Sunday, January 30, 2011


Looking back 72 years on the film THE WIZARD OF OZ, many people would say that Judy Garland had the most tragic and sad life of the cast, and rightfully so. However, Clara Blandick, Judy's Aunt Em in the movie, probably had one of the sadest endings for anyone in that legendary cast.

Clara Blandick was born in 1880 and grew up in Boston. By 1900 she began pursuing acting as a career. Her first professional appearance came in 1901, when she was cast as Jehanneton in the play If I Were King, which ran for 56 performances at Garden Theatre (an early component of Madison Square Garden). She achieved acclaim for her role in The Christian and was described by newspaper critics as a "dainty, petite, and graceful" heroine.

In 1903 she played Gwendolyn in the Broadway premiere of E. W. Hornung's Raffles The Amateur Cracksman opposite Kyrle Bellew. She started in pictures with the Old Kalem company in 1908 and made a number of appearances like in The Maid's Double in 1911. Blandick finally broke onto Broadway in 1912, when she was cast as Dolores Pennington in Widow By Proxy which ran for 88 performances through early 1913 at George M. Cohan's Theatre on Broadway. During this same period she appeared on stages throughout the Northeastern United States as a member of Sylvester Poli's stock theater company, The Poli Players.

She would continue to achieve success on the stage, playing a number of starring roles, including the lead in Madame Butterfly. By 1914 she was reappearing on the silver screen, this time as Emily Mason in the film Mrs. Black is Back. In 1924, she earned rave reviews for her supporting role in the Pulitzer Prize winning play Hell-Bent Fer Heaven, which ran for 122 performances at the Klaw Theatre in New York (later renamed CBS Radio Playhouse No. 2).

In 1929, Blandick moved to Hollywood. By the 1930s, she was well-known in theatrical and film circles as an established supporting actress. Though she landed roles like Aunt Polly in the 1930 film Tom Sawyer (a role she reprised in the 1931 film Huckleberry Finn), she spent much of the decade as a character actor, often going uncredited. At a time when many actors were permanently attached to a single studio, Blandick played a wide number of bit parts for almost every major Hollywood studio (though she would later be under contract with 20th Century Fox). In 1930, she acted in nine different films. In 1931 she was in thirteen different films. As is the case with some other busy character actors, it's impossible to make an exact tally of the films in which Clara appeared. A reasonable estimate would fall between 150 and 200.

Blandick landed her most memorable minor role yet — Auntie Em in MGM's classic The Wizard of Oz. Though it was a small part (Blandick filmed all her scenes in a single week), the character was an important symbol of protagonist Dorothy's quest to return home to her beloved aunt and uncle – a snipe at people who revere glitz and tinsel over a happy homelife. (Auntie Em and Uncle Henry are the only characters from the beginning of the movie not to have alter ego characters in the Land Of Oz). Blandick beat out May Robson, Janet Beecher, and Sarah Padden for the role, and earned $750 per week. Some believed Auntie Em's alter ego was to be the Good Witch of the North but opted to use different actresses for each role rather than have a dual role for this. The reason was they wanted someone younger looking to contrast the good witch from the bad witches. Ironically, Billie Burke, who played the Witch of the North, was only 4 years younger than Blandick. Though the Auntie Em character proved memorable to audiences, few fans knew Blandick's name. She was not billed in the opening credits and is listed last in the movie's closing credits.

After The Wizard of Oz, Blandick returned to her staple of character acting in supporting and bit roles. She would continue to act in a wide variety of roles in dozens of films. She played the spiteful Mrs. Pringle in 1940s Anne of Windy Poplars, a surprised customer in the 1941 Marx Brothers film The Big Store, Bing Crosby's mother in law in Dixie in 1943, a fashionable socialite in the 1944 musical Can't Help Singing, and a cold-blooded murderer in the 1947 mystery Philo Vance Returns. Her final two roles both came in 1950 – playing a housekeeper and a landlady in Key to the City and Love That Brute respectively.
Throughout the 1950s, Blandick's health steadily began to fail. She started going blind and began suffering from severe arthritis. On April 15, 1962, she returned home from Palm Sunday services at her church. She began rearranging her room, placing her favorite photos and memorabilia in prominent places. She laid out her resume and a collection of press clippings from her lengthy career. She dressed immaculately, in an elegant royal blue dressing gown. Then, with her hair properly styled, she took an overdose of sleeping pills. She lay down on a couch, covered herself with a gold blanket over her shoulders, and tied a plastic bag over her head. Clara left the following note: “I am now about to make the great adventure. I cannot endure this agonizing pain any longer. It is all over my body. Neither can I face the impending blindness. I pray the Lord my soul to take. Amen.”

Her landlady, Helen Mason, found her body Sunday morning. In preparing to die, Clara had disposed of all her medicines the previous week. She told James Busch, a friend for many years, that they might be discovered if anything happened to her. Blandick was survived by a niece, Mrs. Catherine Hopkins, of Camarillo, California. The actress was married December 7, 1905, in Manhattan, to mining engineer Harry Staunton Elliott. They separated by 1910, and are said to have divorced in 1912. They had no children.

Sadly, for stars like Judy Garland and Clara Blandick there was no sunshine over the rainbow after THE WIZARD OF OZ...

Friday, January 28, 2011


Comedian Charlie Callas dead in Las Vegas at 83
by The Associated Press

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Charlie Callas, a versatile comedian whose zany faces and antics made him a regular for more than four decades on television, in films and on casino stages, has died in Las Vegas. He was 83.

Callas died Thursday at a hospice, according to his sons Mark Callas and Larry Callas.

Callas was a rubber-faced, wiry framed comic whose rapid-fire delivery drew laughs and made him a frequent guest on variety and comedy shows.

"Everybody that met him, he left them with a smile," Mark Callas said.

For years, Charlie Callas made Johnny Carson laugh on the "Tonight Show." But Carson banned him from returning after Callas shoved Carson off his chair in a bid for laughs in 1982.

Mark Callas said his father knew every member of the Rat Pack, a group of actors that included Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford.

Callas toured with Sinatra and Tom Jones, had a role with Jerry Lewis in the movie "The Big Mouth" in 1967, and was a guest on TV variety shows hosted by Jackie Gleason, Ed Sullivan, Merv Griffin, Andy Williams and Flip Wilson. Callas guest-hosted on the "Joey Bishop Show."

He also played restaurant owner Malcolm Argos in the 1970s TV series "Switch" with Robert Wagner and Eddie Albert, and had roles in Mel Brooks' films "High Anxiety" and "History of the World: Part I."

Callas grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., and served in the U.S. Army in Germany during World War II before beginning a career as a drummer with big bands starring Tommy Dorsey and Buddy Rich.

He was a natural comic, and it wasn't long before he gave up drumming for standup routines. He dropped a vowel from his legal name, Callias, when he took to the stage.

"He was just messing around with the guys and it worked, I guess," Mark Callas said.

He was Charlie Callas when he made his first television appearance in 1963 on the "Hollywood Palace" variety show.

Mark Callas, who produces the "American Superstars" celebrity impersonators show in Las Vegas, said he encouraged his parents to move to Las Vegas from New York in 2002.

Larry Callas said the death of his mother, Evelyn Callas in July at age 80, broke his father's heart.

Funeral arrangments were being made at Palm Mortuary in Las Vegas.


It is hard to believe that Alan Alda, the star of "Mash" and countless movie and television appearances is now 75. Alda was born Alphonso Joseph D'Abruzzo in The Bronx, New York City on January 28, 1936. His father, Robert Alda (born Alphonso Giovanni Roberto D'Abruzzo), was an actor and singer, and his mother, Joan Brown, was a former Miss New York. Alda is of Italian and Irish descent. His adopted surname, "Alda," is a portmanteau of ALphonso and D'Abruzzo. When Alda was seven years old, he contracted Poliomyelitis. To combat the disease, his parents administered a painful treatment regimen developed by Sister Elizabeth Kenny that consisted of applying hot woolen blankets to his limbs and stretching his muscles. This allowed him to recover from most effects of the disease.

Later, Alda attended Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains, New York. In 1956, he received his Bachelor of Science degree in English from Fordham College of Fordham University in the Bronx, where he was a student staff member of its FM radio station, WFUV. During his junior year, he studied in Paris, acted in a play in Rome and performed with his father on television in Amsterdam. After graduation, he joined the U.S. Army Reserve and served a six-month tour of duty as a gunnery officer.

Alda began his career in the 1950s as a member of the Compass Players comedy revue. In 1966, he starred in the musical The Apple Tree on Broadway; he was nominated for the Tony Award as Best Actor in a Musical for that role.

Alda made his Hollywood acting debut as a supporting player in Gone are the Days! – a film version of the highly successful Broadway play Purlie Victorious, which co-starred veteran actors Ruby Dee and her husband Ossie Davis. Other film roles would follow, such as his portrayal of author, humorist, and actor George Plimpton in the film Paper Lion (1968) as well as The Extraordinary Seaman (1969) and the occult-murder-suspense thriller The Mephisto Waltz, with actress Jacqueline Bisset. During this time, Alda frequently appeared as a panelist on the 1968 revival of What's My Line?. He also appeared as a panelist on I've Got a Secret during its 1972 syndication revival. His greatest role came as Hawkeye Pierce on "Mash" on television from 1972 to 1983.

Alda has also played Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman in the play QED, which has only one other character. Although Peter Parnell wrote the play, Alda both produced and inspired it. Alda has also appeared frequently in the films of Woody Allen, and he was a guest star five times on ER, playing Dr. Kerry Weaver's mentor, Gabriel Lawrence. During the later episodes, it was revealed that Dr. Lawrence was suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer's disease. Alda also had a co-starring role as Dr. Robert Gallo in the 1993 TV movie And the Band Played On.

During M*A*S*H's run and continuing through the 1980s, Alda embarked on a successful career as a writer and director, with the ensemble dramedy The Four Seasons being perhaps his most notable hit. Betsy's Wedding is his last directing credit to date. After M*A*S*H, Alda took on a series of roles that either parodied or directly contradicted his "nice guy" image. His role as a pompous celebrity television producer in Crimes and Misdemeanors was widely seen as a self-parody, although Alda denied this.

Throughout his career, Alda has received 31 Emmy Award nominations and two Tony Award nominations, and has won seven People's Choice Awards, six Golden Globe Awards, and three Directors Guild of America awards. However, it was not until 2004, after a long distinguished acting career, that Alda received his first Academy Award nomination, for his role in The Aviator.

Alda also wrote several of the stories and poems that appeared in Marlo Thomas's Free to Be... You and Me television show.

Alda starred in the original Broadway production of the play Art, which opened on March 1, 1998, at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre. The play won the Tony Award for best original play.

Alda also had a part in the 2000 romantic comedy, "What Women Want".

In the spring of 2005, Alda starred as Shelly Levene in the Tony Award-winning Broadway revival of David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross, for which he received a Tony Award nomination for Best Featured Actor in a Play...

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Gordon MacRae is best remembered for his Rodgers and Hammerstein movies of the 1950s, but I have been collecting his recordings for years now. As a performer and actor, he was excellent, but I feel that as a singer he was one of the best. MacRae never got the recognition he deserved for being an all around performer.

Born Albert Gordon MacRae in 1922 in East Orange, New Jersey, MacRae graduated from Deerfield Academy in 1940 and served as a navigator in the United States Army Air Forces during World War II. Prior to this, he attended Nottingham High School in Syracuse, NY.

He made his Broadway debut in the mid-1940s, acquiring his first recording contract soon afterwards. Many of his hit recordings were made with Jo Stafford. It was in 1948 that he appeared in his first film, The Big Punch, a drama about boxing. He soon began an on-screen partnership with Doris Day and appeared with her in several films.

In 1951, he starred with Doris Day in On Moonlight Bay, followed by the sequel By the Light of the Silvery Moon in 1953. That same year, he also starred opposite Kathryn Grayson in the third film version of The Desert Song. This was followed by leading roles in two major films of Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, Oklahoma! (1955) and Carousel (1956), both movies opposite Shirley Jones.

On radio, he was the host and lead actor on The Railroad Hour, a one-hour anthology made up of condensed versions of hit Broadway musicals.

MacRae appeared frequently on television, on such programs as The Ford Show, Starring Tennessee Ernie Ford. On Christmas 1958, MacRae and Ford performed the holiday hymn "O Holy Night". Earlier in 1958, MacRae guest starred on the short-lived NBC variety series, The Polly Bergen Show.

Thereafter, MacRae appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Pat Boone Chevy Showroom, and The Bell Telephone Hour. He continued his musical stage career, often performing with his wife, as in a 1964 production of Bells Are Ringing, also performing as Sky Masterson in the popular musical Guys and Dolls, his wife playing the role of Miss Adeleide, reprising her Broadway role. In the late 1960s he co-hosted for a week on The Mike Douglas Show. He also toured in summer stock and appeared in nightclubs. In 1967, he replaced Robert Preston in the original Broadway run of the musical I Do! I Do!, starring opposite Carol Lawrence, who had taken over the role from Mary Martin.

In the 1970s, he portrayed a murderer on the popular TV series McCloud and played a supporting role in what turned out to be his last film, the 1979 motion picture The Pilot.

Suffering from many ailments in the 1980s, Gordon MacRae died in 1986 at Bryan Memorial Hospital in Lincoln, Nebraska, at the age of 64. He had been undergoing treatment for cancer of the mouth and jaw as well as pneumonia...

Saturday, January 22, 2011


Anyone under 60 would probably ask, who's band?

However,"Alexander's Ragtime Band" is the name of a song by Irving Berlin. It was his first major hit, in 1911. There is some evidence, although inconclusive, that Berlin borrowed the melody from a draft composition submitted by Scott Joplin that had been submitted to a publisher. Alexander's Ragtime Band" is not itself an example of the ragtime musical idiom; apart from some mild syncopation, it has almost none of ragtime's characteristic features. Nonetheless, the lyrics clearly refer to the arrival of African-American musicians on the popular scene with their then-new idea of playing standard songs in a more exciting up-tempo style.

Vaudeville singer Emma Carus, famed for her "female baritone", is said to have been largely responsible for successfully introducing the song in Chicago and helping contribute to its immense popularity. It became identified with her, and soon worked its way back to New York where Al Jolson also began to perform it.

The song was reportedly one of the songs played by the band on the sinking Titanic in 1912. Reportedly it was played early on in the sinking of the ship.

The song has been recorded by many artists, including The Andrews Sisters, Louis Armstrong, Ray Charles, Bee Gees, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, George Formby, Al Jolson, Liberace, Billy Murray, Liza Minnelli, Bessie Smith and Julie Andrews.

The song had a presence on the charts for five straight decades. According to Newsweek Magazine:

-Four different versions of the tune charted at # 1, # 2, # 3 and # 4 in 1911 including one by Arthur Collins which stayed at number one for 10 weeks.

-Bessie Smith's version made the top 20 in 1927.

-Louis Armstrong made the top 20 with it in 1937.

-A duet by Bing Crosby and Connee Boswell hit #1 in 1938.

-Johnny Mercer charted a swing version in 1945.

-Bing Crosby recorded another duet version, and hit the top-20 in 1947 with Al Jolson.

-Nellie Lutcher put it on the R&B charts in 1948.

-Bob Wills put it on the c&w charts in the same decade.

-Johnnie Ray sang it on the silver screen in 20th Century Fox's musical There's No Business Like Show Business in 1954.

-Ella Fitzgerald scored with it in 1958, and received a Grammy for her Irving Berlin anthology in 1959.

-Ray Charles recorded it in 1959 for his album The Genius of Ray Charles.

-Bee Gees used the music in their tour in 1974, and sang it on The Midnight Special TV show in 1973.

-A 1938 film of the same name was loosely based on the song.

-A version of the song set to a disco beat was recorded by Ethel Merman for her infamous Ethel Merman Disco Album in 1979.

-A snippet of the chorus of "Alexander's Ragtime Band" can be heard toward the end of Taco's 1982 cover of "Puttin' on the Ritz", a number 4 hit in the United States.

It is hard to believe that this song is 100 years old. It is not only part of tin pan alley history, but it is a part of the history and fabric of America...

Friday, January 21, 2011


It’s winter in New York. That means grey snow against grey sidewalks, set against grey buildings and a grey sky. It’s sort of hard to walk, honestly. The only two great seasons in New York are spring up to about June, and fall until New Year’s Day. Everything surrounding those two points in time really just stinks. I bring this up because I’m about to tell you another great thing about living in New York, and I don’t want you to feel bad.

Today I spent the afternoon at the recently reopened Museum of the Moving Image. It looks great, and they’ve managed to curate up a fantastic program of films and educational programs. If you’re in the area and you love movies, check it out.

As part of their inaugural month the museum presented a collection of four films by the legendary Georges Melies accompanied by live music performed by similarly legendary New York musician Sxip Shirey ( Sxip’s music, like Melies’ movies, explode with innovation and virtuosity. Shirey used train whistles, surgical tubing, bells, whistles, synthesizers, and a host of other objects to give Melies a sound mix proper to his groundbreaking films.

An amazing afternoon was had by all, followed by dinner, the Jets/Pats game, and a surprising number of burgers at a joint in Astoria. The topic of conversation was this week’s classic film:

1902’s A Trip to the Moon.

Melies most famous film is pretty much as classic as classics go when it comes to the history of film. According to legend, Melies saw some of the earliest films as projected by the Lumiere brothers and immediately wanted to make them himself. While using his first camera he managed to get the film stuck. After developing the footage, Melies marveled as images jumped and created strange and magical effects. Melies realized that he could manipulate film in order to create fantastic effects. And classics were born.

At the beginning of every medium it’s pretty easy to create classics. A classic requires some combination of virtuosity, novelty, and entertainment value. If a movie is overwhelmingly and perfectly entertaining it doesn’t necessarily need to be all that novel, and if it’s genuinely and completely novel it doesn’t actually need to be all that entertaining. True virtuosity trumps everything, of course.

A Trip to the Moon takes Melies early experiments in special effects and uses them in a feature about a bunch of scientists who shoot themselves from the Earth all the way to the moon. Like, in a big bullet. Then there are big lizards and stars that look like hot 19th Century chicks and scientists engaging in mortal combat with umbrellas.

Instant classics are few and far between. They require skilled innovation, entertainment value, or sheer wild talent, and none of that comes along very often. When it does, it creates the kind of impact crater on history made by the films of Georges Melies.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011


CHAPEL HILL -- Once a Hollywood star and model known for her incredible beauty, Georgia Carroll Kyser is being remembered in Chapel Hill for her devotion to her family, the historic preservation of Chapel Hill and being a passionate supporter of the arts.

Mrs. Kyser died Friday at the age of 91 in Chapel Hill.

The family has planned a memorial service for Jan. 30 at 3 p.m. at Gerrard Hall on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, followed by a reception next door at Memorial Hall.

Gerrard Hall has special meaning for the family, which expects the memorial to be a celebration of her life.

"My father started his orchestra there in the 1920s," said daughter Kimberly Kyser. "When he passed away, we had his memorial in the hall."

Mrs. Kyser's husband, Kay Kyser, was a big band leader in the 1930s and 1940s who later went on to become the honorary president of the Christian Science Church. He died in 1985.

Mr. and Mrs. Kyser, as individuals and as a couple, rose to fame and lived a glamorous life in Hollywood, traveling around the world, playing music and appearing in films.

Mrs. Kyser became locally famous in Dallas, Texas, as a child, and at the age of 16 she was the model for "The Spirit of Centennial Statue" at the 1936 Texas Centennial Exposition. The statue still stands in front of the Dallas Women's Museum.

A year later, at the age of 17, she appeared for the first time on the cover of Redbook Magazine, with the headline, "The Rise of Georgia," and she went on to appear on the covers of Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Ladies Home Journal and reportedly eight more times on the cover of Redbook.

She was drop-dead gorgeous, said Ernest Dollar, director of the Chapel Hill Preservation Society, which Mrs. Kyser founded along with Ida Friday, whose husband, Bill Friday, became the president of the University of North Carolina.

"She held on to her beauty up until the day she died," Dollar said.

Mrs. Kyser was the featured vocalist with her husband's band, and also appeared in 14 films. Her friends included Lucille Ball, Jimmy Stewart, Dinah Shore, Alan Ladd, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Edgar Bergen and Jane Wyman.

But her life during the golden days of Hollywood took a sharp turn when her husband decided to quit the entertainment business in the early 1950s and move back to sleepy Chapel Hill, where he had attended the University of North Carolina.

"I wouldn't say it was love at first sight," said Kimberly Kyser. "She was very young and left a big scene. This was not what she signed up for."

"After the initial shock, I know she probably came to love it," Dollar said. "It was a wonderful town to raise her children, and I think she probably just fell in love with it."

The Kysers lived near the Fridays, and their children played, swam and grew up together, and the two women became close and dear friends, Dollar said.

Mrs. Kyser, who hadn't had a chance to go to college because her modeling career started at such a young age, decided to obtain a college degree in studio art after they moved to Chapel Hill, Kimberly Kyser said.

"She took one course at a time and finished," Kimberly Kyser said. "It took 20 years, but she did it."

The Kyser family traveled quite a bit, and when Mrs. Kyser saw the way the old European cities had preserved their old buildings and neighborhoods, she became interested in doing the same in Chapel Hill, according to her daughter.

In the 1970s, some people in town thought Chapel Hill looked old fashioned and needed to get rid of some of its old buildings and replace them with newer and more modern ones.

That's when Mrs. Kyser and Ida Friday became interested in saving novelist Betty Smith's house at the corner of East Rosemary and Hillsborough streets, and the two women founded and organized the Chapel Hill Preservation Society.

"I think Georgia founding the preservation society and being interested in Chapel Hill was her lasting gift to Chapel Hill," Dollar said.

Mrs. Kyser also supported the Carolina Performing Arts through the family's foundation and was passionate about the N.C. Symphony and the N.C. Ballet.

Known as "Mamo" by her five grandchildren and close friends, she had three daughters. Kimberly Kyser is a resident of Chapel Hill, and her youngest, Amanda, lives in Sag Harbor, N.Y. Carroll, her middle daughter, passed away in 1993.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Frank McHugh is another one of those characters, where you know his face but maybe not his name. I remember him most from his role as another priest alongside Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald in GOING MY WAY(1944).

Born in Homestead, Pennsylvania on May 23, 1898, McHugh came from a theatrical family. At age ten, Frank McHugh began performing in his parent's stock company, side by side with his siblings Matt and Kitty. Another brother, Ed, became a stage manager and agent in New York. By age 17, McHugh was resident juvenile with the Marguerite Bryant stock company. Extensive vaudeville experience followed, and in 1925 McHugh made his first Broadway appearance in The Fall Guy; three years later, he made his movie debut in a Vitaphone short. Hired by Warner Bros. for the small role of a motorcycle driver in 1930's The Dawn Patrol, McHugh appeared in nearly 70 Warners films over the next decade. He was often cast as the hero's best pal or as drunken comedy relief; his peculiar trademark was a lightly braying laugh. Highlight performances during his Warners tenure included Jimmy Cagney's pessimistic choreographer in Footlight Parade (1933), "rude mechanical" Quince in A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935), an erstwhile poet and horserace handicapper in Three Men on a Horse (1936) and a friendly pickpocket in One Way Passage (1932) — a role he'd repeat word-for-word in Till We Meet Again, 1940 remake of Passage.

He appeared in over 150 films and television productions and worked with almost every star at Warner Bros. By the 1950s, his film career had begun to decline, as evinced by his smaller role in Career (1959). From 1964 to 1965, he played the role of Willie Walters, a live-in handyman on ABC's sitcom, The Bing Crosby Show. His last television appearance was as Charlie Wingate in the episode "The Fix-It Man" on CBS's Lancer western series. McHugh played a handyman in that role too.

McHugh was married to Dorothy Spencer. He had three children and two grandchildren.

Frank McHugh's last film role was in the Elvis Presley film Easy Come, Easy Go(1967). He basically left Hollywood for the next decade. He died on September 11, 1981...largely forgotten for the great supporting roles he starred in.

Sunday, January 16, 2011


When I first saw the classic SHADOW OF A DOUBT when I was younger, I did not realize it was an Alfred Hitchcock movie. The movie, made in 1943, was unlike any movie Hitchcock had done before or for that matter after. It was Hitchcock's only "purely American" movie, and the movie was years ahead of itself in suspense, intrigue, and dialogue. While many films of the day were musicals about how the boy gets the girl, SHADOW OF A DOUBT truly is a film that has not aged much. Some 67 years after its release the film is still quite watchable and the suspense is more riveting than any 3D or special effects movie.

Starring Joseph Cotten, Teresa Wright, and MacDonald Carey, SHADOW OF A DOUBT was one of Joseph Cotten's finest roles. Alfred Hitchcock appears about 15 minutes into the film, on the train to Santa Rosa, playing bridge with a man and a woman (Dr and Mrs. Harry). Charlie Oakley is traveling on the train under the assumed name of Otis. Mrs. Harry is eager to help Otis, who is feigning illness in order to avoid meeting fellow passengers, but Dr. Harry is not interested and keeps playing bridge. Hitchcock on his part seems surprised to see that he has somehow been dealt a full suite of spades, a Grand Slam bridge hand.

The plot centers around a bored teenager living in Santa Rosa, California, Charlotte "Charlie" Newton (Wright). She is frustrated because nothing seems to be happening in her life and that of her family. Then, she receives wonderful news: her uncle (for whom she was named), Charlie Oakley (Cotten), her mother's brother, is arriving for a visit.

Two men show up pretending to be photographers and journalists working on a national survey of the average American family. One of them speaks to Charlie privately, identifying himself as Detective Jack Graham (Macdonald Carey) and telling her that her uncle is one of two men who are suspected of being a serial killer known as the "Merry Widow Murderer". This murderer has a modus operandi of seducing, murdering and robbing wealthy widows.

Young Charlie at first refuses to even consider that her uncle could be a murderer, but she cannot help noticing him acting strangely on several occasions. She confirms her suspicions after seeing the initials on the engraving on the ring Uncle Charlie gave her match one of the recent victims of the killer. Particularly chilling is a family dinner conversation during which Uncle Charlie reveals his hatred of rich widows, comparing them to fat animals deserving of slaughter.

Young Charlie's growing suspicion soon becomes apparent to her uncle. He confronts her and admits that he is indeed the man the police are after. He begs her for help; she reluctantly agrees not to say anything, as long as he leaves soon, to avoid a horrible scandal in the town that would destroy her family, especially her mother, who idolizes her younger brother.

Then news breaks that the second suspect was killed fleeing from the police in Portland, Maine, and is assumed to have been the guilty one. The detective Graham leaves after telling Young Charlie that he loves her and would like to marry her someday. Uncle Charlie is delighted at first, until he remembers that Young Charlie fully knows his secret. Soon, the young woman has a couple of near fatal "accidents", falling down some very steep stairs at her home, and being trapped in a closed garage with a car spewing exhaust fumes.

Uncle Charlie soon announces that he is leaving by train for San Francisco, following what is presumably his next victim. As he departs, he contrives for young Charlie to stay on board, planning to kill her by pushing her off as soon as the train gets up to speed. Instead, in the ensuing struggle between them, he falls into the path of an oncoming train. At his funeral Uncle Charlie is highly honored by the townspeople of Santa Rosa, who know nothing of his crimes. Jack has come back to comfort Charlie; she tells him she had withheld from him information about her uncle which would have confirmed him as the murderer, but Jack already knows and accepts that, realizing her difficult situation. They become a couple, and resolve to keep Uncle Charlie's crimes a secret.

If you are looking for one of Alfred Hitchcock's greatest masterpieces, do yourself a favor and watch SHADOW OF A DOUBT. It was by far one of the best movies of 1943, and one of the best movies of all time...



LONDON – British actress Susannah York, one of the leading stars of British and Hollywood films in the late 1960s and early 1970s, has died in London at the age of 72.

York died of cancer Saturday at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London.

Her son, the actor Orlando Wells, said York was an incredibly brave woman who did not complain about her illness and a "truly wonderful mother." He said she went into the hospital on Jan. 6 after experiencing shoulder pain.

York had a long, distinguished career on film, television and on stage, but she is best remembered for her early roles, when she had an immediate impact that started with her 1963 role as Albert Finney's love interest in the memorable period piece romp "Tom Jones."

With its tongue-in-cheek sensuality and gentle sendup of the British aristocracy, the film is remembered as an early landmark in '60s cinema, and York's unmistakable presence added to its appeal. Her long blond hair, stunning blue eyes and quick-witted repartee brought her a string of excellent roles.

York was nominated for an Oscar for the 1969 classic "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" and also starred in "A Man for All Seasons" and other classic films from that era.

She acted with major stars like Sean Connery, Elizabeth Taylor, Marlon Brando, George C. Scott and many others, stirring some controversy with her daring portrayal of a lesbian in the 1968 drama "The Killing of Sister George."

In 1972 York won the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival. Her film work tailed off as London's "Swinging Sixties" era faded into cultural history, but she did play Superman's mother in several of the films.

She moved on to television and stage work, earning a number of accolades and awards throughout her long career. She made appearances in several successful TV shows including "The Love Boat" in the U.S. and "Holby City" in Britain.

Her stage work continued for much of her career and included several one-woman shows.

Wells said his mother was incredibly versatile throughout her working life.

"There was the glamorous Hollywood aspect — she has worked with everyone from John Huston to Sydney Pollack — as well as the big commercial films like Superman," he said.

Wells said his mother also had a passion for writing.

"She wrote two children's books, which is great for her grandchildren and something we will pass on to them," said Wells.

York was born in London and studied at the storied Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, which has tutored many of Britain's top actors throughout the years.

York had two children — son Orlando and daughter Sasha — with her husband, Michael Wells, before they divorced. She is survived by her children and several grandchildren.

Friday, January 14, 2011


Probably my favorite era of music is from the Big Band era from 1935 to 1945. The music was so alive and vibrant. The music helped a society recover and get through the Great Depression and World War II. One of my favorite bands was the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. Thomas Francis "Tommy" Dorsey, Jr. was an American jazz trombonist, trumpeter, composer, and bandleader of the Big Band era. He was known as "The Sentimental Gentleman of Swing", due to his smooth-toned trombone playing. He was the younger brother of bandleader Jimmy Dorsey. After Dorsey broke with his brother in the mid-1930s, he led an extremely popular band from the late '30s into the 1950s. Dorsey had a reputation for being a perfectionist. He was volatile and also known to hire and fire (and sometimes rehire) musicians based on his mood.

Thomas Francis Dorsey, Jr. was a native of Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, the second of four children born to Thomas Francis Dorsey, Sr. and Theresa (née Langton) Dorsey on November 19, 1905. The Dorsey brothers' two younger siblings were Mary and Edward (who died young). At age 15, Jimmy Dorsey recommended his brother Tommy as the replacement for Russ Morgan in the germane 1920s territory band "The Scranton Sirens." Tommy and Jimmy worked in several bands, including those of Tal Henry, Rudy Vallee, Vincent Lopez, Nathaniel Shilkret, and especially Paul Whiteman. In 1928, the Dorsey Brothers had their first hit with "Coquette" for OKeh records. The Dorsey Brothers band signed with Decca records in 1934, having a hit with "I Believe In Miracles". Future bandleader Glenn Miller was a member of the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra in 1934 and 1935, composing "Annie's Cousin Fanny" and "Dese Dem Dose" both recorded for Decca for the band. Ongoing acrimony between the brothers, however, led to Tommy Dorsey's walking out to form his own band in 1935, just as the orchestra was having a hit with "Every Little Moment."

Tommy Dorsey's first band was formed out of the remains of the Joe Haymes band. The new band was popular from almost the moment it signed with RCA Victor with "On Treasure Island", the first of four hits for the new band in 1935. The Dorsey band had a national radio presence in 1936 first from Dallas and then from Los Angeles. Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra took over comedian Jack Pearl's radio show in 1937.

By 1939, Dorsey was aware of criticism that his band lacked a jazz feeling. He hired arranger Sy Oliver away from the Jimmie Lunceford band. Sy Oliver's arrangements include "On The Sunny Side of the Street" and "T.D.'s Boogie Woogie"; Oliver also composed two of the new band's signature instrumentals, "Well, Git It" and "Opus One". In 1940, Dorsey hired singer Frank Sinatra from bandleader Harry James. Frank Sinatra made eighty recordings from 1940 to 1942 with the Dorsey band. Two of those eighty songs are "In The Blue of Evening" and "This Love of Mine".

Frank Sinatra achieved his first great success as a vocalist in the Dorsey band and claimed he learned breath control from watching Dorsey play trombone. In turn Dorsey said his trombone style was heavily influenced by that of Jack Teagarden. Among Dorsey's staff of arrangers was Axel Stordahl who arranged for Frank Sinatra in his Columbia and Capitol records years. Another member of the Dorsey band was trombonist Nelson Riddle, who later had a partnership as one of Sinatra's arrangers and conductors in the 1950s and afterwards. Another noted Dorsey arranger, who in the 1950s, married and was professionally associated with Dorsey veteran Jo Stafford, was Paul Weston. Bill Finegan, an arranger who left Glenn Miller's civilian band, arranged for the Tommy Dorsey band from 1942 to 1950.

Dorsey branched out in the mid-1940s and owned two music publishing companies, Sun and Embassy. After opening at the Los Angeles ballroom, The Hollywood Palladium on the Palladium's first night, Dorsey's relations with the ballroom soured and he opened a competing ballroom, The Casino Gardens circa 1944. Dorsey also owned for a short time a trade magazine called The Bandstand. Dorsey was also part owner of the Bob Chester band in 1940. He was also an early investor in Glenn Miller's second successful band of 1938.

Tommy Dorsey disbanded the orchestra at the end of 1946. Dorsey might have broken up his own band permanently following World War II, as many big bands did due to the shift in music economics following the war, but Tommy Dorsey's album for RCA, "All Time Hits" placed in the top ten records in February, 1947. In addition, "How Are Things In Glocca Morra?" a single recorded by Dorsey became a top ten hit in March, 1947. Both of these successes made it possible for Dorsey to re-organize a big band in early 1947.[49] The Dorsey brothers were also reconciling. The biographical film of 1947, The Fabulous Dorseys describes sketchy details of how the brothers got their start from-the-bottom-up into the jazz era of one-nighters, the early days of radio in its infancy stages, and the onward march when both brothers ended up with Paul Whiteman before 1935 when The Dorsey Brothers' Orchestra split into two. In the early 1950s, Tommy Dorsey moved from RCA Victor back to the Decca record label.

Jimmy Dorsey broke up his own big band in 1953. Tommy invited him to join up as a feature attraction and a short while later, Tommy renamed the band the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra featuring Jimmy Dorsey. In 1953, the Dorseys focused their attention on television. On December 26, 1953, the brothers appeared with their orchestra on Jackie Gleason's CBS television show, which was preserved on kinescope and later released on home video by Gleason. The brothers took the unit on tour and onto their own television show, Stage Show, from 1955 to 1956. On one episode they introduced future noted rock musician Elvis Presley to national television audiences.

On November 26, 1956, Tommy Dorsey died at age 51 in his Greenwich, Connecticut home. Dorsey had eaten a heavy meal and began choking in his sleep. Dorsey customarily began taking sleeping pills regularly at this time, therefore he was so sedated that he was unable to awaken and died from choking. Jane Dorsey (Tommy's wife) died of natural causes at the age of 79, in Miami, Florida in 2003. Tommy and Jane Dorsey are interred together in Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, New York...

Thursday, January 13, 2011


As a prelude to its annual 31 Days of Oscar, Turner Classic Movies (TCM) will dedicate the night of Monday, Jan. 31, to celebrating four film luminaries honored at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Governors Awards.

TCM will present acclaimed work of three Honorary Award recipients: actor Eli Wallach, filmmakers Jean-Luc Godard, and film-history chronicler Kevin Brownlow. The night will also include an early film by Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award recipient Francis Ford Coppola.

TCM's celebration of the 2010 Governors Award recipients will lead into the network's popular 31 Days of Oscar programming festival, which runs from Feb. 1 through March 3. The 2011 edition of the month-long event will feature more than 340 Academy Award-nominated and winning movies, scheduled in trivia-inspired marathons. In addition, each night will feature a Best Picture Oscar winner at 10 p.m. (ET).

The second annual Governors Awards were handed out at a gala ceremony in November. Thalberg Award winner Coppola was honored, "For a consistently high quality of motion picture production." Wallach received an Honorary Award, "For a lifetime's worth of indelible screen characters." The Academy bestowed an Honorary Award on Godard, "For passion. For confrontation. For a new kind of cinema." And Brownlow received an Honorary Award, "For the wise and devoted chronicling of the cinematic parade."

The Academy Awards for outstanding film achievements of 2010 will be presented on Sunday, Feb. 27, 2011, at the Kodak Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center and televised live by the ABC Television Network. The Oscar presentation also will be broadcast live in more than 200 countries worldwide.

The following is the complete schedule for TCM's Jan. 31 tribute to the 2010 Governors Awards honorees (all times Eastern). Quotations are from the Academy's award citations.

8 p.m. Breathless (1960) - This seminal French New Wave drama by Jean-Luc Godard stars Jean-Paul Belmondo as a hood on the lam with a young American woman, played by Jean Seberg. Adapted by Godard from a story by Francois Truffaut, this groundbreaking character study offers candid looks at Parisian life and a romantic anti-hero. Often imitated, but never duplicated, this film had a tremendous impact by opening the door to a looser form of storytelling. TCM will present the recently restored print of Breathless, which had its North American premiere last year at the first-ever TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood.

10 p.m. Baby Doll (1956) - Elia Kazan's powerful drama stars Carroll Baker as a child bride whose life is made miserable by her incompetent husband (Karl Malden) and a seedy business rival (Eli Wallach). Written by Tennessee Williams, this gritty film was shot on location in Mississippi. It was originally condemned by the Legion of Decency and withdrawn from release in much of the country. Baby Doll marked the debut of Wallach and Rip Torn. Wallach's performance earned him a BAFTA Film Award for Most Promising Newcomer.

Midnight The Rain People(1969) - This early film from Francis Ford Coppola stars Shirley Knight as a pregnant housewife who simply cannot handle married life anymore. After leaving her husband (Robert Duvall), she picks up an attractive football player (James Caan), who suffers from slight brain damage. This story, years ahead of its time, provides an outstanding showcase for its three leads. Filmmaker George Lucas served as an aide on The Rain People and made a short documentary about the film's production.

2 a.m. The Tramp and the Dictator (2002) - Kevin Brownlow and Michal Kloft crafted this look at the making of Charlie Chaplin's 1940 comic attack on Adolf Hitler, The Dictator. Narrated by Kenneth Branagh, the documentary examines Chaplin's drive to speak out against the rise of the Third Reich. It also parallels the lives of both Chaplin and Hitler, who were born only days apart. The Tramp and the Dictator will be followed by a presentation of Chaplin's The Dictator at 3 a.m.


TRENTON, N.J. – As a songwriter's daughter and a singer who sold millions of records herself in the 1940s and '50s, Margaret Whiting knew what separated a good singer from a great one.

"Being a great actress, being very dramatic," she said in a 2001 interview. "Some people sing beautiful songs, but they don't put all the meaning into them, and that's the important thing. To read a lyric, to make the words come alive, that's the secret."

Whiting, a sweet-voiced performer known for sentimental ballads such as "Moonlight in Vermont" and "It Might as Well Be Spring," died Monday at the Lillian Booth Actors' Home in Englewood, N.J., home administrator Jordan Strohl said. She was 86. She had lived in New York City for many years before moving to the home in March.

As the daughter of Richard Whiting, a prolific composer of such hits as "My Ideal," "Sleepy Time Gal" and "Beyond the Blue Horizon," Whiting grew up with the music business. She began singing at a young age, and her career almost seemed predetermined.

Born in Detroit on July 22, 1924, Whiting moved with her family to Los Angeles after musicals became the rage and her father headed west to write for them. He turned out songs for Maurice Chevalier and Bing Crosby while at Paramount and composed "Hooray for Hollywood" and "Too Marvelous for Words" for Warner Bros.

And on at least one occasion, his daughter provided him with unexpected inspiration.

In 2000, Whiting recalled how she came home from school one day with an all-day lollipop while her father was trying to write a song for a Shirley Temple movie. At first he was annoyed by the sticky kisses, but then inspiration struck.

He called lyricist Sidney Clare and said, "How about 'The Good Ship Lollipop' for Shirley?"

The Whiting family's home in the posh Bel-Air community in Los Angeles was often a gathering place for such songwriters as George and Ira Gershwin, Frank Loesser, Jerome Kern, Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer. And as Whiting grew, her father's friends took note of her talents as a singer and encouraged her to perfect her craft.

Among them was Mercer, her father's lyricist and close friend, who inspired the young Whiting to take years of vocal training when he told her following an early audition, "Grow up and learn to sing." And when Mercer became a founding partner in Capitol Records in 1942, the 18-year-old Whiting was the first singer he put under contract.

Fifty-five years later, Whiting and her fourth husband, Jack Wrangler, honored Mercer with a musical tribute called "Dream," which ran for 133 performances on Broadway.

It was Mercer who had coached the teenage Whiting through her first recording, of her father's "My Ideal," and although Chevalier and Frank Sinatra had already recorded the tune, her version sold well.

She followed it with a remarkable procession of million sellers: "That Old Black Magic," "It Might as Well Be Spring," "Come Rain or Come Shine" and her biggest seller and signature song, "Moonlight in Vermont."

Like most recording stars of the 1940s and early '50s, her career was eclipsed by the rock 'n' roll revolution, although she continued to find work in such Broadway productions as "Pal Joey," "Gypsy" and "Call Me Madam."

She also toured regularly with the big bands of Freddy Martin, Frankie Carle and Bob Crosby and sang in cabarets, in auditoriums and with the St. Louis Symphony. With Rosemary Clooney, Helen O'Connell and Rose Marie, she crossed the country in a revue called "4 Girls 4."

In all, she recorded more than 500 songs during her career and was one of the first mainstream artists to delve into Nashville, Tenn., combining with country star Jimmy Wakely on the hit "Slippin' Around." She also recorded rock, novelty and sacred songs and continued touring as late as the 1990s.

But in later years, it was Whiting's romance with Wrangler, an openly gay porn actor 22 years her junior, that turned heads. The two met in the 1970s, then lived together for many years and married in 1994.

When asked about their relationship, Wrangler told the Chicago Tribune they "see things the same way, comically, professionally and romantically." After meeting Whiting, Wrangler turned his attention to theater and cabaret, crafting her cabaret acts and several shows. Their marriage lasted until his death in 2009.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


The last member of the popular 50s and 60s comedy sitcom 'The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet' died Tuesday, January 11, 2011, in Century City, California. David Nelson, who was and portrayed the elder son of Ozzie and Harriet died from complications from colon cancer. He was 74.

Although the series started on radio in 1944 with the husband and wife and two unrelated child actors, 12-year-old David and 8-year-old Ricky stepped in 1949. Three years later, the long running television version got its debut on ABC. The series racked up some 435 episodes and built what David would later describe as a fantasy family, based on all the happy conclusions. When the series ended in 1966, it had become the longest-running family situation comedy in TV history — as well as serving as the launch pad and showcase for teen idol Rick's singing career.

"We would keep up the front of this totally problem less, happy-go-lucky group," David told an Esquire magazine reporter in 1971. "There might have been a tremendous battle in our home, but if someone from outside came in, it would be as if the director yelled, 'Roll 'em,' We'd fall right into our stage roles. It's an awfully big load to carry, to be everyone's fantasy family."

David was born October 24, 1936, in New York City, when Ozzie and Harriet were in their big-band heyday. Rick was born in 1940, the year before the Nelsons moved permanently to Hollywood.

Their path to replace the original child actors got a boost when Bing CrosbyBing Crosby brought his son Lindsay on the show for a guest appearance. Lindsay and the boys were already friends. David and Rick begged their parents to let them appear on radio as well.

Harriet told The Times in 1981: "You're not anxious to put your career in the hands of kids. They just opened their mouths and you never heard such laughs. Ricky sounded like a pipsqueak."

From the start, Ricky was given most of the funny lines and, as a result, he received most of the attention. But there wasn't really any rivalry between himself and his younger brother, Nelson said in a 1987 Associated Press interview.
"We were 3 1/2 years apart," David said. "So when Rick was funny, I laughed with everyone else. And when he became a popular singer, I rooted for him."

Ozzie Nelson died of liver cancer in 1975. Rick Nelson died with six others in a plane crash on New Year's Eve 1985. And in 1994, Harriet Nelson died of congestive heart failure.

Nelson is survived by his wife, Yvonne; sons John, Eric, James and Danny; daughter Teri; and seven grandchildren.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


We're back in our time machine with the broken dial, and this time we land in 1927.

What Was the Story?
Calvin Coolidge was president, and enjoyed a good strong decade, doing a better job than his predecessor, and presiding over the "Roaring Twenties," before the Great Depression hit in 1929. Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs and the Yankees won the World Series. The first transatlantic telephone call was made, and the world population was a measly 2 billion. Popular music of that year included tunes by Duke Ellington's "Black and Tan Fantasy," Hoagy Carmichael's "Star Dust," and Blind Lemon Jefferson's "Matchbox Blues." Louis Armstrong's legendary Hot Five and Hot Seven bands were also recording during this time. People were reading things like Agatha Christie's 'The Big Four,' Virginia Woolf's 'To the Lighthouse,' Upton Sinclair's 'Oil!' and B. Traven's 'The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.'

Why Was 1927 Significant?
By 1927, the studio system -- with the "big five" (Warner Bros., Paramount, RKO, MGM and Fox) -- was soundly in place. It was the height of the silent era. The art of film had made leaps and bounds since the previous decade, and some of the great works of art in cinema history -- Fritz Lang's 'Metropolis,' F.W. Murnau's 'Sunrise,' Abel Gance's 'Napoleon,' Buster Keaton's 'The General' -- were being produced. Comedy was king, with Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, and Harry Langdon making some of the year's most notable films (Charlie Chaplin was between films that year). Movie buffs mostly flocked to see their favorite stars, and Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks became the first such stars to place their prints in the cement in front of Grauman's Theater.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was founded and established the Academy Awards, or "Oscars." The Best Picture winner that year was a war epic called 'Wings,' but there was also an award called "Artistic Quality of Production," which went to 'Sunrise' (wouldn't it be great if we still had that award today?). 'Sunrise' took three awards in all.

But the big news that year was 'The Jazz Singer,' wherein Al Jolson appeared onscreen and spoke, saying the prophetic words: "wait a minute... you ain't heard nothing yet!" The movie, which opened on October 6, caused a major stir. Half the people were excited to see (and hear) more "talking" pictures, and the other half were terrified over what that could mean. For some it could mean escalating costs, and for others, it could mean the end of a career.

People Born in 1927: Eartha Kitt, Sidney Poitier, Bob Fosse, Gina Lollobrigida, Janet Leigh, Peter Falk, Roger Moore, George C. Scott

Acting Debut: Barbara Stanwyck apparently debuted as a fan dancer in 'Broadway Nights,' but the film is lost.

Top Grossing Films: 'The Jazz Singer,' 'Wings,' 'It,' 'Love,' 'Seventh Heaven,' 'Children of Divorce,' 'The Unknown,' 'My Best Girl, 'Hula'

Top Movie Stars: This list was not yet kept, but certainly it would have included Clara Bow and Greta Garbo

New York Times' Ten Best List: 'The King of Kings,' 'Chang,' 'The Way of All Flesh,' 'Wings,' 'Seventh Heaven,' 'Sunrise,' 'Service for Ladies,' 'Quality Street,' 'Underworld,' 'Stark Love'

Oscar Winner, Best Picture: 'Wings'

Oscar Winner, Best Director: Frank Borzage, 'Seventh Heaven'

Oscar Winner, Best Actor: Emil Jannings, 'The Way of All Flesh'

Oscar Winner, Best Actress: Janet Gaynor, for 'Seventh Heaven,' 'Sunrise' and 'Street Angel'


Monday, January 10, 2011


Today marks the birthday of the Scarecrow from THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939), Ray Bolger. Bolger was born Raymond Wallace Bolger on January 10,1904 to an Irish Catholic family in Dorchester, a section of Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Anne (née Wallace) and James Edward Bolger. He was inspired by the vaudeville shows he attended when he was young to become an entertainer himself.

He began his career in a vaudeville tab show, creating the act "Sanford & Bolger" with his dance partner. In 1926, he danced at New York City's Palace Theatre, the top vaudeville theatre in the country. His limber body and ability to ad lib movement won him many starring roles on Broadway in the 1930s. Eventually, his career would also encompass film, television and nightclub work.

Bolger's film career began when he signed a contract with MGM in 1936. His best-known film appearance prior to The Wizard of Oz was The Great Ziegfeld (1936), in which he portrayed himself. But he also appeared in Sweethearts, (1938) the first MGM film in Technicolor, starring Nelson Eddy, Jeanette MacDonald, and Bolger's future Oz co-star, Frank Morgan, as well as the 1937 Eleanor Powell vehicle Rosalie, which also starred Eddy and Morgan.

Bolger toured in the USO shows with Joe E. Lewis in the Pacific Theater during World War II, was featured in the United Artists war-time film Stage Door Canteen (probably the best filmed example of his dancing and comic style that made him such a big Broadway star) and returned to MGM for a featured role in The Harvey Girls (1946).

Following Oz, Bolger moved to RKO. In 1946, he recorded a children's album, The Churkendoose, featuring the story of a misfit fowl ("part chicken, turkey, duck, and goose") who teaches kids that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and it all "depends on how you look at things".

Bolger starred in several films, including Walt Disney's 1961 remake of Babes in Toyland, and his own sitcom, Where's Raymond?, also known as The Ray Bolger Show, from 1953-1955. He also made frequent guest appearances on television, including the episode "Rich Man, Poor Man" of the short-lived The Jean Arthur Show, a CBS sitcom which aired in 1966. In 1985, he and Liza Minnelli, the daughter of his Oz co-star Judy Garland, starred in That's Dancing, a film also written by Jack Haley, Jr., the son of Tin Man actor Jack Haley. He also appeared in Little House On The Prairie as Toby Noe.

Bolger's Broadway credits included Life Begins at 8:40, On Your Toes, By Jupiter, All American, and Where's Charley?, for which he won the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical and in which he introduced "Once in Love with Amy", the song often connected with him. He repeated his stage role in the 1952 Technicolor film version of the musical. In his later years, he danced in a Dr Pepper television commercial. He had a recurring role as the father of Shirley Partridge (played by Shirley Jones) on The Partridge Family.

Bolger died of bladder cancer on January 15, 1987 in Los Angeles, California, five days after his 83rd birthday. He was interred at Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City in the Mausoleum, Crypt F2, Block 35. He was survived by his wife of over 57 years, Gwendolyn Rickard. They had no children. At the time of his death, he was the last surviving main cast member of The Wizard of Oz.

An editorial cartoon on January 17, 1987, two days after his death, by Chicago Tribune artist Dick Locher, depicted the Oz cast dancing off into the setting sun and toward the Emerald City, with the Scarecrow running to catch up...

Saturday, January 8, 2011


Not only is THE COUNTRY GIRL, released in 1954, one of my favorite dramas, but it is one of my favorite Bing Crosby movies as well. Bing gave the performance of his life in this film. The Country Girl was adapted by George Seaton from a Clifford Odets play of the same name, which tells the story of an alcoholic has-been actor struggling with the one last chance he's been given to resurrect his career. It stars Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly and William Holden. Seaton, who also directed, won the Academy Award for Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay. It was entered in the 1955 Cannes Film Festival.

Kelly won the Oscar for Best Actress for the role, which previously had earned Uta Hagen her first Tony Award in the play's original Broadway production. The role, a non-glamorous departure for Kelly, was as the alcoholic actor's long-suffering wife.

The win was a huge surprise, as most critics and people in the press felt that Judy Garland would win for A Star Is Born. NBC even sent a camera crew to Garland's hospital room, where she was recuperating from the birth to her son, in order to conduct a live interview with her if she won. The win by Kelly instead famously prompted Groucho Marx to send Garland a telegram stating it was "the biggest robbery since Brinks."

Given the period of its production, the film is notable for its realistic, frank dialog and honest treatments of the surreptitious side of alcoholism and post-divorce misogyny.

In a theatre where auditions are being held for a new musical production, the director, Bernie Dodd, watches a number performed by fading star Frank Elgin and suggests he be cast. This is met with strong opposition from Cook, the show's producer.

Bernie insists on the down-on-his-luck Elgin, who is living in a modest apartment with his wife Georgie, a cold and bitter woman who has aged far beyond her years. They are grateful, though not entirely certain Elgin can handle the work.

Based on comments Elgin makes about her privately, Bernie assumes that Georgie is the reason for Frank's career decline. He strongly criticizes her, first behind her back and eventually to her face. What he doesn't know is that the real reason Elgin's career has ended is the death of their five-year-old son Johnny, who was hit by a car while in the care of his father.

Mealy-mouthed to the director's face, Elgin is actually a demanding alcoholic who is totally dependent on his wife. Bernie mistakenly blames her for everything that happens during rehearsals, including Elgin's requests for a dresser and a run-of-the-show contract. He believes Georgie to be suicidal and a drunk, when it is actually Frank who is both.

Humiliated when he learns the truth, Bernie realizes that behind his hatred of Georgie was a strong attraction to her. He kisses her and falls in love.

Elgin succeeds in the role on opening night. Afterward he demands respect from the producer that he and his wife had not been given previously. At a party to celebrate, Bernie believes that now that Elgin has recovered his self-respect and stature, Georgie will be free to leave him. But she stands by her husband instead.

Friday, January 7, 2011


By Laurie Heuston

Camelot Theatre turns its spotlight on American singer, actress and television personality Dinah Shore for the first of its musical vignettes of 2011.

"Shore was a huge success as a recording artist in the '40s, '50s and '60s," says the show's director, Charles Cherry. "In the '40s, she was the most popular star on radio, records and jukeboxes, right up there with Bing Crosby."

Camelot's "Spotlight on Dinah Shore" stars Renée Hewitt as the late vocalist whose smooth voice made hits out of dozens of standards written by Harold Arlen, Hoagie Carmichael, Johnny Mercer and others.

"Renée's voice stacks up very well against Shore's," says Cherry. "She is recreating Dinah by singing the same arrangements with the same phrasing."

Hewitt's stage performances include many shows in the '90s with American Music Theatre of San Jose — her hometown — and in '98, she appeared as Germaine in San Jose Stage Company's production of Steve Martin's "Picasso at the Lapin Agile." Now based in Medford, Hewitt is a voice instructor at Camelot Conservatory, and she teaches private voice lessons.

Camelot's show features 24 songs that Shore made popular, such as "Blues in the Night," "Skylark" and others.

"The significant thing about Shore's singing was that you always felt as though she was singing just to you," says Cherry. "It was like there was no one else in the room. Her voice had a clear, ringing register that was warm and intimate."

After making many television appearances, Shore got her own show, "The Dinah Shore Show," on NBC from 1951 to '57. Then she hosted "The Dinah Shore Chevy Show" until 1963. The sponsor's theme song, "See the U.S.A. in Your Chevrolet," became a signature piece for Shore.

"She really pioneered the musical variety show," says Cherry. "Rather than having acts perform independently on the show, Shore and her guests sang together and talked. It was like you were in her living room with a bunch of friends."

Shore disappeared from television during the late '60s to raise her children, then returned in the '70s with the talk show "Dinah's Place," a program that gave "Merv Griffin," "Mike Douglas" and "Phil Donahue" stiff competition. Shore continued to work on NBC, CBS and then the Nashville Network until she was 76.

Some highlights of Camelot's musical spotlight will include Shore's novelty songs, such as "Shoo Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy" with music by Guy Wood and lyrics by Sammy Gallop, "Doin' What Comes Natur'lly," an Irving Berlin song from "Annie Get Your Gun," and "Buttons and Bows," a song by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans from the 1951 Bob Hope film titled "Paleface."

"They're comical, sweet and fun," says Cherry. "There's also lots of ballads and love songs, such as 'I Walk Alone,' by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn, a World War II ballad that was her biggest-selling hit."

Hewitt will be accompanied by keyboard player Kathy Campbell, bassist Dave Miller, trumpeter Freddie Morgan, guitarist Bil Leonhart and drummer Steve Sutfin. John Stadelman will provide narrative.

"It's going to make for some great nights of music," says Cherry. "People love the spotlights at Camelot. They always sell out. This year we'll do Dinah, Nat King Cole, Barbra Streisand and blues divas of the '20s and '30s with Gayle Wilson."

Cherry has worked with Actors Theatre, Ashland New Plays Festival and Ashland Community Theatre.

When: Previews Thursday, Jan. 13, opens Friday, Jan. 14, and runs through Sunday, Jan. 23

Where: Camelot Theatre, 101 Talent Ave., Talent

Tickets: $20, $16 for the preview

Call: 541-535-5250 or see


Thursday, January 6, 2011


Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly are often called the greatest dancers of all-time and rightfully so. However, a dancing team that should not be overlooked are the Nicholas Brothers. The Nicholas Brothers were a famous team of dancing brothers, Fayard (1914–2006) and Harold (1921–2000). With their highly acrobatic technique ("flash dancing"), high level of artistry and daring innovations, they were considered by many the greatest tap dancers of their day. Growing up surrounded by Vaudeville acts as children, they became stars of the jazz circuit during the heyday of the Harlem Renaissance and went on to have successful careers performing on stage, film, and television well into the 1990s.

One of their signature moves was to dance down a huge flight of broad stairs, leapfrogging over each other and landing in a complete split on each step. This move was performed in the finale of their most famous performance, the movie Stormy Weather. Fred Astaire once told the brothers that the "Jumpin' Jive" dance number in Stormy Weather was the greatest movie musical sequence he had ever seen. In that famous routine, the Nicholas Brothers fearlessly and exuberantly leap across the music stands of the orchestra and dance on the top of a grand piano in a call and response act with the pianist.

One of their signature moves was a "no-hands" splits, where they went into the splits and returned to their feet without using their hands. Gregory Hines declared that if their biography was ever filmed, their dance numbers would have to be computer generated because no one could duplicate them. Ballet legend Mikhail Baryshnikov once called them the most amazing dancers he had ever seen in his life.

The Nicholas Brothers taught master classes in tap dance as teachers-in-residence at Harvard University and Radcliffe as Ruth Page Visiting Artists. Among their known students are Debbie Allen, Janet Jackson, and Michael Jackson. Several of today's master tap dancers have performed with or been taught by the brothers.

Harold died July 3, 2000 of a heart attack following minor surgery. Fayard died on January 24, 2006 of pneumonia after having a stroke. Despite the racisim in America in the 1930s and 1940s, the Nicholas Brothers seemed to overcome that with their unbelievable dancing ability. They should be remembered along with the other great dancers and entertainers of the golden age of the American musical...

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


You may not remember the name or even the face, but Sterling Holloway was a major character actor who gained his widest fame as the voice of Winnie The Pooh. Born in Cedartown, Georgia on January 4, 1905, Holloway was named for his father, who himself had been named after Confederate General Sterling "Pap" Price. Sterling Holloway Sr. owned a grocery store in Cedartown and served as mayor in 1912. Holloway Jr. graduated from the Georgia Military Academy, where he appeared in school plays. He then studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City.

Holloway appeared in the Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart's review Garrick Gaieties in the early 1920s. A talented singer, he introduced "Manhattan" in 1925, and the following year sang "Mountain Greenery".

He moved to Hollywood in 1926 to begin a film career that lasted almost 50 years. His bushy red hair and high pitched voice meant that he almost always appeared in comedies. His first film was The Battling Kangaroo, a silent picture. Over the following decades, Holloway would appear with Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Lon Chaney Jr, Clark Gable, Joan Crawford, Bing Crosby, and David Carradine.

Holloway's work in animated films began in 1941, when he was heard in Dumbo, as the voice of "Mr. Stork." Walt Disney had considered Holloway for the voice of Sleepy in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, but Pinto Colvig was chosen instead. Holloway was the voice of the adult "Flower" in Bambi, the narrator of the Antarctic penguin sequence in The Three Caballeros and the narrator in the Peter and the Wolf sequence of Make Mine Music. He voiced Kaa in The Jungle Book, was the narrator in Goliath II, and voiced The Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland and Roquefort in The Aristocats. His Disney Winnie-the-Pooh featurettes are well known. He was honored as a "Disney legend" in 1991. His last narration were numerous episodes in Dink, the Little Dinosaur. His last film credit was for Thunder and Lightning. Holloway played the role of Hobe Carpenter, a friendly moonshiner who gets help from Harley Thomas (David Carradine).

In 1942, during World War II, Holloway enlisted in the United States Army at the age of 37 and was assigned to the Special Services. He helped develop a show called "Hey Rookie", which ran for nine months and raised $350,000 for the Army Relief Fund. In 1945, Holloway played the role of a medic assigned to an infantry platoon in the critically acclaimed film A Walk in the Sun. During 1946 and 1947, he played the comic sidekick in five Gene Autry Westerns.

Holloway kept his personal life private. He never married, and once explained that this was because he didn't feel lacking in anything and didn't wish to disturb his pattern of life. However, he did adopt a son, Richard (it is unknown exactly when Richard was adopted), and he continued to voice Sugar Bear before his death. Sterling Holloway died on November 22, 1992 at the age of 87 of a heart attack in a Los Angeles hospital. At his own request, his remains were cremated and his ashes were scattered over the Pacific Ocean.

Monday, January 3, 2011


Watching an episode of "The Twilight Zone" this weekend, I was reminded of what a wonderful actress Inger Stevens was. She died way too young in 1970 at the age of 36.Inger Stevens was born Inger Stensland in Stockholm, Sweden. She was an insecure child and often ill.

When she was nine, her parents divorced and she moved with her father to New York City. At age 13, she and her father moved to Manhattan, Kansas, where she attended Manhattan High School. At 16, she worked in burlesque shows in Kansas City. At 18, she left Kansas for New York City. She worked as a chorus girl and in the Garment District while taking classes at the Actors Studio.

Stevens appeared on television series, commercials and in plays, until she got her big break in the movie Man on Fire starring Bing Crosby. Inger would later date Bing, but he would break up with her when she refused to become a Catholic.

Roles in major films followed, but she achieved her greatest success in the ABC television series The Farmer's Daughter, with William Windom. Previously, Stevens appeared in episodes of Bonanza, Route 66, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, The Eleventh Hour, Sam Benedict and The Twilight Zone.

Following the cancellation of The Farmer's Daughter in 1966, Stevens appeared in such movies as A Guide for the Married Man (1967), with Walter Matthau, Hang 'Em High, with Clint Eastwood, 5 Card Stud, with Dean Martin, and Madigan, with Henry Fonda and Richard Widmark, all in 1968. Stevens was attempting to make a comeback on television with the detective drama series The Most Deadly Game when she died.

Her first husband was her agent, Anthony Soglio, to whom she was married from 1955 to 1957. From 1961 until her death, she was secretly married to Ike Jones, an African-American actor. She was also romantically linked with Bing Crosby, Anthony Quinn, Dean Martin, Clint Eastwood, Harry Belafonte, Mario Lanza, and Burt Reynolds.

On the morning of April 30, 1970, a house guest found Stevens lying face down on her kitchen floor, having overdosed on Tedral (a combination drug of theophylline, ephedrine and phenobarbital, commonly prescribed in the treatment of breathing disorders such as asthma, emphysema, and bronchitis), washed down with alcohol. After an autopsy, her body was cremated and her ashes were scattered over the Pacific Ocean...


Anne Francis, who costarred in the 1950s science-fiction classic "Forbidden Planet" and later played the title role in "Honey West," the mid-1960s TV series about a sexy female private detective with a pet ocelot, died Sunday. She was 80.

Francis, who was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2007 and underwent surgery and chemotherapy, died of complications of pancreatic cancer at a retirement home in Santa Barbara, said Jane Uemura, her daughter. Friends and family members were with her, said a family spokeswoman, Melissa Fitch.

A shapely blond with a signature beauty mark next to her lower lip, Francis was a former child model and radio actress when she first came to notice on the big screen in the early 1950s. She had leading or supporting roles in more than 30 movies, including "Bad Day at Black Rock," "Battle Cry," "Blackboard Jungle," "The Hired Gun," "Don't Go Near the Water," "Brainstorm," "Funny Girl" and "Hook, Line and Sinker."'

She also achieved cult status as one of the stars of "Forbidden Planet," the 1956 MGM movie costarring Walter Pidgeon and Leslie Nielsen and featuring a helpful robot named Robby.Francis, however, never became a major movie star and was more frequently seen on television as a guest star on scores of series from the late '50s and decades beyond, including an episode of "The Twilight Zone" in which she played a department store mannequin who comes to life at night.

But it's as the star of "Honey West," the first female detective to be featured in a weekly TV series, that Francis may be best remembered.Based on the title character in G.G. Fickling's series of Honey West paperback mysteries launched in 1957, Francis' Honey West was introduced to TV viewers in an episode of "Burke's Law" in the spring of 1965.The episode served as the pilot for the half-hour "Honey West" series, which was executive produced by Aaron Spelling and made its debut in the fall of 1965.In it, West, who inherited a Los Angeles detective agency from her late father, had a partner named Sam Bolt (played by John Ericson), shared an apartment with her Aunt Meg ( Irene Hervey) and owned a man-hating pet ocelot named Bruce Biteabit. In what Francis later described as "a tongue-in-cheek, female James Bond," her karate-chopping private eye drove a custom-built Cobra convertible sports car and, when necessary, worked out of a specially equipped mobile surveillance van that masqueraded as a TV service vehicle.

Among her Bond-style gimmicks: a lipstick radio transmitter, a fake martini olive on a toothpick for bugging conversations, earrings that exploded with tear gas when they were thrown to the floor and a black garter with pink lace that doubled as a gas mask. As the glamorous and sexy Honey, Francis was outfitted in an eye-catching wardrobe that included a black snakeskin trench coat, a white beaded gown trimmed in sable and a tiger- skin bathing suit with matching cape. In a television era of Donna Reed and Harriet Nelson housewives, the independent, take-charge Honey West has been described as being a role model for young baby-boomer women.

"She was probably the forerunner of what we would call the good aspects of female independence," Francis told the (Memphis) Commercial Appeal in 1997.

"Producers and writers I work with, young women in their 30s and 40s, tell me all the time, 'You have no idea what an influence you had on me with Honey West. You showed that I could do something unusual with my life, that I could have my freedom and not be dependent on another human being for my livelihood.'"

Francis won a Golden Globe as best female TV star and received an Emmy nomination for her portrayal of Honey West.

The series received good ratings, but ABC canceled it in 1966 after 30 episodes. "They were able to buy 'The Avengers' [spy drama] from England for less than it cost to produce our show," Francis later said.

While at MGM, she co-starred in "Forbidden Planet," a big-budget, box-office hit that received an Oscar nomination for special effects. Francis played Altaira, the alluring daughter of the scientist character played by Pidgeon: the two sole-surviving human inhabitants of the mysterious, technologically advanced planet.

"I got that part because I was under contract to MGM and I had good legs," Francis, who wore futuristically abbreviated costumes, said in a 1992 interview for Starlog magazine.

At the time, she recalled, "I don't think that any of us really were aware of the fact that it was going to turn into a longtime cult film, probably much, much stronger today than it was then. … 'Forbidden Planet' just had a life of its own, something that none of us was aware was going to happen."

Francis, who wrote the 1982 memoir "Voices From Home: An Inner Journey," continued to appear on television throughout the '90s.In addition to Uemura, the twice-divorced Francis is survived by another daughter, Maggie, and a grandson, Fitch said.