of performances also includes Joe Patroni in 1970's Airport (for which he received his second Golden Globe nomination) and its three sequels, Police Captain Ed Hocken in the Naked Gun series of comedy films and corrupt oil tycoon Carter McKay on the original Dallas television series. He made his last movie appearance in the 2014 crime drama The Gambler.

Television actress Doris Roberts died on April 17th at the age of 90. She received five Emmy Awards and a Screen Actors Guild award during her acting career, which began in 1951. She was perhaps best known for her role as Raymond Barone's mother, Marie Barone, on the sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond, which ran from 1996–2005.

Actress and ghost singer Marni Nixon died from breast cancer at the age of 86 on July 24th. She was an American soprano and playback singer for featured actresses in movie musicals. She is best known for dubbing the singing voices of the leading actresses in films, including The King and I, West Side Story and My Fair Lady. She retired from performing in 2008.

Singer Frank Sinatra Jr. died from a heart attack on March 16th. He was 72. He was the son of cooner Frank Sinatra that was in his father's shadows for most of his life. The younger Sinatra was also a songwriter, an actor, and a conductor. He died in Florida while on tour.

Actress Florence Henderson died on November 24th at the age of 82.. She is best remembered for her starring role as matriarch Carol Brady on the ABC sitcom The Brady Bunch from 1969 to 1974. . She appeared as a guest on many scripted and nonscripted (talk and reality show) television programs and as a panelist on numerous game shows. She was a contestant on Dancing with the Stars in 2010. On November 21, 2016, three days before her death, Florence appeared again on Dancing with the Stars giving moral support to her eldest Brady Bunch daughter Maureen McCormick, who played the popular Marcia Brady. Henderson hosted her own talk show, The Florence Henderson Show, and cooking show, Who's Cooking with Florence Henderson, on Retirement Living TV (RLTV), in the years leading up to her sudden death from heart failure.

These wonderful icons and stars are gone now, but they never will be forgotten...

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

MUSIC BREAK: DEBBIE REYNOLDS - TAMMY

RIP: DEBBIE REYNOLDS

Debbie Reynolds, the Oscar-nominated singer-actress who was the mother of late actress Carrie Fisher, has died at Cedars-Sinai hospital. She was 84.

“She wanted to be with Carrie,” her son Todd Fisher told Variety.

She was taken to the hospital from Todd Fisher’s Beverly Hills house Wednesday after a suspected stroke, the day after her daughter Carrie Fisher died.

The vivacious blonde, who had a close but sometimes tempestuous relationship with her daughter, was one of MGM’s principal stars of the 1950s and ’60s in such films as the 1952 classic “Singin’ in the Rain” and 1964’s “The Unsinkable Molly Brown,” for which she received an Oscar nomination as best actress.

Reynolds received the SAG lifetime achievement award in January 2015; in August of that year the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences voted to present the actress with the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the Nov. 14 Governors Awards, but she was unable to attend the ceremony due to an “unexpectedly long recovery from a recent surgery.”

Reynolds had a wholesome girl-next-door look which was coupled with a no-nonsense attitude in her roles. They ranged from sweet vehicles like “Tammy” to more serious fare such as “The Rat Race” and “How the West Was Won.” But amid all the success, her private life was at the center of one of the decade’s biggest scandals when then-husband, singer Eddie Fisher, left her for Elizabeth Taylor in 1958.


She continued to work well into her 80s, via film and TV work, guesting on “The Golden Girls” and “Roseanne” and drawing an Emmy nomination in 2000 for her recurring role on “Will and Grace” as the latter’s entertainer mother. She also did a number of TV movies, including an almost-unrecognizable turn as Liberace’s mother in Steven Soderbergh’s “Behind the Candelabra” for HBO in 2013. She also frequently did voice work for “Kim Possible” and “Family Guy.”For movie fans, she was always the pert star of movies, TV, nightclubs and Broadway. But to industry people, she was known for her philanthropy, including more than 60 years of working with the organization the Thalians on mental-health care.

She was also known for her energetic battles to preserve Hollywood heritage. She bought thousands of pieces when MGM auctioned off its costumes and props, including Marilyn Monroe’s “subway dress” from “The Seven Year Itch,” a Charlie Chaplin bowler hat and a copy of the ruby slippers from “The Wizard of Oz.” Reynolds spent decades trying to get these items showcased in a museum.


When Shirley MacLaine dropped out of 1964’s “The Unsinkable Molly Brown,” Reynolds got her best chance to shine centerstage in a musical comedy about the real-life woman who went from rags to riches and survived the Titanic sinking. (One of the show’s signature songs, “I Ain’t Down Yet,” became an unofficial anthem for the actress as she survived all the turmoil in her life.

She had two of her best roles in “Divorce, American Style,” directed by Bud Yorkin and co-written by Norman Lear; and the 1971 black-comedy suspenser “What’s the Matter With Helen?” with Shelley Winters.. But her movie roles were slowing down and the actress tried series television; “The Debbie Reynolds Show” lasted only one season on NBC from 1969-70.

She also established the Debbie Reynolds Professional Studios in Burbank. She went to Broadway in a revival of “Irene,” drawing a 1973 Tony nomination for best actress in a musical, which gave daughter Carrie Fisher one of her first roles. After doing “Annie Get Your Gun” on tour, Reynolds returned to Broadway in a short-lived turn in “Woman of the Year.” She toured with Meredith Willson’s stage musical “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” in 1989, 25 years after the film debuted.


Reynolds appeared in a number of films in the 1990s, including the title character in the Albert Brooks comedy “Mother.” She also cameo’d as herself in “The Bodyguard”; appeared in Oliver Stone’s “Heaven and Earth”; and played a mother determined to marry off her son whether he’s gay or not in the 1997 “In and Out.” She also appeared in a broadly comic role as the grandmother in Katherine Heigl vehicle “One for the Money” in 2012.

Reynolds also did voicework for many animated film and TV works, starting with the title character in 1973’s “Charlotte’s Web.” and providing voices for the English version of anime “Kiki’s Delivery Service” and for “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Movie,” “Rugrats in Paris” and “Light of Olympia.”

In 2005 she won the President’s Award at the Costume Designers Guild Awards “for her collection and conservation of classic Hollywood costumes.” However, a deal for placement of the collection fell through, and Reynolds was forced to auction off most of the collection, which was valued at almost $11 million.

Daughter Carrie Fisher died Dec. 27, 2016; Reynolds is survived by her son Todd, a TV commercial director from her marriage to Eddie Fisher; and granddaughter, actress Billie Lourd...


Tuesday, December 27, 2016

RIP: CARRIE FISHER

Carrie Fisher, the actress, author and screenwriter who brought a rare combination of nerve, grit and hopefulness to her most indelible role, as Princess Leia in the “Star Wars” movie franchise phenomenon, died on Tuesday morning. She was 60.

“It is with a very deep sadness that Billie Lourd confirms that her beloved mother, Carrie Fisher, passed away at 8:55 this morning,” a family spokesman, Simon Hall, wrote in a statement.

Ms. Fisher had a heart attack on a flight from London to Los Angeles on Friday and had been hospitalized in Los Angeles.

Ms. Fisher, the daughter of the pop singer Eddie Fisher and the actress Debbie Reynolds, went on to use her perch among Hollywood royalty to offer wry commentary in her books on the paradoxes and absurdities of the entertainment industry.

“Star Wars,” released in 1977, turned her overnight into an international movie star. The film, written and directed by George Lucas, traveled around the world, drawing record box-office numbers. It proved to be the first installment of a blockbuster space adventure franchise whose vivid, even preposterous characters — living “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,” as the opening sequence announced — became pop culture legends and the progenitors of a merchandising bonanza. 


Ms. Fisher established Princess Leia as a damsel who could very much deal with her own distress, whether facing down the villainy of the dreaded Darth Vader or the romantic interests of the roguish smuggler Han Solo.

Fisher made her big screen debut in the film Shampoo (1975), alongside Goldie Hawn, Warren Beatty and Julie Christie, but it would be another two years until she got her big break in Star Wars.

She told the Daily Mail in 2011 that when she got the part in a "little science-fiction film", she just thought of it as a bit of fun. "But then Star Wars, this goofy, little three-month hang-out with robots did something unexpected," she said.


"It exploded across the firmament of pop culture, taking all of us along with it. It tricked me into becoming a star all on my own."

On December 23, 2016, Fisher experienced a medical emergency while on a flight from London to Los Angeles; a fellow actor seated near Fisher reported that she had stopped breathing. A passenger onboard the flight performed CPR on Fisher until paramedics arrived. After being taken to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center by ambulance, she was placed on a ventilator. Fisher was reported to have been stabilized while in the hospital, but Todd Fisher later said he could not classify his sister's condition, and that she was still in the intensive care unit. On December 25, Debbie Reynolds said her daughter was stable, and that any updates would be shared by the family.


Fisher died at age 60 on December 27, 2016, at 8:55am Pacific Standard Time, in Los Angeles, California. Billie Lourd, Fisher's daughter, confirmed the actress' death via family spokesperson, Simon Halls, who announced the death to the press. In addition to Lourd, Fisher is survived by her mother Debbie Reynolds, her brother Todd Fisher as well as her half-sisters, actresses Joely Fisher and Tricia Leigh Fisher.

Her other film roles included Shampoo (1975), The Blues Brothers (1980), Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), The 'Burbs (1989), and When Harry Met Sally... (1989)...




Saturday, December 24, 2016

RECENTLY VIEWED: HOME ALONE 2

My six year old son recently discovered the Home Alone series of movies, and even though I grew up on these films, it is still off putting to see a boy left alone - not once but twice. However, as far as sequels go, 1992's Home Alone 2: Lost In New York is actually pretty good. It is the second film in the Home Alone series and the sequel to Home Alone. Macaulay Culkin reprises his role as Kevin McCallister, while Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern reprise their roles as the Wet Bandits, now known as the Sticky Bandits. Catherine O'Hara, John Heard, Tim Curry, and Brenda Fricker are also featured.

The film was shot in Winnetka, Illinois, O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Evanston, Illinois, Miami, and New York City (which was star Culkin's hometown at the time). The exterior of Duncan's Toy Chest in New York City was filmed outside of the Rookery Building in downtown Chicago. The exterior of Haven Middle School in Evanston, Illinois is shown prior to the Christmas pageant. The film became the second most financially successful film of 1992, earning over $173 million in revenue in the United States and $358 million worldwide against a budget of $20 million.

In Chicago, Illinois, the McCallister family is preparing for a Christmas vacation in Miami. On the night before their departure, the entire family gathers at Peter and Kate's home, where their 9-year-old son Kevin sees Florida as contradictory to Christmas because he thinks there are no Christmas trees in Florida. During the school Christmas pageant, Kevin's older brother Buzz humiliates him during his solo, causing Kevin to retaliate. Refusing to apologize for his actions, Kevin goes up to the third floor of the house. During the night, Peter unknowingly causes the alarm clock to reset; consequently, the family oversleeps. In the confusion and rush to reach the airport on time, Kevin boards a flight bound for New York City while trying to replace the batteries for his tape recorder, carrying Peter's bag containing his wallet and a large amount of cash; upon arrival in Miami, Kate realizes that Kevin is missing again. In New York, Kevin tours the city and convinces the staff at the Plaza Hotel into giving him a room using Peter's credit card. During a visit to Central Park, Kevin is frightened by the appearance of a homeless woman tending to pigeons.


On Christmas Eve, Kevin tours the city in a limousine and visits a toy store where he meets its philanthropic owner, Mr. Duncan. Kevin learns that the proceeds from the store's Christmas sales will be donated to a children's hospital. Duncan offers Kevin a pair of ceramic turtledoves as a gift, instructing him to give one to another person as a sign of eternal friendship. After encountering Harry and Marv, a pair of burglars who recently escaped from prison and are now called the "Sticky Bandits," Kevin retreats to the Plaza. The hotel's concierge Mr. Hector confronts Kevin about the credit card which has been reported stolen. Kevin flees after evading Mr. Hector, but is captured by Harry and Marv. The duo discuss plans for breaking into the toy store that night, before Kevin escapes.

Kevin's family travels to New York after tracking the whereabouts of the stolen credit card and Kate searches the city for Kevin. Meanwhile, Kevin goes to his uncle Rob's townhouse only to find the house vacant and undergoing renovations while Rob and his family are in Paris. In Central Park, he encounters the pigeon lady. When Kevin gets his foot caught while running away, she frees him. At Carnegie Hall, the pair watch an orchestra perform "O Come, All ye Faithful". The pigeon lady explains how her life collapsed and how she dealt with it by taking care of the pigeons in the park. Kevin gives the pigeon lady some advice and promises that he will be her friend.


Kevin, after remembering what the bandits said, returns to the townhouse and rigs it with numerous booby traps. Kevin arrives at the toy store during Harry and Marv's robbery, throws a brick through the window, setting off the store's alarm, and lures the duo to the townhouse, spring the traps and suffer various injuries. When the duo chase Kevin around the townhouse, he escapes and calls the police. Harry and Marv catch him and discuss how they are going to kill him, but the pigeon lady sneaks in and incapacitates the duo with her birdseed before they can do anything, and Kevin sets off fireworks he had bought earlier to signal the police. The police arrive and arrest Harry and Marv. At the toy store, Mr. Duncan finds a note from Kevin attached to the brick explaining his actions.


Meanwhile, Kate remembers Kevin's fondness for Christmas trees. After observing Kevin making a wish at the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, Kate meets him there and they reconcile. On Christmas Day, a truckload of gifts arrive at the McCallisters' hotel room from the toy store. Kevin and Buzz reconcile and Buzz allows him to open up the first present. Kevin goes to Central Park to give the pigeon lady the second turtledove. At the Plaza, Buzz receives the bill for Kevin's stay from Cedric. Peter suddenly calls out, "Kevin, you spent $967 on room service?!" at which point Kevin runs back.

It was great to see classic comedy actor Eddie Bracken as the Toy Store owner, Mr. Duncan. I remember seeing this movie in the theater when I was 17, and I had tears in my eyes, and while the parents should not have as many kids as they do (they have 5) if they keep losing them, I still felt sentimental about this movie. It's a great movie for the holidays, and even better if you are stuck home alone...

MY RATING: 8 OUT OF 10


Monday, December 19, 2016

SINGER SPOTLIGHT: GLORIA WOOD

Gloria Wood was born on September 8, 1923 in Medford, Massachusetts, USA into a musical family. Her father was Robert E. Wood, a Boston radio singer in the 1920's, who with wife Gertrude Anderson-Wood, were the influence which pushed Gloria into singing, straight out of high school in 1941. Gloria's sister, Donna Wood, who sang with both The Horace Heidt Orchestra and The Kay Kyser Orchestra, sadly passed away in 1947 of a heart ailment at just 29 years old.

In 1958 Time Magazine wrote: The most pervasive voice in radio or television belongs neither to Bing Crosby nor Perry Como, but to a pretty, twinkly, auburn-haired girl named Gloria Wood. Blessed with a four-octave range and a gift for mimicry, Gloria can sing high or low, squeaky or sweet, on demand and to order. And the demand for such special talents is tremendous. In just the past three years, Gloria has recorded for more than 2000 singing commercials.

She is the voice of the impish Tinker Bell orbiting around a jar of Peter Pan peanut butter, of Walt Disney's Minnie Mouse, and (on records) of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. One firm planned a commercial featuring an eight-year-old boy, a nine-year-old girl, their mother and grandmother. Gloria did all four characters.

With her four-octave range, which she claims matches the eerie range of Peruvian Vocal Acrobat Yma Sumac, she can take off from low C below middle C and soar to C above high C. But this endowment also drives Gloria to despair: nobody wants to hear her sing straight. Her mother, a pop singer on Boston radio back in the mid-'20s thrust Gloria into big-band singing straight out of high school in 1941.

Gloria did solid hitches with Horace Heidt and Kay Kyser, in 1953 made a Capitol record called "Hey Bellboy" (its only words), which sold nearly 1000000 copies. The movies have called on her to provide the voice of many a non-singing star. She sang for Marilyn Monroe in "River of No Return", for Vera-Ellen in "White Christmas" "I like making money", she admits. "But I'd like to beknown for all the things I've done. Nobody knows Gloria Wood."


Wood had other solo tracks on Capitol and did a number of sides for other smaller labels such as Mastertone, Coral and Zephyr.In the mid 1950's she did an entire LP of romantic ballads for Columbia. In the late 1950s did a record with Rick Nelson and also headed up a choir featured on a Disney record and was a character voice in a number of advertisements (along with Stan Freberg), and in cartoons and on record albums.

Gloria passed away on March 4, 1995 in Los Angeles, California from complications of Diabetes. At that time, she was known as Gloria Wood-McGeorge. No mention of her career as a vocalist is made on her headstone, it simply says Beloved Wife...



Friday, December 16, 2016

BORN ON THIS DAY: NOEL COWARD

There is so much I have to learn about the genius that was and is Noel Coward. I have known his works for years due to some of his great songs like: "Mad Dogs And Englishmen", and "Someday I'll Find You", but Coward was so much more. Today is a good day to celebrate his life - today would have been Noel Coward's 117th birthday.

Coward was born  on December 16th 1899 in Teddington, Middlesex, a south-western suburb of London. His parents were Arthur Sabin Coward (1856–1937), a piano salesman, and Violet Agnes Coward (1863–1954), daughter of Henry Gordon Veitch, a captain and surveyor in the Royal Navy. Noël Coward was the second of their three sons, the eldest of whom had died in 1898 at the age of six. Coward's father lacked ambition and industry, and family finances were often poor.Coward was bitten by the performing bug early and appeared in amateur concerts by the age of seven. He attended the Chapel Royal Choir School as a young child. He had little formal schooling but was a voracious reader.

Encouraged by his ambitious mother, who sent him to a dance academy in London, Coward's first professional engagement was in January 1911 as Prince Mussel in the children's play The Goldfish.

As a teenager he was introduced into the high society in which most of his plays would be set. Coward achieved enduring success as a playwright, publishing more than 50 plays from his teens onwards. Many of his works, such as Hay Fever, Private Lives, Design for Living, Present Laughter and Blithe Spirit, have remained in the regular theatre repertoire. He composed hundreds of songs, in addition to well over a dozen musical theatre works (including the operetta Bitter Sweet and comic revues), screenplays, poetry, several volumes of short stories, the novel Pomp and Circumstance, and a three-volume autobiography. Coward's stage and film acting and directing career spanned six decades, during which he starred in many of his own works.


At the outbreak of the Second World War Coward volunteered for war work, running the British propaganda office in Paris. He also worked with the Secret Service, seeking to use his influence to persuade the American public and government to help Britain. Coward won an Academy Honorary Award in 1943 for his naval film drama, In Which We Serve, and was knighted in 1969. In the 1950s he achieved fresh success as a cabaret performer, performing his own songs, such as "Mad Dogs and Englishmen", "London Pride" and "I Went to a Marvellous Party".

His plays and songs achieved new popularity in the 1960s and 1970s, and his work and style continue to influence popular culture. Coward did not publicly acknowledge his homosexuality, but it was discussed candidly after his death by biographers including Graham Payn, his long-time partner, and in Coward's diaries and letters, published posthumously. The former Albery Theatre (originally the New Theatre) in London was renamed the Noël Coward Theatre in his honour in 2006.


By the end of the 1960s, Coward suffered from arteriosclerosis and, during the run of Suite in Three Keys, he struggled with bouts of memory loss. This also affected his work in The Italian Job, and he retired from acting immediately afterwards. Coward was knighted in 1969 and was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He received a Tony Award for lifetime achievement. In 1972, he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree by the University of Sussex.

Coward died at his home, Firefly Estate, in Jamaica on 26 March 1973 of heart failure and was buried three days later on the brow of Firefly Hill, overlooking the north coast of the island. A memorial service was held in St Martin-in-the-Fields in London on 29 May 1973, for which the Poet Laureate, John Betjeman, wrote and delivered a poem in Coward's honour,  John Gielgud and Laurence Olivier read verse as a final tribute to a brilliant man...


Monday, December 12, 2016

WHITE CHRISTMAS: A 1954 REVIEW

White Christmas is considered a holiday classic today, over 60 years after it was originally in movie theaters. I thought it would be interesting to see what critics thought of the film when it was new in 1954. Here is a review by Bosley Crowther that appeared in the New York Times of October 15, 1954...

IT was twelve years ago that Bing Crosby was in a place and a film called "Holiday Inn," wherein he sang a little number tagged "White Christmas," written—as was all the music in that picture—by Irving Berlin. The occasion was happily historic, for a reason we scarcely need recall: "White Christmas" and Mr. Crosby became like "God Bless America" and Kate Smith—so much so, indeed, that the notion of starring Mr. Crosby in a film that would have the title "White Christmas" was broached as long as six years ago.

Various obstructions beset it, but the purpose was ultimately achieved. "White Christmas," with Mr. Crosby, opened yesterday at the Music Hall. What's more, it is in Technicolor and VistaVision, which is Paramount's new wide-screen device, and it has Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen in addition to its focal star. A new batch of Irving Berlin numbers comprises its musical score. Paramount, to put it simply, has done "White Christmas" up brown.

But, oddly enough, the confection is not so tasty as one might suppose. The flavoring is largely in the line-up and not in the output of the cooks. Everyone works hard at the business of singing, dancing and cracking jokes, but the stuff that they work with is minor. It doesn't have the old inspiration and spark.


For one thing, the credited scriptwriters—Norman Krasna, Norman Panama and Melvin Frank—have shown very little imagination in putting together what is sometimes called the "book." They have hacked out a way of getting two teams of entertainers—a pair of celebrated male hoofers and a singing sister act—to a ski lodge in New England (reminiscent of the Holiday Inn) which happens to be run by the good old general of the outfit the fellows Were in during the war. And to show their appreciation of the good old general and the difficult circumstances he appears to be in, they provide free entertainment and call in a big rally of comrades for the Christmas holidays.

It is a routine accumulation of standard romance and sentiment, blessed by a few funny set-ups that are usually grabbed with most effect by Mr. Kaye. And the music of Mr. Berlir is a good bit less than inspired Outside of the old "White Christmas," which is sung at the beginning and the end, there are only a couple of numbers that have a measure of charm. One of these is "Count Your Blessings," a song of reassurance that Mr. Crosby and Miss Clooney chant, and another is "The Best Things Happen While You're Dancing," which Mr. Kaye sings and to which he and Vera-Ellen cavort.


Three numbers are given over to the admiration of generals and Army life, which seems not alone an extravagance but a reckless audacity. Even the sweetness of Dean Jagger as the old general does not justify the expense. Someone's nostalgia for the war years and the U. S. O. tours has taken the show awry.

Fortunately, the use of VistaVision, which is another process of projecting on a wide, flat screen, has made it possible to endow "White Christmas" with a fine pictorial quality. The colors on the big screen are rich and luminous, the images are clear and sharp, and rapid movements are got without blurring—or very little—such as sometimes is seen on other large screens. Director Michael Curtiz has made his picture look good. It is too bad that it doesn't hit the eardrums and the funnybone with equal force...


SOURCE

Friday, December 9, 2016

WILLIAM RANDOLPH HEARST VS CITIZEN KANE

One of Hollywood’s most famous clashes of the titans--an upstart “boy genius” filmmaker versus a furious 76-year-old newspaper tycoon--heats up on this day in 1941, when William Randolph Hearst forbids any of his newspapers to run advertisements for Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane.

Though Welles was only 24 years old when he began working in Hollywood, he had already made a name for himself on the New York theater scene and particularly with his controversial radio adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel The War of the Worlds in 1938. After scoring a lucrative contract with the struggling RKO studio, he was searching for an appropriately incendiary topic for his first film when his friend, the writer Herman Mankiewicz, suggested basing it on the life of William Randolph Hearst. Hearst was a notoriously innovative, often tyrannical businessman who had built his own nationwide newspaper empire and owned eight homes, the most notable of which was San Simeon, his sprawling castle on a hill on the Central California coast.

After catching a preview screening of the unfinished Citizen Kane on January 3, 1941, the influential gossip columnist Hedda Hopper wasted no time in passing along the news to Hearst and his associates. Her rival and Hearst’s chief movie columnist, Louella Parsons, was incensed about the film and its portrait of Charles Foster Kane, the Hearst-like character embodied in typically grandiose style by Welles himself. Even more loathsome to Hearst and his allies was the portrayal of Kane’s second wife, a young alcoholic singer with strong parallels to Hearst’s mistress, the showgirl-turned-actress Marion Davies. Hearst was said to have reacted to this aspect of the film more strongly than any other, and Welles himself later called the Davies-based character a “dirty trick” that he expected would provoke the mogul’s anger.


Only a few days after the screening, Hearst sent the word out to all his publications not to run advertisements for the film. Far from stopping there, he also threatened to make war against the Hollywood studio system in general, publicly condemning the number of “immigrants” and “refugees” working in the film industry instead of Americans, a none-too-subtle reference to the many Jewish members of the Hollywood establishment. Hearst’s newspapers also went after Welles, accusing him of Communist sympathies and questioning his patriotism.

Hollywood’s heavyweights, who were already resentful of Welles for his youth and his open contempt for Hollywood, soon rallied around Hearst. Louis B. Mayer of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer even offered to pay RKO $842,000 in cash if the studio’s president, George Schaefer, would destroy the negative and all prints of Citizen Kane. Schaefer refused and in retaliation threatened to sue the Fox, Paramount and Loews theater chains for conspiracy after they refused to distribute the film. After Time and other publications protested, the theater chains relented slightly and permitted a few showings; in the end, the film barely broke even.


Nominated for nine Oscars, Citizen Kane won only one (a shared Best Screenplay award for Mankiewicz and Welles) and Welles and the film were actually booed at the 1942 Academy Awards ceremony. Schaefer was later pushed out at RKO, along with Welles, and the film was returned to the RKO archives. It would be 25 more years before Citizen Kane received its rightful share of attention, but it has since been heralded as one of the best movies of all time...


Monday, December 5, 2016

BING CROSBY AND MADISON SQUARE GARDEN

This interesting article was originally published in the Daily News on Feb. 12, 1968. This story was written by Nathan Kanter and Arthur Mulligan...

The new Madison Square Garden had a historic and glittering premiere last night as 19,832 persons paid $10 to $250 a seat to attend a “Salute to the USO” and be entertained by the antics of such performers as Bob Hope and Bing Crosby.

It was a gay and responsive crowd, liberally sprinkled with men in military uniforms, which turned out for a fun night in Fun City but with a noble underlying motive. The proceeds are scheduled for the benefit of the United Service Organizations.

Eight searchlight trucks were stationed strategically to light up scene around the Seventh Ave. entrance to the circular Ave. entrance to the circular Garden arena. The arena is part of an 8.5-acre complex stretching from 31st to 33d Sts. and Seventh to Eighth Aves., stop Pennsylvania station.

Scores of celebrities were on hand, including Mayor Lindsay, who showed up in a tuxedo after tapping this weekly TV show. The Hollywood premiere flavor was somewhat marred by a group of 25 peaceniks who handed out pamphlets and shouted catcalls at servicemen at the Seventh Ave. entrance.

None of the military men paid them so much as a glance but witnesses reported that one irate middle-aged male civilian landed a good right hook on the chin of one of the demonstrators, then continued on into the Garden.

The show was supposed to get under way at 8:30 p.m., but it was 8:50 before the mayor showed up. It was 9 p.m. when Les Brown and his orchestra struck up the National Anthem, accompanied by the cadet glee club of the United States Military Academy at West Point.

John (Bud) Palmer, the city’s official greeter, then introduced Sen. Jacob Javits, Jack Dempsey, Gene Tunney, and George Champion. Champion, general manager of the “Salute to the USO,” and board chairman of Chase Manhattan Bank, showed that Lindsay had a friend at that bank.

Champion introduced Lindsay as a “courageous mayor.” Half of the assemblage gave Lindsay a standing ovation and the other half applauded politely, if not resoundingly.

Lindsay, in introducing Hope, remarked that the comedian had been in many zones of combat, then quipped: “Welcome to New York,” an obvious reference to the bitterness engendered by the recent sanitationmen’s strike.

“I’ve salvaged at least one thing out of these last few days,” Lindsay added. “At least they’ve, stopped calling me Mr. Clean.”

In his turn, Hope cracked: “I’m happy that he (Lindsay) came here from his busy schedule. It just proves what one actor will do for another.”

At another point, Hope remarked of Lindsay: “Isn’t it wonderful how he walks all over the city. I guess he can’t get a cab either.”

Gov. Rockefeller was supposed to show up but if he did nobody saw him.

Hope and his guests, many of them ad-libbing with the help of “idiot cards” -- much of the big show being taped for a telecast tonight -- were light of heart. Pearl Bailey started her songs with “Poor Butterfly” and end with “Mame.” Bing Cosby, Hope’s co-star of the evening, began with “Cockeyed Optimist” and later joined his partner in a medley of songs...

Thursday, December 1, 2016

PAST OBITS: VERA-ELLEN

At this time of the year I always think about underrated dancer Vera-Ellen. Here is her small obituary from the New York Times on September 2, 1981...



HOLLYWOOD, Sept. 1— Vera-Ellen, who danced across the screen with such stars as Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly during the golden era of Hollywood musicals, died of cancer at the University of California at Los Angeles Medical Center on Sunday. She was 55 years old.

Vera-Ellen's career began in her teens, when she won a radio talent competition. She went on to star on Broadway and in such classic films as ''White Christmas'' with Bing Crosby and ''On the Town'' with Mr. Kelly and Frank Sinatra.

She was bor n Vera-Ellen Rohe in Cincinnati, with a hyphen in her name because her mother ''had a dream and saw that name in lights,'' according to A.C. Lyles, a Paramount producer and longtime friend. ''When she wa s a small girl she was rather frail and studied dancing to build up her body.''


As a teen-ager she won the Major Bowes Amateur Hour and toured New York theaters, dancing for $50 a week in the late 1930's. She also toured with the Ted Lewis Band and eventually broke into Broadway musicals, dancing with Ray Bolger in ''By Jupiter'' in 1942 and in the revival of ''A Connecticut Yankee'' in 1943. She was noticed in 1943 by Samuel Goldwyn, who started her on her film career. Last Film in 1957

Goldwyn teamed her with Danny Kaye in ''Wonder Man.'' She also did ''The Kid From Brooklyn'' with Mr. Kaye. She and and Mr. Kelly danced a famous sequence to ''Slaughter on Tenth Avenue'' in the film ''Words and Music.''

With Mr. Astaire she did ''Three Little Words'' and ''The Belle of New York.'' She also appeared in ''Call Me Madam.'' Her last picture, in 1957, was ''Let's Be Happy,'' with Tony Martin.

Vera-Ellen was married in 1954 to Victor Rothschild, an oilman; they were divorced in 1966. Since then she had lived in seclusion in the Hollywood Hills.

The funeral service will be private. A memorial service is planned for next Tuesday at the Westwood Memorial Park and Mortuary...