Monday, October 03, 2005
I swear to God, long after I knew what “gay” meant, it never occurred to me for a second that the late comedian Paul Lynde was gay. Most people seem to feel that he was the most obviously “outed” performer on television in the sixties and seventies (I always gave that honor to puppeteerWayland Flowers, myself). I even researched Lynde for my nigh-legendary, unpublished book of cartoon voice actors in the late eighties and still didn’t have a clue! A new arrival at the Library this week is CENTER SQUARE, THE PAUL LYNDE STORY, a smallish but detailed warts-and-all bio put out by the gay lifestyles magazine, THE ADVOCATE. This, along with the recent TV biography, reveal Paul to be a sad, troubled man whose talents for making people laugh were rarely utilized to their fullest. There’s quite a bit in the book about Paul’s annual returns to appear onstage in summer stock in his native Ohio. I never saw him there but I DID see his fellow HOLLYWOOD SQUARES co-stars Karen Valentine and Rose Marie (along with future star James Naughton) and their after show bull session with the audience was completely dominated by questions about…Paul Lynde. From cartoon voices to game shows to BEWITCHED reruns, you’re STILL making me laugh, Paul! I hope you’re happy these days.
Here's an incredible site with scores and scores of rare, hilarious clips of Paul Lynde!http://paullynde.info/clips.htm
Sunday, October 02, 2005
Johnny West was the flagship character of Marx Toys' Best of the West line of cowboy action figures. I guess I got Johnny and his horse Thunderbolt in 1965 or 1966. Obviously, this was long after the real TV cowboy boom of the 1950's but I would have been six or seven and Westerns were still hot and not quite yet spaghettified. That year, I also got Chief Cherokee. Over the next few years, the line kept growing with the rest of the West family, more Indians, some cavalrymen, that stalwart hero(sic) General Custer, and lots and lots of horses including the fully posable Comanche (who, quite frankly, wouldn't stand up for more than two seconds). Ultimately I got about 50 to 75 percent of the dolls (Excuse me! Action figures!) but the problem was finding a place to keep them. It got to the point where you couldn't take them all outside to play with because you were too exhausted to do anything but pack 'em back up once you finally got out there! The horses alone took up a whole toybox. At one point my entire dresser top looked like a livery stable! Like all good things, Marx exploited it until it wasn't so good anymore. Sometime in the mid seventies, I traded all of my Best of the West figures to a guy in exchange for some old ADVENTURE COMICS. Actually, I kept a couple of the beautifully molded horses but even those have now gone away. All I have left is this lousy paper membership card which got you even less than the Archie Club card did!
Here's a link to a keen site with pictures of ALL of the Best of the West toys, pardner!
Ran's Realm Marx Johnny West Best of the West
Saturday, October 01, 2005
Enter Ralph Bakshi, a former Terrytoons animator who had worked with Producer Steve Krantz on many of the well-remembered mid-sixties SPIDER-MAN cartoons.
We have FRITZ THE CAT on VHS here at the Library but owing to my soon to be nine year old son, it's been years since I've had an adult moment to watch it again. It's my recollection, however, that it is a professionally done piece satirizing the sex, drugs, rock and (mostly)politics attitudes of the radical leftists of the early seventies. It was hardly the first "X-rated" cartoon and certainly not the best (Consider Bakshi's later HEAVY TRAFFIC for that honor).What I find most interesting, however, is the ripple effect that it had.
First of all, in case you didn't know, I should mention that FRITZ was based on stories by the now legendary underground artist, Robert Crumb. Crumb immediately disavowed the film and went on record as being less than a fan of Bakshi's. Fritz was a very personal thing to Crumb, having originally been an anthropomorphization of his family cat, Fred. The character appeared in homemade comics, Harvey Kurtzman's HELP magazine and later in a series of different comix. As Crumb became more involved in the counter culture, Fritz discovered sex and drugs and politics, also. Still, in spite of the fact that portions of Bakshi's film were near perfect adaptations of Crumb's strips, the cartoonist opted to quite literally kill off his version of Fritz after the movie's release.
This did nothing to prevent a sequel, THE NINE LIVES OF FRITZ THE CAT. For his part, like a composer/conductor offering his own interpretation of another composer's work, Bakshi, too, had finished with Fritz and had no part of the sequel.
Television animation during this period reached on all-time high on the Blandometer, culminating in horribly written, non-violent, sickly sweet, barely moving, badly voiced but NICE cartoons for pre-schoolers and FRITZ THE CAT was a revelation to the next generation of animators. The influence of FRITZ and Bakshi can clearly be seen in groundbreaking cartoons such as THE SIMPSONS and particularly REN AND STIMPY but ultimately in even more mainstream series such as FAIRLY ODDPARENTS.
Bakshi, himself, after a mixed bag of feature films, scored well by a return to Terrytoons and MIGHTY MOUSE.
Except for the extremes in subject matter, Bakshi's once outrageous animation style has finally become mainstream. Crumb, while his legend has certainly grown, has perhaps not influenced society nearly as much as his interpreter! Here's a link to cartoon historian Mike Barrier's legendary series on Bakshi's film: MichaelBarrier.com -- Funnyworld Revisited: The Filming of Fritz the Cat, Part One
and a link to a whole page of FRITZ ads and such from MovieTome: Fritz the Cat - Movie Tome
This fascinating early seventies shot features the long-retired Grant with then-reigning sex symbol Welch. Maybe it's just me but Cary looks drunk as the proverbial skunk and the normally camera-friendly Raquel seems to be very nervous about it. Also, doesn't Grant's head look huge by comparison? Photoshop didn't exist at the time but maybe... Like I said, just an interesting pic!
Bob Dylan warned us that the times they were a’changin’. Sometimes we forget that they continue to do so. Last week, I checked out the nifty DVD of ROCK ‘N’ ROLL HIGH SCHOOL from my local public library!!! I’m sorry but there was one brief shining moment where this 1979 Roger Corman produced cheapie was the epitome of anti-establishment anarchy and now here it was in the public library! I first saw it at an early eighties revival and enjoyed nearly every minute of it. It has a kind of an underground comics feel to it, played up by this busy poster by sometime underground artist (and dinosaur expert) Bil Stout.
The plot is incidental but deals basically with the kids at Vince Lombardi High, led by almost a big star P. J. Soles (STRIPES, HALLOWEEN), clashing with the new principal (a scen-stealing turn by Mary Woronov). During the course of this clash, the principal decides that the problem is the music…notably the music of The Ramones, the seminal seventies American punk group who are shown in the film as Beatles-like idols. This leads her to burn the kids’ records which leads the kids to get The Ramones to come to the school.
Sounds almost old-fashioned when you just describe it, doesn’t it? Along the way, though, you enjoy Woronov’s longtime co-conspirator, Paul Bartel as a converted teacher, veteran comedian Grady Sutton in one of his final roles, TV vet Vince Van Patten as the hapless (and clueless) hero, Ron Howard’s weird brother Clint in what is easily his best performance as the school’s go-to guy, brainy ingenue Dey Young and the coolest soundtrack of its day! And that doesn’t even include the exploding mice!!!
The film opens with a beautiful original ballad by Paul McCartney entitled DID WE MEET SOMEWHERE BEFORE. This is, of course, the theme song to the then-recent Warren Beatty comedy, HEAVEN CAN WAIT…or rather it should have been. Paul was trying his hand at writing film themes in those days but they were all rejected ( his lovely theme for SAME TIME, NEXT YEAR turns up on bootlegs a lot, also.) The song was NOT on the original soundtrack album, though, and unless it appears on a more recent CD release, remains officially unreleased to my knowledge.
It’s a nice touch to have McCartney on the soundtrack of the film, however, as The Ramones supposedly took their nom-de-rock from a pseudonym that Paul rather famously once used, Paul Ramon. I’ll be honest with you, I had never even heard of The Ramones when I first saw this movie. I was living, more or less, in Cincinnati where Mark Twain once said that everything arrives ten years later than in the rest of the world. In the early eighties, we were just getting disco. To me, though, they turned out to be the best part of the picture! They were cool looking and they could rock better than anything I’d heard in years! I wanted the film’s concert sequence to go on longer! In fact, now the whole concert appears on the DVD!
IMDB has a whole bunch of trivia on ROCK ‘N’ ROLL HIGH SCHOOL here: Trivia for Rock 'n' Roll High School (1979)
Star P.J. Soles never quite made the big-time but became a cult star. She has been immortalized, in fact, in the title to an album by the group Local H, "Whatever Happened to P. J. Soles?" This very weekend, in fact, she’s appearing (along with at least one of the actors who played the principal’s "flunkies") at a horror convention in California bizarrely headlined by O. J. Simpson!!
Clint Howard has had a strange internet talk show, one episode of which featured Johnny Ramone. Here's where to find it: The Clint Howard Show Clint often nepotistically appears in more successful brother Ron’s films.
I believe VinceVan Patten became a tennis player but he is currently better known as a celebrity poker player!.
Dey Young continues to work as a character actress. Perhaps her best role in recent years was as Shirley Jones in THE DAVID CASSIDY story opposite Malcolm McDowell as David's dad, the great Jack Cassidy!
Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov appeared as a team so often that people thought they were married. They weren’t. He was gay. Their magnum opus was undoubtedly the cult classic EATING RAOUL. Bartel died in 2000. Here's Mary's classy website:Mary Woronov: The Website
The Ramones, of course, are now considered the most important band of the seventies and continued to pump out high energy rock ’n’ roll for two decades before the members started dying off. Most recently, they’ve been celebrated with this bizarre but incredible Rhino box set, WEIRD TALES OF THE RAMONES featuring 3 CD's, a DVD and a graphic novel of Ramones stories by various comics creators...including the aforementioned Bil Stout!! Ramones - Weird Tales Of The Ramones - at Rhino
Finally, director Alan Arkush went on to do music videos and to make GET CRAZY, if anything an even better movie with the same "underground" sense of humor and a bigger cast that includes Malcolm McDowell, Bobby Sherman(!) and Lou Reed…as Bob Dylan!!! As I said, the times they are still a’changin’ but the public library still doesn’t have this one. Guess I’ll have to settle for my own library’s aging VHS copy for now.
Oh, well. Gabba Gabba Hey!
Wednesday, September 28, 2005
"WHEN WHOLE NUMBERS CLASH!"
"THE NEVERENDING MENACE OF PI!"
"HIS NAME IS: PROTRACTOR!"
The list is endless!
Tomorrow, back to less self-indulgent cool stuff!
Monday, September 26, 2005
Sunday, September 25, 2005
Saturday, September 24, 2005
Like most comics fans, I created my own super-heroes as a child. My best creations were Delta Man, Powerman and Lightning, all of which were duly ripped off from other characters, mainly Green Lantern, Dynamo and the Flash. I didn't actually draw comics but I used to draw covers. Just covers. I'm sorry to say that I don't have a single one left in my collection, however. What I DO have is the one and only comic book I DID do, an issue of MATH-MAN, written and drawn by yours truly at the age of eighteen. I did the first version of this comic about two years or so prior to this version. It, too, is long gone. The second version is somewhere in the archives. This, however, is the third, final and, if I do say so myself, best version. Counting the cover, Math-Man's battle with the evil Division runs seven pages and over the next few days, we'll serialize it here at the Library. I couldn't resist the temptation to colorize the cover but I must admit the art looks better in black and white so let's just consider this as my belated contribution to the black and white boom of a few decades back. Comments would be appreciated. Oh, and don't say it looks amateurish, okay? I mean...IT WAS AMATEURISH!!!! That said, I still find it entertaining which is more than I can say for just about anything published by Pacific Comics.
When Doc first appeared, it was around the same time as Roger Corman's THE RAVEN was in theaters. Thus the early Strange (above left) resembles that film's star Vincent Price (above far left). When Ditko and Lee finally did the magician's origin, however, they turne to the film LOST HORIZON for plot points and then Strange began to resemble that film's star, Ronald Colman (See also above).
In 1978, a minor actor named Peter Hooten played Dr. Strange in a TV movie/pilot that is regarded by many fans as one of the best of the Marel TV projects (certainly better than the TV Daredevil who had no eyeholes in his mask. According to legend, Stan Lee brought this to the producers' attention and they said "He doesn't need them! He can't see!" to which Stan the Man reportedly replied "But no one is supposed to KNOW that!!") Note the resemblance even in this ad to the picture of Price above. I haven't actually seen it since 1978 but I remember it fondly and if YOU want to see it, it is out there somewhere on VHS and, I'm told, turns up on the Sci-Fi channel from time to time.
Friday, September 23, 2005
Thursday, September 22, 2005
If you’re in the US, you’re probably asking, “Lenny who?” Well, I first became aware of Lenny when I saw him in a 1991 movie on cable called BERNARD AND THE GENIE, which starred Alan Cumming (X2’s Nightcrawler) as an average guy (and if you’re familiar with Alan, you know that’s a stretch!) who finds a genie (Lenny).
That same year, Hollywood tried to make Lenny a movie star by billing him as “Britain’s Eddie Murphy” in TRUE IDENTITY, an improbable but entertaining comedy in which our hero is a struggling American (!!) actor who runs afoul of gangster Frank Langella. Lenny is great but nothing at all like Eddie Murphy.
Undaunted by the yawn that accompanied the film’s release in this country, Lenny soon began the first of two series of CHEF, my absolute favorite Britcom. CHEF is the story of the world’s most egotistical chef, Gareth Blackstock, and the tiny restaurant he and his wife buy in rural England. The plots revolve mostly around the kitchen (I’m shocked that the Food Network hasn’t picked this up!) or the marital problems caused by Gareth’s devotion to the culinary arts.
Married to VICAR OF DIBLEY’s Dawn French for many years, Lenny has become a beloved staple of British TV. Along with Neil Gaiman, Lenny co-created the TV series NEVERWHERE which starred an actor from CHEF. NEVERWHERE became a book by Gaiman and more recently a comic book. This past year, Lenny hosted a PBS tribute to the UK’s biggest male sitcom stars His most recent movie appearance was as the voice of the shrunken head on the night bus in HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN. If you see his name on something…anything!...I guarantee you’ll laugh. He has the most infectious smile ever!Congratulations to Lenny on getting his name on the walk. Now if we can just get Boris on there…
Oh, almost forgot! Lenny himself has a neat website! Enjoy!http://www.lennyhenry.com/home/index.asp?pID=0
Tuesday, September 20, 2005
Monday, September 19, 2005
Snoopy receives a coded message saying "Thompson is in trouble." and he's off and running, trying to tack down the missing agent by disguising himself and interrogating a cute waitress. Eventually, though, our hero arrives too late and Thompson meets a gruesome end.
This uncharacteristic, non sequiter of a storyline ran for 10 days circa 1972.
Sunday, September 18, 2005
Speaking of the Captain as we were in the last couple posts, I thought I'd share some ultra-rare 1940's missives from Captain Marvel, himself. These were distributed monthly via Fawcett's Captain Marvel Club and were largely an excuse for plugging new titles and a bit of wartime propaganda. Since I wasn't even alive at the time, I'll let the Big Red Cheese do the talking:
In yesterday's posting, I mentioned area cartoonists that were going to be at the public library. Well, one long gone cartoonist who used to be from the area is Daerick Gross (Sr.) who was an editorial cartoonist for the Cincinnati Post in the mid-seventies. Here's a link to his website, Studio G Homepage, where you can see some of his recent comics work. Pictured at left, however, is a rare early super-hero illustration from the cover of a February, 1977 issue of the Post's Saturday TV magazine. Considering the article topic (as well as the off-model caricatures of Bugs Bunny and Fat Albert in the background) I'd have to say that this was the TV version of Captain Marvel from Saturday morning's SHAZAM series but, hey! It's the Big Red Cheese! Gross also did a version of notorious baseball legend Pete Rose as a Captain Marvel-like hero that we still have somewhere in the vast library archives. It's interesting to note that most of his "real" comics work has been of the dark and brooding variety and yet his humor work while he was in town was outstanding and very unlike the editorial cartoonist clones who dotted the newspaper landscape back in the day.
Saturday, September 17, 2005
I am notoriously open-minded. Ask anyone. I welcome new things and one of my mottos has long been "All change has the potential for good." That said, who in their right mind could ever have possibly thought that pretty boy Irish actor Stuart Townsend would be the ideal person to play Carl Kolchak in the long-rumored series remake of THE NIGHT STALKER? Let's face it, people, someone missed the whole point of the series. The supernatural angle was just a mcguffin. Darren McGavin was the point of the series! Always a reliable actor, McGavin's intense, inspired, hammy but endearing portrayal of the ultimate cliched, disheveled, burnt-out reporter became the standout image of his career. He even carried some of the world-weariness into a long-running series of audio books as John D McDonald's Travis Mcgee (check your local library). On top of all that, he really knew how to wear a hat! I'd be surprised if Townsend even owns a hat.
Having watched several recent Sci-Fi channel marathons of the original 1974 TV series, I can say it was actually hit or miss. Some episodes were slow but some still quite chilling (Hey, my friend Bob Hastings is in the episode with the cruise ship werewolf! Cool!). But through all of them, Darren McGavin was pure pleasure.
Here's the link to the new version's Official Site:Nightstalker You decide whether you want to watch it. As for me, I'm really not saying it won't be good. I'm not pre-judging it in any way. I'm notoriously open-minded, remember? In fact, if it happens to be coming on and I happen to see that, I may try it. I'm just not going to bother seeking it out because they haven't shown me one reason to do so. They haven't shown me another Darren Mcgavin.
Over the years, I never really left Archie even though I never bought much of the company's output again. I did buy the various trade reprints and special editions and I even had ocassion to wear my nifty Archie Club pin again when I appeared as Jughead opposite radio's Archie, Bob Hastings. I played Jughead twice in re-creations with Bob at the Cincinnati Old-Time Radio Convention in the mid-nineties but ultimately, I lost the role to Hal Stone, radio's original Jughead when he became a regular at the Cincinnati show. More about Hal later.
Speaking of Jughead, if you're in Cincinnati, you can meet his current writer, Craig Boldman at the Cincinnati Public Library today (Saturday, Sept 17th) along with previously noted underground legend Justin Green and various other Ohio Valley comics creators at the opening of an exhibit in celebration of comics revolutions.
I apparently can only do three actual links at this point but they're good ones! Mark Evanier is a kind of God of pop culture blogging. Cartoonist Fred Hembeck is an old favorite and he and Mike Sterling have been very supportive to my fledgeling effort. If you like my stuff, you'll like theirs.
Other sites that I frequent include Tony Isabella's at World Famous Comics >> Tony's Online Tips - Tony Isabella, everyone's new fave DIAL B for BLOG, the equally amazing Bubblegumfink ,This is Pop! and Tom Peyer :: SUPERFRANKENSTEIN, the marvelously titled Lady, That's My Skull and Jart in My Head, the unique (and more adult than most of these links) The Groovy Age of Horror, the elusive Transbuddha (wouldn't even let me link to it but search it out yourself. It's worth it!) and finally Jerry Beck's incredible CARTOON RESEARCH .
Everyone in the blogosphere has been very welcoming to me as the new guy and I'll show my appreciation by posting more and even better stuff going forward...as soon as I can get my PC to stop locking up every time I try to upload a picture. Anyone have a clue what that's all about?
Friday, September 16, 2005
Well, the new TV GUIDE fall preview issue is on the stands but here at the Library, we tend to look backward, not forward. In this case, let's revisit early 1971 when the book TV FAVORITES by Linda Beech was marketed to the youth of mainstream America through Scholastic book clubs in schools.
Beech profiles the shows she thought meant something to kids at the time. Thus we have whole chapters on
1) Dark Shadows(yes. My friends and I loved it)
2)The Bugaloos (Oh, please! A little Martha Raye is too much!)
3)Glen Campbell (Hard to be hip in a suit with Led Zeppelin and Elton John fast defining rock music at the time)
4)Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In (a cocktail party version of hipness that works sbetter in nostalgic retrospect)
5)The Bill Cosby Show (the slow moving sitcom where Cos was a high school coach. I watched it but it was duuuulll!)
6)Ice skater Peggy Fleming (who inexplicably starred in lots of TV specials when I was a kid!)
7)Ivan Tors, the animal trainer for GENTLE BEN, DAKTARI and just about every other animal show at the time.
8) The Partidge Family (Again, cooler in retrospect but hey, we all enjoyed it at the time anyway!)
9) Julia (forever after known as the first sitcom to star an African-American woman, giving short shrift to the fact that this was, in fact, a genuinely funny show with real characters and real heart.)
Note the absence of youth-oriented dramas such as MOD SQUAD and YOUNG LAWYERS. Note also that only the Partridges and Dark Shadows had much of an afterlife.
In fact, for a more realistic viewpoint of this period than Ms. Beech's undeniably interesting puff pieces provide, check out the take no prisoners writing of Harlan Ellison in his classic collections of columns musing on television and writing, THE GLASS TEAT and THE OTHER GLASS TEAT.
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
I caught a nifty short documentery on IFC (International Film Channel) the other night on Spaghetti Westerns. For those not "in the know," these were/are motion pictures made by Italians in Spain (often with German financing) depicting the American West in ways that Gary Cooper never would have approved. Sex, extreme violence, highly stylized direction and amazingly original musical scores are the highlights of the best "Spaghetti Westerns" such as THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY and SABATA. Many of these films starred American actors such as Clint Eastwood who became a big star in Sergio Leone's films and Lee Van Cleef, always a trivia question in this country but a huge international star in the seventies. Other TV actors such as Chuck Conners tried and failed to make it in Italian westerns so ultimately they invented their own stars such as Tomas Milian and Mario Girotti. Dubbed and with a name change to Terrence Hill, the latter became quite popular in America in westerns such as THEY CALL ME TRINITY and MY NAME IS NOBODY. So popular that the big studios tried to capitalize by putting him in big American productions such as MARCH OR DIE with Gene Hackman only to realize that Hill really couldn't speak English! Anyway, the book at left is probably the first book to deal with this peculiar Europeon style of film, a 1974 British volume that spends a lot of time comparing the epic violence of the Spaghetti Western to Grand Opera. There have been a number of books on the genre since this one but if you're new to it, check out IFC this month for a few good examples and reruns of the documentery below.
I told you Captain America was my favorite favorite! Haven't been able to get this posting thing to work all day and it's now nearly 2 in the morning so all I'm going to say is "Hey! Look! A cool Cap coloring book from the sixties!" The stories inside are adapted from old TALES OF SUSPENSE issues and the artwork pretty well tracings of Kirby and company. Overall though, it's still significantly better than what passes for Marvel coloring books these days!
Sunday, September 11, 2005
My pal Fred Hembeck apparently shared much of my early life...including my unrequited childhood crush on Disney Princess Hayley Mills, star of POLLYANNA, THE PARENT TRAP and, at left with Dean Jones, THAT DARN CAT. Here's Fred's piece at FredSez.
As for me, my crush on Hayley knew no bounds. A few years back when I was managing a bookstore, Ms. Mills was touring in THE KING AND I and I bought tickets for my lovely wife and myself. As the big day approached, I had the bright idea of having Hayley come in to my store for an hour to read Disney stories to kids in exchange for us displaying a poster of THE KING AND I for two weeks. I wrote her at the stop ahead of ours (a tactic that had worked for me in the past) but heard not a peep. In fact, as she hit town, she did so amidst reports that she was not happy with the play, her co-stars, etc. and, on the day BEFORE our tickets, she suddenly announced she was leaving the play! AARRGGHH!! Now, we still enjoyed the play (they brought in Faith Prince who had won the Tony for the Broadway revival a few years earlier. How could it NOT work?) but I've had a tough time enjoying Hayley as much since. Somehow, I'm convinced she did it because of me! Oh, Hayley, WHY!!?? Sigh.
On the plus side, when Hayley's THAT DARN CAT co-star Dean Jones came through town in SHOWBOAT, I went through the same routine to see if he'd read for us. He couldn't do it either but AT LEAST HE CALLED!!!! ARE YOU LISTENING HAYLEY?? DEAN JONES AT LEAST CALLED TO POLITELY DECLINE MY REQUEST!!!! AAARRGGHH!!!
Sniff. Sorry, everyone. Old flames....y'know. Thanks for listening. I'll be alright. Sigh.
One of the coolest things about British magazines and comics is that they often come packaged with free gifts--toys, badges, stickers, CD's, etc.
One issue of Marvel's published-only-in-the-UK (probably NOT the one pictured but I don't really recall) comic book offered this nifty boomerang that actually worked! Perhaps more interesting here, though is the brief instructive bit in the center. Ahem! Did you ever notice that most comics are lettered in all capital letters? According to legend, the word "FLICK" was banned from all DC comics for decades lest an ink smudge or a speck of pulp turn it into a more offensive vulgarism that would immediately corrupt young minds! But here...Ah, those crazy Englishmen!
Some coolness was present in these comics with scripts by Chris Claremont and art by Herb Trimpe, veteran Fred (AIRBOY) Kida and, later on the great AVENGERS team of John Buscema and Tom Palmer! One prolonged storyline had Captains Britain and America teaming to fight the Red Skull and terrorists with the help of Nick Fury! There must be some legal reason why Marvel hasn't collected these early CAPTAIN BRITAIN stories but I'm sure they will eventually. It won't be the same though. I'll miss the dirty boomerang.
Artist Frank Springer drew tons of those spot-on, politically incorrect comic book parodies for NATIONAL LAMPOON back in the seventies. Maybe that’s why Stan Lee’s 1976 comic strip THE VIRTUE OF VERA VALIANT, drawn by Springer, comes across like a tediously written Lampoon parody itself. Around the same time, the long-gestating SPIDER-MAN strip was getting under way. Both written by Stan the Man himself, VERA would give up the ghost fairly quickly while Spidey still swings through a handful of papers to this very day!
There was a book collecting some of the VERA strips but it is SO obscure that we don’t even have it here at the Library. We do, however, offer a brief selection of actual strips as clipped from a great metropolitan newspaper back in the day. These examples are from October of 1976. Note that this particular paper, like many I’m told, chose to re-title the strip as VERA VALIANT, VERA VALIANT. I seem to recall an interview in which Stan voiced displeasure at this but clearly it was an attempt to identify the strip’s unusual humor with that of the surprise TV hit soap parody, Norman Lear’s MARY HARTMAN, MARY HARTMAN(Mary Hartman). I never "got" MH, MH but I remember at the time that its bizarre, drawn out story-lines were considered positively chic to the Studio 54 crowd for some unfathomable reason and star Louise Lasser (best known as Woody Allen’s ex until the series) was the flavor of the month until she ended up in rehab. That said, MH, MH did spin off FERNWOOD TONIGHT (Classic TV: Fernwood 2Nite), a singularly hilarious version of a small town talk show with Martin Mull and Fred Willard. FT became the even funnier AMERICA TONIGHT and rode off comfortably into cult TV history. VERA VALIANT became, like most of Stan’s newspaper comic strips (including SPIDER-MAN!) a trivia question. As for Stan himself, the once great comics creator went on to a minor film career, appearing in small roles in films such as THE PRINCESS DIARIES 2 and THE FANTASTIC FOUR.
Saturday, September 10, 2005
In spite of my unquestionable geek credentials, this is one of my all-time favorite movies. A LITTLE ROMANCE is a gentle, funny, intelligent comedy that’s more romantic in its own way than a dozen Doris Day/Rock Hudson films. It was popular in its day (1979) and won or was nominated for a number of awards but I can’t help but think that it was too hip for the room even then. Note how the poster just screams excitement!
Essentially it’s the story of two smart young teens who fall in love in France and team up with a charming old con man to run away to Italy. Lauren (Diane Lane in her very first film) is the daughter of movie star Sally Kellerman who’s in Europe shooting a picture. Lauren is intellectual and meets Daniel, a young local boy as well versed in the great philosophers as she but also a bit of a street-wise con artist. They bond and run into, of all people, Lord Laurence ("Call me Larry") Olivier in an absolutely delightful, scenery-chewing performance as Julius, a kindly old man who just happens to be wanted throughout Europe for various schemes. Thinking he’s just telling them a story, he says that two lovers who kiss at sundown under the bridge of sighs in Venice will be lovers forever. They’re young, they’re bored and the hormones are kicking in so they decide it’s time for a road trip. Feeling a tad guilty, Julius tags along to keep an eye on them but before you know it, the word is out that he’s kidnapped the kids and the chase is on! Determined to reach the bridge in time, our heroes travel by train, car, bicycle (Olivier’s biographers point out that the ailing, eighty-something actor did his own riding in a bicycle race in the picture, giving producers heart attacks) and ultimately gondola to achieve true love!
There are marvelous performances by all! Olivier won the Golden Globe and both kids were touted as natural actors. Lane got a feature story in TIME but Thelonious Bernard (Daniel) shows only one other credit on IMDB. Hmmm. More or less washed up star Broderick Crawford is a delight as more or less washed up star Broderick Crawford who can’t remember his own career and just wants another drink. Sad in a way but so funny! Arthur Hill (TV’s OWEN MARSHALL) is the voice of reason as Lauren’s father.
Behind the scenes pedigrees are spotless. Directed by George Roy Hill who did BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, THE STING and another favorite of mine, THE WORLD OF HENRY ORIENT, the script was by Allan Burns who created THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW and MY MOTHER THE CAR (Well, okay, perhaps not completely spotless).
I love my Ed Wood collection, my CARRY ON collection, my serials, no budget horror films, multi-million dollar super hero pictures, cheesy rock musicals, teen sex comedies and violent car chase melodramas but sometimes, at the end of the day…what I really want even now is A LITTLE ROMANCE
Thursday, September 08, 2005
As you can see, this book, which was prepared just PRIOR to the television series debut, features an alternate world version of THE FLINTSTONES--Fred, Wilma, Fred Junior(!!) and their new pet Harvey (although he looks more like Cecil the sea-sick sea sepent on that final page!) with no trace of Barney, Betty, Dino or Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm(still several years away from their conceptions actually). I'm not certain whether Junior was originally planned for the TV series but if so, he was clearly sacked early on unwittingly preparing the way for Pebbly-Poo and one of the most anxiously awaited births in TV history. (Certainly, the Welch's people were waiting as I doubt Junior had the marketing appeal that sold all the jelly and grape juice that Pebbles would eventually sell!)
Mel Crawford did a considerable amount of the Little Golden Books, of which this was only one. Check out his site and do some searching on the Net and I'll bet you find out that he illustrated one of your favorites! This one was always MY favorite!