Thursday, February 21, 2019

Peter Tork--R.I.P.

I never got to see the Monkees perform in person--not even any individual Monkee or combination thereof. That never stopped me from enjoying their TV series and their music. One of the first LPs I ever bought was THE MONKEES' GREATEST HITS. As recently as last week, I was watching a 1967 MONKEES episode on Youtube and as recently as last month I was listening to Monkees classics in my car. The 2018 Monkees Christmas CD is on a shelf right behind me as I write this.

So to say Peter Tork was like family that I never actually met is not much of an exaggeration.

Peter was always the odd man out. He didn't sing lead on many songs, he played banjo better than bass, they couldn't even get his name right on the show's opening, and he was the first to quit the group.

That said, he was an integral part of the group and forever after a Monkee even during the times he would have preferred NOT to be. He had problems over the years--legal, medical, etc. but he remained loved and admired by fans and was by all accounts a favorite in the many live concerts he performed in with various combinations of the other three Monkees.

Rest in Peace, Peter.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

An Update on the Man Who Wasn't Superman

In 1973, newspaper articles started turning up around the country about a Boston area man named Mayo Kaan. Kaan was an aging bodybuilder and, according to him, had been the model for Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's original Superman concept. In fact, he went on, he had also gone to Hollywood as the first big screen Superman in not just one but TWO Superman movies made around 1937. He even had photos of himself in his Superman costume from back then and he looked, well...SUPER!

As the stories continued over the course of the next year or two, Kaan hit the talk shows and even a game show, all identifying himself as the very first Superman actor! A later news photo ran in the National Enquirer featuring the chubby, modern day Kaan wearing what he said was his original super suit! It still fit!

The problem, of course, lay in the fact that not one reporter who spoke with him or wrote about him ever bothered to check his story.

Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were teenagers in Cleveland who created Superman years before Kaan claims they spotted him working out in a Boston gym and asked him to model for their new hero. Neither Siegel nor Shuster had ever been to Boston.

Even given that he might have been misremembering years, there simply were no Superman movies prior to the late 1940s Kirk Alyn serials from Columbia. There was almost an early '40s serial from RKO but it was canceled. Superman's unquestionably only big screen appearances prior to Alyn were the Fleischer  studio's top notch animated cartoons.

While he certainly looked the part of the Kryptonian hero, his costume looked homemade and had no boots or shoes. Certainly that would never have been used in any professional Superman appearance.

Oh, and also, one of the buildings seen in Kaan's supposed 1930s photos wasn't built until 1940.

Kaan was denounced by those in the know as a liar and a conman. DC disavowed any knowledge of him, as did Jerry and Joe when his story was brought to their attention. The fan press attacked him and made fun of the media for just blindly accepting his tall tale.

Mark Evanier wrote in 2002, "Kaan's claim upset Siegel and Shuster, and some of us did some phoning-of press services and reporters and pretty well debunked the whole story."  He quietly slipped back into the woodwork...for a while.

Well, not locally it looks like. Here he's promoted in this 1980 Boston-area notice as "The Original Superman."

About two decades later, Kaan emerged selling colorized prints of himself in Superman garb and once again reiterating his claim as the original Man of Steel! His daughter (a former teenage ventriloquist who later married a scandal-ridden real estate investor) was said to possibly be behind the renewed push.

Again, DC issued denials but the story didn't go away this time and the Kaans undoubtedly made quite a bit of money from less knowledgable Superman fans. A newspaper article about Kaan's daughter some time after her father's death noted that even she had a large photo of her Superman dad displayed in her home.

It's easy to write the man off as a con artist but if that were the case, how did he come to have pictures of himself looking like an early Superman cosplayer? Some writers speculated that perhaps he was confused over time and was actually spotted by someone associated with the Fleischer studio when the Superman cartoons were being animated. The Fleischers famously used the rotoscope process, which required live action footage be shot to be animated over. At least one other of their models was known but maybe there were more than one. If Kaan simply shot live footage to be animated, that would explain why his Superman costume wasn't quite complete, or even quite all there. The rest would have been added in the ink and paint department.

But just as it looked like no one would ever fully know one way or another, the longtime Superman tribute site, THE ADVENTURES CONTINUE posted an update on the story the other day, with a new piece of the puzzle--a 1942 article about Kaan as Superman! In this one, there's no mention of being the inspiration for Siegel and Shuster, and the only talk of Hollywood is a claim that several major studios wanted to talk to him. Instead, he is described as a lifeguard, a physical instructor and a Vaudevillian who, because of his resemblance to Superman, was helping sell war bonds locally. His being a lifeguard even explains why there are all the kids around him in swimsuits in the one photo.

Armed with that info and a longtime subscription to Newspapers. com, I was able to come up with a couple more 1942 articles, including another Superman photo that apparently has never been on the web until now. Again, he's described as just a local guy doing his part for the war effort.

One Internet poster a few years back said he knew Kaan as a chiropractor at one point and he bragged to him on more than one occasion that he had posed for Superman in war bond ads, not for comics or movies. Apparently, somewhere along the way even that story--possibly alluding to photos like the above-- changed. 

I also found a 1964 article headlined, "Former Superman Keeps Bodies Fit" which just casually described its subject as "the movies' first Superman." Was it the reporter's mistake or did Kaan tell him this?

Interestingly, I did find some info on where Kaan was as of 1938 and 1939, and it wasn't in Hollywood.

A 1965 article on another of Mayo's daughters, a hypnotist, mentions her father by name and yet doesn't tie him to Superman in any way. Years later, in the 1990s, Mayo Kaan would be advertising himself in the classifieds as a hypnotist.

And so it seems like the mystery of Mayo Kaan may at last be solved. He was a bodybuilder and former artist's model, a lifeguard, and a one-time Vaudevillian, who made a homemade Superman suit in order to promote war bond sales to young people in and around his home town in Massachusetts for a while in 1942 before joining the Navy. Then about 20 years on, a reporter--accidentally or on purpose--referred to him as the original Superman and the story built from there. Whether or not he set out to bilk the public or just decided to take advantage of a once in a lifetime situation, he got his 15 minutes of fame...stretched out over a few decades, and either he or his family made sure we'd all remember him. 

Oh, and while Kaan's appearance on WHAT'S MY LINE? is not available his daughter's appearance is on YouTube. In case you're wondering, the family name is pronounced "KAHN" as in, The Wrath of...  

Friday, February 15, 2019

Brittany Rose, LMT

Some of you who have been around for a while may remember the photography blog I had about 10 years back with my great friend Brittany Rose. Every few weeks, she and i would head out to the river, to parks, or just walking around town, and do digital photo shoots, the best results of which would get posted on our blog.

Well, at the time, Brittany was also attending school here to become a Licensed Massage Therapist, which in time she did! 

Currently based in Frankfort, KY, Brittany now has years of experience in the medical massage field beyond what she had when she was using my family as guinea pigs for her lessons. And I can attest that she was quite good even then!

In these trying times, it's tough NOT to find yourself stressed! If you're in or near the Frankfort, KY area, please consider checking out Brittany's business. Rates, contact info, etc. can be found on her website:

Tell her Booksteve sent you. Who knows? She might give you a discount! 
(Probably not but it couldn't hurt to try!)

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Jack Benny in Casablanca

About 10 years back, rumors were floating around that Jack Benny, star of stage, screen, and radio, appeared unrecognized in a scene in CASABLANCA, the classic Bogart-Bergman hit from 1942. Seeing as how CASABLANCA has been my favorite picture for decades, I laughed. I looked, though, and was convinced he was NOT in the film. It became like the now legendary "What color is the dress?" thing from a couple years ago. For every person who was sure he wasn't in it, someone else was sure he was. 

Tonight, I was talking with publisher, OTR and  film buff, pulp expert, Dachshund dad, and Bronze Age comic book colorist Anthony Tollin, who informed me that the original pressbook for the film actually makes reference to the comedian's appearance.

Something I have access to now that I did NOT a decade back is I checked the 1942/1943 papers and found quite a few references to Jack's appearance! 

I remain somewhat stunned by the fact that Jack never mentioned it, ever. One would expect he would have milked it for multiple episodes or at the very east mentioned it when Bogart appeared on his radio show or later his TV show. Or maybe in later years when discussing his Hollywood career in interviews. 

Tollin says he showed it to Joan Benny, Jack's daughter, and while she had never heard of it from her father, either, she recognized his walk and mannerisms and pronounced that it was, in fact, Jack Benny. In CASABLANCA. 

I'm going to concede at this point based on the numerous syndicated and local newspaper pieces but I still can't understand why it didn't become a running gag to tie in with all the other running gags in Jack's repertoire. 

Also, I just went through my DVD in slo-mo and still didn't spot anyone I'd feel comfortable saying is Jack Benny. 


UPDATE: on Facebook, Laura Leibowitz of the International Jack Benny Fan Club points out that the files on the film at USC include a letter from someone asking just where Jack was in the movie. She says it includes a copy of the studio's response indicating that Benny actually does not appear in CASABLANCA!

Sunday, February 03, 2019

Booksteve Reviews--Mary by Herbie J Pilato

Based on the evidence at hand as well as his previous books on Elizabeth Montgomery, one thing’s certain: When it comes to writing biographies, Herbie J (no period) Pilato is nothing if not thorough! It’s not his fault that after reading Mary, the Mary Tyler Moore Story, I find that I like his subject a bit less coming out than when I went in. 

Oh, sure, that world turning-on smile still persists even if Mary herself no longer does. Likewise, my lifelong crush on Laura Petrie and my virtual friendship with Mary Richards hasn’t changed. It’s Mary Tyler Moore herself, not her image, that seems a bit tarnished to me now, and that’s because the author has done such an excellent job in revealing her to be human, with all the foibles and fears and doubts and issues that brings along with it.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not some salacious warts and all bio relishing every little bit of gossip and scandal about the woman. As with Montgomery, it’s clear that Herbie is enamored of his subject throughout the several hundred pages that slowly peel back the iconic Mary to introduce the reader to the real woman. 

Beginning with her childhood father issues, we meet a young girl driven to succeed as a dancer and then an actress, using that now legendary smile to slowly work her way up in early television from a performing cigarette package or a pair of legs to character parts. 

Then, of course, we—and Mary—meet Dick Van Dyke, the inevitable co-star of Mary’s story. In spite of her later success with her own long-running series, Dick pops up throughout the book and throughout Mary’s life, all the way up to the end. Both he and Mary are said to have always been extremely private people but Van Dyke always seems to be there for Mary when she could most use him.

It’s Mary’s comedic success as wife Laura on The Dick Van Dyke Show, arguably THE classic 1960s sitcom, that makes her a household name and catapults her to both the stage and films. 

We learn, however, that behind the scenes, there were persistent conflicts with co-star Rose Marie and various other issues. And when it was all over, we learn that in spite of her momentum, she was not able to succeed in plays (Although not entirely her fault, her musical version of Breakfast at Tiffany’s is one of the most ignominious failures of its day) or films (her portrayal of a nun opposite Elvis Presley as a doctor in Change of Habit was a bizarre and interesting failure for both performers).

In the real world, she was proving to be a distant mother to her son by a first marriage even as her mover and shaker second husband, Grant Tinker, tried to promote her to solo stardom. Both she and Tinker had alcohol issues. 

It was Dick Van Dyke who came to her rescue again, with a TV special where the gracious actor not only reunited with his former TV spouse but highlighted her special qualities. Fans were suitably reminded and Tinker managed to leverage that renewed interest into what became The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

It was a time for celebration. Unfortunately, it was around this time that Mary also discovered she had Type 1 Diabetes. While she would eventually become a spokesperson against the disease, initially she didn’t handle it well and her continued drinking certainly didn’t help.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show was a hallmark of 1970s television, with its instantly memorable theme song and its strong ensemble cast but mainly with its portrayal of Mary Richards as an independent woman succeeding in life on her own terms. The show’s consistently intelligent writing kept it a Saturday night staple for most of the decade.  

Like Lucy and Desi before them, Mary and Grant had formed MTM Enterprises which begat dozens of spin-offs and completely unrelated series, many quite successful, all during the decade. Unlike Lucy, though, Mary did not take to being a businesswoman and left Grant to do the heavy lifting. 

Unfortunately, this meant when they broke up, and her series reached its classic ending, she was somewhat adrift and, without his seasoned guidance, her next career steps had more stumbles than successes. 

As I read the book, I was constantly reminded of long-forgotten follow-up efforts, from her various attempts at variety shows and new sitcoms, to her blink and you’ll miss them dramatic efforts in TV and on film. Only the Robert Redford-directed Ordinary People, which got her an Oscar nomination, could be considered a major success but its subject matter hit too close to home when Mary’s own troubled son accidentally killed himself around that same time.

Her career status had plateaued. She had reached that level where she was a living legend, adored by the public but unable to get new acting jobs worthy of her talents.

Although the book suffers from some repetitiveness (a comparison to Carol Burnett and Lucille Ball is made at least four times) and could have used a good proofreading (mostly typos), the material is compelling enough and detailed enough for the reader to barrel on through its roughly 400 pages. 

Along with a good selection of photos, Herbie has here collected stories and quotes from Mary’s friends and colleagues, from other show-biz authors and experts, and from critics and writers from back in the day. The end result is a pretty detailed portrait of a somewhat lonely woman plagued by tragedy and doubt throughout her life, a woman who could be cold, aloof, and petty, a woman who never really seems to have been particularly happy even though nearly everyone she met loved her, a woman who was often her own worst enemy and, oddly, a woman who relied very much on certain men to paradoxically create an inspiring, lasting portrait of an independent woman.

When all is said and done, I couldn’t help but admire Herbie J Pilato’s telling of her story but I was sorry to discover that the real Mary Tyler Moore was not somebody I myself would have wanted to spend much time with. 

But, oh that smile!

Booksteve Recommends. 

Friday, February 01, 2019

Kraft's Alice in Wonderland-1954

Here's something one doesn't see every day. This was, as the ad says, Kraft's "gala seventh anniversary show," produced in what we now think of as the Golden Age of live television. It's one of dozens of adaptations of Lewis Carroll's ALICE N WONDERLAND done in the 20th century. This one is distinguished (perhaps a poor choice of word) by the inclusion of superstar ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his wooden sidekick, Charlie McCarthy (Murphy Brown's brother).

As often happened, it's an all-star production, although the stars are a bit low-rent. More like familiar names and faces to the audiences of the day. Bobby Clark of the defunct (since his partner committed suicide in the 1930s) comedy team of Clark and McCullough is one of the biggest stars, still sporting his drawn on glasses. The great Art Carney is said to be the Mad Hatter although you couldn't prove it by me. Looks and acts nothing like him to my eyes, although his performance does steal the show. Una O'Conner, Ernest True, Arthur Treacher, and Blanche Yurka are other names. 

You all know the plot. Young Alice (apparently only 13 here but looking at least 17 if not older) and her friends Edgar and Charlie (!!??) follow a white rabbit down a hole and drink something that shrinks them and meet hookah-smoking caterpillars and Cheshire cats and attend a rather mad tea party before getting mixed up with a Queen and some tarts.

Yep...all three of them. More like Alice and Edgar and Charlie in Wonderland. 
Robin Morgan, the actress playing Alice--however old she is--also played the younger sister to my old acting acquaintance Rosemary Rice on the classic TV series, MAMA around that same time.
What I didn't know until today was that she is, in fact, THE Robin Morgan--a women's movement pioneer since the early 1960s, one-time President of NOW, and former editor of MS. Magazine. She is seen here in 2005 with Gloria Steinem and Jane Fonda.

I wish I could say that it was some kind of odd classic but I pretty much agree with the below review from 1954. Read it and weep. As of this writing, the episode is on YouTube in its entirety. Watch it and let me know what you think.