Monday, July 17, 2017

MARTIN LANDAU AS BELA LUGOSI

With the death of Martin Landau this past week, I was reminded of my favorite role he did - that of Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood (1994). To remember this remarkable actor, I dug up a review of his performance. Scott Schuldt wrote this piece and it appeared around October 7, 1994 in newspapers and magazines...

NEW YORK - The first time the audience sees Martin Landau in "Ed Wood," he's lying in a store's display coffin, complaining about its lack of elbow room.

What's interesting is that if you didn't know in advance it was Landau playing Bela Lugosi, you might not recognize him at all.Rick Baker's makeup transforms his features. With his real voice hidden by a Hungarian accent, Martin Landau the actor disappears and Lugosi, the long dead actor who played "Dracula" in 1931 comes vividly back to life.

The Lugosi of "Ed Wood" is not a happy one. He's in his 70s, debilitated not just by his age but by 20 years of morphine addiction. He's also out of work, an "ex-bogeyman" as he refers to himself, who finds work again, even if it is in the monumentally awful films of Edward D. Wood Jr. Landau was made available to the press for interviews during a recent promotional trip for the movie "Ed Wood," paid for by Touchstone Pictures.

While Landau's choice to play Lugosi was an inspired one that should hopefully land him his third Oscar nomination since 1988, the actor was surprised director Tim Burton chose him.


"I'm amazed that Tim thought of me. Well, in the sense that I'd never met Tim," Landau said.

"I liked his work a lot ... He was one of those guys I said, 'Gee, I would like to work with that guy. ' I got a call and he said, 'You are my first and only choice for this. ' " What Burton saw in Landau is clear from the performance he gives as Lugosi, whose relationship with Wood, played by Johnny Depp, is at the heart of the film.

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"I met Johnny and loved him immediately. ... We became friends.

Generation gaps - nonsense. I mean, Lugosi and Ed Wood, there was a lot of years between them. Johnny became - and is - my pal," Landau said.

It's the rapport that develops between the two actors that deepens the movie.

"There is a sweetness in (the relationship between Wood and Lugosi), yet it's got layers ... It's an interesting relationship.

You don't see that a lot in film. These are two guys who needed each other and they're two really weird, strange guys. " Landau credits his co-star for the screen relationship's success.

"I love an actor who comes in, ready to work. It's like a good tennis player. They hit the ball where you don't expect it and it's great," Landau said.


"Ed Wood" marks the latest in a series of notable roles that have marked a resurgence in Landau's career. Following "Tuc-ker: The Man and His Dream" in 1988 and "Crimes and Misdemeanors" in 1989, both of which earned him Oscar nominations, Landau finds himself more in demand than ever.

"The more complicated the character, the better I am. It's the one-dimensional crap that I had to do for years that drove me crazy," he said.

"If you are in a meaningless, mindless movie playing a one-dimensional character, don't get too clever, because you're only going to dig a hole for yourself ... It's good writing and complicated stuff. When I got 'Tucker,' and there had been a dearth of that stuff coming my way, I said, 'My God, this is a part. ' " He certainly welcomes the praise and Oscar buzz he's receiving for his work as Lugosi, saying it's much better than hearing nothing.

"I'd rather hear this talk than the alternative. I've walked off the stage and people have said, 'That was really great. You look really nice in that suit. ' It's looks and feelings that you get.

People never say, 'Jeez, you were awful. " In many interviews, Landau has referred to his work in "Ed Wood" as a love letter to Lugosi, with whom the 60-year-old Landau had a formative film experience.

"I saw (Lugosi) when I was a kid and he scared the life out of me. I literally didn't sleep for days," Landau said. The 63-year-old film's power hasn't diminished in Landau's mind.

"It was a revival of 'Dracula. ' I was maybe 8 or 9 years old and there was this incredible creature on the screen. Look at it again...

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

DIED ON THIS DAY: LON CHANEY JR

Lon Chaney Jr. died on this day - July 12th some 45 years ago. Chaney was only 67. He was one of the most emblematic horror film stars of the 1940s. Though given the name "Creighton Chaney" by his parents, he took the name "Lon Chaney, Jr." at the behest of a producer who wished to capitalize on the reputation of his father, who had starred in such silent classics as "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" and "Phantom of the Opera." 

After playing a number of small, forgettable roles through the 1930s, the younger Chaney's first role of note was 'Lenny Small' in the 1939 film adaptation of John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men." This role made great use of Chaney's size and empathetic manner, and would remain his favorite. He followed this with an even greater success, playing the title character in 1941's "The Wolf Man." His performance, which echoed his own life as a prodigal son figure returning home only to find tragedy, came as his father's studio, Universal Pictures, was struggling to reestablish itself as the premier studio for horror films. Universal would cast Chaney in a string of sequels to both "The Wolf Man" and it's classic films of the 1930s. 


All in all, Chaney would end up playing the Wolf Man five times, the barely mobile mummy Kharis three times, the Frankenstein Monster once (and again, briefly, in perhaps the best of Universal's long run of sequels, 1948's "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein" when Glenn Strange was incapacitated), and Dracula once. He would also star in Universal's "Inner Sanctum" series and a number of lesser thrillers through the 1940s. Though the films were always entertaining, and Chaney almost always made a great effort to imbue his performances with quality, the formulaic nature of these productions concealed his ability, and he became typecast as a "monster."

 Chaney's last roles of note were as a supporting player in both 1952's "High Noon" (starring Gary Cooper) and 1958's "The Defiant Ones" with Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier. More often, he would play in a number of low-budget films, mostly westerns and horror films, often reprising his roles from the glory days at Universal. Always a heavy drinker, he would die from various alcohol-related ailments after playing his last role, fittingly enough a non-speaking part in the 1971 farce "Dracula vs. Frankenstein.". His body was dedicated to medical science...


Monday, July 3, 2017

OLIVIA DEHAVILLAND AND A NEW LAWSUIT


Olivia de Havilland, who won two Oscars during Hollywood’s golden age, filed a lawsuit on Friday against FX Networks and Ryan Murphy Productions over her gossipy portrayal in the television show “Feud: Bette and Joan.”

“FX defendants misappropriated Olivia de Havilland’s name, likeness and identity without her permission and used them falsely in order to exploit their own commercial interests,” the lawsuit says. Ms. de Havilland, 101, is seeking damages for “emotional harm” and “harm to her reputation,” and is also pushing for an injunction against the use of her name and likeness.

“Feud: Bette and Joan” portrays the decades-long rivalry between Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, and is part of Mr. Murphy’s larger FX anthology series depicting feuds throughout history. Ms. de Havilland and Davis were close friends and starred in four films together, including “Hush … Hush, Sweet Charlotte.” In the series, Ms. de Havilland, played by Catherine Zeta-Jones, is an important character, appearing in six episodes as a confidante to Davis and an active participant in the Davis-Crawford drama.

The lawsuit rejects both the quotes attributed to Ms. de Havilland and the overall tone of the portrayal. “Olivia de Havilland has made efforts, spent time and money, protecting her well-defined public image as one who does not engage in gossip and other unkind, ill-mannered behavior,” the lawsuit reads.

Mr. Murphy, the creator of “Feud,” told the The Hollywood Reporter in April that he did not contact de Havilland about her portrayal in the series.

“I didn’t write Olivia because I didn’t want to be disrespectful and ask her, ‘Did this happen? Did that happen? What was your take on that?’” he said.



SOURCE

Friday, June 30, 2017

RIP: MIRIAM MARX


Just got word from the grapevine that Groucho’s daughter Miriam Marx Allen passed away on June 29th, 2017 at the age 90. She was one of the last links to the Marx Brothers’ glory days. When Miriam was born in 1927 The Coconuts was on Broadway, and the family was still based in New York. When the team retired from films (the first time) after The Big Store she was only 14.

Like her mom Ruth Johnson, who’d also performed with the family act, Miriam sadly developed an alcohol problem, and had a troubled relationship with her famous father. Her book  "Love Groucho: Letters from Groucho Marx to His Daughter Miriam", was first published in 1992.

Miriam’s older brother Arthur, author and playwright, passed away in 2011. She is survived by her half-sister Melinda, 20 years her junior, another link with the storied Marxian past...


Thursday, June 29, 2017

RECENTLY VIEWED: FEUD


One of the best things I have seen on television in a long time has been the new show Feud. Feud is an American anthology television series for FX created by Ryan Murphy, Jaffe Cohen, and Michael Zam, presented as the dramatization of the actual events that took place in history. It premiered on March 5, 2017.The first season, which consists of eight episodes, is subtitled Bette and Joan and chronicles the rivalry between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford during and after the production of their 1962 film What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

The whole cast is amazing. Susan Sarandon is perfectly cast as Bette Davis. Sarandon, with those bedroom eyes like Bette makes you forget that she is Sarandon and not Bette Davis. Jessica Lange is great as Joan Crawford and captures her personality, but nothing against Lange, but she is not nearly as beautiful or physically the same as Crawford. The supporting cast is strong as well including a great Kathy Bates as Joan Blondell.


The series was in development - with Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon on board - for seven years before finally being given the green light. Creator Ryan Murphy interviewed Bette Davis months before her death in 1989. The agreed-upon 20-minute interview lasted four hours, and inspired his characterization of Davis. When he asked her about Joan Crawford, she would talk about how much she hated her, before saying "She was a professional. And I admired that."

Olivia de Havilland, played in the series by Catherine Zeta-Jones was 100 years old when the program aired. Asked for her opinion, de Havilland responded "Having not seen the show, I cannot make a valid comment about it...However, in principle, I am opposed to any representation of personages who are no longer alive to judge the accuracy of any incident depicted as involving themselves." Catherine Zeta-Jones claimed that while she did not contact 100 year old Olivia de Havilland to advise on her portrayal, she did consult her (also 100 year old) father-in-law Kirk Douglas for advice. She claimed that Douglas described de Havilland as "Aaah Olivia," Bette Davis: "Aww, she was a broad. She told it as it was," and Joan Crawford: "She was out of her f***ing mind!"


Not to give too much away of the excellent series, the last episode is especially sad and touching. Both women, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford were discarded from Hollywood when they became too old. Crawford had to resort to B-horror movies and Davis made a number of television appearances that were beneath her. While Bette Davis was alone at the end due to pushing away her daughter, grandchildren, and other Hollywood friends - Crawford is far more tragic of a figure. She squandered her money and was living along and modestly in an apartment. 

Whether both women were drunks or child abusers are beyond the fact that they deserved better by Hollywood. The series really does a great job going into all of this. To this day, Hollywood is a business for the youth and aging female stars are still forgotten by the business. Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange prove that older actresses can still turn out great roles, and Bette Davis and Joan Crawford are great old actresses that should be better remembered for their great roles that they created on film...

MY RATING: 10 OUT OF 10


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

RIP: HARRY PRIME

Harry Charles Prime (Preine) died suddenly in his home in Chalfont Thursday, June 15, 2017. He was 97 years young.

Harry was born March 5, 1920 in the East Falls Section of Philadelphia. He was a graduate of St. Bridget's Elementary and Roman Catholic High School.

In the fall of 1944, he entered and won a singing contest at the 400 Club in Washington, D.C. and was offered a week engagement at the Club. From there Prime proceeded to perform with big bands such as Randy Brooks, Tommy Dorsey, Jack Fina and Ralph Flanagan throughout the 1940's and 50's. Prime's recording of the song "Until" with Tommy Dorsey sold a million records.

In 1945, the Nations Disc Jockeys voted the Ralph Flanagan Band as the #1 band in the country and Prime was voted 20th best singer ahead of Dennis Day, Eddie Fisher and Dean Martin.

In the years following his tenure with the big bands, Prime never strayed far from the music business and worked as a disc jockey and radio host in various cities including WCAU in Philadelphia and WNPV in Lansdale.

Most recently, he relished singing at the Roasted Pepper in Chalfont and the Epicure Café in Philadelphia in front of his close friends and fans. Prime's passions were sports including baseball, golf and boxing and of course, music.

Yet with all his musical accomplishments, Prime's greatest joy has been his family. With his late wife Marie, he raised four children, Kevin Prime; Greg Prime (Romy); Ric Prime (Vince Versace); Kim Kantner (Larry), and his grandchildren, Brayden, Caelan, Austin, Mackenzie, Alexis, Taylor and Riley. Harry's children from a previous marriage are John, Harry and Bethenia.

Another icon of the big band era gone...



Wednesday, May 24, 2017

EDDIE CANTOR REMEMBERS AL JOLSON

This great rememberance of Al Jolson was written by his long time friend Eddie Cantor. It was published shortly after Jolson's death on this day - October 23rd in 1950...

I was in Mobile, Alabama, when I first got the shocking news from an NBC official in New York that Al Jolson was dead of a heart attack. The telephone operator who put the call through to me was sobbing hysterically. The elevator operator who took me downstairs couldn’t control his tears. The taxi driver who drove me to the NBC studios to do a special memorial broadcast kept mumbling to himself, “Why did he have to go?”

The attendants and technicians at the studio were all red-eyed from weeping. None of these people had ever met Al Jolson personally. Yet, because Jolie was a man of the people, because he seemed to know and love everyone who had ever heard the sound of his voice, the grief over his passing was universal.

Jolie had human frailties, just as any other man. I say this in all sincerity and with my heart full of love for the man we all knew as “The King.” Jolie’s great heart, his wonderful, almost child-like spirit, and his overflowing love of humanity overshadowed everything else.

He never forgot his nearness to the people and his nearness to his God. Those of us who kidded him the most loved him the most. Whenever the gang – Jack Benny, George Jessel, George Burns and Jolie – used to gather at my house, there was never a night when we didn’t get together to sing “Mammy.” But there was never anybody who could sing “Mammy” like Jolson could.

We all looked upon him with envy because we could never hope to reach his stature, but he was also an inspiration to all his contemporaries. He was six acts of top billing rolled into one and for anyone to compete with him was like watching a midget in a sideshow trying to touch the giant’s head. To call him the biggest hunk of entertainer in show business was an understatement. He was the only entertainer who was his own lighting and his own scenery.


Jolie always loved to play jokes and get ‘em to laugh. I remember one time when I was playing opposite him in Chicago. We both lived in the Belmont Hotel in Chicago’s North Side and we used to meet after our shows and kid each other and lie to one another about the take at the box-office that night. We spent hours with each other every night for five months and I never had so much fun in all my life. The newspapers kept trying to cook up a phony feud between us but neither one of us took it seriously.

Then one day, I came down with pleurisy and my doctor advised me to close my show and take a rest.

“I can’t, Doc,” I told him. “Then all the newspapers will say, ‘Jolson drives Cantor out of town!’ ”

Sick as I was, I kept on going night after night. But then finally, I got so weak I couldn’t even walk out on the stage and so I closed the show and left for New York. Imagine my amazement when I got off the train, picked up the New York Times and read this headline on the theatrical page: “Jolson closes his show immediately after Cantor closes his show!” It turned out that Jolie had been sicker than I was, but he’d kept going only because he didn’t want the newspapers to say: “Cantor drives Jolson out of town!”

Jolie brought joy to more people than any other man alive. He was more than an actor or a singer or an entertainer – he was an experience. We kidded him about his age but he was ageless. I still cannot believe and refuse to accept the fact that he is gone. He has left his footprints on the sands of time and he will be alive to all of us just as long as we can turn on a record and hear his God-given voice that never fails to bring a strangely comforting catch in the throat, and a feeling of goodness to the heart.

from “The Real Story of Al Jolson” 1950, Spectrolux Corp.


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

COOKING WITH THE STARS: CLAUDETTE COLBERT

I am always interested in the cooking styles of classic Hollywood. One of the most beautiful Hollywood leading ladies was Claudette Colbert (1903-1996). Here is an interesting recipe from the beautiful actress...



CLAUDETTE COLBERT’S CHEESE AND OLIVE PUFFS

Ingredients:
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese, at room temperature
1/3 cup butter, softened
1 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon Tabasco
Dash of Worcestershire sauce
2 (10-ounce) jars of pimento-stuffed green olives, drained and blotted dry

Add cheese and butter to bowl of a food processor and blend until smooth. Add flour, Tabasco and Worcestershire sauce to form dough. Wrap each olive in a small amount of dough, completely covering the olive and forming a ball. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet and freeze. Transfer to a plastic bag and store in freezer until ready to use. To cook, place on a baking sheet and bake at 400˚ F for 12 minutes, or until crust is golden. Serve hot....





Wednesday, May 10, 2017

ETHEL MERMAN AND HELLO DOLLY

I have always wanted to learn more about Ethel Merman's appearance in Hello, Dolly on Broadway, and I found an interesting website which gives a complete history. You can see the full article HERE...

The Ethel Merman Dolly dynasty reigned from March 28, 1970 – December 27, 1970. On November 30th, The New York Times announced that she was closing on December 26–then, the Sunday matinee was added!

Merman had signed for three months and after two months, Mr. Merrick said, “Look: if you play it into the middle of December 1970-at that time-we will have established being the longest running show on Broadway.” She later said, “What can I say? He was a nice man!”

The role of Dolly Levi in the musical was originally written for Ethel Merman, but Merman turned it down; as did Mary Martin (although both eventually played it). Merrick then decided to audition Nancy Walker. Eventually, he hired Carol Channing, who ultimately created Dolly her signature role. Director Gower Champion was not the producer’s first choice, as Hal Prince and others (among them Jerome Robbins and Joe Layton) all turned down the job of directing the musical.

Merman retired from Broadway in 1970, when she appeared as the last Dolly Levi in Hello, Dolly! In Brian Kellow’s biography of Ethel Merman, A Life, he states that Herman made a study of all of Merman’s recordings, concluding that the role of Dolly was perfectly tailored to her talents. Herman was in Merrick’s office the day the producer made the call pitching the show to Ethel. Jerry saw Merrick go completely ashen.


When Merrick hung up, he told Jerry that Merman said she would never do another Broadway show because she had spent her life in dressing rooms.

She was tired of doing Broadway and wanted to focus on film and television. If Merrick thought he could persuade her, he was wrong. Ethel never regretted her decision.

In late 1968 and 1969, Ethel concentrated on television appearances, with guest shots on The Hollywood Palace, The Carol Burnett Show, and several of the then popular talk shows.

Try as she might to persuade the press and the public that she had “had it” with Broadway, Ethel’s level of activity in the late 1960s was not sufficient to keep her fully engaged; she had too much vitality, too much drive, and she needed a more demanding outlet than the occasional guest spot on television.

In Howard Kissel’s biography of David Merrick, David Merrick – The Abominable Showman: The Unauthorized Biography(Applause Books), he states that Ethel’s original concerns about not wanting to be compared with Ruth Gordon, creator of the role of Dolly in Thornton Wilder’s The Matchmaker, now seemed a moot point. When Carol Channing left the show in August 1965, a long line of actresses had come in as replacements: Ginger Rogers, Martha Raye, Betty Grable, Pearl Bailey, and Phyllis Diller. All had something individual to bring to the part, and Merrick reveled in the publicity value that came from announcing the next star to assume the role.

Josh Ellis, a theatrical press agent for thirty years during which he represented over 100 shows and numerous individuals, was at Ethel Merman’s opening night on March 30th, 1969. That night, local New York television critic Stewart Klein offered: “Ethel Merman in HELLO, DOLLY! is a marvel and should be seen by everybody.” The role of Dolly Levi was originally written for Ethel Merman. Josh said that night was the most enthusiastic audience that ever, ever, ever was! The cart rolled in, the newspaper was up, and the audience was screaming because they knew who was behind the newspaper. When she put the newspaper down, the audience was on its feet cheering and would not let her talk for two minutes. She finally got out the first part of “Doll…” and they cheered even more. She got a standing ovation after World, Take Me Back. She got another standing ovation after Before the Parade Passes By. It was breathless. Everything worked that night. 


For the title number, the curtain at the top of the stairs revealed Ethel Merman and the entire audience stands up. The number continues but the audience does not sit down. When she sang her solos, she sang solo. When the chorus came back in, the entire audience sang along with them. When the “waiters” put their hands behind them and swayed with her, so did the entire audience. When Ethel sang, the audience shut up and listened; they knew when to join in. By the time the show was over, the audience was drenched. On top of the two additional songs that were put back in for Ethel, because of the audience’s enthusiasm, the show went an additional seven minutes. There was no question in Josh’s mind that everyone in that audience had already seen Hello, Dolly! at least once prior to that night; probably many times before, and everyone loved it. The fact that everyone was hearing two songs they had never heard before sung by Ethel superseded any other quibbles that anyone may have had. It didn’t matter. It was such an overwhelming experience that nothing else really mattered except that it was a night to remember that would last your whole life; and that’s exactly what it did. Josh’s account is verified in Brian Kellow’s biography of Ethel Merman, A Life.

Merman ended the original run of Dolly on December 27th, 1970. It had played 2,844 performances.

Merman’s last night on a stage anywhere was at the Peabody Auditorium in Daytona Beach, Florida. Merman’s last scheduled song became Before The Parade Passes By. She had two encores of There’s No Business Like Show Business and What I Did For Love. Hello Dolly marked the end of the Merman era on broadway...


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

GUEST REVIEW: THE BIG BROADCAST

Guest reviewer Bruce Kogan is back with his usual in-depth look at his favorite cinematic gems. Here he is reviewing Bing Crosby's first feature film, The Big Broadcast (1932)...

Paramount made the first of its Big Broadcast films, the first and best of them. This first one gave Bing Crosby his first role in a feature film, previously he had done guest appearances and also short subjects for Mack Sennett. Not wanting to mislead anyone about who was numero uno in this film, Paramount had him play a radio crooner named Bing Crosby. Eleven years later Frank Sinatra would make his feature film debut as Frank Sinatra.

Bing's the star attraction of this one horse town radio station, appearing for Griptight Girdles on the Griptight Girdle Hour. That is when he can get to the studio. His job is being threatened and he's also coming between Stu Erwin who buys the station and Leila Hyams who's manager George Burns's secretary.


It's a thin plot, but nicely done and it's to show off some of radio's greatest talents of that year. In addition to Bing Crosby, appearing are Kate Smith, Arthur Tracy, the Boswell Sisters, Burns and Allen, Cab Calloway and Vincent Lopez with their respective orchestras, the Mills Brothers and tenor Donald Novis.

Bing gets to sing three numbers, Please and Here Lies Love which were written for this film and Dinah. Crosby made a classic recording of Dinah with the Mills Brothers and I wish they'd reprised that for the movie. Instead it's done with a black shoeshine boy giving him a beat with the rag while Bing is scatting like Ella Fitzgerald. Bing was great, but the staging is something that black people would find offensive. Please became a great early hit for him.

Here Lies Love is sung by Crosby, but he reprises it after it's been introduced by Arthur Tracy. Tracy, a Jewish immigrant from Russia, was billed as the Street Singer and had an almost operatic quality to his voice. He rivaled Crosby, Russ Columbo, Rudy Vallee, and Morton Downey in popularity as a radio singer, but American movie audiences didn't take to him. He went to Great Britain in the mid-30s and there he became a movie star. He went back to the US after World War II and only appeared sporadically after that. Tracy was fabulously wealthy due to good investments and lived to the age of 97. He did a cameo appearance in Crossing Delancey, you'll see him briefly discussing issues of the day over the pickle barrel there.


For Kate Smith, radio was a godsend. That beautiful and powerful voice was also trapped in an elephantine body like a Wagnerian opera soprano. She was never going to be a film star. But she was radio's most popular female vocalist, no one else was ever even close and she sings a great rendition of It Was So Beautiful in The Big Broadcast.

Burns and Allen did surreal comedy that was probably only equaled by Monty Python years later. Gracie Allen was in her own world and the ever patient George gave up trying to deal with her reasoning. They did some great guest bits in films like this one and two more with Bing Crosby. But they never really carried a film by themselves with the exception of Here Comes Cookie. I did a review of that and it's the best example of their work.


Donald Novis was a popular radio tenor, totally forgotten now. He also was on the Broadway stage and in Rodgers & Hart's Jumbo introduced their classic, The Most Beautiful Girl in the World. They give him Trees to sing, Joyce Kilmer's poem put to music. I wish he'd sung something more popular.

With all these radio stars it's hard to remember that the nominal star of the film is Stu Erwin. Erwin did a fabulous job in creating some great milquetoast characters from the early talkies. The climax of the film involves a long running gag with him trying to get a recording of Bing singing Please to the studio to substitute for Crosby who's AWOL. It's done almost without dialog and it is interspersed with several of the stars previously mentioned. It's a hilarious bit of slapstick.

The Big Broadcast
is enjoyable nostalgic fun and a piece of history since it's the feature film debut of America's greatest entertainer, Bing Crosby...

BRUCE'S RATING: 7 OUT OF 10 STARS
MY RATING: 8 OUT OF 10 STARS


Friday, April 28, 2017

BORN ON THIS DAY: ANN-MARGRET

I know Ann-Margret is more than 30 years older than me, but there is something about her I will always be in love with. Her looks. Her personality. Her style. My wife is surprisingly okay with my crush on the legendary actress. I am happy to be commemorating Ann-Margret's 75th birthday today. Ann-Margret was born in Valsjöbyn, Jämtland County, Sweden, the daughter of Anna Regina (née Aronsson) and Carl Gustav Olsson, a native of Örnsköldsvik. She later described Valsjöbyn as a small town "of lumberjacks and farmers high up near the Arctic Circle".Her father worked in the United States during his youth and moved there again in 1942, working with the Johnson Electrical Company, while his wife and daughter stayed behind.

Ann-Margret and her mother moved to the United States in November 1946, and her father took her to Radio City Music Hall on the day they arrived. They settled just outside Chicago, in Wilmette, Illinois. She became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1949 and took her first dance lessons at the Marjorie Young School of Dance, showing natural ability from the start, easily mimicking all the steps. Her parents were supportive; her mother handmade all her costumes. Ann-Margret's mother became a funeral parlor receptionist after her husband suffered a severe injury on his job. While a teenager, Ann-Margret appeared on the Morris B. Sachs Amateur Hour, Don McNeill's Breakfast Club, and Ted Mack's Amateur Hour.


While she attended New Trier High School in Winnetka, Illinois, she continued to star in theatricals. In 1959, she enrolled at Northwestern University, where she was a member of the sorority Kappa Alpha Theta, but did not graduate. As part of a group known as the Suttletones, she performed at the Mist, a Chicago nightclub, and went to Las Vegas, Nevada, for a promised club date which fell through after the group arrived.

The group finally arrived at the Dunes in Las Vegas, which also headlined Tony Bennett and Al Hirt at that time. George Burns heard of her performance, and she auditioned for his annual holiday show, in which Burns and she performed a soft shoe routine. Variety proclaimed, "George Burns has a gold mine in Ann-Margret ... she has a definite style of her own, which can easily guide her to star status."


In 1961, she filmed a screen test at 20th Century Fox and was signed to a seven-year contract. Ann-Margret made her film debut in a loan-out to United Artists in Pocketful of Miracles, with Bette Davis. It was a remake of the 1933 movie Lady for a Day. Both versions were directed by Frank Capra.

Then came a 1962 remake of Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical State Fair, playing the "bad girl" role of Emily opposite Bobby Darin and Pat Boone. She had tested for the part of Margie, the "good girl", but seemed too seductive to the studio bosses, who decided on the switch.The two roles represented two sides of her real-life personality — shy and reserved offstage, but wildly exuberant and sensuous onstage. In her autobiography, the actress wrote that she changed "from Little Miss Lollipop to Sexpot-Banshee" once the music began. Her next starring role, as the all-American teenager Kim from Sweet Apple, Ohio, in Bye Bye Birdie (1963), made her a major star. The rest as they say is history...


Friday, April 21, 2017

HISTORY OF A SONG: LIMEHOUSE BLUES

For some reason I never knew that this song originated in England...


"Limehouse Blues" is a popular 1922 British song written by the London-based duo of Douglas Furber (lyrics) and Philip Braham (music). It was made famous by Gertrude Lawrence. It has been recorded hundreds of times since, and remains in the standard jazz repertory. Some of the most notable recordings include those by Sidney Bechet, Django Reinhardt, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Tony Bennett, Stan Kenton, The Dave Brubeck Quartet featuring Gerry Mulligan, the Ellis Marsalis Trio, Chet Atkins with Les Paul and The Mills Brothers. Outside jazz it has been recorded by a number of bluegrass artists, most notably by Reno and Smiley.

The song has been performed in such films as Ziegfeld Follies (by Fred Astaire and Lucille Bremer in Asian makeup), and Star (by Julie Andrews, again, in Asian makeup). The song's title was used for the 1934 film Limehouse Blues.

The song was inspired by the Limehouse district of east London, which housed the London Chinatown of the late 19th and early 20th century (until the London West End Chinatown was established). The Chinese references can be heard in both the lyrics and the melody...


(REFRAIN):

Oh! Limehouse kid
Oh! Oh! Oh! Limehouse kid
Going the way that the rest of them did
Poor broken blossom and nobody's child
Haunting and taunting you're just kind of wild
Oh! Oh! Oh! Limehouse blues
I've seen the real Limehouse blues
Learned from chinkies those sad China blues
Ring your fingers and tears for your crown
That is the story of old China town.

Friday, April 14, 2017

THE LAST DAYS OF NAT KING COLE

Nat King Cole was and is one of the greatest singers of all-time. He is one of those singers whom I love and have a ton of his recordings, but I don't seem to play too much. After researching and compiling this article, I want to remedy that!

A KOOL menthol cigarette smoker, he would often smoke several cigarettes in a row before recording his songs. He believed they helped keep his deep, crooning voice low. He smoked approximately three packs of cigarettes a day.

In September of 1964, Mr. Cole began experiencing weight loss and severe back pain, harbingers of the lung cancer that had not yet been diagnosed.

Following a performance at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada during this period, he collapsed from pain and had to cut the engagement short. Friends urged him to seek medical help a couple of months later while he was working in San Francisco. He had a chest x-ray done at that time and a cancerous tumor was found on his left lung. Doctors gave him months to live and urged him to stop working. He refused and kept working until he was unable to any longer.


He entered St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica on December 9th and began cobalt (radiation) therapy on the 10th. He then had surgery to remove his left lung on January 25, 1965. Sadly, his father died of heart problems on February 1. Throughout Cole's illness his publicists promoted the idea that he would soon be well and working, despite the private knowledge of his terminal condition. Billboard magazine reported that "Nat King Cole has successfully come through a serious operation and ... the future looks bright for 'the master' to resume his career again." On Valentine's Day Cole and his wife briefly left St. John's to drive by the sea. He died at the hospital early in the morning of February 15 at the age of 45.


Cole's funeral was held on February 18 at St. James Episcopal Church on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles; 400 people were present, and thousands gathered outside the church. Hundreds of members of the public had filed past the coffin the day before. Notable honorary pallbearers included Robert F. Kennedy, Count Basie, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Johnny Mathis, George Burns, Danny Thomas, Jimmy Durante, Bing Crosby, Alan Livingston, Frankie Laine, Steve Allen, and Pat Brown (the governor of California). The eulogy was delivered by Jack Benny, who said that "Nat Cole was a man who gave so much and still had so much to give. He gave it in song, in friendship to his fellow man, devotion to his family. He was a star, a tremendous success as an entertainer, an institution. But he was an even greater success as a man, as a husband, as a father, as a friend."

According to an article published after his death in the Los Angeles Times, Maria knew for several days that her husband was dying, but kept it a secret from the media so that Nat, who watched a lot of television wouldn't see a bad news report. He did not realize he was dying. Right up until the end, he thought he was recovering...


Friday, April 7, 2017

HOLLYWOOD URBAN LEGEND: ORSON WELLES

URBAN LEGEND: Does Hollywood icon Orson Welles still haunt his favorite restaurant?

STATUS: The people who work at the restaurant say it is 100% true!


This actor, producer, director and writer is still Hollywood royalty for his role in what was a brand new industry in his time. He is most well known for playing the lead role in film student must-see Citizen Kane. Orson Welles’ ghost is said to still frequent his favorite restaurant for a cigar and a bourbon. Many of the staff of Melrose Avenue restaurant Sweet Lady Jane’s have had encountered with Welles from beyond the grave.

In these accounts, Orson Welles is generally wearing a wide-brimmed black hat and a dark cape. It is also said that someone interacting with his spirit will pick up the aromas of his favorite bourbon and cigars. Although the dark spirit is somewhat ominous not one restaurant employee has reported a malicious presence along with these paranormal experiences. Sweet Lady Jane’s is still running and diners still have the chance to sit with their favorite Hollywood legend...


Friday, March 31, 2017

THE HITS OF SPIKE JONES


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

Here are some of his great recordings:

Der Fuehrer's Face

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

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


More satirical songs

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


Ghost Riders

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

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


All I Want for Christmas

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

Murdering the Classics

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


Friday, March 24, 2017

WHAT A CHARACTER: SHIRLEY BOOTH

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

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

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


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

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


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