Tuesday, August 30, 2011


Here is a new monthly feature where I spotlight what I think are some of the top picks Turner Classic Movies (TCM) is showing in a particular month.

This first edition will include my top ten picks for September 2011:

The Music Box (1932) - comedy short

Two men running a moving company have to get a large piano up a daunting flight of stairs. This is a Laurel and Hardy classic!!! (length:29 min)

Follow The Fleet (1936) - musical

Two sailors on leave romance a dance-hall hostess and her prim sister. I personally think this is one of the best Astaire and Rogers pairings. The stand out number in this movie is "Let's Face The Music And Dance". The Irving Berlin musical score is among his best too! (length:110 min)

The Jazz Singer (1953) - musical

A cantor's son goes against family tradition to become a popular singer. This is the first remake of the Jolson classic. The movie is so-so, but it is hardly seen so it is worth the viewing. Danny Thomas and Peggy Lee make a enjoyable onscreen pair. (length:107 min)

The Clock(1945) - drama

A G.I. en route to Europe falls in love during a whirlwind two-day leave in New York City. This is an unusual and underrated role for Judy Garland. Robert Walker and character actor round out this charming love story. (length:90 min)

Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943) - musical

An Eddie Cantor look-alike organizes an all-star show to help the war effort. Eddie Cantor and almost everyone at Warner Brothers participates in this great war-time musical. The best number is Bette Davis singing and dancing to "They're Either Too Young Or Too Old". (length:127 min)

Metropolis(1927) - science fiction

In this silent film, a city of the future is threatened with destruction when a wealthy corporate leader enlists a mad scientist to put down labor reformers. (length:149 min)

White Heat(1949) - drama

A government agent infiltrates a gang run by a mother-fixated psychotic. This is not really a rare movie, but it is one of my third favorite movie of all time. There was no better gangster than Jimmy Cagney! (length:114 min)

The Spirit of St. Louis(1957) - drama

Charles Lindbergh risks his life to complete his historic flight from New York to Paris. I saw this movie when I was a young kid, and I have not had the opportunity to see it since. James Stewart as Lindbergh was perfect casting, and I always forget Billy Wilder directed this bio. (length:135 min)

The Circus(1928) - comedy

In this silent film, the Little Tramp joins a circus to hide from the police. I am a huge fan of Charlie Chaplin but I have never seen this movie all the way through. I am excited for this one! (length:72 mins)

The Killers(1946) - drama

An insurance investigator uncovers a string of crimes when he tries to find a murdered boxer's beneficiary. I believe this movie to be one of the classic film noir movies, and it defined the genre. Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner made the movie what it was! (length:102 min)

There are a lot of other great movies and festivals going on in September on TCM, but those were my ten picks of the month...


Monday, August 29, 2011


Ask Tony Bennett what it’s like to be 85 and you can almost hear the smile in his voice.

“I just love it,” he says beaming. “I have very good health and everybody keeps saying I’m in top shape and that they’ve never heard me singing better. I’ll take that.”

At an age when most octogenarians would be taking life just a wee bit easier, Bennett, who celebrated the milestone birthday on Aug. 3, is moving forward at breakneck speed. In addition to his regular tour schedule — including a “birthday celebration concert” at Ravinia on Aug. 26 — he’ll be feted at the opening ceremonies of the U.S. Open on Aug. 29 (Bennett’s an avid tennis fan), making his concert debut at New York’s Metropolitan Opera House on Sept. 18, and headlining a benefit concert to end hunger on Sept. 24 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Along with Carrie Underwood, Bennett guest stars on the second-season premiere of the CBS television series “Blue Bloods,” where the pair will perform “It Had to Be You.” And then there’s the Sept. 20 release of “Duets II” (Columbia Records), his second collaborative album effort in five years, with a who’s-who of singers. A behind-the-scenes “making of” documentary for the new album, filmed by Oscar-winning cinematographer Dion Beebe, is due out this fall.

None of it is work to Bennett, who looks at his career as a singer and museum-caliber painter as a labor of love.

“My whole life is a study of painting and singing,” says the Grammy-winning singer, “about finding truth and beauty in both, and learning, always learning.”

What’s the greatest thing he’s learned about making music after all these years?

“Less is more,” Bennett says without hesitation. “I’ve had such great collaborations with great musicians. They’re all there on my records. The greatest was probably my album with Bill Evans [1975] because it was just piano and voice. It was the most amazing experience of my life on an album, I think. He was just a genius on piano. Just the two of us. Less is more.”

But sometimes, more can be just as satisfying.

Bennett’s “Duets: An American Classic” with collaborators that included Paul McCartney, Celine Dion, John Legend and Elvis Costello, among others, hit the No. 3 spot on the Billboard charts in 2008, and wound up selling more than 3 million copies. “Duets II” boasts, among others, Mariah Carey (on “When Do the Bells Ring for Me”), John Mayer (on “One for My Baby, and One More for the Road”), Queen Latifah (on “Who Can I Turn To, When Nobody Needs Me”) Lady Gaga (on “The Lady is a Tramp”), and in what would be her final recording session, Amy Winehouse (on “Body and Soul”).

There is definite emotion in Bennett’s voice when he talks of Winehouse, who was found dead four months after their collaboration at London’s Abbey Road studios. (Proceeds from the release of that single will go to the newly established Amy Winehouse Foundation.)

“It was just tragic what happened,” Bennett says. “You can’t believe how wonderful she was during the recording. We have it all on film so it will be part of the documentary. I think it will surprise a lot of people. She started singing and I remember I said to her, ‘You must be influenced by Dinah Washington.’ And she said how do you know that? She’s my idol.’ It just changed everything between us when she knew that I knew where she was coming from musically.”

Bennett will lead a special tribute to Winehouse at the MTV Video Music Awards on Aug. 28, which will feature video of their studio session.

Bennett’s mood is again sunny when asked about working with Gaga, whom he says showed up for the recording session with her parents and boyfriend in tow.

“Lady Gaga is the best performer I’ve ever run into,” Bennett says. “She’s completely creative and a bright, bright girl. She plays piano beautifully. The most professional, intuitive and spontaneous performer I’ve ever met. [Laughs] When she takes all her makeup off and wigs she’s just this sweet little Italian-American girl. But I think she’s going to become bigger than Elvis Presley.”

Bennett doled out praises for other collaborators calling Queen Latifah “a young Ella Fitzgerald”; Faith Hill “the female Frank Sinatra”; Willie Nelson “the master of simplicity who sings a song the way the composer had it in mind”; and Natalie Cole “a great jazz singer and a class act like her dad.”

“What I’ve learned from this second group of artists is that they’re coming out of schools like Berkeley and NYU and Juilliard as extremely competent musicians and singers,” Bennett said.

“What took Rosemary Clooney and I nine or 10 years to develop and become consummate performers, these singers and musicians are learning what it takes while they’re in school. That is such a wonderful thing.”


Saturday, August 27, 2011


In 1947, Ross Barbour and three other freshmen decided to take a year’s break from college to take their barbershop quartet on the road. They soon morphed into the Four Freshmen, a close-harmony, jazz-inflected vocal group that is still going strong — albeit with performers who were not even born at the inception.

Mr. Barbour, died at 82 on Saturday at his home in Simi Valley, Calif., as the last of the founding members of the Four Freshmen. Dina Roth, a manager of the group, said the cause was lung cancer. Instead of studying, the Four Freshmen ended up teaching a fresh approach to close harmony, influencing the Beach Boys, the Mamas and the Papas, the Lettermen, the Manhattan Transfer and other groups. Their sound was characterized by long, lush chords — Mr. Barbour called them “purple chords” — and an improvisational style that made four voices seem like five or six. Each of the singers also played at least one instrument.

Brian Wilson, the genius behind the sound of the Beach Boys, was inspired by seeing the Four Freshmen when he was 15 at the Coconut Grove in Hollywood in 1958. He called them his “harmonic education.”

The others in the original group were Mr. Barbour’s brother Don, who was killed in a car accident in 1961; Hal Kratzsch, who died of cancer in 1970; and Bob Flanigan, who died in May.

The group has been widely described as the longest continuously performing vocal quartet of its kind in the United States, an accomplishment made possible by the constant matriculations of new freshmen. There have been a total of 23. Current members are Brian Eichenberger, Curtis Calderon, Vince Johnson and Bob Ferreira.

The Freshmen have recorded 50 albums and received six Grammy nominations. In the 1950s, the group’s heyday, readers of Down Beat magazine named them best vocal group five times. In 2001, the Four Freshmen were the first group inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame.

“The Four Freshmen are the most innovative and emulated jazz vocal quartet ever to grace vinyl,” Jay Warner, a music historian, wrote. They performed with jazz greats like Duke Ellington and Count Basie.

The group’s hits included “It’s a Blue World,” “Mood Indigo,” “Day by Day,” “It Happened Once Before,” “How Can I Tell Her?” and “Graduation Day.”

Ross Edwin Barbour was born on Dec. 31, 1928, in Columbus, Ind. In 1947, as a freshman at the Arthur Jordan Conservatory of Music, a division of Butler University in Indianapolis, he joined a barbershop quartet, Hal’s Harmonizers. The Hal was Mr. Kratzsch. The two other members were Don Barbour and Marvin Pruitt. They wore exaggerated false mustaches, armbands and waiters’ aprons and sang songs like “Sweet Adeline.”

They became bored with that routine, but didn’t want to give up the income stream. So they formed a second group, the Toppers, to experiment with more complex chords and jazzier arrangements.

The Toppers sang at local malt shops, then moved on to bars. With increased popularity came a big problem: Mr. Pruitt developed acute stage fright and resigned.

The Toppers replaced him with Nancy Sue Carson, Ross’s girlfriend. They later married, and she survives him, as do their sons, Kent and Gary; their daughter, Kathy Feese; and four grandchildren.

After the group, with Ms. Carson’s input, decided that a fourth male voice would be more appropriate for its sound, they replaced her and enlisted Mr. Flanigan, who had earlier sung with the Barbour brothers. He played trombone, was a jazz fan and had excellent pitch and phrasing. He became the new male lead. They practiced in a parked car with closed windows to work out their harmonies.

They hooked up with an agent, who suggested they call themselves the Freshmen Four. They accepted the suggestion but reversed the words. Mr. Kratzsch and Mr. Flanigan alternated bass playing and brass solos; Ross moved from piano to drums; and Don stayed on guitar. They earned $5 a night.

Their big break came when Stan Kenton, the big-band leader, heard them and helped them get a contract with Capitol Records.

Mr. Barbour retired in 1977 after 29 years. And he finally got past freshman year. In 2008, Butler awarded him an honorary doctorate...

Thursday, August 25, 2011


On August 23rd, the world lost one of the greatest child stars of the 1930s. Sybil Jason died at 4:45 surrounded by family. She had been ill for a few months. Sybil had the honor to actually star with such stars as Al Jolson, Kay Francis, Pat O' Brien and many other greats of Hollywood's golden age.

Born as Sybil Jacobson in 1927 in Cape Town, South Africa, she began playing the piano at age two and, a year later, began making public appearances doing impersonations of Maurice Chevalier. She was introduced to the theatre-going public of London by way of her uncle, Harry Jacobson, a then-popular London orchestra leader and also pianist to Gracie Fields. The apex of her career came with a concert performance with Frances Day at London's Palace Theatre. Jason's theatre work led to appearances on radio and phonograph records, and a supporting role in the film Barnacle Bill (1935).

Irving Asher, the head of Warner Bros.' London studio, saw Jason's performance in Barnacle Bill and subsequently arranged for her to make a screen test for the studio. The test was a success, resulting in Warner Bros. signing her to a contract. Her American film debut came as the lead in Little Big Shot (1935), directed by Michael Curtiz and co-starring Glenda Farrell, Robert Armstrong, and Edward Everett Horton. Jason followed this with supporting roles opposite some of Warner Bros. most popular stars, including Kay Francis in I Found Stella Parish (1935), Al Jolson in The Singing Kid (1936), Pat O'Brien and Humphrey Bogart in The Great O'Malley (1937), and again with Kay Francis in Comet Over Broadway (1938). Warners also starred her in The Captain's Kid (1937), and four Vitaphone two-reelers filmed in Technicolor: Changing of the Guard, A Day at Santa Anita, Little Pioneer, and The Littlest Diplomat.

Jason, however, never became the major rival to Shirley Temple that Warner Bros. had hoped for and, her film career ended after playing two supporting roles at 20th-Century Fox. Ironically, these films — The Little Princess (1939) and The Blue Bird (1940) — were in support of Temple, who became her life-long friend.

On December 31,1947 Jason married Anthony Drake. Their daughter, Toni, is married to Phillip W. Rossi, producer of The New Price is Right.

Jason was an active member in the International Al Jolson Society and also made frequent appearances at celebrity shows throughout the United States. Her autobiography, My Fifteen Minutes: An Autobiography of a child star of the Golden Era of Hollywood, was published in 2005. Jason is also the author of a stage musical entitled Garage Sale. In 1983 a Sybil Jason Fan Club was established in Lincoln, Nebraska...

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Western Film Pioneers With Silent Roots
By Susan King

In a hectic world that's constantly changing, it's good to know that some things basically stay the same — for example, the movie western. It's a genre that hasn't changed much in the last century of cinematic history: There are good guys and there are bad guys, horses and shootouts and probably a saloon or two. At the heart of any great western is the cowboy hero. Before there were such legendary movie cowboys as John Wayne, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Randolph Scott, Clint Eastwood and others, the Hollywood trail was paved by silent-era heroes, led by Gilbert M. "Broncho Billy" Anderson, William S. Hart and Tom Mix. Some of these early performers were true cowboys who did their own stunts. Mix insisted on doing his own stunts in his action-packed films and often got injured.

Several well-known western directors cut their teeth during the silent era, notably John Ford, who scored his first major hit with the 1924 sagebrush saga "The Iron Horse." Though westerns were often shot on soundstages, the producers and directors took advantage of the country's unblemished wide open spaces, which included the western states and even Paterson, N.J., where Edwin S. Porter's 1903 "The Great Train Robbery" was filmed.

Broncho Billy made most of his films in Niles in Northern California — the town still has a yearly silent film festival in his name. During the height of his popularity, Mix opened Mixville near Glendale Boulevard in the former town of Edendale (where Echo Park and Silver Lake are now) — a 12-acre frontier town complete with an Indian village, a faux desert and realistic miniature plaster mountains.

Here's a look back at these pioneering Western stars:


Born in 1880, Anderson is considered the first western film star. He played three film roles in "The Great Train Robbery" and then began to write, direct and act in his own films. After co-founding the Essanay Studios in 1907 with George Kirk Spoor, Anderson appeared in some 300 short films. But it was his 148 western shorts playing cowboy Bronco Billy that made him a star.

He retired for the first time in 1916 but made a few comebacks, including producing movies into the 1950s for his company, Progressive Pictures. He received an honorary Oscar in 1958 as a "motion picture pioneer." Anderson came out of retirement one more time for a cameo in 1965's "The Bounty Hunter." He died at the age of 90 in 1971.


The first Western superstar, the taciturn Hart actually was a successful Shakespearean actor who played Messala in "Ben-Hur" on Broadway in 1899 before riding the range in movies. A longtime fan of the Old West, Hart was friends with Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson.

His film career began in 1914. After two supporting roles he gained fame as the lead in the feature-length western "The Bargain" shot on location at the Grand Canyon. Hart strove to make his westerns realistic with detailed attention played to costumes and props. Though Hart could be cast as a villain, he imbued all of his characters with honor and integrity.

After making western shorts for producer Thomas Ince, he went to Famous Players-Lasky, which merged with Paramount Pictures in 1917. At Paramount he made such gritty feature westerns as "Square Deal Sanderson" and "The Toll Gate." His star began to fade in the early 1920s when audiences grew tired of his moralistic Western tales. Not helping his career was his 1923 divorce from his wife, Winifred, who accused him of having two children by another woman.

He made one last film, 1925's "Tumbleweeds, which he financed himself. In 1939, the film was reissued this time with a prologue featuring a 75-year-old Hart shot on location at his ranch in Newhall talking about the West and his days in films. He died in 1946 at age 81. His home and ranch were turned into William S. Hart Park in Newhall.


The native of Mix Run, Pa., became a star with his first feature, 1910's "Ranch Life in the Great Southwest." An expert shot, cattle wrangler and horseman, Mix made some 160 cowboy silent Saturday matinee films in the 1920s always playing the man in the white hat who saved the day. Even his trusty steed Tony "The Wonder Horse" became a superstar receiving countless fan mail from kids.

In 1932, he returned to films, making nine talkies at Universal. His last screen appearance was in the 1935 15-part serial, "The Miracle Rider." In 1940, he died at age 60 in a car crash in Arizona. A memorial is at the site of his death on California 79 near Florence. "The Wonder Horse" died two years later.


Tuesday, August 23, 2011


by Bob Colonna

Ran across this in an old collection of American humor. Never heard it before:

W.C. Fields was riding in the back seat as his agent Billy Grady (who told this story) was driving through the South one night. The comedian was drinking "martinis" -- a bottle of gin in one hand and a bottle of vermouth in the other. At an intersection in a country town they saw a man hitchhiking, and Fields said, "Pick him up; where's your sense of charity?"

The man got in the back with Fields, who extended the bottle, but the man refused, with a look of piety. About five miles along the man said, "Brothers, I'm a minister of the gospel."

Fields blew a mouthful of gin onto the floor, and the man continued. "You're sinning in this automobile, and although I don't ordinarily do no free preaching, I'm going to preach a free sermon right here. To tell you the truth, I'm going to give you Number Four."

"What's Number Four?" said Fields.

"Called 'The Evils of Alcohol.'"

Fields leaned forward and said to Grady, "Pull up beside the first ditch you see."

The minister's narrative had reached a point where a roustabout had pawned his small daughter's shoes to raise money for a drink when Grady slammed on the brakes and Fields kicked the minister out of the door and into the ditch. Then he threw him an unopened bottle of gin and said, "That's my Number Three. Called 'How To Keep Warm In A Ditch.'" And they drove away...

Monday, August 22, 2011


LAS VEGAS (AP) — Jerry Lewis said Saturday that his years of service to the Muscular Dystrophy Association helped make him a star, but he didn't provide details on his recent departure as the group's national chairman.

In his first public appearance since the that announcement, Lewis accepted a lifetime achievement award from the Nevada Broadcasters Association, saying that he made his reputation in show business by saving lives.

"I made my reputation in this business caring for what I did, caring for the people that I did it for," said Lewis, who donned a red foam clown nose at one point during his speech in front of politicians and other entertainers.

"Let me tell you that saving lives is a very, very special project in the life of any man who wants to do that, but I have had the joy of ... extending my life by what I feel in my heart," he said.

Lewis hinted during his brief speech that he could not explain why he is no longer the national chairman of the MDA after 45 years. He will also no longer host the group's annual Labor Day weekend telethon.

Lewis said he was humbled to hear several congressmen and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval describe watching Lewis host the MDA's annual Labor Day weekend telethon every year throughout their childhoods.

"It was as meaningful tonight as ever," the 85-year-old said of his charitable work. "And I don't think I can go into the why of that."

Lewis appeared briefly at the dinner, entering just before his tribute and leaving the room minutes after making his speech. He declined to speak to reporters as he left the event.

In May, Lewis said in a statement issued through the association that he would make his final appearance on the telethon this year and sing "You'll Never Walk Alone" during a six-hour primetime broadcast scheduled for Sept. 4.

But MDA officials abruptly announced earlier this month that Lewis would no longer be the public face of the Tucson, Ariz.-based association without offering any explanation. When pressed by a reporter at the time about his role with the telethon, Lewis said: "It's none of your business."

Lewis has said he would hold a press conference the day after the telethon to clarify his plans. "I will have plenty to say about what I think is important. And that's the future, not the past," he has said.

The MDA announced major changes to its telethon Thursday, including slashing it down from a nearly 22-hour show to six hours of prime time television in an effort to boost audience numbers and raise more money.

The Sept. 4 show will be co-hosted by "American Idol" executive producer Nigel Lythgoe, "Entertainment Tonight" anchor Nancy O'Dell, "The Biggest Loser" host Alison Sweeney, and journalist and TV producer Jann Carl...



I recently was browsing at our local used CD/book store and came across an excellent CD. It was the compact disc version of the Brook Benton and Dinah Washington collaborative album called "The Two Of Us". The dislike that Brook Benton and Dinah Washington had for each other is now remembered more than the album, so I had to do some research on this interesting pairing.

In February 1959, Dinah Washington recorded one of the biggest jazz-pop crossover hits by a female jazz vocalist to date. Backed by shimmering strings, a small choir and a rhythm section, Dinah leaned into the studio microphone and sang What a Difference a Day Makes for Mercury Records.

Produced by Clyde Otis, the easy-listening, bluesy ballad was meant to be just another moody jazz vocal track. But in 1959, with Elvis Presley in the army and a vacuum in the rock world created by the sudden death of Buddy Holly in February, pop began to make a mini comeback with young audiences. Within weeks of its release in the spring, the height of prom season, What a Difference a Day Makes entered Billboard's Hot 100 chart in May and soared to #8. The song would remain on the chart for 20 weeks and transform Dinah almost overnight from a jazz-blues singer to a jukebox pop star.

But the song's success also inflated Dinah's diva side. After laboring for years under enormous pressure, cranking out jazz and blues hits, Dinah by early 1959 had still not achieved as much recognition or pay as Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald and other better-known jazz singers. With What a Difference a Day Makes, Dinah viewed her 1959 hit as belated confirmation of her ability to kill in the pop market and become a bankable mainstream star.

Brook Benton was another hot property at Mercury Records in early 1959. The smooth-voiced r&b baritone had recently recorded It's Just a Matter of Time, which entered the Hot 100 chart in January and rocketed to No. 3. Benton followed the single with Endlessly, which hit the chart in April and climbed to No. 12. Both songs were written by Benton and Clyde Otis.

Benton's magic touch gave Otis an idea. He called Dinah and told her he wanted to pair the two of them for a single. For producer Otis, the single had a shot at becoming a hit on virtually every chart. But Dinah was suspect. She was a star now, a singer who had paid her dues since the mid-1940s. If she was going to be lined up with another singer on a recording date, she didn't understand why someone of her stature should have to work with a relatively green Benton.

Dinah also didn't see how exactly the union could help her career. After all, Benton's reputation could only be elevated by his association with Dinah. By contrast, how could her link to him make her any more popular than she already was? Clyde Otis' response to Dinah was that Benton's masculine, relaxed sound would give her a sexier image and further extend her appeal with younger audiences who listened less and less to jazz and pure blues.

When Dinah entered Mercury's studio in late 1959, she was apprehensive and concerned about being out-gunned by Benton. Benton, who had the looks, voice and hits behind him, arrived as a go-getter who had the world by the tail. Dinah thought Benton was out of her league. Benton felt she was a bit over the hill. Unfortunately for Benton, he was a little too cavalier, either because he was nervous appearing with Dinah or woefully unprepared.

When the red light went on, the orchestra's strings played a skippy downbeat and intro to Baby (You Got What It Takes), with the guitar, bass and drums coming in with a rock boogie beat. Benton took the first chorus, with Dinah following. But instead of playing it straight, Benton started to showboat, ad-libbing soulful "Oh, yeahs" around Dinah's vocal. You can hear the tension build until finally, at 2:03 into the song, Benton made a fatal mistake. He got carried away and accidentally sang the first words of Dinah's part. At that moment, they vocally collided, with both singing the word "because."

Dinah opened up with both barrels. As the song winds down, we hear Dinah taunt, "You're back in my spot again, honey." Hoping to go with the flow, Benton replies cockily, "I like that spot." Over the remaining 40 seconds, you hear Benton push back and Dinah going all out. As the song starts to fade, Dinah lectures Benton: "Don't say it again" and "One more time, Brook."

It's unclear how many takes were made of Baby. We do know that the B-side, I Do, a slow-dance ballad, was recorded next and went off without a hitch. Fairly tame, its wedding-day theme worked beautifully for both singers and was sure to fuel rumors that Dinah and Benton were an item.

Publicly, Benton laughed off Dinah's snappishness. "She could be difficult," he said, but insisted they got along "very well in the studio...The goof wasn't intentional," he went on. "We were playing around really, you know, testing as we went along. Frankly, some of the time we didn't even know they were taping. We were like having a dry run."

Whether the sniping was real or not, the flawed song was released in January 1960. The single was an immediate success, reaching No. 5 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart. For chart purposes, Mercury had to change the song's name to Baby, since United Artists had just released a record by Marv Johnson called You Got What It Takes, a completely different song.

By Easter of 1960, Dinah and Benton were booked into the Brooklyn Paramount Theater for a 10-day show. They clicked so well that many observers thought they might be having an affair.

Convinced that the Dinah-Benton pairing was a gold mine, producer Otis decided to record them together for an entire album of duets. But when the duo got together in the studio in early 1960, the competitive friction off-mike surfaced almost immediately. On the first tune, A Rockin' Good Way (to Mess Around and Fall in Love), Dinah was again caught on tape hammering Benton for making mistakes. According to Queen, Otis remembered the session this way:

"[Dinah] had no respect for him, no respect for him personally. She kept saying, 'You're a dumb so and so'...and he didn't like having her chastise him. According to Shelby Singleton, another Mercury executive, Dinah told Benton she was 'tired of making you a star' and didn't want to make any more records with him."

Otis halted the session after they recorded the B-side and sent Dinah home. He had Benton then record the remaining tracks they had planned to do together.

While you hear the carping on the track, I believe it was staged to recapture the hit-making bickering of the first single. Aside from Benton's ad-libbing, which had to have been pre-arranged, there really isn't much error or misfire and little reason for Dinah to be upset. My guess is that Otis called for Dinah to complain toward the fade out, and Dinah viewed this as a cheap, gimmicky trick for someone of her stature and that she walked as a result of Otis, not Benton.

In early May, Mercury released A Rockin' Good Way backed by the I Do-like ballad I Believe, the only single from the planned duet LP. A Rockin' Good Way actually was a cover of a Priscilla Bowman hit and had a pecking rock beat similar to Baby (You've Got What I Takes).

After the song hit, Mercury released a more traditional solo album by Dinah called Unforgettable to mixed reviews. But Dinah's new image and success as a jazz crooner, pop-rock vocalist and early rock star was already established. Unfortunately, Dinah and Benton would never record again. Dinah died in December 1963. As for Benton, he recorded a string of unforgettable r&b songs. Finally in 1970, he had a hit with Rainy Night in Georgia, which reached No. 4. Benton died in 1988.

The album is an excellent pairing of two very dynamic personalities. However, I think Dinah Washington came off as the better of the two on the album. I absolutely love Dinah's solo take on "Love Walked In", and her duets with Brook Benton are memorable. However, I personally think the solo numbers by Benton were sort of dull. If you are a fan of great music and excellent vocalists, then I recommend this album and/or CD...

my rating: 7 out of 10

Saturday, August 20, 2011


Jack Carter Going Strong
By Susan King

Younger audiences probably know Jack Carter best for his guest starring roles on everything from "Desperate Housewives" to Disney Channel's "iCarly." But for baby boomers, Carter will always be the brash, antic, Brooklyn-born comedian who was a near-perfect mimic as well as a singer and dancer. Just as the other comics who came to fame after World War II such as Jan Murray, Shecky Greene, Jack E. Leonard and Totie Fields, Carter was a mainstay in clubs and practically every musical variety show on TV. In fact, he said proudly, he made 45 appearances on "The Ed Sullivan Show."

These days, he's not playing the clubs. Two years ago, the 88-year-old funnyman suffered major injuries to his legs and head when he and Toni Murray, widow of comic Jan Murray, were hit by a car that was exiting the wrong way through the entrance of a parking lot near the Pantages Theatre. Toni Murray died a few months later of the injuries; Carter gets around with a cane and a walker. But his mouth — and his sense of humor — are doing just fine, thanks.

On a recent sunny morning, Carter was holding court in his office at his Beverly Hills home he shares with his wife, Roxanne, their grandson Chace and a lab mix named Ella. He's full of stories of the golden age of comedy, waxing about his friendships with such legends as Jack Benny, George Burns and Fred Allen and the thrill he got playing clubs such as the Copa in New York City.

"The Copa was so exciting," he said. "It was the glamour spot of showbiz. In Vancouver, one of my favorite towns, I played the Cave. I was the King of the Cave."

But he loved playing Las Vegas the most. "It was the easiest audience in the world," Carter said. "I had a Vegas routine that was incomparable. Johnny Carson tried to copy it. Milton Berle tried to copy it. It was a wrap-up of what you did when you got to Vegas.... Berle sent his wife in to tape it and Roxanne stopped her. She was sitting there with a tape recorder, and she [Roxanne] said, 'I wouldn't do that if I were you.'"

Carter didn't play the main theater in the casinos but the lounge. "I was in the Riviera in the lounge. The lounge was big. It was me, Totie Fields, Jan Murray, Shecky Greene. We were the big four. We revolved. We would do an hour, two shows a night. I would up working at the Flamingo at the end."

He recalled the times Benny and Burns caught his act in Vegas. "They came to see me five times. They were doing an act there. Jack was in drag playing Gracie [Allen]. They came to see me one night, and I was wild. They came back and Benny said, 'You know, Jack, you do more in 45 minutes than I do in my entire career!'"

Though he hasn't done clubs since his accident, Carter has kept working. Besides, "iCarly," Carter has done two episodes of Showtime's "Shameless" as the crotchety owner of the bar William H. Macy's character frequents. Carter has actually come full circle. Though he had been a mimic growing up in Brooklyn's Brighton Beach, he aspired to be a dramatic actor while attending New Utrecht High School. "It was a famous school for big drama," said Carter. "I did 'Cyrano de Bergerac.' I got a scholarship to the Academy of Dramatic Art."

Still in his teens, he landed an agent and went on the famous radio show "Major Bowes' Amateur Hour," which he won twice. "I did so many impressions they had me on twice," said Carter. "I did Akim Tamiroff, Wendell Wilkie, Roosevelt, and I did a lot of English actors. I have a natural English accent. I did C. Aubrey Smith, Nigel Bruce and, of course, Basil Rathbone. He was on my show several times. I used to call him 'Nasal Bathroom.'"

After serving in the Army during World War II, Carter continued to work the clubs and was one of the pioneers of the new medium of TV, becoming the first host of Dumont's Saturday night variety series, "Cavalcade of Stars," in 1949-50. Jerry Lester and then Jackie Gleason took over the reins when Carter was hired by NBC in 1950 to be the first hour of the "Saturday Night Revue," which consisted of "The Jack Carter Show" and "Your Show of Shows" with Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner and Howard Morris.

Max Liebman, the producer of "Your Show of Shows," was angry, said Carter, because he felt his series was too similar his show.

"I did funnier comedy," said Carter, adding that he "had a great choreographer that put me in the dance numbers." But even though Liebman protested, Carter didn't change the show; Liebman won the battle. "He had me taken off the air," said Carter. "I was on for exactly one year!"


Thursday, August 18, 2011


There are something about the pictures of silent screen actresses that make them so mysterious and alluring. Maybe it is because the public could not hear them talk that made them so great. Either way, I wish more people would realize that some of the silent movie actresses were truly great. Some did not make the transfer to the talkies, but they all were legends in their own way...

NORMA TALMEDGE (1894-1957)

CLARA BOW (1905-1965)

MABEL NORMAND (1892-1930)

COLLEEN MOORE (1899-1988)

LILLIAN GISH (1893-1993)

ANITA PAGE (1910-2008)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


When the movies got sound, a lot of actors just could not adapt. It was a medium that chewed up and spit out a lot of talented people. Another medium that did this (but to a lesser degree) was television. Many radio stars who were popular in the 1930s and 1940s, found themselves out of work in the 1950s.

Even though Fred Allen appeared on television, I do not think he obtained the level of fame he once had in radio. Personally, Fred Allen was not much of a comedian, but his radio show from 1932 to 1949 was one of the most popular shows of radio's golden age. Unfortunately, if I would ask 100 people under 60 who Fred Allen was - they would not know. Yes, Fred Allen has been gone for 55 years, but his talent and his humor should not be underestimated and forgotten.

Born on May 31, 1894, Fred Allen was more of a humorist than a comedian. His best-remembered gag was his long-running mock feud with friend and fellow comedian Jack Benny, but it was only part of his appeal; radio historian John Dunning (in On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio) wrote that Allen was radio's most admired comedian and most frequently censored. A master adlibber, Allen often tangled with his network's executives (and often barbed them on the air over the battles), while developing routines the style and substance of which influenced contemporaries and futures among comic talents, including Groucho Marx, Stan Freberg, Henry Morgan and Johnny Carson, but his fans also included President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and novelists William Faulkner, John Steinbeck and Herman Wouk (who began his career writing for Allen).

Fred Allen's first taste of radio came while he and his wife Portland Hoffa waited for a promised slot in a new Arthur Hammerstein musical. In the interim, they appeared on a Chicago station's program, WLS Showboat, into which, Allen recalled, "Portland and I were presented... to inject a little class into it." Their success in these appearances helped their theater reception; live audiences in the Midwest liked to see their radio favorites in person, even if Allen and Hoffa would be replaced by Bob Hope when the radio show moved to New York several months afterward.

Allen's show was top rated through 1946. Allen was able to negotiate a lucrative new contract as a result not only of the show's success, but thanks in large measure to NBC's anxiety to keep more of its stars from joining Jack Benny in a wholesale defection to CBS. The CBS talent raids broke up NBC's hit Sunday night, and Benny also convinced George Burns and Gracie Allen and Bing Crosby to join his move.

But a year later, he was knocked off his perch, not by a talent raid but by a show on a third rival network, ABC (the former NBC Blue network). The quiz show, Stop the Music, hosted by Bert Parks, required listeners to participate live, by telephone. The show became a big enough hit to break into Allen's grip on that Sunday night time slot. At first, Allen fought fire with his own kind of fire: he offered $5,000 to any listener getting a call from Stop the Music or any similar game show while listening to The Fred Allen Show. He never had to pay up, nor was he shy about lampooning the game show phenomenon (especially a riotous parody of another quiz show Parks hosted, lancing Break the Bank in a routine called "Break the Contestant" in which players didn't receive a thing but were compelled to give up possessions when they blew a question.)

Unfortunately, Allen fell to number 38 in the ratings, as television began its rise as well. By this time, he had changed the show again somewhat, changing the famed "Allen's Alley" skits to take place on "Main Street," and rotating a new character or two in and out of the lineup. He stepped down from radio again in 1949, at the end of his show's regular season, as much under his doctor's orders as because of his slipping ratings. He decided to take a year off, but it did more for his health (he suffered from hypertension) than his career; after the June 26, 1949 show, on which Henry Morgan and Jack Benny guested, Fred Allen never hosted another radio show full time again.

Allen tried three short-lived television projects of his own but they all failed. Allen finally held down a two-year stint as a panelist on the CBS quiz show What's My Line? from 1954 until his death in 1956 (March 17, 1956). Allen actually appeared as a Mystery Guest on What's My Line? on July 17, 1955, when he was taking a week off from the show to have an emergency appendectomy. Afterwards he joked about the operation: "It was an emergency. The doctor needed some money hurriedly."

Allen also spent his final years as a newspaper columnist/humorist and as a memoirist, renting a small New York office to work six hours a day without distractions. He wrote Treadmill to Oblivion (1954, reviewing his radio and television years) and Much Ado About Me (1956, covering his childhood and his vaudeville and Broadway years, and detailing especially vaudeville at its height with surprising objectivity); the former – which included many of his vintage radio scripts – was the best-selling book on radio's classic period for many years.

Allen is buried at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, New York (his headstone has both his real and stage names) and has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: a radio star on 6709½ Hollywood Blvd. and a TV star on 7021 Hollywood Blvd. His widow, Portland Hoffa, married bandleader Joe Rimes in 1959 and celebrated a second silver wedding anniversary well before her own death of natural causes in Los Angeles on Christmas Day, 1990. Fred Allen is not remembered well today, but his humor inspired many people in the days before television and the internet. Like so many of the stars of yesteryear, Allen deserves to be remembered more than he is...

Monday, August 15, 2011


High school was not the most memorable time in my life. However, one thing I will always remember is watching a different movie in honors biology. The teacher showed us "The Boys From Brazil". We did not watch it just for the fun of it, but we watched it because of its story about genetics. It was a pretty good movie that I enjoy to this day.

"The Boys from Brazil" is a 1978 British/American science fiction/thriller film directed by Franklin J. Schaffner. It stars Gregory Peck and Laurence Olivier, with James Mason, Lilli Palmer, Uta Hagen and Steve Guttenberg. The screenplay by Heywood Gould is based on the novel of the same name by Ira Levin. The film was produced by Martin Richards and Stanley O'Toole with Robert Fryer as executive producer. The music score was by Jerry Goldsmith and the cinematography by Henri Decaë. It was produced through Lew Grade's ITC Entertainment and distributed by 20th Century Fox. It was nominated for three Academy Awards.

When well-intentioned young Barry Kohler (Steve Guttenberg) stumbles upon a secret sect of Third Reich war criminals holding clandestine meetings in Paraguay, he alerts Ezra Lieberman by phone. Lieberman dismisses Kohler's claims that Dr. Mengele is alive and present at the meeting as already-known facts, and is highly skeptical otherwise. Kohler attempts to record a meeting with radio equipment but is discovered and killed.

Aware that something is amiss, Lieberman follows Kohler's leads and begins traveling throughout Europe and North America to investigate the suspicious deaths of a number of middle-aged civil servants. He meets several widows and is amazed to find an uncanny resemblance in their adopted, black-haired, blue-eyed sons. It is also made clear throughout the film that at the time of their deaths all the civil servants were aged around 65 and had a cold, domineering and abusive demeanor towards their adopted children, whereas their wives were aged around 42 and over-spoiled them.

Lieberman gains insight from an incarcerated Nazi guard (Uta Hagen) who worked with the adoption agency, and with an expert on cloning (Bruno Ganz) who helps him discover the truth behind the whole plan: Mengele secluded several surrogate mothers in a Brazilian clinic and instilled Hitler's DNA into their ova, thereby giving birth to 94 perfect clones of Hitler himself. Lieberman's investigations unnerve Mengele's superiors, including his principal contact, Seibert (James Mason), who demands that he abort his scheme. But the doctor has spent twenty years pursuing his plans, ever since he first acquired a fragment of rib skin and a half-litre blood sample from Hitler on May 1943 to use as DNA in a plan to recreate Hitler's body and soul and to fulfill the aims of the Third Reich.

Mengele's hiding place is burned and servants shot, but Seibert's men do not find the doctor. It turns out that Mengele intends to carry on the rest of the plan himself. He travels to rural Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, where one of the Hitler clones lives on a farm. There he murders the boy's father (John Dehner), a Doberman dog breeder, and lies in wait for Lieberman, who is on his way.

The instant Lieberman sets eyes on Mengele, he attacks him in fury. Mengele soon gains the upper hand and holds him at gunpoint. He taunts Lieberman by explaining his plan to return Hitler to the world. With one desperate lunge, Lieberman reaches the closet where the Dobermans are held and turns them loose. The dogs corner Mengele. At that point, young Bobby Wheelock (Jeremy Black), now revealed to be one of the Hitler clones, arrives home from school. It is Mengele's first look in person at one of his "boys."

Bobby can tell from the carnage that something is amiss. Mengele tells him how he admires him and how he is cloned from Hitler, but Bobby is suspicious since the dogs are trained to attack anybody with a gun. Lieberman tells him that Mengele has killed his father and to notify the police. When he sees the body in the basement, Bobby sets the vicious dogs on Mengele, relishing his bloody death. Bobby proceeds to save Lieberman, though only after he forces Lieberman to promise not to tell the police.

Lieberman is encouraged by an American Nazi-hunter, Bennett (John Rubinstein) to expose the scheme. He is asked to turn over a list identifying the names and whereabouts of the other "boys from Brazil" from around the world, so that they can be systematically killed before growing up. Lieberman objects on the grounds that they are mere children. He burns the list.

In the final scene Bobby is shown in his darkroom, absorbed and excited by photographs he has taken of Mengele's body, after it has been savaged by the dogs.

The film may take awhile to get in to at the beginning, but it is engrossing and interesting. The stars of the film Laurence Olivier, Gregory Peck, and a young Steve Guttenberg are excellent in the film, and I believe Olivier deserved an Oscar for this movie. (He was only nominated). Again, I do not remember much from freshman honors biology, but luckily I remember this film.

my rating: 9 out of 10

Sunday, August 14, 2011


The official era of the Big Bands was less than ten years from 1936 to 1945, however the music that era created is remembered to this day. There are many talented musicians and leaders of that era, but I do not think any leader is remembered as much as Glenn Miller. Despite his death in 1944, his music is remembered some 70 years later.

Miller was born on a farm in Clarinda, Iowa on March 1, 1904, to Lewis Elmer Miller and Mattie Lou (née Cavender). He went to grade school in North Platte in western Nebraska. In 1915, Miller's family moved to Grant City, Missouri. Around this time, Miller had finally made enough money from milking cows to buy his first trombone and played in the town orchestra. In 1918, the Miller family moved again, this time to Fort Morgan, Colorado, where Miller went to high school. During his senior year, Miller became very interested in a new style of music called "dance band music." He was so taken with it that he formed his own band with some classmates. By the time Miller graduated from high school in 1921, he had decided he wanted to become a professional musician.

In 1923, Miller entered the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he joined Sigma Nu Fraternity, but spent most of his time away from school, attending auditions and playing any gigs he could get, most notably with Boyd Senter's band in Denver. He dropped out of school after failing three out of five classes one semester, and decided to concentrate on making a career as a professional musician. He later studied the Schillinger technique with Joseph Schillinger, under whose tutelage he composed what became his signature theme, "Moonlight Serenade". In 1926, Miller toured with several groups, eventually landing a good spot in Ben Pollack's group in Los Angeles. During his stint with Pollack, Miller wrote several musical arrangements of his own. He also co-wrote his first song, "Room 1411", written with Benny Goodman and released as a Brunswick 78, 4013, credited to Benny Goodman's Boys. In 1928, when the band arrived in New York City, he sent for and married his college sweetheart, Helen Burger. He was a member of Red Nichols's orchestra in 1930, and because of Nichols, Miller played in the pit bands of two Broadway shows, Strike Up the Band and Girl Crazy (where his bandmates included big band leaders Benny Goodman and Gene Krupa).

During the late 1920s and early 1930s, Miller managed to earn a living working as a freelance trombonist in several bands. On a March 21, 1928 Victor session Miller played alongside Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, and Joe Venuti in the All-Star Orchestra, directed by Nat Shilkret. On November 14, 1929,an original vocalist named Red McKenzie hired Glenn to play on two records that are now considered to be jazz classics:"Hello, Lola" and "If I Could Be With You One Hour Tonight". Beside Glenn were clarinetist Pee Wee Russell, guitarist Eddie Condon, drummer Gene Krupa and Coleman Hawkins on tenor saxophone.

In the early-to-mid-1930s, Miller also worked as a trombonist and arranger in The Dorsey Brothers, first when they were a Brunswick studio group (under their own name and providing accompaniment for many of The Boswell Sisters sessions), and finally when they formed an ill-fated co-led touring and recording orchestra. Miller composed the song "Annie's Cousin Fanny" and "Dese Dem Dose" for the Dorsey Brothers Band in 1934 and 1935. In 1935, he assembled an American orchestra for British bandleader Ray Noble, developing the arrangement of lead clarinet over four saxophones that eventually became the sonic keynote of his own big band. Members of the Noble band included future bandleaders Claude Thornhill, Bud Freeman and Charlie Spivak.

Glenn Miller made his first movie appearance in the 1935 Paramount Pictures release The Big Broadcast of 1936 as a member of the Ray Noble Orchestra performing "Why Stars Come Out at Night". The Big Broadcast of 1936 starred Bing Crosby, George Burns, Gracie Allen, Ethel Merman, Jack Oakie, and Bill "Bojangles" Robinson and also featured other performances by Dorothy Dandridge and the Nicholas Brothers, who would appear with Miller again in two movies for Twentieth Century Fox in 1941 and 1942.

Glenn Miller compiled several musical arrangements and formed his first band in 1937. The band failed to distinguish itself from the many others of the era, and eventually broke up. Benny Goodman said in 1976, "In late 1937, before his band became popular, we were both playing in Dallas. Glenn was pretty dejected and came to see me. He asked, 'What do you do? How do you make it?' I said, 'I don't know, Glenn. You just stay with it."


Friday, August 12, 2011


Turner Classic Movies (TCM) will celebrate Halloween and Christmas this year with two all-new specials produced by DreamWorks Television and award-winning filmmaker and author Laurent Bouzereau and presented as part of TCM’s ongoing A Night at the Movies documentary series.

In October, TCM will premiere A Night at the Movies: The Horrors of Stephen King, with the master storyteller himself discussing the classic horror films that influenced him the most. And in December, A Night at the Movies: Merry Christmas! will take viewers on a magical journey through some of the greatest holiday films ever made.

TCM’s A Night at the Movies specials are written, produced and directed by Bouzereau, who has been directing documentaries on the films of Steven Spielberg and other directors since 1994. Darryl Frank and Justin Falvey (TNT’s Falling Skies) serve as executive producers. The series began in October 2009 with A Night at the Movies: The Suspenseful World of Thrillers, followed in December 2009 with A Night at the Movies: The Gigantic World of Epics.

In A Night at the Movies: The Horrors of Stephen King, which premieres on TCM Monday, Oct. 3, at 8 p.m. (ET), Stephen King discusses how he discovered terror at the movies. The best-selling author and filmmaker takes viewers on a journey through many aspects of the horror genre, including vampires, zombies, demons and ghosts. He also examines the fundamental reasons behind moviegoers’ incessant craving for being frightened. Along the way, he discusses the movies that have had a real impact on his writing, including Freaks (1932), Cat People (1942), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), Night of the Living Dead (1968), The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), Jaws (1975), Halloween (1978) and The Changeling (1980), to name a few.

A Night at the Movies: The Horrors of Stephen King will kick off an entire month of classic horror on TCM, with each Monday night’s lineup packed with memorable chillers. The offerings include Universal classics like Frankenstein (1931) and The Wolf Man (1941), Val Lewton thrillers like Cat People (1942) and I Walked with a Zombie (1943), Hammer classics like Horror of Dracula (1958) and cult favorites from William Castle and Roger Corman, to name a few.

Premiering Tuesday, Dec. 6, at 8 p.m. A Night at the Movies: Merry Christmas! will be a tinsel-filled journey through the most iconic holiday films of all time, including perennial favorites It’s A Wonderful Life (1946) and Miracle on 34th Street (1947). The special will look at variations within the genre, such as holiday romances, family movies and even thrillers. A Night at the Movies: Merry Christmas will feature behind-the-scenes stories and personal Hollywood Christmas memories from the likes of Chevy Chase, Margaret O’Brien, Chazz Palminteri, Deborah Raffin, Karolyn Grimes, Zack Ward, Brian Henson, Joe Dante, Petrine Day Mitchum, authors Julie Salamon and Alonso Duralde, A Christmas Carol expert Michael Patrick Hearn and many more.

A Night at the Movies: Merry Christmas! will be accompanied by an entire month of great holiday films on TCM, including A Christmas Carol (1938), Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) and both the 1933 and 1949 versions of Little Women.