Tuesday, August 28, 2018


My son and daughter are both old enough now to appreciate the comedy of The Three Stooges. It makes me happy that their comedy transcends decades and generations. The best comedies are the early ones with Curly Howard, but it is worth noting that each Stooge that tried to replace him each brought something new to the role. The final stooge that was a part of the group was Joe "Curly Joe" DeRita. He was born Joseph Wardell on July 12, 1909. DeRita was born into a show-business family in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Florenz (DeRita) and Frank Wardell, and of French-Canadian and English ancestry. He was the youngest of his 5 brothers. Wardell's father was a stage technician, his mother a professional stage dancer, and the three often acted on stage together from his early childhood.

Taking his mother's maiden name, DeRita, the actor joined the burlesque circuit during the 1920s, gaining fame as a comedian. During World War II, DeRita joined the USO, performing through Britain and France with such celebrities as Bing Crosby and Randolph Scott. In the 1944 comedy film The Doughgirls, about the housing shortage in wartime Washington, D.C., he had an uncredited role as "the Stranger", a bewildered man who repeatedly showed up in scenes looking for a place to sleep.

The Three Stooges (Curly Howard, Larry Fine, and Moe Howard) had been making short comedies for Columbia Pictures since 1934. Curly suffered a disaling stroke on May 6, 1946, forcing him to retire. He died on January 18, 1952 at the age of 48. His brother Shemp Howard, the original third Stooge before leaving the act in 1932 for a solo career, only wanted to be a temporary replacement. Joe DeRita was also starring in his own series of shorts at Columbia (in The Good Bad Egg, Wedlock Deadlock, Slappily Married, and Jitter Bughouse). Stooges producer-director Jules White attempted to recruit Joe DeRita for the Three Stooges, because he wanted "another Curly." However, the strong-willed DeRita refused to change his act or imitate another performer, and White eventually gave up on DeRita (DeRita's own short-subject contract was not renewed after four films, the final entry being Jitter Bughouse). DeRita returned to burlesque and recorded a risque LP in 1950 called Burlesque Uncensored.

When Shemp Howard died unexpectedly of a heart attack on November 22, 1955 at age 60, he was succeeded by Joe Besser. Columbia eventually shut down the short-subjects department at the end of 1957, and Besser quit the act to take care of his ailing wife. The two remaining Stooges seriously considered retirement. Then Columbia's television subsidiary, Screen Gems, syndicated the Stooges' old comedies to television, and the Three Stooges were suddenly television superstars.

Moe and Larry now had many job offers, but they were in need of a "third Stooge." Larry had seen DeRita in a Las Vegas stage engagement and told Moe that DeRita would be "perfect for the third Stooge." Howard and Fine invited DeRita to join the act, and this time he readily accepted. When he first joined the act in 1958 (shortly after appearing in a dramatic role in the Gregory Peck western, The Bravados), DeRita wore his hair in a style similar to that of former Stooge Shemp Howard and did so during initial live stage performances. However, with television's restored popularity of the Three Stooges shorts featuring Curly Howard, it was suggested that Joe shave his head in order to look more like "Curly". At first, DeRita sported a crew cut; this eventually became a fully shaven head. Because of his physical resemblance to both Curly and Joe Besser, and to avoid confusion with his predecessors, DeRita was renamed Curly Joe.

The team embarked on a new series of six theatrical Three Stooges films, including Have Rocket, Will Travel (1959), DeRita's on-screen debut with the Stooges, and Snow White and the Three Stooges (1961). Aimed primarily at children, these films rarely reached the same comedic heights as their shorts and often recycled routines and songs from the older films. (Moe and Larry's advanced ages - Moe was 62 and Larry 57 at the time of the first Curly Joe film - plus pressure from the PTA and other children's advocates, led to the toning-down of the trio's trademark violent slapstick.) While DeRita's physical appearance was vaguely reminiscent of the original "Curly", his characterization was milder and not as manic or surreal. The characterization evolved over time; early sketches featuring Curly Joe (such as a commercial for Simoniz car wax) have him effectively as a fifth wheel while Moe and Larry divided most of the comedy between themselves, while by the mid-1960s, Larry's role had been reduced and Curly Joe divided much of the comedy with Moe. Curly Joe also showed a bit more backbone, even occasionally talking back to Moe, calling him "buddy boy".

The Stooges eventually folded in 1970 when Larry Fine suffered a stroke, although Moe always had dreams or recreating the group. In 1974, with Moe's blessing, DeRita attempted to form a truly "new" Three Stooges. He recruited burlesque and vaudeville veterans Mousie Garner and Frank Mitchell to replace Moe and Larry for nightclub engagements. However, they were poorly received thereby ending the group. Mitchell had worked with original Stooges organizer Ted Healy decades earlier in an abortive attempt to replace the Stooges after they had split from Healy. Mitchell had also replaced Shemp as the "third stooge" in a 1929 Broadway play.

On July 3, 1993, the last surviving Stooge, Joe DeRita died of pneumonia nine days before his 84th birthday at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, California. DeRita is interred in a grave at the Pierce Brothers Valhalla Memorial Park Cemetery in North Hollywood, California; his tombstone reads "The Last Stooge"...

Saturday, August 25, 2018


Tim Conway is battling dementia.

The 84-year-old Carol Burnett Show star’s daughter Kelly is asking to be appointed conservator of her father and be in charge of his medical treatments, according to court documents obtained by PEOPLE and first reported by The Blast.

Kelly, 56, filed the documents in Los Angeles on Friday, claiming Conway’s wife Charlene is “planning to move him out of the excellent skilled nursing facility he is currently at” and place him in one that won’t give him access to “registered nurses at all times and his 24-hour caregiver and speech therapist (to help with swallowing).”

Kelly also states that Conway cannot “properly provide for his personal needs for physical health, food, and clothing” and is “almost entirely unresponsive.”

She hopes to be granted guardianship so she can also administer her father’s medications herself.

Before making his mark in Hollywood, Conway surprisingly had no experience in the industry.

“I had no professional training. I had a sense of humor and had been in front of a microphone,” Conway said on an episode of The Interviews: An Oral History of Television in 2004.

He starred on McHale’s Navy, co-starred on the 1970s comedy The Carol Burnett Show, acted as the voice of Barnacle Boy on Spongebob Squarepants and even made a special appearance on the second season of 30 Rock, which he received an Emmy for.

Before marrying Charlene in 1984, Conway was married to Mary Anne Dalton from 1961-78. Together they share seven children: sons Jaime, Tim Jr., Pat, Corey and Shawn and daughter Jackie and Kelly...

Tuesday, August 21, 2018


Don Cherry, a leading pop singer of the 1950s who performed at clubs and hotels by night while becoming one of America’s top amateur golfers by day, died on April 4 at a hospice in Las Vegas. He was 94.

His death, which was not widely reported at the time, was confirmed by his son Shawn.

Growing up in his native Wichita Falls, Tex., Mr. Cherry was immersed in both music and golf.

At age 6 or so, he took part in hymn singing at church services. While in high school, he crooned “Happy Birthday” delivering singing telegrams for Western Union.

His mother bought him a set of golf clubs for his eighth birthday, knowing that his older brother, Paul, enjoyed playing at local courses. He was soon caddying and, playing on caddie-only days, developed a smooth golf swing.

Mr. Cherry embarked on his show business career in his early 20s as a big-band singer, then turned to the recording studio. His biggest hit was “Band of Gold” (no connection to the later Freda Payne hit of the same name), recorded in 1955 with an arrangement by Ray Conniff, which reached the Top 10.

More than a half-century later, the recording provided the soundtrack for the opening scene of the first episode of the television series “Mad Men,” in which the advertising executive Don Draper (played by Jon Hamm) is smoking at a Manhattan restaurant table. His mind is on cigarette branding as he finds that his waiter prefers Old Gold while Draper touts Lucky Strike, a client of his ad agency.

Mr. Cherry recorded for the Decca, Columbia and Monument labels, appeared on radio and TV variety shows (notably Dean Martin’s, on which he was a frequent guest) and played many of the big rooms in Las Vegas.

Mr. Cherry won many small amateur golf tournaments in Texas after serving stateside in the Army Air Forces in World War II, then captured the 1953 Canadian Amateur Championship. He also played on three victorious Walker Cup teams (1953, 1955 and 1961), in a tournament that matches the United States against Britain and Ireland in the amateur version of the Ryder Cup.

He was a contender as an amateur into the fourth round of the 1960 United States Open, at Cherry Hills in suburban Denver, finishing in a three-way tie for ninth at even par, four strokes back of Arnold Palmer. Palmer had famously rallied to win from seven strokes behind the leader in the final round.

Mr. Cherry played in many Masters and United States Opens, but apart from his 1960 run, he did not finish among the top competitors. He turned pro in 1962.

“My swing was short but had a lot of power,” he recalled in his memoir, “Cherry’s Jubilee” (2006), written with Neil T. Daniels. “On my downswing I would snap my wrists toward the ground, a mannerism I had learned as a youth.”

He embarked on a show business career in his early 20s and reached the Top 10 with his 1955 record “Band of Gold.”CreditEverett Collection

But Mr. Cherry often had trouble putting, and his focus was at times thrown off by “the worst temper the world had ever seen,” as he was quoted telling Curt Sampson in “The Eternal Summer” (1992), an account of the 1960 Open.

Mr. Cherry’s profile differed depending on the hour: Prematurely balding, he wore a hairpiece onstage but shunned it on the golf course.

Donald Ross Cherry was born in Wichita Falls on Jan. 11, 1924, the youngest of three children of Donald and Alma Cherry. His father, who worked on oil rigs, left the family when Don was a boy. His mother took in seamstress work to support her daughter and two sons in the depths of the Depression.

Mr. Cherry first made the Billboard charts with “Thinking of You” and “Mona Lisa” in 1950 and with “Vanity” and “Belle, Belle, My Liberty Belle” in 1951. In his 70s and 80s, he collaborated with his friend Willie Nelson on several albums.

In addition to Shawn, his son from his first marriage, to Sharon Kay Ritchie, Miss America of 1956, Mr. Cherry is survived by his fourth wife, Francine Bond (Smith) Cherry; a daughter, Jennifer Cherry Krellenstein, from his marriage to Joy Blaine; and six grandchildren.

His son Stephen, also from his first marriage, was among the 658 employees of the financial firm Cantor Fitzgerald who were killed in the attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. His office was on the 104th floor of the North Tower...

Sunday, August 19, 2018


Here is a review of the 1944 film Cover Girl. This was published in the NY Times on March 31, 1944...

' Cover Girl,' With Rita Hayworth and Gene Kelly, at the Music Hall -- 'Her Primitve Man' Is Seen at Loew's State Theatre

If there were still such a thing in existence as the proverbial "tired business man," then we'd say that the picture made just for him is at the Radio City Music Hall. For Columbia's expensive production (in Technicolor, of course), "Cover Girl," which came to the showplace yesterday as the cream of its Easter program, is precisely the sort of entertainment that used to fill his Broadway bill. Everything happens in it just when you most expect it to. The script is so frankly familiar that it must have come from the public domain. And the characters are as sleekly mechanical as only musical comedy characters dare to be. But it rainbows the screen with dazzling décor. It has Gene Kelly and Rita Hayworth to sing and dance. And virtually every nook and corner is draped with beautiful girls.

Further, this gaudy obeisance to divine femininity has some rather nice music in it from the tune-shop of Jerome Kern. Best of the numbers, both for listening and for watching a dance done thereto, is a rhythm entitled "Tomorrow," to which the principals and Phil Silvers cut a rug. The idea is that they are playmates associated in a Brooklyn night club, and this dance that they do along the quiet streets on their way home in the small hours is a pip. Another pleasant number to which Miss Hayworth and Mr. Kelly nip around is "Put Me to the Test"—an invitation which the script, unfortunately, does.

For this undistinguished fiction about a Brooklyn night-club girl who wins a "cover contest" conducted by a glamorous magazine is so handicapped with clichés that it looks like an obstacle course. What do you think happens when Miss Hayworth wins the contest? She becomes sensationally famous and quarrels with Mr. Kelly, her nice boy friend. And what do you think is her decision after she has been in a big Broadway show (just long enough to do one splurge number)? Go back to Mr. Kelly, of course!

To be sure, Mr. Kelly is a sweet guy and a delightfully able dancer, too, and Miss Hayworth does better with him than with any dancing partner she's had yet. (That comment includes Fred Astaire, whom Mr. Kelly is pushing for top rung.) Miss Hayworth even acts with an enchantment which she has never so capably turned on. But you would think that something better could be found for them to play than this script. You would think that more fun could be worked in than merely Mr. Silvers' corny gags. And, above all, you'd think that the producer, Arthur Schwartz, whose first picture this is, would have tried for something more original and cinematic than a straight "t. b. m. show"...

Friday, August 10, 2018


Here's a great story on how Eddie Cantor started the March of Dimes...

Comedian Eddie Cantor (1892-1964) holds a very special place in the history of the March of Dimes, for it was he who coined the phrase “March of Dimes” used to identify the Foundation today. Eddie Cantor was a multi-talented performer – vaudeville star, singer, actor, comedian, radio and television personality – whose rise to fame began in the New York City theatrical revue, the Ziegfeld Follies, in 1917. Beloved by the American public and known as “banjo eyes” for his wide-eyed visage, Eddie Cantor had a deep well of compassion to match his enormous talent, for he embraced a variety of humanitarian causes over the course of his long career in show business. One of these was the March of Dimes, and the story of how he created this name has special distinction.

Beginning in 1934, the fight against poliomyelitis (also known as infantile paralysis, or polio) was commonly associated with the annual Birthday Balls held each January 30th in honor of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's birthday. These lively fundraising parties were organized in cities throughout the United States just as the country emerged from the Great Depression and were unique in their appeal to ordinary citizens to join the campaign of finding a solution to this dreaded disease. After FDR issued his proclamation announcing the creation of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis on September 23, 1937, to carry on the battle against polio on a national basis, it was left to Eddie Cantor and other promoters to organize a fundraising strategy for the next Birthday Balls in California. On November 22, 1937, Cantor met with W. S. Van Dyke II and Harry Mazlish of Warner Brothers in the office of John Considine, Jr. in the studios of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to discuss their plans. In the meeting, Cantor recalled a successful 30-second radio appeal for relief funds after a catastrophic Mississippi River flood. Applying this idea to the National Foundation, Cantor said, “I am sure that all of the national radio programs originating in Hollywood would devote 30 seconds to this great cause!” He suggested that the money raised could be directed to the White House, pending the approval of the President. After another moment of reflection he suggested, “We could call it the March of Dimes.” This idea brought the general approval of everyone in the meeting.

Naturally, neither Cantor nor the others immediately realized the historic importance of this lively catchphrase, but they instantly understood its appeal, based as it was on a pun on the contemporary newsreel, The March of Time. They continued to prepare for the 1938 Birthday Ball and the special radio appeal for the President's birthday. The United States comptroller for the currency, J. F. T. O'Connor, wrote to the President, “I have never discussed the matter with men who were more enthusiastic about anything as they were over the aid which they were anxious to render to disabled children.” Cantor worked vigorously on the campaign and enlisted the support of Nicholas Schenk at Twentieth Century Fox as well as the most popular entertainers of the day – Jack Benny, Bing Crosby, Rudy Vallee, Deanna Durbin, Lawrence Tibbett, Jascha Heifetz, Joe Penner, Kate Smith, and Edgar Bergen and “his wooden-headed friend,” the puppet Charlie McCarthy.

The National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis was officially incorporated on January 3, 1938, and the first March of Dimes radio appeal occurred during the week preceding the Birthday Ball events scheduled for January 30. As Cantor himself stressed, “The March of Dimes will enable all persons, even the children, to show our President that they are with him in this battle against this disease. Nearly everyone can send in a dime, or several dimes. However, it takes only ten dimes to make a dollar and if a million people send only one dime, the total will be $100,000.” This optimistic pitch collided head-on with the dismal news that the appeal garnered only a trickle of dimes in the days following the first broadcast. In fact, only $17.50 had been sent in to the White House in two days. But what followed became a deluge: by January 29, over 80,000 letters with dimes and dollars flooded the White House mailroom to the extent that official correspondence to the President was literally buried in an avalanche of donations, a total of 2,680,000 dimes or $268,000. On the eve of his birthday, President Roosevelt went on the air to express his thanks.

With the first “March of Dimes,” the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis was off to a very promising start. Eddie Cantor had not only jump-started the fundraising program of the new foundation, he demonstrated the enormous value of an appeal for the inexpensive participation by everyone, young or old, rich or poor, simply by contributing a dime. What is more, Cantor's knack of hitting on a catchy phrase that would be universally remembered was a stroke of genius. The name “March of Dimes” – the annual fundraising campaign – became recognizable to more people than the name of the foundation itself. Eddie Cantor continued to support the March of Dimes through the 1950s as communities throughout the U.S. embraced it as the single means to eliminate the scourge of polio from America. With the polio vaccines developed by Jonas Salk, MD in 1955, and Albert Sabin, MD in 1962, made possible by March of Dimes funds, the polio epidemics in the United States swiftly abated. With that success, the Foundation changed its mission to birth defects prevention in 1958, and in 1979 it officially changed its corporate name to the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation...

Wednesday, August 1, 2018


One of Bing Crosby's earliest co-stars has passed away. Mary Carlisle made her last movie in 1943, but she was one of the most beautiful actresses of her time.

She also appeared in Garbo's Grand Hotel and opposite the likes of Jack Benny, John Barrymore and Basil Rathbone.

Mary Carlisle, the lovely blonde actress who was the object of Bing Crosby's crooning affection in three breezy musical comedies of the 1930s, has died. She was 104.

Carlisle, who appeared in more than 50 films in the decade, died early Wednesday morning at the Motion Picture Television Fund retirement home in Woodland Hills, a spokeswomen for the home told The Hollywood Reporter.

Carlisle also played a giggling honeymooner in Greta Garbo's Grand Hotel (1932) and showed no favorites when it came to one of college football's biggest rivalries back then, starring in Hold 'Em Navy (1937) and then Touchdown, Army (1938).

The 5-foot-1 Carlisle displayed a cozy chemistry with Crosby in the Paramount movies College Humor (1933), Double or Nothing (1937) and Doctor Rhythm (1938).

In their first pairing, Crosby performed "Moonstuck" as she looked on, and in the second he employed shadow puppets as he sang "It's the Natural Thing to Do" to her. And in the last, Crosby serenaded a park statue with "My Heart Is Taking Lessons" as Carlisle watched on horseback nearby.

Carlisle's co-stars also included Jack Benny (It's in the Air), John Barrymore (Should Ladies Behave), Basil Rathbone (Kind Lady), Will Rogers (Handy Andy), Buster Crabbe (The Sweetheart of Sigma Chi), Maureen O'Hara (Dance, Girl, Dance) and Lloyd Nolan (Tip-Off Girls).

After appearing with George Zucco and horror-film icon Dwight Frye in Dead Men Walk (1943), she retired from the movies.

Carlisle was married to James Blakeley — an actor and later a film editor and head of postproduction at 20th Century Fox, where he worked on such series as Peyton Place and Batman— from 1942 until his death in 2007 at age 96.

Born Gwendolyn Witter in Boston on Feb. 3, 1914, she was brought to Hollywood by her widowed mother. At age 14, while they were having lunch at the Universal commissary, the blue-eyed girl was spotted by producer Carl Laemmle Jr. and given a screen test, though she did not sign with the studio.

After completing high school, however, Carlisle met a casting director at MGM, then showed up in uncredited roles in such films as Madam Satan (1930) — as Little Bo Peep — The Great Lover (1931) with Adolphe Menjou and then Grand Hotel.

In 1933, Carlisle received a big career boost when she was selected as a "Baby Star" — a young actress thought to be on the threshold of stardom — by the Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers. (Others picked that year included Gloria Stuart and Ginger Rogers.)

After she was finished with acting, Carlisle managed an Elizabeth Arden beauty salon in Beverly Hills.

Survivors include her son, James Blakeley III, and two grandchildren...


Just hours after her plane disappeared over the Pacific Ocean, Amelia Earhart — the woman who, in 1937, set out on a mission to be the first to circumnavigate the globe — sat in her defunct Lockheed Electra surrounded by knee-deep water, stranded amid the reef of a tiny, uninhabited island, new research suggests.

Earhart’s disappearance has been shrouded in mystery for decades; her death was declared in absentia two years after she was lost at sea. Now, over 80 years later, researchers have a new theory as to what may have happened. According a recent paper, which analyzed radio distress calls in the days after Earhart vanished, she may have spent her last days marooned on a desert island after her plane crashed on July 2, 1937.

To arrive at this theory, experts at the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) sourced from government and commercial radio operator records to find 57 credible radio signals. Through research analysis, they came across a slew of messages that they believe to have come from Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan. One, transcribed by a 15-year-old girl listening to the radio in Florida, contained chilling phrases like, “waters high,” “water’s knee deep — let me out” and “help us quick.” Another, recorded by a housewife in Toronto: “We have taken in water … we can’t hold on much longer.”

From the available evidence, TIGHAR thinks that Earhart and Noonan likely took refuge on Gardner Island, now Nikumaroro, a then-uninhabited small island located 2,600 miles off the cost of New Zealand. According to the group’s hypothesis, the pilot and her navigator could only call for help when the tide was so low that it wouldn’t flood the plane’s engine, which would mean the distress calls would have occurred in short bursts.

“These active versus silent periods and the fact that the message changes on July 5 and starts being worried about water and then is consistently worried about water after that — there’s a story there,” TIGHAR director Ric Gillespie told the Washington Post.

Notably, these radio messages form evidence that runs counter to the U.S. Navy’s official conclusion — that Earhart and Noonan died shortly after crashing into the Pacific — Gillespie said.

The group is releasing more information to the public in “bite-sized chunks,” Gillespie added, but he believes the evidence is adding up. Not only does the group possess dire messages recorded over the span of six days, but several bones were found on the island in 1940, along with parts of a woman’s shoe and a man’s shoe. Gillespie hopes that when the information is all released, “people will smack their foreheads like I did.”