Sunday, March 28, 2021


I found this great article online from The Life And Times Of Hollywood blog. I do not believe they are publishing new articles anymore, but this is an interesting story...

Joan Davis was a comedienne that was in vaudeville, radio, film and television. She never achieved the success of fellow Comic actresses such as Lucille Ball, Ann Sothern or even Eve Arden. Her television show and one great Abbott & Costello film (Hold That Ghost) are what she is primarily remembered for today, however she had a much more extensive career.

Davis appeared in vaudeville with her then husband Sy Wills ( their act was much like Burns & Allen), did shorts then films, lots of radio even nightclubs. On her second attempt for a tv series, she tried to duplicate Lucille Ball’s success with I Married Joan which staggered for three years(1952-1955).

When I talked to those who worked with her including her television husband Jim Backus, her TV director John Rich, actor/ producer Sheldon Leonard, actress Hope Summers, actor Hal Smith ( Otis the drunk on Andy Griffith), actress Sandra Gould and others- one clear word was heard from all- asshole.

John Rich, whose extensive career as a legendary tv director for everything including the Dick Van Dyke Show, All in the Family and even as the owner/producer of McGyver( with Henry Winkler) detested Joan. John was young and caught what he though was a lucky break to become the primary director of the second year of I Married Joan.

“She was a bitch on wheels. An insecure diva. A drinker. One year with her and I couldn’t wait to get away. She had the aspirations of being Lucy but did not have that fundamental talent, ” Rich told us. ” She was an absolute nightmare. She was cruel to the crew and every actor- she even demanded that her own untalented daughter, was cast as her f**cking sister, for christsakes…”

The dislike between actor Jim Backus( later Thurston Howell III on Gilligans Island) made the unhappy relationship between Vivian Vance and William Frawley seem like a love affair. Backus absolutely detested Joan and the way she berated the crew and fellow actors. He told us that she even picked on the elderly Bernard Gorcey (Louie Dumbrowski of the Bowery Boys). We later talked to Sandra Gould (second Gladys Kravitz of Bewitched), Hope Summers (Clara on Griffith Show) and Hal Smith ( Otis the drunk) who confirmed her abuse of fellow actors).

When Backus’ contract was up in the third year, he ran for cover. Backus told us that she aspired to be Lucy although he said she was not disciplined. He also said that she tried to push the career of her daughter, Beverly Wills, who played her daughter. Backus claimed that her daughter- who looked like Joan and wanted to be a clone of her mother- was deeply troubled and often drank on the set.

Wills later tragically burned to death in her late mother’s Palm Springs home when falling asleep smoking a cigarette at the age of 30 in 1963 Her two young sons and grandmother ( Joan Davis’ mother) also died in the fire.

Backus and Davis had zero chemistry. on “I Married Joan” It was due to the fact that Davis and Backus HATED each other and it showed on screen.

Backus told us stories of Davis once slapping a little boy at a restaurant only because the child asked for an autograph and that she sued a beauty salon in Hawaii when in a fit of rage she knocked over a bottle of bleach.

Backus later wrote about Davis that “her psyche, if indeed she had one, was as dark and uncharted as the wide sargasso sea.”

According to the great producer, Paul Henning who created The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, Petticoat Junction and wrote Burns and Allen- who had an early job writing the Rudy Vallee radio show had known Joan who appeared on Vallee’s show. He claimed that Joan and Eddie Cantor had a longtime affair in the 1940s. They had co-starred in two features, Show Business (1944) and If You Knew Susie (1948).

After I Married Joan, Davis attempted another pilot with her daughter that was never bought. She had ownership of I Married Joan which had become a juggernaut in syndication. With the dearth of other shows in syndication, stations had no choice to buy and repeat the series. Having become wealthy, Davis retired to a beautiful home in Palm Springs but died of a heart attack at the yong age of 53 in 1961, soon followed by her daughter, grandkids and her mother....

Sunday, March 21, 2021


URBAN LEGEND: Was Buddy Ebsen supposed to play The Tin Man in 1939's Wizard Of Oz

ANSWER: Definitely Yes!

As part of the shifting casting that often goes on in the lead-up to motion picture productions, the person first cast to play the Tin Woodman in MGM’s 1939 film version of The Wizard of Oz was Ray Bolger. Buddy Ebsen (later to become familiar to generations of TV viewers as Jed clampett, the patriarch of The Beverly Hillbillies sitcom family), was originally intended for the role of the Scarecrow, but Ray Bolger eventually managed to convince MGM to allow him to swap parts with Ebsen (not, as is often claimed, because a clause in Bolger’s contract stipulated that he could play the part of the Scarecrow if MGM ever made The Wizard of Oz).

MGM initially had no idea exactly how to costume Ebsen for his role. They tried a variety of materials for his clothing (real tin, silver paper, cardboard covered with silver cloth) and makeup before finally settling on aluminum dust (applied over clown white) for the latter. When The Wizard of Oz began principal photography on 12 October 1938, Ebsen had finished all his costume and makeup tests, recorded his songs for the film soundtrack, and completed four weeks of rehearsal. Nine days later, he was rushed to the hospital and placed in an oxygen tent when his lungs failed. As Ebsen described the onset of symptoms in his autobiography:

"It was several days later when my cramps began. My first symptoms had been a noticeable shortness of breath. I would breathe and exhale and then get the panicky feeling I hadn’t breathed at all. Then I would gasp for another quick breath with the same result. My fingers began to cramp, and then my toes. For a time I could control this unusual cramping by forcibly straightening out my fingers and toes.

One night in bed I woke up screaming. My arms were cramping from my fingers upward and curling simultaneously so that I could not use one arm to uncurl the other. My wife tried to pull my arm straight with some success, just as my toes began to curl; then my feet and legs bent backward at the knees. I panicked. What was happening to me? Next came the worst. The cramps in my arms advanced into my chest to the muscles that controlled my breathing. If this continued, I wouldn’t even be able to take a breath. I was sure I was dying."

The aluminum dust used in Ebsen’s makeup had caused an allergic reaction or infection in his lungs that left him scarcely able to breathe, and he ended up spending two weeks in the hospital and another month recuperating in San Diego.

While Ebsen was recovering from his illness, producer Mervyn LeRoy hired Jack Haley to replace him. (The aluminum makeup was modified as well, changing from a powder that was brushed on to a paste that was painted on. Haley missed four days of filming when the new makeup caused an eye infection, but treatment was rendered in time to prevent any permanent damage.)

Because Ebsen had fallen ill away from the set, just before production was shut down for several days when original Oz director Richard Thorpe was fired, the rest of the cast was unaware of what happened to him. Haley and others assumed that he had been fired along with Thorpe. Although Ebsen was replaced before filming resumed, his voice can still be heard in the soundtrack, when the quartet of Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion sings "We’re Off To See the Wizard"...

Wednesday, March 17, 2021


Like many of Bing Crosby films, the singing was the major draw of the film. My favorite number was Bing singing “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling”. Bing did not record the number for the movie soundtrack, but he did record it a few years before the film was made, on May 7, 1946. The songwriting team of Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke were commissioned to write new songs for the film, but only two songs were written. They wrote the title song “Top O’ The Morning”, which was my favorite song from the film. Bing must have liked the song too, because he sang it three times in the film. The songwriters also wrote a pretty forgettable ballad called “You’re In Love With Someone”, which Bing sang, and then it was sung later in the film as a duet with Bing and Ann Blyth. Rounding out the music were traditional Irish songs like “Kitty Coleraine”, “The Donovans”, and “Oh Tis Sweet To Think”.

Bing was in fine voice towards the end of the 1940s, and as always, he was his charming self in the movie, so he cannot be blamed for this misguided film. Bing did however personally selected David Miller as director of Top O’ the Morning.  Groucho Marx recommended him to Bing.  Miller had just completed what turned out to be the final Marx Brothers’ film.  It was Love Happy, the least revered of all the Brothers’ films. I think also movie audiences were changing as television was beginning to take hold.

Some of the critics liked the film though:

Bing Crosby, after two lush Technicolored musicals, has been handed a light, frothy and more moderately budgeted picture by Paramount to cavort in, which should put him once more at the top of that studio’s breadwinning list.
      …Under David Miller’s light-handed direction, Crosby and the rest of the cast fall right into the spirit of the story. Groaner, despite his having to play to a gal (Ann Blyth) who is so obviously younger, is socko. His easy way with a quip, combined with his fine crooning of some old Irish tunes and a couple of new ones, is solid showmanship.
      …Johnny Burke and James Van Heusen have cleffed two bright new tunes for the film, both of which, with Crosby to introduce them, should get plenty of play. “You’re in Love with Someone,” a ballad, has the edge but the other, “Top O’ the Morning,” has the lilt that Crosby fans go for. Crooner also gets a chance to dispense a round of traditional Irish airs, ranging from “Irish Eyes” to the lesser-known but more sprightly variety.
(Variety, July 20, 1949)

In my opinion, Top O’ The Morning is not a great Bing Crosby movie, but even a bad Bing film is worth viewing. The last fifteen minutes of the movie is the best, and some of the plot is pretty sinister for a lighthearted Bing film. Bing and the cast does the best they could with the script, and this film is worth watching. My copy came from a showing on AMC Network in 1998, and now TCM has also shown the film, so if you get a chance check out this slight Bing film. The film was not great but pleasant enough...


Wednesday, March 10, 2021


After making some great Technicolor vehicles like Blue Skies and The Emperor Waltz, Top O’ The Morning looks drab and boring in black and white. I don’t know how Paramount could make a movie about colorful Ireland without the film being in color. The plot is slight, and at times I surprisingly find the movie hard to follow. Although the film has a marvelous cast, it is only mildly entertaining, with the story stumbling along in fits and starts, though it does pick up speed in the last half.  Crosby plays a New York insurance investigator sent to Ireland to search for the missing Blarney Stone. Yes, it's been stolen! Barry Fitzgerald plays the ineffectual police sergeant in a nearby town, with Blyth playing his pretty daughter, Conn, and Hume Cronyn is his assistant, Hughie. John McIntire, who later appeared in Blyth's charming comedy Sally And Saint Anne (1952), plays a police inspector working on the case.

The original name of the film was supposed to be Diamond In The Haystack. Very little happens in this rather slow-moving film, which spends a great deal of time on the mysterious prediction of a townswoman (Eileen Crowe) regarding who will marry Conn; eventually, of course, the Blarney Stone mystery is solved and true love prevails. Even though I am of Irish decent, I did not really know what the Blarney Stone was.
The Blarney Stone is a block of Carboniferous limestone built into the battlements of Blarney Castle  about 8 kilometers (5 miles) from CorkIreland. According to legend, kissing the stone endows the kisser with the gift of the gab (great eloquence or skill at flattery). The stone was set into a tower of the castle in 1446. The castle is a popular tourist site in Ireland, attracting visitors from all over the world to kiss the stone and tour the castle and its gardens.

Back to the film, Bing Crosby looked quite bored in the film as if he was going through the motions of a substandard script. I do not know if it was because of the age difference of Bing and his co-star Ann Blyth, but their pairing did not seem to gel to me, and they did not seem to have too much chemistry. Bing Crosby had wanted Deanna Durbin to costar in this picture and in his next vehicle for Paramount, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1949). Miss Durbin, about to retire from the screen with the finish of her Universal-International contract on August 31, 1949, declined both offers from Bing. In place of Miss Durbin, Universal loaned Ann Blyth to Paramount for this film.

This would be the third pairing of Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald. They hit movie gold twice with their pairing as priests in the landmark film Going My Way in 1944, and as doctors in Welcome Stranger in 1947. Paramount figured that three times was a charm, but it was not exactly. The best part of the film was the interaction between Bing and Barry Fitzgerald, but the script did not allow for much of the friendly banter that was seen in their previous two films together. Personally, I feel they should have made Bing and Barry Fitzgerald both policemen – one young and one old – who had to settle the case of the missing Blarney Stone, using new techniques and old techniques of investigation to crack the case. I was not around in 1949, so Paramount was not able to ask me for my script recommendations...


Saturday, March 6, 2021


If you love teen movies of the 1960s, then you must remember Sandra Dee. She was the queen of teen films. Although under contract to Universal Studios, Columbia Pictures borrowed her in 1959 to make the classic teenage beach comedy

But Dee didn’t start out as a star. She was born with the questionable name of Alexandra Zuck, whose last name could be a disaster by changing just one letter. Bayonne, New Jersey is where she was born April 23, 1942, at the height of World War II. She was an adorable little girl and her parents introduced her to modeling at the age of 4. She also got into commercials. She became a very successful model at age 14 in New York City and was earning top dollar.

She and her family moved to Hollywood in 1957 so she could get into films. After graduating from University High School, she was “discovered.” She was cast in director Robert Wise’s MGM war film, Until They Sail. Filmed in New Zealand, the movie was about sisters looking for men when the Marines landed. Starring with Dee were Joan Fontaine, Jean Simmons, Piper Laurie, Paul Newman, and Charles Drake. Dee won a Golden Globe Award as the most promising newcomer of the year.

MGM was happy with her performance in Until They Sail, and they cast her in The Reluctant Debutante (1958) with handsome newcomer John Saxon, age 23 (b. 1935). Dee was a luscious 17 at the time. Also in the cast were stage and screen star Rex Harrison (My Fair Lady), Kay Kendall (Les Girls), and Angela Lansbury (Broadway’s Mame). This comedy romance has Dee playing the American-raised daughter of Brit Harrison, who visits London during the debutante’s ball.

The year 1959 was a watershed time for Sandra Dee. Ross Hunter cast her in the major tearjerker and glamour film, Imitation of Life. Starring as Dee’s mother was the glamorous blonde star from MGM, Lana Turner. The film became Universal’s highest grossing film to that time and was a world-wide sensation. It catapulted Dee into a household name, much like Turner’s persona. Newcomer John Gavin played Turner’s love interest. And also that year, Dee was borrowed by Columbia Pictures for the aforementioned Gidget smash.

Warner Bros. wanted to get in on some of that money-making star so they borrowed Dee as well for another hit movie, A Summer Place (1959) with then blonde heart-throb Troy Donahue, 23, as her love interest. Donahue quickly became washed up, an alcoholic and addict, and died in 2001 at age 65.

Back at Dee’s home studio of Universal, producer Ross Hunter once again made a lavishly costumed epic for star Lana Turner in Portrait in Black in 1960. Dee was reunited with handsome John Saxon once again, and another hit was notched on her belt. By this time she was voted seventh biggest star of 1960.

Dee, being a ripe and luscious young lady, also had a personal life. When on location in Italy for the comedy Come September, she met and fell in love with singer Bobby Darin (“Mack the Knife”), who had a part in the movie. With gorgeous co-stars such as Rock Hudson and Italian bombshell Gina Lollobrigida to inspire them, the couple got married December 1, 1960 after the film was completed. The couple subsequently added to their family with little son Dodd, who was born in December 1961. Alas, the Darins divorced in 1967.

Dee went over to Twentieth Century Fox studios in 1963 to star with mega-star James Stewart in another comedy, Take Her, She’s Mine, co-starring TV favorite Jim Nabors (Gomer Pyle), another giant hit. She was still on top of the heap.

Producer Ross Hunter loved Dee and cast her in yet another comedy, this time with musical stars Andy Williams and Robert Goulet, plus the added comedy touch of hilarious Rip Taylor. It was titled I’d Rather Be Rich (1964). It was time for another pairing with Bobby Darin, and the film was That Funny Feeling (1965) with the wonderfully talented Donald O’Connor (Singin’ In The Rain) and funny lady Kathleen Freeman. Dee plays a maid who cleans Darin’s apartment, falls in love with him, and tries to pretend that his apartment is hers. It’s all a funny mix-up of course.

With the movie business changing and with studios no longer wishing to have stars under long-term contract, Dee was dumped by the studio. She was now on her on, a fish out of water, and no studio to protect her, nearly a washed up ingenue at 24.

She had been suffering from anorexia her whole life and she also fell into a depression because of her divorce from Bobby Darin. This led her to indulge in drinking alcohol a little too much. This did her kidneys no good.

She still worked on occasion; she did another film for Ross Hunter called Rosie in 1967 with screen legend Rosalind Russell (Auntie Mame), TV’s Audrey Meadows, and that wicked witch, Margaret Hamilton. Dee plays Russell’s granddaughter Daphne. Dee’s character saves Russell’s Rosie from being declare insane by her evil children who want her money. It turned out to be a box-office flop.

Her health deteriorated further and she became seen less and less around the Hollywood crowd. She remained off-screen for more than three years. Most people had forgotten who she was, and for an actor that can be career death. She took a part in a grade Z studio production of The Dunwich Horror in 1970 as a student caught up in an occult plot.

The 1970s saw Dee turning to television to get acting roles. She did such shows as Night Gallery and Love, American Style. She was hit hard by Darin’s sudden death in 1973 from heart failure.

There was a three-year gap between Houston, We’ve Got a Problem in 1974 and Fantasy Island in 1977. She was drinking heavily and her kidneys were severely damaged. After her appearance on Police Woman in 1978 there was a five-year drought until her role on Fantasy Island in 1983. Her last feature film was a low-budget stinker called Lost, shot in Colorado. It was a box-office bomb.

The sad conclusion to what had been a stellar career as a top star ended when Sandra Dee died of kidney disease on February 20, 2005 at only 62...