Wednesday, January 30, 2013

RIP: PATTY ANDREWS


Patty Andrews, the last surviving member of the singing Andrews Sisters trio whose hits such as the rollicking "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B" and the poignant "I Can Dream, Can't I?" captured the home-front spirit of World War II, died Wednesday. She was 94.

Andrews died of natural causes at her home in the Los Angeles suburb of Northridge, said family spokesman Alan Eichler in a statement.

Patty was the Andrews in the middle, the lead singer and chief clown, whose raucous jitterbugging delighted American servicemen abroad and audiences at home.

She could also deliver sentimental ballads like "I'll Be with You in Apple Blossom Time" with a sincerity that caused hardened GIs far from home to weep.

From the late 1930s through the 1940s, the Andrews Sisters produced one hit record after another, beginning with "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen" in 1937 and continuing with "Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar," "Rum and Coca-Cola" and more. They recorded more than 400 songs and sold over 80 million records, several of them going gold (over a million copies).

Other sisters, notably the Boswells, had become famous as singing acts, but mostly they huddled before a microphone in close harmony. The Andrews Sisters _ LaVerne, Maxene and Patty _ added a new dimension. During breaks in their singing, they cavorted about the stage in rhythm to the music.

Their voices combined with perfect synergy. As Patty remarked in 1971: "There were just three girls in the family. LaVerne had a very low voice. Maxene's was kind of high, and I was between. It was like God had given us voices to fit our parts."

The Andrews Sisters' rise coincided with the advent of swing music, and their style fit perfectly into the new craze. They aimed at reproducing the sound of three harmonizing trumpets.

"I was listening to Benny Goodman and to all the bands," Patty once remarked. "I was into the feel, so that would go into my own musical ability. I was into swing. I loved the brass section."


Unlike other singing acts, the sisters recorded with popular bands of the `40s, fitting neatly into the styles of Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Jimmy Dorsey, Bob Crosby, Woody Herman, Guy Lombardo, Desi Arnaz and Russ Morgan. They sang dozens of songs on records with Bing Crosby, including the million-seller "Don't Fence Me In." They also recorded with Dick Haymes, Carmen Miranda, Danny Kaye, Al Jolson, Jimmy Durante and Red Foley.

The Andrews' popularity led to a contract with Universal Pictures, where they made a dozen low-budget musical comedies between 1940 and 1944. In 1947, they appeared in "The Road to Rio" with Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour.

The trio continued until LaVerne's death in 1967. By that time the close harmony had turned to discord, and the sisters had been openly feuding.


Bette Midler's 1973 cover of "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" revived interest in the trio. The two survivors joined in 1974 for a Broadway show, "Over Here!" It ran for more than a year, but disputes with the producers led to the cancellation of the national tour of the show, and the sisters did not perform together again.

Patty continued on her own, finding success in Las Vegas and on TV variety shows. Her sister also toured solo until her death in 1995.

Her father, Peter Andrews, was a Greek immigrant who anglicized his name of Andreus when he arrived in America; his wife, Olga, was a Norwegian with a love of music. LaVerne was born in 1911, Maxine (later Maxene) in 1916, Patricia (later Patty, sometimes Patti) in 1918.


All three sisters were born and raised in the Minneapolis area, spending summers in Mound, Minn., on the western shores of Lake Minnetonka, about 20 miles west of Minneapolis.

Listening to the Boswell Sisters on radio, LaVerne played the piano and taught her sisters to sing in harmony; neither Maxene nor Patty ever learned to read music. All three studied singers at the vaudeville house near their father's restaurant. As their skills developed, they moved from amateur shows to vaudeville and singing with bands.

After Peter Andrews moved the family to New York in 1937, his wife, Olga, sought singing dates for the girls. They were often turned down with comments such as: "They sing too loud and they move too much." Olga persisted, and the sisters sang on radio with a hotel band at $15 a week. The broadcasts landed them a contract with Decca Records.

They recorded a few songs, and then came "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen," an old Yiddish song for which Sammy Cahn and Saul Kaplan wrote English lyrics. (The title means, "To Me You Are Beautiful.") It was a smash hit, and the Andrews Sisters were launched into the bigtime.

Their only disappointment was the movies. Universal was a penny-pinching studio that ground out product to fit the lower half of a double bill. The sisters were seldom involved in the plots, being used for musical interludes in film with titles such as "Private Buckaroo," "Swingtime Johnny" and "Moonlight and Cactus."



Their only hit was "Buck Privates," which made stars of Abbott and Costello and included the trio's blockbuster "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy from Company B." In 1947, Patty married Martin Melcher, an agent who represented the sisters as well as Doris Day, then at the beginning of her film career. Patty divorced Melcher in 1949 and soon he became Day's husband, manager and producer.

Patty married Walter Weschler, pianist for the sisters, in 1952. He became their manager and demanded more pay for himself and for Patty. The two other sisters rebelled, and their differences with Patty became public. Lawsuits were filed between the two camps.

"We had been together nearly all our lives," Patty explained in 1971. "Then in one year our dream world ended. Our mother died and then our father. All three of us were upset, and we were at each other's throats all the time."

Patty Andrews is survived by her foster daughter, Pam DuBois, a niece and several cousins. Weschler died in 2010. Here is the last picture of Patty Andrews from around Christmastime 2012...



SOURCE

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

THE CHILDREN OF EDDIE CANTOR


One of the longest running gags during the old days of radio was Eddie Cantor and his five daughters. In reality there was no Hollywood father closer to his daughters than Cantor was. However,  Eddie would joke on radio that he is going to trade his five daughters for Bing Crosby's four sons. I wanted to look into his five daughters, and see what became of them and what they did in their lives.

MARJORIE CANTOR (1915-1959)
Marjorie was the first daughter, and although she never sought the spotlight she and her other four sisters became a big part of their father's radio act. Marjorie never married and unfortunately, Marjorie suffered a long time with cancer. After a valiant battle against the disease, she succumbed to the disease at the young age of 44. All four other sisters were with Marjorie when she passed away. Eddie and Ida were inconsolable, and they never were the same after her death.

NATALIE CANTOR METZGER (1916-1997)
Natalie was the second Cantor daughter and truly the hardest one to find information on. She was first married to a Joesph Lewis Metzger and had a son Michael on October 18, 1939. Michael was Eddie Cantor's first grandchild. The marriage ended in divorce. In 1965, Natalie married actor Robert Clary. Eddie helped to give Robert his start, and he was most widely known for his role on television's "Hogan's Heroes".

EDNA CANTOR MCHUGH (1919-2003)
Edna was the third oldest of Cantor's five daughters -- all of whom became household names during the many years the comedian starred on radio, stage, film and TV. She was previously married to theatrical manager agent Jimmy McHugh Jr., who predeceased her. He was the son of composer Jimmy McHugh. Edna never was in the limelight as much as her other sisters, but she wrote several cookbooks including "Chocolate Kicks" and "Happy Endings." Fran (Mrs. Ray) Stark credited her with finding Barbra Streisand to play the Fanny Brice role in "Funny Girl."


MARILYN CANTOR BAKER (1921-2010)
Marilyn was the fourth daughter and the one that did the most work in the field of show business. Fiercely independent and known to her friends and family as irreverently funny, she enjoyed a long and fruitful life as an actor, singer-comedienne, theatrical producer, TV writer and performer. Cantor Baker performed with her father on television's Colgate Comedy Hour, What's My Line, and in a variety of television and radio appearances. In her twenties, Cantor Baker performed a night club act at Le Ruban Bleu and Blue Angel in New York, and in the Loews Circuit, including Las Vegas. In the early 1940's, she became the first woman disc jockey in New York on WNEW radio. She created "Sidney Shore," which in 1981 became the innovative sit-com "Love, Sidney," starring Tony Randall. Cantor-Baker worked tirelessly in the 1950's and 60's to raise money for State of Israel Bonds, also narrating the Israeli fashion shows. She was married for over fifty years and left behind her husband, son, daughter, and five grandchildren when she passed away.

JANET CANTOR GARI (BORN 1927)
Janet was the youngest of Eddie's daughters, and the last surviving one. She was a songwriter who has collaborated with Toby Garson, the daughter of composer Harry Ruby, on children's shows and an off-Broadway musical. Janet was married to actor and artist Roberto Gari (1920-2008) for seventeen years, but they divorced in 1968. They remained friends their whole life. Her son, Brian Gari, is a talented performer and songwriter himself. He helps to keep his grandfather's name alive almost fifty years after Eddie's death. Her daughter, Amanda Gari, is a very popular performer on the west coast. Janet has written three books as well. My favorite of her three books is her first book. Titled "Don't Wear Silver In The Winter", it was the story of her elusive mother Ida Tobias Cantor. It was published in 2008.



Sunday, January 27, 2013

SAN FRANCISCO: THE FIRST DISASTER MOVIE

Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, I got to see all of the popular disaster movies of the day from Earthquake (1974) to Dante’s Peak (1997). With the special effects and CGI of modern movies, it is pretty easy to create a disaster movie. However, in my opinion one of the first disaster movies was San Francisco (1936). The movie has been listed as a musical as well as a drama, but I consider it a disaster movie. For 1936 the special effects are pretty good, and like many modern disaster movies there are central characters that seem to over come terrible hardships.

Based on the April 18, 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the film was the top grossing movie of that year, stars Clark Gable, Jeanette MacDonald, and Spencer Tracy. The then very popular singing of MacDonald helped make this film a hit, coming on the heels of her other 1936 blockbuster, Rose Marie. The Internet Movie Database reports that famous silent film directors D. W. Griffith and Erich von Stroheim contributed to the screenplay without screen credit. Griffith also helped direct the famous earthquake sequence.

The earthquake montage sequence was created by montage expert Slavko Vorkapich. The Barbary Coast barroom set was built on a special platform that rocked and shook to simulate the historical temblor. (Similar sets were built for the 1974 disaster film Earthquake).


There are two versions of the ending. The original release features a stylish montage of then-current (1936) scenes of a bustling San Francisco, including Market Street and the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge. When the film was re-released in 1948, it was thought these scenes were dated and the film fades out on a single long shot of the modern business district. However, the TV and 16mm versions of the film seen in the 1950s and 60s were struck from the original version which includes the montage. The current DVD and cable version features the shorter, 1948 version.


Gable and Tracy also made two other films together, Test Pilot and Boom Town, before Tracy eventually insisted on the same top billing clause in his MGM contract that Gable had enjoyed, effectively ending the American cinema's most famous screen team. Gable had played a similar character also named "Blackie" two years earlier in the smash hit gangster epic Manhattan Melodrama, with William Powell and Myrna Loy.

Even though many movie books and critics consider the film a musical, it really only contained the title song in the film. The title song may be the best-remembered part of the film. It was composed by Bronislaw Kaper and Walter Jurmann, with lyrics by Gus Kahn. It is sung by Jeanette MacDonald a half-dozen times in the film, and becomes an anthem for the survivors of the earthquake. It has now a popular sentimental sing-along at public events such as the city's annual earthquake commemoration. Early in the film the song "The Darktown Strutters Ball" can be heard; this is a historically inaccurate inclusion, since the song was written in 1917. During the two operatic scenes in the film, MacDonald sang excerpts from Charles Gounod's Faust and Giuseppe Verdi's La Traviata.


While I was impressed with the screen compatibility of Clark Gable, Jeannette MacDonald, and Spencer Tracy, to me the true star of the film was the earthquake itself. The finale of the earthquake which is what we are waiting for. And what a spectacle it is!! It is very well done in those days before sophisticated special effects; with tumbling buildings, crashing walls and the inevitable fire. There are a couple of poignant scenes when the firefighters must blow up buildings and homes to control the fire thus destroying lifetimes of work and memories.



The ending is a little bit over the top as those who have lost their families and all that they own, joyously sing the Battle Hymn of the Republic and march up the hill to view the destruction (I'm not sure I would be that upbeat)......but it is still effective. The fade to the modern day (1936) San Francisco is just the right ending note. Before the earthquake, you see people stressing over trivial things, and then after the earthquake people realize what is important in life. History repeats itself from earthquakes to the terrorism on September 11, 2001. Society faces hardships and continues on. I think that San Francisco in 1936 was one of the first movies that showed this kind of a disaster that hits humanity every generation. It may have been the first disaster films but it won't be the last...


Friday, January 25, 2013

THE APPEAL OF KAY FRANCIS

I pride myself in being a classic film lover. However, no matter how many films I see there are always more to watch and discover. Turning on TCM on any given week, the viewer has a good chance to see a Kay Francis movie, or it seems like it. I never really new too much about this star or her movies, so I thought it was time I get a little schooling on the appeal of Kay Francis.

Kay Francis was born Katharine Edwina Gibbs in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma in 1905. Her parents, Joseph Sprague Gibbs and his actress wife Katharine Clinton Francis, were married on December 3, 1903 in New York City at the Church of the Transfiguration, and they moved to Oklahoma City the following year. But, by the time Katharine was four, her father had left. Joseph Gibbs, who stood 6’4”, gave his daughter the gift of height – she was Hollywood's tallest leading lady (5 ft 9 in) in the 1930s. (Ingrid Bergman and Alexis Smith matched her in height, but did not become stars in Hollywood until the 1940s.)

From 1932 through 1936, Francis was the queen of the Warners lot and increasingly her films were developed as star vehicles. By the mid-thirties, Francis was one of the highest-paid people in the United States. She frequently played long-suffering heroines, in films such as I Found Stella Parrish, Secrets of an Actress, and Comet over Broadway, displaying to good advantage lavish wardrobes that, in some cases, were more memorable than the characters she played—a fact often emphasized by contemporary film reviewers. Too frequently, however, Francis' clotheshorse reputation led Warners to concentrate resources on lavish sets and costumes, designed to appeal to Depression-era female audiences and capitalize on her reputation as the epitome of chic, rather than on scripts. Eventually, Francis herself became dissatisfied with these vehicles and began openly to feud with her employers, even threatening a lawsuit against them for inferior treatment. This in turn led to her demotion to programmers such as 1939's Women in the Wind and, in the same year, to the termination of her contract.

 
After her release from Warners, Francis was unable to secure another studio contract. Carole Lombard, one of the most popular stars of the late 30s and early 1940s (and who had previously been a supporting player in Francis' 1931 film, Ladies' Man) tried to bolster Francis' career by insisting Francis be cast in In Name Only (1939). In this film, Francis had a supporting role to Lombard and Cary Grant, but wisely recognized that the film offered her an opportunity to engage in some serious acting.

After this, she moved to character and supporting parts, playing catty professional women—holding her own against Rosalind Russell in The Feminine Touch, for example—and mothers opposite rising young stars such as Deanna Durbin. Francis did have a lead role in the Bogart gangster film King of the Underworld, released in 1939. With the start of World War II, Francis did volunteer work, including extensive war-zone touring, which was first chronicled in a book attributed to fellow volunteer Carole Landis, Four Jills in a Jeep, which became a popular 1943 film of the same name, with a cavalcade of stars and Martha Raye and Mitzi Mayfair joining Landis and Francis to fill out the complement of Jills.

 
Despite the success of Four Jills, the end of the war found Francis virtually unemployable in Hollywood. She signed a three-film contract with Poverty Row studio Monogram Pictures that gave her production credit as well as star billing. The results—the films Divorce, Wife Wanted, and Allotment Wives—had limited releases in 1945 and 1946. Francis spent the balance of the 1940s on the stage, appearing with some success in State of the Union and touring in various productions of plays old and new, including one, Windy Hill, backed by former Warners colleague Ruth Chatterton.

Declining health, aggravated by an accident in 1948 in which she was badly burned by a radiator, hastened her retirement from show business. Francis married five times. Her diaries, preserved in an academic collection at Wesleyan University, paint a picture of a woman whose personal life was often in disarray. In 1966, Francis was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy, but the cancer had spread and proved fatal. Having no living immediate family members, Francis left more than $1,000,000 to Seeing Eye, Inc., which trained guide dogs for the blind. She died in the summer of 1968 and her body was immediately cremated; her ashes were scattered. Learning more about actress Kay Francis has made me want to see her movies and discover what her appeal was in those 1930s movies. It was a time when movies were an escape from the stress of the day, and no other actress of the time seemed to be more fun to escape with than Kay Francis...

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

WHERE ARE THEY NOW: PETER ROBBINS


You may not know the name Peter Robbins, but his voice is heard by countless fans and viewers of the original Peanuts television special. Robbins has the distinction of voicing Charlie Brown for the first time on television. Peter was born on August 10, 1956 and began voicing Charlie Brown at the age of 8 for the first special in 1965. His mother was an immigrant from Hungary who sadly died from cancer when Peter was sixteen years old.

Robbins provided Charlie Brown's voice in several Peanuts television specials and film from 1965 to 1969. These include the film A Boy Named Charlie Brown and television specials A Charlie Brown Christmas and It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. For the first Charlie Brown special, A Charlie Brown Christmas, Robbins was only paid $125 for his voice work.

While Robbins was replaced by other child actors in the Peanuts specials produced after 1969, his trademark scream of "AAUGGGHH!!", first used in It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, continued to be used in the later specials for Charlie Brown and other characters.

He appeared in an episode of F Troop in 1966 entitled "The Sergeant And The Kid". He also appeared in an episode of Get Smart as the mysterious Dr. T. Peter quit acting in 1972 and worked for a while as a disc jockey in Palm Springs, California. He graduated from the University of California in San Diego in 1979 with degrees in psychology and communications.

Peter hosted a talk radio show in Palm Springs at KPSL 1010 Talk Radio in 1990s. In 2006, according to a broadcast by National Public Radio, Peter Robbins managed real estate in Van Nuys, California. Robbins visited the San Diego Comic-con in 2008 along with fellow former Peanuts voices and Lee Mendelson to speak to the crowd. Robbins said that his voice of Charlie Brown was his natural voice, but it had a special kind of inflection, a mixture of anxiety and reflection as only a 9-year-old can display.

Unfortunately, while I was researching this story Peter Robbins was back in the news. Robbins was arrested on January 20th, 2013 on charges of stalking. California authorities told the press that the voice actor was detained at a border crossing between San Diego and Tijuana, Mexico on Sunday. He was taken into custody after a border patrol officer discovered Robbins was wanted by the San Diego County Sheriff's on a felony warrant, Ralph DeSio, a public affairs officer with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection office, told The Associated Press. DeSio did not say what crimes Robbins allegedly committed, but the website for the San Diego County Jail, where he was transported and booked, says he faces five felony counts, including stalking and making a threat to cause death or bodily injury. Bail is set at $550,000. There is also a report that Peter has terminal cancer, but that piece of information has not been verified.

Oh Charlie Brown you block head...



Monday, January 21, 2013

THE LAST DAYS OF AL BOWLLY

Here is our final installment on the life and times of Al Bowlly...


Jimmy Mesene and Al Bowlly had formed a singing and guitar playing duo to work the music halls in 1940 at a time when both of their careers seemed stalled. They worked as 'The Radio Stars with Two Guitars' or 'The Anglo-Greek Ambassadors of Song'. Al Bowlly's untimely death may have been the last straw for Jimmy Mesene who would have seen his living disappear and had lost a friend as well as a partner.

Al and his partner of the day Jimmy Mesene were booked for one week to do "Cine Variety" at the Rex Theatre at High Wycombe starting Monday April 14th, 1941. The engagement at the Rex, which was in Oxford Street, High Wycombe, and which was closed some time after the war, turned out to be Al’s last theatre date. The Rex Theatre was running Cine-variety that week, and the top-of-the-bill was Al Bowlly and Jimmy Mesene billed as "the Anglo-Greek Ambassadors of Song – Two voices and Guitars in Harmony".

John Watsham, manager of the theatre recalled:
"Little did we guess what the week would have in store for us! After the second house on Wednesday night, 16th April, we were having a little private party in a nearby hostelry – Al, Jimmy, my manager Captain Talbot Bullock, my wife and myself. The night wore on, and it was a good party, Al ..... suddenly told us that he was leaving to catch the last train to London. He was adamant, despite all our efforts to make him change his mind. Little did we realize then that we should never see him again."

Geoff Nash who was the projectionist at the Rex Theatre has his own memories of Al Bowlly:
"I must have been one of the last to talk to Al, which I remember clearly. Most artistes took the advantage of staying in High Wycombe for the week, in which way they could get a reasonable night’s sleep; things were not too hectic here. Al was the exception, as far as my memory allows, deciding to travel back to London on the last train, 10.34pm from High Wycombe station for Marylebone."

So Bowlly returned to his flat in Dukes Court in the West End at a time when London was being bombed nightly, and fatally decided not to bother to go to the safety of an air raid shelter. Both were offered the opportunity of an overnight stay in the town, but Bowlly opted to take the last train home to his flat at 32 Duke Street, Dukes Court, St James, London. His decision proved to be fatal, as he was killed by a Luftwaffe parachute mine that detonated outside his flat later that evening. His body appeared unmarked: although the massive explosion had not disfigured him, it had blown his bedroom door off its hinges and the impact against his head proved fatal. He was buried with other bombing victims in a mass grave at the Hanwell Cemetery (originally City of Westminster Cemetery), Uxbridge Road, Hanwell, London, where his name is spelled Albert Alex Bowlly.

Jimmy Mesene telephoned John Watsham at the Rex Theatre to break the news of Al Bowlly’s death. John’s instinct was the cancel the remainder of the show. However, Jimmy persuaded him to open again on the Friday with "A Tribute To Al Bowlly".


Bowlly died in the early hours of April 17, 1941 and a tribute did not appear in the "Melody Maker" until the 25th which announced that his funeral would be on Saturday 26th at Westminster City Council Cemetery, Uxbridge Road, Hanwell. No special memorial for Bowlly exists, there was just one tombstone for the communal grave erected on what was then a barren piece of land. Although Jimmy Mesene had intended to erect a memorial he could not do it because he was unrelated to Bowlly and could not get the necessary permission.

Al Bowlly is invariably credited with inventing crooning, or "The Modern Singing Style", releasing a book of the same name. Bowlly experimented with new methods of amplification, not least with his Melody Maker advert, showing him endorsing a portable vocal megaphone. With the advent of the microphone in 1931, Al adapted his singing style, moving away from the Jazz singing style of the 20s, into the softer, more expressive crooning singing style used in popular music of the 30s and 40s. It was Al's technique, sincerity, diction and his personality that distinguish him from many other singers of the 30s era.

Al is also credited with being the first "pop star". Prior to the advent of Bowlly, the bandleaders were the stars and the main attractions, with the records being sold as "Ray Noble and his orchestra (with vocal refrain)", a phenomenon that can be seen on 78s of the period. Most singers were all but anonymous; however, Al's popularity changed this, with him being the first singer to be given a solo spot on BBC radio due to popular demand, and records appearing featuring his own name. Bowlly's personality, good looks, charisma, and above all his voice, earned him the nickname "The Big Swoon", with Al finding himself being mobbed by female fans for autographs and photos after his performances. One of the first places I remember hearing Bowlly's voice was in the 1980 movie The Shining - his recording of "Midnight, The Stars, And You" was featured prominently in the movie background.

Al Bowlly died tragically young, and like other stars such as Carole Lombard, Leslie Howard, Glenn Miller, and Chick Henderson - he became a casuality of war. His voice was silenced that day in 1941, but his hundreds of recordings live on in the records and now compact discs that still remind us that Al's was the sweetest thing - just like the Ray Noble song said...

Friday, January 18, 2013

ROBERT WAGNER REFUSES TO CO-OPERATE

In the latest news from this decades old Natalie Wood drowning saga, it seems that her husband actor Robert Wagner is refusing to be interviewed by police as part of them reopening the Wood drowning.

Wagner was interviewed by authorities soon after Wood's drowning in 1981, but the actor is the only person who was on the yacht the night Wood died who has not spoken to detectives as part of the latest inquiry, despite repeated requests and attempts, sheriff's Lt. John Corina said.

Blair Berk, an attorney for Wagner and his family, said the actor had cooperated with authorities since his wife died.

Detectives began re-investigating the case in November 2011. Since then investigators have interviewed more than 100 people, but Wagner has refused and Corina said the actor's representatives have not given any reason for his silence.

The detective's remarks provided new insight into the case that has remained one of Hollywood's enduring mysteries. Earlier this week, coroner's officials released an updated autopsy report that had been under a security hold. It detailed why Wood's death had been reclassified from an accidental drowning to a drowning caused by "undetermined factors."

"Mr. Wagner has fully cooperated over the last 30 years in the investigation of the accidental drowning of his wife in 1981," Berk said in a prepared statement. "Mr. Wagner has been interviewed on multiple occasions by the Los Angeles sheriff's department and answered every single question asked of him by detectives during those interviews."
After 30 years, Berk said, neither Wagner nor his daughters have any new information to add. She said the latest investigation was prompted by people seeking to exploit and sensationalize the 30th anniversary of the death.

The renewed inquiry came after the yacht's captain Dennis Davern told "48 Hours" and the "Today" show that he heard Wagner and Wood arguing the night of her disappearance and believed Wagner was to blame for her death.

Authorities have not identified any suspects in the case. Robert Wagner is not currently a suspect.

Wood, 43, was on a yacht with Wagner, Christopher Walken and the boat captain on Thanksgiving weekend of 1981 before she somehow ended up in the water.

Corina said Walken gave a prepared statement and spoke to detectives for an hour.

Detectives have also interviewed other actors who knew both Wagner and Wood to learn more about their relationship.

Corina said detectives have tried at least 10 times to interview Wagner but have been refused. He said some of the refusals have come from the actor's attorney, and that detectives at one point traveled to Colorado to try to speak with Wagner but were unsuccessful.

Corina said the latest inquiry had turned up new evidence.


"Most of the people we've talked to were never talked to 30 years ago," he said. "We've got a lot of new information."

Asked if the information might lead to criminal charges, Corina said that would be up to prosecutors if they are presented a case.

"All we can do is collect the facts," he said. "We're still trying to collect all the facts."

Corina said new people have emerged with information each time the case is in the news. Detectives would like to interview other people who haven't agreed to talk, he said.

Coroner's officials released an update autopsy report on Monday that detailed the reasons Wood's death certificate was changed last year from a drowning death to "drowning and other undetermined factors."

The updated report states the change was made in part because investigators couldn't rule out that some of the bruises and marks on Wood's body happened before she went into the water.

"Since there are unanswered questions and limited additional evidence available for evaluation, it is opined by this medical examiner that the manner of death should be left as undetermined," Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Lakshmanan Sathyavagiswaran wrote in the report completed in June.

Officials also considered that Wood wasn't wearing a life jacket, had no history of suicide attempts and didn't leave a note as reasons to amend the death certificate.

Wood was famous for roles in films such as "West Side Story" and "Rebel Without a Cause" and was nominated for three Academy Awards.

Conflicting versions of what happened on the yacht have contributed to the mystery of her death. Wood, Wagner and Walken had all been drinking heavily in the hours before the actress disappeared.

Wagner wrote in a 2008 memoir that he and Walken argued that night. He wrote that Walken went to bed and he stayed up for a while, but when he went to bed, he noticed that his wife and a dinghy that had been attached to the yacht were missing.

"Nobody knows," he wrote. "There are only two possibilities; either she was trying to get away from the argument, or she was trying to tie the dinghy. But the bottom line is that nobody knows exactly what happened"...


SOURCE

Thursday, January 17, 2013

THE HOBOKEN FOUR AND THE BIRTH OF SINATRA

Frank Sinatra Hoboken Four 1935
Many people just discovering the Frank Sinatra sound think his career began in the 1940s when he sang with the big bands. While he gained his big break singing with Harry James and later Tommy Dorsey, Sinatra started out back in 1935. So how did it all start? How did Francis Albert Sinatra became the legendary jazz and swing figure of 20th century? No doubt it all started with the Hoboken Four, or formerly known as the Three Flashes.

It was the year 1935, when Sinatra was 19. There was a local music group in Hoboken, New Jersey. The name of the group was “The Three Flashes” and the members of the group were named as Jimmy Petrozelli (1909-1981), Pat Principe and Fred Tamburro (1913-1987).
 
Frank had discovered that music meant a lot to him, and he could be nothing but a singer. He had always adored Bing Crosby and talked about how amazing Bing’s voice was. He had a picture of Crosby in his room, and he always said “I’m gonna be better than Crosby!” Well, we surely know now he was not joking.

The Three Flashes was performing at a place called “Rustic Cabin” with Harold Arlen and his orchestra. Frank knew that to be a great singer, he had to start in some way. Frank wanted to be a member of the group, and asked them if he could join. The answer he got was, “We will think about it”, definitely not the answer he expected. Actually Frank was to be very useful to them, because the group had no car and had to use bus or even sometimes cab to go to the places where they were to perform, and Frank Sinatra with his Chrysler was whom they needed.

Frank Sinatra’s mother, Dolly Sinatra, was a very powerful person on Hoboken. He told his mom that he wanted to join the group more than anything. Dolly spoke to Fred Tamburro’s family, and Frank was in.

Fred Tamburro later said: “We took him along for one simple reason: Frankie-boy had a car. He used to chauffeur us around.”

And Jimmy Petrozelli said: “Dolly was a big wheel in Hoboken. She kept throwing her weight around, and we finally took him.”

Those years, Major Edward Bowes’s “Original Amateur Hour” was very popular on the radio. It was a contest where singers were performing to be the winner and famous. Major Bowes (1874–1946) wanted the Three Flashes on his show, and when the flashes said they had a new member, Bowes really liked it.

Major Bowes decided to name them as “The Hoboken Four”, and on September 8th, they were on stage! They had white suits and black ties on them and were going to sing “Shine”, Sinatra doing Bing Crosby’s part.


Major Bowes introduced them as “singing and dancing fools” and when someone offstage asked why he said so, Bowes replied: “I don’t know. I guess because they are so happy.”

Fred Tamburro introduced himself, James and Pat, but he ignored Sinatra. When Bowes asked “What about that one”, Fred said “Oh, he never worked a day in his life.”

The Hoboken Four won the contest that night. Bowes said: “They walked right into the hearts of their audience.”

The prize was a 6-month contract to perform on stage and on radio and they were earning a lot more than before. But things were not going well for Frank Sinatra. He was the center of attention, and the other members did not like that at all.

Petrozelli said: “He got so good after just a couple of months on the tour.”

In mid-December, after 3 months they started the tour, Frank quit as he could not stand the touring schedule anymore. Also for a person wanting to be better than Bing Crosby, the group was not doing much. Sinatra knew he deserved more, and returned back to Hoboken. The Hoboken Four broke up shortly after they finished the tour. Only Sinatra was going to make it as a singer, and the rest is history...



SOURCE

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

RIP: CONRAD BAIN

For many of us, the upbeat theme song lyrics "What might be right for you, may not be right for some" became a life-affirming maxim back in the late 1970s, when they opened each episode of the sitcom Diff'rent Strokes. The wholesome program about a New York businessman who adopts a pair of orphaned brothers from Harlem regularly showcased family values and life lessons, usually delivered by father figure Phillip Drummond, played by actor Conrad Bain. Fans of the popular comedy series will be sad to learn that Bain, long out of the acting game, has reportedly died at the age of 89.

TMZ reports that Bain passed away on Monday night in Livermore, Calif., of causes yet unknown. With the exception of a one-off appearance on the TV series Unforgettable in 2011, Bain has not acted since 1996, when he parodied his Diff'rent Strokes character on an episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Bain was also a starring player on Norman Lear's 1970s sitcom Maude, playing the uptight Dr. Harmon, a foil to Bea Arthur's title character.

His cause of death was unclear, but his daughter Jennifer told TMZ: "He was an amazing person. He was a lot like Mr. Drummond, but much more interesting in real life. He was an amazing father."

Bain's death leaves only one surviving member from his "Diff'rent Strokes" TV family. Dana Plato, who played his daughter Kimberly, died in 1999 of a drug overdose. Gary Coleman, who played adopted son Arnold Jackson, died in 2010 after a fall down a flight of stairs in his home. Only Todd Bridges, who played his adopted son Willis Jackson, remains.

When reached for comment, Bridges' manager had not yet heard of Bain's reported passing.

Bain is survived by his twin brother Bonar, and his three sons and one daughter...

SOURCE



Tuesday, January 15, 2013

JERRY LEWIS BACK ONSCREEN


In his first film starring role since 1995′s Funny Bones, Jerry Lewis starts work tomorrow in the starring role of the indie feature Max Rose. Directed by Daniel Noah from his script, the film is a drama about a jazz pianist who has recently lost his wife of over five decades. A discovery made days before her death causes Max to believe his marriage was a lie. He embarks on an exploration of his own past that brings him face to face with a menagerie of characters from a bygone era. Noah is making his directing debut.

While he has done stage work, the 86-year-old Lewis hasn’t done much in the way of films in a long time. Before Funny Bones his last big starring role came in 1983′s Martin Scorsese-directed The King Of Comedy, opposite Robert De Niro.

Lewis stars with Claire Bloom, Kevin Pollak, Argo‘s Kerry Bishe and Mort Sahl. It’s a reunion for Sahl and Lewis, as Sahl appeared on Lewis’ 1963 comedy variety series. The project was trotted out several Cannes Film Festivals ago, but then languished. Since then, Noah has gone on to partner with Elijah Wood and Josh C. Waller in The Woodshed, an indy production company with a bent towards genre films.

The film, which will shoot in Los Angeles, is produced by Mosaic Media Group’s Lawrence Inglee and Lightstream Pictures’ Garrett Kelleher...


  SOURCE

Monday, January 14, 2013

MORE SUSPICION IN NATALIE WOOD DROWNING

A new coroner's report casts doubt on the actress's accidental death ruling, citing scratches and bruises that likely occurred before she fell into the ocean and drowned.

Actress Natalie Wood suffered fresh scratches and bruises before she landed in the Pacific Ocean and drowned, according to a new review of the 1981 coroner's report that casts further doubt on the original accidental death ruling.

A new supplemental report released Monday reveals new details about the revisions to Natalie Wood's coroner's report, offering further explanation into why her official cause of death was changed from "accidental" to "undetermined" in July.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department reopened the case in 2011 that originally determined Wood had died of accidental drowning after falling overboard the boat belonging to her husband, Robert Wagner, near Catalina Island off the coast of Southern California on Nov. 29, 1981.

The new report, released Monday, said the coroner's new review of the autopsy could not verify that the pre-mortem scratches and bruises were caused by a fall off a dinghy or an attempt to climb back into the boat, the Los Angeles Times reported.

"The location of the bruises, the multiplicity of the bruises, lack of head trauma, or facial bruising support bruising having occurred prior to the entry into the water," said Dr. Lakshmanan Sathyavagiswaran, in a supplemental report filed June 15, 2012.

"Since there are many unanswered questions and limited additional evidence available for evaluation, it is opined by this Medical Examiner that the manner of death should be left as undetermined."

The report found there were conflicting statements about the moments before and after Wood went missing, whether she argued with Wagner and what time she disappeared. An examination of her stomach contents suggested she died around midnight, but she wasn't reported missing until after 1:30 a.m.

Since the dingy could not be reexamined for scratches, the coroner said he could not determine whether she attempted to climb back in.

Christopher Walken and the boat's captain were also on board when Wood disappeared. Wagner and Walken got into a heated argument over Wood's career; it remains unclear if Wood herself was involved in the argument.

Wood went to the master's cabin alone while the two men were still fighting, and Wagner says she had disappeared by the time he went to bed.

The theory--at least the one that doesn't accuse Wager of murdering his wife--is that the dinghy came loose and Wood fell overboard while trying to refasten it...


SOURCE


AL BOWLLY: THE POPULAR YEARS

Here is part 2 of three of my look at singer Al Bowlly...

A visit to New York in 1934 with Ray Noble resulted in more success, and their recordings first achieved popularity in the USA; he appeared at the head of an orchestra hand-picked for him and Noble by Glenn Miller (the band included Claude Thornhill, Charlie Spivak, and Bud Freeman, among others).

During the mid-1930s, such songs as "Blue Moon", "Easy to Love", "I've Got You Under My Skin", and "My Melancholy Baby" were sizable American successes—so much so that Bowlly gained his own radio series on NBC and traveled to Hollywood to appear in the same movie as Bing Crosby, one of his biggest competitors, in The Big Broadcast (1935).

He had appeared with his own band, the Radio City Rhythm Makers, but they had split by late 1937 when his vocal problems were traced to a wart in his throat, which briefly caused him to lose his voice. With him and Marjie separated and his band dissolved, that year he was once again down on his luck. He was forced to borrow money from friends for a trip to New York for the surgery of which he was so in need. In 1938, he finally returned to the USA to undergo successful major throat surgery for the removal of his vocal wart, but still had difficulties later in his career.

His absence from the UK when he moved to the States in 1934 damaged his popularity with British audiences. His career also began to suffer as a result of problems with his voice from around 1936, which affected the frequency of his recordings. He played a few small parts in films around this time, yet never professed to be an actor. The parts he did play were often cut, and scenes that were shown were brief. Noble was offered a role in Hollywood although the offer did not, unfortunately, include Bowlly, as a singer had already been instated. Consequently, Bowlly moved back to London with his wife Marjie in January 1937, but never really explained why he had returned, with contemporaries and fans being treated to a variety of stories ranging from the fact that he missed London to claims that he got mixed up with a gangster's moll, so had been run out of America.

With his diminished success in Britain, he toured regional theatres and recorded as often as possible to make a living, moving from orchestra to orchestra, including those of Sydney Lipton, Geraldo, and Ken Johnson. He underwent a revival from 1940, as part of a double act with Jimmy Messene (whose career had also suffered a recent downturn), with an act called Radio Stars with Two Guitars, performing on the London stage. It was his last venture before his death in April 1941. The partnership was an uneasy one, as Messene suffered from a serious drinking problem by this stage, and was known to turn up incapable on stage, or to not turn up at all, much to Bowlly's consternation. His last recorded song, made two weeks before his death, was a duet with Messene of Irving Berlin's satirical song on Hitler, "When That Man is Dead and Gone".

TO BE CONTINUED...



Friday, January 11, 2013

CLARA BOW RETROSPECTIVE

Long before Marilyn Monroe became a sex symbol in the 1950s, actress Clara Bow changed the image of women on screen when she burst upon the cinematic landscape in the 1920s.

"She was the first sex symbol," said David Stenn, author of "Clara Bow: Runnin' Wild." "I think more than that, Clara was the first female star whose appeal was 50-50," he noted. "She could pull the male audience who wanted her and the female audience who wanted to be her."

Bow's winsome appeal is on display in the UCLA Film & Television Archive's new retrospective "Call Her Savage: Clara Bow Hits the Screen." It opens in January at the Billy Wilder Theater with her last two films, 1932's "Call Her Savage" and 1933's "Hoop-La," both of which were recently restored. Stenn, who has also funded restorations of Bow's films, will introduce the screenings.

Other films in the retrospective include the 1927 romantic comedy "It," which lead to Bow's nickname, the "It" girl; 1927's "Wings," which won the first best picture Oscar; 1929's "The Wild Party," which was her first talkie; and the rarely seen 1931 film "Kick-In."

When Bow began in films, female stars such as Gloria Swanson, Mary Pickford and Lillian Gish ruled the box office. Unlike today, where Hollywood mostly caters to boys and young men, "the whole star system was created for female audiences," noted Jan-Christopher Horak, head of the archive.

"Empirically, more young women went to the movies than young men, and once they had families, they made the decision and they catered to that audience," said Horak. "If you look at the ratio between male and female stars, it is almost the opposite of what it is now. "

With her short, wavy hair, big expressive eyes and abundant spunk, Bow embodied the spirit of the carefree, uninhibited Jazz Age flapper. Bow's popularity paralleled the enormous inroads women were making post-World War I, beginning with finally getting the right to vote in 1920, getting rid of their corsets and entering the workforce in larger numbers.

"There is much more gender equality and Clara Bow epitomizes the 'It' girl — someone who is single, young and loves sex and is not afraid of it," said Horak. "That is completely different from the Victorian image that D.W. Griffith is propagating in the teens and even until the '20s."

Bow was "extremely refreshing to the working-class public," said Elaina B. Archer, producer and co-writer of the documentary "Clara Bow: Discovering the 'It' Girl."

"Everyone loved her across societal borders," Archer said. "Clara allowed them to relax. She wasn't ashamed of her sexuality — she embraced it."

By the late 1920s, said Stenn, "she was the No. 1 box office attraction. Clara Bow was such a huge draw at Paramount she was contracted to do four movies a year. They were simply known as 'Winter Bow,' 'Spring Bow,' 'Summer Bow' and 'Fall Bow.'"


Behind her mask of sauciness and vitality, though, Bow was dealing with a lot of demons.

Just like Monroe, Bow had a poor, Dickensian childhood. "She was literally born in a one-room cold-water flat above a Baptist church in Brooklyn to a mother who tried to kill her," said Stenn. And though her father abused her, Bow protected him all of his life.

Her behavior off-screen was unconventional. There were scandals and highly publicized love affairs. "The sad thing was the studios were very hypocritical," said Archer. "When it came to Clara, they expected her to be free on the screen and then reined her in off screen," Archer said. "I think in a lot of ways, they used her up. She was hurt by what she went through."

By the early '30s, she was physically and mentally exhausted. She had made 45 films in six years. Bow had a nervous breakdown after "Kick-In" and was admitted into a sanitarium. During this time, she met and married cowboy actor Rex Bell. Two years later, she retired and moved with Bell to a ranch in Nevada and had two children.
But she never was free of her mental distress. There was a suicide attempt in 1944, followed in 1949 by a stay at a mental institution. After Bell's death in 1962, she moved back to Hollywood, where she died in seclusion of a heart attack at age 60 in 1965...



SOURCE



Wednesday, January 9, 2013

MAUREEN O'HARA LEAVES IRELAND


Maureen O’Hara has found peace in Idaho – but still has a place in her heart for Ireland and Hollywood. After a bitter legal struggle with a former personal assistant back in Cork, O’Hara has settled into a new life in Boise staying with her grandson Conor FitzSimons and as a great-grandmother to his two kids. Allegations of elder abuse and financial mismanagement by her personal assistant Carolyn Murphy was made which Murphy strongly denied.

In a statement last summer in Glengarrif,Cork where she then lived O’Hara stated “Discoveries give me grave concern regarding the handling of my affairs . . . Carolyn Murphy’s no longer my personal assistant.”

Murphy replied “I have done nothing wrong . . . I didn’t take any money” and she strongly denied allegations of elder abuse. ”

The 92-year-old screen legend has revealed her contentment in her new home in a moving interview with the Idaho Statesman.

And even now, as she relaxes in the company of her great-grandchildren, O’Hara finds time for some self critique as ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ fills the seasonal screens again.

As they watched the 1947 classic, she told Bill Roberts from the paper: “How did I do that? Why didn’t I pay attention? Oh, I did a good job with that scene.”

O’Hara is now living in a purpose built new home in Idaho after her only grandson Conor FitzSimons brought her back from Ireland. She is reticent to talk about the dispute with her former PA but plans to write a book on the experience.

Her New York based lawyer Ed Fickess explained: “Maureen took steps to discharge the power of attorney, then fended off a second power of attorney and took steps to be reunited with her family, especially her grandson.”

The report says that her recently built Boise home is dotted with memorabilia from her more than a half-century in film including a poster from 1955’s ‘The Magnificent Matador’ co-starring Anthony Quinn, and a photo of John Wayne, with whom she made five movies.

Roberts reports that when O’Hara talks about her new hometown, she sometimes uses both city and state: Boise, Idaho. “Funny thing,” she said, “when you are in the picture business, you don’t learn a thing by the one name.

“Scripts must tell the audience exactly what location you are talking about. People say, ‘Oh, this is my town ... and they tell their neighbors you better go see that movie because we get credit for our town. The most important part of showing a movie is to please the public.”

Recalling her childhood in ‘Dirty’ Dublin, O’Hara admitted she sees similarities between the city of her birth and her new home.

“I see cows and sheep along the roadside in the Treasure Valley and it reminds me of home,” she told Roberts...


SOURCE


Monday, January 7, 2013

AL BOWLLY: THE EARLY YEARS

A lot of people in the United States do not know who Al Bowlly is. Most people born after the World War II generation do not even know who Al Bowlly is in general. He did not have the greatest voice, but his crooning style made him one of England's most popular singers of the 1930s. His recording output is huge and often compared to the output of Bing Crosby. You may find it strange but I compare Bowlly often to Billie Holiday, like Holiday he had a voice you either loved or hated. I am one of the people that absolutely love his voice. Hopefully this three part series on Al Bowlly will introduce more people to his music and talent.

Al Bowlly was born Albert Allick Bowlly on January 7th,1898 in Lourenço Marques in the then Portuguese colony of Mozambique, to Greek and Lebanese parents who met en route to Australia and moved to South Africa. He was brought up in Johannesburg, South Africa. After a series of odd jobs across South Africa in his youth, namely as a barber and jockey, he gained his musical experience singing for a dance band led by Edgar Adeler on a tour of South Africa, Rhodesia, India and Indonesia during the mid-1920s. However, he fell out with Adeler, throwing a cushion at his head as he played piano on stage and was fired whilst the band was in Surabaya, Indonesia.

After a spell with a Filipino band in Surabayo he was then employed by Jimmy Liquime in India (Calcutta) and Singapore (Raffles Hotel). Bowlly had to work his passage back home, through busking. Just one year after his 1927 debut recording date in Berlin, where he recorded Irving Berlin's "Blue Skies" with Edgar Adeler, Bowlly arrived in London for the first time as part of Fred Elizalde's orchestra, though he nearly didn't make it after foolishly frittering away the fare which was sent to him by Elizalde. That year, "If I Had You" became one of the first popular songs by an English jazz band to become well known in America as well, and Bowlly had gone out on his own by the beginning of the 1930s. First, however, the onset of the Great Depression in 1929 resulted in Bowlly being made redundant and returning to several months of busking to survive.

In the 1930s, he signed two contracts—one in May 1931 with Roy Fox, singing in his live band for the Monseigneur Restaurant in London, the other a record contract with Ray Noble's orchestra in November 1930.

During the next four years, he recorded over 500 songs. By 1933 Lew Stone had ousted Fox as bandleader, and Bowlly was singing Stone's arrangements with Stone's band. After much radio exposure and a successful UK tour with Stone, Bowlly was inundated with demands for personal appearances and gigs—including undertaking a subsequent solo UK tour—but continued to make the bulk of his recordings with Noble. There was considerable competition between Noble and Stone for Bowlly's time as, for much of the year, Bowlly would spend all day in the recording studio with Noble's band, rehearsing and recording, only then to spend the evening playing live at the Monseigneur with Stone's band...

TO BE CONTINUED...

Saturday, January 5, 2013

BORN ON THIS DAY: JANE WYMAN

I have always said that for some reason actress Jane Wyman reminded me of my grandmother - my father's mother. Maybe it was the slightness of her build or in later years the similar hair styles, but to this day Wyman reminds me of her. However, Jane Wyman has always been a favorite actress of mine - whether in a musical or a comedy or a tense drama - Wyman could do it all. On this day, January 5th - Jane Wyman was born in 1917.

Wyman was born Sarah Jane Mayfield in St. Joseph, Missouri. Although her birthdate has been widely reported for many years as January 4, 1914, research by biographers and genealogists indicates she was born on January 5, 1917. The most likely reason for the 1914 year of birth is that she added to her age so as to be able to work and act while still a minor. She may have moved her birthday back by one day to January 4 so as to share the same birthday as her daughter, Maureen (born January 4, 1941) After Wyman's death, a release posted on her official website confirmed these details.

Her parents were Manning Jefferies Mayfield (1895–1922), a meal-company laborer, and Gladys Hope Christian (1895–1960), a doctor's stenographer and office assistant. In October 1921, her mother filed for divorce, and her father died unexpectedly the following year at age 27. After her father's death, her mother moved to Cleveland, Ohio, leaving her to be reared by foster parents, Emma (1866–1951) and Richard D. Fulks (1862–1928), the chief of detectives in Saint Joseph. She took their surname unofficially, including in her school records and, apparently, her first marriage certificate.

Her unsettled family life resulted in few pleasurable memories. Wyman later said, "I was raised with such strict discipline that it was years before I could reason myself out of the bitterness I brought from my childhood. In 1928, aged 11, she moved to southern California with her foster mother, but it is not known for certain if she attempted a career in motion pictures at this time, or if the relocation was due to the fact that some of Fulks' children also lived in the area. In 1930, the two moved back to Missouri, where Sarah Jane attended Lafayette High School in Saint Joseph. That same year she began a radio singing career, calling herself "Jane Durrell" and adding years to her birthdate to work legally since she would have been under age.


After dropping out of Lafayette in 1932, at age 15, she returned to Hollywood, taking on odd jobs as a manicurist and a switchboard operator, before obtaining small parts in such films as The Kid from Spain (as a "Goldwyn Girl"; 1932), My Man Godfrey (1936) and Cain and Mabel (1936). After changing her name from Jane Durrell to Jane Wyman, she began her career as a contract player with Warner Bros. in 1936 at age 19. Her big break came the following year, when she received her first starring role in Public Wedding.
Wyman finally gained critical notice in the film noir The Lost Weekend (1945). She was nominated for the 1946 Academy Award for Best Actress for The Yearling (1946), and won two years later for her role as a deaf-mute rape victim in Johnny Belinda (1948).

She was also the first wife of future President Ronald Reagan, and she remained a friend to Nancy Reagan and the rest of the Reagan family for the rest of her life. Movies and television roles continued until Wyman basically retired in 1993. Her daughter died in 2001, and her ex husband Ronald Reagan died in 2004. Other than making appearances at the funerals, she remained out of the public eye. Jane Wyman lived out her remaining years quietly in California and died in 2007 at the age of 90...



Thursday, January 3, 2013

RECENTLY VIEWED: A BOY NAMED CHARLIE BROWN

I know this is like the third children's movie I am reviewing, but when you have young children in your home, there are only so many movies you have the time to watch. Hopefully the next movie I get to review is at least live action. However, some of the children's movies I have seen are really good - the movie A Boy Named Charlie Brown (1969) is one of those great family movies. It was made in 1969 so I guess you can consider it a classic movie!

Directed by Bill Meléndez, it is the first feature film based on the Peanuts comic strip. It was also the final time that Peter Robbins voiced the character of Charlie Brown (Robbins had voiced the role for all the Peanuts television specials up to that point, starting with the debut of the specials, 1965's A Charlie Brown Christmas.)

The film was partly based on a series of Peanuts comic strips originally published in newspapers in 1966. That story had a much different ending: Charlie Brown was eliminated in his class spelling bee right away for misspelling the word maze ("M-A-Y-S" while thinking of baseball legend Willie Mays), thus confirming Violet's prediction that he would make a fool of himself. Charlie Brown then screams at his teacher in frustration, causing him to be sent to the principal's office (A few gags from that storyline, however, were also used in You're in Love, Charlie Brown).

A Boy Named Charlie Brown also included several original songs, some of which boasted vocals for the first time: "Failure Face", "I Before E Except After C" and "Champion Charlie Brown" (Before this film, musical pieces in Peanuts specials were primarily instrumental, except for a few traditional songs in A Charlie Brown Christmas.) Rod McKuen wrote and sang the title song. He also wrote "Failure Face" and "Champion Charlie Brown".


The instrumental tracks interspersed throughout the movie were composed by Vince Guaraldi and arranged by John Scott Trotter (who also wrote "I Before E Except After C"). The music consisted mostly of uptempo jazz tunes that had been heard since some of the earliest Peanuts television specials aired back in 1965; however, for A Boy Named Charlie Brown, they were given a more "theatrical" treatment, with lusher horn-filled arrangements. Instrumental tracks used in the film included "Skating" (first heard in A Charlie Brown Christmas) and "Baseball Theme" (first heard in Charlie Brown's All-Stars). Guaraldi and Trotter were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Score for their work on A Boy Named Charlie Brown.

Even though this movie is a cartoon, it really did deal with adult themes. We all have a little bit of Charlie Brown in all of us. We all want to be accepted and loved. The movie, in my opinion, has some really sad moments, and the title song by Rod McKuen always gives me a lump in my throat. Yes, this movie is basically a kid's cartoon, but I will put it up against any adult movie anyday...

MY RATING: 10 out of 10