Wednesday, November 27, 2013


I love making lists of almost anything, not only classic movies! For Thanksgiving this year, I wanted to make a list of the movies I am thankful for. Now, they are not necessarily my favourite movies - a few are though. They are just movies I am thankful that I have seen. They are in no particular order...

GIGOT (1962)
JAWS (1975)
CHAPLIN (1992)
KING KONG (1933)
VERTIGO (1958)
LIFE (1999)
STAR WARS (1977)

Monday, November 25, 2013


I used to have a lot of pen pals in England, and they helped me get into the music of the British dance bands. There were some really excellent vocalists in those British bands that got overshadowed by the singers the likes of Vera Lynn and Anne Shelton. The great singer Anne Lenner was one of those forgotten vocalists that never made a bad recording when she was singing with the bands.

Anne was born Violet Green on December 24, 1912, in Aylestone, Leicester. Anne had five sisters: Florence (who became Judy Shirley), Maidie, Ida, Rosa (who used the stage name Sally Rose), and Ivy (who became Shirley Lenner, and had a successful career in show business, singing with Joe Loss among others). All the sisters followed their father into show business, apart from Maidie who married a property millionaire. Anne also had two brothers, Herbert and Arthur. Herbert died at a young age, and Arthur went on to become a cobbler. Anne married a dance producer by the name of Piddock, whom she met while appearing in a review produced by him. They had one son Jeffrey, who went into show business under the name of Jeffrey Lenner. Jeffery was educated at Bedford School but ran away to join the Ice Follies, which came through town when he was in the 6th Form. Jeffrey found it difficult to obtain work after his return from Australia, where he had hosted his own television programme, and he was never able to emulate the success of his mother.

Anne’s first stage appearance was in a family acting, singing and dancing production, billed as “Tom Lenner and his Chicks”. Later, Anne teamed up with Ida and formed “The Lenner Sisters”. The two sisters performed in Leicester, with concerts at the de Montfort Hotel, singing on stage at the City Cinema, tea dances at the Palais de Danse in Belgrave Gate, and Sundays at Aylestone Boathouse. The Lenner Sisters song and dance act ended when Ida got married and started a double-act with her new husband. Her elder singer Judy paid for Anne to have dancing lessons; so she could understudy Judy in a production showing at the Loughborough Theatre. Anne began performing solo at charity shows, benefits and social clubs. She was soon heard by scouting agents and by 1933 she was offered engagements in London. She appeared at Jack’s Club, and the Cabaret Club, where she had to perform with a megaphone. At another engagement in 1934, at Murray’s Club in Soho’s Beak Street, she was heard by Savoy Hotel bandleader Carroll Gibbons.

Carroll was so impressed with Anne’s voice, that he invited her to record with his group for a Radio Luxembourg broadcast sponsored by Hartley's Jam. The story goes that the session was booked for 9:30am the next morning, but Anne was late for what was her first really big break. Luckily, Carroll was so keen that he booked another session with Anne for later that day. The broadcasts were successful, and Anne was given a three year contract to sing with Carroll at the Savoy Hotel. The Savoy management initially objected to the presence of a female vocalist, but Carroll believed in Anne and he refused to give in. In the event, she stayed with the Carroll Gibbons band for seven years.

Anne spoke very fondly of Carroll Gibbons. In her own words: "To work with, he was the most understanding, gentle and kind person. The boys respected and loved him. He was not only the boss but interested in their private lives and was a friend to all of them. Carroll’s boys all looked good and were very versatile, especially George Melachrino who played oboe, viola and sax and Reg Leopold who played violin, viola and sax. I loved singing with the full orchestra but also enjoyed sessions with The Boyfriends and the sweet trumpet of Bill Shakespeare. Through Carroll’s influence, I enjoyed tremendous respect and kindness from all of them."

Anne left the Savoy Hotel in 1941, to spend more time with her husband. Nevertheless, she kept up her broadcasting and recording dates with the Savoy Orpheans. She also appeared on BBC radio in the weekly series Composer Cavalcade with the BBC Concert orchestra directed by organist Sidney Torch. She shared the singing spots with Denny Dennis, George Melachrino and Sam Costa, all of whom were by now in the armed forces. She was also in demand for ENSA shows and was called upon to sing at official Government functions and performed in front of Winston Churchill and General Dwight D. Eisenhower among others.

After the war she did troop shows in Austria, Germany and Italy; one with her trio which included Spike Milligan on vocals and guitar of whom she later said: "He is a lovely man, so talented. We still keep in touch and I visit him and his wife at their lovely Sussex home." Her overseas work also included Monte Carlo where she had a show at the Casino and in Paris where she sung with Bert Firman. She never sang in the USA although a tour was planned but was halted by the outbreak of the war. Back in the United Kingdom, Anne was singing solo. She could also be found teaming up with Bob Harvey for a double-act entitled "Just The Two Of Us".

Anne noticed that the entertainment world was changing, and decided to retire from show business. Her nephew, John Doyle, believed that her voice had started to fail; which may have been partly due to heavy smoking and the strain placed on her vocal cords by working without microphones during her early career. By now her marriage to Gordon Little was over and she was looking for a new direction. Following a chance meeting with an admirer from the Savoy days, she managed to get a job as a telephonist in the Civil Service working for the security services. She produced the annual Civil Service show on several occasions.

Around the outbreak of World War II, Anne got married for a second time, to up and coming actor Gordon Little, who was in the Navy stationed at Portsmouth. Anne rented a house in Warsash, Hampshire, to be near her husband, who commanded a torpedo boat during the war, with the flotilla moored near Warsash. The couple hosted many parties in their home. Anne and a friend, Eustace Hoey, opened the Ward Room, a club in Curzon Street, London especially for Gordon; so he and his Navy friends had somewhere to go on their visits to London. The marriage didn’t last for long after the war. There were no children, and Anne did not marry again.

After her retirement, Anne lived for many years in Edgware, north London, in an uncomfortable flat opposite Edgware station. She spent a lot of her later years caring for her mother, who died at 102 years of age. Despite her previously glamorous life, Anne never complained about her reduced circumstances in her later years. Anne died at the age of 84, on 4 June 1997, at Barnet Hospital.

Carroll Gibbons’ widow Joan recalls "Anne was a marvellous raconteur, a very quick brain and with a strong sense of humour. She once told me that she would have liked to have been a comedienne. She suffered from failing eyesight towards the end of her life and found it difficult to get around"...

Friday, November 22, 2013


It always amazes me when I listen to old music, which I listen to all the time, that someone actually wrote the melody to a beautiful song like "Stardust". It seems like the music was timeless and always around. It was not as we know, but it was written by a genius like Hoagy Carmichael. Today we celebrate the birthday of composer Hoagy Carmichael. He was born on this day in 1899.

Born in Bloomington, Indiana on November 22, Carmichael was the only son of Howard Clyde Carmichael, of Scottish ancestry, and Lida Mary (Robison). He was named Hoagland after a circus troupe "The Hoaglands" who stayed at the Carmichael house during his mother's pregnancy. Howard was a horse-drawn taxi driver and electrician, and Lida a versatile pianist who played accompaniment at silent movies and for parties.

The family moved frequently, as Howard sought better employment for his growing family. At six, Carmichael started to sing and play the piano, easily absorbing his mother's keyboard skills. He never had formal piano lessons. By high school, the piano was the focus of his after-school life, and for inspiration he would listen to ragtime pianists Hank Wells and Hube Hanna. At eighteen, the small, wiry, pale Carmichael was living in Indianapolis, trying to help his family’s income working in manual jobs in construction, a bicycle chain factory, and a slaughterhouse. The bleak time was partly spelled by four-handed piano duets with his mother and by his strong friendship with Reg DuValle, a black bandleader and pianist known as "the elder statesman of Indiana jazz" and "the Rhythm King", who taught him piano jazz improvisation.

Later in 1927, Carmichael’s career started off well. He finished and recorded one of his most famous songs, "Star Dust" (later renamed "Stardust", with Mitchell Parish's lyrics added in 1929), at the Gennett Records studio in Richmond, Indiana, with Carmichael doing the piano solo. The song, an idiosyncratic melody in medium tempo - actually a song about a song - later became an American standard, recorded by hundreds of artists. Shortly thereafter, Carmichael received more recognition when Paul Whiteman recorded "Washboard Blues", with Carmichael playing and singing, and the Dorsey brothers and Bix Beiderbecke in the orchestra. Despite his growing prominence, at this stage Carmichael was still held back by his inability to sight-read and notate music properly, although he was innovative for the time.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


With having young children, the only films I get to see in movie theaters these days are children's movies. Some are good and surprsingly some are really bad. Recently I saw the cartoon Free Birds with my son. Like the movie I saw with him before, Smurfs 2, it is a cute movie but not really a great one. My son liked Free Birds more because it is has beautiful animation and color. The movie was not boring like Smurfs 2, but the plot was kind of strange.

Reggie the Turkey (Owen Wilson) has always been afraid of Thanksgiving because turkeys have always been on the menu. However, his attempts to warn his farm based flock constantly fall to deaf ears and has made him an outcast. When the other turkeys finally realize what's going on, they throw Reggie to the wolves in an attempt to save themselves. In a surprise twist of fate, he winds up being named the "pardoned turkey" by the President of the United States (Jimmy Hayward) and is subsequently taken to Camp David. Although initially hesitant, Reggie soon eases into a routine of doing nothing but enjoying pizza and telenovelas.

About three days before Thanksgiving, Reggie gets bag-kidnapped by Jake (Woody Harrelson), the president and the only member of Turkeys Liberation Front. Jake tells him that a "Great Turkey" told him to find Reggie and take him back to the first Thanksgiving with him to take turkeys off the menu once and for all. Despite interference by federal officials and several attempts by Reggie to trick him back to the surface, Jake manages to commandeer an egg shaped time machine with an A.I. software named S.T.E.V.E. (George Takei) and takes Reggie with him back to the same day in 1621. Once there, they are immediately attacked and separated by colonial hunters led by Myles Standish (Colm Meaney). Reggie and Jake are quickly rescued by native turkeys led by Chief Broadbeak (Keith David) and his two children Hunter and Jenny (Amy Poehler), the latter of whom Reggie is immediately smitten with. Broadbeak explains that the turkeys in the area have been forced underground since the settlers came and that they can't risk fighting back without the settler taking them.

The next day, Broadbreak has Jake go with Hunter to spy on the settlers with Reggie and Jenny spring all the hunting traps they've set up. Despite initial hostility, Hunter and Jake find out that the settlers have already begun preparations for Thanksgiving as well as where they hold their weapons. Meanwhile, Jenny, who believes Reggie is making up being from the future, is impressed with his unorthodox way of springing the traps. However, they are soon intercepted by Standish and Reggie is forced to get her in orbit over the planet aboard S.T.E.V.E., validating everything he said in the process. Reggie tries to convince Jenny to go back to the future with him once everything blows over, but she tells him she can't bring herself to leave the flock no matter how much she likes him.

Jake drags Reggie away from Jenny and tells him he has a plan to attack the settlers. However, Reggie has gotten sick of all his unproved stories and threatens to leave. Desperate, Jake tells him that this trip was more about him making up for him not being able to save three turkey eggs while escaping a turkey fattening facility when he was younger, although still maintaining that the Great Turkey convinced him to go through with this. While still reluctant to believe what he said, Reggie sill goes along with the plan. They manage to use gunpowder to destroy the weapons shack, but Jake inadvertently leaves a gunpowder trail back to the tree the turkeys are hiding under. Standish and his men flush the turkeys out from underground, capturing enough for the feast and killing Broadbeak in the ensuing panic. Jenny is named the new chief and orders the remaining turkeys to prepare an attack on the settlers. Despite Jake's attempts to get him to stay, a heartbroken Reggie heads back to the present.

Once back at Camp David, Reggie is confronted by three future versions of himself. Through the awkward conversation, Reggie discovers that he was the Great Turkey having used S.T.E.V.E. to throw his voice and appearance. Inspired, Reggie goes back in time to stop the attack, trapping Standish in a hole in time in the process. Through S.T.E.V.E. and the pizza delivery boy from the start of the film, Reggie convinces the settlers and the arriving Indians that pizza is a more acceptable meal than turkeys, taking them off the meal entirely. In the end, Reggie decides to stay with Jenny while Jake takes S.T.E.V.E. in order to look for new adventure. However, Jake returns moments after leaving and implies that their antics have caused the future to be thrown out of whack.

I left the movie kind of confused at what I saw, and thinking in my head that I wasted over $10 on these tickets, until my son grabbed my hand looked up at me and said "Daddy, I really had fun watching this movie with you". This movie deserves some points just for that alone...


Tuesday, November 19, 2013


For the love of classic movies, I hope this sequel never gets made...

George Bailey had such a wonderful film life that he's getting a sequel. A new version of Frank Capra's 1946 classic Christmas tale It's a Wonderful Life is underway, the Hollywood trade publication Variety reported on Monday.

The sequel, titled It's A Wonderful Life: The Rest of the Story, is expected in theaters for the 2015 holiday season.It has a bit of the original movie's magic with a twist.

Karolyn Grimes, who played George Bailey's daughter Zuzu in the original, will return for the sequel as an angel who shows Bailey's unlikable grandson (also named George Bailey) how much better off the world would have been had he never been born.

"The new film will retain the feeling of the original, and it simply must be shared," Grimes said. "I've probably read close to 20 scripts over the years suggesting a sequel to It's a Wonderful Life but none of them were any good."

Producer Bob Farnsworth and Martha Bolton have written the screenplay. There was no word on who would play the new George Bailey. They are big shoes to fill.

The original Bailey, who despondently tries to kill himself before an angel shows him how bad life would be without him, was played by Jimmy Stewart.

"The story line of the new film retains the spirit of the original – every life is important as long as you have friends," Farnsworth said.

The producers have also begun discussions with original cast members who portrayed the Bailey family to reprise their roles in the sequel -- Jimmy Hawkins, who played Tommy Bailey, and Carol Coombs, who played Janie Bailey...


Monday, November 18, 2013


I know actors a paid to be able to show emotion on cue, but I wanted to try to pull together pictures of Hollywood stars actually crying. It was hard to do, but here are the best pictures I could find of stars actually crying for real...

Saturday, November 16, 2013


Here is another excellent story that was posted on the Geezer Music Club. You can read this story and more excellent stories here. I wanted to share this story because the song "At Last" was my wedding song...

You would be hard-pressed to find a greater connection between a song and a performer than the one shared by the late Etta James and her classic “At Last.” The song earned her a special Grammy Hall Of Fame award, and the feisty singer fiercely fought for her right to perform it even as her health deteriorated in her later years. But it might surprise you to hear that it was not a big seller for her originally. On the other hand, it was a huge hit for the guy who’d introduced it a couple of decades earlier — Glenn Miller.

Originally an instrumental composed by Harry Warren, the song went almost unnoticed as one of several performed by Glenn Miller’s band in the 1941 movie Sun Valley Serenade. But the following year lyrics were added by Mack Gordon, and the band not only issued it as a record (as the ‘B’ side for “I’ve Got a Gal In Kalamazoo”) but also featured it in the new movie Orchestra Wives. The newly-reborn song, complete with vocals by Ray Eberle and Pat Friday (dubbing for actress Lynn Bari in the filmed version), became a Top Ten hit for the band and a favorite for swooning fans.

In the years that followed, it would go on to be performed in various arrangements by countless performers, but none would top the one that occurred in 1960 when a lady named Etta James took ownership of the song...

Friday, November 15, 2013


A mysterious woman's claims that she is the daughter of Andy Kaufman have helped to revive long-standing rumors -- fueled in life by Kaufman himself -- that the comedian may have faked his own death.

The far-fetched admission, reported first by The Comic's Comic and Defamer, occurred Monday night at the Andy Kaufman Awards, held annually at the Gotham Comedy Club. The woman was introduced by Michael Kaufman, Andy's brother, who first explained how years ago he'd discovered an essay in which Andy detailed plans to fake his death. Official records state the Taxi star died in 1984 at age 35, of lung cancer. (See a copy of his death certificate here.) Were he alive today, Kaufman would be 64 years old.

"I witnessed the entire thing and I can tell you without a doubt this was not a prank," says Al Parinello, a lifelong friend of the comedian who produces the awards. Parinello relayed to The Hollywood Reporter how Michael, whom he describes as "accountant-like" in demeanor and not prone to mounting hoaxes, followed instructions in the essay to meet his brother at a specific restaurant on Christmas Eve, 1999.

Michael did so, he said, whereupon a man he did not know walked up to him and handed him a typed letter. The letter, which Michael read for the crowd on Monday night, was allegedly from Andy, who wrote that "everything was great in his life and he just wanted to get away from being Andy Kaufman," Parinello says. The letter also stated that the comedian, famous for his bizarre alter-egos like cantankerous lounge singer Tony Clifton, had fallen in love with a woman and that the couple were raising a daughter together.

Michael then explained that the daughter, now 24, had made contact with him several months prior, and had subsequently agreed to accompany him to the awards. The woman then shyly took the stage, wearing a black dress covered in a pattern of colored bows. (TMZ has posted video of the moment.) No one in attendance seems to know the woman's first name, though Parinello says she went by the surname "McCoy," a name Kaufman used when checking himself into hospitals.

An account of the event posted to Facebook by one audience member says the woman then told the crowd that her alleged father "is alive" and that "the passing of [their] father [Stanley Kaufman] this July made him want to reach out" to his brother. The account calls the moment "as real as any reality that I've seen." Another account said the room fell silent during the presentation and that one woman "burst into tears" as Michael read the letter.

According to Ed Cavanagh, showroom manager at the Gotham Comedy Club, "You could see by the look on [Michael's] face that it had an emotional impact on him." Asked whether or not he believes the woman's story, Cavanagh adds, "I don't know whether somebody is perpetrating something on [Michael] or not. I'm truly 50-50 on this one."

Parinello, who met Kaufman when they were undergrads at Grahm Junior College in Boston, says he is convinced of the story's veracity, even though he attended Kaufman's funeral and saw his body with his own eyes.

"It was a closed casket," he recalls. "Only the family [and myself] actually saw the body." How then does he reconcile Monday's events? "Andy was an aficionado of meditation," he explains. "One of the things Andy was taught at the highest level was a process where one could slow down his breath to a point where you can literally fool anyone that you may be dead when in fact you are alive. So that's the one thing that Michael checked for."

Adds Parinello: "It was a very formal affair -- it wasn't as though they could prod or anything else. They were simply in the room and saw Andy laying in a coffin."

Contacted by THR, Michael Kaufman said that the woman claiming to be Kaufman's daughter was impossible to reach, for reasons he would explain later. He then excused himself, saying he had a dinner date with his wife.


Wednesday, November 13, 2013


This 2005 movie musical version of The Producers remains to be overshadowed by the 1968 original comedy starring Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder, and rightfully so. The 1968 is a masterpiece of film comedy. However, this 2005 version is great in its own way. I had the pleasure of seeing this film in the movie theater, and my wife and I both enjoyed it. My wife at one point said she felt like applauding after one of the musical numbers.

This film is an adaptation of the 2001 Broadway musical, which in turn was based on the 1968 film of the same name starring Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder, and Andreas Voutsinas. It was produced and distributed domestically by Universal Pictures and distributed overseas by Columbia Pictures.

The flop musical "Funny Boy" (based on William Shakespeare's Hamlet) opens – and closes ("Opening Night"). Afterward, Leo Bloom (Matthew Broderick) arrives at the office of the show's washed up producer, Max Bialystock (Nathan Lane). Max has hired Leo Bloom as his accountant. While studying Max's books, Leo inadvertently inspires Max to gain more money with a flop than a hit by putting on a show that is certain to fail at the box office after collecting an excessive amount of money from their backers and cleverly changing their accounts, leaving them with $2,000,000 to spend. At first, Leo refuses to participate. Max, who cannot change the books himself, attempts to coax Leo into the scheme ("We Can Do It"), but Leo still refuses and returns to his old accounting firm, Whitehall & Marks.

After being chastised by Mr. Marks (Jon Lovitz), Leo fantasizes about being a Broadway producer ("I Wanna Be a Producer"). Realizing that he wants to get into the world and take this risk, Leo quits his job and, with Max, forms Bialystock & Bloom. Max and Leo search for "the worst play ever written" and discover Springtime for Hitler, written by an ex-Nazi named Franz Liebkind (Will Ferrell). They are coerced into performing Adolf Hitler's favorite tune and swearing the sacred "Siegfried Oath" in order to gain Liebkind's signature for Broadway rights to the musical ("Der Guten Tag Hop-Clop"). They solicit a flamboyant gay director, Roger De Bris (Gary Beach) ("the worst director in the world") and his faithful theatrical companion, Carmen Ghia (Roger Bart), to direct and choreograph the play. Roger initially refuses saying that the musical is far too dark and gritty and that Broadway needs to be more "gay" ("Keep It Gay"). He is talked into it, however, after being enticed by Max and Leo, who tell him that if he directs the play, he is certain to win a Tony. Then, Ulla (Uma Thurman), a beautiful Swedish woman, appears at their office for casting despite there being no auditions. Max insists on hiring her as their secretary and auditioning her ("When You've Got It, Flaunt It").

To gain the finances for the musical Max has dalliances with every old lady across town ("Along Came Bialy"). Max and Leo return to the office to discover that Ulla has redecorated it to be entirely white. After Max leaves, Leo laments about Ulla and the dangers of sex straying him from his work, but the attraction between them nevertheless culminates in a kiss between Leo and Ulla ("That Face"). Later, at the auditions for the role of Hitler, Franz becomes angered at a performer's rendition of Hitler's favorite German song. Franz storms the stage and sings the song the correct way ("Haben Sie gehört das Deutsche Band"). Max hires Franz to play Hitler.

On opening night, as the cast and crew prepare to go on stage, Leo wishes everyone "good luck", to which the players are horrified. They explain to Leo that it is in fact "bad luck" to say "good luck" on opening night and that the correct phrase is to say "break a leg" ("You Never Say Good Luck on Opening Night"). Franz leaves to prepare and, in his rush, literally breaks his leg. Max enlists Roger to perform the role in his place, and Roger accepts.

As the show opens, the audience is horrified and begins to walk out until Roger steps on stage as Hitler. Because his performance is so flamboyant, the audience misinterprets the play as an anti-Nazi parody and a mockery of Hitler rather than Franz's original vision ("Springtime for Hitler"). As a result, the show is a success and the IRS will be keeping tabs on Max and Leo. After the show, an angry Franz starts trying to shoot the producers for, despite his show being a hit, making a fool out of Hitler and broken the "Siegfried Oath". However, the police arrest him after hearing the shots, but not before he breaks his other leg while trying to escape. Max, too, gets arrested for his tax fraud. Leo hides away from the police, and Ulla finds him hanging on a coat hanging rod; then, they escape to Rio de Janeiro ("Betrayed"), but they return to stand up for Max in court when Leo realizes that Max is the one person who has ever shown him any degree of respect ("'Til Him"). The judge sentences them both to five years at Sing Sing, but they and Franz are pardoned by the Governor after writing a musical in prison ("Prisoners of Love"). At the end, they go on to become successful Broadway producers.

The movie did not do well in theaters, but if you were a fan of good Broadway tunes and great movie musicals then check this film out. Hollywood has sort of forgotten how to do an old fashioned movie musical, but Mel Brooks did an excellent job transferring his Broadway hit to the screen. I am a huge fan of Nathan Lane and I enjoy Matthew Broderick to a lesser extent. Uma Thurman shocked me more than anybody with her musical and dancing ability, and her number "If You Got It, Flaunt It" is one of my favorite moments in the film. The movie does tend to drag in the end, but if you are a fan of Mel Brooks or The Producers or good show stopping numbers then this movie is for you. I never thought I would be singing a song in the shower about Adolf Hitler until I saw this musical...


Monday, November 11, 2013


George Burns began performing on vaudeville as a member of a children's singing quartet. He later tried his hand at comedy, and was performing with a partner when he met Gracie Allen in 1922. Allen, the daughter of vaudeville performers, also started on the stage at a young age, teaming with her sister in a musical act. Burns and Allen first performed together in 1922, with Allen setting up the jokes and Burns delivering the punch lines. But Burns immediately noticed that his partner was getting all the laughs, so the act was revised with Burns as the straight man, and Allen as his ditzy, scatter-brained partner. Within a few years, Burns and Allen were one of the top acts in vaudeville. They were married in 1926.

The pair made their film debut in a series of comedy shorts, and their feature debut in "The Big Broadcast" (1932). After a lengthy and successful career in radio, "The Burns and Allen Show" debuted on television in 1950, and was a top-rated show for the next eight years, nominated for Emmy awards as the top comedy show from 1952 to 1955. Allen also received Emmy nominations from 1955 to 1957. When Allen decided to retire in 1958, Burns attempted a solo career in television and nightclubs, but with little success.

Allen died in 1964, and Burns was out of the spotlight for more than a decade. He returned to play a cantankerous old ex-vaudeville star in Neil Simon's "The Sunshine Boys" (1975), co-starring with Walter Matthau. (Burns was not the first choice for the role, however. He replaced Jack Benny, who died shortly before production was to begin.) For his performance, Burns won the Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor, and launched the next phase of his career. Burns next played the title role in "Oh, God!" (1977), as well as two sequels -- "Oh, God! Book Two" (1980) and "Oh, God! You Devil" (1984). He also appeared as Mr. Kite in "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" (1978), "Just You and Me, Kid" (1979), "Going in Style" (1979), "Two of a Kind" (1982) and "18 Again!" (1988).

Burns continued to perform in nightclubs and on television. When asked if he ever planned to retire, Burns would respond, "I'm going to stay in show business until I'm the only one left." Burns died a few weeks after his 100th birthday.

After Allen's death, Burns visited her crypt at Forest Lawn at least once a month for the rest of his life. Their crypt contains the simple inscription, "Together Again." Allen was born Grace Ethel Cecile Rosalie Allen on July 26, 1902, in San Francisco, CA. She died on Aug. 27, 1964, in Los Angeles, CA. Burns was born Nathan Birnbaum on Jan. 20, 1896, in New York City, NY. He died on March 9, 1996, in Los Angeles, CA...

Friday, November 8, 2013


 I have to admit that before I cam across Florence Lawrence's name, I had no clue who she was. She was definitely forgotten to me. However, it seems like she was very popular in the earlier days of Hollywood. Even though I have never seens a movie with her, like anyone who gave their life for tinsel town, she deserves to be remembered.

Florence is often referred to as "The First Movie Star." When she was popular, she was known as "The Biograph Girl", "The Imp Girl", and "The Girl of a Thousand Faces". She appeared in almost 300 films for various motion picture companies. Born Florence Annie Bridgwood in Hamilton, Ontario in 1886, she was the child of Charlotte A. Bridgwood, a vaudeville actress known professionally as Lotta Lawrence, who was the leading lady and director of the Lawrence Dramatic Company.

She was one of several Canadian pioneers in the film industry who were attracted by the rapid growth of the fledgling motion picture business. In 1906, at age 20, she appeared in her first motion picture. The next year, she appeared in 38 movies for the Vitagraph film company. During the spring and summer of 1906, Lawrence auditioned for a number of Broadway productions, with no success. However, on December 27, 1906, she was hired by the Edison Manufacturing Company to play Daniel Boone's daughter in Daniel Boone; or, Pioneer days in America. She got the part because she knew how to ride a horse. Both she and her mother received parts, and were paid five dollars a day for two weeks of outdoor filming in freezing weather.

In 1907 she went to work for the Vitagraph Company in Brooklyn, New York acting as Moya, an Irish peasant girl in a one-reel version of Dion Boucicault's The Shaughraun. She returned briefly to stage acting, playing the leading role in a road show production of Melville B. Raymond's Seminary Girls. Her mother played her last role in this production. After touring with the road show for a year, Lawrence resolved that she would "never again lead that gypsy life". In 1908 she returned to Vitagraph where she played the lead role in The Dispatch Beare. Largely as a result of her equestrian skills, she received parts in eleven films in the next five months.

Also at Vitagraph was a young actor, Harry Solter, who was looking for 'a young, beautiful equestrian girl' to star in a film to be produced by the Biograph Studios under the direction of D.W. Griffith. Griffith, the head of Biograph Studios, had noticed the beautiful blonde-haired woman in one of Vitagraph's films. Because the film's actors received no mention, Griffith had to make discreet enquiries to learn she was Florence Lawrence and to arrange a meeting. Griffith had intended to give the part to Biograph's leading lady, Florence Turner, but Lawrence managed to convince Solter and Griffith that she was the best suited for the starring role in The Girl and the Outlaw. With the Vitagraph Company, she had been earning $20 a week, working also as a costume seamstress over and above acting. Griffith offered her a job, acting only, for $25 a week.

After her success in this role, she appeared as a society belle in Betrayed by a Handprint and as an Indian in The Red Girl. In total, she had parts in most of the 60 films directed by Griffith in 1908. In 1912, Lawrence and Solter made a deal with Carl Laemmle, forming their own company. Laemmle gave them complete artistic freedom in the company, called Victor Film Company, and paid Lawrence five hundred dollars a week as the leading lady, and Solter two hundred dollars a week as director. They established a film studio in Fort Lee, New Jersey and made a number of films starring Lawrence and Owen Moore before selling out to the new Universal Pictures in 1913. With this new prosperity, Florence was able to realize a 'lifelong dream,' buying a 50-acre (200,000 m2) estate in River Vale, New Jersey. In August 1912, she had a fight with her husband, in which he "made cruel remarks about his mother-in-law". He left and went to Europe. However, he wrote "sad" letters to her every day, telling her of his plans to commit suicide. His letters "softened her feelings" and they were re-united in November 1912. Lawrence announced her intention to retire.

Lawrence was induced to return to work in 1914 for her company (Victor Film Company), which was later acquired by Universal Studios. During the filming of Pawns of Destiny, a staged fire got out of control. Lawrence was burned, her hair singed, and she suffered a serious fall. She went into shock for months. She returned to work, but collapsed after the film's completion. Blaming Solter for making her do the stunt in which she was injured, the two were divorced. To add to her problems, Universal refused to pay her medical expenses, leaving Lawrence to feel betrayed.

In the spring of 1916, she returned to work for Universal and completed another feature film, Elusive Isabel. However, the strain of working took its toll on her and she suffered a serious relapse. She was completely paralyzed for four months. By the time she returned to the screen in 1921, few people remembered her. In 1921 she traveled to Hollywood to attempt a comeback. However, she had little success, and received a leading role in a minor melodrama (The Unfoldment), and then two supporting roles. All of her screen work after 1924 would be in uncredited bit parts. During the 1920s she and her husband Charles began to manufacture a line of cosmetics, which they continued in partnership after their divorce.

Although only 29 years old, she never regained her stature as a leading film star after taking time off to recover from her injuries. The following year she married automobile salesman Charles Byrne Woodring, but they were divorced in 1931. In 1933 she got married for the third time to Henry Bolton, who turned out to be abusive and beat Lawrence severely. The union lasted only five months.

When Lawrence's mother died in 1929, she had an expensive bust sculpted for her mother's tomb. By then, in her mid-forties, demand for her in films had long since disappeared and the stock market crash and the ensuing Great Depression saw Lawrence's fortune decline. She returned to the screen in 1936, when MGM began giving small parts to old stars for seventy-five dollars a week. Alone, discouraged, and suffering with chronic pain from myelofibrosis, a rare bone marrow disease, she was found unconscious in bed in her West Hollywood apartment on December 27, 1938 after she had ingested ant paste. She was rushed to a hospital but died a few hours later.

Just nine years after she had paid for an expensive memorial for her mother, Lawrence was interred in an unmarked grave 1,000 feet from her mother in the Hollywood Cemetery, which is now Hollywood Forever Cemetery, in Hollywood, California. She remained forgotten until 1991, when actor Roddy McDowall, serving on the National Film Preservation Board, paid for a memorial marker that reads: "The Biograph Girl/The First Movie Star...

Wednesday, November 6, 2013


The court-appointed conservator for Hollywood legend Mickey Rooney has agreed to a $2.8 million stipulated judgment in a suit brought against the entertainer's stepson and his wife for restricting access to his assets, misappropriating his name and likeness and verbally abusing him, Rooney's attorneys announced Monday.

The settlement agreements, which have not yet received court approval, come after Rooney's conservator Michael R. Augustine filed suit in 2011, alleging various causes of action stemming from elder abuse and misappropriation of Rooney's likeness. Earlier that year, Rooney had been granted court protection from Christopher Aber and his wife Christina, according to Rooney's counsel.

"Clearly fame does not insulate an individual from the trauma and neglect of elder abuse, as Mickey Rooney's case vividly demonstrates," Bruce S. Ross, partner at Holland & Knight LLP and counsel to Rooney, said in a statement Monday. "We are very pleased to bring this long chapter of abuse by his stepson to an end."

The $2.8 million settlement brings the litigation mostly to an end, but litigation remains pending against the Abers' insurance company, Fire Insurance Exchange, which has sued Rooney's conservator in an effort to avoid paying the judgment, according to the firm.

Augustine filed the lawsuit in September 2011, claiming that after Rooney put his stepson in charge of his personal and business affairs, he and his wife banked on Rooney's fame to live a lavish lifestyle.

Aber kept Rooney in the dark about his own financial resources and forced him to make paid appearances against his will, the suit alleges. Aber and his wife also are accused of threatening and verbally abusing the 90-year-old entertainer.

Aber got a foothold into Rooney's finances through a company called Densmore Productions Inc., set up in 1998 to manage the actor's professional work, the suit said. Without telling Rooney, Aber had issued himself majority stock in the company and named himself treasurer, according to the suit. Aber was then able to be in control of other companies that managed Rooney's affairs, it said.

These entities, under Aber's control, received Rooney's residual payments, Social Security benefits, pension and other sources of income, according to the complaint. Aber then allegedly used the companies to take out credit cards and sign checks payable to himself, it said.

Aber also scheduled and negotiated Rooney's personal appearances and acting engagements, with the proceeds going to the entities he controlled, freezing Rooney out of his own money, the suit alleged.

Rooney received his court-appointed conservator in February 2011. The conservator's lawsuit sought damages, creation of a trust to oversee all the defendants' assets to which Rooney is entitled and an order blocking the defendants from using his name and image.

Vivian L. Thoreen of Holland & Knight said it was an honor and a privilege to help Rooney "obtain the justice he deserves."

"Mr. Rooney had tremendous courage to come forward with his story and we hope he will be an enduring example to other suffering seniors that they do not have to suffer silently alone," Thoreen said Monday. "As this judgment demonstrates, there will be serious consequences for those who abuse our seniors."


Monday, November 4, 2013


A character is an understatement when you are talking about comedian Bert Gordon. He was more than a character actor, he was a whole entertainment experience. I am a fan of old time radio, and although I am a huge fan of Eddie Cantor, when Bert Gordon appeared on Cantor's show, it was comedic gold. Born Barney Gorodetsky on April 8, 1895, he debuted on the vaudeville stage in 1914 carving a niche for himself as a dialect comic, and adopting the stage name Bert Gordon.

He made the transition to radio in the 1930s, and was heard in episodes of "The Jack Benny Show," "Texaco Town," "The Camel Caravan," and "The Eddie Cantor Show" where his signature character, The Mad Russian, was established and polished. His character, despite its name, did not possess a credible Russian accent. Instead The Mad Russian spoke in a weird, airy sounding voice. He didn't speak his words so much as pant them - an exasperated manner of speech. His catch phrases are meaningless out of context. "How do you do?" and "Do you really min it?" were mimicked for easy referential gags on other radio shows and comedy acts throughout the thirties and forties. Allusions to Gordon's familiar annotations appear in several old Warner Brothers cartoons, alienating children for over fifty years. Could anybody have predicted that the phrase "How do you do?" would catch the country by storm? It was, like most verbal comedy performance, all in the delivery.

It was in the mid-thirties that Gordon, after being a transient character in radio, finally found a home. Eddie Cantor knew Gordon from their days on Broadway. Cantor invited Gordon to join him on his weekly show Texaco Town. Cantor eventually made sure to bring The Mad Russian with him whenever he was scheduled for a guest shot on another show like The Camel Caravan - Gordon was a sure-fire crowd pleaser. When The Eddie Cantor Show was exported for American soldiers overseas during World War II, Bert Gordon's character was edited out so as not to escalate any hostility with the enemies turned allies in Russia. He also appeared in several low-budget comedies over the course of his career, including New Faces of 1937,Sing For Your Supper (1941), Laugh Your Blues Away (1942) and Let's Have Fun (1943). He appeared on Broadway for "Hold on to Your Hats", a satirical musical that spoofed radio. His star faded rapidly after the Second World War.

He appeared sporadically on the radio show "Duffy's Tavern," but his career was effectively over by 1950. After a long absence from the public spotlight, Bert Gordon, like so many other old nightclub comics, guest starred on an episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show. The episode titled "The Return of Edwin Carp" was Carl Reiner's salute to many of his favorite (and faded) radio stars. The plot has Rob Petrie trying to coax an old radio star (played by Richard Haydn) out of retirement for a guest spot on a radio special. Bert Gordon appears as The Mad Russian alongside Arlene Harris (once famous for the radio program The Chatterbox) in this, his final on-screen appearance. He succumbed to cancer at home in California at age 79 on November 30, 1974. Bert Gordon was not the classic character actor in the Hollywood sense, but no one can deny what a character he was...

Saturday, November 2, 2013


Hard to believe another month has passed, and we are headed into the final innings of 2013. Here is some of the classic Hollywood news that has made its way on to my desk...

British actress Vivien Leigh had that undefinable star quality. For 30 years, the exquisitely beautiful Leigh captivated film and theater audiences with her well-crafted, magnetic performances. In fact, Leigh won lead actress Oscars for creating two of the most indelible characters in screen history — the strong-willed, manipulative Southern belle Scarlett O'Hara in the beloved 1939 Civil War epic, Gone With the Wind, and Tennessee Williams' fragile, faded Southern beauty Blanche DuBois in 1951's A Streetcar Named Desire. Her accomplishment is all the more remarkable because Leigh, who died at age 53, made only 19 movies. A new book is out on the interesting actress called "Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait" by film scholar Kendra Bean. The recently published, lavishly illustrated biography commemorating the actress' centenary combines historical material, including documents from the archives of her second husband, Laurence Olivier, as well as interviews with those who knew her.
 The eve before Halloween is known as Mischief Night. A few days ago it marked 75 years ago that on Oct. 30, 1938, a 23-year-old Orson Welles caused more than a bit of mischief with his landmark radio broadcast of "War of the Worlds." Most of the 6 million who tuned into Welles' "Mercury Theater on the Air" innovative adaptation of H.G. Wells' sci-fi classic about a Martian invasion realized it was drama. But because of its realistic news bulletin format, some believed aliens from the Red Planet had actually landed and overrun the small town of Grover's Mill, N.J., and were on the move through the rest of the country. Even in this pre-Twitter and Facebook era, the reaction was instantaneous. Listeners called into Chicago newspapers in a panic during the broadcast, while in San Francisco people fretted that the Martians were heading West. And in New Jersey, National Guardsmen were calling their armories to find out if they needed to report.

 Broadway legend Angela Lansbury has made a lot of movies, but she never won an Oscar. Lansbury has received three Academy Award nominations for her supporting performances in 1944's Gaslight, 1945's The Picture of Dorian Gray and 1962's The Manchurian Candidate. Her other credits include Blue Hawaii, The World of Henry Orient and Mr. Popper’s Penguins. She also did voice work for the first animated feature to receive a best picture nomination, Beauty and the Beast. Finally though it was announced that Ms. Lansbury will receive an Honorary Oscar at next year's Academy Award ceremony. It is about time... ...and that's the classic Hollywood news for this month!