Sunday, May 30, 2010
Whether or not you're into this sort of thing, seeing this box one HAS to admit they've certainly made a sincere effort to capture the visual aspects of the original 1966 BATMAN TV series. In fact, my favorite aspect is the Joker having a mustache beneath his greasepaint! Talk about paying attention to detail! The video is just out and I read last week where SUPERMANXXX is next!
Saturday, May 29, 2010
Dennis Hopper died today. His story was, of course, the very definition of a second act. Or was it a third? He first appeared onscreen at age 18 and was in smallish roles for many years before his career seemed to peter out in the heady days of the late sixties. But then came EASY RIDER and he was suddenly respected as an actor and a filmmaker....briefly. The disastrous reception to the money pit that was 1971's drug hazy THE LAST MOVIE was, along with projects like Hopper's participation in Orson Welles' unreleased THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND, enough to send him back to cameos and lower budget productions. Hollywood wrote him off...again. Then came David Lynch--the Quentin Tarantino of the eighties--and BLUE VELVET. This time, Hopper not only regained the respect of fickle Hollywood but he kept it. Thus his passing today finds this veteran film star of more than five decades leaving us not as a trivia question but as a star. Rest in peace, Dennis and thank you for your performances!
Friday, May 28, 2010
The passing of Gary Coleman earlier today drives home yet again the sad fact that we all tend to prefer puppies and wish the older dogs would just go away. Oh, we don’t do it on purpose. We don’t mean to simply put our old friends out to pasture…but we do it anyway. Over and over and over.
I first saw Gary Coleman on Norman Lear’s spoof talk show series AMERICA 2 NIGHT. At age 10 but looking even younger due to what we would all later find out was a physical disorder, he was cute and he was funny so, of course, he ended up with his own TV series.
DIFF’RENT STROKES came along at a time when sitcoms had become “relevant” to their times, often featuring episodes about modern day problems. In a way, it was an updated version of the sixties CBS series, FAMILY AFFAIR in that a middle-aged single white man ended up raising three kids with the help of his servant. In this case, the twist was that two of the kids were African-American.
Episodes dealt with abuse, drugs, sex, and, of course, racism. The writing and direction were often heavy-handed but the characters were endearing and the show settled in for a long and popular run. The children all attracted fans of all ages. For eight seasons on two networks, DIFF’RENT STROKES was their life. Then, as with all TV series, it ended. The adults moved on to other jobs and the kids were more or less left to their own devices.
Almost immediately, Dana Plato became the poster child for child actor issues and they eventually led to her suicide. Todd Bridges had anger and drug issues and legal problems that dragged him down for years. Gary Coleman spent two decades dealing very publically with family problems, health issues and the ever-present and undeniable fact that he was no longer that impossibly cute little kid the world loved.
And that’s just it. It isn’t only child stars. It’s older stars in general. For every William Shatner and David McCallum who makes a comeback, there’s a Ken Berry or a Mike Conners that everyone thinks must surely be dead or else they’d be on TV. When was the last time you saw Chad Everett or Stefanie Powers? Will Hutchins or Georgia Engel? Based on the reception these stars always get when they show up at any event whatsoever, I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s the people running what passes for Hollywood these days who neither know nor have the least amount of respect for their own history.
Earlier this month I had the chance to work onstage with Bob Hastings and Rosemary Rice. Hastings appeared regularly on McHALE’S NAVY and semi-regularly on ALL IN THE FAMILY. He can also be found guest-starring in scores of TV series and films from the sixties through the eighties. At 85, he is healthy, sharp and reliable and yet his last on-camera appearance was 18 years ago. Ms. Rice, still a wonderful actress and a popular TV star of the 1950’s on the long-running series, MAMA, hasn’t appeared on camera in 50 years!
So younger stars are eaten up and spit out by the system while older stars are simply ignored after a time no matter how big their fan base. Ask yourself, were you really that enamored with Arnold on DIFF’RENT STROKES or was it what Gary Coleman brought to the role? Why is it that all of these big budget, big screen remakes of old TV shows always seem to be missing something? Was it really Sgt Bilko that was such a great character or was it that Bilko—as played by Phil Silvers—was such a great character?
I believe that Hollywood itself typecasts performers more than the fans. I believe that if given the chance the fans would relish the chance to see their old friends in new roles and not just cameos and tributes. Betty White’s current success is NOT a fluke! There are a hundred other beloved TV actors and actresses of all ages out there who would be welcomed back on our screens—big or small—if only they were given a chance!
We talk about preserving classic TV but that shouldn’t mean just the shows. We also owe a debt to the people who brought us those shows. Let this be a wake-up call. Find out today which of your favorite TV stars of old have an official website. Many of them do! At the very least write and thank them for what they’ve shared with us over the years. In the past year I’ve written to Wendell Burton (Charlie Brown on a memorable Hallmark Hall of Fame live action special of the 1970’s), Bo Svenson (from the first season of HERE COME THE BRIDES), Kip King (from CHARLIE & CO.) and Donna Loren (SHINDIG) and I’ve heard back from every one. You’ll be surprised and they will appreciate hearing from you!
Since comics characters age slowly if at all, most companies go out of their way to avoid mentioning characters' ages but here's an ad for the first issue of SUPERMAN'S GIRLFRIEND, LOIS LANE from 1958 in which National trumpets to the world not only our intrepid girl reporter's age but her weight as well!
Thursday, May 27, 2010
Over on Facebook, I've been named the Person of the Week by the Classic TV Preservation Society founded by BEWITCHED FOREVER author Herbie J. Pilato. I am, of course, humbled. I'm told I was even the first to present an acceptance speech.
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
We all know that Don Rosa is one of my favorite comics creators of all time. Even though so much of his work builds on Barks, I like Don's better! His sense of humor, his pacing, his storytelling...even his art is more enjoyable for me. In parts of Europe, Don is revered for his work and even as we speak, Danish filmmakers are working on what will undoubtedly be a fascinating and hopefully definitive documentary feature on the now retired comics creator. Here's a link to the raw trailer. They need money to finish the project and they have a posted goal with updates as to how close they're getting. As usual, I happen to be broke but my contribution to the Don Rosa project is to spread the word! What's your contribution going to be?
Saturday, May 22, 2010
Attention trivia fans! What was Steve Martin's first movie? Off the top of your head, you'd probably say THE JERK. Made in 1979, that was most definitely the popular stand-up comic's first starring film role but did you know that the largely forgotten SGT. PEPPER'S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND (featuring Steve as the homicidal Maxwell Edison) appeared a year earlier in 1978? That's still not the answer we're looking for though!
Friday, May 21, 2010
DC's long-running (nearly two decades!) ADVENTURES OF BOB HOPE title was not spared the company's understandable but shameless exploitation of Batman in 1966. Here, from issue 103, is a fun full pager featuring the Caped Crusader with Ernie Bushmiller's Nancy! Robin doesn't look too happy. Note also Sophia dissing the Fab Four to Ringo, Sinatra putting down Phyllis Diller and Stanley and his monster being kept apart from their forbidden love over religion.
Thursday, May 20, 2010
Little did these early 1940's superheroes suspect that the red-headed kid (or blonde as seen here) and his pal, Jughead, would eventually do to them and all of their cohorts what no Nazi or mad scientist or racketeer was ever able to do. Archie had premiered in PEP COMICS but his stories were soon invading the other MLJ titles, also. This ad--featuring Mister Justice, Steel Sterling, Black Hood and the long forgotten Sgt. Boyle--is for Archie's debut in JACKPOT COMICS.
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
A nice, long, self deprecating interview with Don Rosa from what appears to be a Finnish morning TV show. One of my favorite fan writer/artists through the early seventies, I was thrilled when he started doing comics for Gladstone. Don told me once that I was the first person to ask him to do a signing but, as written about previously here on the blog, he politely declined. Nice to see how big he has gotten internationally but I remain perplexed as to why he never quite hit the big time he deserves here in his own country. Don deals here straightforwardly with the eyesight issues that led to his having to withdraw from comics work. I know he has read this blog from time to time and Don, if you do see this piece, I just wanted to say I continue to send good thoughts your way, sir...and thanks for everything!
Vicki Lawrence has long been a favorite of mine--oddly NOT including her "Mama" character. Here, introduced by Dick Clark from one of his blooper specials and with animation from Sergio Aragones, is a succession of giggly outtakes as she tried to record a plug for her talk show.
Monday, May 17, 2010
Sunday, May 16, 2010
This was the earliest book I remember actually owning. I received it as a birthday gift for my 5th birthday. I, of course, had absolutely no idea who Bennett Cerf might be but I came to associate the name with funny wordplay.
Saturday, May 15, 2010
Friday, May 14, 2010
Another young woman whose images loom large in my memories of the sixties is Nancy Sinatra. This is particularly odd, though, because I wasn't really a fan of hers until this past decade. Nonetheless, when I see her publicity pictures, posters, etc, it always takes me back.
Thursday, May 13, 2010
My first exposure to Harold Gray's LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE--the classic newspaper strip whose imminent retirement was announced today--was probably when we started buying the Sunday edition of THE NEW YORK DAILY NEWS in the late sixties. The color comics printed a week early for some reason but that's another story.
Cincy Con regular Jim Widner recorded and posted this past weekend's re-creation of a lost episode of DUFFY'S TAVERN from 1941 (as adapted and transcribed by Derek Tague). Geez, I'm out of shape but otherwise, not too shabby for an amateur if I do say so myself. And the colorfully garbed actress next to me who plays Madame Sickelsby, the genial-ologist, is my lovely bride of 19 years next month!
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Unlike in previous years, the dates, guests and hotel for next year's convention have already been set! Mark your calendars now!
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
As usual in all of the various online and on-air reviews of this past weekend’s 24th Annual Cincinnati Old-Time Radio and Nostalgia Convention, the live re-creations of the old shows get dismissed with a terse, “Oh, and there were also some onstage re-creations.” Sigh. For many, myself included, the re-creations are a major highlight every year—especially these days when I can no longer afford to drop three or four hundred bucks in the dealers’ room!
In my case, the main reason I went back to the third Convention more than two decades back now was because my then girlfriend, Rene, and I, had been founding members of G.R.A.C.I.E.—the Golden Radio Association of Cincinnati: Imaginative Entertainment. G.R.A.C.I.E. performed radio re-creations onstage, on mike, with sound effects and all at various functions around town…none of which ever really appreciated us. But by the time we talked the Con into letting us add our re-creation to their already in place re-creations from the ad hoc Dave Warren Players, we had honed our single show into a well oiled machine!
We rehearsed RESULTS, INC.—adapted and directed by myself—at the Con that year with that year’s guest, Willard (THE GREAT GILDERSLEEVE) Waterman standing in for our absent announcer. It was a thrill. When we went on it was for our biggest and most appreciative audience to date. Although I have, throughout my entire life, been sometimes painfully shy, I relished those moments onstage!
Dave Warren liked our performance and drafted many of our members to also appear in his productions which, that year, were episodes of TOM MIX, DUFFY’S TAVERN, FRED ALLEN and a LET’S PRETEND version of “The Brave Little Tailor.” My wife played Mrs. Nussbaum in Allen’s Alley and my mother in the LET’S PRETEND! I played Jack, the title role! I was also cast as the acerbic Fred Allen and as Eddie, the waiter at Duffy’s. It was a thrill—a genuine thrill and I assumed it was all over at that point. G.R.A.C.I.E. dissolved amidst petty politics and we weren’t even sure we’d go back for the third convention.
In fact, when we did, we went as dealers, renting a table to sell stuff. When “Big Dave” Warren saw me behind the table, he chastised me for not being at the auditions and cast me in a small role in an ESCAPE with that year’s guest Parley Baer. That particular re-creation was directed by Bob Hastings, who would become a fixture of the Con in future years. Dave also made me promise to audition for more parts the following year!
And I did. That next year I played Homer to Ezra Stone’s HENRY ALDRICH as directed by Donald Ramlow who would become our regular director to this day. The following year was the first of two turns as Jughead to Bob’s ARCHIE ANDREWS. Over the years my wife and I literally became the repertory company. She played, amongst others, mothers, daughters, witches, a fake medium, a monster, announcers, and, in a matter of obvious typecasting this year, a geneaologist.
Every year I felt my moment must surely have passed but every year I was cast in at least a small role with a scene-stealer every once in awhile! I’ve played a dog, a frog, a ghost, a talking crow, an intelligent mouse, a robot, a cowboy, an alien, a number of teenage boys, a few old codgers, mobsters, a wisecracking photographer, a druggist, a detective, and a dozen others!
Along the way, we’ve made friends with so many of the folks who attend more or less every year—Dan, Kathy and the delightful Karen Hughes, Meredith Grainger, Derek Tague, Steve and Laura Jansen, Ken Borden and others. Besides those guests I’ve already mentioned, we’ve had a chance to work with Rosemary Rice, Hal Stone, Herb Ellis, Lon Clark, Will Hutchins, Tyler McVay, Esther Geddes and more veterans of old-time radio and TV.
Rene continually got parts, our son David began to get small roles and even unofficial goddaughter Bree, whom we first brought in 2008, auditioned and won roles. A few years ago, Rene and I even won the dave Warren Award, named after the now-late director who made me promise to keep auditioning!
Last year, I got only two small roles and, having had a notable change in my speech due to the necessity of having two teeth removed in November of 2008, I figured it perhaps best that I be relegated to small character parts.
At this year’s convention, however, there were four shows…and I was given major roles in three of them, all of which were to be done on Saturday! First rehearsal was at 10 AM, second at 11. First show was at 1:00 and second at 1:30. Third rehearsal was at 3:30 for the Saturday evening performance.
I was onstage for the first rehearsal when Bob Hastings came walking in. He saw me and said, “Well, there’s Jughead so everything’s going to be just fine.”
In a lost DUFFY’S TAVERN script painstakingly transcribed and adapted by the sadly absent Derek Tague, I had, after two decades, finally graduated from waiter to manager as I played Archie, the lead role. In my best Bugs Bunny accent, I led the cast through a tale of Archie’s greedy attempt at hoodwinking a society dame by faking a phony pedigree. I haven’t seen the video yet but Bree got the first half before her battery died and she said everyone loved the performance!
Next came GUNSMOKE with Bob as an outlaw and Rosemary (I REMEMBER MAMA) Rice as Miss Kitty. I was Doc. When I tried to imitate the original voice actor, Howard McNear, I couldn’t seem to avoid drifting into Floyd the Barber from THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW, one of his other great creations. This was made worse by the fact that there were barber jokes in the script! So I did it as more a grumpy old, DeForrest Kelly type. “Dammit, Chester, I’m a doctor not a barber!” Director Ramlow said he really liked the voice.
Finally, for the evening performance, they saved the best of this year’s scripts—a funny episode of the 1950’s radio sitcom classic, OUR MISS BROOKS. Rosemary was the title character, Esther Geddes McVay was her landlady and Bob was Mr. Conklin, the school principal. Karen Hughes was Bob’s character’s daughter and I was 16 year old, squeaky voiced Walter Denton, a role originated by a young Richard Crenna (arguably THE most successful actor to come out of radio). In all modesty, I believe I stole the show. “You nailed Walter!” someone yelled afterwards and a number of folks wanted to shake my hand or pat me on the back as I left the stage. It felt good. Once a year that shy little kid still in me is somebody for just a few short minutes….even if that somebody is quite literally not me!
And all the reviews just rave about this year’s convention—the great new hotel, the friendly crowd, the great deals and dealers…oh…and there were also a few re-creations. Yes. Yes there were…and for some of us, THAT’s what we remember most over the years—not so much the brief moments of adulation but the chance to play. I don’t do “fun” well. Never have, sadly. I’m 51 this year and my wife is 48. Karen is 25 and Bree is 27. Bob Hastings is 85. Esther Geddes McVay is about to turn 93! And this weekend we all played together and boy, did we have fun!
Monday, May 10, 2010
Frank Frazetta had already given up comics by the time I became aware of him. I saw his Conan paperback covers everywhere in the late sixties and early seventies and on occasion I would encounter him doing covers or illustrations for Warren magazines or NATIONAL LAMPOON. Even movie posters like Clint Eastwood's THE GAUNTLET.