Thursday, August 31, 2006
To your left is Michael Eury’s fine book on my all-time favorite toy, CAPTAIN ACTION! It is an in-depth look at the making of, the marketing of and the nostalgia of one of the first great action figures. If you don’t have it, order it today.
While you’re waiting for it, though, zip over to the ever-delightful DIAL B for BLOG which is just finishing up a multi-part piece on CAPTAIN ACTION and his various incarnations.
My friend Terry and I both got CAPTAIN ACTION dolls when they first came out. We, of course, already had at least one GI JOE each and a few assorted other figures (DANIEL BOONE, JOHNNY WEST, etc.). Ultimately, as we became super-hero crazy, we formed them into our Earth Q version of the AVENGERS. CAPTAIN ACTION was the leader. Other members included NOVA, THE LEOPARD, DELTA-MAN, ATOMIC MAN and LIGHTNING! All of these were formed from other action figures using modeling clay, paper towels and other household objects. One of my favorite creations was the Golden Age Hawkman made out of a MIKE HAZZARD figure and using bendable straws and shredded paper towels for the wings. For the mask, I pulled a piece of a yellow balloon over his head and sliced it with a compass. One of the major villains was MERLIN THE VAMPIRE WIZARD, created out of Marx’s SILVER KNIGHT.
I only ever had 3 of Cap’s costumes—BATMAN, AQUAMAN and SPIDER-MAN—but at one time or another these heroes were also members of our AVENGERS. ACTION BOY was not widely distributed around here but Terry got one through a catalog. Later, when I got mine in the second, helmeted costume, we said that mine was a clone (even though we didn’t know that word) of the original and called him ACTION BULLET!
When DR. EVIL came along later, we each bought a couple so as to say the arch-fiend had duplicated himself! Terry even had Ideal’s SUPERGIRL and BATGIRL figures which later became mine in a trade. Around age 11, I actually attempted to make them anatomically correct using modeling clay. You really don’t want to know how wrong I was!
We hiked the three blocks back and forth between each other’s houses lugging gymbags full of our "Men" long past the age where we should have discovered girls. Our scenarios became ever more complicated and complex and we would spend weeks designing new characters. Even after Terry moved to another county, I would sometimes take a bus to see him and we’d work out AVENGERS stories in our heads but it was just too much trouble to drag the Men around anymore and actually play with them. Eventually, we started going to strip clubs together but it wasn’t the same. We both missed the simpler days of CAPTAIN ACTION and friends and we finally drifted apart after some fifteen years as friends. Sigh.
Years later, after I was married, my wife and I were digging through a box of her old BARBIE dolls and what do we find but KEN…wearing a CAPTAIN ACTION costume!
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
In his COMICS INTERVIEW appearance, Don Rosa referred to his cartooning as a "hobby." According to legend, he had pretty much put it aside to concentrate on his marriage, his home and his family business. Then one day in late 1986 or early 1987 he saw that Gladstone Comics had brought his beloved Disney characters back to the US newsstand for the first time since licensee Gold Key had folded years earlier. He contacted the editor and supposedly told him that he HAD to let him do at least one Scrooge McDuck story. The editor agreed and a few months later, THE SON OF THE SUN appeared. With Don’s rep as a big Carl Barks fan, the story got touted and highly recommended in the fan press. As a big Don Rosa fan, this became the very first issue of UNCLE SCROOGE that I ever bought in what was then some two decades of comic collecting.
It was a revelation. Not only was the story entertaining and exciting but the anthropomorphic characters seemed surprisingly more realistic than any found at Marvel or DC at that time. The art was wonderful and funny and Don’s storytelling, honed by years of PERTWILLABY PAPERS (from which this story was adapted) and CAPTAIN KENTUCKY and filtered through years of Barksian continuity made for an absolutely amazing epic.
The bookstore I was running at the time happened to carry comics including the new Gladstones but I hadn’t paid much attention to them as all true comic fans only cared about (or so I thought at the time) "serious" comics. My store got its books a couple of weeks after the local comics shops though which gave me an idea. I would write to Don and ask if he would like to do a booksigning at my store when we received his issue in.
In a long, rambling but interesting letter rejecting the idea of a signing, Don said that the response to the story had been gratifying. "After wanting to do this for 35 years," he said, "it woulda been kinda nasty if I’d flopped right off."
As he put it, he was still unsure about his "place in the cosmos" and feared "…mothers bringing their children to see the funny man who draws Mickey Mice…" or typical comics fans who preferred "crap like mutants and trolls and turtles" and who were a few years away from realizing that "those beautifully-drawn mutant comics are the ones that are pretty childish.’
I understood his apprehensions. I also decided to keep checking the new Disney comics for more work by Don Rosa. He may well have thought he was just getting this one-off story out of his system but the fans loved it and it was nominated for an award right away! More stories began appearing. Ten pagers, one page gags and booklength epic adventure stories alternated and Don became known among the cognoscenti as the true successor to the great Carl Barks. On nearly all of his covers, he placed the hidden initials, "D.U.C.K." meaning "Dedicated to Uncle Carl from Keno!" There are whole websites dedicated to Don’s D.U.C.K. dedications.
A couple years into his Duck career, Don had a falling out with the Disney folks themselves and refused (quite rightly) to produce any more work directly for them. Instead, as the demand for his work continued to increase in Europe where the Disney comics had long been held at loftier heights than in the US, Rosa began working for the various European Disney licensees. While his work would still appear in America, it would now take months or even years as Gladstone (and later Gemstone) would have to purchase it from the other countries.
I finally met Don Rosa in person at a local comic shop where he was doing a signing (having long since lost his reluctance for same) and he remembered my original invitation. I had him draw me the picture of Scrooge seen here. In the years since, his work has become more and more polished and entertaining, with epics based on Finnish legends and sequels to classic Barks strips. Perhaps his masterpiece was THE LIFE AND TIMES OF SCROOGE McDUCK, a multi-part epic that has been praised and collected throughout the world for its having placed the $crooge legend in perspective. Don did this by taking throwaway bits and asides from Barks stories and fitting them into one more or less cohesive biography of McDuck and his fortunes, in the process making the character one of the most "human" characters in the history of the comics.
In Finland, Don Rosa leads parades and in Italy, there is a hardcover biography of him. He continues to turn out Disney Duck stories that, to me, are quite obviously miles above the most worthy of his fellow Duck artists. Quirkier and funnier, Don Rosa’s real contribution to Disney history seems to be to bring an unexpected Looney Tunes sensibility to the traditional Disney world.
In recent years, even as I’ve drifted away from buying mainstream comics, I’ve begun buying Dell, Gold Key, Gladstone, Disney and Gemstone back issues. I enjoy Barks and a number of the European writers and artists but to me, its Don Rosa who will always be my "good duck artist." Local boy makes good indeed. Thanks, Don! Here are some links to really great and obsessive Don Rosa sites:D.U.C.K.burg - [Don Rosa fansite] , The D.U.C.K.man - Introduc(k)tion to Don Rosa, DuckMaster, The D.U.C.K.man - A site dedicated to the greatest living Duck-artist: Don Rosa, Don Rosa - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
Awhile back I went on a bit about my newfound admiration for my mother’s favorite actor, Dick Powell, and in particular his radio series, RICHARD DIAMOND. Lately I’ve found myself enjoying an earlier Powell series, ROGUE’S GALLERY. Richard Rogue preceeded singing detective Richard Diamond by a few years but in essence, Powell exploits his latterday image as a charming, cynical tough guy in both. The conceit of ROGUE’S GALLERY is that the detective tends to get knocked out a lot—about once per episode—and when he does he wakes up on "cloud 8" where he inevitably meets his cackling "alter-enemy," Eugor (spell it backwards). Eugor taunts him and needles him but more often than not points him in the direction of some heretofore missed clue that leads to the dénouement of the case at hand. The episodes I’ve heard are all sharply written with clever mysteries and with solid performances from Powell (in spite of a number of minor flubs that lead me to think the episodes may have been underrehearsed). Lots of other familiar radio voices appear including Gerald Mohr(Mister Fantastic on the 1967 FANTASTIC FOUR) and my friend Bob Hastings.
Radio historians note that the show ran on without its star when Powell left to do a series adapting THE FRONT PAGE but that the character became "very different."
In 1968, a TV movie/pilot was made starring Ann-Margret’s husband Roger Smith along with a good cast of veterans including Brian Donlevy, Farley Granger, Edgar Bergen and even "poor old Johnnie Ray." I could be wrong but it seems to me like it had sat on the shelf a few years before actually running. It never sold as a series. Smith may have been good but Dick Powell was Richard Rogue…and Richard Diamond. If you get a chance, check out some episodes!
Monday, August 28, 2006
Sadly, my new work schedule leaves me little time for extensive posting lately. I’m going to try to write ahead on my days off and cache some good stuff. In the meantime, I’m postponing Part 3 of my Don Rosa piece until mid-week so as not to rush it. That’s okay though as the ever-vigilant Mark Evanier reminds us all that today would have been Jack Kirby’s 89th birthday. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that pop culture as we know it would not exist if not for Jack Kirby. Those modern superhero artists who haughtily deny that Kirby had any influence over THEM are just too dense to see it. It reminds me of the oh-so-hip rock bands who deny being influenced at all by the Beatles…until you point out all of the specific comparisons.
Jack Kirby was the first comic book artist whose name I knew, the first whose work I actively sought out, the first whose artwork I studied and copied, the first I followed from book to book, the first whose imagination seemed boundless, the first I bought books and fanzines about, the first…well, when it comes to comics art, Jack was probably the first in just about everything!
Kirby’s work in comics was always underappreciated by everyone except his fans and yet its influence endures. Kirby’s style and concepts can be seen daily in the works of the most popular film and TV writers and directors. Recycled, it also influences toys, fashions, books and most especially video games.
I’m on record with my story of nearly knocking down Kirby the only time I ever actually saw him in person. I have no doubt that he would have simply gotten back up and created something amazing from some miniscule aspect of the event that you and I can’t even see now! We miss you Jack but—and we’re not just saying this—you are most definitely still here with us!
The illustrations here are the covers of THE JACK KIRBY TREASURY, vols. 1 and 2, published, respectively, in 1981 and 1992 by Jack’s friend and latterday collaborator Greg Theakston. Packed with little seen art and info, they act almost as a precursor to Twomorrow’s obsessive THEJACK KIRBY COLLECTOR, a regular magazine analyzing all aspects of Jack’s life and career as befits a true, historically important "King."
Sunday, August 27, 2006
WATCHING TV by Walter J. Podrazik and Harry Castleman came out in 1982 and quickly became a favorite here at the Library for its year by year overviews of each TV season from the forties to the (then) present. The authors succeed quite well at putting both the technology of television and its rise as an entertainment medium into perspective. All of the great shows and stars are, of course, covered but so are the trends and how they both reflected--and were in turn reflected in-- real life. Add to that full fall schedule grids for every single year and the truly MAD cover by sometime TV GUIDE cover artist Jack Davis that features everyone from Arthur Godfrey and Captain Kangaroo to Claude Akins and J. Fred Muggs (or were those two the same person?). Long out of print, if you’re a TV buff, check your local library or Ebay. I’m sure you’ll just love WATCHING TV.
Saturday, August 26, 2006
In 1975, Linda Blair appeared in her second "teenager in trouble" TV movie, a genre that she looked to be specializing in for awhile (along with, oddly enough, Eve Plumb!) SARAH T., PORTRAIT OF A TEENAGE ALCOHOLIC is a powerful, moving story that avoids alot of the preachiness associated with this type of film both before and since. William (1776, ST. ELSEWHERE, CAPTAIN NICE) Daniels co-stars along with a pre-Jedi Mark Hamill. Here's the original newspaper ad, TV guide listing and a review from February of 1975.
Thursday, August 24, 2006
In 1979, Keno Don Rosa hit what he might well have presumed to be the big time when the Saturday Magazine Section of THE LOUISVILLE TIMES offered him the chance to do a weekly comic strip. Dusting off his longtime hero (and alter ego) Lancelot Pertwillaby, Don placed him now as a reporter who, due to the usual radioactive accident (which in real life would have, at best, horribly mutilated Lance), becomes super hero CAPTAIN KENTUCKY!
150 episodes of CAPTAIN KENTUCKY were published over a three year period, each in a two tier format (similar to STAR HAWKS but better utilizing the space!) in which the writer/artist/letterer filled as much space as possible. Although the strips themselves offer sometimes subtle social commentary in the midst of silly stories and action-filled adventures, Don began inserting more personal comments in between the panel borders as "C.K.’s pre-decoded secret messages." These often controversial one-liners would come to tick off the folks at the TIMES and sometimes even be deleted prior to publication.
CAPTAIN KENTUCKY, for the most part, lived up to the very definition of a regional comic strip as it satirized local Louisville politicians, anchormen, DJ’s, the Kentucky Derby and anything and everything related to the Commonwealth. The plots got more and more complicated, convoluted and tied in to their specific region. Much of this would be thoroughly unintelligible to non-Kentuckians. Even us Northern Kentuckians lost out on all of the specific local references. At the same time, though, every major city has wacky reporters and crazy politicians so there was at its heart a kind of universal appeal to the whole thing.
Some of the most memorable aspects of the entire run are the ever changing SPIRIT-like logos, a few of which are seen here in this ad for the CAPTAIN KENTUCKY reprint books.
Among the folks appearing in the strip are former TV star Roger Davis (ALIAS SMITH AND JONES, DARK SHADOWS) who was then a real estate developer here in Kentucky, former heavyweight champ Muhammad Ali and radio personality Gary Burbank who soon after settled in at Cincinnati’s WLW. Years later, Gary Burbank bought something in my store (with a credit card so I know his real name but he swore me to secrecy! SSSHHH!) I asked Burbank if he remembered the CK strip appearances and he assured me that he got more name recognition from it than he ever got from his radio station down there at the time. He said he wished he had a copy of the strip reprint books and I referred him to the local comic shop (don’t know if he went).
Three volumes of magazine sized CAPTAIN KENTUCKY reprints followed, self-published by Don over several years whenever, as he put it himself, "the loan for the previous issue is paid off.". In 1984, plugging these and the previously mentioned DON ROSA’S COMICS AND STORIES, Don was interviewed by Lou Mougin for David Anthony Kraft’s magazine, COMICS INTERVIEW. In perhaps the longest interview I’ve seen with the artist, he discusses his own legendary comics collection, his artistic influences (Barks, et al), Omnicon and his own strips. He is incredibly self-deprecating in spots, calling his art just "a hobby" and pointing out that his family didn’t appreciate it. The Don Rosa who did this interview and referred to himself as a cult artist would undoubtedly be skeptical of what was about to happen to his career… CAPTAIN KENTUCKY in a hardcover, slipcased edition in Europe!!??
To Be Continued
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
In recent years, with mainstream comics continuity becoming more and more convoluted, I find that the only comics I still tend to collect on any kind of regular basis are the very comics I avoided in my actual youth—Disney comics. This is all Don Rosa’s fault.
Just as earlier generations discovered the great Carl Barks as "the good duck artist," I first paid attention to UNCLE SCROOGE when longtime fan artist Don Rosa, then semi-retired into the family business, decided to take at least one crack at writing and drawing a story featuring his all-time favorite characters in 1986. That one story changed Don’s life and while my fellow Kentuckian may still be able to walk the streets of Louisville unrecognized, he has long since become like unto a god in parts of Europe where Disney comics have long been revered as fine art.
I first discovered Keno Don Rosa’s work in the pages of the RBCC, the ROCKET’S BLAST/COMICOLLECTOR, the fanzine where he had just taken over a question and answer column started by Ray Miller. According to the RBCC, itself, several folks had been finalists for the position, one of whom was an old friend of mine named Steve Conner. Don, though, was not only a fount of trivial information but clung fast to my oft-stated tenet that the secret of life is not knowing all the answers but knowing where to look them up! His INFORMATION CENTER column was uniquely illustrated not just by Don’s cartooning but by little effects such as paragraphs curling out and drawn word balloons announcing the various sections. It quickly became the favorite section of the magazine and expanded accordingly as Don was inundated with questions. He even opened an IC Annex in the tabloid pages of COMICS BUYERS GUIDE.
The RBCC even began printing first old and later brand new adventures of Rosa’s original series, THE PERTWILLABY PAPERS. Lancelot Pertwillaby, looking much like the artist himself, was an oblivious, intelligent dogooder who, along with his platonic girlfriend Feather Fluff, became involved in adventures inspired by the great quests Carl Barks wrote for his classic Disney Duck stories. LOST IN (AN ALTERNATE SECTION OF) THE ANDES was Rosa’s direct homage to his own artistic hero. Already an accomplished storyteller, Don’s work, in which he did all of the writing, art and lettering himself (his lettering being an integral part of his overall style!) was not just amusing but out and out laugh out loud funny. That said, his stories were also genuinely exciting and well-paced. Again, a tribute to the influence of Carl Barks and his Scrooge McDuck adventures. His layouts could be Eisner-inspired but his often insanely detailed art was reminiscent of both Kurtzman’s MAD and the burgeoning undergrounds of the early seventies. A decade later, during Don’s "retirement" from comics, these stories would be collected by Fantagraphics in several magazine-sized issues of DON ROSA’S COMICS AND STORIES.
By 1976, Don had enough clout to, along with RBCC editor Jim Van Hise, put on OMNICON, a major science-fiction/STAR TREK/comics convention in Louisville, Kentucky that I attended. From a fan’s point of view, it was a big success (I met my first TREK star, De Kelley) but I’m told it was a draining, straining experience for all involved behind the scenes, perhaps especially Don. After continually overextending himself, Rosa was forced to cut back, leaving smaller sections of questions in IC and often leaving the illustrations to others such as Eddie Eddings. Even the final PERTWILLABY PAPERS story was left unfinished. When the venerable RBCC folded, Don’s strip (reprints) and his column turned up again in THE COMIC READER, then being run quite nicely by the folks at Street Enterprises who had previously brought fans the ultimate comic strip newspaper, THE MENOMONEE FALLS GAZETTE. In the late seventies, though, Don finally made a stab at being a professional cartoonist with the one and only…CAPTAIN KENTUCKY!
Continued… (Special thanks to DICK DUCK, DUCK DICK cartoonist Jim Engel for letting me print his computer portrait of his friend Don!)
The movie WILLARD starring Bruce Davison as a man who used rats to attack his enemies was a surprise hit in 1971, inspiring a horde of similar films with other animals. STANLEY, 1972, was an early and obvious "homage" using snakes.
Chris Robinson, who had a steady under the radar career both before and after this rare starring vehicle plays the Florida swamp man who uses his friendship with snakes-particularly the title snake-to get them to attack folks who want to make them into belts! The great character actor Alex Rocco, just starting to move into A list films co-stars as the bad guy.
What gets me now though is the ad. Not only do the first 500 people get a snake ring and "autographed" pictures of the title snake but he was actually APPEARING in person! Okay, assuming he appeared at various theaters around the country and not just this one, how do you think he got there? Did he just slither along, eassssin’ on down the road OR…did he fly like any other film star? If so, wouldn’t that have made Stanley the original Snake on a Plane???
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
Speaking of Buck Rogers (as we were in the previous post), BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25TH CENTURY was a 1979 theatrical release of the TV series pilot starring Gil Gerard. IMDB says that it was released in theaters because the networks chose not to air it. It’s my recollection, however, that like BATTLESTAR: GALACTICA before it, it was distributed that way to hopefully make some of those big STAR WARS sci-fi bucks while generating interest in the upcoming TV series. Locally, it only played in smaller, suburban theaters so there didn’t really seem to be much push behind it.
Gerard was likable but always seemed a bit too much the modern seventies man to match my admittedly then-limited view of the character. Using a decidedly updated (and thus now dated) viewpoint, the film retold the classic story of the man who wakes up 500 years in the future and becomes a hero. The cast, including Tim O’Conner and Erin Gray, was a good TV cast but a little light to carry a feature. The same can be said for the special effects as filmgoers were already used to ILM coolness by that point. Mel Blanc voiced the new mini-robot character Twiki, created solely to cash in on the popularity of R2-D2. The subsequent series (as seen recently on Sci-Fi) had its moments but quickly fell into set patterns and routines. Despite the stunt casting of original movie serial Buck Buster Crabbe, it was fated not to last long and only recently has been developing a not necessarily deserved cultish reputation.
Maybe it's just me but this has been bothering me since since I was 8 years old and I now have the means to fix it so...When the second issue of Marvel's sometimes brilliant MAD-style parody comic, NOT BRAND ECHH (actually called just BRAND ECHH in the early issues) came out in 1967, it was seemingly obvious to anyone that Spidey-Man's mask was meant to have a mouth. I mean, seriously! Just look at the thickness of the weblines in that area and how they seem to form a mouth-like shape! Well, not to worry Marvelites! Below, after all of these years-nay! decades!-- is the long-awaited, restored version of Mirthful Marie Severin's madcap merriment complete with Spidey-smile! What bothers me is that Marie, as Marvel's chief colorist, might have miscolored it herself!!!
Today marks the one year anniversary of Booksteve’s Library! We made it! Along the way, I’ve met a lot of new and very supportive friends and I’ve learned to discipline myself better as a writer. I’ve learned a lot more about computers and the Internet, I’ve been called "an influencer" by my peers and I’ve discovered that a perhaps staggering number of people still lust after Linda Blair! Things have been a little lean here at the Library recently as I adjust to my sometimes bizarre new work schedule but I thank you for staying with me. Starting tomorrow is a multi-part piece on one of my absolute favorites, Duck artist Don Rosa! I’ve not mentioned Don much here before now because the last thing I wrote for my previous, aborted blog was a piece on him. Now’s the time to make up for it!
That’s tomorrow, though! For today, we’ll be back celebrating this afternoon with cool little short bits. To your left here is the virtual snack table. When you come back later, grab yourself a silly hat and leave any presents there, too. The virtual punch line will be down the virtual hall next to the comic boxes. Just look for my friend DEREK; you’ll always find him with the punch line. Oh and, in the immortal misheard words of John Fogarty, "there’s a bathroom on the right."
Special thanks to Mike, Fred, Tony I., Sleestak, BFink, Jim E., Emilio, Mike S., Klaus, Kim, Brittany, Dee, John F., Matt, Allen S., Ricky, Alan B., Kevin, Tegan, Jim T., Chris, Jamdin, Curt, Sonny, Tony C., Michael K., John O., Mark B., Mark E. and all of you other very important readers I’ve missed! There have been times this past year when this blog was the most successful thing I’ve had going. I absolutely couldn’t have made it without each and every one of you!
Monday, August 21, 2006
Perhaps surprisingly, one of my recent obsessions has been a current, sports-related television high school drama aimed directly at viewers about three decades younger than myself. Once again, my young friend Kim is responsible for bringing it to my attention after I had previously written it off sight unseen (as I’m now sorry to say I’ve done with many similar series in the last few years). Good writing is good writing and when you have creators who care passionately about a show, it shines through and resonates with all ages.
ONE TREE HILL is, on the surface, the soap opera story of two half brothers, Lucas and Nathan, both of whom are excellent high school basketball players in the small North Carolina town of Tree Hill. Lucas was raised by a loving single mother and Nathan by his rich, successful but not very caring parents. Although they grew up separately, they share a common father in Dan Scott, perhaps the most manipulative, mean-spirited, egotistical and downright evil prime time villain since JR Ewing.
The gist of the series plot is that Dan wants the son he raised to be the basketball star he himself had been but the son he denied may well keep that from happening. Around that basic premise, the plots of the series go in all different directions from deep heart-wrenching drama to light-hearted fun, continuing subplots from one episode to the next in traditional serial fashion. There’s a generous helping of sex and a good dose of comedy but what keeps me coming back is the writing and the performances(and yes, I know the writing sometimes takes shortcuts such as when Nathan is emancipated from his parents virtually off-camera in a single scene instead of the prolonged legal issues that would have entailed in real life but then Bobby Ewing's shower scene comes to mind as a precedent for shortcuts.)To a man, the actors quickly find and refine their roles straight out of the gate with no one being totally cliched. They then continue to humanize their characters as the series goes along. The stuck up cheerleader turns out to be a sad and lonely artist with major personal issues, the "easy" cheerleader is revealed to be secretly nice and deeper than expected, the nice guy uncle has a drinking problem, the bad guy occasionally does something nice and even Lucas and Nathan subtly switch roles throughout the first season.
The actors fit these roles to perfection, too, starting with Chad Michael Murray as the brooding Lucas. Big, handsome Paul Johansson smiles in a suitably creepy way when he puts down his son or tells off his wife or undermines the coach or just generally exudes trouble.
ONE TREE HILL plays its adult characters off of the teens, paralleling the modern day high school travails with backstories of the way things were when THEY were attending high school. Barry Corbin’s Coach character acts as a bridge between the generations. In fact, for a show set in a high school, he is surprisingly the only school authority figure even seen!
Another aspect of the show worthy of comment is the music and how well it's been integrated into each episode. I’m on record as not being a fan of much modern music but here the producers have done a beautiful job of choosing and displaying the songs. The lyrics always fit the scenes and the music always fits the mood of the episodes. Many episodes are, in fact, named after song titles and feature montages of all the characters set to music. Since BUFFY began doing this sort of thing, the incorporation of songs into series has become fairly widespread but I’ve never seen it done as well as here. In fact about the only aspect of the show that I can quibble with is that it's set in North Carolina, where my mother came from and where I visited every summer as a child...and yet no one seems to have a Southern accent!
Actually, the first season is pretty much all I can comment on right now as we’re watching it on DVD. Once (or sometimes twice) a week lately, I get together with Kim and we do a mini-marathon of episodes. We’ve just started season two. In the real world, season four is coming soon. If, like me, you might think you’re too old, think again. It may be done up in modern dress but this is a good old-fashioned entertaining prime time serial. Don’t say there’s nothing good on TV anymore when you have shows like ONE TREE HILL. Try it yourself. Thanks, Kim.
Sunday, August 20, 2006
This is one of my all-time favorite comic panels and it's by Jim Aparo from 1970's AQUAMAN # 50. Our hero is swimming through this microscopic alien world where he's picking up thoughts telepathically only in this case, the artist, near one of several career peaks, includes the names of a bunch of other folks working for DC at the time as the thoughts themselves!
For the record, the names are:
(E. Nelson) Bridwell
(Jay Scott) Pike
(Mike?) Barr (Was he there this early??)
(Gardner) Fox (Bob) Haney
and finally—I think I got them all—the unfortunately misspelled (Mike) Eposito(sic)!
Saturday, August 19, 2006
Friday, August 18, 2006
From the cover of MOVIE FANTASTIC-BEYOND THE DREAM MACHINE, you’d never know that it was a serious work of cinema history. Not only do we have a rather simplistic bit of Godzilla poster art but also a totally incongruous TV Batman lunchbox, giving the distinct impression that the book is going to be a kids’ pop culture puff piece!
Inside, however, this 1974 release is divided into four sections-Myths, Machines, Visions and Nightmares. With a wealth of uncensored rare drawings and photographs, author David Annan covers international cinema’s obsession with fantasy from the silent days of George Melies through KING KONG and DRACULA and on into Jean Rollin’s then contemporary lesbian vampire films. He attempts and often succeeds to put them into a real world context, touching on everything from cave drawings and Native American legends to specific movements in traditional cinema.
A bit pretentious, the text is really little more than a long essay on fantasy in film history, livened up by an eclectic mix of rare and iconic film stills you aren’t likely to find anywhere else.
MOVIE FANTASTIC-BEYOND THE DREAM MACHINE was part of a film book series originally published, I believe, in the UK but distributed in part in the US through the late seventies. Other titles included KUNG FU, CINEMA OF VENGEANCE, SAVAGE CINEMA, ITALIAN WESTERNS-THE OPERA OF VIOLENCE and CATASTROPHE-THE END IN THE CINEMA. Annan's book has been reissued several times since under different titles, also.
Thursday, August 17, 2006
Here at the Library, we have over 1000 tapes and CDs of old-time radio episodes, many of which were rediscovered and re-mastered through the courtesy of a company called Radio Spirits.
Radio Spirits was the brainchild of a surprisingly young man named Carl Amari. He would take it to amazing heights before becoming perhaps the most controversial figure in the old time radio hobby (and that’s definitely another story!) and then selling the company. At its peak in 1993, however, Radio Spirits came out with the absolute treasure trove of OTR programs seen here, RADIO’S MISSING MASTERS.
This incredible set probably meant nothing to the general public but to the OTR buffs, it was a real treat. The box set offers 60 one of a kind rarities, some of which had never before been heard by the public. Audition programs, specials and first appearances abound! Not all of the shows here are good by any means but all are historically interesting for one aspect or another.
Among the gems found in RADIO’S MISSING MASTERS are the following audition (radio’s term for pilots) shows:
YOURS TRULY, JOHNNY DOLLAR-starring Dick Powell who handed the role off to others when it went to series.
THE HUMPHREY BOGART THEATRE
MULLIGAN’S TRAVELS-an attempt at a radio sitcom with future mogul Sheldon Leonard
THE GREEN LAMA-Comic book superhero show with the great Paul Frees!
FANTASY-a TWILIGHT ZONEish show with Hans Conried
VOYAGE OF THE SCARLET QUEEN-A pre-SAM SPADE Howard Duff starred
THE McCOY-A post SAM SPADE Howard Duff starred
MY MOTHER’S HUSBAND-a 1950 attempt at a series for notoriously mike-shy William Powell
THREE FOR ADVENTURE-A young Jack Webb in an I LOVE A MYSTERY style show
Also featured are the very first episodes of many series both popular and rare as well as a few rehearsals and a number of one-off episodes such as Jackie Gleason replacing an ailing William Bendix in THE LIFE OF RILEY (Gleason was starring in the TV version of the series at the time) and a BABY SNOOKS AND DADDY without Baby Snooks!
The set is rounded out with a selection of the ONLY surviving episodes of a number of series including Glenn Ford in CHRISTOPHER LONDON, a mystery created exclusively for radio by PERRY MASON’s Erle Stanley Gardner.
RADIO SPIRITS put out an impressive line of box sets and mega-box sets for both the serious OTR collector and the casual fan but this kind of stuff, to the true connoisseur, is gold! RADIO’S MISSING MASTERS-FOUND!
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
Seems like William Shatner (apparently now AKA "The Shat!") is everywhere these days (looking vaguely oriental from perhaps too much plastic surgery). From BOSTON LEGAL to commercials to a new STAR TREK video game to an upcoming TV roast, there’s no doubt he’s working more than ever here in the twenty-first century. This issue of CRAWDADDY from late1976 highlights the STAR TREK phenomenon and gives one of the most comprehensive early looks at the proposed feature film that would not materialize until three years later. "Can STAR TREK be put back together?" the article asks, illustrated appropriately by the image of a suitably seventies looking "Shat," as seen below.
Series creator Gene Roddenberry and sci-fi curmudgeon Harlan Ellison (credited with writing the series’ most popular episode and an early writer for the film version) discuss the aborted "Kirk meets God" concept. Although it was later used in revised form in the Shatner-directed STAR TREK 5, Roddenberry’s widow Majel had Gene’s original concepts novelized about ten years ago.That book was never released though. Reportedly Majel was unhappy at the novelizing author’s (was it Vonda McIntire?) final version due to some inappropriate jabs at Roddenberry himself. It got so close to being released that it’s still listed on the computers at certain bookstores but it was actually pulled at nearly the last minute.
Shatner points out that Paramount initially had no interest at all in the original cast and instead wanted big stars for the roles. He speculates that Richard Burton might have played Kirk and Robert Redford as Spock!
In a rare instance of missing the obvious, Ellison is quoted as saying that CRAWDADDY’s piece on STAR TREK was already out of date as Trek-mania had run its course. Shatner, on the other hand correctly predicted the continued interest in the franchise. He added that if the film were a blockbuster, the public could expect more films down the line and that if it were only mildly successful, a new TV series. In reality, of course, we got both! In 1979, after various false starts, STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE was finally released in theaters.
STAR TREK’s Chekov, Walter Koenig (a very perceptive man whom my wife and I met a few years back) gets in the article’s last word when he says, "Better STAR TREK influencing society’s different levels in a very big way than something else, something like KOJAK!"
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
George Reeves died under controversial circumstances in 1959--the year I was born. Through the magic of reruns, that didn’t stop THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN from being a favorite of mine throughout my entire life. At age 4, when my tricycle was stolen from the alley behind our apartment house, I took solace in my favorite TV superhero and I knew that if he were there, he’d bring the undoubtedly vicious culprits to justice!
Reeves’ Clark Kent was, to me, the real star of the series. By no means "meek" or "mild-mannered," his Kent was a tough reporter who probably could have taken down mobsters as well as his more colorful alter ego! He also looked more natural in glasses than either Kirk Alyn before him or any of the actors who’ve followed in his big red boots. His Superman, on the other hand, often spoke gently and with a knowing smile.
Such a contradiction in terms was, by all accounts, George Reeves, himself. The subject of much rumor and speculation for nearly fifty years now, a new movie opening next month will attempt to bring his mysterious death to light for the moviegoing masses. HOLLYWOODLAND casts Ben Affleck as Reeves in what may be inspired casting. The resemblance is impressive and early reports indicate a serious, perhaps award-worthy performance from the former DAREDEVIL star.
The gist of the story deals with Adrien Brody as a (fictional) character trying to sort out the various factors in Reeves’ death that seem to put the lie to the official verdict of suicide. Bob Hoskins and long-time favorite Diane Lane co-star. The film is set to open on September 8th. Here’s a link to the HOLLYWOODLAND official movie Web site where you can check out the trailer. In spite of the nondescript title and the somewhat heavy-handed way the filmmakers are downplaying (at the risk of ticking off various corporate attorneys no doubt) the Reeves/Superman connection, it looks like Brandon Routh may not be this year’s only big-screen Man of Steel!
Monday, August 14, 2006
Although a footnote to the fact that he created James Bond, Ian Fleming’s CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG has had rather a successful life as a children’s book, a movie and a stage play. The film adaptation holds rather a special place for me as it was also my first date, aged 9.
I met my fourth grade girlfriend Debbie at the Liberty Theater in Covington, Kentucky on a Saturday afternoon in 1968. This was one of those old fashioned ornate movie palaces (albeit on a rather small scale) with statues and fancy carpets and, being kids we ran around it as much as we watched the movie. In fact we had to in order to avoid the kid who lived across the street from Debbie who had spotted us and kept bothering us as I tried to watch the movie with my arm around her!
Eventually, we sat through it twice that day (and walked home with the other kid) and I’ve enjoyed it a number of times since. As I’ve grown older, the biggest revelation to me is that CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG is actually a musical Bond movie for kids! I mean, seriously, look at it: book by Ian Fleming, script by Roald Dahl (who had just scripted YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE), produced by Cubby Broccoli, a cool theme song, Gert (GOLDFINGER) Frobe as the larger than life villain, a beautiful but improbably named leading lady (in this case "Truly Scrumptious"), and, of course, the amazing car with all the gadgets! Surprisingly this means that Dick Van Dyke was playing the 007 role. Van Dyke. DICK Van Dyke. Hey, it works for me but then I liked ROBIN CRUSOE, USN and NEVER A DULL MOMENT, too!
Sunday, August 13, 2006
A longtime favorite here at the Library is actor Christopher Lee whose autobiography (the revised 1998 British version), TALL, DARK AND GRUESOME is seen below. Often a rather stodgy actor if we’re being honest but his screen presence is absolutely unbeatable and always a treat. Is there a thespian who has played more iconic characters in film than Lee? Once worried that his filmic legacy would only be as Count Dracula, the tall, elegant octogenarian actor has also appeared memorably as Dr. Fu Manchu, the Mummy, Frankenstein’s monster, Rasputin, Dr. Jekyll (and his alter ego), Scaramanga (THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN), Lord Summerisle in my all time favorite movie THE WICKER MAN, STAR WARS’ Darth Tyranus, Tolkein’s Saruman, and both Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes! Add to these a small role in Olivier’s Oscar-winning HAMLET, a gay biker in SERIAL, Rochefort in Richard Lester’s THREE MUSKETEERS trilogy, a dozen mad scientist types, a gunmaker in the UK western(!!) HANNIE CAULDER, both male and female overdubs for the classic M. HULOT’S HOLIDAY and scores of other scene-stealing parts in movies, TV, cartoons and even video games and you have one of the most fascinating careers any actor ever had!
Although I first saw Christopher Lee in DRACULA, PRINCE OF DARKNESS in 1966, strangely on a double bill with Adam West’s BATMAN, I really became aware of him when I discovered FAMOUS MONSTERS magazine in 1969. Nearly every issue had photos or articles about Lee and new movies with which he was involved. In fact, one issue had a photo feature that really caught my attention. A regular letter writer to FM, one Bill Cobun from Ft. Mitchell, Kentucky was such a fan of Lee that he announced in a FangMail column that he had named his son after his favorite actor. Ft. Mitchell, Kentucky? Why, that was right down the road from where I lived! During a visit to the Ackermansion, FM editor FJA actually arranged to have Lee call new father Cobun on the telephone and had the event photographed.
Actually, most folks probably considered it a boring piece as it literally consisted of just a few photos of the well-dressed actor talking on the phone. To me, presumably because of the local connection, it became a feature that I would remember for years to come.
In fact, in the late 1990’s, nearly three decades past that issue, I was managing a bookstore near Ft. Mitchell, Kentucky when one day I took a charge card from one…Bill Cobun. My brain’s filing system being what it is, I immediately said to this total stranger, "You don’t happen to have a son named Christopher do you?"
"Yes," he replied with a puzzled look, "Where do you know Chris from?"
"You are NOT going to believe this," I told him. His mouth fell open as I related the tale of my memory of the FM article and he laughed. I got little work done the rest of that day as we wandered off into a corner and discussed that phone call and what grew into a long friendship with Forrest J. Ackerman. (In fact, at that time he told me he had recently attended with FJA the funeral of Ackerman’s friend Anton LeVay, the notorious head of the Church of Satan!) He spoke of how wonderful and gracious Lee had been during their conversation and how he had continued to be a major fan.
I never met Christopher Lee Cobun but Bill Cobun came in a number of times after that before his own passing and he always shared great anecdotes about his association with FAMOUS MONSTERS magazine and one of the nicest, most famous monsters of them all, Christopher Lee. There are a lot of actors (particularly recent ones) whose work I enjoy but whom I doubt I’d care for if I met them in person. By all accounts a true professional and a true gentleman, I really wish I could meet Christopher Lee.