Wednesday, February 27, 2013


One of the most beloved broadway musicals of all time was Show Boat. This wonderful tale of performing on a riverboat had a magical score written by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II. The music was by Jerome Kern and book and lyrics  was by Oscar Hammerstein II. The show not only featured timeless songs like "Ol Man River" and "Make Believe", but the musical itself dealt with issues such as racial prejudice and inequality. Dealing with those themes was quite new to society in 1927 when the musical debuted.

The original show opened on Broadway at the Ziegfeld Theatre on December 27, 1927. The critics were immediately enthusiastic, and the show was a great popular success, running a year and a half, for a total of 572 performances. It made a star of Helen Morgan who played Julie LaVerne, an actress on the riverboat who is hiding the secret of her true ethnicity. For Morgan, the show was a role of a lifetime, and she never had a bigger success than Show Boat.

Show Boat was actually first filmed in 1929 as a silent movie with some sound added. It did not feature any of the Kern-Hamerstein score. The 1929 film was long believed to be lost, but most of it has been found and shown on TCM. The successful Broadway show would not get a proper transfer to film until 1936 when the film was made for Unviersal Studios.

Carl Laemmle, head of Universal, had been deeply dissatisfied with the 1929 film, and had long wanted to make an all-sound version of the hit musical. It was originally scheduled to be made in 1934, but plans to make this version with Russ Colombo as the gambler Gaylord Ravenal fell through when Colombo was killed that year in a shotgun accident, and shooting of the film was rescheduled. The film, with several members of the original Broadway cast, was begun in late 1935 and released in 1936.

This film version of Show Boat stars Irene Dunne as Magnolia and Allan Jones as Ravenal, with Charles Winninger, Paul Robeson, Helen Morgan, and Hattie McDaniel.
Morgan, already battling alcoholism reprised her role as Julie. What was the biggest shock of this new version is the choice of director. James Whale directed the film, and he was the top director at the time at Universal, but he was known for his directing of their horror movies like Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein. However, Whales suprisingly was a great director on this musical, and his attention to detail gave the movie a very authentic look.

The movie would be remade again in 1951 by MGM, and although their version was well made, it paled in comparison to this 1936 version. Irene Dunne, because of her dramatic movies, is really underrated as a singer. She had a wonderful voice that blended well with her co-star Allan Jones (the father of crooner Jack Jones). Paul Robeson gives the definitive version of  "Ol Man River" in the movie, and he would forever be associated with the song. Helen Morgan as well did well in the movie, but her years of alcohol abuse had its toll on her looks and she looks older than she is in the movie. Her voice was still there, and she gave a wonderful portrayal of Julie that is forever etched on movie celluloid. Unfortunately, this would be Morgan's last film, and she died of liver failure in 1941 at the age of 41.

What is equally as sad as the young death of Helen Morgan was that the 1936 version is not yet on DVD. Show Boat was successful at the box office, but was withdrawn from circulation in the 1940s, after MGM bought the rights so that they could film their own Technicolor remake; however, MGM's version did not begin filming until 1950, and was released in the summer of 1951. The fact that Paul Robeson, who played Joe in the 1936 version, was blacklisted in 1950 further assured that the 1936 film would not be seen for a long time, and it was not widely seen again until after Robeson's death in 1976. In 1983 it made its debut on cable television, and a few years later, on PBS. It was made available on VHS beginning in 1990, but it has yet to be released on an authorized DVD, although a Brazilian company, Classicline, released a DVD version in 2003. Until this excellent movie is released on DVD, I will be thankful for my DVD copy I recorded off of TCM. The best of the three movie Show Boats, this 1936 version deserves to be released. TCM/Warner Brothers owe it to the talents of Irene Dunne, Helen Morgan, and Paul Robeson as well as to the original visionaries of the show to issue this masterpiece...

Monday, February 25, 2013


In my opinion, winning an Academy Award does not mean as much as it did in the classic days of Hollywood. In those days it was so much more of a glamourous event. It still is glamourous, but movie stars today to not shine as bright as they did in the classic days. Here are some pictures of classic Hollywood and the Oscars...

Shirley Temple and Claudette Colbert

Audrey Hepburn

Joan Fontaine
Ginger Rogers and George Murphy

Ray Milland

Charlie Chaplin

Saturday, February 23, 2013


One of the images I remember most from first watching classic movie musics is a young looking Carleton Carpenter and an even younger Debbie Reynolds singing "Aba Daba Hooneymoon" from the forgotten film Two Weeks With Love (1950). Not much is remembered from that movie but the song. Unfortunately Carleton Carpenter is not remembered much either, but he was truly a bright spot in movies towards the end of Hollywood's golden age.

Born Carleton Upham Carpenter Jr on July 10, 1926, he was a magician before moving on to acting. His first roles were on Broadway, beginning with David Merrick's first production Bright Boy in 1944, followed by co-starring appearances in Three to Make Ready with Ray Bolger, John Murray Anderson's Almanac and Hotel Paradiso with Bert Lahr and Angela Lansbury.

He was featured in the racial film Lost Boundaries and then signed with MGM, where he had roles in Summer Stock with Judy Garland, Father of the Bride with Spencer Tracy, Vengeance Valley with Burt Lancaster, The Whistle at Eaton Falls with Lloyd Bridges, and the war dramas Take The High Ground and Up Periscope. Even though Carleton's role in Summer Stock was a small one, he got to play opposite such giants as Garland, Gene Kelly, and Phil Silvers. He had the role of Kelly's handyman, and he had the job of trying to put Judy Garland's tractor back together after Silvers destroyed it. It was a small role, but it made me wish Carpenter had had bigger roles in movies.

He was teamed with Debbie Reynolds in the musicals Three Little Words and Two Weeks With Love, which featured their million-selling recordings of "Aba Daba Honeymoon" and "Row, Row, Row." His duet of "Aba Daba Honeymoon" with Debbie Reynolds was the very first soundtrack recording to become a No. 1 gold record. Although he never was a major leading man, Carleton did a few starring roles like in Fearless Fagan with Janet Leigh and Sky Full of Moon with Jan Sterling.

He composed such songs as "Christmas Eve," which was recorded by Billy Eckstine, "Cabin in the Woods" and "Ev'ry Other Day," which he recorded for MGM Records.

In addition to his many successful movies during this time, Carpenter is remembered in the 1970s and 1980s as a best-selling mystery novelist. One of his books, Deadhead, was turned into a Broadway musical production. Other books included Games Murderers Play, Cat Got Your Tongue? Only Her Hairdresser Knew, Sleight of Deadly Hand, The Peabody Experience and Stumped. He also had short stories published in the Alfred Hitchcock and Ellery Queen mystery magazines.

When the movie musicals went out of fashion, Carpenter went back to his first love of the stage. His notable stage appearances at the time included: Hello, Dolly! (musical) opposite Mary Martin (which toured Vietnam during the war and was filmed as a one-hour NBC-TV special), The Boys in the Band (play), Crazy For You and a revival of Kander and Ebb's 70, Girls, 70.

Most the most part Carleton Carpenter left acting in the early 1980s, and he made his last movie appearance in the television film The American Snitch in 1983. He continues to make nostalgic appearances at classic Hollywood conventions and get together to this day, although his appearances have been less frequent than those of his popular co-star Debbie Reynolds. On September 2, 2012 he received a Cinecon Award for career achievement. Appearing with Reynolds once again, the duo sang a few strains of Aba Daba Honeymoon - it was as if it was 1950 all over again...

Thursday, February 21, 2013


Sidney Poitier, 1964

Academy Award winner Jack Lemmon hosted the 36th Academy Awards, which took place April 13, 1964, at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. Though the Academy still rarely awards comedies, best picture and director honors went to Tony Richardson’s Tom Jones. Hud claimed two of the acting trophies, for lead actress Patricia Neal and supporting actor Melvyn Douglas, while Sidney Poitier was best actor for Lilies of the Field and Margaret Rutherford was supporting actress for The V.I.P.s. Among the acting winners, only Poitier was on hand to accept his statuette at the ceremony.

“Because it is a long journey to this moment, I am naturally indebted to countless numbers of people, principally among whom are Ralph Nelson, James Poe, William Barrett, Martin Baum, and of course, the members of the Academy. For all of them, all I can say is a very special thank you.”—Sidney Poitier (pictured with Sidney Skolsky) accepting his first Oscar for Lilies of the Field. He won a second honorary Oscar in 2001...


Tuesday, February 19, 2013


By the looks of actor Lee Marvin you would not think he was an actor. Maybe he could be a construction worker or a mechanic. However, despite his rugged and non Hollywood looks, Marvin was one of the best tough guy character actors out there. On this day, February 19th, Lee Marvin was born in 1924. Marvin was born in New York City. He was the son of Lamont Waltman Marvin, an advertising executive and the head of the New York and New England Apple Institute, and his wife Courtenay Washington (née Davidge), a fashion writer and beauty consultant. He was named in honor of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, who was his first cousin, four times removed. Lee Marvin's ancestors had helped to found Hartford, Connecticut.

Marvin studied violin when he was young. As a teenager, Marvin "spent weekends and spare time hunting deer, puma, wild turkey, and bobwhite in the wilds of the then-uncharted Everglades." He attended St. Leo College Preparatory School in St. Leo, Florida after being expelled from several other schools for bad behavior.

Marvin left school to join the United States Marine Corps, serving in the 4th Marine Division. was wounded in action during the WWII Battle of Saipan, in the assault on Mount Tapochau, during which most of his company ("I" Company, 24th Marines, 4th Marine Division) were killed. Marvin's wound (in the buttocks) was from machine gun fire, which severed his sciatic nerve. He was awarded the Purple Heart and was given a medical discharge with the rank of Private First Class. Contrary to rumors, Marvin did not serve with producer and actor Bob Keeshan during World War II.

After the war, while working as a plumber's assistant at a local community theatre in Upstate New York, Marvin was asked to replace an actor who had fallen ill during rehearsals. He then began an amateur Off-Broadway acting career in New York City and served as an understudy in Broadway productions.

In 1950, Marvin moved to Hollywood. He found work in supporting roles, and from the beginning was cast in various war films. As a decorated combat veteran, Marvin was a natural in war dramas, where he frequently assisted the director and other actors in realistically portraying infantry movement, arranging costumes, and the use of firearms. His debut was in You're in the Navy Now (1951), and in 1952 he appeared in several films, including Don Siegel's Duel at Silver Creek, Hangman's Knot, and the war drama Eight Iron Men. He played Gloria Grahame's vicious boyfriend in Fritz Lang's The Big Heat (1953). Marvin had a small but memorable role in The Wild One (1953) opposite Marlon Brando (Marvin's gang in the film was called "The Beetles"), followed by Seminole (1953) and Gun Fury (1953). He also had a notable small role as smart-aleck sailor Meatball in The Caine Mutiny. He had a substantially more important part as Hector, the small town hood in Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) with Spencer Tracy.

During the mid-1950s, Marvin gradually began playing more important roles. He starred in Attack, (1956) had a good supporting role in the Western Seven Men from Now (1956) and starred in The Missouri Traveler (1958) but it took over one hundred episodes as Chicago cop Frank Ballinger in the successful 1957-1960 television series M Squad to actually give him name recognition. One critic described the show as "a hyped-up, violent Dragnet... with a hard-as-nails Marvin" playing a tough police lieutenant. Marvin received the role after guest-starring in a memorable Dragnet episode as a serial killer. Marvin won the 1965 Academy Award for Best Actor for his comic role in the offbeat Western Cat Ballou starring Jane Fonda, and the st as they say is Hollywood history. By the 1960s, Lee Marvin was a sought after actor, and he continued to be until his untimely death at the age of 63 on August 29, 1987...

Sunday, February 17, 2013


I always thought that one of the great injustices of Hollywood was never to give Cary Grant an acting awards. I mean seriously – Cary Grant never won an acting award. Grant made countless movies that should have won him some sort of an award, but in my humble opinion if any film should have gotten him an Oscar it should have been Penny Serenade (1941). The film also holds a close personal tie to me. My grandfather and I were close, and he instilled in me a love of classic movies. One of the movies we would sit and cry over was Penny Serenade. Being 100% German, my grandfather had a hard time showing a lot of affection and emotion, but he did not care when it came to watching this movie of love, heartache, and tragedy.

Penny Serenade starred Grant and the underrated Irene Dunne and was released by Columbia Pictures in 1941. Grant received an Oscar nomination for the role, but he lost it to Gary Cooper’s portrayal of Sergeant Alvin York in Sergeant York.

I don’t want to telll the entire plot of the film, but as the title suggests, music plays an important part in the story. It is used as a means of introducing flashback scenes. We are shown a record being played and as the music swells and the disc spins we are taken back in time and shown the history of Julie and Roger Adams. We see how they met at the record store. Their courtship is sweet – he continues to buy more and more records in order to spend time with her. Soon he wins her over, and they are married. They long to start a family, but throughout the movie the worst possibly tragedy that can happen to parents do. The tragedy pulls them apart to a place where they are living almost separate lives but in the end there is a glimmer of hope when a surprise gift almost literally lands in the couple’s arms.

Penny Serenade was dramatized as a half-hour radio play on the November 16, 1941 broadcast of The Screen Guild Theater, starring Cary Grant and Irene Dunne in their original roles. It was also presented as an hour-long drama on Lux Radio Theater, first on April 27, 1942 with Robert Taylor and Barbara Stanwyck, then on May 8, 1944 with Joseph Cotten and Irene Dunne. Dunne again starred in July 1953 on CBS Radio's General Electric Theater. A television adaptation for Lux Video Theatre, starring Phyllis Thaxter, was broadcast in January 1955 on NBC. Despite these many adaptations though, there is no version better than this film version with Grant and Dunne.

The film was released by Columbia Pictures, with George Stevens' production firm owning the copyright. In 1968, the film went into the public domain. As a result there are about a dozen companies who have issued the movie on DVD. Many of their copies are inferior and of poor quality.

Although her name is not heard much today, Irene Dunne was a hug star during Hollywood’s golen age. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s she starred in a string of box office hits. Her first big movie was Cimarron in 1931, and it was the first western to win the Oscar for Best Picture. She also appeared in the 1936 version of Showboat, and opposite Charles Boyer in the original Love Affair in 1939 for which she was Oscar nominated. Like Grant, Irene Dunne was nominated several times but never won. Penny Serenade was her third teaming with Cary Grant after The Awful Truth (1937) and My Favorite Wife (1940). Unlike those two hilarious comedies, Penny Serenade is a heartbreaking tearjerker.

One particular scene will rip at your heart is when Grant must face a judge and explain how he expects to keep his adopted child when he has no income from his business. It is a gut wrenching scene as we see a man, whose self indulgence has placed his family in jeopardy, beg to keep his little girl. It is a strong turning point in his life of this proud man who has finally realized what is really important to him. Alas, more tragedy is in the cards for him and his struggling family. The film is a dark drama of struggle, enlightenment, and self discovery. It will grab at the strongest of hearts and will make viewers ask themselves what is really important in their lives.

Even though watching Penny Serenade always brought a tear to my eye, I could get through most of the movie. Now that I have a family and children, the tragedy that the movie characters face tear me apart to the point that I can barely watch the movie anymore. Just writing this review of the film, I have teared up a few times. The movie is full of sadness, heartache, and grief, but even in the movie’s darkest moments there is also a little bit of hope. Despite making this movie sound completely depressing, do yourself a favor and watch the movie if you have not seen it. Cuddle up on the couch with your loved one and box of tissues and enjoy a sad but well made movie…


Saturday, February 16, 2013


Ted Healy was the mastermind behind The Three Stooges. I recently wrote an article highlighting the last days of Ted Healy's sad life. Healy died on December 21, 1937 at the young age of 41. However, Healy's last days were not completely sad and bleak. Four days before he died, him and his wife had a boy - John Jacob Nash.

Because he grew up fatherless, Mr. Healy of Dunwoody devoted time to serving as a role-model for young folk. For years, he taught math at the DeKalb Regional Youth Detention Facilities. When he retired, the certified financial planner taught math in an area middle school and high school.

"It was important to him to demonstrate the power and influence that a positive male role model can have in a young person's life," said his daughter, Beth Healy Lee of Marietta. "He wanted to be that role model for kids who had been deprived of that influence."

On July 19, 2011, Theodore John Healy died from complications of liver failure at Rosemont at Stone Mountain, a nursing home. He was 73. A funeral and military burial with full honors was held Tuesday. A.S. Turner & Sons handled arrangements.

Mr. Healy was born in Hollywood, Calif., and named John Jacob Nash. He changed his name to Theodore John Healy to honor his late father, a Texan named Ernest Lee Nash. He adopted Ted Healy as a stage name.

The son joined the U.S. Naval Academy and met his wife of 47 years, Karen Anderson Healy, on a blind date while stationed in Athens. He served a tour of duty in Vietnam, then moved with his bride to the Atlanta area in the late 1960s. It's been home ever since. Mr. Healy worked at Rich's as a warehouse manager and an assistant manager at Richway to earn a master's degree from Georgia State University. He founded Financial Design Consultants, and ran the business nearly 20 years before retiring. He then taught math at Decatur's Chapel Hill Middle School and Fairburn's Creekside High. He retired in 2007.

Mr. Healy was told by his mother, the late Betty Hickman, that his father died of a heart attack, a story that was passed on to family. According to, though, the 42-year-old vaudeville performer, comedian and actor got into a fight with three men outside a club on the Sunset Strip. A medical examiner ruled he died from a brain concussion, the site states. His mother died at the age of 72 in 1986.

Through the years, Mr. Healy never tried to profit from The Three Stooges or his father's fame. He simply treasured mementos he had of them and other entertainers.

"Dad was never one to toot his own horn," his daughter said. "He loved Atlanta and created a wonderful life here."

Additional survivors include his wife, Karen Anderson Healy of Dunwoody; a son, T.J. Healy of Tucker; another daughter, Marcee Healy Deegan of New York; a brother, Daniel Marbut of California; two sisters, Patricia Healy and Mary Lou Fonseca, both of Los Angeles; and three grandchildren.

Ted Healy Sr died prematurely in 1937, and although Ted Jr died relatively young at the age of 73, he led a different life than his father did. He had a successful career, and he got to see his grandchildren being born - that is a great success in itself and much more success than his father ever had...

Thursday, February 14, 2013


Maximillian Schell specifically asked Dietrich in his documentary “Marlene” if she had any siblings and she tersely replied “no, none”, immediately after which they showed a close-up of a photo of Marlene and her sister as children. Her butler then informed Schell that she kept the photo on display in her apartment, but had it moved out of sight before Schell and his crew arrived.

The cinema that her sister Elisabeth ran with her husband Georg, according to Marlene’s grandson David Riva, was just 400 feet away from the infamous concentration camp Bergen-Belsen. "All the troops went there. In Marlene's logical point of view, there was no way on Earth that this family could not have been aware of what was happening in Bergen-Belsen."

The Allies' favourite German of the Second World War - the actress Marlene Dietrich - spent the last 47 years of her life denying the existence of a "secret sister" who had worked with Nazi troops at the Bergen-Belsen death camp, according to new evidence.
The story of how Elisabeth Will was erased from history by the legendary Berlin-born star of stage and screen has come to light, thanks to an 86-year-old former British Army officer. Arnold Horwell, now living in London, was part of a British force responsible for clearing up the horrifying carnage left at Bergen-Belsen in April 1945.

Among Allied troops who occupied the camp, it soon became well known that a woman who had worked in a troop canteen used by Nazis throughout the period of Bergen-Belsen's worst atrocities, and who was still living in a flat there, was claiming to be Dietrich's elder sister.

Mrs Will and her husband, Georg, had run the canteen in a troop cinema where German soldiers and SS officers went to relax and watch films approved by Josef Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda minister.

Dietrich, who was on the staff of the American General Omar Bradley and had been entertaining troops for a year in Europe, heard talk of Mrs Will being on the site and wanted to find her. One day, she stunned Mr Horwell by flinging open the door of his office in search of her sister.

Mr Horwell said: "I was sitting at my desk and there appeared a very glamorous officer in an American uniform with a stream of blonde hair coming down from one side of her helmet. It was extraordinary to see a beautiful woman dressed like that. She introduced herself as Capt Marlene Dietrich of General Omar Bradley's staff. I remember it word for word. It has stuck with me all these years. She asked about her sister.

"I then drove her off in a Jeep to see her. The sister had worked peeling potatoes in a canteen. I introduced her and they embraced. They were very pleased to see each other. All the details are recorded because I sent letters to my wife about everything that happened and these are now in the Imperial War Museum in London."

The story has been reported in the latest edition of Der Spiegel magazine, which says that Dietrich, who left Germany in 1930 and became an American citizen in 1937 as Hollywood catapulted her to world-wide fame, subsequently denied her sister's existence. Her claim to be an only child had been accepted by biographers but mystified Mr Horwell.

He said: "I knew she had a sister. I introduced them to each other." Der Spiegel makes clear that Dietrich, who was profoundly anti-Nazi, became deeply ashamed of Mrs Will's association with Bergen-Belsen. She also realised that her reputation could have been ruined if word got out that she had a sister who had worked with Nazis at the camp.

Immediately after the meeting at Bergen-Belsen, Dietrich appears to have tried to paint her sister as a victim of the Nazis, rather than a willing helper. She also requested that the Allies, including Mr Horwell, made no mention of the family connection to the press.

Soon after the war, however, Dietrich had to change strategy when it became evident that Mrs Will regarded the Nazis as people of "moral integrity". Instead she began merely to deny having had a sister at all.

Of Elisabeth and Georg Will, Der Spiegel wrote: "The proximity [of the canteen] to the death camp, the permanent contact with SS concentration camp overseers and the financial rewards they received from the canteen put them, morally, close to the Nazis. This relationship could damage Marlene's fame."

Before and during the war Goebbels had tried to persuade Dietrich to return to Germany, thereby preventing her from entertaining the Allies. Hitler also tried to lure her back with an offer that she could make films of her choice in Germany. After the war Mrs Will carried on living in Belsen, where she died in 1973. Privately, despite the fact that Dietrich kept her sister's existence a secret, Der Spiegel claims the two still made occasional private contact. Dietrich died in 1992...


Tuesday, February 12, 2013


Here is a great article from the Huffington Post on the late Tony Martin. Martin was a very underrated crooner...

I was privileged to know Tony Martin in the last few decades of his life. He died Friday (he died in July of 2012) night at his West L.A. home at the age of 98. Last night at dinner someone noted that Frank Sinatra said about Tony, "He had the best pipes of any one of us." My dear friend Ginny Mancini was very friendly with Tony and his wife of 60 years, Cyd Charisse, so we would occasionally double-date. Tony was the most charming, fun and provocative dinner companion. We once compared war stories; I pontificated about my Korean service and he quietly told me of his three Army years in the Far East during World War II, ending up singing in Captain Glenn Miller's band. Cyd Charisse may have been the most beautiful woman I ever encountered. When we met she was already suffering from some hearing problems (as am I), so she was the quiet one among us. But no red-blooded boy on the planet will ever recover from seeing her steaming dance with Gene Kelly in the movie, Singing in the Rain.

Tony and Cyd performed a nightclub act for many years, she danced enchantedly while he sang "I Get Ideas" and "It's Magic." Even into his 90s he was up-and-eager for any challenge. I remember seeing him a few years ago at the Catalina Bar and Grill in Hollywood, sitting on a stool with a hot jazz group behind him, singing his classics and joking with the enthusiastic crowd, especially when he forgot some lyrics. A 2009 New York Times review of his five-night appearance at Feinstein's in New York said, "The rich timbre of his voice was surprisingly unchanged from what is was in the 1940s and '50s. He sang perfectly-recollected versions of songs associated with him such as 'I Surrender, Dear' and 'There's No Tomorrow." (which Tony said was passed on to him by Perry Como, according to the review.

And there was a night at a beautiful Mancini dinner party when, after dinner, Tony's long-time accompanist appeared and Mr. Martin sang his heart out... there wasn't a dry eye in the crowd. "Stranger in Paradise," "La Vie en Rose," "Fools Rush In" (oh, my, so beautiful!) and Cole Porter's "Begin the Beguine." My favorite: "I'll See You in My Dreams."

I am of a certain age, so I well remember when Tony was in his heyday as the last big star of Hollywood's golden age of musicals. Whenever TCM shows the 1948 remake of Pepe LeMoko called Casbah, I watch entranced as he sings For Every Man There's a Woman. He told me that he had appeared in some two dozen movies, starting in the late '30s, and I know that the handsome devil had met and married the reigning queen of films, blonde bombshell Alice Faye, while co-starring in Sally, Irene and Mary in 1937... a marriage which did not last very long. From '38 to '56 he was a major recording star, with 14 top-10 hits in those years. He told me that his recording career virtually ended when rock-n-roll ascended. I remember his doing a 15-minute TV show in the mid-50s, on which Dinah Shore made an appearance. (Dear Dinah, whom I met at the invitation of Kirk Douglas' wife, Anne, who seated us together at a dinner party and whom I dated 'til she died unexpectedly.) It was on this show, directed by Bud Yorkin, where Ginny -- then married to composer Hank Mancini -- went back to work as part of his backup singing group... and established a friendship with Tony which lasted through the years. Tony was the featured singer on the Burns-and-Allen TV show, and Wikipedia tells the story of Gracie, adoring him, saying, "Oh, Tony, you look so tired. Why don't you rest your lips on mine." Funny.

with Ginny Mancini

From Wikipedia, I learned that he was born Alvin Morris to Jewish immigrant parents in San Francisco on Christmas Day in 1913. His parents divorced when he was young, and he once mentioned that his grandmother gave him a saxophone when he was 10, and he was hooked on music. He broke into films in the mid-'30s and built a remarkable career after returning from the Second World War.

Remember him playing Gaylord Ravenal in the Showboat segment of the film Till The Clouds Roll By? Twice songs which he sang in movie musicals were nominated for Academy Award; the one I mentioned from Casbah and also "It's a Blue World" from Music in my Heart. And I still love seeing him singing to Hedy LaMarr, Judy Garland and Lana Turner in 1941's Ziegfield Girl... the song was "You Stepped Out of Dream." Being a huge Marx Bros. fan, I kidded him about his appearing in their classic film The Big Store, and he told me that he remained friends with Groucho until the latter's death. He married Cyd in 1948 and they remained a stunning, fascinating couple until her death in 2008. So I want to imagine that this weekend, somewhere up there, God assembled a big audience of music fans and Tony sang his heart out to an enthusiastic audience. Ginny and I can hear him now...


Sunday, February 10, 2013


Sidney Blackmer was another one of those actors that you may recognize the face but not the name. He not only was a remarkable actor, but his involvement in the arts is still remembered even years after his death.

Blackmer was born on July 13, 1895 and raised in Salisbury, North Carolina. He started off in an insurance and financial business but gave up on it. While working as a builder's laborer on a new building, he saw a Pearl White serial being filmed and immediately decided to go into acting. He attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and majored in acting and drama. Blackmer went to New York hoping to act on the stage. While in the city, he took jobs and extra work at various film studios at the then motion picture capital, Fort Lee, New Jersey, including a bit part in the highly popular serial, The Perils of Pauline (1914).

He was a pioneer in the new medium of radio, on which he sang during the 1920s. (Blackmer later participated in the first experimental dramas on Allen B. DuMont's television network.) But it was the movies that increasingly attracted Blackmer's professional attention, in which he typically was cast as a smooth villain from High Society, although he did also play sympathetic roles.

He made his Broadway debut in 1917, but his career was interrupted by service in the U.S. military in World War I. After the war, he returned to the theatre and in 1929 returned to motion pictures and went on to be a major character actor in more than 120 films. Blackmer was one of the Broadway stars who headed West, appearing in his first talkie, "The Love Racket" (1929), in 1929. He starred in other early sound films, including "Kismet" (1930/I), which is considered a lost film. He was memorable as Big Boy in support of Edward G. Robinson in the gangster classic Little Caesar (1931).

Blackmer returned to Broadway in 1931 with the comedy "The Social Register" and appeared again in the comedy "Stop-Over" in 1938. In Hollywood, he had a supporting role in the Robert Donat version of "The Count of Monte Cristo" (1934). Also that year, he appeared in 'William A. Wellman''s "The President Vanishes" (1934), co-starring 'Edward Arnold' and 'Osgood Perkins', the father of 'Anthony Perkins'.

Sidney Blackmer has the distinction of starring in the only movie ever "written" by a president of the United States, "The President's Mystery" (1936), based on a story by "co-authored" by 'Franklin D. Roosevelt'. F.D.R. was an avid murder mystery reader, and at a meeting of whodunit authors at the White House during his first administration, he suggested an idea for a mystery novel to the writers: A millionaire disappears and starts a new life under a new identity, taking his wealth with him. Mystery writers, including S.S. Van Dine, cobbled together a patch-work book of uneven quality based on the premise, with F.D.R. listed as co-author. "The President's Mystery" became a best-seller due to F.D.R.'s enormous personal popularity. In the movie version, written by future Hollywood Ten member 'Lester Cole' and novelist 'Nathanel West', Blackmer played millionaire industrialist Sartos, who engineers his own disappearance while holding on to his fortune. Sartos blackmails a corrupt investment bank run by two con men, which he takes over. He then invests his money with the firm, and robs himself under cover of the crooked brokerage. Disappearing after "losing" his fortune, people believe Sartos has committed suicide. Just when it seems that he has accomplished his goal and has escaped into his new life with his loot, something goes awry.

He won the 1950 Tony Award for Best Actor (Drama) for his role in the Broadway play, Come Back, Little Sheba. He played opposite Shirley Booth in the role of his lifetime. Unfortunately, Blackmer did not star in the movie version in 1953 - he was replaced by Burt Lancaster.  

In film, Blackmer is remembered for his more than a dozen portrayals of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt. The role I remember him most in the the MGM musical High Society (1956) where he plays Seth Lord, Grace Kelly's estranged father. He did not sing in the film, but it was the first movie I saw him in. However, his best remembered role was his role in the Academy Award-winning 1968 Roman Polanski film about urban New York witches, Rosemary's Baby, in which he played an over-solicitous neighbor.

Sidney was not only an actor ,but he was involved in many important causes. In 1919, Blackmer played a major role in the strike that led to the formation of Actors' Equity Association. A humanitarian, Blackmer served as the national vice president of the United States Muscular Dystrophy Association. He also helped start up the North Carolina School of the Arts. In 1972, he was honored with the North Carolina Award in the Fine Arts category. It is the state of North Carolina's highest civilian award. On his passing in 1973, Blackmer was interred in the Chestnut Hill Cemetery in his hometown of Salisbury, North Carolina.

Blackmer was married to actress Lenore Ulric from 1928–1939. His second wife was Suzanne Kaaren to whom he was married from 1943 to his death in 1973. She passed away in 2004 at the age of 92. He and Kaaren had two sons. Sidney Blackmer died of cancer on October 6, 1973 at the age of 78 in New York City. He was interred in Chestnut Hill Cemetery in his home town of Salisbury, NC...

Friday, February 8, 2013


When people hear the name Dean Martin, they instantly think of a carefree crooner who loved booze and women. That might be true of Frank Sinatra, but many people forget about Dean Martin the family man. He would much rather be at home with his children than out with cronies like Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. Dino was married three times. He was married to Elizabeth MacDonald from 1941 to 1949, Jeanne Biegger from 1949 to 1973, and to Catherine Hawn from 1973 to 1976. Out of those three marriages, Dino had seven children and one that he adopted. Here are some candid pictures from Dean Martin and family...

Wednesday, February 6, 2013


It is the end of another era, as we mark the death of the last known band member of the "original" Glenn Miller Orchestra...

CARLSBAD, Calif. — Paul Tanner, a trombonist with the Glenn Miller Orchestra who later played a space-age instrument on the Beach Boys hit "Good Vibrations," has died at 95.

His stepson, Douglas Darnell, of Youngstown, Ohio, says Tanner died of pneumonia Tuesday morning at an assisted living center in Carlsbad, Calif.

Tanner performed with Miller from 1938 to 1942. During his long career he also worked as a movie studio and ABC musician in California, and performed with stars that included Tex Beneke, Henry Mancini and Arturo Toscanini.

He also helped develop the electro-theramin, a keyboard-style electronic instrument. Tanner provided its eerie sound on several Beach Boys recordings, including "Good Vibrations."

Tanner also was a music professor at UCLA for 23 years and helped write several books.


Tuesday, February 5, 2013


The Rhythm Boys was a vocal trio that was far ahead of its time. For the few years the group was in existance, the Rhythm Boys were a very popular feature of the Paul Whiteman Orchestra. There were three members of the trio - with the most famous member being Bing Crosby, of course. However there were two other talented members. One was Al Rinker, who was the brother of blues singer Mildred Bailey, and Harry Barris. Barris was a gifted and talented song writer, who unfortunately faded into obsecurity with the passages of time.

Harry Barris was born in New York City on November 24, 1905. Barris was a professional pianist at 14 and touring with his own group by 17. In 1926 Paul Whiteman, at the suggestion of his violinist Matty Malneck, hired Barris to join the vocal duo of Bing Crosby and Al Rinker, and the Rhythm Boys were born. For the next three years they were featured with Whiteman’s band, which included legendary cornetist Bix Beiderbecke. Bix was prominently featured along with the Rhythm Boys on Whiteman’s successful 1928 recording of Barris’ “Mississippi Mud”. A 1930 feature film on Whiteman and his band, the King of Jazz, was the first film appearance for Crosby and the Rhythm Boys.

In May 1930 the trio joined Gus Arnheim’s popular orchestra, appearing with the group at the prestigious Cocoanut Grove in Los Angeles. It was with Arnheim’s band that Crosby had his first big hit as a soloist, in 1931, with the Barris/Gordon Clifford composition “I Surrender Dear.”

When Bing left to pursue a solo career, Barris married Arnheim vocalist Loyce Whiteman (Paul Whiteman's daughter), and the two toured as a duo. Barris continued to work with a number of bands, but he had developed a drinking problem which caused him to curtail his composing in 1935. Partly due to Crosby’s help, he appeared in small roles in dozens of films, often without credit, as a musician or bandleader, and he entertained troops during WWII along with comedian Joe E. Brown.

Barris wrote a number of early hits for Crosby, including “Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams” with lyrics by Ted Koehler and Billy Moll and recorded by Bing in 1931.

In 1943, after a hiatus of 13 years, The Rhythm Boys were reunited for the last time on the radio program Paul Whiteman Presents.

Barris appeared in 57 films between 1931 and 1950, usually as a band member, pianist and/or singer. In The Lost Weekend (1945), he is the nightclub pianist who humiliates Ray Milland by singing "Somebody Stole My Purse". An unusual change of pace for Barris was his comedy role in The Fleet's In (1942), as a runty sailor named Pee Wee who perpetrates malapropisms in a surprisingly deep voice. Many of the roles Barris had were in Bing movies such as "Birth Of The Blues" (1941),"Holiday Inn" (1942), and "Here Comes The Waves" (1945).

One of Harry Barris' children was Marti Barris (born 1938) who was a singer in the 1950s and even appeared on an early American Bandstand. She also was a regular cast member of "Howdy Doody" playing the character "Peppi Mint." Harry Barris was the uncle of game show host and producer Chuck Barris who, among other things, not only co-created and hosted The Gong Show in the second half of the 1970's but was also the subject of the George Clooney film Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.

Offscreen, Barris successfully composed songs including "Mississippi Mud", "I Surrender, Dear", and "Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams". However, alcohol took over Barris' life in the 1950s. After  failed marriages and even more failed business ventures, Harry died virtually a pauper on December 13, 1962 at the age of 57...

Sunday, February 3, 2013


The other day I was flipping through all of the channels we have - most of which has nothing worthwhile to see, but I stumbled upon a channel called Retro. I guess they screen old movies sometimes as well. I started watching This Is The Army, a patriotic movie at its most patriotic. I haven't seen this film in years. Unfortunately, the copy they showed on this channel looked like a fifth generation copy from an old Beta video recorder, but the movie was still watchable. (A couple of days later TCM showed the movie with a much better quality print.)

This Is the Army is a 1943 American wartime motion picture produced by Hal B. Wallis and Jack L. Warner, and directed by Michael Curtiz, and a wartime musical designed to boost morale in the U.S. during World War II, directed by Sgt. Ezra Stone. The screenplay by Casey Robinson and Claude Binyon was based on the 1942 Broadway musical by Irving Berlin, who also composed the film's 19 songs and broke screen protocol by singing one of them. The movie features a large ensemble cast, including George Murphy, Joan Leslie, Alan Hale, Sr., Rosemary DeCamp, and Lt. Ronald Reagan, while both the stage play and film included soldiers of the U.S. Army who were actors and performers in civilian life.

The title of the movie is from the well-known Berlin song that is featured in the movie, which is also the title of the musical-within-a-movie staged by the younger Jones. The movie features star appearances by Irving Berlin, Kate Smith, Frances Langford and Joe Louis as themselves. If Washington, D.C. officials did not like the idea of a musical/revue about the Army, playwright Irving Berlin was ready to call it This Is the Navy, or This Is the Air Corps. Smith's full-length rendition of Berlin's "God Bless America" is arguably the most famous cinematic rendition of the piece. Louis appears in a revue piece called "What the Well-Dressed Man in Harlem Will Wear", with James Cross (lead singer and dancer), William Wycoff (dancer in drag), Marion Brown (heavyset dancer), and a chorus of perhaps a dozen, the only spoken/sung scene that includes African-Americans. Louis also appears in two other scenes, one in a boxing match, and the second being the stage door canteen number (he did not speak in either scene).

One of the film's highlights is Irving Berlin himself singing his song "Oh! How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning." Berlin's natural singing voice was so soft that the recording volume had to be increased significantly in order to record acceptably.

The celebrity impersonation "hamburger" sequence includes accurate spoofs of Broadway stars Lynn Fontanne, Alfred Lunt and Ethel Barrymore, and film stars Charles Boyer and Herbert Marshall. The revue pieces also include acrobat routines, several comedy pieces, including one with Hale in drag, a minstrel show sketch (oftentimes removed from consumer videos and television broadcasts), and tributes to the Navy and the Air Corps.

Although the core of the movie consists of the musical numbers, the movie also contains a veneer of a plot involving the wartime love interests of both the father and the son. I have to laugh at the Hollywood casting for the father and son. George Murphy, born in 1902, played the father - and Ronald Reagan, born in 1911, played his son! Nine years separated the actors, but at the time Reagan looked so youthful, and George Murphy always looked older than his years. The two would be lifelong friends, and each would get involved in politics later in their careers. Reagan would warmly and jokingly refer to Murphy, who preceded him into politics by a couple of years, as "my John the Baptist."

The film is not a great movie by any stretch of the imagination, and it pales in comparison to Irving Berlin's other cinematic efforts. However, it was what it was for its time - a great piece of celluloid patriotism that the country and the world needed at the time. The musical numbers are worth seeing in the movie - Kate Smith's rendition of "God Bless America" is worth it alone. Like the Broadway version, Irving Berlin donated every penny he made off of the film. That alone makes it a great film for 1943...