Friday, March 31, 2017


Before Weird Al Yankovic was making hit parodies, the talented Spike Jones (1911-1965) was making the world laugh, cringe, and admire his talent with his many records. Jones has been dead for fifty years, and he is largely forgotten but his recordings were not only great parodies, but they showed the great musicanship and talent his band had.

Here are some of his great recordings:

Der Fuehrer's Face

In 1942, a strike by the American Federation of Musicians prevented Jones from making commercial recordings for over two years. He could, however, make records for radio broadcasts. These were released on the Standard Transcriptions label (1941–1946) and have been reissued on a CD compilation called (Not) Your Standard Spike Jones Collection.

Recorded just days before the recording ban, Jones scored a huge broadcast hit late in 1942 with "Der Fuehrer's Face", a song ridiculing Adolf Hitler that followed every use of the word "Heil" with a derisive raspberry sound, as in the repeated phrase " Heil, (raspberry), Heil (raspberry), right in Der Fuehrer's face!".

More satirical songs

Other Jones satires followed: "Hawaiian War Chant", "Chloe", "Holiday for Strings", "You Always Hurt the One You Love", "My Old Flame", referring to Peter Lorre's voice (impersonated on the recording by Paul Frees) and eerie scenes in contemporary movies, and many more. The romantic ballad "Cocktails for Two", originally written to evoke an intimate romantic rendezvous, was re-recorded by Spike Jones in 1944 as a raucous, horn-honking, voice-gurgling, hiccuping hymn to the cocktail hour. The Jones version was a huge hit, much to the resentment of composer Sam Coslow.

Ghost Riders

Spike's parody of Vaughn Monroe's rendition of "Ghost Riders in the Sky" was performed as if sung by a drunkard and ridiculed Monroe by name in its final stanza:
CHORUS: 'Cause all we hear is "Ghost Riders" sung by Vaughn Monroe.
DRUNK: I can do without his singing.
FRIEND: But I wish I had his dough!

The official American release edited out the dig at Monroe, because Monroe, a popular RCA Victor recording artist and also a major RCA stockholder, demanded it. The original version was released on the European market in 1949. (A few pressings containing the first ending were mistakenly released on the West Coast and are a prized rarity today.)

All I Want for Christmas

Jones' recording, "All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth", with a piping vocal by George Rock, was a number-one hit in 1948. (Dora Bryan recorded a 1963 variation, "All I Want For Christmas is a Beatle".)

Murdering the Classics

Among the series of recordings in the 1940s were humorous takes on the classics such as the adaptation of Liszt's Liebesträume, played at a breakneck pace on unusual instruments. Others followed: Rossini's William Tell Overture was rendered on kitchen implements using a horse race as a backdrop, with one of the "horses" in the "race" likely to have inspired the nickname of the lone SNJ aircraft flown by the U.S. Navy's Blue Angels aerobatic team's shows in the late 1940s, "Beetle Bomb". In live shows Spike would acknowledge the applause with complete solemnity, saying "Thank you, music lovers." An LP collection of twelve of these "homicides" was released by RCA (on its prestigious Red Seal label) in 1971 as Spike Jones Is Murdering the Classics. They include such tours de force as Pal-Yat-Chee (Pagliacci), sung by the Hillbilly humorists Homer and Jethro, Ponchielli's Dance of the Hours, Tchaikovsky's None but the Lonely Heart, and Bizet's Carmen.
In 1944 RCA Victor released his "Spike Jones presents for the Kiddies" version of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite, in three 10 inch vinyl 78 rpm records, P-143, arrangement credited to Joe "Country" Washburne with lyrics by Foster Carling. It was released as a three 7 inch 45 rpm vinyl set in 1949 as WP-143 and as a one 45rpm extended play EPA-143 in 1952. An abridged version is also included in the aforementioned album, with a complete version available on the CD collection Spiked: The Music of Spike Jones...

Friday, March 24, 2017


I remember growing up and one of my grandfather's favorite shows to watch on rerun was "Hazel". I don't think they show that on television anymore, despite being on the air from 1961 to 1966. However, the show and the star - Shirley Booth has remained with me through the years. A prolific stage performer of the 20th Century, she is beloved by film audiences as the emotionally tortured but devoted wife, Lola Delaney in Come Back Little Sheba (1952), and by television viewers as Hazel Burke, the headstrong yet lovable housekeeper in the 1960s sitcom "Hazel".

Born Marjory Ford in New York City on August 30, 1898, she began her theatre career in stock company productions, initially under the name Thelma Booth Ford. In 1925 she made her Broadway debut in "Hell's Bells", opposite then theatre regular Humphrey Bogart. During her decades on stage she achieved popularity in dramas, comedies and musicals. She went on to star on the successful radio series "Duffy's Tavern" (1941 to 1943). Her husband at the time, Ed Gardner, created, wrote and appeared in the show; They were married from 1929 to 1943. Booth's second marriage, to William Baker, lasted from 1943 until his death in 1951. 

She returned to the stage, appearing in "Goodbye, My Fancy" (1948) of which she received her first Tony Award - Best Supporting Actress (Dramatic). Her second Tony Award was for Best Actress (Dramatic), which she received for "Come Back, Little Sheba" (1950). Her dramatic success was immediately followed by the musical "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" (1951). 

In 1952 was was cast for the film version of  Come Back Little Sheba recreating her award winning stage role. She received an Academy Award - Best Actress, becoming the first actress ever to win both a Tony and an Oscar for the same role. The film also earned her Best Actress awards from the Golden Globe Awards, The Cannes Film Festival, The New York Film Critics Circle Awards, and National Board of Review. She would spend the next few years commuting between New York and Hollywood. Her time on the silver screen would be brief, appearing in only four more films: Main Street to Broadway (1953), About Mrs. Leslie (1954), Hot Spell (1958), and The Matchmaker (1958). 

In 1961, Booth was cast in the TV sitcom, "Hazel" based on a popular comic strip from the Saturday Evening Post about a domineering but lovable housekeeper. She won two Emmys for her role and a third Emmy nomination before the series concluded in 1966. Booth continued in television, gaining an Emmy nomination for her performance as Amanda in a TV adaptation of "The Glass Menagerie." She would make two final Broadway appearances in 1970 and two final television appearances before retiring in 1974. 

During her five decade career, she earned ten major acting awards and seven nominations. For her contributions to motion pictures, she has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6840 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California. She died after a brief illness at her home in North Chatham, Massachusetts. By the 1980s, Booth's health began to decline. She reportedly suffered a stroke which caused mobility issues and blindness. After her death, Booth's sister said she had broken her hip in 1991 which further inhibited her mobility. On October 16, 1992, Booth died at age 94 at her home in North Chatham. Booth starred in countless roles, but she will always be Hazel to me. We all should be lucky enough to have a Hazel in our lives...

Friday, March 17, 2017


Everyone is Irish on St. Patrick's Day, and to celebrate the wearing of the green, here are some excellent pictures of classic Hollywood celebrating...







Saturday, March 11, 2017


One of my guilty pleasures when I was first collecting movies was The Boy With The Green Hair. At the time it was a rare movie that was just different. I liked it though. Here is the original 1948 review by Bosley Crowther from the New York Times of January 13, 1949...

A novel and noble endeavor to say something withering against war on behalf of the world's unnumbered children who are the most piteous victims thereof is made in the RKO picture, "The Boy With Green Hair," a fantasy-drama in color, which opened at the Palace yesterday. But the fact that the effort is earnest is no surety of its success. For all its proper intentions, the gesture falls short of its aim.

As mere sentimental entertainment, this tale of a lad whose hair turns green as a sort of miraculous token of the cruelty of war is unevenly appealing, it being, in certain respects, a beneficiary of the pattern of the charming "On Borrowed Time." The lad in the case is an orphan and he lives with a kindly old man who has a rare tenderness toward children—and who goes by the winning name of "Gramp." Furthermore, this attractive youngster becomes obsessed with a frightening idea, from which his gentle old guardian attempts to protect and deliver him.

In its scan of the poignant relations between the elderly man and the troubled boy, this film does project intimations of real compassion which are irresistible. And it profits in this projection from cozy performances by Dean Stockwell as the youngster and Pat O'Brien as the old man. Master Stockwell is lovable yet sturdy, diminutive yet strong, and Mr. O'Brien is softly sentimental without going into "Hearts and Flowers."

But, unfortunately, the idea with which the lad becomes obsessed—and which is, supposedly, responsible for his hair turning green—is weakly motivated. And the fanciful device of rendering his hair symbolic is not only arbitrary but vague.

It is not established, for instance, whether all this we see on the screen—the phenomenal hirsute coloration and the resentment of the townsfolk thereto—is supposed to be a boy's hallucination, just another of a couple he has, or whether it is intended as a strictly whimsical device. If the former, it isn't consistent with the evident fancies of this lad's mind. If the latter, it is strangely inconclusive, when pictured thusly. And, frankly, it's banal.

For it might stand to reason that a youngster of a particularly introverted sort could be so upset by anxieties that he would sense an extreme conspicuousness. And he might even tie up this fancy in a childish way with the victimizations of war. But to reason, in adult whimsey, that wars are caused by such a superficial thing as resentment of coloration is absurd and misleading.

It is very much to be regretted that Ben Barzman and Alfred Lewis Levitt, in writing this film's script from a modest little story by Betsy Beaton, and Joseph Losey in directing it, did not clarify the implication. Not only is it now confused, but one gets the uncomfortable feeling that it is just a bright adult notion gone wrong. The use of the by-now quite hackneyed "Nature Boy" as a musical theme does not dignify the conception. The supporting cast is adequate...


Saturday, March 4, 2017


"There’s No Business Like Show Business" was  Ethel Merman's signature song, and it encapsulates her image: brassy and camp, cheerful and a little abrasive. Most readers can probably hum a few bars of this and a few other Merman songs, maybe even offer a decent impression of her legendary singing voice, but how much do they really know about La Merm?

To celebrate Merman's birthday on January. 16, we offer 10 things you may not have known about the brash songstress

1. She recorded a disco album. In 1979, disco was king. And it wasn't just popular, it was versatile. You could set almost anything to a disco beat and end up with a catchy treat for the dance floor – Beethoven's 5th Symphony, the Star Wars theme, the quacks of a disco duck… or Ethel Merman's greatest hits. Merman recorded seven of her top songs, producers added disco beats, strings and background vocals, and a cult classic was born. Although the album only made a minor splash in the clubs and never charted, it has since found a cherished and campy place in gay culture. 

2. She named her daughter Ethel Jr. Merman had two children, and they were both juniors: her son Robert and her daughter Ethel, both born to Merman and her second husband, Robert Levitt. While "Junior" wasn’t a legal part of young Ethel's name, she was nicknamed "Ethel Jr." Ethel Jr. died of a drug overdose in 1967 at the age of 25.

3. She sang with the Muppets. In the 1960s and '70s, Merman made guest appearances on a wide variety of television shows. On The Carol Burnett Show she dueted with Burnett; on Sha Na Na she knocked the boys to the ground with the power of her voice; on That Girl she reprised her role from Gypsy and gave Ann tips for achieving stardom. And then there was her Muppet Show appearance, an unexpectedly sweet guest star turn in which Merman cheered up a despondent Fozzie Bear and went on to sing with the whole gang. 

4. She was self taught. That big voice didn't come from years of lessons, working and studying to increase her range and power. No, it was all natural – Merman never had a singing lesson in her life. And yet her powerful voice could reach every corner of a Broadway theater, right to the back row, without amplification. And her enunciation was so crystal clear that every word could be heard and understood by the folks in that back row. Composer George Gershwin was so impressed that he begged her never to work with a vocal teacher. 

5. Tonsillitis improved her voice. In 1929 the young starlet contracted a severe case of tonsillitis. Merman agreed to a tonsillectomy despite fears that it would ruin her greatest asset, her big and distinctive voice. To her surprise and delight, once she had recovered and tried singing again, her voice was even more powerful than it had been before the surgery. 

6. She was married to Ernest Borgnine for 32 days. Merman's marriage to Borgnine was her fourth, last and briefest. Merman admitted she didn't have the best judgment when it came to men: in a radio interview, she noted of her many marriages, "We all make mistakes, that's why they put rubbers on pencils, and that's what I did. I made a few loo-loos!" Her 1972 memoir Merman includes a chapter entitled "My Marriage to Ernest Borgnine" that consists of nothing more than a single blank page. But don't worry about Borgnine – he got off his own quip too, commenting about the marriage, "Biggest mistake of my life. I thought I was marrying Rosemary Clooney." 

7. Jacqueline Susann fell in love with her. It may or may not be true that Merman had an affair with Susann, queen of the trashy novel. Some say that Merman was spotted making out with the author on a couch at a party; others assert that Merman, though a staple of gay culture, wasn't interested in other women at all. But what's certain is that Susann once showed up at Merman's New York apartment, distraught and screaming "I love you!" Susann went on to base her Valley of the Dolls character Anne, an aging stage actress, on Merman. 

8. Her role in Gypsy was her biggest triumph – and her biggest disappointment. Merman loved playing Rose Hovick, mother of Gypsy Rose Lee and June Havoc, on Broadway in Gypsy. Her interpretation brought rave reviews from fans and critics alike – she was called brilliant and indomitable. Yet she didn't win the Tony that year (it went to Mary Martin in The Sound of Music, and Merman took it in stride, quipping "How are you going to buck a nun?"), and, surprisingly, she didn't land the role in the film. Merman fully expected to play Rose on the silver screen, having been assured by the director that the role was hers. But in the end, without much explanation, the film role was given to Rosalind Russell. Though Merman considered the loss of the movie "the greatest professional disappointment of my life," she stuck with the Broadway show, even continuing on the national tour with a severe back injury.

9. In 1954, Ethel made the splashy musical "There's No Business Like Show Business" featuring a slew of Irving Berlin tunes. Her co-stars included Dan Dailey, Mitzi Gaynor, Donald O'Connor, and the great Marilyn Monroe. Ethel did not think she was so great, and she hated Marilyn for her unprofessional behavior on the set. As a result, Merman made life miserable on the set for the blond bombshell and would intimidate Monroe so much that Marilyn would throw up after every scene they had together.

10. She loved dirty jokes. Merman had a blue sense of humor and a mouth like a sailor's. She delighted in opportunities to share vulgar jokes – whether she was shouting them across crowded rooms or including them in greeting cards...